It was my second day of traveling alone in Borneo. I’d spent a few days searching for crocodiles on the Kinabatangan river followed by another four days dodging pirates in Mabul, but those days had been with friends; now, here I was, heading to a small, uninhabited island off the west coast of Borneo to spend the night alone in a jungle hostel. Glancing at the reflection of my sleepy eyes and frizzy hair in the dirt streaked cab window, I wondered to myself, “Is this really my life?”
I arrived at the check-in center for Bako National Park and confirmed my reservation with the kindly man behind the desk. I purchased my boat ticket and was soon ushered onto a humble wooden fishing boat with an outboard motor. Along with eight other tourists, I watched the village along the banks streak by as we zipped up the river and toward Bako, the rainforested island that had been converted into a national park in 1957.
We rounded a bend and Bako came into view; dramatic rock formations burst from the water, bordered by lush greenery above and delicate sandy banks below. My jaw dropped in awe. I’d never seen a landscape quite like it.
The tide was out, which meant there was no water on the beach to take the boat to the dock. We anchored in a few feet of water and hopped out of the boat, carrying our luggage over our heads as we waded into the beach. I silently high fived myself for not bringing my rolly suitcase.
As I walked across the expansive beach, I could see why Bako had been chosen as the final destination for the popular TV show “The Amazing Race: Asia”. Not only is it remote and widely unheard of, but the small island is teeming with wildlife and beauty. Bako contains almost every kind of vegetation found in Borneo (one of the most biodiverse places on the planet) and is home to an abundance of wildlife, including the rare proboscis monkeys (more scientifically known as “penis nose monkeys”) that are found only in Borneo. Bako boasts rainforests, jungle streams, secluded beaches, bizarre rock formations, and an extensive network of trekking trails to explore it all. I felt pretty cool just for being there.
As awesome as I felt for coming to this place alone, I worried a little about trekking through the jungle on my own. Luckily I overheard a few people around my age speaking English so I jumped in their conversation and basically invited myself along to hike with them. They were two French girls traveling Southeast Asia together and their couchsurfing host, an Australian/Malaysian guy who lived in the nearest city of Kuching. They were friendly and welcoming and we spent the next two days together traipsing through the island, lounging on the beaches, and fending off evil food-stealing monkeys. They even let me join them after seeing that I would be hiking in my grape-scented purple rubber water shoes. What lovely, open minded people.
Bako was wonderful, and if you ever find yourself in Borneo, please include it in your itinerary. I highly recommend staying the night because there are so many trails and parts of the island to see that it would be difficult to do it all in one day. The forest hostel was around $5 per night and while it left a little to be desired, a basic roof over your head is all you really need for a night. During peak season you’ll want to reserve at least a week in advance.