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Monkeying Around in Bako

Rock formations at Bako National Park

Rock formations at Bako National Park

Mention ‘Borneo’ and images of age-old rainforests and rich wildlife come to mind. Unless you have plenty of time to traipse the entire island, the easiest way to experience a snapshot of it is to head to Bako National Park in Sarawak, located at the northwestern tip of Borneo.

Located close to Sarawak’s capital of Kuching, Bako is easily accessible by bus or on an organised tour. The thing about Bako is that even though it’s on a peninsula, it’s only accessible by boat.

When the tide is low, this can get tricky – and the locals always have a way of scaring visitors by telling them that saltwater crocs patrol the area (this is the truth), especially when the boat is chugging agonizingly slow in the low waters and you see movement in the banks. However, the presence of locals frolicking in the water indicates that it’s not as scary as the boatmen make it out to be.

The only creature that most visitors come here to see is the male proboscis monkey – a wheat-coloured, pot-bellied primate which is easily distinguished by the dangly appendage that is its nose. There are several troupes in the park, and they can be found pretty near the park headquarters and the lodging sites.

Juvenile Proboscis Monkey

Other groups can be found within a short hike along the park’s many hiking trails. If you hear rustling in the trees, it’s either proboscis monkeys, silver langurs (graceful monkeys with grey fur and starburst-looking faces), or annoying macaques, which are known to be pests.

Leaping monkey

Leaping monkey

If you’re lucky, you may get to see a few proboscis monkey troupes, which vary from a handful of monkeys to about 20 members (especially later in the year after their breeding season). Seeing a fully-grown male with a large schnoz can be rare, but juveniles are pretty prolific as they’re less shy and more playful. Their idea of ‘play’ is spraying their pee on passers by below, of course. Curiously, their pee smells like sandalwood, in case you’re wondering.

While looking up at trees to find flying monkeys, most people tend to miss the other attraction the park has: snakes, which tend to settle on the lower branches of trees (read: crotch height), so be careful when foraying off the established paths. Most of the snakes here are harmless, and are usually green in colour. However, green is also the colour of the poisonous Wagler’s Pit Viper, which has a distinctive triangular head. But, seriously, who has the time to check for the shape of the head when you see a green thing slithering at you?

Waglers Pit Viper

Another creature that’s prolific in the park are the wild boars – large, hairy black pigs with tusks and creepy yellow eyes. They can be found constantly foraging on the ground, and as long as you don’t get in their way, you’re fine. If you spend the night here, you can see even more critters, like the tiny mousedeer, pangolin and flying lemur (don’t forget to bring mosquito repellent).

The park has many beaches, as well as interesting offshore rock formations – you can hike to these along marked trails, and head back to where you started on a boat for an alternative view of the park.

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