Mulu National Park holds a special place in my heart. Home to some of the largest caves in the world, Mulu is the true meaning of the word ‘awesome’. Its beauty and extraordinary scenery alone would have cemented its place in my memory, but I’m also extremely grateful to this remote park.
The night before I was due to fly to Mulu, my beloved dog of sixteen years passed away. Luckier than most, I got to say goodbye to him via Skype, a privilege not many travellers get. But I was still completely and utterly devastated. To the extreme awkwardness of the other girls in my dorm, I cried myself to sleep that night. I cried on the 30-minute flight from Miri to Gunung Mulu, to the mortification of the air hostess who tried to offer me a complimentary drink. And I cried several times again over the next few days. But I didn’t curl up into a ball and shut myself away (completely, at least) the way I had thought I would. I might have, had I been anywhere else. But flights were booked, and Mulu National Park is not somewhere you waste your time.
Having only two days to see as much of this UNESCO World Heritage Site as possible, I booked into three tours – Lang Cave and Deer Cave for that afternoon, Cave of the Winds and Clearwater Cave for the next morning, and the Treetop Canopy Walk after that. I’ll be honest here and say that the Canopy Walk is not worth the money you pay for it. Yes, it’s quite cool to see the forest from up high, but for what they charge, it just didn’t feel like an incredible experience. Although, I won’t ever forget facing off with a curious snake half-way across a swaying rope bridge. We found out after that it was completely harmless, but that didn’t mean our hearts weren’t pounding at the time!
My heart was breaking, and all I wanted was to be left alone, but there’s nothing like walking through the world’s largest cave chamber to distract you from that. Or the incredible formations of Lang Cave – stalagmites and stalactites of every shape and size, dripping water echoing through the passageways. I’ve always loved water – the ocean, rivers and lakes – so the morning boat ride through the rainforest to Cave of the Winds and Clearwater Cave (with a freezing swim outside the latter) was particularly soothing.
And I haven’t even mentioned the bats yet. Just as famous as its caves are Mulu’s bats. About three million of them live inside Deer Cave, and almost every night a large portion of these leave the cave to feed. They call it the Bat Exodus. As night falls, a crowd gathers in a clearing near Deer Cave to wait. There’s silence, then a quiet murmuring as people become impatient, then gasps and cries as the first bats appear. They fly in large groups, the dark shadow of bodies twisting and bending as one. They pass briefly overhead, then are gone beyond the trees. We wait for the next one. Seeing the bats is not a guarantee, so if you’re disappointed one night, I definitely recommend going back the next. The show the second night was much more impressive than the first. Except for the torrential downpour I got caught in on the way back. Maybe I don’t like water all that much after all.
My final morning in Mulu National Park was spent on a muddy hike through the rainforest to find a lovely waterfall. A refreshing (i.e. very, very cold) swim with some inquisitive fish was such a great way to end my time at the park, with plenty of time to spare before my flight back to Miri that afternoon.
I was still hurting, the lump in the my throat and tightness in my chest a regular occurrence, but I felt so much better after those two days than I could have imagined. Although ‘better’ might not be the right term, more like numb. For giving me a chance to smile and enjoy myself in those first few days, I will always be so thankful to the wonders of Mulu National Park.
I stayed at the River Lodge right at the entrance to the park. With a little restaurant serving delicious food, and really helpful staff (they sent my hiking boots back to Miri after I left them behind), it’s a perfect place to stay while at the park. It’s much cheaper than the accommodation within the park, and though there is a cheaper backpackers by the airport, the location was worth the extra ringgit to me.
Flights from Miri are very reasonable. There only seems to be two prices. I only booked a few days in advance and managed to get the lower price, which worked out at about €25/$30 each way. Strangely, by switching dates around on the website, the prices changed, so if your dates are the higher price, try playing around with dates and refreshing the page a few times to see if anything changes.
Don’t bother paying for transport at Mulu. From the airport it’s about a four minute walk to the cheapest backpackers, and only fifteen minutes to River Lodge at the Park entrance.
There’s no way to see the caves without a tour, and heavy penalties apply if you try. I usually don’t like doing tours, but the guides are very well informed, and the caves can be dangerous if you don’t know where you’re going. For my three tours I paid a total of €30/$35.
If you have longer at the park, there are more activities and tours you can do. Adventure tours take you deeper into the caves, and you can even hike Gunung Mulu itself if you’re fit and have a few extra days. The Pinnacles are also quite spectacular-looking. Check theofficial website for more details.
As well as tours, there is an entrance fee. Once paid, you are given a wristband that allows access to the park for five days. Don’t lose this! If you do, you’ll have to pay the entrance fee again.
Prices are from March 2016.
Have you ever dealt with loss while travelling? Or is there some special place in the world that helped you heal? Share your stories with me below.
When a love of travel meets a passion for wildlife…
I’m a zoologist who explores the world while working for conservation organisations. I write about my experiences in the hope of inspiring others to follow their dreams and see the beauty of this earth – in a responsible and ethical way.