When to Visit
Getting to Bako involves a boat ride (see getting there and back) and can only be reached in the period around high tide. Check the Sarawak Almanac for tide times (available at most bookshops and some newsagents for RM2), or ask the Visitor Information Centre staff when you make your accommodation bookings. You don’t want to have to spend 3-4 hours in kampung Bako waiting for the tide – or In terms of seasons, April – July (dry season) is a good time to visit, as the park area is less swampy and the sea generally smoother. From August through to March, prevailing winds (and the wet season from October onwards) can make the boat ride quite rough and wet – you may have to contend with some surf. Haze from burning off fires in August and September can significantly reduce visibility.
A Warning about Macaques
Long-tailed macaques are notorious room-ransackers, if you give them the opportunity. Keep all doors and windows locked at all times when you are out – they are very adept at opening mosquito screens. Even your presence in the room is not always a full deterrent, and you may have to shoo one of the more curious ones away from your window. Macaques are apparently also sometimes known to raid food from people’s plates at the canteen (the authors have never seen this). In all these situations, they are only after food – not you. Please remember that these are wild animals, and don’t feed them. The only reason they pester you for food is that people have fed them in the past.
Along board walks and trails, macaques are generally not aggressive, but the males sometimes behave like gangsters and put on aggressive displays. This may happen if you get too close to very young babies (which are very cute and playful, and hard to resist with a camera). If they do this, the whole pack of monkeys might follow suit. Macaques have very sharp, long canines, so remember that you’re on their turf and beat a retreat. Carrying a stick is said to be a good deterrent, though it is certainly no guarantee. Actual attacks by macaques are in fact quite rare, but be sensible.
Being diurnal (day-time) creatures, macaques are not a problem at night.
The quiet and gentle silver langurs (silver leaf-monkeys) are delightful by comparison, and will not give you any hassles.
Single entry park permits are purchased on arrival at the Park HQ at Telok Assam, and are RM10 per adult, RM5 for seniors, disabled people and students; children are free. Group discounts apply (5 or more people). There are also multiple entry passes (1 and 3 month periods) as well as a discount pass for 5 visits. For full fee schedule, guide hire costs and multi-visit passes contact the Visitor Information Centre ((082) 248 088). Please note that accommodation at the Park is organised separately – ideally booked and paid for in advance in Kuching at the Visitor Information Centre ((082) 248 088, (082) 410 944).
Getting There & Back
Transport to Bako involves getting from Kuching to Kampung Bako (1/2 -1hr travelling) at the mouth of the Bako river, and then catching a boat (approximately 1/2 hr ride) which will take you out the river mouth to Bako Park HQ (at Telok Assam) in the National Park.
It is impossible to get to and from Bako NP at low tide (the estuary is a very tidal mudflat). Plan to be at Kampung Bako around high tide, and to plan to leave Bako NP around high tide. To check on tides, ring the Visitor Information Centre ((082) 248 088, 410 944) and ask them to consult the Sarawak Government Almanac. Of course, if you have a lot of time and patience (and a tolerant nose for belacan – fermented prawn paste, a Kampung Bako cottage industry) then you may not mind spending several hours waiting for the tide to come in. There are some restaurants at Kampung Bako overlooking the river (or mud) which depend on people like you whiling away the hours with cold drinks and seafood.
Kampung Bako is a fairly traditional Malay village, clearly built more around the river than the road, a recent introduction. The National Park Jetty is located at the end of a lane; there’s a booth where you’ll have to register and where your boatman will be assigned. A public toilet and public phone is located nearby.
From Kuching to Kampung Bako
Public buses (Petra Jaya Transport – yellow/ red/ black buses No. 6) are said to leave for Bako hourly from 07:00 to 16:00. This doesn’t always happen to ‘schedule’. These buses leave from Khoo Hun Yeang Road, opposite the Open Air Market in the centre of town. It takes 45 minutes – 1 hour to get to Kampung Bako (ask the driver to drop you off there, chances are if they see a foreigner, they’ll assume that’s where you’re going).
This may be your best bet if you want to take public transport. Kereta Sewa (Minivans) leave for Kampung Bako at the base of Electra House Shopping Centre near the Open Air Market. Standard fare is RM2, but there is no schedule and minivans leave when there are enough people (and hence take a variable amount of time to get to your destination).
Standard taxi fare to Kampung Bako was RM35 one way at the time of writing . It takes 20-30 minutes to get to from central Kuching. Prices may change with the introduction of meters in taxis.
Car hire is a relatively expensive option (RM100-120/day) – particularly if you are going. Consult the VIC for a list of car hire companies. To get to the Bako road, you’ll have to cross either the bridge from town to Petra Jaya, or the Barrage on the eastern side of town. Jalan Bako is the road you want to be on. There are fairly clear road signs to get there. Consult a map for negotiating the driving in town, but be careful as there are a lot of divided streets, most of which aren’t marked. At Kampung Bako, there’s some space for parking in the laneway by the jetty; but no guaranteed security.
From Kampung Bako to Park HQ and back
Boats cost RM40 one way (up to 5 people – it’s acceptable to share boats with other visitors) and life jackets are provided and compulsory. There’s no schedule – simply show up at the National Park booth at the Kampung Bako jetty between 8am-5pm. Most boats are open, so bear in mind that you and your gear could get very wet. Depending on tide, your boatman may be able to use the jetty at the park HQ, otherwise it’s a beach landing and you’ll have to get your feet wet. Your boatman will usually offer to take you back to Kampung Bako, – arrange a day and time, and they’ll show up. Ask for his name in case you need to change your plans (the park staff can contact them on your behalf).
Boats to other parts of the park
Boats can also be chartered to visit some of the bays and beaches in the park. Boat fees to the furthest reaches of the park (Pulau Lakei and Telok Limau) are approx. RM140 one way or return (same day only).
From Kampung Bako to Kuching:
Buses return to Kuching from Kampung Bako hourly, the last is at 5pm. From the jetty, walk straight ahead to where the lane intersects the road – the bus shelter is on the left hand side of the road, just in front of the lane. The bus stops near the open air market in Kuching.
It’s a long ride home as the bus passes through the picturesque fishing village of Muara Tebas on the eastern side the peninsula. There’s a colourful Chinese temple built on a rise which overlooks the mouth of the Sungai Sarawak. It commemorates some of Kuching’s pioneering Chinese immigrants who were shipwrecked and survived when washed ashore there.
Locals with vans may offer to take you back to Kuching for RM 35 – ask around at the park booth at the jetty.
Phone a cab (also RM35) – (082) 343 343; 482 000, or 480 000 – and expect a half hour wait or more.
Bako offers a variety of very pleasant and quiet accommodation. Note that accommodation should be booked and paid for in advance at the Visitor Information Centre in Kuching (082) 248 088. You may be able to take a chance showing up at Park HQ without booking, but Bako does get booked out.
At Park HQ, there are 3 hostel buildings, 2 ‘semi- detached lodges’ and 7 chalets. Some of these are in better condition than others. Photos of the different options are available when booking at the VIC. Only rooms in the semidetached lodges have private bathroom and toilet facilities. All rooms have got fans. Cooking facilities are not provided, but most units have got refrigerators and a kettle. Some chalets (6 and 7) are located facing the beachfront. Most accommodation however, is nestled around an inland boardwalk in a forested setting. This has advantages (proboscis monkeys and flying lemurs can sometimes be seen from your doorstep), as well as disadvantages (in the wet season, this area becomes a swampy haven for mosquitos; it is also the permanent playground for rampaging gangs of long-tailed macaques who take immense delight in trashing rooms if windows are left open). Prices for a night’s stay are given below (not including 5% government tax).
- Hostel (4 beds per room) RM15/bed, RM40/room
- Semidetached forest lodge (attached bathroom, 2 beds) RM50/room
- Forest Lodge (2 rooms with 3 single beds each, shared bathroom) RM100/room; RM150/lodge
There is a campsite, but for a large part of the year, it is a swamp. You’re better off paying the RM15 for a bed in the hostel. The Park HQ does not hire out camping gear. Camping gear is essential for the trek out to Telok Limau and Telok Kruin – both of which have camping sites, in natural settings (ie. no facilities). Costs for camping are RM5/ person / night .
Food & Drink
There is a canteen which produces reasonable food at very good prices (eg RM3 for a plate of mixed rice – nasi campur).
Cold drinks are available here, as are some basic food supplies for trekking and camping.
BBQ facilities were being developed at the time of writing.
The water supplying the National Park is obtained locally and is tea coloured (tannins from tree leaves) and tastes slightly metallic. A flavour enhancer such as drink powder, or more tannin (in the form of tea or coffee) is recommended. Treat all water before drinking it – kettles are available in most rooms. Bottled distilled water is sold at the canteen, but make sure you bring them back with you from your walks – there are enough empty plastic bottles in this part of the world already.
A well presented information centre provides comprehensive notes on flora, fauna, and geology of the park. An audio-visual presentation is usually shown nightly.
A Telecom card pay phone (no coins) is available at the park headquarters, next to the information centre.
Electricity (at the time of writing) is supplied by generators, but a mains connection cable is in the process of being laid. The generators are usually reliable, but can drop out from time to time.
Luggage can be left with the staff at the reception desk. An education centre is available for use with conference facilities.