Gunung Mulu National Park, located on the island of Borneo in the Malaysian state of Sarawak, is a UNESCO World Heritage site brimming with lush rainforest, intricate cave systems and colourful creatures. When I went there it was rather soggy, although it was also exceedingly green. Furthermore, the caves and forest were stupendous and some of the walks make you feel a tad like you’re Indiana Jones. Without further ado, here’s ten reasons why you should visit the place.
1. Caves. The big draw card to this equatorial wonderland is its vast cave chambers. Some are winding, tight, full of water, and one is reputedly big enough to hold 40 Boeing 747s without their wings overlapping. This is the Sarawak Chamber. Of the caves I went to, Deer Cave is one of the largest known single cave passages in the world. It’s a marvellous spot that’s home to thousands of wrinkled-lip bats and a small river which peters into the darkness.
Other caves I ventured into were the Milky Moon Cave, which is a sweet little chamber with a very slippery walk; the Wind Cave – which has a 25 metre shaft and a room chocked with dazzling stalactites; and the Clearwater Cave – which has a dreamy, translucent river flowing through it. I also adventured through the Racer Cave, where I had to scale small limestone cliffs and squish through tight crevices, past sleeping serpents.
2. Experience a tribal Bornean headhunter dance. The owner of our national park accommodation welcomed us with this dance, which involved a lot of tapping, feathered heads and hopping. Thankfully I kept my head about me. It was wonderful.
3. To spot hornbills. These handsomely hooked birds could be mistaken for a toucan from a distance. Some have wildly colourful heads, complete with big, bright flappy bits that sit atop their beak. The walk to camp three of the Gunung Mulu summit trek is ostensibly an excellent spot to see these hooked-nosed flappers. Unfortunately I didn’t spot one.
4. Wander through the forest. The forest in Gunung Mulu National Park is a primeval wonderland, where intricate creeper vines smother towering trees and miles of lush green foliage envelops you lovingly. Trickling streams, waterfalls and river crossings are frequented by vivid moths, caterpillars, lizards and snakes. Don’t worry, they’re very pretty ones. If you’re lucky enough, you may spot a Malayan sunbear, deer, or a Bornean bearded pig.
5. Watch bats fire out of Deer Cave. An astonishing sight. Every afternoon, thousand of bats fire out of the cave at sunset in a speedy, ribbon-like swirl. The bats literally explode out of the cave and their departure appears to create a cloud of smoke. A must see.
6. See snakes in a cave. Yes, that’s right. The Racer Cave is the spot to see the eponymous serpent, the racer snake, a bat-eating creature that hides in the ceiling. They appear friendly enough, even if Indiana Jones wouldn’t think so.
7. To see fireflies dancing in the forest. A great spot to see these small luminescent darters is on the return walk from Deer Cave after watching the bats at dusk.
8. The limestone pinnacles on Mount Api. These 40 – 50 jagged, shooting objects are a marvel to look at, resembling something out of Lord of the Rings, or perhaps Superman’s home on Krypton with a magnificent forest setting thrown in the background. Highly recommended.
9. To fly there. Gunung Mulu National Park is a remote part of the world which is accessible only by plane, or by jumping on a succession of boats up the Tutoh River. The good news is, if you’re pressed for time, you can catch a fine view of this remarkable, wriggling river from the air.
10. You’ll be aiding the local environment. The money you spend in Gunung Mulu National Park – on entry fees, towards treks, accommodation, food and equipment – filters back into the local area, providing jobs, while ensuring the continued protection of this astoundingly unique environment (much of which remains unexplored).