Wednesday, September 09, 2015

Exploring the Caves of Borneo’s Gunung Mulu National Park

Gunung Mulu National Park in northern Sarawak is one for adventure seekers. The remote melange of karst formations, caves and pinnacles lies in the equatorial rainforest of Malaysian Borneo, bordering Brunei to the north.

Expeditions to Mulu in the late 1970s revealed much about the genesis of the park and its geographical configuration, but even though it is one of the most studied tropical karst areas in the world, it’s believed that only 30 to 40 percent of the park’s cave passages have been surveyed, leaving much still to be discovered.

The park just opened to trekkers in 1984, and until 1991, the UNESCO World Heritage site could only be reached by boat–a 12 hour ride from Miri. Today, visitors travel through Mulu Airport where there are limited flights coming in from Miri, Kuching and Kota Kinabalu.

Shuttles from the airport take you directly to the park and few local accommodations. Outside of the park, the Mulu Marriott Resort & Spa, the airport, a small clinic and a couple of guesthouses are the only things to stand other than rainforest.

On my short flight from Kuching to Mulu, fellow travelers and I couldn’t help but remark on how it looked like we were flying over a vast expanse of broccoli heads. In the sky and on the ground, Mulu is tropical rainforest as far as the eye can see.

Stepping off the plane and through the airport, the diversity of Mulu’s flora and fauna became apparent and I made sure to wheel my suitcase carefully, avoiding the enormous stick bugs hiding in plain sight.

The park shelters all different types of exotic insects, animals and plants. On my day trek to the Deer and Lang caves, we spotted lizards, moths, stick bugs, butterflies, frogs and bats, of course. Other inhabitants, ones that I unfortunately wasn’t able to see, include the rhinoceros hornbill (the state bird of Sarawak), bearded pig, moonrat, Bornean tarsier, gibbon, mouse deer and sun bear.

In order to explore a really good chunk of Mulu, most people choose to stay for at least three days. Depending on how active you’re looking to be and whether or not you’re interested in unwinding at a 5-star resort or keeping it low key at a homestay–you have options.

No matter which you choose, be prepared to disconnect during your stay–there is virtually no wifi in Mulu–and embrace a technology-free couple of days. Here are just a few of the highlights of Gunung Mulu National Park, as well as a list of accommodations sure to please all types of travelers.