In & Around Kuching
BAKO NATIONAL PARK
Bako National Park is a popular destinations for visitors to Kuching as it is only 40 minutes by car to the main jetty plus another 20 minutes boat journey to the park. Many go for a day trip only but there are huts chalets in the park for those wanting to stay for a night or longer.
Go early in the morning before the heat of the day might become too much for you. You must register at the reception of the jetty terminal where an entrance fee is levied. The warden then directs you to the jetty where designated outboard motor boats wait.
The trip begin’s along the river where picturesque Kampung Bako stands on stilts and soon the boat is out to the sea and the coastline of Mount Santubong can be seen. Along the way there are unusual rock formations are seen and often rocky cliffs rise vertically hundreds of feet high. Beautiful sandstone formation featuring pink and iron patterns on cliff faces can be seen along most of the coastline. The iconic sea stack of Bako National Park can only be seen up close if one takes an optional trip by boat from the park jetty to the Telok Pandan Kecil.
Please check the tide schedule as if the tide is low, the boat will have to land a few hundred meters away from the park jetty. The muddy trek toward the landing point in sometimes ankle-deep water is really sucks is not that enjoyable.
When you arrive at the jetty, a short walk will take you to the Park HQ, where you can pick up a map of the various trails and information for your visit. There is a storage place for putting your baggage, but no lockers.
There are 16 trails well maintained of which some pass through waterfall and streams, others end in beaches or cliffs with panoramic views and range from a half hour trek to one that can give you a heart attack takes 8 hours.
Encounter with wildlife are higher in the early morning and dusk and the laziest way easiest of all to watch is from the park’s chalet and canteen. There are troops of macaques come out to steal forage for food. Leaving your personal belongings unguarded is inviting them to be dragged off by these naughty monkeys. The more well behaved silver leaf langurs keep their distance, while the proboscis monkey are equally shy. There are bearded pigs and monitor lizards hanging around the compound too if are lucky. Bird lovers will get more use than usual be glued to their binoculars as there are on record 150 species of local and mirgratory birds in the park. On the mud flats are mudskippers, fiddlers crab, hermit crabs and many others.
The longer jungle walking trails are quite strenuous and unless you are fit, these should not be attempted. Some parts of the trails may require one to clamber like a dog on fours but no real climbing is required. The rocks can be treacherously slippery on rainy days so chances of twisting an ankle is high. You will need a pair of good walking shoes.
An overnight stay is highly recommended as a day trip really does not do justice to the many attractions that Bako National Park has to offer. The only thing that sucks drawback is the spartan canteen’s lousy food. Pack lots of water before beginning a trek as you will be sweating like a pig buckets. Wear sport shorts instead of long pants as the humidity of the jungle will make you want to get naked! There seems to be not too many mosquitos but do bring your repellant just in case. Sun block is an absolute must if your skin is sensitive to sunlight as is a hat or cap.
How to get there:- You can take a taxi or petra jaya bus No.6 from Kuching City. Ask to be drop off at Kampung Bako or Bako National Park Jetty. The trip takes about 30 minutes by Taxi and longer by Bus. When you arrive at the jetty terminal, proceed to the registration counter and pay the entrance fee of RM10.00 per person and wait to be directed to your boat. Cost of hiring a boat is fixed atRM47.00 for 5 persons. If it’s more than 5 in a boat, the charge is RM9.00 per head. Last boat leaving for Park HQ is 4.15 pm and last to return from Park HQ is 5.00 pm, after which you may have to pay through your nose the fare increases. Park registration counter at the jetty terminal opens at 8.00 am and close at 4.15 pm and is opening 7 days a week, including public holidays. Except for day trippers, booking of chalets is necessary at the counter to ensure availability of rooms. Call +6082-348001 or call toll-free 1800 88 2526 for more information.
WIND CAVES & FAIRY CAVES
These two caves are actually kilometres apart and unless one is interested in groping in dark, a visit to either one will usually be enough for a day trip. The Wind Caves has an added attraction of being located near a shallow river with pebble banks and rest areas, making a picnic an excellent idea.
What Fairy Caves lacks in swimming facilities, it makes up by being a larger cave system than its nearby rival. These caves are so called because of the stalagmite formations inside which resemble ancient Chinese figurines of robed fairies. As the entrance to the caves is high up on the hill face, access is via a flight of concrete steps rising to about the height of a five-storey building. Then a series of almost vertical wooden stairs winding through cool but dark interior will take the climbers to a large cavern with a natural hole in the roof acting somewhat like an air well. Daylight of the sky shines through and illuminate the whole cavern, which otherwise would be engulfed in darkness.
There are more steps in this main cavern, and an exploration to the myriad openings of the place shows up many interesting stalagmites and stalactites, some of which form grotesque figurines and statues. It is humid in the interior of this limestone outcrop, and the climbing of the steps and stairways will drench you in sweat. You will need a certain level of fitness is required to complete the climb to the top.
The Wind Caves is a slightly different proposal altogether but unfortunately there is not much to see inside this caves except dark dank interiors. But the cool wind gently rustling your leisurely walk is totally refreshing compared to the humidity of Fairy Caves. A powerful torchlight is an absolute must as the trekkers would be blind as bats in the total darkness all along the war. What Wind Caves offers is the experience in trekking in breezy total darkness in the heart of limestone hills, and perhaps a chance for you to tell your friends you have “been there, done that” as far as cave exploration is concerned.
Emerging from the other end of the tunnel of this cave, one can take the return trip to the car park by the same dark hollow, or take a bright sunny walk of about two hundred metres along the road leading to the cave entrance. Nearby the car park is a shallow river and depending on the weather, the current varies from a lazy flow with crystal clear water where the pebbles are visible in the river bed to raging torrent of murky silt-filled water.
There is a viewing platform on the river bank with splendid view of the flowing river below where picnickers gather. Barbecue pits are also provided for those taking the trouble to lug even more food for their enjoyment. Wash rooms with showers are also provided.
If the current is too swift, common sense would suggest avoiding swimming to the middle of the river. In any case, the pebbled lined river bed with clear water near the edge with knee deep water should be a safer environment to enjoy this pleasure of nature. Huge trees and the rock wall of the limestone hills provide the much needed shade on sunny days doing away the need to bring tents and umbrellas.
How to get there:- From Kuching City take the Batu Kawa-Tondong Highway towards Bau. On reaching the traffic lights near Bau, turn left and continue driving. The t-junction to Wind Caves is on the right. If you are heading for Fairy Caves, ignore the sign for Wind Caves and continue driving where you will see another junction, turn right and drive straight on to reach Fairy Caves. I will have to double check on the bus route and number and the taxi fares.
GUNUNG GADING NATIONAL PARK
Gunung Gading National Park is located 120 km away from Kuching in a vast mountainous range that consists of several peaks, the highest at 906 meters. This National Park is a beautiful expanse of mountainous rainforest only two hours away from Kuching and is located near Lundu, a pleasant little town in south-west Sarawak.
Initially, the park was a closed conservation zone for the spectacular Rafflesia, the largest flower in the world that can grow up to one meter in diameter. However, after extensive environmental impact studies, the Sarawak National Parks Department decided that Gunung Gading is a treasure that should be shared with the public.
The highlight of the visit is to look out for the Rafflesia, the world’s largest flower at 1 meter in diameter when in full bloom. A plank walk has been built close to where the Rafflesia is commonly found, making viewing possible when the plant is in bloom. November to January are the peak blooming months for the Rafflesia.
Jungle trails lead to streams, cascading waterfalls and the mountains, with one path not worth taking trekkers to the summit of Gunung Gading (906m). The rugged mountains within the Park provide a scenic backdrop to the nearby town of Lundu, and the beaches at Pandan and Siar.
How to get there:- The Park is just about a five minute drive from Lundu town or about a two-hour drive from Kuching city. You can take an STC (Sarawak Transport Company) Lundu Express Bus or Bus No. 2B from Kuching City to Lundu town centre. From there, take a Pandan bus and ask to be dropped off at the park.