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Malaysia Travel Guide

Delving into Sarawak’s Magnificent Caves

It takes a lot of geological ducks to line up neatly in a row and stay there for a few million years to create a cave. All over Sarawak, home to one of the oldest rainforests in the world, those ducks have lined up numerous times as many of the most spectacular caves in the world were discovered and continue to be discovered right here.

Many of those already discovered are now ready for you to explore. But a word of warning, not all of these breathtaking, stunning subterranean caverns are easily accessible, but that just makes the most beautiful caves in the world all the more alluring.

Source: STB Photo Gallery

Sarawak is a big state and the tropical weather can make travel to certain parts of the state challenging and exciting. And with so many outstanding caves, it can be difficult to decide which ones to visit first and in which order.

So, while each cave has its own unique beauty and each is incomparable to another, this post will help you appreciate the beauty of Mother Nature’s masterpieces in Sarawak while visiting at least some of them while you are in Kuching or Miri.

1. Sireh Cave, Serian

Located about 70km South of Kuching, Sireh Cave or Gua Sireh is a true hidden gem with its stunning rock paintings believed to be about 20,000 years old, large chambers and caved parts with clean underground water.

Gua Sireh. Source: Sarawak Tourism

A trip to Gua Sireh can be made within a day. However, it isn’t an easy hike as there are some wooden steps and narrow passageways that one needs to get through. It is recommended to take a tour from Kuching where you can arrange to be picked up at your hotel. You can book tours to Gua Sireh here.

Upon arriving at Bantang Village, your journey continues on foot up a flight of wooden stairs that lead you up to the cave entrance. This is where you will be greeted with cave paintings estimated to be 20 millennia old and peculiar cave residents such as Cave Racer Snake, bats, insects and catfish.

Gua Sireh’s ancient charcoal paintings. Source: Sarawak Tourism

The interior of the cave has some unique yet stunning shapes that are warm-toned swirls and curves decorated for effect. Believed to be one of the earliest human settlements, archaeological materials such as pottery shreds, animal bones and food debris from the Stone Age, New Stone Age, and the Iron Age, have also been recovered inside Gua Sireh.

Caves - Gua Sireh

Inside Gua Sireh. Source: Klook.com

It takes approximately 4 hours to tour the cave and remember to bring a change of gear when visiting Gua Sireh as the tour takes you through to the neighbouring Broken Jar Cave that requires you to walk through a pool of water.

2. Deer Cave, Gunung Mulu National Park

The magnificent Deer Cave. Source: National Geographic

This UNESCO World Heritage site is home to millions of bats. It is said that between 2 to 3 million of them reside in here! The Deer Cave, which is probably Sarawak’s most famous cave, is located at Gunung Mulu National Park, about 90 minutes flying time from Kuching, or a 30-minute flight from Miri.

Deer Cave was only discovered in 1979 by British caver Andy Eavis whilst helping Malaysia better understand and appreciate the potential of the newly established Gunung Mulu National Park.

Deer Cave is the largest cave passage in the world. The entrance is so enormous-nearly 500 feet high- that the sun reaches deep inside and fresh air flows through the caves, allowing a peculiar, awe-inspiring habitat to exist.

As you walk through the cave, you’ll see millions of dark patches on the walls. Those are bats resting so try not to disturb them!

Source: STB Photo Gallery

As the day ends and after you’ve explored Deer Cave, stick around for one of the most spectacular phenomena you’ll ever see.

The Deer Cave bat exodus happens every day at dusk. Millions of bats leave the cave to search for food. It’s an awe-inspiring event.

Nestled in the lush wilderness of Borneo, Gunung Mulu National Park is accessible by river and road but we recommend light plane. MasWings, a subsidiary of Malaysia Airlines, provides direct flights to Gunung Mulu National Park from Miri, Kuching, and Kota Kinabalu.

Upon arrival at Mulu Airport, book guided tours here or here. Most of the tours are all-inclusive and provide airport transfers. Accommodation is varied so do your research!

One other point, local communities who have lived off the land for thousands of years and respect and appreciate what it has provided them, have been trained as tour guides and will escort you throughout your visit to the caves. Make sure you pick their brains about the caves and ask about their beliefs!

The Bat Exodus. Bats fly in a spiral manner to avoid predators like hawks. Source: STB Photo Gallery

3. Clearwater Cave, Gunung Mulu National Park

When you visit Gunung Mulu National Park, you will find a unique environment that stimulates all the senses. One of the many gems of this Park is the Clearwater Cave that is the 8th longest cave in the world at 227 km and the largest interconnected cave system in the world. No wonder it is a UNESCO World Heritage site!

Source: Pinterest

The Clearwater Cave system contains an underground river and a plethora of unique rock formations. The amazing thing about these caves is that their true size is still unknown and even now, is still being explored.

Caves - Clearwater Cave

Source: STB Photo Gallery

Visiting Clearwater Cave in Sarawak is a real adventure that begins with the journey. There are two ways of getting to Clearwater cave.

From the park HQ, you can either trek the gentle 4km nature trail that takes approximately one and a half hours, or you can experience a long boat along the Melinau River with a stop at Wind Cave.

The Melinau River at Mulu National Park. Source: STB Photo Gallery

The Wind Cave features ancient, undisturbed stalactites and stalagmites that have, over hundreds of thousands of years, reached each other to create long structures known as pillars or columns. Once you’ve explored the Wind Cave, you can walk to Clearwater Cave in about 5 minutes.

When booking your tour for Gunung Mulu National Park, a visit to the Clearwater Cave and Wind Cave should be included as it is one of the must-visit sites at the park. If it isn’t, ask your agent to include it.

4. Sarawak Chamber, Gunung Mulu National Park

If you are into adventure caving, you must check out the Sarawak Chamber, one of the planet’s largest enclosed areas, natural or manmade. It is so huge, that it has enough space to house 8 jumbo jets in a row!

caves - Sarawak Chamber

Spot the person in the picture! Source: MuluPark.com

Getting to the Sarawak Chamber from the park HQ requires a full day of challenging adventure caving but some say that it is truly a once in a lifetime experience. The whole circuit takes about 10-15 hours which entails a 3-hour hike to Good Luck cave and then an 800m hike through a river channel to the Sarawak Chamber.

Source: MuluCaves.org

There are guided tours available to this magnificent chamber and you can find more information on the tours both here and here.

Before we move on from the Mulu Caves complex, if you seek even more adventure, you can attempt to hike the pinnacles of Mount Mulu. The hike is reportedly the most challenging hike in Malaysia (yes, even tougher than Mt. Kinabalu!) and requires a high level of fitness so make sure you train before you get here!

5. Niah Caves, Niah National Park

Located a mere 90kms south of Miri, the Niah caves are home to 65,000-year-old artefacts and cave paintings. It’s no wonder they are on track to be the next UNESCO World Heritage site. If that happens as expected, there will be a massive increase in visitors so you might want to get there soon, before the crowds!

Caves - Painted Cave

The ancient cave paintings at Niah. Source: TravelBlog.org

The site is also home to the oldest human remains found in Southeast Asia which indicate the caves were inhabited at least 65 millennia ago. You can check out fascinating artefacts including prehistoric utensils and turtle shells that will be on display at the Niah Archaeological Museum from January 2020.

Most importantly, the park is a major source of income to the local tribes people who also earn a living collecting edible birds nests built by Swiftlets high in the cave walls. The sustainably collected birds’ nests are prized by Chinese gourmets around the world and are exported under a supervised environment.

caves - Entrance of Niah Cave

Source: STB Photo Gallery

Getting to Niah Caves is easier than Mulu National Park as it is accessible by road. The journey by bus from either Miri or Bintulu takes approximately 2 hours so you can easily make a day trip out of it.

If you’d rather join a tour, there are guided tours from both Miri and Bintulu and you can get more information on these tours from here and here.

Source: STB Photo Gallery

No visit to Sarawak is complete without visiting her outstanding natural caverns. Whether you are a hardcore spelunker, an open-minded adventurer or an inquisitive visitor, Sarawak’s caves will provide memories and stories forever.

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Categories
Malaysia Travel Guide

The Best of Mulu National Park

The Best of Mulu National Park

The Show Caves, the Pinnacles and the Headhunter’s Trail

Our group of intrepid explorers went to Mulu National Park to take on the Pinnacles, before proceeding to Limbang via the Headhunter’s Trail. The entire expedition took five days total, and all treks to the Pinnacles are set at a minimum of 3 days and two nights for the safety of the trekkers.

Where is Mulu?

Mulu National Park is situated in Miri division, Sarawak, Malaysia.

It is known for a 4-show caves (Deer Lang’s Caves, Cave of the Winds Clearwater Cave) and popular for the Pinnacles Headhunters’ Trails. Mulu can be accessed by airplane from Kuching, Miri or Kota Kinabalu in Sabah or on foot and boat via the Headhunter trail starting from Limbang to the national park.

Schedule of MASwings flights to and from Mulu as of 25 March 2018

 

Sarawak’s World Heritage Site (UNESCO)

To be a UNESCO World Heritage Site recognizes heritage sites that have outstanding universal value and provides the highest possible protection for those sites, considered to be important to all the people of the world in this and all future generations. For an area to be placed on the list of natural World Heritage Areas it must have at least one criteria of importance, whether based on cultural or natural values, and Mulu meets all of those criteria!

The Pinnacles

No other place on earth could compare to the Pinnacles in Mulu National Park. Besides the climb to the pinnacles, you will see some of the most pristine and untouched Rainforests of Borneo surrounding you, you can feel the freezing cold rivers and breathe the fresh, clean air. The Pinnacles viewing point is a 2.4 km ascending hike to 1200m above sea level.

While the climb itself is not overly strenuous in terms of stamina, there is a high slip risk as the terrain can be treacherous, so please note the following warnings:

 

DAY 1 – Getting there

The Mulu National Park is a short drive from the Mulu Airport, where you will have to register your entrance, with fees depending on duration of the stay and activities that are available in the National Park.

Gunung Mulu Accommodation Fees, GST no longer included in the price.

From here you can decide what you are going to do around the National Park.

While the Pinnacles trail requires prior booking, there are unguided walks you can go on, like the Botanical Heritage Trail (1.5km loop), The Kenyalang Loop, The Paku Valley Loop (8km), The Paku Waterfall and Kuala Litut and Camp 5.

Guided walks include the Mulu Canopy Skywalk, The Night Walk, Garden of Eden Valley Walk and The Mulu Summit Walk.

Show Caves and the Bat Exodus

After arriving in Mulu, the group proceeded to Park Headquarters to register and to place our bags in the lodging area, before beginning the exploration of the show caves. On the agenda, the Deer and Lang caves and witnessing the bat exodus.

Deer and Lang Caves

The caves of Mulu demonstrate an evolutionary history of more than 1.5 million years.

According to the locals, the Deer Cave was named so because that are was were the Berawan and Penan people used to hunt their deer. The Deer Cave is known for the Lincoln profile, visible from the inside of the cave. The giant doline (or sinkhole) called the “Garden of Eden” offers one of the world’s finest examples of the collapse process in karstic terrain, where the jungle floor fell through into the cave below, leading to a terrarium-like rainforest surrounded by cave walls.

HOT TIP: If you’re visiting the Deer Cave, bring a post card or letter! This cave is the only UNESCO natural heritage site that has its own postcode and functioning mail box! Mail yourself a postcard and be the proud owner of a postcard mailed from the bowels of a cave that is millions of years old.

Just 100 meters away is the Lang Cave, discovered by a man of the same name. Small and intimate, with walls beautifully decorated with long shawls, layers of rim stone pools on the floor, and throughout the cave, spectacular stalagmites and stalactites.


Bat Observatory

Around 5-6pm, we proceeded to the Bat Observatory just outside the Deer Cave to wait for the “Bat Exodus,” where millions of bats residing in the cave leave to hunt for insects. Unfortunately during our trip, there were very few bats thanks to the rain and the fact that the Exodus had happened the evening prior.

Bat Observatory platform where visitors can lay back and watch bats swarm overhead

The mouth of the Deer Cave, where the bats exit

DAY 2 – Batu Bungan, Showcaves and the Hike to Camp 5

The People Longhouse

Day two began with a boat ride to Kampung Batu Bungan, a Penan settlement area along the Melinau River. Here the Penan people sell their handicrafts and wares, from woven bags to beaded accessories, and carved decorations to functioning blowpipes (darts included).

Penan woman demonstrating how to use a nose flute, a traditional instrument of the Penan

The Penan people selling their wares, everything from handwoven bags to Belian seeds from the jungle.

After buying knick-knacks and interacting with the local Penans, our group moved on to the Wind cave and Clearwater caves by boat.

Wind Clearwater Cave

At the right time of the day, walking through the narrow paths of the Wind Cave, you can feel the winds buffeting you due to air pressure. It is really something one has to experience to explain. The paths through the cave system are all that remains of what used to be an active river flowing through stone.

After the Wind Cave, we continued by boat to the Clearwater cave. The famous 250-stepped staircase leads up to the mouth of the cave, and many more steps lie within, so those who aren’t feeling up to the challenge can relax at the foot of the steps, and enjoy the clear water rivers that run out of the caves.

The Clearwater Cave is named for the crystal clear river that flows through for over 200km of cave passages in this system.

After exploring the cave and splashing around in the clear streams nearby, we had our lunch and proceeded by long boat for about 45 minutes to the drop off point called Kuala Berar. From there, our trek to Camp 5 began.

The Walk to Camp 5

The walk from Kuala Berar to Camp 5 is 7.8km in length and was relatively easy to walk, with clearly marked paths, though at times the roots of the trees were a hazard. One has to be alert while walking through the rainforests of Borneo, and always look before you step.

Our team at Kuala Terikan drop off point.

It was a test on our abilities that would be necessary during our walk to Limbang along the Headhunter’s trail on day 4, during which we would also have to carry all of our own bags.

Camp 5 lodging and kitchen area

It was fortunate that we walked this distance before attempting pinnacles on the next day, as it gave us a taste of what was to come. Two of our team mates ended up sitting out the Pinnacles climb for the next day, as they were not confident that they would be able to make the climb safely. Reminder to all climbers, as the Pinnacles climb requires climbing ladders, ropes and walking through areas with very sharp rocks. If you feel your balance or alertness is impaired, inform your guide  at any time.

DAY 3 – To the Pinnacles!

Beginning at 6.00am in the morning, our group began our ascent to the iconic Pinnacles. The trail is 2.4km in length, and rises some 1.2km up. The last section is nearly entirely vertical, with 16 ladders and many ropes to climb. Our guides set a strict cut-off schedule to ensure that those who proceeded would also make it down the trail before sunset.

The Mini Pinaccles, located 900m from camp 5. Also the first checkpoint of the trail. Should the group not make the cut off time set by the guide, this would be one of the locations where they would be forced to turn back. This was where one of our team mates had to return to Camp 5 due to an injury.

One of the sets of ropes and ladders that you would have to maneuver in order to climb the the viewing platform.

Our group (sans one who was forced to turn back) was able to reach the viewing platform within 5 hours! Not without our fair share of struggle and toil, as most of us aren’t well versed in hiking or mountain climbing.

Oooooh we’re halfway there~

Ooooh livin’ on a prayer!

The view from the viewing platform was spectacular to say the least, and all the more enjoyable for the effort it took to reach it.

After taking some photos of the Pinnacles, having our lunch, and a short rest, it is time to begin the descent back to Camp5.  The way down was tougher, as we were warned, due to us having to navigate essentially in reverse, now with sore muscles. We managed to make it back to Camp 5 before sundown, and a dip into the freezing river next to the camp helped soothe some of our aching limbs.

For the experience, it was well worth it!

DAY 4 – Headhunter’s Trail to Limbang

Early the following morning, our team gathered to head off along the Headhunter’s Trail. Aside from MASWings flights, this trail is a great way of entering and leaving Mulu National Park.

We began our jungle walk as early as 7.20am to complete 11.3km trail to Kuala Terikan, with a trek that took an estimated time of around 4-5hours. Much of the Headhunter’s Trail now has wooden walkways across the muddier and marsh-like areas.

One last photo at Camp 5 as a group before our intrepid team takes on the Headhunters Trail!

Sad to leave, but excited to explore further!

Bridge leaving Camp 5. It felt precarious with the rapids beneath, but wait till you see the Monkey Bridge!

The Monkey Bridge! Better keep your balance, as this bridge is nothing more than a braided rope flanked by net-like rope barriers.

A rest stop after the Monkey Bridge.

From Kuala Terikan, we left by boat to Ng. Mentawai (est. 20min) and continued till our last point at the longhouse, before we proceeded to Limbang town by van.

Where the river grew shallow, the boat driver would have to lift the engine out of the water and maneuver the boat using a long wooden pole along the riverbed. During the dry season, we would have likely had to get out of the boat and drag it downriver with us. Count us as lucky!

Notes:  The Headhunters’ Trail can also be done in reverse, starting from Limbang and ending up at the Park HQ. Either way the trek offers an excellent introduction to the rivers and rainforest of Mulu and the added attraction of a longhouse visit.

We stayed overnight in Limbang before our flights the next day.

DAY 5 – Fly from Limbang

Goodbye Limbang, we are homeward bound! Another adventure done.

Active tour agents in Miri that can provide this adventure:

Brighton Travel Tour

Happy Trails Borneo Tours

Majestic Leisure Tours

Transworld Travel Service

Tropical Adventure Tours Travel

Minda Nusantara Tours Travel Agencies

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Categories
Tourism Malaysia

Malaysia’s best kept secret: Gunung Mulu National Park

By Vishnu Krishnan
Gunung Mulu National Park can only be described as pure magic. The UNESCO World Heritage Site has a plethora of animal and plant species that dwell within the confines of its lush primary forests, dozens of caves and Mulu Mountain.

One of the most unique features of this national park is its vast cave system that is centuries old.

The Wind Cave system, as its name suggests, is famous for the strong winds that gust through its chamber. The crowning glory of Wind Cave is the cathedral-like cluster of stalagmite and stalactite formations in the King’s Chamber.

A chamber for Kings (Source: https://www.flickr.com/photos/visitmalaysia/4677581017)

A chamber for Kings
(Source: https://www.flickr.com/photos/visitmalaysia/4677581017)

Take a 400 metre suspended plank walk to Clearwater Cave. Here you’ll get to see the mighty Clearwater River gushing through the cavernous expanse that leads to a clear pool at the end. The locals believe that swimming in the pool will rejuvenate your youth.

Clear Water is an emerald dream! (Source: http://mulupark.com/tours-activities/advance-level-adventure-caving/clearwater-connection/)

Clear Water is an emerald dream!
(Source: http://mulupark.com/tours-activities/advance-level-adventure-caving/clearwater-connection/)

To get to the next cave system, you need to cross the world’s longest suspension bridge between trees. The Canopy Skywalk stands 30 metres high and is 480 metres long.

On the other end, you’ll come across an ancient Penan tribal burial ground. Beyond that is one of the greatest caves in the world, Deer Cave. The cave dimensions are hard to fathom until you step into the 122 metre tall gaping hole.

In the middle of the cave, is perhaps the most gorgeous sight in the world, the Garden of Eden. Imagine a pristine patch of forest illuminated by the evening sun, shining brilliantly like emeralds. It’s a slice of paradise!

You don’t get much closer to heaven then at the Garden of Eden (Source: http://www.wondermondo.com/Countries/As/Malaysia/Sarawak/GardenOfEden.htm)

You don’t get much closer to heaven then at the Garden of Eden
(Source: http://www.wondermondo.com/Countries/As/Malaysia/Sarawak/GardenOfEden.htm)

Once you exit Deer Cave, don’t rush off yet. Stay until 6pm to see billions of bats streaming out of the cave to feed. If you have a pair of binoculars, watch the cunning owl hawks swoop on their prey.

Sarawak Chamber is one of the largest known cave chambers in the world by area and the second largest by volume after the Miao Room in China. Its surface area is a whopping 162,700 square metres with a volume of 9,579,205 cubic metres.

Experts say it is so large you can fly a jumbo jet through the middle of the cave without touching the walls. Crazy! The trail to the chamber takes about three hours before reaching the mouth of Gua Nasib Bagus or Good Luck Cave.

The Sarawak Chamber is basically the gaping mouth of the world! (Source: http://afwan.blogspot.my/2006/03/sarawak-chamber.html)

The Sarawak Chamber is basically the gaping mouth of the world!
(Source: http://afwan.blogspot.my/2006/03/sarawak-chamber.html)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The primary forests of Mulu are among the best places in Malaysia to observe local flora and fauna. The primordial serenity of these jungles are so tranquil and vast. If you are lucky, you can spot bearded pigs, hornbills, clouded leopards, vipers, tarsiers and even tigers.

The trees are extremely tall and beautifully buttressed. If you trek deep enough, you’ll be able to see pitcher plants and many other exotic species.

Finally, for the more adventurous trekkers, Gunung Mulu Mountain is a tough but exciting climb. The rock pinnacles of Gunung Api and Benarat are unique jagged rock formations that tower above the landscape and add to the mystical feel of the park.

The Pinnacles of Mulu Mountain (Source: https://www.experiencetravelgroup.com/borneo/exp/gunung-mulu-national-park)

The Pinnacles of Mulu Mountain
(Source: https://www.experiencetravelgroup.com/borneo/exp/gunung-mulu-national-park)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

For more information on Gunung Mulu National Park, including where to stay and how to get there, head to their website: http://mulupark.com/

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