CENTRAL AND EASTERN SARAWAK
Central Sarawak stretches from Sibu, on the lower Batang Rajang, upriver to Kapit and northeastward along the coast to Bintulu and Miri. This part Sarawak offers some great river journeys, spectacular national parks and modern urban cities. The geosyncline region, which extends northeast to the Batang Lupar River forms the central and northern regions of Sarawak. Image result for major rivers central Sarawak.
The main river in the region, the Rajang River is the longest river in Malaysia, measuring 563 kilometres (350 mi) including its tributary, the Balleh River. To the north, the Baram, Limbang and Trusan Rivers drain into the Brunei Bay. Longhouses on the Rajang River can be visited via boat caught in Sibu. The longhouses begin after Kapit, and the further up the river you go the less touristy the longhouses are and the less Westernized the tribes are. Beyond Belaga permits are needed. Longhouses can also be seen traveling up the Baram River from Miri. There are nice sections of rain forest along the way, but less and less as time goes on and deforestation takes place.
Sights and destinations in Central Sarawak include the cities of Sibu and Miri and Niah National Park, which embraces the Great Cave.Painted Cave and Niah Archaeology Museum. The area round Miri is one of Malaysia’s primary petroleum and natural gas production areas. Here the main sight is the Petroleum Museum.
Sarawak occupies a rectangular piece of land on Borneo that stretches from the northwest corner of the island to Brunei. Covering more than one third of Malaysia's territory but containing only 11 percent of the population, it is covered mostly by rain forests, marshes, mountains, oil and land deforested by timber companies and oil palm plantations. The roads are poor and many people get around by boat. Villages not on rivers are often very isolated and hard to get to. In Sarawak the rainy monsoon season is from October to February and dry hot season is from March to September.
Home to around 2.5 million people, Sarawak it covers an area of 124,450 square kilometers (47,500 square miles) and has a population density of 19 people per square kilometer. The capital and largest city is Kuching Ethnic groups found in Sarawak include Malays, Chinese, Iban Land Dyak, and Melanue. Although Muslim Malays make up the majority of the population conservative Islam has not made much headway here. Most of the power is in the hands of the state government and the logging and palm oil concerns.
Sarawak is divided into three ecoregions: 1) the coastal region, low-lying and flat with large areas of swamp and other wet environments and some beaches; 2) hilly terrain, further inland, which accounts for much of the inhabited land and is where most of the cities and towns; and 3) the mountainous region along the Sarawak–Kalimantan border, where a number of villages such as Bario, Ba'kelalan, and Usun Apau Plieran are located. A number of rivers flow through Sarawak, with the Sarawak River being the main river flowing through Kuching. The Rajang River is the longest river in Malaysia, measuring 563 kilometres (350 mi) including its tributary, Balleh River. To the north, the Baram, Limbang and Trusan Rivers drain into the Brunei Bay. The ports of Kuching and Sibu are built some distance from the coast on rivers while Bintulu and Miri are close to the coastline where the hills stretch right to the South China Sea.
Agriculture, timber, rubber and palm oil provide employment for more than 40 percent of Sarawak's work force, a higher rate than the rest of the country. Oil and gas are big income earners. Coconuts and pineapples are major crops. Exploiting these resources has caused environmental problems and deprived native people of their land but has also caused the average income of the state to rise from around $700 in the 1970s to $2000 in the early 2000s.
Before Malaysia became independent, Sarawak was a crown colony of Britain. Since independence in has been run by notoriously corrupt governors that live like kings, pass on their positions to family members and are in cahoots with the logging and oil palm companies. The native Iban people are the largest indigenous group in Sarawak, making up almost half of the state's two million population. Other indigenous groups include Kenyah, Kayan and about 10,000 Penan people.
About 70 percent of Sarawak is covered by forests, which are home to 24 minority indigenous tribes. Timber is Sarawak's second biggest export after oil and gas. The state government began giving concessions to logging companies in the 1960s, and widespread cutting of trees began in the 70s and 80s. It was not until the late 1990s that the government issued strict guidelines on controlled felling of trees.
The States of Sabah and Sarawak maintain separate customs and immigration offices, so travel to the Borneo States must be treated as an international journey. All long-term residents of Malaysia must obtain national identity cards (Ics).
Sibu: Gateway to Central Sarawak
Sibu (480 kilometers, 40 minute flight or half-day bus ride from Kuching and 134 kilometers from Miri) is the largest port and commercial centre in the Rajang Basin and the gateway to Central Sarawak. Located at the confluence of the Rajang and Igan Rivers, approximately 130 kilometers from the South China Sea, Sibu is a thriving modern town with 200,000 people, a vibrant centre and a bustling, crowded waterfront.
To visitors, Sibu feels more down-to-earth than relaxed Kuching. There is still something of the pioneer style about the town, and its people are direct, plain-speaking and assertively friendly. Of course, their smiles may be partly due to the belief that Sibu has more millionaires per capita than any other city in Borneo.
The mighty Rajang, almost a 1.6 kilometers wide, is the dominant feature of the town, and a room with a river view is highly recommended for vibrant impressions of waterfront life. The river is a source of constant activity, with ocean-going vessels manoeuvring delicately between speeding express boats, battered river launches and tiny sampans. Rajang sunsets can be truly spectacular.
Places of interest include the Sibu Central Market, Sibu Night Market, Sibu Gateway, Hoover Memorial Square and Lau King Howe Medical Museum. The are cinemas and shopping centers in Sibu. With a large Chinese population, many of its best food items are Chinese in origin. Kam pua mee — thin noodles tossed in pork lard and served with slices of roasted pork or minced pork balls, served either with or without a thin broth and accompanied with chilli sauce and soya sauce — is Sibu’s signature dish, Konpia is Sibu’s answer to the bagel. Roasted tandoori style, these fresh bread rolls are served in a variety of ways. Prawn noodles (mee udang) is the town’s most popular seafood dish. Huge river prawns, sliced down the middle, are served in a steaming bowl of spicy seafood stock with thick Foochow noodles. Malay food stalls can be found in many Chinese coffee shops, serving halal food with their own crockery and cutlery.
Sibu is not only fascinating in its own right; with its excellent road, air and river transport links it is also the ideal jumping-off point for exploring the whole Rajang Basin, from the coastal town of Mukah to the furthest reaches of the Upper Rajang, over 600 kilometers upriver. Getting There: From Kuching: The town can be reached by plane (40 minutes), bus (half a day) or for the adventurous who want a great experience, by boat (5.5 hours).
Longhouses Accessible from Sibu
Longhouses are huge houses that sit on stilts along the rivers of Borneo. Often times an entire village is located within one house. The size of a longhouse is determined by how many doors it has, each door being the entrance to a dwelling where one family lives. In the old days, visitors to the longhouses were often invited to spend the night, usually in the chief's dwelling, and feasted on a meal of rice, fish and sometimes boiled bees, python, monkey or lizard meat, or whatever was caught that day. A this may still occur is you get to a place remote enough — by traveling a couple days upriver — that doesn’t see many visitors.
Longhouses on the Rajang River can be visited via boat caught in Sibu. The longhouses begin after Kapit, and the further up the river you go the less touristy the longhouses are and the less Westernized the tribes are. Beyond Belaga permits are needed. Longhouses can also be seen traveling up the Baram River from Miri. There are nice sections of rain forest along the way, but less and less as time goes on and deforestation takes place.
Bawang Assan (40 minutes from Sibu by boat or road) is an Iban settlement of 9 longhouses dating from the 18th Century, It is particularly appealing to visitors for two reasons; firstly the longhouses range from the very traditional to the quite modern, so visitors can get a good idea of how longhouses have evolved to keep pace with the times; and secondly, many of the older inhabitants can speak excellent English and are therefore superb interpreters of their culture. The longhouse offers overnight stays, with visitors accompanying the locals in their daily activities, such as padi planting and fishing. Getting There: To get to Bawang Assan, take a taxi (RM103). Contact local agents for arrangements
Visiting Sibu Area Longhouse
Glenn Kessler wrote in the Washington Post: On our trip “we wanted to get close to the Borneo ethnic tribes known as the Iban and Orang Ulu, who live in longhouses — essentially a village under one roof — far from the coast. From Mulu, we flew to Sibu, an almost entirely Chinese city that serves as the gateway to the great Rajang River. This is where we planned to catch a speedboat to our hotel, the Regency Pelagus Resort, near the longhouses. [Source: Glenn Kessler, Washington Post, January 6, 2008]
“From our Sibu hotel room we watched thousands of tree trunks head down the river to wood mills, a depressing reminder of how demand for disposable chopsticks and other wood items is rapidly depleting the rain forests. After a three-hour trip on a high-speed, air-conditioned public ferry, we arrived at the tiny town of Kapit, where we were met by a small boat that took us an additional 45 minutes downstream.
“Our stylishly decorated hotel was perched on a ledge high above some wild rapids, the only man-made structure for miles around. As the only guests at the 40-room resort, we had the hotel's guide, Milang Jawing, all to ourselves, and he took us to the Iban longhouse where he lives with his family. The Ibans were once feared headhunters, but they are rapidly becoming urbanized. Many of the men, in fact, have difficult and dangerous jobs in the timber mills — a job Jawing had until he decided he would only die young if he didn't quit.
“The longhouse was being updated and expanded, so we had to walk over planks to get to his section. Each family's section has a couple of rooms — a living/sleeping area and a kitchen area, plus a shared porch where everyone gathers to eat and gossip. Jawing's wife served us copious amounts of tasty tuak (rice wine), and his father-in-law joined us to imbibe as well. His children scampered about with our kids, thrilled with the shiny pencils we had given them. Our boat driver particularly seemed to enjoy the tuak — he may have had a bottle all by himself — but it did not seem to affect his ability to traverse the dangerous rapids back to the hotel.
“Our guide also took us for walks in the jungle at night and during the day. At night, the stars above were the most brilliant and intense I have ever seen. The insects and frogs chirped and buzzed in a mad cacophony. The hills around the hotel were at times so steep that we had to hold onto ropes strung through the rain forest. We also had to wade through streams — by now we could easily spot the leeches trying to catch a ride on our bodies — and traverse paths that Jawing created with his machete. But after nearly three weeks, our children were seasoned jungle explorers. As we boarded the plane home, all three excitedly asked variations of the same question: "Where are we going next year?"”
Binatulu (134 kilometers northeast of Sibu and 200 kilometers southwest of Miri) is Sarawak’s main industrial town and principal deep-water port, servicing the oil, gas and timber industries. Originally a sleepy Melanau fishing village, the town is located at the mouth of the Kemena River and has a population of approximately 180,000, made up primarily of Ibans, Chinese, Malays and Melanaus, with a smattering of Bisayas, Kedayans, Bidayuhs, Orang Ulus and a large expatriate contingent.
Bintulu remained a fishing village until 1969 when oil and gas reserves were discovered off the coast. Since then, Bintulu has become the centre of energy intensive industries such as a Malaysia LNG plant, a Shell Middle Distillate Synthesis plant, and a Bintulu combined cycle power plant. The economy has also expanded into oil palm and forest plantations, palm oil processing, wood-waste processing, and cement manufacturing. The town is also a gateway to Samalajau Industrial Park.
The old airport was replaced by a new airport in 2002. Among the tourist attractions in Bintulu are Tumbina Park, Tanjung Batu beach, Jepak village, Kuan Yin Tong temple, Assyakirin mosque, Council Negri monument, Tamu Bintulu, and Pasar Utama markets. The Borneo International Kite Festival is held annually here. town. The town is also the jumping off point for Similajau National Park.
Similajau National Park
Similajau National Park (30 kilometers, 45 minute drive, northeast of Bintulu) showcases the unique geographical features of the Sarawak coastline north of Bintulu — a chain of golden sandy beaches, punctuated by small rocky headlands and jungle streams, and bordered by dense green forest. The 8,996 hectare park is at its best during the dry season (approximately February to October) when the emerald green waters are crystal clear and ideal for swimming. The park is very popular with locals at weekends. If you want to avoid the crowds, visit during the week when you are likely to have the park all to yourself.
Gazetted in 1978, the park extends from Sungai Likau in the south to Similajau River in the north. Spanning 30 kilometers, it is abundant in flora and fauna.The terrestrial fauna of the park boasts 24 recorded species of mammals, such as gibbons, banded langurs and long-tailed macaques. There are also saltwater crocodile and false gharials. The park has recorded 230 species of birds, which include hornbills and migratory water birds like Storms stork. If you're lucky, you might be able to see dolphins. Occasionally, green turtles come ashore to lay their eggs.
Getting There: Similajau National Park is located 30 kilometers north-east of the town of Bintulu and is reached via an unsealed raod. There is no regular bus service to the park so independent travelers usually take a taxi from Bintulu (approximately 30 min — don’t forget to book your taxi for the return journey). Local tour operators also offer transport and guided tours to the park. Alternatively, you may charter a fast boat from Bintulu Wharf, a somewhat more expensive but enjoyable option. There is a public bus service operated by Syarikat Bus Bintulu Sdn Bhd. (SBBS) plies between Bintulu town and the junction of the road leading to the Park (RH Jarau). The junction is called Sungai Plant Lot. You need additional transport for the last nine kilometers to the Park Office. Contact: Sarawak Tourism Office, Tel: 6082-246 575 / 775, Email: email@example.com. Park Hours: 8.00am to 5.00pm, Monday — Sunday including Public Holidays, Tel: (+6) 019 8610998
Animals in Similajau National Park
Similajau’s littoral fringe, kerangas (or heath forest) and mixed dipterocarp forest provide a variety of diverse habitats for a wide range of fascinating species. In amongst its pitcher plants, mangroves and giant dipterocarp trees, Similajau is home to 24 species of mammals, including long-tailed macaques, gibbons, banded langurs, shrews, mouse deer, barking deer, squirrels, wild boar, porcupine, and civet cats. It is also a birdwatcher’s paradise, with 185 species of birds having been recorded within the park’s boundaries.
Similajau is also home to two crocodile species. The estuarine or saltwater crocodile (crocodylus porousus) lives near the river mouths of the larger rivers in the park and feeds on small mammals, lizards, turtles, fish and water birds. There are no known cases of crocodiles attacking visitors at Similajau, but to be on the safe side visitors are advised to take note of the crocodile warning signs. (It has also been known to attack humans at other locations in Sarawak and in Australia). Please do not attempt to wade across the larger streams in the park, but use the bridges instead.
Similajau’s other crocodile species is the harmless false gharial (tumistoma schlegii), which feeds exclusively on fish. Crocodiles are more easily spotted at night, and the Park HQ can arrange crocodile spotting boat trips for visitors. Prehistoric-looking horseshoe crabs can often be found on the beaches or in the shallows, and green turtles frequently come ashore to lay their eggs at Golden Beach and the two Turtle Beaches closer to the park HQ. There are also occasional landings by hawksbill and leatherback turtles. All marine turtles are Totally Protected Animals in Sarawak and anyone found tampering with a nest is liable to a heavy fine and/or a jail sentence. Other marine visitors include five species of dolphin that are occasionally seen, usually be tween March and September ‘ the Irrawaddy dolphin, the bottlenose dolphin, the Indo-pacific humpback dolphin, the finless porpoise dolphin and the pantropical spotted dolphin.
Bird species: Bornean bristlehead, hook-billed bulbul, Malaysian honeyguide, dusky broadbill, blue-winged pitta, Wallace’s hawk-eagle, changeable hawk-eagle, black-thighed falconet, Malaysian plover, Chinese egret, long-tailed parakeet, green imperial pigeon, ruddy kingfisher, stork-billed kingfisher, red-naped trogon, diard’s trogon, scarlet-rumped trogon, wrinkled hornbill, white-crowned hornbill, white-bellied woodpecker, grey-capped woodpecker, rufous-winged philentoma, mangrove blue flycatcher, dark-throated tailorbird, yellow-rumped flowerpecker, copper-throated sunbird, large-tailed nightjar, brown wood owl and buffy fish owl.
Trekking, Boating and Hiking in Similajau National Park
The main trekking trail (red markings) follows the coastline of the park; from the park HQ you first cross the Sungei Likau suspension bridge to reach the plankwalk over the mangroves, from where you have two choices — to follow the plankwalk to the start of the trail proper, or take a short on the left at the very beginning of the plankwalk; a wooden ladder leads down to a secondary trail which joins the main trail near the junction for the Viewpoint Trail. This leads to a shelter with picnic tables looking back to the beach and park HQ. From shortly after the viewpoint turn-off, the main trail hugs the coastline and passes numerous small bays and beaches, eventually (1'-2 hours) reaching three idyllic beaches — two turtle beaches each set in beautiful bays, and the aptly named Golden Beach with its long, unbroken stretch of sand.
A good way to get the most out of Similajau is to hire a boat and be dropped off at Golden Beach and then trek back to the HQ (or vice versa). Boats can be hired for half day and full day coastal and river tours, or for crocodile spotting tours at night. Enquire at the park HQ for details
In March 2109 there was an announcement that Main Trail at Similajau National Park was temporary closed. The trail starting from Turtle Beach 1 to Turtle Beach 2 and Golden Beach has been rendered impassable after the bridges along the trail declared unsafe. Pending satisfactory repair of those bridges, the Turtle Beach 1, Batu Anchau trail, View Point trail and Teluk Paduk trail would remain open to the public. For further inquiries and clarifications, members of the public may contact Similajau National Park Office at +6019-8610998.
Miri (near Brunei and 134 kilometers northeast of Sibu) is an important Sarawak coastal town and the second largest city in Sarawak, with a population of 235,000 with a significant number of expats linked with the petroleum industry here. Expats in Brunei and the Bruneians themselves like to come to Miri to shop and enjoy things denied them in Brunei like alcohol. Miri is the main tourist gateway to Gunung Mulu National Park; Loagan Bunut National Park; Lambir Hills National Park; Niah National Park and Miri-Sibuti Coral Reef National Park.
Miri Central Market, a main landmark in town, is large and clean market offers a great selection of tropical fruit, produce, food and everyday items. The Miri Handicraft Centre on Jln Brooke is a fascinating showcase of the ethnic arts and crafts. The Saberkas Night Market (Saberkas Commercial Centre, Pujut-Lutong road) has a huge variety of goods on sale, from everyday household items to local handicrafts and jungle produce, as well as dozens of tempting food stalls. It is good place to sample local dishes and street food.. Tamu Muhibbah, opposite the central bus station, is a colorful native market.
The informal bawah payung market (under the umbrella makeshift market) sets up at weekends outside the shophouses across the road, selling all manner of cheap goods. The main shopping mall in Miri is Bintang Megamall (City Centre, off Jln Merbau) offers over 140 shops and food outlets, plus a bowling alley, a food court, a cineplex and an indoor archery range. A good place to shop for souvenirs is AgniCRAFTS (Lot 2204, Ground Floor, Saberkas Commercial Centre, Pujut-Lutong Road, 98000)
At the Taman Selera Open Air Hawker Centre the Food stalls normally open in the evening with several stalls offering drinks and fresh seafood dishes and fresh fish caught that day grilled to your liking. Address: Jalan Tanjung Lobang, 98000 Miri. Opening Hours: 4:00pm — 11:00pm Getting There: Taxi from city centre normally cost around RM10.00 Read more information at miriresortcity.com.
The Taman Selera redevelopment is set to transform the beach area into an ultramodern recreational, shopping, dining, entertainment and residential hub. A man-made island shaped like a seahorse will be among the architectural wonders under the master plan. Phase One of the redevelopment has been completed. It comprises among other things, the conceptual Food Bazaar that incorporates green design which can be seen through its leaf-like layout and LED lighting system. This food bazaar will house a mix of outlets featuring Western,Oriental and local offerings: Getting There: Malaysia Airlines and Air Asia have daily flights to Miri. There are also bus connections to Brunei, Sibu, Kuching and other places.
Miri and the History of Oil in Sarawak
Miri’s history is also the history of Sarawak’s oil industry. The area had long been known for black oil that seeped from the ground, as noted by the Resident of Baram, Claude Champion de Crespigny, in 1882. One of de Crespigny’s successors, Dr Charles Hose, persuaded the Anglo Saxon Petroleum Company, a British subsidiary of Shell, to conduct exploratory drilling in the area, and on August 10 1910, the first oil was struck on a hill overlooking the small fishing village of Miri, at a depth of 123 meters. The well, subsequently christened the “Grand Old Lady”, continued to produce oil until 1972.
With the discovery of commercial quantities of oil, Miri was rapidly transformed from a sleepy fishing village to a booming oil town. By the mid 1920s it had become the administrative centre of the Baram region, and continued to thrive until the onset of World War 2. Shell staff did their best to sabotage the Miri oilfield, to prevent the invading Japanese forces from making use of it, but resourceful Japanese engineers soon had the field back to pre-war production levels.
During the late 1950s, the onshore oilfield began to dry up. Prospecting in remote peat swamp forest yielded poor results, so exploration moved offshore with the development of mobile exploration rigs. By the early 1970s offshore production had reached 95,000 barrels a day, but the onshore field was now in terminal decline, and was closed down on 1st October 1972. At the same time, the support and administration facilities were moved to Lutong, just north of the town.
The move offshore coincided with a boom in Sarawak’s timber industry, and Miri became a major timber processing and transhipment hub, so the economy of the town continued to grow throughout the 1970s and 80s. The tourism sector also began to take off, fuelled initially by weekend visitors from nearby Brunei. Miri continued to prosper throughout the 1990s, and in recognition of its booming population and crucial contributions to Sarawak’s economy, was granted City status in 2005.
Sights in Miri
Tua Pek Kong Temple is Miri's oldest Chinese temple (founded in 1913). Dedicated to the deity most beloved by overseas Chinese, it was built, the story goes, to give thanks to the deity for helping to end a mysterious epidemic. This classic Chinese temple adds some colour to the otherwise drab city centre. The around the temple is kind of noisy. The area around back is used to raise young fighting cock. Nearby is the Miri Fish Market, where the local catch is landed early every morning. An enormous variety of fresh fish and seafood is sold here. Tua Pek Kong Temple is a good spot to watch the river life and traffic. During the week-long celebration of Chinese New Year, whole area, including Jln China, comes alive.
The San Ching Tian temple is one of the largest Taoist temple in Southeast Asia. Built in 2000, it is situated in a peaceful courtyard with soothing wind chimes. The superb red roof, intricate dragon reliefs brought from China and elegant lotus design motif make this a very impressive and atmospheric place to visit: Address: Jln Krokop 9, Miri
Grand Old Lady is one of Sarawak's most important historical monuments. Grand Old Lady is not a frail elderly woman but rather is Miri's first cable- tool oil well — a 'mother' who milked a poor country to a prosperous nation. Miri Well No. 1 — The Grand Old Lady — struck oil on December 22, 1910, the first oil strike in Sarawak. This landmark is about 30 meters high and is located on top of Canada Hill overlooking Miri. The oil industry helped to transform Miri from a small fishing village into a modern town. Next to the Grand Old Lady, the Petroleum Museum exhibits photographs and information on the petroleum industry. A joint venture with Shell Malaysia and Petronas built a museum-information centre. At the rear of the museum, the parking lot serves as a vantage point overlooking Miri town below. From here you not only see all of Miri town but you alse see Brunei and the offshore oil rigs and the refineries in nearby Lutong township.
Miri-Sibuti Coral Reef National Park
Miri-Sibuti Coral Reef National Park (accessed from Miri Bay Marina) is a popular dive destination that lies in the waters off Miri, with reefs lying at depths ranging from seven to 30 meters and has an average visibility of 10 to 30 meters. There are some interesting wreck dives. The nearest dive site is a mere ten minutes from the marina bay jetty. One can land by plane in Miri and be in water two hours later. Local dive operators offer certification program as well. The best time to dive is from late March through November each year. Water temperature at the start of the season is normally 26 to 27ºC but can be as low as 23ºC at depth, as the NE monsoon still brings in cold water from the northern Pacific. By May the water temperature reaches the more normal 29 to 30ºC. The diversity and accessibility of corals and other marine life on the reefs is amongst the best in the region. The following are some of the dive sites:
1) Eve's Garden (15 minutes from jetty): This shallow reef just 7 to 2 meters deep is carpetted with soft corals such as leather corals, elepant’s ear sponges and sees whips. Giant anemones and clown fishes are all over the reef. This reef is also characterised by the schooling yellow tail fusiliers and angelfishes.
2) Anemone Garden (30 minutes from jetty): In terms of flora and fauna composition, this is one of the most interesting reefs with depth ranging from 0 to 10 meters. Both hard and soft corals thrive in splendid diversity. Anemones and their symbiotic clown fishes are found in abundance. Bubble corals, staghorn corals and the colorful Dendronepthya soft corals. Other surprises are feather stars, giant clams and nudibranchs, with schooling yellow tails also found in exaggerated numbers.
3) Belais Reef (30 minutes from jetty): This site is like an open zoo in the sea; the pelagic — sea fans — large gorgonian fans of over 4 meter span, red, orange, white whip corals, yellow coral trees are found in their own concentration, spread over a 19,000 square meter complex. Along the 'walkways' are angelfishes, butterfly fishes, sea perch, lizardfish, and nudibranchs. Jacks and yellow snappers are found in abundance. Batfishes are also common among the long swaying sea whips or hovering blithesomely over outcrops whilst being serviced by entourage of cleaner wrasse and shrimps. Reef top is at about 15 meters and the site is absolutely a photographer's heaven.
4) Tukau Drop-Off (50 minutes from jetty): This site challenges the senses; the reef starts at about 20 meters and drops quickly to 40 meters; often there is a vertical wall. Schooling jacks, barracudas, Napoleon wrasse, yellowtail fusiliers, and large groupers are predictably found. 5) Santak Point (45 minutes from jetty): Blue water, glass fishes and sea fans are the signature of this site; with an average visibility of 30 meters or more, the sea fans, large colonies of gorgonian fans of 2-3 meters in size are found all over the top of the reef at 21 meters. The reef edge drops to 35 meters. 6) Siwa Reef (35 minutes from jetty): The most interesting section of this reef is along the lower reef slope where leopard sharks and huge marble rays hang out during the day. This site is full of surprises in small packages; orange clownfish in purple anemones to several species of nudibranch.
7) Barracuda Point (45 minutes from jetty): A reef within a reef; this is a site on Salam reef where a school of 300 large barracudas are predictably swirling in a never ending circle. At a depth of 25 meters, flatworms, sea horses, symbiotic shrimps and seldom seen nudibranchs are also commonly found. 8) Sri Gadong Wreck (1 hr 10 minutes from jetty): This is one of the favourite sites among local divers; resting upright on a 18- meters mud bottom, this small 30-meter cargo ship is renowned for its large resident groupers. The whole wreck is teeming with fish life in entirety. Jacks, yellow grunts, batfish and batfish and barracudas encircling around the wreck while the giant groupers swim in and out of the cargo holds. 9) Kenyalang Artificial Reef: A decommissioned oil rig, this is the first artificial reef in Malaysia and the second in the region.It teems with small fish. 13-22m depth. A relaxing dive to be had.
Lambir Hills National Park
Lambir Hills National Park (on the Miri-Bintulu road, 36 kilometers southwest of Miri) Malaysia occupies a complex and diverse forest ecosystem with lowland dipterocarp and heath forests rising highland tropical forests. Flying squirrels, wild pigs, gibbons, many different types of monkey, various species of deer, 237 different species of birds, and untold insects and other invertebrates make their home in the park. The biodiversity is so great that international research scientists who are permanently stationed in the park. Lambir has several hiking trails leading to waterfalls and bathing pools scattered about the rainforest, all within 40 minutes drive of downtown Miri.
Gazetted as a park in 1975, Lambir Hills covers an area of 6,952 hectares. There are around 1,173 tree species in the park alone, with 286 genera and 81 tree families making Lambir one of the more diversified forests in Malaysia. Wild animals can also be found in the deeper parts of the park, especially monkeys, sun bear, pangolin and bats. It is best to visit the park in the morning, as there would be ample time to go along the various trails in the park. The main attraction of the park is its beautiful waterfalls, the nearest just a mere 0.18 kilometers is Latak Waterfall. It is a 20 minutes walk from the Park office. If you stop to look at the wonderful forest flora and fauna along the way, it would probably take longer.
Birds seen at Lambir Hills National Park include Bornean bristlehead, garnet pitta, rufous-tailed shama, crested goshawk, rhinoceros hornbill, green broadbill, dusky broadbill, rufous-collared kingfisher, banded kingfisher, rufous-backed kingfisher, hook-billed bulbul, dark-throated oriole, yellow-rumped flowerpecker, large-tailed nightjar and brown hawk owl.
Getting There Air: By Road: Lambir is only 32 kilometers from Miri. From Miri (Pujut Corner Bus Terminal) take any express bus to Bintulu, Sibu or Kuching, all of which stop directly opposite the park HQ. The journey time is 30-40 minutes. If you take a taxi (approx. RM70 each way), arrange a pick-up time for the return journey. Self-drive cars are also available — ask at your hotel counter. Another option is joining an organized trips from travel agents departing Miri city early in the morning, and returning to Miri after lunch. Contact: Lambir Hills National Park, Tel: (6) 085-491030, Fax: (6) 085-491030
Hiking in Lambir Hills National Park
Lambir has several hiking trails leading to waterfalls and bathing pools scattered about the rainforest. Before entering the park, register yourself at the Park office where the guide will explain some necessary safety rules before entering the park. If you are going to the waterfalls further ahead, it is best to go early in the morning as the journey will take several hours.The guide will also advise that visitors to the park exit the park grounds by 5 pm as the gates to the park will be closed at this time.
The Pantu Trail takes you to Pantu and Nibong waterfalls. It takes up to two hours to reach the falls. Pancur, Tengkorong and Dinding waterfalls can be reached using the Bakam Trail. The other primary trails are Main and Lepoh-Ridan trails. There are other trails in the park, on which further information can be obtained from the park office. Check out a 22-meter-high Tree Tower on the Pantu Trail, about a kilometer from the Park Office. Visitors can climb and view the Dipterocarp forest profile. It is also an excellent place for bird watching.
Most of Lambir’s trails are interconnected, so it is easy to do quite a few in a day. The Latak Waterfall Trail is the shortest, easiest and most popular — if you are looking for peace and solitude, come on a weekday. The trail (red/white markings, 20 min) follows the course of a clear, fast-flowing stream past two very pretty small waterfalls to a large forest pool surrounded on three sides by steep rock walls and fed by the 25-meter Latak waterfall. Changing rooms, toilets and picnic areas are provided and the pool is safe for swimming, but non-swimmers and small children should take care, as it is deep in parts.
The Pantu, Bukit Pantu and Pantu Waterfall Trails are all branches of the same trail system. Shortly before the Latak Waterfall, the Pantu Trail (white markings, 1 hour) branches off to the left up a series of steep steps past an abandoned tree tower, then downwards through dense forest to the Nibong waterfall, an idea place to cool off. A few hundred meters further along are the Bukit Pantu Trail on the right (yellow/white markings, 1½ hours) offering superb views, and the Pantu Waterfall Trail on the left (red/yellow markings, 1 hour). Beyond the Pantu Waterfall Trail the terrain gradually rises, passing through rugged, dense forest filled with the sounds of Lambir’s wildlife. After 4 kilometers, the trail forks, the right fork leads to the summit of Bukit Lambir.
The Summit Trail (red/blue markings, 3 hours) is hard work for the not-so-fit, but the abundant wild orchids and the superb view from the summit (456m) make it worthwhile, and trekkers can cool off in the pool below the Dinding waterfall on the way down. Lambir Hills National Park also offers a variety of tougher trails for serious trekkers; for further information. Please consult the park wardens. More information on Sarawak Forestry’s website: sarawakforestry.com
Niah National Park
Niah National Park (110 kilometers southwest of Miri) was a major center of human settlement as early as 40,000 years ago, and features one of the world’s largest cave entrances, Palaeolithic and Neolithic burial sites and iron-age cave paintings. The nearby Painted Cave houses wall-paintings depicting the boat journey of the dead into the afterlife, along with remnants of “death-ships” on the cave floor — boat-shaped coffins (its contents have been transferred to the Sarawak Museum). The surrounding area is covered in dense primary rain forest and is home to many species of plants and wildlife. Even today, the caves remain important for local communities, with birds nest and guano collection providing valuable employment and income. Niah Caves is a very pleasant place to spend a few days, although most of the major attractions are accessible to the day visitor.
The park has a visitor center and good accommodation, and is very easy to get around, thanks to an extensive network of plankwalks. A flashlight and good walking shoes are absolutely essential — the caves are unlit, and the plankwalk can become slippery from the constant dripping of water and bat guano from the ceiling of the cave. A wide-brimmed hat is desirable, for obvious reasons. Visitors leaving its Great Cave around sunset will see two great black clouds intermingling — the nightly ‘changing of the guard’ as hundreds of thousands of swiftlets return to their nests, whilst an approximately equal number of bats fly out to forage in the forest. A variety of luminous fungi can be clearly seen from the plankwalk at night.
Niah Caves National Park embraces peat swamp, dipterocarp forests, as well as the massive limestone outcroppings within which the giant Niah caves are concealed. The caves consist of one big cave (The Great Cave) and some smaller caves. In 1958, archeologists discovered evidence of human occupation of the caves dating back some 40,000 years. Rock paintings were found in what has become known as the Painted Cave, and the discovery of several small canoe-like coffins (death ships) indicate that this site was once used as a burial ground.
Getting There: Niah National Park is located on the Sungai Niah, about three kilometers from the small town of Batu Niah, 110 kilometers south-west of Miri. The Park is accessible by road from Miri or Bintulu. It takes about 2 hours from Miri and 3 hours from Bintulu to Batu Niah. From Batu Niah, it is a short boat trip to the Park Headquarters. Contact: Sarawak Tourism Office, Tel: 6082-246 575 / 775, Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Niah Caves (in Niah National Park) was inhabited, 40,000 years ago by early men, and today is used to collect saliva nests for bird's nest soup. Sometimes you can see men climb up frail-looking bamboo poles and tethers to the top of the 200-foot-high cave ceilings to pry off the nests with special tools. The cave has beautiful stalactite and stalagmite formations. It is accessible from Miri.
Niah Caves in Sarawak is an important prehistoric site where human remains dating to 34,000–46,000 years before present have been found. Archeologists have claimed a much earlier date for stone tools found in the Mansuli valley, near Lahad Datu in Sabah, but precise dating analysis has not yet been published.
Modern humans lived that lived in Niah Caves ate orangutans, based on the presence of charred bones found in the cave. A skull found in Niah Cave in the 1950s was first described as resembling Melanesians and native Australians. This supports the notion that earlier human species living in the region were absorbed via interbreeding as Homo sapiens spread out of Africa. Ancient genetic markers are found in indigenous groups in the Andaman Inlands, in Malaysia and Papua New Guinea and among Australian aborigines.
In the 1950s and 60s, Niah Cave was the focus of several intense and active archaeological field seasons led by Tom Harrisson, Curator of Sarawak Museum, who excavated a large area on the northern side of the West Mouth. The excavations were admirable for their time, particularly given the considerable logistical difficulties that had to be overcome because of the isolation of the site and the difficulties of working in tropical environments. [Source: ABC.net; Barker G, The Niah Caves Project: Preliminary report on the first (2000) season , The Sarawak Museum Journal, Vol 55(76), December 2000]
Their most notable discovery was a human skull (the so-called 'Deep Skull') uncovered in a deep trench dubbed 'Hell Trench' by Harrisson's excavators because of the heat and humidity in this particular part of the cave's entrance. The skull was approximately at a level where stone tools had been found previously together with charcoal that yielded a radiocarbon date of around 40,000 years ago. But there are doubts about the reliability of the data collected and recorded by Harrisson.
Gunung Mulu National Park
Gunung Mulu National Park (assessable from Miri) is Sarawak's largest National Park. Covering over 544 square kilometers (210 square miles) and located near the border between Sarawak and Brunei, it embraces swamps, rain forests, mountains, limestone pinnacles, caves, and wild life sanctuaries. Its main attractions are Gunung Mulu (a 7,800-foot-high limestone peak), Deer Cave, and Sarawak Chamber, the world’s largest cave. Accommodations include facilities in the park, nearby guest houses and the Royal Mulu Resort. Guides are necessary to visit most places in the park, which is the home of Penan tribesmen that survive by collecting edible plants and hunting wild pigs.
Gunung Mulu is Malaysia's first World Heritage Area, a status it was awarded in 2000. It is most famous for its limestone cave systems, including the world's largest natural chamber (the Sarawak Chamber), the world's largest cave passage (Deer Cave) and the longest cave in Southeast Asia (Clearwater Cave). The park's main attractions are the four show caves (Wind, Clearwater, Deer and Langs Caves), all readily accessible by wooden walkways and paths. Other fascinating sights and activities include; a bat observatory; a 480 meters rainforest canopy skywalk (the world's longest tree-based walkway); adventure caving trips to some of Mulu's less accessible caves; the challenging Mulu Summit climb, the spectacular Pinnacles trail, and the historic Headhunter's trail through remote rainforest scenery.
Situated 100 kilometers from the coast, the park is dominated by three mountains; Gunung Mulu (2,376m), Gunung Api (1,750m), and the as yet unconquered Gunung Benarat (1,585m). Gunung Mulu is sandstone, whilst Gunung Api and Gunung Benarat are formed from limestone and therefore have different geographical features. The summit of Gunung Mulu is covered by moss forests and stunted montane vegetation, whilst razor-sharp limestone pinnacles, some as high as 50 meters, are found on the upper slopes of Gunung Api. The park's forest ecosystems include peatswamp, heath, mixed dipterocarp, moss forest and montane vegetation; home to thousands of species of ferns, fungi, mosses and flowering plants, including 170 species of orchid and 10 species of pitcher plants, an impressive variety of mammals, birds (including 8 species of hornbill), frogs, fish and insects. Mulu's wildlife is often heard but not seen, but visitors are almost certain to encounter bats, swiftlets, cave dwelling insects, snakes, lizards, tree frogs and an abundance of beautiful butterflies.
Getting There: Gunung Mulu National Park is accessible by air or along the Baram and Tutoh Rivers by boat. By Air: Malaysia Airlines (Maswings) operates three daily flights from Miri into Mulu (30 minute flight). By Boat: You can also take the express boat from Kuala Baram (three hours) to Marudi. From Marudi, take a commercial express boat to Kuala Apoh or Long Panai on the Tutoh River (a tributary of the Baram River). The express departs Marudi at noon daily and returns to Marudi in the early morning of the next day. The trip takes about three hours.
Gunung Mulu National Park UNESCO World Heritage Site
Gunung Mulu National Park was named a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2000. According to UNESCO: Important both for its high biodiversity and for its karst features, Gunung Mulu National Park...is the most studied tropical karst area in the world. The 52,864-ha park contains seventeen vegetation zones, exhibiting some 3,500 species of vascular plants. Its palm species are exceptionally rich, with 109 species in twenty genera noted, making it one of the worlds richest sites for palm species. The park is dominated by Gunung Mulu, a 2,377 meter-high sandstone pinnacle. At least 295 kilometers of explored caves provide a spectacular sight and are home to millions of cave swiftlets and bats. The Sarawak Chamber, 600 meters by 415 meters and 80 meters high, is the largest known cave chamber in the world. [Source: UNESCO]
“The property is home to one of the world's finest examples of the collapse process in karstic terrain and provides outstanding scientific opportunities to study theories on the origins of cave faunas. The deeply-incised canyons, wild rivers, rainforest-covered mountains, spectacular limestone pinnacles, cave passages and decorations found within the property produce dramatic landscapes and breathtaking scenery that is without rival....A range of cave types at different levels exist due to uplift during the late Pliocene and early Pleistocene. The caves, concentrated in the Melinau limestone formation and on Gunung Api, are estimated to be at least 2-3 million years old. Sarawak Chamber, which is 600 meters by 415 meters and 80 meters high, is the largest known cave chamber in the world. There are some exceptional decorated speleothems with spectacular examples of argonite and calcite needles. Another outstanding karst feature in Gunung Mulu National Park is the 'pinnacles', 50 meters high sharp blades of rock that project through the rainforest canopy.
“Gunung Mulu National Park is an area of exceptional natural beauty, with striking primary forest, karst terrain, mountains, waterfalls and the largest caves on earth. Sarawak Chamber, the largest cave chamber in the world, stretches 600 meters in length by 415 meters wide and 80 meters high. With a volume of 12 million cubic meters and an unsupported roof span of 300 meters, this chamber dwarfs any other large chamber so far discovered. Deer Cave at 120 to 150 meters in diameter is the largest cave passage in the world known at the present time and the Clearwater Cave System holds the world record as the longest cave in Asia at 110 kilometers of mapped and explored passages. As some of the largest caves in the world they contain fine examples of tropical river caves, flood incuts, vadose, and phreatic caves, exhibiting fine examples of all types of speleothems (structures formed in a cave by the deposition of minerals from water).
“The park is an outstanding example of major changes in the earth’s history. Three major rock formations are evident; the Mulu Formation of Paleocene and Eocene shale’s, and sandstone, rising to 2,376 meters at the summit of Gunung Mulu: the 1.5 kilometers thick Melinau Limestone formation of Upper Eocene, Oligocene and Lower Miocene, rising to 1,682 meters at Gunung Api; and the Miocene Setap Shale formation outcropping as a gentle line of hills to the west. Major uplift that occurred during the late Pliocene to Pleistocene is well represented in the 295 kilometers of explored caves as a series of major cave levels. The surface and underground geomorphology and hydrology reveal significant information on the tectonic and climatic evolution of Borneo. The sequence of terrestrial alluvial deposits provides an important record of glacial — interglacial cycles with the series of uplifted caves ranging from 28 meters to over 300 meters above sea level are at least 2 to 3 million years old, indicating uplift rates of about 19 cm per 1,000 years”.
Animals, Plants and Ecosystems at Gunung Mulu National Park
According to UNESCO: “Gunung Mulu National Park on the island of Borneo protects a wide range of natural phenomena. With an altitudinal range from 28m above sea level to the 2,377 meters summit of Gunung Mulu, the park has 17 vegetation zones, primarily lowland rainforest (40 percent of the area) and montane rainforest (20 percent of the area). Some 3,500 species of vascular plants have been recorded including a high number of endemics found on limestone substrates. The park is considered to be one of the richest sites in the world for palms with 109 species of 20 genera identified. 80 species of mammal and 270 species of bird (including 24 Borneon endemics) have been recorded. The cave fauna, including many trogloditic species, number over 200. The area also has many species of reptile (55), amphibian (76), fish (48) and invertebrate (more than 20,000). The park also supports huge bat colonies (3 million wrinkled-lipped freetail bats inhabit Deer Cave alone) and cave swiflets (several million in one cave). [Source: UNESCO]
The species listed below represent a small sample of iconic and/or IUCN Red Listed animals and plants found in the property.
Glischropus tylopus / Common Thick-thumbed Bat
Hipposideros cervinus / Fawn-colored Leaf-nosed Bat
Hipposideros dyacorum / Dayak Leaf-nosed Bat
Hipposideros galeritus / Cantor's Leaf-nosed Bat
Lariscus insignis / Three-striped Ground Squirrel
Megaderma spasma / Lesser False Vampire
Miniopterus australis / Little Long-fingered Bat
“The property provides significant scientific opportunities to study theories on the origins of cave fauna with over 200 species recorded, including many troglobitic species and it displays outstanding examples of ongoing ecological and biological processes. Seventeen vegetation zones have been identified along with their diverse associated fauna. Some 3,500 species of plants, 1,700 mosses and liverworts and over 4,000 species of fungi have been recorded within the property. There are 20,000 species of invertebrates, 81 species of mammals, 270 species of birds, 55 species of reptiles, 76 species of amphibians and 48 species of fish.
“The property supports one of the richest assemblages of flora to be found in any area of comparable size in the world. It is botanically-rich in species and high in endemism, including one of the richest sites in the world for palm species and contains outstanding natural habitats for in-situ conservation for a large number of species; Deer Cave alone has one of the largest colonies in the world of free tailed bats, Chaerephon plicata at over 3 million. This one cave also has the largest number of different species of bats to be found in a single cave. Several million cave swiftlets (Aerodramus sp.) have been recorded from one cave system, constituting the largest colony in the world. Many species of fauna are endemic and 41 species are included on the endangered species list.
Access and Conservation at Gunung Mulu National Park
Gunung Mulu National Park “protects a substantial area of Borneo's primary tropical forest containing a high diversity of biota including many Borneon endemics and threatened species. The site also has a high concentration of large cave passages and chambers which in turn provide a major wildlife spectacle in terms of millions of cave swiftlets and bats. The area is roadless and has no permanent residents. Local Penans retain traditional hunting rights within the park.
“Management related infrastructure includes a park headquarters, field stations and a system of trails with access restricted to four “show caves”. Management interventions ensure that there is limited human interference in the natural system and assist in controlling impacts from increased tourism levels. Currently, over 90 percent of the park and 95 percent of caves are closed to visitors. The only exception is access to areas for research purposes. Further, there is also reduced access to some sensitive caves. The use of an Integrated Development and Management Plan ensures very strict controls on physical developments in relation to sites, scope, scale, and aesthetic characteristics (of physical projects), so as to avoid “over development”. Development inside the property requires consultation with all relevant stakeholders especially the Special Park Committee which comprises members of local communities and other relevant stakeholders.
“Illegal activities remain one of the major challenges in managing the property. Enforcement is carried out in collaboration with other relevant law enforcement agencies such as the Police, Customs, Airport Security, and the Sarawak Biodiversity Centre for protection of park resources. Patrolling of boundaries is incorporated in annual operations plans. Proposed extensions to the property, gazetting of Gunung Buda National Park, and establishment of Labi Forest Reserve on the Brunei side may provide buffers to illegal activities and assist in preventing them from occurring within the property and in the case of additional reserves this will provide wider refuge for wildlife species within the area. Hunting activities within the boundary of the property also remain an ongoing threat. However, this pressure is mainly confined to nomadic Penan communities who have been given permission to hunt non-totally protected species, such as the wild boar, for subsistence consumption only.
Areas of forest surrounding the property have been heavily logged and cut, up to the rivers that demark much of the boundary of the property and this remains an ongoing threat to its integrity and natural values. Extensions to the Park, covering a total area of about 33,000 hectare would provide an additional buffer from illegal activities. However, increased erosion and resulting silt loads have potential to significantly alter the aquatic ecology and require monitoring while logging and conversion of forests adjacent to the property to palm oil plantation also require constant and on going attention due to potential impacts.”
Visiting Gunung Mulu National Park
Visitors may not enter any of the caves or the Mulu Canopy Skywalk without a Park Guide. For most trails, including the Mulu Summit climb, the Pinnacles trail and the Headhunter's trail, a Park Guide is also mandatory. Bookings and payment of fees can be made at the park office. If you require a Park Guide you need to book the day before. During peak season, guides for popular activities such as the Pinnacles trail may be fully booked weeks in advance.
Glenn Kessler wrote in the Washington Post: “Gunung Mulu National Park is largely inaccessible except by air or a long river trip.... Accommodations are limited to simple lodgings in the park or a grand hotel known as Royal Mulu Resort. We chose the resort, which had huge rooms and, to the delight of our children, was built entirely on stilts.” [Source: Glenn Kessler, Washington Post, January 6, 2008]
According to Lonely Planet: “Accommodation options range from five-star luxury to extremely basic digs. Camping is not permitted at park HQ, but you can pitch a tent at some of the guesthouses outside the park. If you find that accommodation within the park is fully booked, don't panic. There's always a bed of some kind available at one of the informal homestays just outside the park gates.
“Inside the National Park: Park HQ, a lovely spot set amid rainforest and tropical gardens, has 24-hour electricity and tap water that’s safe to drink. All private rooms have attached bathrooms. Rooms can be cancelled up to 48 hours ahead without penalty, which is why space sometimes opens up late in the game; phone for last-minute availability.
“Outside the National Park: Several budget places, unaffiliated with the park, are located just across the bridge from park HQ, along the banks of the Melinau River. Reservations are not necessary, so if you don’t mind very basic accommodation you can fly up without worrying about room availability.”
Mulu has three adventure treks, all of which require a certain level of physical fitness. Basic camping gear is useful as overnight stays in jungle base camps are required. Trekkers must be accompanied by official park guide. Most tour operators can assist with travel arrangements for these treks and also can supply any necessary equipment and food.
Treks at Gunung Mulu National Park
According to Mulu National Park: “The Pinnacles: The famous Pinnacles’ at Mulu consist of a series of 45 meter high, razor-sharp limestone spikes that tower above the surrounding vegetation, mid-way up the slopes of Gunung Api. The trek to view them is one of the most popular in the park. But be warned, the Pinnacle Summit Trek is a tough and challenging one. The trail itself is very steep (near vertically parts) and requires a certain level of fitness. [Source: Mulu National Park mulunationalpark.com ]
“The Pinnacles Summit Trek is usually done as 3 day / 2 night trek although it is possible to do it as a 2 day / 1 night trek. The first stage is a 1-2 hour boat trip along the Melinau River to Kuala Berar. If the water level is low, the boat has to be pushed over rocky sections so the trips takes longer. Base Camp 5 is relatively easy 7.8 km walk from Kuala Berar, following flat jungle terrain and taking 2-3 hours. Camp 5 is situated near the Melinau Gorge which separates Gunung Benarat from Gunung Api. There is hostel –style accommodation at the camp, and cooking facilities. The Melinau River in front Of Camp 5 is Crystal clear and ideal for a swim after the trek from Long Berar.
“The real hiking begins the following morning. The trails is 2.4 km in length but rises some 1,200 meters from Camp 5 to the viewpoint, passing through lowland dipterocarp forest before climbing steeply through moss forest. Here the trees are a lot smaller and everything is covered in slippery green moss. Limestone debris also litters the trail so trekkers must proceed with care. The last section of the trails near vertical, with rope section and 15 aluminums ladders strategically positioned to help with the climb. The vegetation is sparse although orchids, rhododendrons and pitcher plants thrive in the area, and can be seen at the side of the trail.
“After some tough climbing you finally come out onto a rocky outcrop where the stunning views provides a good reward for all the effort. The viewpoint area is made up of a number of Pinnacles, rocks and vegetation. After taking some photos and a short rest and a last glimpse of the Pinnacles, it is time to begin the descent back to Camp 5 and the second overnight stay.
“It is very difficult to put an exact time on how long it takes to trek to the Pinnacles’ viewpoint. Fit and experienced trekkers should be able to reach the top in 2-3 hours. The not so fit but to determine generally take around 4-5hours. Most people spend an hour or so at the top before coming down. For many the descent is actually more difficult and therefore takes longer, so the return trip can take anything from 5 to 10 hours depending on fitness level.
“The Headhunter’s Trail: The Headhunter’s Trail is a great way of entering or leaving Gunung Mulu National Park. The trek is organizes by travel operators and combines upriver travel, jungle trekking and an overnight stay at an Iban longhouse. The trail itself follows the route taken by Kayan headhunting parties who paddled up the Melinau River to Melinau Gorge. They then dragged their longboats through the forest for 3 km until they reached the banks of the Terikan River, where they launched headhunting raids against the people of the Limbang area.
“The basic trails route is as follows. First take a boat from the park HQ to Kuala Berar and then trek for 2-3hours to reach Camp 5. From Camp 5 follow the 11.3 km trail to Kuala Terikan., a 4-5 hour trek. Either rest or spend the night in the accommodation units at the ranger station at Ng. Metawai (about 15 minutes form Kuala Terikan), or travel by longboat for 3-4 hours (depending on boat engine and water level) to reach the longhouse (Rumah Bala Lesong). After an overnight stay the journey continues by boat downriver to Naga Medamit. From there it is possible to travel by road to Limbang.
“The Headhunter’s Trail can also be done in reverse, starting from Limbang and ending up at the Park HQ. Either way the trek offers an excellent introduction to the rivers and rainforest of Mulu and the added attraction of a longhouse visit. As the treks include an overnight stay at Camp 5, most tour operators offer the option of climbing the Pinnacles as part of their Headhunter’s Trail package.
“Gunung Mulu Summit Trek The climb to the summit of Gunung Mulu (2,376 m) is the toughest organized trek in the park. It requires a high level of fitness and sense of adventure. Indeed, Gunung Mulu has always attracted adventures. In the 19th Century, Spenser St John and Charles Hose, two old “Borneo Hands”, attempted to conquer Mount Mulu. They and other explorers and mountaineers failed. It wasn’t until 1920’s, when a Berawan rhino hunter named ‘Tama Nilong’ discovered the ‘south-west’ ridge, that a way to the summit was found. In 1932, Tama Nilong led Lord Shackleton and an Oxford University Expedition to the summit of Mulu.
“Today’s trek follows the route discovered in the 1920’s. It involves overnight stops at jungle camps and offers a chance to experience the rainforest and perhaps see some rare animals and birds, including various species of Hornbill. The trek is usually done as a 4 day hike, but experienced trekkers can do it in less. A number of wooden huts are positioned along the trail and provide shelter for overnights stops. Trekking schedule and overnight camping arrangements can be worked out beforehand with your guides. Trekkers should go prepared. Good walking shoes are essential, as is a sleeping bag (or blanket) as it can get cold. Food supplies, cooking utensils and sufficient water must also be taken. The park guides and travel companies can arrange this.”
Deer Cave (in Gunung Mulu National Park) is one the world's largest natural caves. More than a 1.7 kilometers long, 200 meters feet wide and 220 meters high, it is large enough, according to one tourist brochure, to hold five cathedrals the size of St. Paul's in London. Its name comes from hunters who used to track deer that entered the cave to drink water from its streams.
The temperature in the cave is always around 78̊F and the air is saturated with humidity. The steamy conditions help spur the decomposition of organic matter at such an astounding rate that the crackling, gooey mess of bat guano, guano eating insects, spiders and insect shells that cover the cave floor seem to turn into fertilizer right before your eyes.
After getting over the shock of the insects and smell, visitors to the cave are often impressed most by the immensity of its eery blackness. The cave is so large that darkness is all one sees when peering upward and to the sides. About half mile into the cave a stream disappears under ground and the passage narrows. Here bats can be seen roosting 300 feet up on the ceiling. Later another stream appears and the cave widens into a large chamber.
At the east end of the cave is an opening called the Garden of Eden. Here, the cave roof has collapsed, creating a kilometer-wide circular sinkhole that is filled with rain forest and jungle vegetation. The bright forest viewed from the inky blackness of the cave is stunning. To reach the Garden of Eden one has to swim through a stream.
Bats and Other Creatures in Deer Cave
Deer Cave contains about five million bats, which produce so much guano it appears to fall like snow. Among the 12 different bat species, the greatest variety found in a single cave in the world, are large numbers of wrinkle-lipped bats and horseshoe bats. When these winged mammals drop from their roosts on the cave ceiling at dusk and fly out at cave en mass it is an awesome sight.
The cave also plays host to large centipedes, cockroaches, hairy earwigs, camel crickets, hand-size huntsman spiders, assassin bugs, beetles, crabs, spiders, snakes, scorpions and 80 species jumping spiders, including rare ones that build webs. There are frogs that make a noise that sounds like "what,what, what." Another kind of frog makes a noise that sounds like an antique horn. Another sound like a cuckoo clock.
The mass exodus of wrinkle-lipped bats can be observed from vantage points near the western entrance. In the evening small swallow-like birds called swiftlets return to the cave as the first bats begin fluttering Once enough bats get going they start flying out in continuous streams. The bats fly over the rain forest canopy in search of insects for their evening meal.
Describing the scene, David Attenborough wrote, "A few flutter uncertainly into the air and fly to and fro, navigating in the blackness by echoes of their ultrasonic squeaks. Then within a minute ro so, they organize themselves into a column. Like a wavering black ribbon, it snakes across the ceiling only inches beneath the rock. It advances, winding around bumps and along crannies from one chamber into the next, until it eventually reaches the great halls that forms the cave's entrance...advancing diagonally across the ceiling until it reaches the highest point in the far corners. As it arrives, the bats break rank and spill out into the open across the forest canopy."
Glenn Kessler wrote in the Washington Post: “We walked deep inside, then waited outside for the bats to begin searching for their evening meal. A gentle rain began to fall, which was a concern because the bats usually don't like to venture out in wet weather. But we were patient, our eyes focused on the cave entrance. Suddenly, in the gloaming, the bats swarmed out in groups of thousands, looking almost like black, swirling clouds, clustered tightly to thwart hawks eagerly looking for their own dinner. The hawks manage to pick off the occasional bat or two, but the rest escape intact, ready to gorge on 15 tons of insects every night.” [Source: Glenn Kessler, Washington Post, January 6, 2008]
Sarawak Chamber (near Deer Cave) is the world's largest natural cave. According to the Guinness Book of Records, it is 2,300 feet long and has an average width of 980 feet and is not less that 230 feet high at any point. It was only discovered in 1980. By one estimate the cave is big enough to hold 11 Wembley stadiums. According to another calculation. It is so big 10 Boeing 747 jets could be parked inside nose to tail. By yet another reckoning it os capable of accommodating forty Boeing 747 airplanes.
According to the Mulu Caves project: “Sarawak Chamber is universally accepted as the largest underground chamber in the world. Discovered during the British-Malaysian Mulu ’80 Expedition, it has maximum dimensions of 700 x 400m and an estimated roof height of 100m. The perimeter of the chamber has been surveyed and the eastern ‘half’ alone took, “77 survey legs each of 30 metres” to survey around. The expedition published a conservative volume of 12 million cubic metres, but without more concise data this can only be viewed as a rough guide. The surface area of the chamber can be more accurately calculated and has been published at 162,700 square metres.
“Sarawak Chamber is located on the northern side of the Melinau Paku Valley about three and a half hours walk from Park HQ. The chamber itself is a part of Nasib Bagus (Good Luck Cave). Nasib Bagus is a resurgence cave for water sinking in the Hidden Valley and 1.5 kilometres of active stream passage must be traversed before the great chamber is reached. It is possible to visit the chamber as an experienced tourist caver but these trips are difficult to arrange and are prone to cancellation due to flooding in the entrance passage.”
High Mountains in Sarawak
Mount Murud is the highest mountain in Sarawak (2,243 meters, 7950 feet). Mountaineers can tackle Mount Murud (reasonable going) or the famous Batu Lawi (2,043 meters very tough) located within the Kelabit Highlands area. However, these are both serious expeditions and guides and porters will need to be hired in Bario or Bakelalan. For Batu Lawi, mountaineering equipment and experience is also necessary. Mount Murud is a Holy Mountain, alcoholic drink and smoking is prohibited.
Getting There: MasWings operates regular DHC-6 Twin Otter turboprop flights to and from Miri to Ba Kelalan and Bario. From there trekking are needed about four days trek through forest that is now part of Pulong Tau National Park.
Gunug Buda (Sarawak) is a 3,161-foot-high dagger-like limestone peak honeycombed with caves that was explored by a team of 24 cavers and scientists who described their experienced in September 1998 National Geographic article by Donovan Webster. Gunung Buda means Gunung Buda mean Whie Mountain.
The cavers found miles of caves, many which are only reached by rope climbing up steep cliffs. Members of the team braved hand-size poisonous huntsman spiders, cobras, kraits (another poisonous snake), biting insects, hornets who form deadly swarms, lots and lots of mud and raging river that could rise five feet in an hour during a storm, but they also found spectacular underground waterfalls, cave formations, huge chambers and interesting wildlife such albino crabs and millipedes and cave racers, four-foot-long snakes that dangle from stalactites and snatch cave swiftlets or bats when they fly lin. The area around Gunung Buda is threatened by logging and mining concerns. There is an effort to have Gunung Buda declared a national park or reserve.
Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons,
Text Sources: Malaysia Tourism websites, Malaysia government websites, UNESCO, Wikipedia, Lonely Planet guides, New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, National Geographic, The New Yorker, Bloomberg, Reuters, Associated Press, AFP, Japan News, Yomiuri Shimbun, Compton's Encyclopedia and various books and other publications.
Updated in August 2020