BAKO National Park, which celebrates the 56th anniversary of its gazettement this year, is still one of the Malaysia’s best kept nature reserves.
My last visit to the Park was 26 years ago. It was an educational trip, organised by Green Road Secondary School (GRSS) Geography Club, led by former teacher in charge, Rambli Ahmad, who is now the geologist and ecologist with Sarawak Forestry Corporation (SFC) Sdn Bhd.
Memories of that overnight trip still linger. It was one of the best back-to-Nature outings. Visions of the trek along the forest trails and good times playing on the beach are still as vivid as ever.
One can hear the sounds of crickets, cicadas, frogs, and occasionally owls while taking a walk in the Park at night.
The beach near the Park’s headquarters is a great place for a night walk. If the tide is out, you can see crabs, prawns, anemones, starfish, annelid worms and young shrimps in scattered pools.
Bako National Park, the state’s oldest but smallest nature park, is home to the rare proboscis monkey, the odd-looking simian with a huge pendulous nose and large pot belly.
This monkey can sometimes be seen moving about the forest or mangroves in small groups and feeding on young leaves, shoots, sour fruits and seeds.
Many who visited the Park just to see the proboscis monkey in its natural habitat often came away without sighting any.
Most had to settle for the silvered leaf monkey or silvered langur. The adults have silver-grey fur and a spiky crest of head hair with the infants covered surprisingly in bright orange fur.
A new administrative block, doubling as a visitors’ information centre, was recently built at the Park. A cafeteria and mini gallery were incorporated into the building.
The mini gallery is a must-see because there are interesting photographs and valuable information on the Park, especially the various jungle trails and the unique flora and fauna.
Being fully air-conditioned, it’s also the best place to escape the humidity outside.
The new building, completed two years ago, is equipped with modern toilets and showers.
Kampung Bako residents who run the cafeteria, serve delicious Malay dishes at reasonable prices.
The wooden plankwalks, connecting the hostels and chalets, is another welcomed feature, making it possible to enjoy the convenience of walking safe at the night and dry when it rains.
These facilities are provided in part to prevent contact between people and nocturnal wild animals, especially snakes. However, most snakes found at the Park are non-venomous.
The grass green whip snake is easily recognised by its bright colour, pencil-slim body and long snout. Another species is the paradise tree snake.
The only known poisonous snake occasionally sighted is the Wagler’s pit viper with its broad, flat, triangular head – a rare capture on film for many avid Nature photographers.
Patient wildlife watchers are usually rewarded with sightings of the Bornean bearded pig. This species of hogs, which is the largest mammal found in Bako, is recognised by its prominent bristles on either side of its snout.
Groups of roaming macaques looking for discarded or unattended foods are still a common sight. The management has put up signs to warn visitors of the macaques’ mischievous foraging habits.
The beach is another good place to catch a glimpse of the interesting fauna, especially during the changing of the tides.
Watching the multitude of small crabs and even fish swimming in river around the old jetty offers a delightful experience.
The Park is also an ideal place for bird watching because over 150 species have reportedly been recorded there. Many can be seen around the accommodation area and the mangroves at Telok Assam.
Accommodation facilities at the Park consists of three-bedroom chalets, two-bedroom lodges, four-bedroom hostels and an open camping ground.
The best thing about staying overnight is that barbecue pits are provided for preparing meals.
The lodging costs have not changed much over the years and this could be one of the reasons why the Park is popular among domestic and foreign tourists.
Visitors pay only RM15.90 for a bed per night or rent the cheapest room which can comfortably accommodate three for RM42.40 per night
Most of the hostels and chalets are well maintained, including one of the wooden chalets built in the 1980’s.
Ceiling fans are still used for the rooms. None of the Park’s lodgings is air-conditioned. I have been given to understand that this is to prevent the emission of greenhouse gas which may affect the pristine environment there.
The latest lodging facility is the new two-room family chalet near the administrative block. It can accommodate seven people at a time. The rent is over RM250 per night — still cheaper than a hotel room in the city.
None of the hostels and chalets has TV or radio sets. Without wireless service, visitors have to rely on their smart phones to access the Internet.
Mobile phone reception at the Park is excellent though. Visitors are not cut off from the rest of the world like they were before the invention of mobile phones and wifi.
Still a popular spot
Last year alone, over 40,000 people, including foreign tourists, visited the Park.
On any given day, western tourists can be seen going to the Park in groups. They include retirees and senior couples, armed with trekking boots, insect repellent, binoculars and bottled mineral water.
Most of the tourists are from the US, the UK and Australia. Many spend more than a few nights trying to conquer the jungle trails. They also have no problems with the menu at the cafeteria and the rooms they are staying in. Nor is the RM20 entrance fee for foreign tourists an issue with them even though locals are charged half the amount.
The only obvious change is the boat fare which has increased a lot because of the hike in fuel price.
However, the boat service now is better organised and safety is top priority with life jackets being provided for visitors on board.
Despite the absence of entertainment and the Internet at the Park, the number of young local visitors has been encouraging. It shows the youths of today still appreciate the need to get away from the hustle and bustle of city life by going back to Nature.
Like the old days when excursions for the younger set were organised by the geography clubs or photography societies of their schools, a visit to the Bako National Park is good opportunity for especially the urban youths to connect with Mother Nature.