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Published: October 5th 2006
Dense vegetation clings to every surface;
Steep slopes and vertical cliffs reach summit ridges before dropping to hidden valleys;
Jagged limestone pinnacles, bleached white, pierce the lush green canopy;
Cave passages wind their way through the mountains, opening into chambers so large you are dwarfed to insignificance.
During my trip back to Sarawak late last month, I had the opportunity to travel to Mulu Caves
. Actually I did plan to go to Mulu some day, but little did I expect it to be this soon - that everything would turn out this way, hehehe... Differing from my original plan, I was supposed to go with Justin somewhere next year (maybe!) when he visits Miri for the first time - and I thought I would be looking forward to it greatly! However, things didn't turn out as planned, and it was actually a last minute decision from me. I was thinking, since I am going home for 2 weeks, why not make full use of the time then? And both my parents are at home nowadays - just go ahead! I actually checked out the tickets and accommodation, and luckily it was the launched of FAX where there was a promotion
Small but surrounded by nature's beauty
on most of the flights. I got a very good bargain out of that, and my parents settled our accommodation through a local travel agency which happened to be a friend's. We got a cheap price from that as well! 😊 From here, I was counting days for my trip, hehehe...
Day 1 : 4th September 2006
We took the morning flight from Miri to Mulu at 9.45am. At the airport I met an old friend Devis, and chatted with him for a while (leaving my parents to fend on their own for about half and hour, hehehe). Haven't been seeing him for a few years actually. Anyway, it was good to catch up!
We took a Fokker 50 to Mulu. I was hoping for a Twin Otter because I’d very much like to be on one. While boarding the plan, I realized that there weren’t that many people, but hey, what do you expect? That’s a Fokker 50 for god’s sake! Onboard, I was trying to get a seat with a good view where I would be able to take some photographs in air. However I was left with not many choices as I boarded the plane
Royal Mulu Resort
The front entrance
quite late. Besides, it was a small plane, so most of the window seats didn’t really provide good view, as they were quarterly or partially shielded by the aircraft’s wings. In the end I shifted to another seat in front of a Chinese look-alike guy whom were sitting alone too. That seat didn’t have the best view either, but that was the best that I could get, because the air steward didn’t let us take the backseats. He said they were reserved (for goodness knows who). Anyway, we departed on time. One thing I realized about Fokker 50, why did they start one engine first before proceeding with the other one? Hmm… Interesting! 😊
It was a short journey - only for about 25 minutes, so all the while, I was trying to catch a good view. However it was kinda disappointing - we were flying at 7500 ft above sea level but I couldn’t see much due to the hazy weather. I did come across a plantation though, if not mistaken I think it was a pepper plantation. Other than that, there were some houses scattered around, with a river flowing through the mass of greeneries and puffy
Royal Mulu Resort
Designed like a long house, 3 metres above ground-level.
clouds everywhere (on air of course). The air steward was ‘forcing’ us to buy his peanuts, hahaha…claiming that it makes you look younger if you consume it. From this I actually found out that the Chinese-looking guy behind me was a Japanese 😉 *wink~
We arrived in Mulu's airport on time at 10.10am. The weather that greeted us at Mulu was fine, at 34 degrees Celsius. I was excited because having a good weather promised a better journey. Upon arriving, I saw Mount Mulu stretched across behind the airport - splendid view there. As it was still early, there was mist hanging around the slopes. I inhaled the fresh air, *breathe...*
😊 wow… Mulu… here I come! We took some photos after descending the aircraft before proceeding to the hall to meet our tour guide. (The airport was really small!)
Our tour guide was Mr Wu (he asked us to call him Ah Hong). A van bearing the Royal Mulu Resort logo was waiting, and other than my parents and I, there were a few other tourists taking the same van. 10 people - there were the 3 of us, a Caucasian lady, an English man with a local
companion whom I thought were his personal guide, and the Japanese guy, plus 2 tour guides and the driver. There was only one road leading to the hotel, and bushes and trees along the way with a few houses here and there. It took about 10 minutes for us to reach our destination. Royal Mulu Resort
is by itself a luxurious resort set in the heart of the Sarawak jungle. The resort is situated along Melinau River
, adjacent to the World Heritage site - the Mulu National Park. You would feel at home with nature all the time, day or night. Designed in the style of ethnic longhouses, this relaxing resort was built on wooden stilts, 3 metres above the ground and linked by a series of wooden walkways. A lady and a man dressed in the traditional Iban costume greeted us at the entrance as we got off the van. We were led into the lobby and Ah Hong settled our check-in. While waiting, all hotel guests were served a glass of welcome drink each. Not bad, hehehe. I was busy looking around - I must say, the lobby looked nice and inviting. There was a wall painting
of the Sarawakian people and culture, and the furnitures were of rattan chairs and tables. Hmm…I can’t wait to see my room! When the procedure was done, we were led to the side of the swimming pool where a ‘porter’ was waiting on a trishaw-like bicycle. It was used to carry our luggage, not for us to sit though. We walked along the wooden walkways to our room, which was minutes away. Like all guest rooms, ours have rich parquet floorings with private bath equipped with hot and cold showers, mini-bar, individually controlled air-conditioning, a TV, and standard amenities. There’s also a water boiler for our convenience. At the back of the room, there’s a spacious verandah. However, the most I gave was a 3-star rating, hehehehe. Not so much for an international standard… but then again, if to think that because it’s located in the heart of a tropical jungle, well, maybe yes…muahahaha 😊
Our first day tour was made of visiting Lang Cave
and Deer Cave
. We started out at 2pm from the resort; the van took us to the National Park HQ which was about 15 mins away. Upon reaching the park, we had to cross
My mum and I outside our chalet room
This is the plankwalk linking the whole resort
a hanging bridge that led us across Sungai Paku. On the other side, we were asked to register our names before starting the 3.4km timber plankwalk to the caves. Excited! Excited! Ok, a little introduction here (taken from the National Park's website): Gunung Mulu National Park is one of Nature's most spectacular spectacular achievements and the 'jewel in the crown' of Sarawak's expanding network of national parks. It is also the largest national park, covering 52,865 hectares of primary rainforest, which is criss-crossed by fast flowing rivers and clear jungle streams. Mulu is dominated by three mountains - Gunung Mulu (2,376 m), Gunung Api (1,750 m) and Gunung Benarat (1,585 m). Yet many of Mulu's greatest attractions lie deep below the surface. Hidden underneath the forested slopes of these mountains is one of the largest limestone cave systems in the world.
This system, a breath-taking natural wonder, contains a number of record breaking caves. With the world's largest cave passage (Deer Cave), the world's largest natural chamber (Sarawak Chamber), and the longest cave in Southeast Asia (Clearwater Cave), it is not surprising that Mulu is now world-famous. Over 200 km of cave passages have been surveyed but this
Along the way to Lang & Deer Cave
The 3.4km plankwalk in the dense jungle. With my parents =)
is thought to represent just 30-40%!o(MISSING)f the actual total.
The oldest of Mulu's caves started to form about 5 million years ago when sideways earth movements resulted in the formation of both limestone and sandstone mountains, lying side by side. Millions of years of heavy rain and the action of rivers and running water carved out the vast subterranean system that exists today. The weathering process still continues; dripping water creates new rock features, limestone is slowly worn away, and underground rivers carve and sculpt the caves, transporting limestone debris to the cave mouth or redistributing it within the system.
Mulu's four Show Caves were selected for their uniqueness or sheer beauty. They can all be visited as day trips from the park HQ and are accessible by plankwalks and well-lit concrete paths. Strategically positioned spotlights highlight the unique features of the individual caves. A plankwalk leads through the forest to Deer and Lang's Cave whilst Clearwater Cave and Wind Cave are reached by taking a longboat up the Melinau River, or by following a 4 km nature trail.
Done? Hmm...ok. :D Now back to my journey. The 3.4km plankwalk wasn't tough, so it's pretty easy
In his own world
even if you are not the highly adventurous type. Along the way, we were told of a Penan cemetery which was located inside a cave. It was used as a burial ground in the past, and no longer accessible today to visitors. However, the park displayed a Fibula (calf bone) and a Clavicle (collar bone) at the entrance of the cave for tourist to feast and take photos. Ah Hong pointed out many things to us: There was a camouflage lizard among the leaves, a rat-sized squirrel up a tree trunk, and a "lantern insect" which glows at night. Ah Hong has very sharp eyesight; I was impressed with his senses - how he noticed those small matters! Even when he pointed out certain things to me, I took quite some time to actually find it. :P Walking with Ah Hong was interesting - the way he shared his information wasn't merely telling us this and that. He actually asked us questions, telling us to use our imagination and creativity, and we had to work our brains finding for answers - why is this like that? haha... but after that he would tell us the answers 😊 We saw several
This was taken from the plankwalk
trees that were struck down by the lightning, and some damaged the plankwalk too. When we neared the caves, we saw an opening which was more like a crack; on the cave wall. This was the original entrance to Deer Cave. It is still used today by some of the locals, but not by tourists. It takes longer time - about 2 to 3 hours to reach the destination, and slippery cave floors full with guano makes the journey tougher. One interesting thing I learnt was about this tree by the name of Pokok Ipoh
. There were scars on the tree bark, lots of them. It was left by the natives when they took the latex of this tree. The latex of Pokok Ipoh
is used to produce the poison (upon mixing them with some other plants) used in blowpipes. Not to forget, I was bitten by an ant along the way! And trust me, it hurt like hell - but only for a while. However, I still got the itchiness once in a while for several days after I returned to Miri.
Upon reaching the bats observatory, we rested for 15 mins before proceeding to Lang and Deer
This was once a flowing river
Caves. Both caves are distinctly different - situated 150 metres apart in the Southern Hills area of the Park. We started with Lang Cave. The first 3 mins were ok to me, but after that I was awestruck - of the sight in Lang Cave. While it is the smallest of the 4 'show caves' it too is very special. It has a spectacular display of stalagmites, stalactites, helictites, shawls, columns and rimstone pools - bleached white, some slightly pale yellowish. The geological development was influenced more by the action of standing ground water dissolving the limestone rather than an active stream passage eroding it. The flat ceiling and notches in the walls are two hints of evidence. There were marine fossils in the rocks, can you imagine that? prooving that it was below sea-level millions of years ago. I must say I didn't have enough time to really enjoy everything, because there were quite a few groups of tourists around where we needed to make way for each other; and most of the time I was torching my path and trying to catch up with Ah Hong in front. I took some photos too but quite a number turned
The natives take latex from this tree for their blowpipe poison. Take a closer look at the tree trunk and see if you can spot the scars.
out blur as I expected - because of the aperture and shuttle speed - it was dark inside and we weren't allowed our tripods. I am bad in holding my camera with a perfect grip without shaking!
In contrast Deer Cave isn't only the biggest show cave at Mulu, it is also the largest cave passage in the world, and is very old. A powerful underground river once flowed through this area, dissolving and eroding the limestone to create this cavernous space. The massive chambers in Deer Cave are an over-whelming and awesome sight. There is a big rock which looks like a big tortoise next to the front entrance. Another beautiful thing is the feature of Abraham Lincoln when you look out to the cave entrance from the inside. It is formed by several pieces of rocks from different walls and heights, not one, so there's no way the 'sculpture' is an artwork done by human.
Exploring these caves took us about 2 hours. We came out to the bats' observatory at around 5.15pm. Some tourists were there waiting, including the Japanese guy. We were not late neither early. According to Ah Hong, the usual timing for
the bats to come out is around 4.30pm - 6pm. We waited patiently in the beginning, and in the meantime, more and more people came out and gathered at the observatory. All the seats were filled; with different groups of tourists and their respective guides. I counted the people present, and there were about 60 of us there and several guides. Some tourists were coming from the National Park route - the plank walk. I guessed they just arrived that afternoon, and came in all the way just to catch a glimpse of the exodus! Either that or they missed it the previous afternoon and now were back for another chance. We were sitting next to the Japanese guy and my father started a conversation with him since he sat just beside. If only I were sitting there, hahaha… Well, he’s a medical student in his fourth year, becoming a physician…hmm so he’ll be specializing in medicines and not surgeries? Yeap I think so. Oh, and he comes from Tokyo. He loves nature and always goes traveling. After this trip to Mulu, he’ll proceeds to Sabah to climb Mount Kinabalu. Wow! And he stopped by Malaysia just for Mulu Caves
and Mount Kinabalu - I’m proud to be east Malaysian, hahahaha ;P. He was pretty shy, didn’t talk too much, but he did reveal a little of his study life in the uni, and his expenses to come here. He also asked us whether we’ve been to Tokyo, (EXPENSIVE ler! Hehe).
As time passed, I was getting restless because the bats weren’t out yet! It was nearly 6pm, but more and more people were walking in to join us, and they seemed very eager. One man actually had his tripod set since 4.30pm, waiting with a nice camera angle to catch excellent photos. Hope we won’t be disappointed! Because as Ah Hong said, it depends on their mood. Sometimes they won’t come out if they sense the changes in weather, for example if the rain is coming. And our human sense can’t detect this - it made me realized the wonder of god’s creation, how these bats were able to ‘connect’ with nature in an awesome way. Suddenly I heard the Japanese guy’s guard telling him that they’ll wait for another 10 minutes, and if the bats still don’t come out, they’ll leave. Oh no! I didn’t want to!
A view from the bats' observatory
This is the opening where the bats stream out each day.
As I was busy in my own world praying that some how the bats’ senses would be wrong if it’s really going to rain that night, suddenly I heard the guide next to me telling her group that the bats were coming out. Oh finally! I got excited and started to focus my view towards the opening of the cave (Ah Hong told us earlier that each day when the bats come out, they would swirl around at the opening for a while, slowly flying out into the opening sky in a twirling motion). However I couldn’t spot a thing. Could it be my poor eyesight? Or was it due to the setting of the sun? No doubt it was already getting dark - I glanced at my watch and it showed 6.15pm. I continue to strain my eyes towards the cave’s opening, and finally I saw them as they flew out into the sky. Thousands of them! But one thing unexpected to me, I thought the bats were huge, and they were not, hahaha…. Very small in size compared to my imagination. I chuckled to myself thinking that maybe I was a little too much influenced by the movie
Lang Cave's entrance
Next to the signboard
Don’t worry if you missed the first group, there were more to come! The second group swirled out, and again I couldn’t see it when they first swirled at the opening. WHY? Why couldn’t I see that? Hmm…the guide next to me saw every thing…darn! Guess that’s why she was a guide! Like Ah Hong, their senses were so good compare to ours - that’s their strength! Ah Hong was behind us, and he told us to observe the birds flying in the sky, I didn’t notice that as well, I thought they were swallows, hahahah…because there were many swallows around there earlier.. He said they were eagles, spinning around there waiting for their ‘dinner’ hm… didn’t sound very nice right? ‘Dinner’ here means bats. Poor bats! The sight mesmerized me though, when flocks of bats flew out one after another. The pattern was really captivating - like a ribbon flowing in the air, slowly dissolving. Interesting! We waited for a few more flocks, and then we decided to leave. As we were leaving, we saw the walls of the caves bathed in the evening sunlight. As the sun was setting, it shone against the limestone walls,
Look at these beauties
casting beautiful orangey colours and grayish shadows side by side. Ah! Another beautiful view! It was getting dark as we walked out, making vision unclear. We got out in 1/2 hr time, and took the same van back to our resort. After dinner, I went to bed early after jotting my journal notes. Need to be refreshed for tomorrow's journey!
Day 2 : 5th September 2006
We had our breakfast at the resort at 7am, because our journey started at 8.30am. Today we are going to Clearwater Cave
and Wind Cave
which are situated in the Gunung Api
section of the Melinau Limestone. However, the sky turned dark while we were enjoying our meal, and shortly after that, it was pouring!. Oh no! I dreaded this! =( But the journey had to go on! We were brought to the jetty next to the resort where a long boat was waiting. By now the rain was pouring harder and we had to be careful because the steps were slippery. Thank God my shoe had good grips. Our journey was going downriver - Melinau River
and along the banks were mostly bushes and trees. We passed by a Penan tribe longhouse
Only found inside Lang Cave. Amazing!
and a school, and stopped for a visit to the shed where these Penan people were selling their handicrafts. I didn't buy anything though, instead took some photos before leaving. By the time we reached Wind Cave, the rain was merely light pattering. Still, we had to climb a flight of wooden paths leading up to the entrance of the cave. I felt its cooling winds as I walked throught the cave, but it wasn't strong, more to the breezy type due to the rainy day. In Wind Cave, it no longer has an active river flowing through it, but evidence of the river is all around us. We walked through Moonmilk Cave
- named as such because of its white surface that seems to glow even in the dark. It is believed that the wind carries bacteria from the outside world into these cave passages, their evolution made these white growth on the Moonmilk cave thus creating these captivating white scenery. We followed the dry river passaga that led us to the King's Chamber
. Millions of years ago, the first minute calcite crystals were deposited, building the majestic columns and staglamites in the King's Chamber.
From Wind Cave,
Kinda blurred, but still visible
we took the longboat to Clearwater Cave which was minutes away. We had a tea break for 15 mins. There were quite a few steps to climb to the Clearwater Cave, named for the crystal clear river that flows through 108km of cave passages in this system. At the entrance, the paths splits to two - one to Lady Cave
and the other to Clearwater Cave. Lady Cave got her name from the many rocks and limestones in the cave that looks like ladies, and one particular one is named Virgin Mary (you'll know why!) =) Well, I must agree, the shadow certainly looked like one! In Clearwater Cave we saw giant logs thrown high on the banks and wedged under boulders, evidence of its mighty power. The river passage was really huge! the 11th longest in the world. We crossed a bridge to the other side, and at the end of the trail, we were brought to a small wooden jetty next to the river where we could touch the water. I went down and it was refreshingly cool and icy! =)
Upon exiting the cave, we saw this plant - One-Leaf plant
. It is unique as you
can guess from it's name that it is really a one-leaf-plant. This plant will not grow if you remove it and try to plant it elsewhere. It has to rely on the nutrients from this limestone walls. There was another type of plant that's prohibited and we only saw 4 of it growing on the high cliffts above our heads. One such plant reaches the value of USD 2000 if sold. It's illegal even to plant them at your home. According to Ah Hong, there was this Japanese man that smuggles it out but were caught. He was fined RM500,000 and jailed too! We came out about 12.00pm and had our lunch there. I didn't go swimming because it was still drizzling, and I thought the water didn't look too 'crystal-clear' due to the rain earlier. However I did went down for a quick dip (slightly past my ankle length) and saw fishes swimming around =).
Our journey back was faster, about 1/2 hour and we got back to the resort at 1.30pm. After a quick shower and packing, we were transported to the airport. However, we were facing the risk of having our flights cancelled due to the
These formation were similar to the canopy of the rainforest
bad weather. Heard that there weren't any flights coming in since the morning, and many were stranded. The Jap was one of them as both flights to Kota Kinabalu were cancelled. Thank God our flights weren't cancelled, and it was fully packed because all that missed the morning flight as well as those that were going to KK were forced to join us onboard. They were told to make their way to Miri and from there catch the next flight to KK. I had the privilege to sit with the Jap, his name is Doi Hiroshiya, and we chatted all the way back, hahaha =) His English is quite good! (Now I feel lilke climbing Mount KK and touring Japan).
This trip was a short one but I had a great time and seen so much. Definitely a good recommendation to those that love nature. Who knows I might be back for a second visit... =)
As requested by several people, the contact of the local tour I took:
KKM Travel & Tours
Lot 236, Beautiful Jade Centre,
P.O. Box 1586,
98008 Miri, Sarawak.
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