Boardwalk at the entrance to Bako National Park

Down and Gout in Bako and Kuching

We had big plans for our trip to Kuching. We had planned on staying there for six days. We were going to partake of its renowned local food, see Orangutans at Semenggoh, check out randy proboscis monkeys at Bako National Park, inhale the stench of a Rafflesia flower in Gunung Gading National Park, and visit a museum or two.

We ended up subsisting on Vietnamese food, visiting a sketchy doctor, and hobbling around a couple of museums. And, we spent a ridiculous amount of time in a shopping mall. Why? Buxton got his eight-yearly bout of severe gout in his right ankle! Thankfully, we didn’t miss out on proboscis priapism though!

Our Story

I rarely drink Coca Cola. But, when I do I end up in screaming agony!

Laura snarled at me when I said I wanted a Coke while watching the spectacular bat exodus from Deer Cave in Gunung Mulu National Park. However, I was pig sick of guzzling down gallons of water to fight off dehydration in the fetid humidity of Borneo. For some reason, I instantly regretted drinking it. Don’t know why. The next day we headed out to the airport to fly to Kuching. I had that familiar tickling sensation in my right big toe that alerted me of an impending gout attack. Usually, I stop consuming any gout triggers such as beer and sodas at this point, and the minor symptoms subside. However, this time the attack did not die down and next day I woke up in Kuching in screaming agony, barely able to walk because of the pain in my ankle.

This was my third serious gout attack and the third one that took place in highly inconvenient circumstances. I first got gout in Calcutta, India, and spent two weeks recovering flat on my back in the hostel. The second time was a few days before I emigrated from the UK to get married to Laura. I was too busy to rest my ankle, it didn’t clear up before the wedding, and I ended up limping around the beach at our outdoor ceremony in Sitka, Alaska.

This time, I wanted the gout gone quick. The receptionist at the rather splendid Le Nomade Hostel directed us to a doctor in Chinatown. The surgery was a rather ramshackle place. The doctor looked like the wispy bearded coach in Karate Kid. This was definitely not the clinically clean surgery familiar to patients back home. The doctor’s personal surgery had the cluttered charm of a ninety year old Sanskrit professor’s study.

The doctor listened to my self-diagnosis, poked at my ankle (ouch!), and prescribed me a hodgepodge of chemicals. One of the drugs was a hardcore sedative I am sure you would only get at home if a cougar gnawed your leg off! Worse, there seemed not to be enough of any one drug to effect a cure.

Note to self. Find an app that can help you negotiate the drug doses of prescribed chemicals away from home. If there ain’t one. Build one! Gout is a pain but not too worrying. But sometimes you get struck down with something bad and communication with the doctor is tricky.

We wondered out past a flickering X-Ray sign reminiscent of a scary fairground scene in a horror film. The sign wasn’t the only thing glowering! Laura was giving me evil looks. I half suspected she had cast a witchy spell on me for daring to drink Coke. I guess I deserved it.

We spent a day or two around the hostel watching films, chatting to fellow travelers, and writing a blog post or two. This is not really what you want to be doing in your last month of traveling.

Thankfully, there was decent coffee on hand (Cafe Rouge below the hostel), decent Vietnamese food (Saigon Fusion restaurant), and the hostel was a sociable place to hang around. Downsides were plenty though. No orangutans, no stinky flowers, and, worse, no proboscis monkeys.

I had no choice but to man up and drag my sorry ass to Bako National Park, a coastal rainforest reserve renowned for monkeys and pitcher plants. Laura was annoyed enough with me as it was. If she didn’t get close-ups of a male proboscis monkey I was toast!

Bako National Park

Proboscis monkey. Bako

Bako National Park is easy enough to get to from Kuching. The regular bus #1 runs from the center of town to the boat dock. Well, it is usually fairly reliable but we had turned up in town during a major holiday. We arrived at the bus stop in good time but there was no damn bus at the allotted time. Man, Kuching is turning into a disaster! After waiting for nigh on two hours a large tatty pink bus trundled up.

The bus journey is fairly unmemorable but it does dump you right on the doorstep of the Park office and boat jetty. You get processed fairly efficiently by the park administrators. They confirm your room booking, take a park fee, and arrange a boat to whiz you up the estuary to the park.

The park is only 28km from Kuching so it is extremely busy with local tourists. Doubly so on holiday weekends. After disembarking, we walked along a trail to the park offices, restaurant, and accommodation area. We had opted for a type #6 room, which the TripAdvisor hive had told us was the best option. Don’t let your expectations get too carried away though. The rooms were spacious but the beds and bathroom were pretty grubby. Mind you, this is the middle of the busiest national park in tropical Borneo so it was par for the course.

The food in the restaurant is fairly bland and greasy. Maybe take along a few snacks to keep you going.

Pitcher Plants, Pigs, and Monkeys

Pitcher plant garden. Bako
Hanging bug death trap. Bako

Pitcher plants…

The park has a number of self-guided trails. You grab a map at the office and sign the register telling the park where you are headed. Don’t forget to sign back in when you return so that the rangers don’t send out a rescue party. We headed out on one of the 5km trails that leads you through some prime spots for spotting pitcher plants. My ankle wasn’t totally pain free but I figured I wouldn’t die up there!

The trail is quite gnarly in parts. This is the jungle, after all. It was also slippery. That’s right. You are in one of the rainiest areas on Planet Earth. The trail was easy to follow and pitcher plants easy to find. In fact, there were gazillions of them. Some were small and cute. Some were large enough to trap and consume a small lizard. Laura was captivated by these carnivorous plants and we stopped at many a place to take photos.

Pitcher plants. Bako
Pitcher plant. Bako

… and more pitcher plants.

The trail got gnarlier further on and my ankle started to swell up again. Dee dums! We were at the halfway point so we decided to head back the way we came. It was known territory so easy to negotiate with pained limbs.

We got back in time to see the monkey show. There were a few Proboscis Monkeys around but one particular old male was happy to pose for photos and display his junk for all to see!

Ready for action. Proboscis monkey at Bako National Park
Proboscis monkey at Bako.

Proboscis Monkeys are comically revolting beasts. They seem ill-proportioned. They have pot bellies. They fart and burp a lot. The dominant males have huge pendulous noses. And, they are permanently “ready for action”. They love to spread their legs and show off their pride and joy. I have no doubt that female monkeys love this. It seems female photographers do too!

Bearded pig on the beach. Bako National Park
Bearded pig at Bako National Park

The other resident mammals are quite ugly too. The warty pigs like to prowl around the grounds and dig for food. They like to run off with your backpack and rummage inside for food, as one unfortunate tourist found out. It was hilarious watching the woman charge around pleading the pig to let go off her pack. I was too busy laughing to offer any real assistance.

After the comedy, we wandered around the park some more. There is some impressive jungle but the park did not blow us away like Gunung Mulu or Danum Valley. But, as an introduction to jungle life a couple of hours away from Sarawak’s biggest city, it is pretty cool. It is not a must do destination in and of itself but if you are in the area it is worth a couple of days of your time.

Final Thoughts

Boardwalk. Bako National Park
Boardwalk at Bako National Park

Kuching is another one of those places I feel is over hyped in Lonely Planet. Apart from one or two streets in the center, it is not that atmospheric a city. The culinary delights are not that evident. It is a pleasant and easily negotiated city at best. The museums had some delightful old tribal artifacts, but are not destinations akin to the Louvre or British Museum. We didn’t go to Semenggoh Orangutan Sanctuary, but got the impression from other travelers that Sepilok in Sabah is more impressive. Again, we didn’t go to Gunung Gading, but even its main attraction, the Rafflesia flower, is not guaranteed to be blooming.

Bako is fun because it is so accessible and you are almost guaranteed to see its main attraction, the proboscis monkey. The downside is that its proximity to Kuching make it overcrowded and noisy. Oh, well… not everything is perfect when you travel! Its main impact on me? It joins Calcutta and Sitka, Alaska in my triumvirate of inconvenient gout afflicted travel destinations!


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