Mad for Mulu. Borneo’s Jungle Surprise.
Flying into Mulu, you’ll be in awe before you even step off the plane. Mulu, a lesser known destination on the tourist map but in no way a lesser place to visit. Don’t overlook Mulu - it’s an absolute ‘must visit’ if you’re travelling to Borneo to make her discoveries.
It’s jungle, jungle, jungle every which way you look across the landscape as you fly into this tropical rainforest surprise. UNESCO World Heritage listed, Gurung Mulu National Park is 52,000 hectares of pristine rainforest in the Malaysian state of Sarawak on the island of Borneo. The biggest attraction is the incredible Mulu Caves, an amazing visit for anyone, young or old. For the more adventurous, there’s the trekking options to the Mulu Pinnacles, but it’s challenging when it comes to the demands of the trek.
My visit showcased four of the Mulu caves, local villages, the beautiful Melinau River and an indulgent five star stay at the Mulu Marriott.
YOUR INTRODUCTION TO MULU
From the sky, the immense expanse of Gurung Mulu National Park is impressive. After a short 55 minute flight from Kota Kinabulu (state of Sabah) to Mulu (in the state of Sarawak), I arrived to the small jungle airport. Staying at Mulu Marriott, your first introduction will be the ramshackle pickup truck that transfers you from the airport to the jungle resort; just a five minute drive along the single lane road. The transfer is quite the novelty for a five star resort, that leaves you wondering what will be when you arrive. Then it’s revealed - crossing the bridge over the Melinau River to arrive to the pristine setting of this five star jungle resort, Marriott Mulu. It is incredibly unique. To be in this remote part of our earth yet enjoy five star facilities – very unexpected.
The setting is superb; hotel rooms and suites, spread generously across the property, connected by raised boardwalks, and luggage is transported by a bicycle shuttle between the lobby and your room. The rooms are outstanding. I knew it was going to be a five star stay but it was more than I ever expected for a remote jungle stay. There’s a lovely small but pretty pool setting adjacent to the main restaurant, and separate spacious guest lounge and bar area. And the Mulu Marriott boasts a wi-fi detox; no wifi in the rooms and even if though it exists in the lobby, I’d recommend not to bother as it’s laboured and hardly worth the trouble.
Kick back, relax and settle into your jungle lodgings and take the time to switch off from the rest of the world.
MULU CAVES – WHAT TO EXPECT
My visit was a two night stay. Arriving in the afternoon, I wasted no time and I headed out with my local guide to visit two of the four notable caves I’d be seeing on my visit, Deer Cave and Lang’s Cave in the Gurung Mulu National Park.
Firstly, expect some rain, this is tropical equatorial rainforest – have your rain gear for the walk to the cave entries. My timing was ideal; it conveniently rained, either at night, or only lightly during my excursions.
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A visit to Mulu Caves is not taxing but it does require walking to reach some of the cave entry points. From Mulu Marriott it is a short transfer to the National Park entry where you log your entry, pay the entry fee and take advantage of the facilities before heading off. There’s a well maintained boardwalk that leads to Deer and Lang’s Cave. It’s a four kilometre leisurely walk in (and out). Depending on your walking pace, allow an hour or more to reach the cave entry. The walk is an easy pace. The jungle canopy protects you from the heat of the sun, and also offers some rain protection. And if you’re heading back later as night is falling, a torch or phone torch may come in handy, and also good to have for when you’re inside the caves.
Reaching Clearwater and Cave of the Winds (or Wind Cave) is a different experience, taking a long boat up Melinau River. The Wind Cave is usually the first stop then Clearwater. There are majestic stalagmites and stalactites in the Kings Chamber and this is the stand out for the Wind Cave. Next, Clearwater. There is a step staircase of about two hundred stairs to reach the entry of Clearwater Cave. Visitors of all ages come to see these caves and for most this is manageable, there’s no rush. If you find it a challenge, it’s worth the effort. You won’t see all of Clearwater Cave but what you see is superb – it’s south east Asia’s longest cave system, 220 kilometres in length, one of the biggest caves in the world. This cave has a subterraneous river running through it and the strategic positioning of lighting added for the visitor experience brings the cave to life. Walking through the cave, you will navigate some staircases, and along the way admire incredible stalagmites and stalactites.
A visit to Wind Cave and Clearwater Café offers the chance to take a picnic lunch in the purpose built picnic area alongside a pretty water hole, and the option to take a dip. There’s no shops, so this needs to be pre arranged and your guide can organise this.
Mulu Caves are not only spectacular but also a well thought out destination, with facilities, accessibility and safety in mind, well maintained walking paths, and good lighting inside the caves to showcase this incredible wonder of nature.
I never expected it, but I am ‘mad about Mulu’. It’s left an unforgettable dent in my travel memories and was an impressive visit.
LOCAL PENAN WAY OF LIFE
Mulu is not just about the caves. There’s the Pinnacles, but for many visitors, the Pinnacles trek isn’t an option due to the physical demands. However, for everyone there’s the cultural side of getting to know the way of life for the local Penan people.
As part of your exploration of the caves, you’ll take the local form of transport, a long boat, and you can stop to visit a local Penan tribe. I made a stop with my guide at the local village Batu Bungan. There’s a small market where you can browse hand made crafts. My favourite were the woven baskets and I purchased a handcrafted woven basket. I love it; knowing it’s been locally made, plus it has to be one of the sturdiest shopping bags I’ve ever had, and it goes with me on every supermarket visit. When you visit a Penan tribe you are witnessing the lives of people of the jungle. Part of my fun was trying my skill of using the handcrafted blowpipe that for hundreds of years have been used by the Penan for hunting using poison darts shot through the pipe.
The other visit I’d encourage you to make, is to head to a local village further up the Melinau River and visit a village of long houses. Long houses are famed in this area. They are the traditional homes of the local people – one very long house, as the name suggests. It’s one structure; a long verandah with rooms off it, with each room where a family lives, all built from wood and raised high off the ground.
This is a real village with the people going about their daily life and we can visit and get a window into their life in the jungle. My visit was special, as I was the only tourist. It’s authentic and not a contrived village geared for the tourist dollar.
Located in Sarawak state of Borneo, Malaysia, it’s a short flight from the Capital of Borneo, Kota Kinabulu. Or fly in from Borneo’s second visit city, Kuching, about a 1 hour and 20 minute flight, or even fly from Miri (just 30 minutes by air) in the north of the state of Sawarak. Due to the rainforest climate it can mean flight schedules or even cancellations due to heavy rain. I recommend planning a visit of at least two nights to make your stay worthwhile, and have some ‘padding’ in your itinerary in case of flight schedule changes due to the weather.
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