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Niah Caves

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Niah Caves

From Belaga, we made our way by 4-wheel drive to Bintulu. The four hour drive was long, but was a scenic highlight. We literally drove through dense forests and watched the clouds lift from below us. We then drove through terraced rice fields and palm plantations before reaching the paved road to Bintulu. Here we were able to catch a bus to Niah.

We checked into Niah’s park lodge, which was a little cabin with 4 rooms, 4 beds to a room. It felt a bit like being at camp. In addition to the cabins were the Park Headquarters and a canteen.

The following morning, we set out to see the Caves. We hiked through the rainforest for about 1 1/2 hours and arrived at the entrance to The Great Cave. It’s difficult to describe really, but this is a mammoth cave and you do feel as if you’re beginning your journey to the center of the earth. The terrain changes completely too, and you feel as if you’re walking on what would be the surface of the moon.

After a while, my neck started to hurt from looking up so much, but you can’t help but take it all in. Dotted all over the cave are flimsy bamboo poles which lead up the the cave ceiling. These are used by harvesters to collect the swiflet’s nests for bird nest soup. These nests, produced by the small birds’ saliva, can earn a harvester upwards of $500- $1000 per nest! Watching a man climb to the cave ceiling is almost as impressive as the cave itself.

We began to work our way into the cave, which entailed climbing up and down thousands of steps. As we got to the back of the Great Cave, the sun was shining through an opening in the cave ceiling and illuminating the rocks below. There was something pretty cool about being in the pitch black one minute and turning the corner to see this source of light just streaming through.

From here, we watched a climber retrieve a nest from the ceiling. It was not easy to keep track of him, as he climbed up 60 meters. He just turned to a speck on the ceiling.

We then made our way to the Painted Cave. Unfortunately due to time and erosion, the tribal art that used to decorate these cave walls has faded to being almost unrecognizeable. Still, it is pretty awe-inspiring to stand in a place where they have traced life back 40,000 years.

Niah was just the beginning of the National Park Circuit I came to find myself on in Borneo, but it was a definite highlight of my time in Sarawak.