Gunung Mulu National Park, Sarawak
Activities: Trekking, caving
Permit: Five-day passes available at Mulu World Heritage Area Park Headquarters.
RM15 for Malaysians
RM30 for foreign nationals
MasWings flights available twice daily from Miri and daily from Kuching and Kota Kinabalu
Cave tours: Fee applies. Clearwater Cave and Cave of the Winds — Four hours
Deer Cave and Lang Cave — Three hours
THOUGH it was only my second trip, the isolated wilderness of Mulu appeals to me, as does visiting its incredible show caves – each with its unique characteristics, witnessing the daily bat exodus, travelling in a longboat and, of course, the back-to-nature experience.
Gunung Mulu National Park is Malaysia’s first World Heritage Area (awarded in 2000), famed for its limestone cave system and the rich biodiversity of an equatorial rainforest. The show caves are a must-visit while other activities include adventure caving, treks, trails and nature walks.
Be warned though, flights to the park can be cancelled due to bad weather, as we experienced on a recent trip. Arriving at the park after 3pm, we missed out on the Deer and Lang Cave tours. The park ranger, however, told us about the many self-guided trails we could explore at our own pace before the bat exodus, which typically happens between 5.30pm and 6.30pm, if it does not rain.
Armed with a map, water and light snacks, we ventured out. After the morning deluge, a hint of moisture lingered in the air, making for a cool walk on the still-damp timber boardwalk.
The Botanical Heritage trail is a 1.5km loop that winds through the forest, offering a close-up of the many fascinating plant species endemic to Mulu. Along the boardwalk, information panels provide interesting facts about life in this unique ecosystem.
At the intersection, we rejoined the main boardwalk towards Deer Cave, stopping frequently to examine the fascinating flora and fauna, including dragon flies, millipedes and some unusual bugs. The 1.5m-wide raised platform lets you walk comfortably and safely through the dense rainforest of creeper vines, huge trees and leafy tropical plants.
A suspension bridge in an amazingly green forest marks the start of the Kenyalang loop. Less frequented, the bridge had a thick covering of moss and algae, and was very slippery. The forest scene was very natural and pristine and the trail brought us back to the boardwalk a short distance from the bat observatory.
The daily exodus of almost two million wrinkle-lipped bats from the entrance of Deer Cave is an unmissable experience and an awesome sight.
The seats at the bat observatory were partially filled when we got there at 5.30pm.
By 6pm, a large group had gathered in anticipation of the greatest show in Mulu.
We were not disappointed.
Leaving in organised groups to go hunting for fruits and insects, the exodus begins with a small wave of black dots circling upwards and away. Seconds later, another swirl emerges and drifts up the cliff face. This start-stop action continues several more times, until a continuous swarm spirals out of the cave mouth. This dramatic performance lasts for a good 30 minutes and is truly mesmerising.
As the last of the winged creatures faded into the deepening dusk, the jungle came alive as we made our way back to the park headquarters. Later, we enjoyed a guided night walk to the sound of bull frogs, insects and birds.
The Cave of the Winds/Clearwater Cave tour involves a ride on a longboat along the Melinau River. There is a stop-off at Batu Bungan to pick up some local handicraft as souvenirs from the Penan longhouse market.
The entrance to the Cave of the Winds is an easy climb from the riverbank. The cave gets its name from the cool breezes that can be felt in narrow parts of it.
From the Cave of the Winds, Clearwater Cave can be accessed by boat or on foot via a boardwalk. Either way, it only takes about five minutes. From the picnic area, a 200-step climb will take you to the mouth of the cave where a walkway descends deep into the cavernous interior. From the bridge crossing, visitors can see a part of the underground river as it starts a 170m subterranean journey.
The exploration to all the must-see spots took us up and down, past some boulders, while surrounded by an abundance of stalagmites and stalactites formed a thousand years ago,
Back at the picnic spot, the crystal clear pool at the foot of the cave is fed by water from the underground river. I could not resist a dip and was highly entertained by a bat skimming the surface repeatedly for a drink.
Accommodation: Available at the park headquarters, ranging from the hostel and longhouse to the Rainforest Lounge and Garden Bungalows. Tours and rooms can be easily booked online. There is a cafe for meals and a gift shop. WiFi is limited and a fee applies.
For details, visit www.mulupark.com
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