Day 15 – Gunung Mulu National Park
After a bit of a sleep in we wandered into Kota Kinabalu town centre to check out the Sunday market…it was overcrowded, there was nothing original and it was pretty awful seeing all the puppies and kittens crammed into cages (also scary how many people were taking photos of all the cute animals). So after walking through the market we wandered off to the mall, where Mark got a funky new pair of shorts. By then I was rather peckish so we stopped in at a cafe for some lunch and drinks.
Before we knew it, it was time to get back to the hostel to catch a taxi to the airport.
Waiting in the departure lounge we were surprised at the lack of people on the area. Boarding the plane we soon discovered we were the only two passengers! The air hostesses were pretty cool: “Are you familiar with aircraft safety procedures?” We said yes, “so is it ok if I don’t go through them with you?” And again a yes from us! They also have us a few extra packets of peanuts. Yum.
Descending into the Gunung Mulu National Park was pretty beautiful, dense, lush green vegetation with mountains sticking up at random.
We got off the plane, went through ‘immigration’ and caught a shuttle bus to the national park headquarters to register in the park and check in to our accommodation – pretty awesome to have to walk across a suspension bridge to access the place!
We have a lovely little bungalow that is surrounded by jungle and accessed via timber walkways – at night the animal sounds are almost deafening, but nonetheless cool.
Upon check-in we had to organise all the tours and activities straight away, and we designed a pretty fun few days.
As the sun began to sink in the sky, we managed to cram in two non-guided activities.
Firstly we headed up the Tree Top Tower to see of there was any wildlife to watch – we could see movement in the trees from a flock of birds, but not a great deal else.
Secondly we continued further down the track to see the ‘Bat Exodus’. Along the trail we saw some awesome miniature squirrels. They were probably about 15cm long from head to tail. They are such funny little creatures, dashing from spot to spot with their tails in the air as if they are being chased, then stopping suddenly and chilling out for a bit. We also saw a number of little lizards, butterflies, and Mark’s favourite, a stick insect. We had seen this particular stick insect at the butterfly farm in Penang – they look like a 20-25cm long twig, apart from the two little arms, it’s nearly impossible to say that it isn’t a twig!
At the end of the trail was the by observation area. Between 4 – 6pm the bats exit the caves in search of food. We were quite some distance from the exit point, but you could see swarms of bats buzzing around the cave exit, then suddenly a stream of hundreds would leave the cave in one go and form a river-like stream across the sky. A few seconds later another stream of hundreds more bats would cross the sky. Sometimes the swarms would fly in circles and it looked like there was a black donut in the sky. Pretty amazing/interesting to see.
Around 6pm the bats appeared to all have made their exit, so we walked back to the national park headquarters for some dinner, and then a chilled out evening in our bungalow, reading books.
Day 16 – Gunung Mulu National Park
We started the day with a guided canopy walk. Our guide Francesca taught us a little bit about the area, as well as showing us more of the wildlife.
Along the walk we saw a vibrant green viper, a bright orange kingsfisher, various different insects and birds and my favourite, more Pygmy Squirrels (so the squirrels we had seen earlier weren’t baby squirrels, they were duly grown Pygmy squirrels…so cute!) I tried valiantly to get a photo of a squirrel but I am yet to find out if I was successful, those little guys dart about so quickly!
The canopy walk was suspension bridges about 20-30metres above the jungle floor. It was lovely an peaceful up amongst the trees, unfortunately though we didn’t really see any new or different animals.
One thing I learned during the walk that I found interesting was that the area is named Mulu by mistake. When people came to discover the area they recorded the name of the area as M. Ulu. Ulu means “up river” and mountains was marked on the map as M. so it was “mountains up river”. By the time the notes and maps made it back to the map makers in England, the text was not as legible as when it was written and the area was named on the map as “Mulu”.
After our morning tour we had some time to fluff around, so we checked out emails, read our books and had some lunch.
At 2pm we set off on our afternoon tour to Lang Cave and Deer Cave with our guide Esther and 4 other tourists (including a loud, annoying American). We walked the 45minutes to the cave entrance and had a 20minute breather before heading in.
We started with Langs Cave, which is actually a portion of Deer Cave. We walked a loop of Langs Cave before going out and entering Deer Cave. Deer Cave was so called because many deer used to come and drink the water that passed through the cave as it was nice and salty from all the bat guano and bird droppings. Deer cave is the largest cave passage in the world.It was quite wide an had very high ceilings, large portions of the ceiling in specific areas are solid black with millions upon millions of bats. Both Langs and Deer caves had the usual suspects: stalactites and stalagmites, but I didn’t think any of the formations I saw were particularly amazing.
Apart from the astounding size of the caverns, the highlights of Deer Cave were the entry point where the wide mouth of the cave opened out to the lush green rainforest (which of course was experiencing a downpour) and towards the back of the cave there was an area called “Garden of Eden”, as well as an Adam shower and an Eve shower. The Adam and Eve showers were like enormous stalactites that were hollow, allowing all the rain from outside to flow through as a shower – they looked pretty awesome, but I don’t think the photos show the water pouring through them. The Garden of Eden was a beautiful lush green, untouched section of the rainforest that could be seen through an opening in the cave.
It was pretty awesome to see the two caves and it will be interesting to see how the other caves in the area differ.
Leaving the cave was pretty unexciting as it meant a walk back to the bungalow in torrential rain. We walked as fast as our little legs could carry us, but still returned soaked through all layers..we wrung out our shoes, socks, shorts etc and headed indoors to get dry.
Day 17 – Gunung Mulu National Park
After nearly 11hours of sleep we got up and organised ourselves for our tour-free morning. We checked all our gear from the previous day…it was all still wet. With the humidity here it takes days for things to dry, which is a little frustrating when you need things like shoes.
So we decided to do the walk out to Paku Waterfall, we registered departure time and expected return time with the main office and got ourselves sorted. We decided to wear sandals so that our shoes would have a bit more time to dry before the afternoon caving a tour, and I put on my wet shorts…thankfully they weren’t soaking, just a bit damp. Within half an hour of walking they were already dry. (Quote of the day: “what is rainforest? Damp underpants”)
After walking for around 1.5km on the boardwalk, we split off into the waterfall track which was 1.3km. The track was narrow and at times quite muddy, the worst part is the walk was that every few seconds you would walk through yet another spiderweb. Our faces, arms and legs were covered with fine cobwebs and it felt awful!!!
After walking for about 30mins we got to the waterfall and it was…. unimpressive. We took a few photos and then headed back to base camp for some lunch before the afternoon tour.
On the afternoon tour we had a group of 8 people including the guide: two guys from Sweden, a Brit, a Yank and a chik from Bulgaria. We caught a longboat upriver to the cave entrance where we put on our helmets and switched on our lights. Like Deer and Langs caves, Racer Cave was a series of enormous caverns. It had some narrow parts where we had to squeeze through, but it wasn’t a teeny, squashy rabbit warren like I have experienced in other caves. There were a few rope climbs to be done, a few rock climbs too, but it was mostly walking inside the cave. The cave hosted bats, birds, spiders, crickets and millions of other bugs. I’m not sure how far into the cave we ventured, perhaps a kilometre…it probably took us around 2hrs going into the cave and roughly an hour to return. It was heaps of fun!!
We finished our day with a tour called “The Night Shift”, which as you can imagine was a night tour. We hoped to see lots of cool nocturnal creatures, but unfortunately they can all hear us coming from a mile away and opt not to stick around for a visit. So what we did see was a huge variety of spiders, stick insects and snails. We also saw a number if different types of geckos – those little guys are so cute!!
By the end of the tour we were pretty knackered from such a full day…so it was time to head back to the bungalow and catch a few zzz’s.
Day 18 – Gunung Mulu National Park / Kuching
Our start to the day involved packing our bags and storing them on the luggage room before doing our last cave tour.
Our tour was a bit bigger this time and two longboats took us upriver, first to visit a local village to check out their way of life and possibly buy some handicrafts. As most of the handicrafts are made from plant materials and wouldn’t be allowed to be brought back into Australia, we didn’t look too closely at what they had to offer.
The next stop was a bit further upriver, Cave of the Winds. It had more stalagmites and stalactites than the previous caves and many of the walls were textured with a white substance they call “moon milk”. At the end of the cave was a a chamber called “Kings Chamber” and using your imagination you could various things in the formations, such as a king, the titanic, a dragon and a hand dangling from the ceiling. After a good look around we headed yet further up the river to Clearwater Cave. We had to climb 200 steps to get to the entrance of the cave, and once we did, we realised it was actually two caves. The entrance on the right was Ladies Cave, which we visited first, on the left was Clearwater Cave.
Ladies Cave was so called because the shadow of one of the stalagmites looks like the Virgin Mary. The cave was really lovely, many beautiful shapes. In the centre was a section where the ceiling had collapsed and you could look outside to the lush green rainforest above (and hopefully not get drips of water in your eyes as you look up!)
Clearwater Cave was fairly similar to both Wind Cave and Ladies Cave, just a greater variety of different shapes and formations, as well as a crystal clear river running through it.
After visiting the caves, we descended the 200 steps and changed into our togs for a swim in the river. It looks like a nice swimming hole, rather than a river, but at one end there is actually quite a strong flow of water as it exits the cave river to meet with the normal river. You weren’t able to determine that this flow existed until you were actually swimming, as it was under water, and felt the strong current. As you can imagine, the water from a cave river was rather fresh! While I found it quite refreshing, I didn’t stay in for very long.
After our swim we headed back to National Park headquarters for some lunch, before our flight to Kuching (southern Borneo).
The flight to Kuching had HEAPS more people on it than the flight to Mulu. There were a grand total of 14 passengers! The flight was 1.5hours and went pretty quickly.
When we got to Kuching we checked into our hostel and found places around the room to hang out all our wet gear from the rainy rainforest. Then we put our shoes back on (you have to take your shoes off indoors everywhere you go) and headed out to explore.
Kuching is fairly small it seems…we wandered down one of the main streets, along the waterfront to the end point and back again. Stopping for some dinner on the way – I had a very tasty Sarawak Laksa.
Random info: Malaysia appears to broken into states, the top part of Borneo is Sabah, the lower part, where we are now, is Sarawak and the other chunk is peninsular Malaysia (not sure if it has another name). Interestingly you need to go through immigration when travelling between the states.