Kuching’s best kept secret, Kubah/Matang has rainforest with massive trees, beautiful rivers and waterfalls, and the richest concerntration of palm species in the world. Kubah/Matang has an extensive trail network, and Matang has an excellent wildlife centre where you can see some of Sarawak’s wildlife. All only 1/2 hour from Kuching.
Kubah National Park is located on the slopes of Gunung Serapi, the tallest mountain in the landscape of Sarawak’s capital Kuching. This small national park has many attractions. Matang Wildlife Centre on the western side of the park has forested enclosures which showcase a variety of fascinating Borneo animals, including the orang utan. Other accessible parts of this park offer beautiful clear watercourses perfect for picnicking and swimming. Mountainous terrain and many river gullies make for more challenging trekking, and opportunities to appreciate a unique forest with one of the richest range of palm species in the world (95, actually!). It is also possible to see animals in the wild here, particularly birds, frogs and giant squirrels, although sighting of larger animals is rare.
There are many marked trails within this park, ranging from very short walks to day walks of moderate length. Treks start from either Matang Wildlife Centre (MWC) or from Kubah National Park HQ (KHQ). The two entrances are linked by the Ulu Rayu Trail, which cuts across the park. In addition, there are other treks listed which are very briefly described (see Other Trails & Destinations).
The incredible variety of palm species found in this national park can be experienced along this trek, and there is extensive botanical labelling of plants along the first few hundred metres (which can be done on its own if you want to skip the rest of the trail). Kerangas forest with clusters of pitcher plants, stately mixed dipterocarp forest with some huge trees, and lush creek vegetation are all found along this trail. This trail joins up with the Kubah Waterfall Trail and the Gunung Serapi Summit road (via a set of steep stairs).
View our PDF file providing information about some of the labelled trees on the Palmarium and Ulu Rayu Trail —> Here (80kb)
This is an excellent, moderately difficult half-day walk through very wet rainforest. It has some steep and slippery sections. From the summit road, the trail steadily descends into the Rayu river valley and the change in vegetation is visually striking as well as palpable – it’s incredibly damp and humid at the bottom. This hothouse environment is ideal for a number of plant types, particularly ferns, gingers and palms, which grow in great variety and profusion. It is also ideal for leeches (hint: wear fitted underwear). The trail crosses over several creeks, providing you with opportunities to look for wildlife like otters, frogs and birds. Some magnificent trees are found along this trail, with striking examples of buttress roots. Care must be taken on the final section to the falls, where you’ll have climb up slippery wooden stairs, and along slick bare rock. The falls are formed by the clear Sungai Rayu, which drops over a sheer sandstone wall as a beautiful curtain of water.
This loop trail demonstrates the impressive variety of vegetation types which Kubah preserves. The trail is mostly easy walking, but with one steep section, and takes about 2 hours to complete. You’ll pass through swampy kerangas forest with clusters of pitcher plants, climb into stately mixed dipterocarp forest with some huge trees, then descend into luxuriant riverine forest, with abundant palms. Crystal clear streams intersect the trail at many points. The trail eventually leads to the Rayu river, a great spot to picnic, swim and relax before strolling back to the park head quarters.
This moderately difficult trail is one of the longer treks from MWC, and the final section is steep and requires some scrambling. The trail branches off the Pitcher Plant Trail, through patches of secondary forest with rustling stands of large bamboo (buluh means “bamboo” in Malay and Iban). Trekking to the Sungai Buluh Waterfall also takes you through riverine forest and splendid tall dipterocarp forest. Part of the walk is beside a clear stream set amidst rugged boulders, and it ends at two secluded waterfalls dropping into shallow pools in a rainforest gully.
This medium length trail connects MWC and Kubah HQ, crossing over the ridgeline of the long northward protruding arm of Gunung Serapi. It passes through some pretty riverine forest (Ulu Rayu means “upper Rayu”, after the River this trail briefly follows) and kerangas vegetation, before climbing into mixed dipterocarp forest where many of the trees are labelled (we have provided an explanatory tree list). The trail eventually crosses the Kubah Main (Palmarium) Trail, before emerging onto the Gunung Serapi summit road.
Kubah National Park was gazetted in 1989 and covers an area of 22sq km. It has only been open to the public since 1995. Kubah National Park has two separate access points for visitors, located on opposing east – west sides of the park, and each with independent visitor facilities. Kubah National Park Headquarters is on the eastern side closest to Kuching (at 22km), and Matang Wildlife Centre (MWC) is a further 9km around to the western edge of the park. The direct distance between the two is only about 5km, but the road skirts around the base of the long north-projecting arm of the mountain.
There are large tracts of forest on the southern side of the mountain, which are outside the park boundary. This area is part of the water catchment for Kuching city. The rainforest and its porous sandstone bed act as a reservoir, providing a year-round supply of water. This, together with the opportunities for recreation, make the Gunung Serapi massif an invaluable resource to Kuching residents. Matang Family Park, on the road before the turn-off to the eastern entrance of the park, is a private venture with picnicking facilities, a kiosk and a clear running stream in a rainforest setting. It’s a popular local swimming spot on weekends. In 2002, it also provided the setting and cast for a unique IMAX film about insects – the 3-Dimensional movie Bugs. In front of the Kubah National Park HQ is a scout outdoor education centre which is used by community and school groups. Although the popular walk up Gunung Serapi is accessed via the Kubah National Park HQ, the peak itself is not within the Park’s boundaries, and public access to the summit is restricted because of a telecommunications installation. However, there are excellent views from a viewing point near the top (the Trekking Sarawak banner photo was taken up here).
More than one hundred years ago, Italian Botanist Odoardo Beccari recognised the natural (botanical) wealth of this area. He set up a field research hut in what was, at the time, remote jungle on the slopes of Gunung Matang. During his time at Matang, Beccari identifed many plant species previously unknown to Western science, a number of which now bear his name. Beccari’s accounts of Matang in A Wander Through the Great Forests of Borneo are very engagingly written. Here is a sample of Kubah/Matang in his day:
The forest [on the approaches to the mountain] was very marshy, the ground covered in surface-roots, which formed alternate lumps and awkward water-holes, and it was no easy matter to get along. I sank several times up to the knees in soft black slush, but where undisturbed, the water was limpid and drinkable, thought the colour of tea. The trees were not large in size, but grew thickly together, the number of species was large…
Our route around the mountain was a varied one. In the dips and valleys the vegetation was unusually thick and matted on account of the great number of rotangs [rattans – climbing palms]. In places where water accumulated the number of species was greater than elsewhere, and the shade was the densest. Not the slenderest sun-ray penetrated the vegetation. Here shrubs with long slender stems were frequent, literally covered with mosses…
Wandering on without finding a suitable place to commence the ascent of the mountain, we reached a part of the forest where the trees were of enormous height and size, the ground beneath being quite bare and devoid of undergrowth… [T]he dead leaves… formed a soft, brown carpet over which it was pleasant to walk.
All these forest types can still be experienced in Kubah today, although the trails have been well picked to avoid the worst swampy patches, and boardwalks and wooden plank assist with crossing those that are still there. It also seems Beccari missed the mountain’s gorgeous waterfalls.
The ongoing importance of the richness and diversity of Kubah’s tropical rainforests is well illustrated by the example of the bintangor tree. A type of bintangor tree from Kubah National Park is currently the subject of biopharmaceutical investigation. A compound from this tree is thought to be a potentially useful drug against the HIV virus (which causes AIDS). The bintangor tree is related to the rubber tree and its sap can be tapped in a similar manner. This sap has been used in traditional medicines, and it was this local knowledge that helped direct researchers to its potential application to AIDS. Two compounds have since been isolated from the bintangor tree (calanolide A and B). Calanolide B is currently in the middle of trials, testing its effectiveness, side effects and dosages, on patients with HIV.
For more background information on Kubah and Matang, check out:
- National Parks of Sarawak, by Hans Hazebroek and Abang Kashim bin Abang Morshidi
- Beccari’s A Wander Through the Great Forests of Borneo.