Lintang Trail & Bukit Tambi

Difficulty
6/10 (some steep parts and hot and exposed sections)
Distance
5.25 km
Scenic value
7/10
Walking Time
3- 4 hrs (half-day)
Flora & Fauna
9/10
Trail Markings
Red
Summary

This loop trail of moderate length and difficulty is a great introduction to Bako National Park’s wealth of animals and vegetation types. (This one trail passes through almost all the major vegetation types in Sarawak!).The trail starts in the beach vegetation around the HQ at Telok Assam. From there it leads through mangrove, where you may see brilliant blue kingfishers, proboscis monkeys, and monitor lizards. The trail then ascends the steep sandstone escarpment, a transition zone between the lush wet of the mangrove, beach and swamp forest, to the dryer vegetation of the plateau.

On the plateau, the walk undulates through dry ‘fire padang’ vegetation, with numerous pitcher plants, and across expanses of bare sandstone, in which strange patterns have been carved by the slow action of rain and creeks. The trail delves in and out of kerangas heath forest, with beautiful ‘crocodile tail’-, fan-, feather- and sago- palms. The very brief detour up to Bukit Tambi is rewarded with good views towards Santubong and north Kuching.

The trail then loops back to the HQ, descending steeply through tall, moss-covered dipterocarp forest, set amidst massive undercut sandstone boulders and cliffs. At the end of the trail is a boardwalk leading through swampy riverine forest, and more animal-spotting opportunities.

 

Trail Description

The Lintang Trail starts at the northern end of the Park HQ. In Malay lintang means “across”, or “width”, and the trail does cross the width of the National Park.

Beach at Telok Assam

The vegetation around the beach at Telok Assam is quite special. Beach vegetation only occurs in a very thin strip between the ocean and the swamps and cliffs behind, and is specially adapted to this environment. Some of the plants along here include beach hibiscus, sea-almond (or “pagoda tree”), and cycads – “living fossils” which resemble small palm trees, but are related to trees living 200 million years ago. Also look out for the Barringtonia asiatica, a medium-sized tree on the beach near the south end of Telok Assam, which produces very fragrant flowers which resemble giant pink puffballs. The Malay name for this tree is putat laut, and it was traditionally used for poisoning fish in streams, which could then be easily collected for eating.

For more interesting details on the labelled trees around Telok Assam, see our Tree List.

Lots of animals can be seen at Telok Assam as well. Troops of beautiful and normally shy silver langurs (leaf-monkeys) often range through the HQ, feeding on the leaves of the trees which grow there; and plantain squirrels frolic all around. If you have very keen eyes, you might spot a flying lemur sleeping high on the trunk of a tree during the day. These nocturnal mammals have large membranes between their limbs, which allow them to glide between trees. In the evenings (and sometimes during the day), huge Bornean bearded pigs emerge from the forest and wander around HQ, digging up the ground looking for grubs, and occasionally patrolling along the beach. Unfortunately, they are also attracted by the rubbish bins, which have been heavily fortified. The other animal which cohabits only too well with man is the raucous and curious macaque. These monkeys patrol around HQ in large troupes, feeding in the trees, and looking for scraps of food and rubbish – even breaking into rooms.

 

 

Mangrove

Leaving the beach vegetation from the north end of Telok Assam, follow the mangrove boardwalk that leads past the jetty, over the river mouth and through the mangroves, past several pondoks (shelters).

Mangroves provide an essential breeding ground for fish, prawns and crabs, and are a good spot to see a wide variety of wildlife. If the tide is in, you can see garfish swimming at the surface of the water, while mudskippers take refuge on the supporting beams of the boardwalk. At low tide, small fiddler crabs patrol the mud flats, waving their one  oversized claw threateningly at anyone who gets too close. It is also a great spot to observe proboscis monkeys as they come down from the forest to feed in the evenings. Otters have also been reported in the river. There’s lots of birdlife in this area – watch for the flashes of the iridescent blue wings of kingfishers. The boardwalk continues towards a small freshwater stream, and ends at the base of the sandstone cliff. Large monitor lizards commonly scavenge in this area at high tide. The tea-coloured creek that flows into the mangroves next to the boardwalk is one of the water supplies to the park.

The mangrove boardwalk can also be fantastic at night-time. One of the species of mangrove which grows here is Avicennia officinalis. It’s local name is api-api, meaning “fires” or “lights”, referring to the large numbers of blinking fireflies which congregate around these trees at night. Another special (and rare) treat, when conditions are right, is phosphorescing (glowing) tide. This is caused by tiny plankton, and results in glowing flashes whenever something moves in the water – feeding fish glow as they swim through the water, and you really get a sense of how alive the mangrove is.

 

 

Cliff zone

On reaching the cliff, the trail winds its way up through mossy sandstone boulders, and shortly meets the trail to Telok Paku (“Fern Cove” in Malay), directly in front. Follow the trail up to the right, which zigzags up the slope. Coastal cliff areas are rare in Borneo, and have quite different vegetation from other areas. A number of the trees along the trail are labelled – refer to the tree list for further information about them.

After 5 minutes of climbing, there is a viewpoint to the left of the trail, overlooking the mangroves below. As the trail skirts around a sandstone overhang, the vegetation becomes noticeably drier. Pine-like Casuarina trees become more common along the trail.

Plateau – Fire Padang and Kerengas

A group of benches with prominent warnings against smoking are placed just before stairs onto the sandstone plateau itself. It takes approximately 15 minutes to get to this point from the end of the mangrove boardwalk. Please note that smoking anywhere along this next section of the trail is strictly prohibited – necessary to protect the dry and delicate vegetation from scrub fires.

Follow the red blazes on trees across the expanse of sandstone to the eroded white sandy trail, through exposed scrubby bushland. This is known as “fire padang”.

At first glance, Bako’s fire padang resembles dry and impoverished Australian bushland; however closer inspection reveals many unique features. There are numerous pitcher plants (primarily Nepenthes gracilis and Nepenthes rafflesiana). These carnivorous plants can survive despite the very poor soils, by supplementing their diets with insects, trapped and digested in the pitchers. Bulbous brown “ant plants”, orchids, grasses and ferns also feature in this fire padang vegetation. Contorted casuarinas and conifer trees lend some height – and form a living scaffolding for some of the climbing nepenthes.

After ten minutes of walking, on and off boardwalks, there is a junction with the trail leading off to Telok Pandan Besar and Telok Pandan Kecil and Tajor Waterfall (and from there on to Bukit Gondol and Telok Limau). Stay with the Lintang Trail, on the right hand side.

The trail continues through fire padang, across an open sluggish creek on bare sandstone, before entering kerangas forest.

Kerengas forest is also known as tropical heath, and occurs in patches where the conditions are slightly less harsh or dry than in the open fire padang. However, the soil is still very poor, and the name kerengas comes from an Iban word meaning “can’t grow rice”. In addition to more pitcher plants, there are also some beautiful palms in Bako’s kerengas forest, which you encounter here. Recognisable by their huge fronds, which grow from short trunks, are numerous large and spiny pantu palms (wild hill sago, Eugeissonia utilis). Their pith, grated and treated, is a traditional source of starch f or some indigenous groups, especially the Penan. Ekor buaya (“crocodile tail” in Malay) palms, with giant elongated diamond-shaped fronds, also appear. These rare and striking palms have a mouthful of a botanical name – Johannesteijsmannia altifrons – “croc tail” is much easier. Selunsor trees are also found here. With the strands of peeling bark, the trunks of these trees look much like Australian eucalypts, to which they are distantly related. Dipterocarps also occur in the kerengas forest, which gets to be quite tall in places, although even the dipterocarps do not grow to the heights which they do in mixed dipterocarp rainforest.

Bukit Tambi

The trail curves uphill, and clockwise around to a signboard, about 10-15 minutes after the previous junction. The sign points to an easy 2-3 minute side-track, which leads around the back and up to the top of Bukit Tambi (Bukit means “hill” in Malay; tambi is Tamil for “boy”. The name is thought to be a tribute to this hill’s first, anonymous, climber). The very short detour is well worth the effort, with good views of Santubong and part of Kuching. The view is probably best appreciated (and photographed) in the morning, with the sun coming from behind.

Back into the kerengas

From Bukit Tambi, the Lintang trail continues down through transitional kerangas/dipterocarp forest, with crinkly dipterocarp leaves strewn on the forest floor. It soon becomes drier again, giving way to scrubby vegetation before the trail emerges on a wide expanse of bare sandstone, crossed by two thin soupy trickles of water. Continue up along the left of this rock, where there are good views of Gunung Santubong, on your right.

The trail continues in and out of kerangas forest, with intervening expanses of sandstone (where creeks cut deep into the rock to create bathtubs – good for cooling off in during the wet season but a little sludgy during the dry) and low heath vegetation.

Nepenthes albomarginata (small pitcher plants easily identified by the white rim under the pitcher and narrow leaves) can be seen on the ground in wetter kerangas forest. The trail descends to boardwalk spanning a small creek before meeting the Ulu Serait turnoff (the trail from Bukit Gondol), some 25-35 minutes after the turnoff to Bukit Tambi.

Here, the forest is more open and dominated by conifers. Over the next 30 minutes, the trail continues undulating through kerangas forest, variable in height and density, and into small creek catchments where fire padang vegetation clings to exposed sandstone slabs and loose sandy soil. This trail is badly eroded in places – try to stick to marked paths and avoid creating new patches of erosion. As the trail starts to descend you may notice more anti-fire signs, marking the end of the sandstone plateau.

Moist cliffs and huge green boulders

Proceed downhill, through and over some moss covered sandstone boulders into tall, wet forest. This is quite different from the dry cliff you climbed at the start of the trail. In season, the forest floor may be carpeted with shed dipterocarp petals or winged seeds. There are occasional fissures in the rock with long drops into the bowels of the earth – be sure to stay on the trail. The trail weaves down between and under enormous green boulders; large trees are perched in and around these, and the contrast with the kerangas vegetation is striking. Several sets of wooden stairs and boardwalks are placed at steeper points.

The trail opens out onto a cliff edge, where a bench has been built on a flat expanse of rock overlooking Telok Delima, the bay adjacent to Telok Assam (Park HQ). There are good views to Gunung Santubong, Gunung Serapi and the mangroves below. The highly ridged leaves of a keruing (Dipterocarpus spp) tree’s canopy obscures the view slightly, it’s ramrod-straight trunk disappearing down into the green depths below.

The trail continues back into forest then steeply descends down the sandstone cliff using a series of wooden staircases and walkways, crossing fissures in the sandstone rock. The vegetation becomes progressively denser and wetter – ferns and gingers are all around, and some of the largest trees (very tall dipterocarps) on the Lintang Trail grow along here.

After 15 minutes walking from the cliff viewpoint, you’ll come across the junction with the Serait trail to the left and a signboard with a map of trail network. From here, the trail continues steadily down and over a creek, immediately after which the turnoff left to Telok Delima is marked by a signboard and a vicious clump of spiky nibong palms. (The Telok Delima Trail is a short track into the mangrove below the mouth of the creek.)

Continue to the right, up and over a rise for 5-10 minutes, where many large trees have been labelled (refer to our tree list for further information), down to a wooden walkway with another signboard of the trail network. To return to the Park HQ, turn left; the trail continuing to the right leads to the Ulu Assam Viewpoint.

Swamp forest

The boardwalk back to the park HQ takes about 10 minutes , depending on what you encounter. Proboscis monkeys are often seen and heard here, macaques get up to their usual antics, and there’s lots of bird, squirrel and frog life – and mosquitoes! Look out for the striking large spiky fruit of several wild durian trees on the ground – these would surely do more damage than falling coconuts, so watch your head!


Special Considerations

This walk is very hot and exposed in sections. Try to do it early in the day, and bring adequate water and sun protection with you. If you can’t bear the thought of carrying a couple of litres of water, take water purification tablets or a filter – there are lots of shallow, warm (but flowing) creeks along the way.

Some sections of the trail are permanently wet and slippery; and parts of the trail on the cliffs near the start and end are very steep. Also be sure to stay on the trail in these sections – there are some deep fissures in the sandstone, which may be covered by leaves and not immediately apparent.

Finally, please stick to the trails, to avoid contributing to erosion along the already stressed sandstone plateau.

Bako, despite its proximity to Kuching is remote – depending on tides it may be inaccessible for 3 or more hours – so if you need help in the event of an emergency, it may be a long time coming.