After two years of pandemic-induced travel restrictions, Malaysia finally opened its doors in April 2022, allowing me to return to my homeland after a prolonged absence. With limited travel options but a strong yearning for exploration, my home country became the obvious choice for my next adventure.
The journey began with a weekend trip to Kuala Lumpur, marking my first return to the capital in nearly a decade. The highlight of this visit was an exhilarating ATV ride, adding a thrilling dimension to my homecoming. Following this, I headed to Miri on Borneo Island to reunite with my sister. Our ultimate destination awaited us: Mulu.
Reaching Mulu is an adventure in itself, accessible only by a small passenger flight due to the rugged terrain surrounding it. The flight stirred nostalgic memories, reminiscent of the travel in the 90s from our hometown to nearby cities in the same twin-engine planes. Watching the rainforests pass beneath us through the spinning propellers added a unique sense of excitement until we descended onto the runway of the tiny airport.
Where we stayed
Mindful of our budget, I opted to book an affordable homestay just a 5-minute drive from the airport and the national park. Mulu Diana Homestay provided a genuine ‘stay-in-the-jungle’ experience, complete with an open field, breathtaking sunrises and sunsets over the trees, and the harmonious sounds of nature enveloping us.
Since the country was still in the process of recovering from the pandemic, my sister and I were the sole occupants of the homestay, among the first to return. Nevertheless, our host, Diana, remained incredibly hospitable, and we relished her delicious traditional Dayak meals while watching her adorable cats chasing after various insects.
It’s worth noting that although Mulu is small and lacks other attractions beyond the national park, there is a Marriott hotel, which offers the novelty of ferrying their guests to their accommodation by an open-air vehicle. Alternatively, staying in one of the many chalets within the park is also an option, one that I would have considered if our budget allowed.
Arranging cave tours directly with the national park turned out to be a cost-effective choice compared to hiring freelance guides. Surprisingly, the park was not as crowded as we anticipated. One of the tours had only five tourists, including us, and the other essentially became a private tour as there were no other guests. At times, the guides had no guests at all.
In a way, this turned out to be a blessing as we had the undivided attention of the guides. We even developed a friendly rapport with one of them. He not only educated us about the Mulu ecosystem but also shared insights into his native culture and his challenges during the pandemic. This personal connection deepened our travel experience.
It would be this same connection that later inspired me to start a travel guiding company, realizing the potential to create meaningful connections and immersive experiences for travelers like ourselves.
Deer and Lang Caves
Exploring the caves in Mulu was a highlight of our visit. Our first stop was the Deer and Lang Caves in the afternoon. It involved a bit of trekking on dirt paths and raised planks.
Although we were not seasoned cave explorers, but the enormity of Deer Cave, touted as the largest passage in the world, left us in awe. As we looked up, the ceiling appeared to be alive with millions of bats roosting above us. We were even treated to the sight of what resembled the profile of Abraham Lincoln.
In the much smaller Lang Cave, we were mesmerized by the rock formations that we only read about in textbooks. What we once thought of as potentially boring turned out to be an utterly different experience up close.
The Bat Exodus
One of the most memorable moments of our trip was witnessing the exodus of millions of bats emerging from the caves, resembling wisps of smoke as they embarked on their evening forage. We were fortunate, as the park guide informed us that the bats hadn’t been out all week due to bad weather. Not only did we have the opportunity to observe them outside Deer Cave, but we also had the incredible privilege of witnessing this spectacle right from our homestay.
On the way
Taking a short longboat ride to reach our next set of caves provided a refreshing change of pace after a full day in the jungle. Being surrounded by water added to the completeness of our nature experience.
As we glided along the river, we passed by small villages inhabited by the natives. We visited one, where we were greeted by residents eagerly displaying their handcrafted souvenirs. It dawned on me that prior to the pandemic, this might have been their primary source of livelihood, and the past two years would have been challenging for them.
Out of empathy and a desire to support the community, I purchased a keyring, hoping that my small contribution would make a difference, no matter how modest.
Mother Nature at her best
Whether we were in the national park or at the homestay, we found ourselves completely immersed in the lush tropical surroundings, with an abundance of trees, insects, and wildlife. It’s safe to say that anyone visiting this park shouldn’t expect luxury, even with a renowned hotel in the vicinity. My sister and I were raised with the soothing sounds of crickets and frogs at night, but encountering insects larger than our noses still managed to startle us.
The cats at the homestay were among the more domesticated residents. While hiking the nearby trails, we didn’t come across many animals, but we were told that the early mornings were the best time to spot wildlife foraging.
Despite being more accustomed to urban life, we thoroughly enjoyed the chance to immerse ourselves in the wild, embracing our Sarawakian roots. I was genuinely impressed by how well the park was maintained.
So, is Mulu worth visiting? Without a doubt, yes! I would do it all over again in a heartbeat.