Around the world travel, Backpacking, Borneo, Bucket List, long term travel, Malaysia, Mulu National Park, Sarawak, Southeast Asia, Travel

Mulu National Park – Sarawak, Malaysia

I would by no means call myself a nature buff. I do appreciate nature, but I’m not one of those people who has the desire to visit every national park. Still, Borneo is known for its national parks, biodiversity, unique animal and plant life, caving, trekking and hiking, and you can’t help but enjoy the wonders this island offers.

The only way to access Mulu is by plane from either Miri or Kota Kinabalu, so I made my way from Niah to Miri in order to catch the 20-minute flight in. I booked into a hostel near park HQ which was basically a cabin with 15 beds and again, I felt like I’d arrived at camp for a few days.

On my first night, I signed up for a nightwalk with a few others from the lodge. This was a 2-hour trek around park HQ, and we saw everything from huge stick insects, tree frogs, tarantulas, snakes, giant geckos and a kingfisher (which was a definite highlight).

The following morning we signed up for the canopy walk. Mulu is home to the largest canopy walk in Southeast Asia. It covers over 400 meters, and it was quite neat to spend the morning in the treetops. We had a lazy afternoon before heading out to Deer Cave and Lang Cave.
Our guide for this trip, Roland, was awesome. He pointed out so many interesting things on the way to the caves. He shook a branch of a specific palm tree and a noise, like rain immediately followed. It sounded like leaves rustling but was actually the sound of the hundreds of ants that live inside reacting to the movement.

He explained how past generations of indigenous people made spears and arrows from the palm bark and then used the sap of the Betang tree to coat the spears in poison, so they could use them to hunt. All this, and we hadn’t even got to the caves yet.

Unfortunately the lights were out at Lang Cave, so we couldn’t really get the full effect of the stalagmites and stalachtites from our torch light alone, but Deer Cave didn’t disappoint. This cave is massive- even bigger than the Great Cave at Niah. It houses the largest cave passage in the world, and we only touched the beginning of it.
After the tour, we sat outside Deer Cave and waited for the bat exodus. Each night between 5:30 and 6:00, millions of bats leave their home in Deer Cave to venture out for dinner. They do this in shifts, but with each shift, a huge black swarm fills the sky.

After completing most of the guided tours offered, a few of us decided to sign up for the adventure caving at Racer Cave. We made our way upriver by longboat to the entrance of the cave. Henry explained that the cave, once called Salmon for the man who discovered it, was renamed “Racer” for the snake species that live inside.

We made our way in for a pretty intense 2-hour trek that consisted of squeezing through rock crevasses, using ropes to climb up cave walls, and repelling down. (It still surprises me that nowhere in Asia are you ever asked to sign any type of liability form- in fact, I’m surprised we even had hard hats).

The climbing and repelling was great, but we also got to check out the racer snakes that live inside the cave, as well as bats, cave crickets and freshwater crabs who make their way in from the river.

Some of the formations in the cave are just awesome, and they make you realize just how old the earth is. One of the first things we saw when we entered were shells and shell-like fossils embedded into the limestone of the cave wall, evidence that at one point in time, Borneo was completely underwater.

Henry put everything into perspective for us when he pointed out a stalagmite formation which was about 20 meters tall (one of the smaller ones) and informed us that these grow about 15 centimeters each year…now, you do the math! Off to the right of this was a flat piece of rock of three layers, each indicating one of the Earth’s time periods. A layer of limestone was separated from a huge layer of sedimentary rock by a layer of ash. It was crazy to see the evolution of the planet right before our eyes, and it makes me realize that in the whole scheme of things, we humans have only been here for about 15 minutes.

After our last rope climb, we were as deep into the cave as we could go, so we all turned off our headlights and just sat for a few minutes. I don’t think I’ve ever experienced such darkness. I felt like my eyes were playing tricks on me, and seeking light at each corner. It makes you happy to know the guides are carrying spare torches!

On my last day in Mulu, I set out by myself to see one last cave, Moonmilk. It’s a small cave, so no guides are needed. I’d heard there were some pretty intense steps leading to it, but I looked at it as good preparation for climbing Mount Kinabalu (which was coming next). There was no one around, and it felt as if I had the park to myself.

I had time to look back on the 3 days at Mulu. It felt like I had been there much longer. I had met some great people, and also run into some familiar faces from Niah. Most of us were heading on to Kota Kinabalu and were looking forward to a night out in the city, and then…. The Mount Kinabalu Climb.

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