Sunday, November 4, 2012

The Teluk Assam to Teluk Limau Hike at Bako National Park

The surreal sunset on the day i arrived. With Gunung Santubong mountain silhouetted across the bay

This was supposed to be the toughest hike in my life. Many monsters of fitness such as the Army of Chong, Langkau's Kelabit clan of mountain hunters, trekkers and the like such as Stephen Baya, Ben Zoolander, Apui and Khun had all come away from this trek exhausted and drained.

Langkau had always asked me to do this and i promised him that I would someday, when i managed to get half fit. At the rate I was going with training it would take approximately 150 years with me looking like Yoda's left butt cheek.

This year I threw caution to the wind and just jumped in when Langkau said he was planning a trek this October. I was prepared for the worst.  A hike harder than the Agung volcano ascent, a trail that would defeat me mentally and physically like the Ba Kalalan to Bario journey almost 2 years ago and leave me breathless and gasping for air like a fish out of water like Kilimanjaro did.

The trail is over undulating 13 kilometers of tropical terrain that would see us climb steep, steep hills make equally sharp descents down slippery ravines all the while carrying 15 kgs of weight in our back packs. We would cross limestone ridges, streams along the way to the secluded Teluk Limau beach where we would be picked up by a boat the next day.

The Kampung Bako jetty.

I arrived on the 26th of October to Kuching where Langkau picked me up from the airport with Nick the Vic(tim). Nick was Langkau's colleague at the university. He got conned with the line from Langkau's email invite - "its a nice walk through the park with just some tough areas. Please feel free to bring your girlfriend" . -_-

Langkau of course wanted a third person on the trail in case i decided to kill him after putting me through hell. (actually it was just backup in case anyone got hurt or injured and also Nick had some camping experience compared to a city slicker like me). Thankfully Nick's girlfriend couldnt make it or else he would have reached Teluk Limau a single man!

The mysterious Gunung Santubong mountain across the bay from the Bako National Park.
We arrived at the Kampung Bako village in about 40 minutes from Kuching airport and proceed to get a boat that will take us to the Bako National Park Headquarters at the bay at Teluk Assam. The same boat would fetch us on Sunday from Teluk Limau. We negotitate our prices  - RM47 to the Bako National Park HQ, and RM165 for the 3 of us from Teluk Limau back to the jetty at Kampung Bako. On average the boatmen charge about RM200 for 5 people from a pick up from Teluk Limau back to the Jetty.
The beautiful sandstone cliffs along the Bako coast along the way to the National Park HQ

The sun is up now and its a glorious as the boat bounces on the waves as we take the 20 minute ride to the park HQ. I have to say i'm amazed at the high sandstone cliffs of the park. I have never seen a coastal terrain like this in Malaysia.

The awesome beach at the Bako National Park head quarters which houses the ranger station, chalets and campsites.

Langkau gets our boatmen nicknamed Sidup to drop us off at the beach directly in front of the park HQ, deferring to stop at their jetty which was a long walk to where we needed to register. The beach is is beautiful, long and broad in the low evening  tide.

The trail map of all the Bako trails. Each trail is marked in color codes which are reflected similarly on the painted markers along the trails - normally painted on trees or rocks.

Registration time
The great thing here is you get to get up close and personal with some wild life from the park.
The first thing to greet me at the park is a bearded wild boar casually rummaging around a dustbin near the registration center. In the space of time since we registered till dinner we saw more wild boars, proboscis monkeys, macaques and even a pit viper curled on on a tree nearby. (I'll do a Bako National Park post after this).
This was a nice moment. A cold evening with a nice wind and you see that tiny little wild boar in the beach (the tiny speck in the lower middle half of the picture). Oh that and the angel wings in the sky..

Its sort of a dreamy landscape as the sun sets on a cloudy day, the wind is gentle from the ocean and the sounds of the ocean swirl and merge with the the soundtrack of the jungle behind me. I am at peace as somehow i've managed to compartmentalize the apprehension for the following day's hard brutal trek.

Today, on this evening, you are here with me. I've just had a coke. We're standing on the beach as the wind blows against us. Look, see that cloud over Mount Santubong. Is it me or it looks like the missing wing of an angel? You say its cool yet a bit weird as we see another wild boar on the beach rummaging in the sand. Its a surreal moment.

The freshwater flowing into the ocean near the mangroves 
Langkau is familiar to the rangers here and we're allowed to stay in one of the incomplete spaces at the information center. It's still under construction and still smells of sawdust. The concrete floor is hard but we make do as we have an early start tomorrow and de-camping would take time.

The trails closer to the park HQ are trek friendly but it gets much harder on the second half of the journey to Teluk Limau. MUCH harder...
We leave at 8.20am after a quick breakfast. We've packed lunch from the resort cafeteria and we're off. our packs weigh on average 15 kgs. Its as light as we can get. The heaviest portion is the 4.5litres of water we are each carrying, our tents, food and other gear like torch, my walking poles, one set of spare clothes, camera, Swiss army knife, cutlery and rain jacket.

We walk past the plank walk thorough the mangrove forest and head towards the first hill that will take us to the ridge above.

The first half of the trail is fantastic. scenic, broad and with plank walkways over certain sections.  A pattern forms, with Lankau and Nick the Vic quickly moving ahead with me plodding along slowly while they wait for me at the top of every hill.  After a while the body adapts to the weight of the pack and my muscles are slowly warming up.

We pass by the various junctions that lead off to other beaches such as Teluk Pandan Besar, Tanjung Rhu where you get a view of the ocean and the Batu Belah sea stack and Teluk Sibor.

Plant life along the trail 

The well marked color coded trails. The blue red code is the trail from Teluk Sibor to Teluk Limau.

The misleading Tajor Waterfall rest area with its changing rooms - the waterfall is actually further up stream a little.

The stream just before the Teluk Sibor turnoff where we stopped for lunch.

We stop for an early lunch at about 10am at a small stream that's just located before the short climb up to the Teluk Sibor junction. The option was to push on and eat in the jungle but i figured I wanted to eat in a nice location to enjoy my meal before we pushed on. Besides i had am ample store of raisins, muesli bars and a can of coke for some sugar booster shots later.

Fallen logs reflected in the stream added to some serenity as we lunched on nasi lemak, friend chicken and bananas. According the the nice lady in the cafeteria, the fried rice didn't keep as long as the nasi lemak on a prolonged hike.
Langkau lunches

A rough idea of the terrain after the first 5-6 kilometers. It actually got harder with most of the trails  carpeted with tricky roots, slippery rocks, soft earth and rotten logs and branches with the occasional sharp barbed rattan vines that had fallen across the path.

Basically the first half of the journey only took us 90 minutes. Now the second half if where the challenge starts. I lost count how many steep hills we had to climb and descend but it was at least 8 or 9 steep hills and 3 steep sections that we had to climb up using the roots of trees to pull ourselves up.

This is where i just buckled down to getting to Teluk Limau in the targeted 10 hours i had set myself. I started using my walking poles and i believe this is what helped me tackle the tough terrain by taking the pressure of my legs going up and also taking the pressure off my knees on the steep climbs down.

I have to say its tough going but i'm pacing myself. Never going beyond a certain comfort zone. I'm sipping from my Camelbak occasionally and munching on raisins. I just make sure i never stop on any ascent up a hill. In my mind i was preparing for the worst. Because the source of Langkau's information is sometimes way off i could not be sure what to expect. Anything from rain, thunderstorms or ninja dragons ambushing us from the trees above were on my mind.

So up and down we go, up steep hills, small streams, steep ravines, ridges, past some mangroves, as the hours pass by. We start taking quick 10 minute rests at the top of every hill to let our muscles rest a little.

After the 5th hour we realize there is no more turning back and its time to just keep moving on as it will take us the same amount of time to walk back to Teluk Assam.

Langkau has brought along his trusty parang and i find myself catching up with them sometimes when they have to stop to clear fallen branches or rattan vines with their wicked thorns.

There is one section which the trail actually continues behind a large tree. You will have to climb up a little on the steep section there. This is where i got a bit confused as i did not see the color coded paint marks either to the left of the right of the tree. Luckily Nick the Vic was just above me behind the tree and motioned for me towards him.

I'll be honest there's nothing much i can write about this part of the trek.  I just knuckled down and took it one hill at a time. Maybe it was the rests in between, maybe the raisins were working wonders but tough as it was i could always find that little bit extra energy to get up every hill. My arms were aching from the efforts of using the poles but at least my legs were steady.

The key to this trek is more mental. I decided to never stop on any climb up any hill and only to stop with the rest at the top of every hill. After a while it was bearable.

Also i think climbing the brutal Agung volcano 3 weeks earlier had prepared me somewhat both mentally and physically.

Our target is to reach the Teluk Kruin/Teluk Limau junction which we would have signified that we had covered all the hard climbs. From then on it would take us an hour over some flat areas and down to Teluk Limau beach.

The Teluk Kruin/ Teluk Limau junction. One more hour to Teluk Limau beach from here.

We get there at around 5 ish. And we take a slightly longer break than normal to celebrate. Langkau whips up some chicken and munches away while we chill and chat. I am surprisingly OK. Tired with some aches already setting into my back and knees but still with some energy left.

We realize that the sun sets faster in the jungle and push off quickly. The last hour is not bad a walk but it culminates in a very steep descent from the ridge amid wet soil, roots and slippery rocks, through narrow paths and rocks and stones. Its getting dark and we pick up speed. It was no fun in the gradually increasing darkness of the jungle as dusk approached.

We flush out from the jungle into the Teluk Limau campsite. We're tired but relieved. Nick the Vic and I head to the beach. Its a pity that the secluded bay has high limestone outcrops that block off the rays from the setting sun. It would have been spectacular. Its now about 6.20 pm and the tide is low. We took 10 hours from Teluk Assam to Teluk Limau. We had arrived about an hour before sunset which was the best we could do at this point of fitness between us.

Teluk Limau is pretty little beach and its ringed by low colorful rocks. There is a stream nearby which valuable fresh water is available. Langkau heads there to collect water to cook our rice for dinner.

As evening falls my body now is getting cold and all the old injuries raise up from their slumber to remind me I'm not as young as i used to be. My back is throbbing and stiff.  While Nick the Vic showers in the stream and Langkau goes about preparing dinner i just walk around the bay. I later find out that some fishermen use the bay to sleep in or as shelter from storms. Some from Malaysia with some also from as far as Vietnam and Philippines who seem to be fishing in Malaysian waters.

Being the oldest old man there Langkau and Nick go out of their way to make me comfortable. Nick shows me how to pitch my tent (yes i am embarrassed that i've never pitched a tent) while Langkau is keeping the fire going.

The canned food is whipped out - some of the weight in our packs - sardines, stewed pork, pickles and clams/kerang are opened.

I can tell you, nothing tastes as good as hot food after a long hike. As night descends and a full moon lights up the camp site, we chow down on the grub.

Pretty soon everyone's crawling into their tents to rest aching muscles, joints and bones.

There is distant thunder and we know rain is  imminent.

Langkau cooks the rice in the light of my headlamp.

Its a wet morning as a heavy drizzle hits Teluk Limau at about 6am. Around 7am i hear Langkau fussing in the 'kitchen' shelter of the camp site and i come out to see that he's making breakfast. I take a while to 'shower' in the rain, scrubbing myself clean with a bar of soap. I feel so pretty...

This time its hot Maggi noodles for breakfast coupled with some other canned food we brought along. Our bellies full, we each go back to our tents to snooze a bit before our Sidup arrives to pick us up at 11am.

My tent is leaking a little bit so i go for a walk in the now light drizzle with my rain coat.

Teluk Limau beach. Its actually a small beach when the tide comes in.
The entrance from Teluk Limau beach to the campsite and the start of the trail to Teluk Assam
The Teluk Limau campsite with the small shelter covering the cooking area. There are ample branches, twigs etc to make fire from the surrounding area. As is protocol with some, you might find some wood left by previous campers but try to leave some for the future campers also.

One of the many outflows from mountain streams into the ocean. Along the boat ride you will be able to pass over huge sand bars created by this very movement of water from the highlands to the sea.

All things happen for a reason and today was non the different. I was worried that the rain would have made the day miserable and wet, and possibly the sea too rough for our pick up boat. I didn't have to worry about these.

What i experienced was one of the most unique experiences i've ever seen. Maybe its nothing much to most people, but i've never seen overflowing streams feeding into the ocean before. the rain had swollen all the jungle streams and multi-coloured layers of fresh water, seeped with mud and soil are now rushing over rocks and into the ocean.

I end up wondering around the bay as its low tide again. With the cold wind in my face and the weird combination of cold mountain streams and warm ocean soaking my feet, it's a great morning to be up in.
A small waterfall over the ocean rocks created by the rain in the early morning.
A kopi-O colored pool which was collecting the overflow of streams before depositing its contents into the sea.

The varying degrees of textures in Teluk Limau
The entrance to the freshwater stream is near the trees with the colored cloth markers. Climb up the steep slope and keep left. If you go right you will come to a Chinese shrine erected to a deity by fishermen.
Langkau taking a picture of the freswater stream that was bursting after being swelled by the rain water

After a while Langkau also joins me on the beach and we each explore the bay with our cameras before heading back to the campsite to de-camp.

Sidup comes early!

One of the best sights appears in the bay - Sidup is an hour early! Seeing that little boat in the ocean rejuvenates us and we speed up our work.

Time to head home

The Batu Belah sea stack. This is not a good shot as its truly magnificient and breathtaking. See the erroded base on the lower right hand side caused by the sea.
The boat ride on the choppy sea is a treat. This is where i find out how fascinating Bako National park is. The fantastic sea stacks mushrooming out of the ocean are surreal and the cliffs are magnificent in the sheepish sunshine now peeking through the clouds.
Who moved the Sphinx??? Another cool rock formation on the way from Teluk Limau back to Bako village jetty

Towers erected in the bay near Bako for fishermen to hang their nets
Fishermen tending to his nets.

We reach the Kampung Bako village, load up our gear into Langkau's pick-up and go look for cold beers.

I love these trips. Where mental fears give way to new discoveries as I venture beyond my confort zone. Yes i will want to go back to Bako if only to experience the other trails and to take my time to enjoy camping on the little pretty beaches while the sun sets over the sights and sounds of humanity's efforts to preserve the natural heritage of our world's resources that the Bako National Park stands for.


Getting there - Head to Kampung Bako Jetty where you can get local fishermen to take you to the Bako National Park HQ about 20 minutes boat ride from the jetty.

The price for the trip to the HQ is about RM47.  The last boat from the jetty is about 4pm and I believe the first boat out starts about 7 or 8am in the morning.

To arrange for a pick up from Teluk Limau is about RM200 for 5 people.

Accommodation : Chalets and dormitories are available at the park HQ and also a campsite is available nearby if you wish to rough it out a little.

If you're planning on trekking to Teluk Limau you will have to bring your own tents. A normal one man tent weighs about 1.5kg just for your reference. Make sure it is water proof or has a water proff cover in case of rain.

Food -  There is a cafeteria at the park HQ which is open from 7.30am to about 9 or 10pm. You can pack your lunch from the cafeteria before you hit the trail to Teluk Limau.

Packing food for over night - canned food is the best. in case you're not in the mood to cook or boil water for rice or noodles. But a hot meal really does the body and soul wonders after a hard trek, so bring some instant noodles and rice.

Raisins are a great booster as well as muesli and power bars which you can much as you walk. I also brought along a can of Coke that i drank about 6 hours into the trek. This is an energy sapping trek and you will your sugar boosts along the way.

We brought along 4.5 litres of water for the trip as we were not sure that me and Nick the Vic could take the stream waters. You can of course bring tablets to make the stream water safe for the stomachs of city slickers. As a point of reference I drank about 2.5 litres by the time i reached Teluk Limau. But its key to have some extra water on stand by. Just in case your boat is delayed or cannot pick you up becuase of rough seas (Bako faces the open ocean of the South China Sea)

I found hiking with a Camelbak was so much easier as i could save my hands for my walking poles and could sip away randomly on the go without stopping.

Gear - Essentials - At least 30litre back pack, one spare change of cloths, flashlight with fresh batteries, cooking and dining cutlery, spare socks, some form of insect repellant especially for sand flies which sometimes are at the beach, knife or machette to clear the trails (just one person has to have this), rain coat, tent, sleeping bag, something to double up as a pillow.

Good hiking boots - you will need to navigate tricky terrain with roots, rocks and slippery moss covered tree trunks.

You may need some long pants if you've sensitive calves as there are some sharp shrubs but actually walking in shorts and a t-shirt was good enough as in the primary forests there's really not much mosquitoes. Maybe the occassionaly fly.

Trek Points - i would actually recommend trekkers to Teluk Limau to leave earlier just ot be safe, say at 6am. This gives you enough time to reach the beach by 4pm and have enough time to take in the beach and pitch tent at leisure while it also gives you time in case you want to take pictures or study some plants along the way. The only thing is that the cafeteria only opens and 730am and if you want a hot breakfast you'll have to wait. If not try to pack food for breakfast and you can eat on the walk and more importantly see if you can pack lunch the night before that will not get spoilt by the time you plan to have your last meal before tackling the toughest part of the trail.

Remember it starts getting dark in some parts by as early as 530pm to 6pm in the jungle. So its your reference is getting to the Teluk Kruin/Teluk Limau junction where you know its one hour to Teluk Limau beach  at a steady pace.


langkau said...

Damn cool photos, man! I can't remember you whipping out your camera taking these shots!

After reaching the Limau/Keruin junction, it's "only" an hour away from Limau and the trail is "okay" from then onwards. No mention of entering Amazon and all? hahahaha...

Chindiana said...

thanks man Langkau! actually most of the shots was while you were cleaning up in the morning and i was wondering around the bay. Same at the park HQ when you started on the whisky and i jalan jaln on the beach.

Haha i thought maybe I'd let unsuspecting trekers 'discover the amazon' just like you generously allowed me to!

maybe not.. okok i better amend..

CreativeBitchin said...

ok this post was a really interesting read. and i'm impressed you made the hike - sounds a bit grueling, both physically and mentally. looks gorgeous by the way. pretty brave of you getting out of your comfort zone for this, not sure if i would do the same, and yes, nick's girlfriend might have possibly killed him before you guys even got to teluk limau hahaha.

verfication code: 5 seabotm (sea-bottom? beach bum?)

Chindiana said...

i think you and Acid should do a girls trip to Bako. maybe do some beach hopping instead of the Trail of Madness!

Or better still i'll just catch you guys and langkau in kuching for beers (which would be a WHOLE LOT BETTER!)

Chindiana said...

i think you and Acid should do a girls trip to Bako. maybe do some beach hopping instead of the Trail of Madness!

Or better still i'll just catch you guys and langkau in kuching for beers (which would be a WHOLE LOT BETTER!)

CreativeBitchin said...

the latter option sounds less painful. that said, a hike doesn't sound like a bad idea - only problem is i can't do steep parts very well. i've a bit paranoid of tripping/rolling off/general klutziness that i'm prone to. that and i've a bit of a busted knee.

langkau said...

Actually, Acid has gone with me on the 5-6 hour trail (which would have been our 2nd choice trail if Telok Limau didn't materialize) some years ago. My cousin nearly killed me for scaring Acid when I showed her a gigantic earthworm in my hand!

Chindiana said...

i am surprised that she agreed to the trip Langkau! I bet she's now scared for life after the earthworm encounter.

Chindiana said...

scarred not scared...

CreativeBitchin said...

finally popped by bako and did a trail... nothing as hardcore as you but tried out lintang trail pretty unprepared lol.

it was effing awesome! doing a shorter one on saturday as an introduction for friends from overseas.

also, i blogged a bit about it and linked back to this post =)

Chindiana said...

awesome! sorry haven't been updating my blog or checking in in a while. we'lll have stories to tell soon!

Wilson Chin said...

Nice writeup. My team and I will camp there this weekend.
Next trip, I will recommend you visit Tanjung Rhu, Bako NP.