Unique, fragile. Mulu has an effect on you. Some kind of sudden, almost maternal urge to protect it, this vast rainforest that sustains so much life within it. Of course, you don’t apply this protective streak to yourself!
Within an hour of arriving, I was fastening on a helmet in my bid to take on Racer Cave. Unlike the ‘Four Show Caves’ (that all have timber, concrete pathways and artificial lighting), Racer Cave, named after the species of snake that lives there, is one of the ‘adventure’ or ‘wild’ caves.
This is one of the caves that you need to ‘pass the test on’ if you’re thinking of taking on either of the two ‘big ones’ (the Clearwater Connection, a six-eight hour adventure that includes a 1.5km river section inside the cave itself, or the mighty Sarawak Chamber, an enormous cavern, large enough to contain the whole of St Paul’s Cathedral, or to put it another way, 40 Boeing 747s!).
Anyhow… I got out of Racer alive, having made a few stumbles, a complete mud bath of my shorts and a number of friends for life. The next day, eager to earn my stripes on more caving escapades, I took on ‘The Fast Lane at Lagang’, the latest cave to open, a mixture of ‘Show and Adventure’; the adventure part consisting of a tour to explore the stalactites, stalagmites and sediments – and then absolute pitch darkness when you’re asked to switch off your torches!
Visiting the caves in Mulu
Like caves? You’ll love Mulu. The only World Heritage site in Sarawak, the 52,865 hectares Gunung Mulu National Park, is home to an astonishingly rich biodiversity that includes 30 species of bat, whose presence alone is a good reason to come! Every evening, over three million of them come streaming out of the world’s largest cave passage in corkscrewed ribbons to feast on over 15 tonnes of flying insects… (maybe that’s why they don’t bother selling repellant in the shop?)
And the caves themselves, these enormous, ancient formations, are truly incredible, an underground playground for the adventurous! Scramble over immense boulders that lead to enormous chambers, navigate underground rivers or squeeze through eerie passageways. The most challenging adventure cave takes up to 16 hours to complete! Not for the claustrophobic, are you up for the challenge?
The Four ‘Show’ Caves…
Cave tours leave the main HQ every day, but if you want to do adventure caving (or one of the longer treks), then book as far in advance as you can. A five-day pass to the caves is RM30.
1. DEER CAVE: The world’s largest cave passage, 150m wide and 120m tall! Oh, and if you stand from a particular vantage point, there’s a perfect profile of President Lincoln! Whatever you do, don’t miss the famous bat exodus, as they swoop out en masse to feed. It’s on every night, has a cast of two million, and like the best things in life, is absolutely free!
2. LANGS CAVE: Next to Deer Cave, the stalactites and stalagmites inside this cave are the most impressive limestone formations you’ll find anywhere in the world!
3. WIND CAVE: The major attraction here is ‘King’s Chamber’ where stalactites and stalagmites grow with delicate lace-like patterns.
4. CLEARWATER CAVE: The best thing about this cave is that it ends in a swim in the crystal clear river at the end – tactical in part, or at least practical, since it washes all the bat guano (yes, that’s exactly what you think it is!) that squeezing through all those crevices will have covered you with.
You do have to plan to get to Mulu – it’s a jungle out there, and a plane-ride away from either Kuching, Kota Kinabalu or Miri (the nearest city). Check times and prices with Malaysian airline MASwings. You can also get there via a 10-hour boat along the Melinau River from Miri.
Where to stay?
Once landed, you can either stay at the park’s HQ (a good range of accommodation is available, from private bungalows to a mixed hostel, and even rooms in a longhouse), or opt for one of the homestays or lodges just outside the park (the only drawback here is that you’ll then have to pay the RM10 entrance fee every day you go through the gates.
Our advice: stay for three nights if you can – and no less than two! The four Show Cave tours leave the main HQ every day, but be warned: if you want to do adventure caving (or one of the longer treks), then you need to book as far in advance as you can (and the same goes for your accommodation and plane tickets).
For more information on prices, accommodation, and activities go to www.mulupark.com.
Where to go next?
- Bario, The Kelabit Highlands: Just a plane-ride away in a tiny 16-seater otter (great fun!) – this is a must for all those who want to experience the remote Bornean wilderness that provides the surroundings and backdrop for far-flung longhouses and tiny, quaint villages.
By Karen Farini.