It’s not uncommon to anyone that the large island in Southeast Asia’s Malay Archipelago boasts one of the most diverse biodiversity and pristine ecosystems that can be found on this planet. Sabah has Mount Kinabalu and islands scattered near the Sulawesi sea. Sarawak has extensive rainforests and the archeological wonders of the Niah caves.
When it comes to islands and sunny beaches, Sabah has always been more sought-after for vacations or diving trip destinations. This summer, I decided to take an adventure with my friends to Bako National Park instead, a hidden gem in Sarawak that isn’t infamous, yet still well-known. Having experienced several islands off the Sabah coast, an island nestled in Sarawak’s salty waters seems very intriguing for a change. After all, my nature expeditions in Borneo have never disappointed me so far.
Turns out Bako National Park isn’t that far from the heart of Sarawak’s capital, Kuching. All it took was a 40-minute drive to the Bako Boat Jetty. The jetty is reachable by car, bus and van. Since there were 14 of us, we decided to go to the jetty all piled up in one van. The first thing that caught my attention at the jetty was the fair-sized crocodile warning sign. Sarawak is already known for the highest crocodile population in Malaysia, and saltwater crocodiles are no exception. I admit that I was both disappointed and curious at the same time – crocodiles, in island waters? Not a typical island for many!
The boat journey from the jetty to the island was only 20 minutes, and it was anything but mundane. If anything, it was like a scene straight from a National Geographic documentary, or a David Attenborough short film (whichever you prefer to imagine it as, really). A smooth ride in the seemingly green estuarine river with lush green trees seen on the river banks, then transcended into the calm waters that rippled into waves, with the majestic Mount Santubong as the backdrop of the vast blue ocean.
Approaching the jetty, there was another crocodile warning sign – apparently, it is strictly unadvised to swim in the ocean. We asked one of the boatmen if there had been any crocodile cases in Bako. There hasn’t been any but it is best to avoid going into the waters as these creatures can be very unpredictable.
Unlike most islands, Bako National Park not only boasts pristine beaches and typical beach activities to do, but an extensive coastal forest. It’s the perfect destination for nature lovers and adrenaline seekers, with 18 trails fit for every level of hikers. We decided to take on the Tanjung Sapi trail, given the short amount of time we have on the island. The trail took us from the front part of the island, where we walked through mangroves, and then slowly progressed deeper through the centre of the island with sneak peeks of the ocean from afar, and naughty monkeys always ready to aim at our belongings.
The trail led us to the right side of the island, where it was serene and empty except for two boats, and one or two people. Extensive rocks with rock pools in-between extended from the beach, with the waves splashing onto the rocks with mudskippers perched on them.
There were many caves and impressive geological structures on the island, each geological structure a swirl of brown, orange, and yellow hues. On the further left side of the island, the structures were very unique and interesting – they seem to take on resemblance to animal heads and fangs. The geological structures also didn’t fail to impress as it goes further from the beach. A 10-minute boat ride from the island led us to the infamous sea stacks of Bako, still standing tall and strong in the middle of the ocean, just a few metres from the beach.
Anyway, what is a national park without the exclusive sightings of wildlife that are endemic to the place, right? Bako hosts many kinds of wildlife such as silver-leaf monkeys, long-taIled macaques, bearded pigs, and the infamous proboscis monkey. I was looking forward to spotting the proboscis monkey at Bako, an endangered species with an oddly large nose and fondness for seeds and fruits. I have to say that I was very happy to be able to spot the endangered proboscis monkey, perched high on a tree, probably scavenging for seeds or fruits.
Throughout my visit at Bako, I was quite dampened by the fact that I couldn’t take a swim in the clear waters. But at the same time, I too, can’t help but notice that unlike most islands or beaches in Malaysia that were impacted by tourism, the island was very clean. There wasn’t a trace of litter on the beach and the waters were clear with no floating debris. The lack of pollution on the island made Bako even more beautiful and pristine to me, and to an outsider, it just seems like a hidden gem in Sarawak. To say that I was impressed was an understatement. It then occurred to me that the reason there wasn’t any trace of pollution may or may not be influenced by the crocodile warning signs at Bako. The absence of human presence in the waters somehow preserves the natural state of the island and leaves no traces of tourism, as all responsible tourism should be.
The next time you decide to take a break, do visit Bako. I promise you’ll leave the island yearning to visit for a second time. But word of advice, the best times to visit are May to July and don’t forget to bring sunscreen!
Journalist, Charisma Movement 22/23