So you aren’t the adventurous climb-and-wade-in-the-inky-darkness type of traveller. That doesn’t mean you can’t visit the UNESCO World Heritage-listed Gunung Mulu National Park in the East Malaysian state of Sarawak, which ranks among the most cavernous limestone hills in the world.
Photography: Ariff Shah Sopian
The caves of Mulu are among the natural wonders of Borneo, which include Mt Kinabalu and the amazing wildlife of the island. Aside from adventure caving, visiting the otherworldly show caves is a popular activity in Mulu. You only need to be able to walk on planks and go up and down paved steps or steel stairs – simple enough for kids and moderately fit seniors. That means you have no excuse not to visit.
Tours are guided, so there’s no way to get lost in the humid rainforest. For the show caves, a 3D2N stay is recommended, but 2D1N is also feasible if the weather is good. Here’s a primer if you want to know what’s in store for you in these caves.
WIND CAVE & CLEARWATER CAVE
These two caves are close to each other on the Gunung Api section of the Melinau Limestone, estimated to be 17 to 40 million years old. You won’t notice it, but by the end of the morning, you’d have climbed up and down the equivalent of a 40-storey building.
What’s so special about it? You can head back to the airport (ok, 100m from the entrance) by longboat after visiting the caves
Hop on a longboat for a short river cruise to the mouths of caves perched high up in the hills. Longboats leave Park HQ at 8.45am for the short trip upstream. A stop in the village of Batu Bungan gives you a chance to shop for souvenirs at the small market to support the indigenous Penan people, a previously nomadic tribe that has settled there.
What’s so special about it? The cooling wind that blows through the cave
The breezy cave is remarkable for its columns, which form when stalactites (cave formations hanging from the ceiling) meet stalagmites (formations rising from the ground). Wind Cave is noted for King’s Chamber, which has several of these ancient pillars.
What’s so special about it? A river runs through it
A subterranean river flows through the cave, giving you a glimpse of how the cave came to be. Over 200km of the cave has been recorded and parts of it are yet to be explored. After a picnic lunch at the rest area, you can go for a swim in the nearby sandy pool’s clear waters, which will supposedly restore your youth. (Worth a try, no?) For intermediate and advanced cavers, Clearwater Cave also offers adventure caving opportunities that include dry and wet caves.
DEER CAVE & LANG CAVE
These two very different caves are almost next to each other in the Southern Hills section of the park. Guides lead daily tours that leave the Park Office at 2.00pm and 2.30pm. A plank walk nearly 4km long leads to a rest area where you’ll begin your exploration of the caves.
What’s so special about it? Beautiful cave formations
The smallest of the show caves in Mulu, Lang Cave is famous for its stalactites and stalagmites that look like fountains frozen in time. You can also observe the dripping of mineral-rich water, hardening over thousands of years to create formations that continue to grow in size today.
What’s so special about it? It’s HUUUUGE
There are no deer inside anymore, but they used to take shelter and lick the salt columns here. One of the world’s largest cave passages, Deer Cave measures 169m wide and 125m tall at its largest cross-section. Impressive boulders and a dried-up riverbed are among the memorable features of the cave, alongside the strong odour of guano (bat droppings) that permeates the air because of the bats living here.
What’s so special about it? The sight of over a million bats heading out of Deer Cave in search of food
After visiting the caves, wait at the rest area for the winged cave residents to fly out in swirling ribbons. This begins between 5.00pm and 6.00pm and takes up to two hours. However, the bats do not feed every day. Keep your fingers crossed that you’ll catch this phenomenon!
WHAT TO BRING TO MULU
- Walking shoes with non-slip soles, as surfaces may be slippery
- Torch, head light, or phone flashlight to help you see details of the caves
- Plastic poncho in case of rain (umbrellas will not be useful in the downpour)
- Drinking water and snacks, as food and drinks at the park are more expensive than usual
GETTING THERE Mulu is accessible by daily domestic flights from Miri. AirAsia flies to Miri from Kuala Lumpur, Kota Kinabalu, Kuching and Singapore. www.airasia.com