There’s a certain kind of sadness that creeps in when you leave a place, certain it will change should you ever make it back again. We’re used to visiting places people have tread millions of times before. We come and go without thinking that because the process of change is already so far underway. But Bako National Park is different. It’s dense forest in a region that’s otherwise being pillaged by logging. It’s wild, unstructured land protected against becoming another palm oil field in Borneo. Bako is loud in a wonderful way – the soundtrack of monkey limbs crashing through the trees and the chirping of cicadas. The whirr of boat motors kicking up, the crashing of waves on carbon fiber sides. Exploring Bako National Park in Sarawak is undertaking a real adventure.
Put simply, Bako National Park is remote, it’s rugged, and it’s everything you hope Borneo will be. You won’t see orangutans here, but it’s still hard to believe that a park so rich with biodiversity is just 27km away from Kuching.
Looking to go and experience it for yourself? Here’s a complete guide to Bako National Park including park highlights, how to get there, where to stay, and more.
Bako at a Glance
With a network of 17 trails that wind past streams, waterfalls, and hidden beaches tucked away from the world, Bako National Park is worth a visit for nature alone, but the real calling card is the wildlife. Proboscis monkeys – endemic to Borneo – and palm squirrels can be admired high above in the trees. Mouse deer and civet come out at night alongside frogs and chirping cicadas. Even back at camp, opportunistic macaques loiter, waiting to snatch food off of anyone who’s let down their guard, while bearded pigs amble fearlessly through the park.
While one of the smallest national parks in Borneo, Bako is consistency considered one of the best. It’s close to Kuching meaning that you can easily go without a tour, and at RM20, the Bako National Park entrance fee is an absolute steal.
Bako National Park Highlights
Borneo is home to several exotic creatures, many of which can be spotted in Bako National Park. Bako is probably the most famous place in Sarawak to spot-bellied Proboscis monkeys with their trunk-like noses. Time your visit right, and you’ll even see them swinging through the trees at the Visitors Center. Proboscis monkeys might be the darlings of Bako, but it’s also worth noting there are 37 other species of mammal in the park including lesser-known silver-leaf monkeys, macaques, colugo, and palm squirrels.
There are 17 easy-to-hike, trails through Bako National Park rainforest. Some of the hikes are jungle loops while others lead to hidden beaches or viewpoints. You can read more about the best hiking trails in Bako National Park down below.
Every evening, the Bako National Parks runs a 2.5 hour night walk where you can head out with park rangers to spot insects, reptiles, and some of the parks nocturnal animals. They’ll shine their light up the trees and into dense areas of jungle to spot things you’d definitely miss on your own. It’s definitely creepy but well worth it if you’re staying in Bako overnight. (8pm, RM10).
Hiking Trails in Bako National Park
17 trails is a lot for such a tiny park. While the longest hike is just 11km, none of the trails are overly difficult and are easy to navigate with regular signage and way-finding rocks and trees every few meters. The longer trails are often closed due to problems with the walking path, but the park rangers will let you know which ones are open when you check in.
To choose your route, you can either refer to the large map outside of HQ with trails indicated by color or check out my favorite hikes in Bako below.
Telok Paku | 1.2km (one-way) | 1 hour
The best hiking trail for late arrival to Bako is the short and easy route 3 to Telok Paku. The hike starts with a stroll along the wooden walkway towards the jetty. The area is completely flooded at high tide, so you’ll stay on the manmade walkway until you reach the forest. Cut left, and it’s an up-and-down climb from jungle to the beach. If it’s been raining, it’s a slippery and sometimes treacherous to hike over tree roots and along muddied trails (though it never gets technical). Eventually, the trail spits you out at Telok Paku. The spot is known to be a hangout for Proboscis monkeys, and besides the trash that sadly washes up here, it’s a lovely little secluded beach with some small sea stacks that you can check out. Unfortunately, there’s tons of trash that get washed up on this beach.
Telok Delima | 1km (one-way) | 45 minutes
We got a tip to wake up early for the hike to Telok Delima since the route is best at low tide. The trail starts from the park HQ, walking along the wooden walkway until you enter the forest. From there, it’s an easy enough hike to Delima. Telok Delima is a secluded beach beneath steep forested cliffs. There are also impressive caves and a mangrove forest that is best explored at low tide. It is known to be a favorite hangout for the Proboscis and other monkeys that are most active during the morning. If the tide is low enough, you can walk back to Park HQ along the beach, with just a few rocky outcroppings to climb over. Definitely one of the coolest hikes in the park!
T. Lintang | 5.8km (one-way) | 3.5 hours
Telok Lintang is one of the longer routes in the park at 5.8km. The loop takes you through the jungle, partially along wooden walkways and partially along trails. On the Lintang Trail, you’ll see most all of the parks natural highlights, and it’s possible to take a short detour to the Bukit Tambi viewpoint. I missed this one, but this is the best hike for anyone with plenty of time to explore who is looking for a long walk with extra opportunities for wildlife spotting.
How to Get to Bako National Park
It’s surprisingly simple to get to Bako from Kuching. Public transport is available if you’re willing to wait around for a bit or you can cheaply hire a taxi out of town.
Bus from Kuching to Bako
The cheapest way to get from Kuching to Bako Bazaar is to take Bus 1 and a shared motorboat. You can catch the bus in Kuching from 6 Jln Khoo Hun Yeang, just in front of the City Inn Hotel. I read that buses depart every hour from 7am to 5pm, but the actual departure times are hard to map… hang around for the hour and you’re sure to see the red bus with a BAKO sign pass eventually. The trip takes 40-50 minutes and costs RM5 ($1.20) to the park entrance.
From Bako Bazaar, it’s just a 20-minute trip costing RM20 ($4.90) to the Teluk Assaam jetty by motorboat. Boats usually leave every hour from 8am to 4pm, but they typically only depart when they’re full. You can charter a private boat for a fee of MR100 ($24.50) if you’re in a hurry.
Private Car from Kuching to Bako
If you miss your bus, you can also inexpensively hire a taxi or Grab from Kuching to Bako. It will take 45 minutes and cost you RM55 ($13.50). Once you get to Bako Bazaar, follow the motorboat instructions mentioned in the bus route above.
Bako National Park Accommodation
Many make the mistake of just visiting Bako on a day trip, but those who stay the night will really get to experience the best of the park since the wildlife is most active at dawn and dusk. IMPORTANT: Book your lodge at least two days in advance, or up to a couple of weeks ahead if your dates aren’t flexible.
The only places to stay in the park are forest lodges or campgrounds. The lodges are extremely basic but surprisingly well maintained given the challenging environment. You can book one of the lodges for an overnight at Bako National Park. Lodges range from shared hostels to more luxurious sounding “forest lodges” with minimal bedding, a fan, a fridge, and an en suite bathroom, but the only real difference is how many people you’re sharing a room with. You can also go camping in Bako if you bring your own gear, but the weather in Bako is wet and muggy and the macaques are notorious thieves. Not my thing, but maybe it’s yours? Rooms start from RM40 ($9.80) and are bookable on the park website.