Pretty obvious – you just put one foot after the other, right? In a sense, yes – but you won’t get the most out of your experience.
In this page, we provide some tips for getting the most out of your trek.
Preparation and SafetyThe first point to make is that you should be properly prepared for the trek before you do it, and make sure that you stay safe while trekking. For detailed information, see our Preparation & Safety page.
Trekking is always more fun with friends. But if you take too many, chances are you’ll only end up yakking away to each other, oblivious to the environment around you, and in any case making so much noise that you’ll scare away anything worth seeing. (There’s nothing wrong with that if that’s what you want – but wouldn’t it be more comfortable in your dining room at home?) Large groups also have a greater impact on the environment. Further, it can be difficult to find a pace which suits the whole group, which can also make it easier to lose people. (“Honey, you seen Billy-Bob?” “Nope, I ain’t seen ‘im since ‘fore that last fork in the trail which led over the cliff where the alligators wure.”)
2 – 5 people is probably the optimal size for jungle trekking. Solo trekking is not recommended, but possible on some of the shorter trails without too much risk.
Appreciating Your Surroundings
It can be easy when trekking (particularly on difficult trails) to be so focussed on where to put your foot next (or just on being able to take another step), that you fail to appreciate the wonders of the environment around you.
Stop regularly to have a look and a listen (it’s also a good idea to drink every time you stop – even if you don’t feel like it). You’ll get a lot more out of your trek, and probably enjoy it more.
You’ll be amazed at what you can hear when you stop: the thumping of boots on hollow rainforest ground, combined with the scrunching of leaves is surprisingly noisy. The best way to locate wildlife is often by listening – monkeys crashing through the canopy and screeching and chattering as they play and fight; myriad birdsongs; the honking call of rhinoceros hornbills and the swooshing of their great wings; cicadas, frogs and crickets all whirring, humming and chirping; squirrels running along branches, chattering away and dropping half-eaten fruits; lizards, insects and other small animals scurrying through fallen leaves; the breeze as it caresses the crown of the canopy far above; and the trickling of small streams.
Look all around you, not just down at your feet – even when the trail is tricky – you might miss a turnoff or some other hazard! Check out the birds and squirrels in the canopy, the orchids, ferns and other epiphytes, covering great trunks and branches many floors up. Huge coiling liana vines, spiny rattans, and dangling strangler fig roots all hanging (or climbing) from high. The variation in textures and colours of the bark on the trees is amazing, as is the shape of their trunks – some with huge buttresses, others rising straight up out of the ground. Butterflies of a thousand different colours and sizes are all around, flitting around the high canopy, and between the small herbs and young trees near the ground. On the ground itself is a mad collection of leaves of all shapes and sizes, as well as winged dipterocarp seeds and fallen fruit (ranging from small berries to cannonball sized spiky wild durian). Mushrooms and toadstools poke their heads through the leaves – brilliant yellow and red as well as the dull browns – or literally covering fallen logs, whose decay they are speeding up, returning the nutrients to the soil. The litter is teeming with life – skinks, termites, ants, spiders, millipedes, and frogs to name but a few.
While trekking through the rainforest, you encounter a surprising range of smells – from the warm smell of decaying wood, to the sweet scent of tropical flowers (you often smell the flowers – usually fallen from epiphytes or trees high above – well before you see them), to the acrid musk of civets marking their territory.
To learn more about the animals and plants you might see, hear (or smell!) check out our Flora & Fauna pages.
Trekking at Night
Trekking long trails in the dark is not recommended (make sure you get your timing right!). Having said that, going for a short explore in the rainforest at night can be a magical experience. Many animals only come out at dusk, and it can be the best time to see them. Take along a good torch (flashlight) to see if you can spot the reflections of any little eyes. But some of the best night sights can only be seen without a torch – the rainforest comes alive at night with little lights, from glowing fungi and fireflies.
Here’s how Italian botanist Odoardo Beccari described night-time at his camp at Matang, in the late 1800s:
The intense darkness was lit up from time to time by brilliant intermittent flashes – the love-lights of enormous fireflies. On the surface of the ground the darkness of night unveils a world which the light of the sun only hides by day. Every dead leaf, every branch or twig in a decaying condition, was luminous, showing a pale glow through the slight mist which rose from the humus of the forest soil? A huge rotten tree-trunk a few feet from where I lay emitted a brilliant phosphorescent light, emanating from certain white fungi belonging to the genus Agaricus. A single one of these enabled me easily to read a newspaper when placed upon it, so strong was the white and very beautiful light it gave off.
Boardwalks in various national parks are a good way to experience the jungle at night, in relative comfort and safety. Bako, Gunung Gading and Niah are probably the best places for this.
In Bako, the Mangrove Boardwalk can provide a particular treat at night: some of the mangrove trees, known in Malay as api-api (“fires”) trees attract kelip-kelip (fireflies), and look like blinking christmas-trees. And when conditions are right, millions of small plankton in the water under the boardwalk phosphoresce, glowing whenever a small fish (or anything else) breaks the surface of the water.
Trekking in the Rain
It does rain a lot in Sarawak. This should come as no great surprise – it is called “rainforest” for a reason, isn’t it? Nonetheless, there are drier seasons, and even during the wet season it is unusual for it to rain for more than a couple of hours at a time (but boy does it rain during those couple of hours). (See our About Sarawak page for information on climate.)
Nonetheless, unless you are high on a peak somewhere, the rain is not cold, and can provide a welcome relief from the heat. Raincoats can become very hot in tropical rain, and it may be better to do without, accept the inevitable, and just get wet. If you have things you need to keep dry, backpack covers, waterproof bags, and/or plain old plastic bags are recommended. If you do want to try to keep yourself dry, a light, loose-fitted plastic poncho is probably the most comfortable option (they are available in shops here if you can’t find them at home).
Witnessing a tropical downpour in the jungle can be quite an experience. Here’s how Beccari described it over 100 years ago:
Thunder growled and incessant lightning streaked the lowering sky; the rain descends in torrents, producing a singular sound as it beat on the dense foliage of the trees. On the ground in the forest the deluge does not fall with uniform regularity. The rain loses its impetus on the aerial vegetation and reaches the ground as it can, now in huge drops, now in streamlets down the tree-trunks; but in the end the water penetrates the forest just as it does in the open. After such a downpour a slight mist rises from the soil, and the hot reeking dampness transfuses a powerful influx of new life and energy into the vegetation.
Rain can become a hazard where it makes boardwalks slippery or steep slopes slippery and unstable. See our Preparation & Safety page for more information.