9 April 2015


We are moving to Ipoh on the peninsula tomorrow.  Our stuff was packed last week so rather than sit around an empty house we have been spending the time out and about enjoying an explore of our portion of Borneo.

Mulu - cut off by the surrounding hills
One of the things we simply could not leave without going to see was the Caves in the Mulu National Park.  The only time we could shoehorn it in was in the last few days of our time - fly up on the Monday, back on the Wednesday morning before packing our final bits and pieces and sorting out the final admin for our move to Ipoh Wednesday afternoon and flying Thursday morning.  Hectic but we felt that we absolutely had to see Mulu.

The entrance to Lang's Cave
Mulu is remote, set in the far North of Sarawak not far from the Brunei border it is a short 30 minute flight from Miri, the maps suggest that you might be able to drive and boat up but knowing how the roads can peter out and how long a short journey can take in the interior we thought the flight was the sensible option.

Deer Cave with the famous 'Abraham Lincoln' Profile
Mulu is set in a huge natural amphitheatre in a range of limestone hills and as you land in you feel like you are entering a lost world. The World Heritage Site/Natural Park was only recently gazetted and although there are now permanent settlements the tribes in the area (mostly Penan) were nomadic until that time (1970s).

A small bat hole in Lang Cave

Bats Leaving Deer Cave at Dusk
The first day was spent enjoying a short 3km (I say short but it is so hot and humid that a 3km walk takes almost an hour) through the jungle to the Lang and Deer Caves.  The national park is designed to be completely accessible and the majority of the paths are along boardwalks.  This makes them safe for large volumes of people and allows motorbikes from HQ to go to and from places quickly if needed.  Although we had Mini EE in the baby carrier we could have used her buggy for a large part of the walks.  The older two children enjoyed the walk and our guide, Mr Rick was fantstic with them, taking the time to provide a lot of background information on the park, caves and wildlife.  It turned out that he had shared uni digs with some Kazakh students in KL and impressed the children by speaking to them in Russian for a while.

Amazing Formations at the Entrance to Clearwater Cave
Rock Formation in the 'Lady' Chamber of Clearwater Cave
There was plenty to see in the caves, Lang Cave has some beautiful rock formations and Deer Cave is absolutely huge, one of the largest caves in the world.  The floor is covered in guano from the huge bat colonies that roost in the ceiling (the colonies are so large that you can see them from the floor as they make the roof dark in comparison to the surrounding rock).  The guano attracted the deer who gave the cave is name.  The nomadic Penan used to come to the cave to hunt venison, sadly a treat no longer available today.  We walked through the cave to a second entrance called the Garden of Eden which is window onto an enclosed world hemmed in by the mountain.

Roof Collapse in Clearwater Cave
After the tour we returned to the entrance of the cave and the 'bat observatory' to wait for the famous change of the guard where the swifts who roost at night and hunt by day return to their nests and the bat colonies stream out to hunt for insects up to 100km away.  It had rained quite a bit during the day so it was too damp to tempt many bats out, we saw some swarms but nothing like the intense ones we had hoped to catch.  Following the bats we walked back through the jungle at night listening to the insects and frogs calling to each other.  At times we saw some cross our path and caught glimpses of glow-worms out in the bush.

Shards created by the action of bacteria
The following day we travelled by boat to a Penan village, here most of the homes enjoy satellite TV and concrete longhouses are replacing the traditional wooden varieties, a government clinic ensures that people get access to healthcare, vaccinations etc and that all births are registered so that children can work legally when they are grown (unregistered births are a big problem in Sarawak and there are significant Government initiatives to try to combat this).  While the villagers still hunt the local women sell handicrafts and many of the people work in the tourist industry - a big change from the nomadic life their parents and grandparents led.

The village is a mix of the old and the new
Tourism is big business for the local people
Villages along the Melinau River
The boat then took us on to Wind Cave, it was possible to walk here from the park headquarters as recently as a year ago but the boardwalk collapsed and is in the process of being re-built.  Consequently this cave feels more remote than the Deer and Lang Caves.  Wind cave is named for the breeze that flows through  and has caused the rock formations to bend.  The cave connects to the Clearwater cave but  it is not possible to go through except on an adventure tour (not suitable for small children).

Swimming in a forest pool
The main entrance to Clearwater is up a flight of 198 steps (Master EE and I counted) and this is yet again breathtaking.  Clearwater is the longest cave system in the world and it feels simply gigantic.  The main cavern was formed by a powerful river which still runs through the base of the cave.  It is deep and fast even in the dry season, adventure tours guide people through the system but it requires a swim of 1.2km, a huge distance particularly underground.  The river still floods and fills the cavern to about the half way point so in December, January on a small portion of the walk around the cave is possible.

It is possible to get very close to the local wildlife
After the tour of Clearwater and back at the bottom of the stairs we were treated to a packed lunch and an opportunity to swim before going back to Park HQ.  There we opted to climb a viewing tower to look out over the canopy, this is an alternative to the famous Canopy walk which was booked out.  We then took the chance to walk the Botany trail, a smaller loop off the main walk with excellent information boards showcasing the plants and giving detailed information on the biology of the rainforest, then back to the hotel and another swim before packing for the flight the next morning.

The park botany walk is a good way to see and learn about a lot
of forest species

Some of the plants are breathtaking
We stayed at the Mariott hotel which is the luxury offering in Mulu, we had hoped to stay in the park but all the accommodation was booked out for Easter.  The hotel were, however, very accommodating, permitting the five of us to share a max 3 occupancy room.  We ate at a little canteen across the river which has an agreement with the tour guide we used (you are required to have a guide for all visits to the caves, we had our own but it is possible to join a larger group if you wish).  The food was excellent and the welcome extremely warm.  As is usual in Malaysia our baby was taken off us and entertained so that we could enjoy our meal and, once they had finished, the older two went off to play with the children of the family.

Making friends
The guides were excellent with the children, they
were a goldmine of information and never once
talked down.
Mr EE and I had dreamed of going to Mulu for at least 20 years so this trip, a birthday present for me, was a bit of a trip of a lifetime.  The park itself is manicured and managed and is very tame, there is no hacking through the undergrowth needed.  While this is a shame in some ways it is wonderful in others, it meant that we could take not only the older children but Mini EE as well, she will not remember any of it but she loved going into the caves and was intrigued by the contrasts of light and dark.  The forest was also a completely new experience for her, of course because she will not remember it we have the perfect excuse to come back again in the future and hopefully next time take the 3 day hike to the famous pinnacles.

Click on the picture for more posts on life in Borneo

Ersatz Expat


  1. My 6 years old son would love to see these caves. Not so sure with my daughter... She has a bad case of "I'm afraid of..." -quite everything- these days. Malaysia will have to be added to my "Countries I want to visit" list.

    1. I can sympathise. Our son is a little like your daughter - a bit frightened of things but loves it when he gets going. Our middle daughter is fearless! I am not sure whether that is all good! Mulu is very child friendly - Malaysia as a whole is a perfect family destination.