Mulu National Park is famous for its spectacular limestone cave systems. The first discovery was made by locals during the 1960’s, it was opened to the public in the 80/90s and was awarded UNESCO World Heritage status in 2000. Set amongst a humid rainforest with flora and fauna in abundance, it should be on most people’s “must see” list.
MAS & Air Asia have daily flights from KL to Miri. Mulu is serviced by the rural air service provider MASWings. There are daily flights between Miri and Mulu and 3 x week flights from Kuching and Kota Kinabalu
We arrived in Miri just before midnight. There is an airport hotel but we had booked the Citi Hotel in town. It was easy to book a Grab, which was already waiting at the airport, for the 20 minute journey. The family room (en-suite, king sized bed and 1 single) was clean with very comfy beds and ideal for the overnight stay.
The next morning we were up early to leave the hotel around 8am for our morning flight to Mulu. The Grab driver dropped us at a couple of local shops (rotis, nasi lemak, noodles) opposite the airport for breakfast, before walking 5 minutes across the road to check in.
The flight to Mulu was about 20 mins long and gave us some amazing views of the river system and the jungle as we approached Mulu National Park. Sadly there were several visible areas of palm oil plantations and subsequent deforestation as well.
We stayed at The Marriott and were met by their staff and a bus. It was mid-morning by the time we had checked in to our lovely rooms, were facing trees down to the river. We had our first cave tour; Deer & Lang caves, booked for 2.30pm, so decided to relax by the pool and have a bite to eat at the hotel. The hotel runs a shuttle bus throughout the day and evening for the 10 min drive to the park.
Photo: Sarawak Tourism Board
We enjoyed a typical buffet breakfast at the hotel, took light snacks for lunch but ate our evening meals at the local food shops outside of the hotel or in the NP.
We booked all our tours through the office at Mulu National Park. They offered a very friendly and professional service via email before we arrived as well as in person. The park also has accommodation, a café with a license (and metal straws!), a very informative Discovery Centre and a small shop. We met a lovely NZ/Spanish family with two younger children who stayed in the park accommodation and were very happy with it. The advantage of staying in the park means that you can walk the many self guided walks whenever it suits you.
Deer & Lang caves
The trail starts with a 3km walk along well signposted, decent tracks. You can only enter the caves as part of the guided walk, which allows the park authorities to regulate the amount of people, thus controlling the levels of carbon dioxide inside the caves. There are spectacular displays of stalagmites, stalactites, helicites and other amazing formations. Lang is the smallest of the show caves. Deer cave is the largest show cave and apparently also the largest cave passage in the world!
12 species of bats have been identified in Deer Cave, including the colony of wrinkle lipped bats, approximately 3.5 million of them! They live high up in the caves but you’ll easily smell as well as see them. Having hand sanitiser is a good idea if you use the handrails!!
The highlight of this walking tour is the daily exodus of over 2 million bats which live high up in the caves. It starts around 5pm and it takes takes them nearly 2 hours to leave as they head off in to the night to feed.
There is a viewing platform with reclining seats outside of the caves, allowing you to sit back and be mesmerised by the constant stream of bats. Sun sets around 6pm, so if you stay to the very end, you will end up walking back in the dark. The footpath is intermittently lit but as everyone has to have torches in the caves so it shouldn’t be a problem and gives you the opportunity of seeing plenty of nocturnal creatures.
This guided tour takes you on an underground walk in the cave. We first took a longboat down the river (lifejackets were compulsory) for approximately 20 minute before a 1 km forest walk to the cave entrance. The path takes you from the cave floor up to the stalactites by the cave roof. Most of the tour relies on your torch light and gives you an opportunity to see racer snakes, as well as more bats and swiflets.
Cave of the Winds and Clearwater Cave
En route to the caves on a longboat, we stopped at a local village where we had the opportunity to read about the village, the positive impact of the UNESCO status on the villagers’ lives and purchase some handicrafts.
Initially you can feel a cooling wind as you enter the cave; like natural air con. The dry river passage leads you in to the “Kings’ Chamber” with more amazing displays of columns and stalagmites.
The short walk to Clearwater Cave is along a path keeping you close to the limestone cliffs, giving great views of the flora and fauna as well as the river.
There are many steps to Clearwater Cave but it is manageable even for young children. So called due to the crystal clear water, there is a calm swimming area outside of the caves which is very refreshing. There is a well kept toilet block there, so take your swimmers with you and change once you’re finished with the caves.
Who should go?
Everyone! We saw under 2s being carried in carriers and slings and the footpaths are suitable for a rugged pushchair. We met children as young as 5 who were happily walking in the caves. The bird life was often high up but we regularly saw hornbills flying across the sky. We saw several varieties of butterflies and plenty of insects. Adventure caving carries a height/age restriction – check when you book the individual tours.
What do you need?
Torch (handheld or head), sturdy shoes, mozzie repellant, sunscreen, light waterproofs and drinking water/snacks are a must for all cave trips.
Text and photos by Ellen Suppiah
Feature photo: Sarawak Tourism Board