Gunung Mulu National Park, Malaysia, Borneo, part 1.

In my eyes, Gunung Mulu National Park is a strange blend of relatively unspoiled wilderness and a Disney theme park. Yes, there are magnificent caves, breathtaking views and trails, that not long ago were used by headhunters, but also miles and miles of wooden or concrete walkways through the forests, daily tours being announced through a loudspeaker, and guides in uniforms sharing the same jokes over and over again.

Despite its remote location – it is only accessible by plane or by boat – it is still a very popular tourist destination (it is highly recommended to book your accomodation inside the park well in advance!). From Miri we took a half an hour flight with MASWING and landed at the small airport of Mulu (the boatride is supposedely a lot longer – it can take a full day, and several different longboats on different rivers). Of course, if you are in an adventurous mood you can also access the park on foot, via the Headhunters Trail, from Limbang (you gonna need a licensed guide to do that).

Since we did not book our accomodation well in advance, we did not get a room (or a bed) inside the park for the first four nights. We ended up in Benarat Inn, which is one and a half kilometer away from the headquarters. They provided transportation for us (for a small price) each morning and evening to and from the park, but it was definiately better when we finally got a room inside the park. There are not many stores in the village and even those only carry some basic supplies, so if you need something special, make sure you get it beforehand.

We spent the first few days on the self-guided trails. The Paku Waterfall Trail is almost 9 kilometers long, and it takes you through some very nice forest.  If you start out behind the headquarters, you will walk on a concrete walkway that runs along the Melinau River, and it can be quite slippery (not to mention the fact that you will feel again as in a botanical garden, not in a real rainforest). But as soon as you leave the concrete behind you will be surrounded by an amazing landscape – beautiful rock formations, trees growing straight from rocks, small rivers winding through the forest.

Borneo, 2013, Brunei and Gunung Mulu 540.1Borneo, 2013, Brunei and Gunung Mulu 524.1Borneo, 2013, Brunei and Gunung Mulu 516.1

lantern bugs

lantern bugs

lantern bugs

lantern bugs

 

Around halfway you will come to a nice waterfall (Paku waterfall) where you can take a refreshing dip.

Paku waterfall

Paku waterfall

Paku waterfall

Paku waterfall

We also signed up for the “mandatory” Deer and Lang Cave tour. Even if you are generally not too interested in caves, you shouldn’t miss this tour. From the headquarters it is a 3 km walk (on plank walkway). You start out with Lang cave, where you will find lots of beautiful karst formations.  Then you walk over to Deer Cave, which is simply breathtaking. It is part of one of the larges cave passeges of the world. (A tip for photographers- you will need a tripod, since it is almost totally dark inside, but you need to get a special permission from the office beforehand).

the entrance to Deer Cave

the entrance to Deer Cave

entering Deer Cave

entering Deer Cave

inside Deer Cave

inside Deer Cave

the garden of Eden

the garden of Eden

There are around 3-5 million bats (mostly wrinkle-lipped bats) living in the cave, along with some swiftlets (that means quite a lot of guano also). The bats leave the cave usually between 4 and 6 p.m. (except when they decide not to). They can be best viewed from the Bat Observatory. I had this image in my mind, that millions of bats swarm out of the cave at the same time, but they actually leave in smaller groups. First they circle around at the opening of the cave – supposedly to confuse the bat hawks that are waiting for them – then they take off over the forest – like a smoke-signal.

Borneo, 2013, Brunei and Gunung Mulu 783.1

bats leaving Deer Cave

bats leaving Deer Cave

 

On our first visit we witnessed their exodus from inside the cave. On the second day the weather was perfect, except that around 4 p.m. there was some loud thunder, and a storm was getting closer. By six it was clear that the bats wouldn’t come out. I wondered if they made a collective, conscious decision – Guys, the weather doesn’t look too promising, let’s just go back to sleep! – or what. Since there is no guarantee that they will leave the cave on a particular day you might have to check back another day.

 

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