As we walked through the jungle, a roof of green leaves filtering sunlight above our heads, our guide suddenly stopped us and gestured high into the tree tops. Far away, a rustling in the canopy. We waited in silence, necks craning up, eyes scanning the branches.
After a few moments, the rustling came closer. The forest canopy above us began to move and sway. Branches bent and snapped back and then we started to spot them – brown furry bodies leaping and moving quickly from branch to branch, their long tails trailing behind them.
“Proboscis monkeys,” said our guide. These rare and fascinating monkeys with their pornographic noses live here in beautiful Bako National Park, in Malaysian Borneo.
It was my 26th birthday and we were celebrating with a trekking adventure in Bako National Park, a full day of gorgeous scenery and amazing animal encounters. The Proboscis Monkeys were one of the first creatures that we saw when we arrived in the park, but they certainly wouldn’t be the last.
By the end of the day, we will have gotten up close and personal with a giant monitor lizard, a bright green snake and a mother wild bearded pig and her half dozen curious piglets. We spotted the family of pigs in a mangrove forest and as mother wandered away, slightly bored, the eager and exploratory piglets had crept up to us slowly, cautiously sniffing the air with their little brown snouts.
We stood as still as statues and held our breath as they peered up at us, then the wind must have shifted because they all turned tail and scattered into the underbrush. Our guide, although he had lived his entire life in that jungle, had never seen anything like that moment.
If you are planning a trekking adventure through Bako National Park, I would fully recommend using a guide, because you will be much more likely to spot wildlife that you might have missed while trekking on your own.
The guides all live in the wooden stilt houses along the water and they will offer their services to you when you arrive at the Bako Market. Ours knew the jungle like the back of his hand. He could spot a flash of colour or a rustle in the bushes several metres away and know exactly what kind of animal it was, while Lee and I might not have even noticed a thing. His insight into the environment was incredibly valuable and make the experience so much more enjoyable.
Kuching – The Jumping Off Point for Jungle Adventures
We were staying in the city of Kuching and we visited Bako National Park on a day trip. Kuching is small enough to comfortably walk around, yet large enough to have all off the shopping and dining that you might need – so it’s a nice place to stay for a few days and the perfect base for wildlife adventures in Sarawak. As well as our day trip to Bako, we also took a trip to see Orangutans in the wild and to a traditional bamboo village.
There is always a lot happening in Kuching, such as these traditional dancers putting on a show along the peaceful banks of the Sarawak River:
How to Get to Bako National Park
You can reach Bako National Park from Kuching, which you can get to by flying to the Kuching International Airport. There are frequent connections to Singapore, Kuala Lumpur, Hong Kong and other cities.
In order to get to Bako National Park, you must take a bus from Kuching to Bako Market. The bus ride will usually take around 45-60 minutes and it will only cost around 3.50RM. The buses usually leave around once per hour. You can also take one of the minivans, which will depart when they are full.
Once you get to Bako Market, you will need to purchase your entrance ticket (20RM) and buy a ticket for the boat trip (Around 47RM one way). You will take a 20 minute ride on a small motor boat and will be dropped off on a beach. Take your shoes off, because you will need to jump out into knee-deep water and wade onto shore.
Semenggoh Wildlife Centre – Up Close and Personal with Orangutans
Another fantastic wildlife experience we had while staying in Kuching was to see orangutans in the wild. Watching these graceful shaggy creatures as they hung by one hand from a vine and peeled bananas with their feet was a moment that I will never forget.
The wild and beautiful Semenggoh Wildlife Rehabilition Centre is located only 12 miles from Kuching to the south, in the protected Semenggoh Nature Reserve. This protected park has been established since 1975 and offers a safe place for animals that have been injured, orphaned or rescued from captivity, so that they can be introduced back into the wild. The animals are not kept in cages, they are free to roam as they please and frolic in the lush green jungle.
The orangutans that live in this wildlife centre are considered semi-wild and they are free to roam anywhere they wish, only returning to the centre occasionally. This provides a very rare opportunity to spot these amazing creatures in their natural habitat.
When the orangutans are first rescued, they are given medical care and then they are taught to survive in their habitat. The wardens take them out into the forest so that they can learn how to forage for good, climb trees and swing on branches. After around two or four years they are ready to fend for themselves in the wild and they are released.
Orangutans are much endangered creatures and there are only around 20,000-27,000 left in the world. Their numbers are dwindling due to the live animal trade, indiscriminate hunting, humans encroaching on their habitat and deforestation. This is why organisations such as the Semenggoh Nature Reserve do such important work and why I am happy to support them.
Tips for Visiting Semenggoh Wildlife Centre
You can arrange a day trip or a multi-day tour with many of the tour companies in Kuching, which will include a visit to the orangutans as well as some of the other attractions (such as this one from Pandan Holiday). Also, if you are going on your own you can take the bus number 6, 6A, 6B and 6C from the Sarawak Transport Company (STC) on Jalan Mosque on the west side of the waterfront in Kuching. The bus will take around 30-45 minutes and you can ask the driver to let you know where to get off. Also, if you take a minivan with a group of other travellers, your trip will be more direct and it will only cost around $4 per person.
The feeding times at the centre are at 9am and 3pm. It costs $1 to be admitted to the feeding area and if you want a tour deeper into the forest, a ranger will take you on a guided walk for $13 per group – for a group of up to 5 people.
When you are viewing the orangutans, remember to be quiet so you don’t alarm them. Don’t get any closer than 20 feet to them and turn off the flash on your camera. Also, don’t leave water bottles and food rubbish around and don’t smoke. Respect this wildlife sanctuary and the rare and endangered creatures that live within in.
Be patient, as it might take some time for the orangutans to come out of the forest into the eating area. Lee and I waited for what felt like an eternity, listening to the sounds of the jungle, before these hairy beasts came into view – swinging down from the treetops. It was totally worth the wait.
An Unforgettable Jungle Experience
Malaysian Borneo lives on in my memory as one of my favourite places in the world that I have travelled to and the reason is because of the breath-taking moments I had there experiencing unspoilt nature up close. Watching proboscis monkeys playing in the trees, getting within touching distance of tiny wild piglets, marvelling at rare orangutans in their natural habitat – it all filled me with awe for all of the wonders of the natural world.
Have you been to Borneo? What has been your most amazing wildlife encounter while travelling? Let us know in the comments.