Snake encounters and national parks in Borneo [Kuching, Malaysia]

in #travel4 years ago (edited)

Kuching was an obvious choice on the Borneo travel path.

And now I’m not talking about the city itself. My first impression of Kuching was that of a rather grey and uninviting town, its thick specks of smog wrapping you even more densely in Malaysia’s smothering heat. But truth told, its free museums, cat statues and riverwalks cheer up the experience, and especially during dinner time the town’s true hidden charm surfaces.

And look at this, they even have a Cat Museum. Funny Borneans:

The name Kuching approaches the Malaysian word for cats

But that’s not what you’re here for. You made a big effort to come down here via plane or over the endless roads and waterways that sabotage Borneo’s general accessibility... and you did that because of its national parks.

The province of Sarawak has an impressive amount of thirteen national parks, the majority of them surrounding the rather central city of Kuching. Some of them are more easily accessible than others. It will take you a day of travelling to reach Tanjung Datu NP or Talang Satang NP, and the Gunung Gading NP is only worth the two-hours-journey when the very rare Rafflesia flower blooms (which was unfortunately not the case during my one-week visit)... but, for example, the Kubah NP is only a short bus ride away.

Now I must warn you, bus travel in this part of Borneo is only for the more adventurous among us. Whatever information you’ll find on the internet: It will be obsolete by the time you read it. Hell, you can even ask in the morning and most probably the schedule will have changed later in the afternoon. You’ll just have to go and test your luck, always being mentally prepared for a Plan-B of Uber/Grab/Taxi or a willingness to hitchhike.

Bus #K21 surprisingly enough did leave at 11AM from the ‘open market bus stop’, so at least I had a budget option to move into that direction while being entertained by the vivid stories of a Bornean woman. I didn’t understand a single word she was saying, but she seemed happy so I was happy. I paid the standard RM20-park-entrance-fee and started my hike. Not alone: In the meantime I had met a Polish globetrotter from Vietnam, listening to the name Anja, and she was ready to conquer the jungle on flip-flops. Brave. Because Bornean bus travelling may be for the adventurous, but so is jungle-hiking.

There is an essential difference between general mountain or forest hiking and JUNGLE hiking.

First of all: the humid heat. You might think you know what a warm climate feels like, but there’s a fundamental distinction between lying in a bikini on a beach with 40 degrees or trekking through the bush-bush in sauna conditions. I never wished for a bigger set of eyebrows, but during these hikes I curse every minute I spent epilating them in a neat female line. There’s no word invented yet for the level of sweating these kind of environments put your through.

Second of all: Animals. Yes, that’s the whole charm of it, I know. Monkeys, iguanas and even snakes lure me into the rainforest with their irresistible beauty... but ever thought about the mosquito-density of a wet, plant-rich backdrop? Just so you know, malaria and zika are a thing here. And what about wasps, ticks and leeches? Anja had one dangling off her leg after a solid ten minutes.

That said, if you are still ready to go like we were, a whole Jungle-Book-kinda-wonderland awaits you. Vines, greens in all kind of shades and intensities, a soil full of miniature sightings... and somehow waterfalls always seem to be around the corner. You feel like you penetrated the deep core of the Earth’s lungs, pumping with life and energy. We zigzagged through Kubah until we reached the other side of the park at the Matang Wildlife Center, which is included in the ticket price... but it was already closed. This could hardly affect my mood, as I had read about the tiny cages the orangutans are kept in and had therefore zero interest in this unethical outing.

Unlike the bus ‘schedule’ previously suggested, there were no buses going back to Kuching. Neither were there Ubers, Grabs, taxis or any other forms of traffic. However, a local family just drove out of the forest after their monthly family picnic... We didn’t even have to ask for it, they were already shuffling kids around to make place for two sweaty foreigners, serving us their home-brewed rice wine along the way. And there’s Borneo for you.

Where Singaporeans (in my personal experience) openly support racism and foreigner-hate unless you’re Chinese/white and eager to lighten your wallet, Malaysians equal hospitality. True, there might be some staring and even gaping with mouths open when spotting a different-looking human (man, they even tend to sneak secret photographs), but in the end it’s just fascination and an eagerness to get to know you and share a conversation.

The award of Sarawak’s most famous national park definitely goes to Bako National Park (bus #1), a Lonely Planet favourite. Why? The goofy proboscis monkey can be spotted here, a true Borneo superstar. It is a peculiar animal to see, sitting there in the tree like an old man with his giant nose and big belly, knees up and lazily chewing on the food that happens to hang next to him. The locals were very eager to tell me this species is named ‘the Dutch monkey’, as during our colonial presence the Borneans saw our men and thought the resemblance was striking. Thanks, I’ll tell my dad!

It wasn’t in Bako I was going to see this creature though. Nope, to go to Bako you need a boat, and a boat only sails out when it’s high tide. I thought I had figured it out quite accurately, but apparently the local websites are as reliable as the bus schedules... 4,5 hours they asked me to wait, to subsequently hike 1,5 hour and return. That doesn’t sound like a good deal. Especially not because besides the park entrance, you’ll have to pay the boat service that thrives quite well on all that Lonely-Planet-induced mass tourism. Quite a deception after I woke up twice at 6AM to catch the early-morning bus (the first morning the monsoon-outbursts forcing me back into bed).

I turned around and travelled (via Kuching) down and up to Santubong National Park instead. As I wasn’t going to get the ultimate tourist experience now anyway I figured I might as well change gears entirely.

I went for the most hardcore trail in the entire region: ascending the peak of Mount Santubong.

Honestly, you can’t even speak of a hike anymore. This is high-level climbing, I couldn’t properly walk for three days after. But I saw in the eyes of the ranger that he thought I couldn’t do it, so it was happening.

It started off with a trail which is still ‘hikable’. It’s definitely not for the faint-hearted and you’ll forever bless the day you bought yourself some solid water-proof trekking boots, but a seasoned adventurer can make it work. That goes on for about 1,5 hours but then, oh boy... You look up to the almost vertical climb you’ve ever seen, all covered in slippery roots... you will probably tell yourself at this point that you will get passed that obstacle rather quickly. But you don’t.

From ‘almost vertical’ it goes to ‘actually vertical’, clambering up the moss-covered rocks with hands and feet. The last hour you have to monkey up by means of broken rope ladders and strings, as there are no tools whatsoever to provide any proper grip.*

Not one breathing moment, no mercy.

* Good news for you: When you come here in the near future there will be some proper metal ladders attached to the rocks... The park administration did realize the ladder-rope-situation is rather impossible, so just refer to this description for mere schadenfreude.

I felt muscles I didn’t even know I had.

My only break was forced by a snake encounter.

Sweat had blurred my vision and I almost stepped on the hissing fellow, something he didn’t receive with great appreciation. His head was already raised in attack-mode and he looked me straight in the eyes. His diamond-shaped head didn’t quite reassure me.

What would Steve Irwin do? Probably wrap it around his wrist and scream empty phrases to entertain his television audience. Hm, okay, let’s try again: What would Bear Grylls do? I started slowly backing off, not taking my eyes off him. At a few meters distance I waited for the snake to relax and go out of his state of defence. Then I started stamping my feet to cause earth tremblation, highly unpleasurable for sensitive creatures like a serpents, causing them to seek shelter to hide for possible danger. Slowly he moved off my path, I could continue the agonizing climb.

A climb worth the view? Maybe. I mean, it was truly stunning, the view stretched far and wide and clouds circled around me as I literally reached their height. Also, the sensation of not sweating for a short while is rewarding. But in comparison to what you give it doesn’t entirely pay back... but it’s not about that, is it? I sat there on the top feeling pretty damn pleased with myself. Like I’ve won something. The Iron Lady. The conqueror of Kuching.

And did I see proboscis monkeys? I most certainly did!

Not only in Santubong National Park, I also spotted many of them during the river safari through Kuching Wetlands National Park, together with macaque monkeys, river dolphins and crocodiles. I told you Kuching is worth it. 

And bats, you like bats? You won’t anymore after you had literally thousands of them simultaneously screaming and flapping around your face in Bau’s Wind Caves (bus #2) while wearing a rain poncho protecting you from bat poop. I don’t think I can ever wash that smell out of my nose.

What, you want orangutans too? Well, here’s Semenggoh Nature Reserve (bus #6) for you. Twenty years ago, young orangutans that had been orphaned or rescued from captivity were trained here to survive in the wild. The success of this rehabilitation programme has left the surrounding forest reserve with a thriving population of healthy adolescent and young adult orangutans, now independently breeding in the wild. This is no zoo-material, these animals are 100% free but occasionally come back for feeding time.

And to witness that is pure magic.

Until we meet.


I love the many details and photos you shared here... it makes me feel like I've been there myself.

Well, that's exactly my intention :)

Wow!Excellent photography.You are really creative photographer. Please stay with photography. how the beautiful natural view is! Very color full also. this see world good to traveler.

It's more the landscapes than my photos I guess haha, slave of the scenery ;)

nice work like creative photographer

Another fantastic trip!!!! Thanks for bringing me along.

You're more than welcome!

Did you check out Damai beach? It's near Santubong hill

Greetings and welcome to Malaysia :D

I indeed did! Really lovely place, Kuching and its surroundings, loved it!

thank you for share &Excellent photography

Thank you for sharing! Kuching is my lovely hometown:)

Is it, oh man, would've been nice to meet you if I had known

But I am in Singapore currently hehe

No doubt your work is very difficult but and unique . Epacially when you visit jungle . I appreciate your work . And I like your photography .
Thanks for sharing nice post .
Stay blessed and steem on !

I try my best! I'm glad you appreciate it :)

Every time I read your post it feel like I am there with you exploring the places. I love the leech gif I loathe those parasites they always gives me goosebumps but those are from trees, if you encountered the water leeches, its 2x the size. Anyway, please can you share with us where are you off to next?

Good post of you want travel go to Indonesia very beautiful country of you want review travel insurance Indonesia visit my post

nice one. jungle for sure the must checklist for borneo

@travelfeed you should check this out

Ah cool, I'll have a look!

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