The ULTIMATE Guide to Bako National Park
We climbed out of the boat into the ankle-deep sea water and walked up the beach. We had arrived to explore Bako National Park. After checking in at the visitor’s center and scanning over the trail maps, we were off to trek through the jungle in search of Bako’s unique wildlife.
Bako National Park is Sarawak’s oldest national park and is famous for sightings of the Proboscis monkey. Located nearby Kuching, Malaysia, Bako National Park is a great destination for birdwatching, wildlife spotting, and jungle trekking. In the park, you will find a variety of trails. It is a must-visit destination for nature lovers in Malaysian Borneo.
Where is Bako National Park?
Bako National Park is located on a peninsula off the northwest coast of Malaysian Borneo, near Kuching in Sarawak. It is roughly 45 min-1 hour away from the city of Kuching and is only accessible by boat from the Bako National Park Terminal.
Wildlife in Bako National Park
You don’t come to Bako National Park unless you are hoping to see some unique wildlife. This park is home to some amazing animals, some only found in Borneo itself. The best time to spot wildlife is dawn and dusk so, as we mention a lot in this post, it’s highly recommended to spend the night. Some of the animals listed below are nocturnal so you won’t see them unless you choose to do a night tour while staying at the park’s accommodation.
The most popular animal and biggest draw to Bako National Park is the Proboscis Monkey. These monkeys are known for their orange coloring and uniquely shaped noses.
There are 3 types of monkeys in Bako National Park. Besides the Proboscis Monkey you will most likely spot Macaques near the beaches on trails 2 and 3, and Silver leaf Monkeys (Silver Langur) up in the trees.
Other mammals that call Bako home include squirrels, mouse deer, pangolin, flying lemur, and bearded pigs.
With over 150 bird species calling Bako home, this national park is a birdwatcher’s dream. However, if you are looking to spend time birding, we highly recommend staying overnight to be at the park at dawn and dusk.
There are also reptiles found in Bako National Park, including crocodiles near the beaches, water monitors, a variety of snakes (most not dangerous), and different kinds of lizards.
If you’re into bugs and insects, Bako National Park has those too! During our trip to Bako, we saw a variety of butterflies, giant ants (that apparently are not dangerous, so don’t worry too much if they crawl over your feet), and large spiders.
How to Get to Bako National Park
Getting to Bako National Park is quite easy but you can’t just take a grab to the park’s headquarters.
Step 1: Grab a bus (or taxi) to Bako National Park Terminal
There is a red bus that runs from Kuching to Bako every hour starting at 7 am. It will say Bako National Park on the front. We caught the bus at the bus stop outside the City Inn Hotel.
Since the first stop is closer to the waterfront, the bus picked us up closer to 7:10. Your accommodation should be able to direct you to the closest stop but if not, grab the bus outside the City Inn Hotel at the stop along Jalan Abell Road.
Step 2: Ride the Boat
The bus will stop a short walking distance from the Bako National Park Boat Jetty and Car Park. If you take a taxi here instead of the bus, they should drop you off right out front. When you walk inside, the staff will direct you where to go. First, you must purchase your bus ticket and then your park entrance ticket at the counter next it to.
To hire a private boat, it will cost 100 MR each way (200 MR total). If you are able to join a group (just for the boat ride, not necessarily all day) your ticket should be about 20 MR each way per person (40 MR).
After you purchase your boat transfer, buy your ticket from the next counter and head to the boat. It is a short ride through a river and around the coast of Bako National Park.
Luckily, as we were trying to purchase our boat transfer, 2 other couples came in and we were able to split the boat fee. We were charged 40 MR per person for transfer to and from the park instead of having to pay the 200 MR for the two of us. If you are going for the day, you must decide on a departure time so your boat knows when to pick you up. We chose the latest time available, 3 pm and were glad we did.
Step 3: You’re here!
Upon arrival at the national park, you may be exiting the boat either onto a boat dock or onto a beach depending on the tide. You must check in at the visitor’s center, show your ticket, and list the trails you plan to hike, more on choosing trails later.
When you arrive at the headquarters by boat, you will find signs with trail and park information, accommodation, and a restaurant.
If you head left after checking in, you will walk past the restaurant, some of the different forest lodges, and the boat dock (if you arrived at the beach). You will walk along a boardwalk through mangrove trees before reaching the trailhead for trails 3, 5, 6, and part of 10.
If you head to the right of the headquarters station, you will find public bathrooms right outside, pass by more forest lodges, the campsites, and after a short walk the trailheads for 2, 4, and part of 11.
Some trails are not mentioned in this blog post because they were closed during our stay and we are not aware of their reopening date.
Getting Back to Kuching
To get back to Kuching, you will board your boat at the time decided upon arrival and then catch the red bus back to Kuching. The bus departs roughly every hour, with the last departure being 4 or 5 pm. We were told 4 pm but another group 5, so it’s best to play it safe. Leaving the beach at 3 pm on the boat gives you more than enough time to catch the 4 pm bus!
Cost of Visiting Bako National Park
If you are staying for one day, we have the cost breakdown below. But, if you plan to stay the night you can use this website or reach out to this email for more information: email@example.com. We only visited for the day but would have much preferred staying overnight after talking to some travelers we met on the trails, more on this later.
TOTAL PER PERSON FOR 1 DAY: 61 MYR (not including food or extras), this is roughly $13.5 USD
- Bus to Bako Boat Terminal: 1 MYR
- Boat to the park entrance: 40 MYR (both ways, if you can find a group) 200 MR (both ways for a private group)
- Ticket for Park Entrance: 20 MYR
- Optional Guide: 150 MYR for the day
- Optional Overnight Accommodation: Starting from 15 MYR per bed
- Optional Lunch: 10+ MYR
Day Trip or Overnight?
We visited Bako for just the day and were happy with what we saw but we got really lucky. We got the earliest bus at 7 am and were on the hiking trail. The last boat left the park at 3 pm and we stayed until then.
If you choose to stay only one day at Bako National Park you should choose your trails wisely, putting emphasis on what you are really looking for. We hiked 3 trails and that was the most that we had time for at the park for one day. Visiting for one day does limit how much time you have at the park, limits your chances of seeing wildlife, and you may feel rushed.
Staying Overnight at Bako National Park
We talked to two groups of travelers who stayed overnight and they were so happy they did. Staying overnight means that you don’t have to get to the park as early as possible, gives you more free time to enjoy the trails, and provides the opportunity for guided night hikes, and sunrise/sunset on the beach.
Although basic, the accommodation is quite decent and comfortable for a short 1-2 night stay. Dorm beds (4 per room) at the park start at 15 MYR and depending on availability, you might have the entire room to yourself. They seem to space visitors out this way if there’s room, and we thought this was very nice. There are also campsites at the park if you have your own gear, it is not available to rent.
If you choose to stay overnight, there is a restaurant that serves breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Breakfast is a buffet of rice, noodles, eggs, meats, and fruit. Lunch is a buffet of rice, noodles, meats, and vegetables, and dinner is ordered from a menu. Each meal is around 10 MYR give or take a few. There are also coffee, tea, and canned/bottled drinks available for purchase, even beer! You will have the option to buy lunch during a day trip as well.
Pros of Staying Overnight
- More time in the park, your time isn’t cut short by bus or boat rides.
- At the park during the times are day when animals are more active.
- Opportunity for guided night hikes to see wildlife active after dark (15 MYR)
If you plan to spend the night at Bako National Park, it is best to book at least 2 nights beforehand. When you are purchasing your boat transfer, you may ask to purchase only your boat transfer to the park and hope you can join a group leaving the park the next day if you wish to take the chance. Since there are boats leaving most of the afternoon, there is a high chance you will find someone willing to let you on board, but this is up to you!
Hiking Trails in Bako National Park
There are a total of 16 Hiking or Trekking Trails in Bako. During our visit, 7 were open for the day trip and the others were under reconstruction or maintenance.
The trails range in length and difficulty, however, I would not say any of them are “easy”, especially if you are travelling with someone that has any physical disability that would affect hiking. This doesn’t mean it’s not worth the trip since the long paved stretch in front of the headquarters to each trailhead is where we saw the most wildlife and is still beautiful!
On the map, you are given at the park, the trails are all marked and estimated times are listed. We believe that if you are in decent shape, the times are quite long. We finished in half or 2/3 the time listed and took our time for each trail, stopping often for pictures.
BEST FOR WILDLIFE:
Trails 1, 2 and 3 are shorter trails and best for wildlife viewing. Trail 1, Telok Sapi, is the shortest but closed during our visit. Telok Delima or Trail 2 is 1km each way. Trail 3 named Telok Paku is 800 m long each way. We hiked both 2 and 3, but preferred trail 3 for the exciting trek, wildlife sightings, and beautiful beach ending.
Trail 4 named Ulu Assam is a 700 m one-way hike and is a steep hike up to a viewpoint. On this trail, we spotted some interesting insects and a large lizard. The beginning of the trail is flatter, however, the majority of the trail heads UP to a viewpoint overlooking the sea.
Trails 5 and 6 are connected for most of the way and take you to beaches with rock formations. Trail 5, named Telok Besar is 1.9 km one way. Trail 6 is named Telok Pandan, known for the Kecil rock formation on the beach and is 2.6 km one way. If you are looking for a beautiful beach to relax on after the trek, these are the trails to do!
Trail 11 is a large loop that circles part of the park and connects to the trailheads of 2-6. On the map, it is called the Lintang Loop and is 5.8 km.
There are 9 other trails on the map in Bako National Park. However, these trails were open during our visit. We cannot advise on the other trails deeper into the park without experiencing them. We hope more is available during your stay at Bako!
Tips for Visiting Bako National Park
- Hire a guide for the opportunity to spot the most wildlife. Guides can be hired right at the Bako National Park Terminal. It was offered to us, but if it isn’t offered, ask to find out if there are any available that day.
- If you are only going for one day, get on the earliest bus!
- SPEND THE NIGHT! This way you are at the park during peak wildlife spotting hours; dawn and dusk!
What to bring to Bako National Park:
Hiking Attire: When preparing for your trip to Bako National Park, make sure to wear comfortable trekking clothes and comfortable hiking shoes. Although we wore our hiking sandals, we believe close-toed hiking shoes or boots would have been better for comfort and safety in the park.
Bug Spray: On top of clothing, make sure to bring mosquito repellent. I (Sam) am prone to bug bites and was the only one that the mosquitos seemed attracted to. Our eco-friendly repellent was not strong enough for me but it did work well for others. It is extremely hard to find bug spray with DEET in Malaysia so if you wish for the stronger kind bring it with you.
Sunscreen: Although you might be covered by the canopy for part of your day, it’s always important to protect your skin!
Snacks: Although there is a restaurant serving breakfast, lunch, and dinner, you will want to bring some snacks to ensure you have enough food during your visit. We bought fruit, nuts, and ramen to bring with us on our trip to Bako National Park.
Binoculars: Not necessary but would sure make wildlife sightings easier if you have a pair to bring along!
Toilet Paper: Bring some with you if you use it normally.
Cash: Lastly, it is important to bring CASH with you on your trip to the park. There are no ATMs nearby the boat terminal or park entrance. You will need cash to pay for your transportation and your entrance to the park. How much cash? Keep reading to find out!
Do I need a guided tour to visit Bako National Park?
NO! You do not need a guide to visit Bako National Park, especially for a day trip. You can explore the park on your own, however, a guide is recommended if you are hoping to get the most out of your time and see the most animals.
We saw groups of nature photographers with guides since they often know where to find the animals throughout the day. At night, you do need to hike with a guide in Bako but this is offered by the park when you stay and is affordable.
You don’t need to book a tour to visit Bako National Park. We have seen some outrageous tour prices for Bako it’s so affordable to visit on your own, especially if you follow the directions above.
Depending on your goal and budget, we believe visiting Bako National Park on your own and booking directly through the park is your best option!
Final Thoughts: Bako National Park
We had such a great day hiking around Bako National Park. Seeing the proboscis monkeys in the wild was so exciting! They are definitely odd-looking animals. If we could do it over, the one thing we would change is not having spent the night. It’s definitely worth the overnight trip if you have the time for it. Remember to respect the wildlife, stay on the trail, and clean up after yourself. The animals are WILD so do not approach them, admire them from afar!
For more information on visiting Bako National Park, click here.