With Kota Kinabalu to conquer, Sabah might hold the crown for nature in Borneo, but there are plenty of outdoor activities in Sarawak. I recommend that you spend at least a week in the south of Sarawak, using Kuching as a base.
Bako National Park
Bako is a highlight of many trips to Sarawak. You can visit as a day trip from Kuching but it’s well worth the little effort required to spend the night. You need to book well in advance to get one of the National Park’s inexpensive chalets or dorm beds. Although part of the main island Bako feels like it’s off the coast because it’s not accessible by road. An easy bus ride form Kuching will take you to the boat dock which then drops you right at park headquarters in Bako.
When you arrive, marvel at how close the macaques come to camp, laugh at the bearded pigs that have made a home/nest under some of the park buildings then head out onto one of the numerous trails across the National Park.
The trails are well marked and it’s almost impossible to get lost, as long as you stick to the path and look out for the coloured markers, either on signs or as a painted stripe on trees. There are lots to choose from, from challenging overnight camping hikes, to ones almost entirely on boardwalks that are suitable for families with young children. Some of the trails even lead to swimmable beaches and waterfalls.
The highlight of any trip to Bako though is to spy the rare and elusive Proboscis Monkeys. The staff at park headquarters can tell you which trails they are frequenting. They are also prevalent around the main headquarter site late in the afternoon (one of the reasons to spend the night as the last boat back leaves at 3 or 4pm, depending on the season). With their long noses, the unusual looking monkeys are a funny sight and you can while away quite a long time watching them eat leaves and swinging their bot bellies through the trees.
I can also highly recommend the night walk, where you might be lucky enough to spy a flying lemur high in the trees, as well as various interesting nocturnal insects and smaller animals.
Gunung Gading National Park
Gunung Gading National Park is most famous for the Rafflesia Flower, the largest flower in the world. There are no strict blooming times but park rangers usually inform the office in Kuching when they notice the flower blooming or about to bloom. It will usually bloom for about five days but on the last day or two the flower will have started to shrink so it’s good to get there early. The Park office in Kuching recommend that you overnight at the park as it’s a two-hour multiple bus ride away. However, we met people who found it to be a reasonably easy day trip.
Matang Wildlife Sanctuary and Kubah National Park
Semenggoh Wildlife Centre holds the honours as the best place to see semi-wild orang-utans in Sarawak but the rehabilitation programme works so well that during fruiting season in the rainforest, the gingers apes do not come to the centre for extra food and there is almost a zero chance of seeing them. If that coincides with your visit, you have the option of Matang Wildlife Sanctuary.
The sanctuary is the first stage in the rehabilitation process for many endangered or captive rescued animals, including orang-utans. Because they have only recently been rescued many of the animals are still damaged physically and mentally and are kept in cages and enclosures until they are ready for the next stage, which includes being released into Semmongoh and the surrounding jungle. It can be a sad place but you should remember that Matang is just one step in the process of rehabilitating rescued animals. The success of Semmongoh, with orang-utans not relying on human intervention for food, is proof the process works.
From Matang, there is a well-marked trail that links to Kubah National Park. It takes approximately 2 hours to walk up and down hills, through stunning jungle. Once in Kubah you have other trail options, including a swimmable waterfall, or to catch a bus back to Kuching.
Kayaking the Sarawak River
When your legs are tired from trekking, but you’re not tired of adventure, try giving the upper body a workout with a day trip along the Sarawak River. Hotels and guesthouses can organise a group river kayaking trip. The trips usually include guides, lunch and water and you’ll be gone for most of the day. There’s a few hours of paddling and some time for swimming in the clear, clean water. Despite what some companies will tell you, there is almost zero chance of seeing any animals on a day trip from Kuching but you will pass friendly indigenous people going about their everyday life along the river, and have a chance to find out about life and culture from your Iban or Bidhayu guide. It’s worth the trip.
Blog and pictures by Simone