Kuching is one of those interesting destinations where you can easily spend the mornings in the jungle, afternoons by the beach and evenings back in the city, all within under 50-minute drive. Also helps that there is a treasure trove of jungles and national parks if one or another bores you. That, and this site is known either as a waterfall picnic site or a weekend warrior’s mountain challenge.
Rainforest to Sea
The national park is one of the more accessible national parks in the city, and the looming Mt Santubong looms in the background as a backdrop for Kuching. As you drive up along the road towards the seaside resort enclave of Damai and the quaint village of Santubong, the sheer expanse of jungle hugs the mountainside, as it plunges to the sea on your left.
The entrance to the national park may be a little hard to miss as you drive towards the seaside resort enclave, but once you see the giant billboards that spell out D-A-M-A-I, it is right on your right.
Facilities are basic, but in a place like this, basic is good. The Park Ranger’s Office is at the entrance, and there is nary a shop in the compound. The trails start right after the Office, and are very well marked. Just be aware that there are Red and Blue trails: Red goes to the Summit, while Blue goes to the Waterfall.
Trails to Falls
Despite the name of the trails, both trails will lead you to stunning waterfalls: it just depends if you want to go to a popular picnic spot or mock-rappel down a slope. Personally, both are worth the hike.
Both trails lead out from the common trail from the Park Office, and depending on the season, you will either be scrambling up and down boulders along a trickle of a stream, or semi-braving the occasional torrent while balancing on rope.
The initial trail is pretty easy for novice hikers, with gentle slopes and well-marked paths. The path is extremely shady: you are in the jungle of course. Throughout the trail, keep a watchful eye: the area has an abundance of wildlife, especially birds and tree snakes.
The Trail Splits
About 15 minutes in to the hike, the trails split, and this is easily spotted by a large concrete sign. Turn left and you will be ¼ left on the Blue Trail to get to the Santubong Waterfall. Go straight on the Red Trail and you’ll be on your way to the summit of Mt Santubong.
This trip, I decided to do both trails. These trails are fairly new, considering they moved the entrance of the National Park to this new, current site. In a way, this was my first time exploring this neck of the woods, and boy was I not disappointed.
Some sections on the Red Trail can get steep, on both the ascent and descent. You are, after all, climbing a mountain. At this point, the trail is very straight forward, just go straight, and there is little deviation. Distance markers mark every kilometre you go.
On occasion, you would hear that tantalizing sound of water gushing down from somewhere: that endless and peaceful sounds of clear mountain springs. Be ever cautious though, as though the trail is pretty straightforward and mildly challenging, you may encounter a few steep slopes and falls along the edges.
Always remember to look for the clearly marked trails! If there are no way markers or sticks that are painted with a red band planted in the trail, look up at the trees for those exact same red bands.
The falls are in a very nice location, maybe ¼ of the way along the Red Trail heading towards the summit. It can get a bit steep heading down at the last 20m or so to where the falls are, and there are ropes for support as you somewhat rappel down.
Now, the falls are a bit tight along this path, but stunning to look at. You will be at quite a height as the waters plunge down the numerous steps and natural terraces as it flows out to sea.
The views of the falls is surreal, especially when it is quiet. It will just be you and nature, at one, in peace. The dense jungle canopy providing shade from the sun, the gushing falls providing ambient sounds and the cool, mountain water a welcome respite after a round of hiking. Took me just under 50 minutes to get to this spot.
The Main Event
The more popular of the waterfalls also happens to be the most accessible, and the larger of the two. The site is roughly 25 minutes walk from the Park Ranger’s Office, and apart from one ascent up a hillock, the trail is quite tame.
One of the iconic images at this waterfall however, is a suspended ‘S-shaped’ bridge above the rockpools, giving you a panoramic view of the waterfalls, jungle and sea beyond.
One thing you will notice is how large the waterfall is, relative to the smaller Red Trail falls. Also, you may notice the readily available barbeque pits and gazebos dotted around, just slightly hidden in plain sight.
The water is cool, as expected from mountain springs, and very clear. Some rockpools can have sudden deep ends, but the number of rocks and boulders around the main pool make for a nice spot to laze around if not taking a refreshing dip.
There is always the full Red Trail to attempt: I did successfully reach the summit a few years ago, so my previous reportage on it may be a bit outdated. I do have every intention to go up again and attempt to match my personal best.
The beaches in the resort enclave of Damai is always pleasant: the seafront at Damai Craftsworld in front of the Sarawak Cultural Village has a few restaurants and bars, perfect spot to chill over the sunset.
If you do really want a beach, then head over to Permai Rainforest Resort and pay RM8 for entry an access to their beach: they have kayaks and stand-up paddle boards if you want to cool off yet still have excess energy to burn.
Transport?: Either rent a car and drive to Santubong National Park or take a Grab car. The road is very straightforward from Kuching City: follow the signs to Sanubong and Damai. The Park Entrance is on your right when you see the D-A-M-A-I sign.
If you are doing Malaysia as independently as possible, I recommend getting the Grab app, as Uber is not as popular as Grab in Kuching. There is limited public transport in this area.
Bring?: Water. It can get hot. Good hiking shoes and a towel. You may be tempted to go for a dip. A few snacks too, since it is a good picnic spot.
Fitness?: Suitable for all fitness types. However, when attempting the Red Trail, please be of reasonable fitness, as it can get challenging. If attempting the summit, be prepared to cry.
Cost?: National Park Fee is RM 5
Jason is a world traveller and avid seeker of high perches, on a mission to capture the unique experiences that makes destinations iconic.