Malaysia: The road to Borneo

December 31, 2013

Borneo is the third largest island in the world, home to one of the oldest rainforests on the planet, and contains an assortment of endemic species. We only had 2 weeks here so we spent most of our time at two national parks, Bako and Mulu.

Bako National Park

Bako may be one of the smallest national parks in Sarawak but it is host to an incredible range of wildlife and almost all plants native to Borneo. It also boasts a comprehensive, well maintained walking track network. Unfortunately half of the network was closed while we were visiting.

It’s easily accessible but you can only reach the park by boat. From Kuching you can get a bus for 1.4 RM or taxi for 35 RM out to the boat terminal, but the boat is really pricey – about 50 RM each way per boat. You can share but as you must purchase the full return fare chances are you will only be able to split the journey there.

Lots of people only do a day trip out to the park but I recommend staying overnight, the accommodation is basic but you have a great chance of seeing some nocturnal animals. We went on a night tour with one of the local guides for 10 RM and saw everything from snakes and flying lemurs to the elusive mouse deer.

Proboscis Monkeys

We only had time to do a couple of trails. First we did the trail to Kecil beach. It’s about 2.5 hours each way and climbs through the jungle before crossing scrubland and descending to the beach. You can even see the sea stacks, the symbol of the park, off in the distance. The biggest draw is passing through the starkly different landscapes and flora.

We went in September and we found the weather to be very, very changeable. On the way out to Kecil beach the weather was absolutely beautiful, not a cloud in the sky and I even got a bit sun burnt. While at the beach in the space of about 10 minutes there was a marked drop in temperature and it absolutely poured down. Thunder, lightning, the works, which turned the path into a small river. It made for an interesting trek back!

Monkeys being curious

The next day we did the T.Paku trail, it’s a short easy walk to a nearby beach and if you go in the morning or afternoon you’re likely to see Silver Langures and Proboscis Monkeys. We went in the morning and passed a troop of Proboscis Monkeys on the way out as well as a bunch of Silver Languers on the way back that happened to include a bright orange baby.

Sometimes you don’t even need to walk far from HQ to see monkeys – we saw a troop of Proboscis monkeys about 2 minutes from HQ. However, be wary of the Macaques hanging around, they are very bold. Don’t tempt them but sometimes they can be annoying even when unprovoked. When eating outside a troop stole food off our plate while we were seated!

Even though Bako is amazing for the amount of biodiversity in such a compact area it can’t really compete with the scale of caves and rock formations of Mulu National Park.

Gunung Mulu National Park

Mulu National Park is remote, the only practical way to get there is to fly in. There are no ATMs, and no “town centre” as such. It’s really just the airport, and park HQ with a few homestays in between.

Even though the Park is in the middle of nowhere the facilities are 1st class, probably because an Australian family was hired to manage the park and they keep it up to a standard that they’d expect back in Australia.

The Pinnacles

We started by doing a 3 day hike out to the Pinnacles, a large karst rock formation out in the jungle. Our first stop on the trip was the Clearwater cave system. We then continued up stream for over an hour often pushing the boat through shallow sections as it was dry season. Once we reached the beginning of the trail it was an easy 10 km hike to the camp site.

The camp site has impressive views of cliffs as well as a great stream for swimming, however it is an open structure with nowhere to lock your belongings. Be careful here as it is a well-known target for thieves.

Next day we summited The Pinnacles, it’s an intensely steep climb of about 2km which is made even harder by the heat and humidity. The last section is so steep that you complete it using a series of ladders! The view from the top is totally worth it.

On the final day we just made our way back to Park HQ where we noticed about 80% of our ringgits from our money belt had been stolen!!

Be careful of thieves around Mulu

Park HQ refuse to store cash, and there are no ATMs so the locals know the open air campsite is a prime target for tourists who are carrying cash. The only time I didn’t have the money on me was when I was sleeping; it was in my bag next to me.

Strangely the USD and SGD that was also in the belt hadn’t been touched leading us to suspect it was a local; they wouldn’t be able to convert it foreign currency without raising suspicion. After reporting it to the police they mentioned that it was a problem at the campsite – local(s) go through your belongings while you sleep or are away hiking. They didn’t even take all the ringgits so as not to raise suspicion while we were at the camp when they may have been around, sneaky.

Deer cave

Deer cave has the 2nd largest cave passage in the world making for an awe-inspiring walk through and this was our final activity in Mulu. You can take a tour of the cave that leads through to a secondary entrance towards Paku Waterfall. On the way you get to see everything from millions of bats on the cave ceiling to blind fish in the streams. It’s totally worth it even though you get covered in bat-droppings as you make your way off the marked trails through the cave system. In the early evening you can see the bats leaving the cave in their millions to go hunting for insects – it can be pretty spectacular.

From the huge array of plants and animals at Bako to the Karst formations and extensive cave networks at Mulu, there’s a bit of everything for everyone. And what Borneo experience would be complete without being attacked by leeches!

Leech!