Malaysia,  Asia,  Destinations,  Travel Diary

3 weeks in Borneo: Mulu National Park, day 1

This is the first in a series of posts about the three days I spent in Mulu National Park on Borneo in July 2023.

Mulu National Park, an UNESCO World Heritage Site

Gunung Mulu National Park was added to UNESCO’s World Heritage list in 2000 for its high biodiversity and karst features– a type of rock topography. It also has the largest known cave chamber in the world, called Sarawak Chamber, which measures 600 m by 415 m and 80 m high.

Helene and I wanted to visit the park for its rainforest hikes, natural caves, and interesting animals. Neither of us felt up to climbing the Pinnacles summit trek, but we met a few people who did it and really enjoyed it. Personally, I prefer hiking on flat ground whenever possible, and only the occasional mountain climb. 😛

The only way to get to Mulu National Park is by plane, either from Kota Kinabalu, Miri or Kuching Technically you can hike in from Miri, but that’s an extreme multi-day thing that not many people attempt. In the past, you used to be able to take a boat into the park, but that option has been gone since COVID in 2020.

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Flying with MASwings

Helene, my travel buddy, and I flew from Kuching to Mulu direct with MASwings, a budget airline under Malaysia Airlines. The planes to and from Mulu are propeller planes– my first experience with that style!

The plane we took to Mulu. Tiny!

MASwings is pretty strict about carry-on luggage because it’s a tiny propeller plane with very small overhead bins. Each ticket came with a generous free checked bag, but since I only have a tiny 27l backpack anyway I prefer to keep it with me when I can. They didn’t weigh anyone’s carry-on bags, nor made us put them in sizers. My backpack was too bulky to go overhead, but luckily it fit under the seats.

Loved flying with MASwings— we even got a meal during our flight!— and would definitely fly with them again.

Arrival in Mulu

Once we got to Mulu, we stopped by our homestay (Mulu Backers B&B) to drop off our bags. The homestay is run by a local woman, Helen, and it’s literally 5 minutes walking from the airport.

Driveway leading to the homestay, run by a local Mulu resident

We had a private room with fans (no a/c) for RM360 / $80 USD for three nights, which also included breakfast. Usually I always book places with air con, but the fans were surprisingly comfortable as it wasn’t that hot at night. It was a very quiet area, despite being next to the airport, and the beds were pretty comfortable.

After checking in, we headed straight to the park. From the homestay it’s a 15 min walk along a paved roadway, very easy. Other homestays further down the road— and the Marriott resort— have shuttles to take people to the park.

Park entry + first tour

A five day entry pass into Mulu is only RM30 / $7 USD total! There’s plenty of free trails to walk, but if you want to make the most of your time there you’ll have to buy tickets for guided walks and/or cave tours. You can ONLY go into the caves with a guide, but most of the trails can be done on your own.

This sign is actually at the airport.

We booked a few tours for our stay, including a “showcave” tour of Deer & Lang Caves for that very afternoon. Showcaves have walkways and don’t require squeezing through passages or swimming, unlike the adventure caves. The tour was RM35 / $7.70 USD and lasted about 3 hours.

All guided tours start from Headquarters and then branch out, and most involve walking at least 20-45 minutes on wooden plank walkways into the forest. The showcave tours are bigger groups; ours was 23 people and I think the max is 25 guests.

While walking to Lang Cave, our guide showed us some local plants and trees, and explained how the indigenous tribes used them for healing or making furniture/baskets/etc. The walk to Lang Cave was 1.5 hours with two short breaks.

Inside one of the caves. They’re well-lit and easy to walk in.

The caves themselves were pretty interesting, especially Deer Cave which had MOUNTAINS of bat guano! It got its name because deer used to come into the cave to eat the guano (for the salt) and then the locals would hunt the deer for food.

My favorite part was viewing the lush green rainforest from inside the cave mouths.

After the caves, we sat at a nearby viewing area and waited for dusk, when bats would fly out of Deer Cave! There are a lot of bat species living in the Mulu caves, but only the wrinkle-lipped bats have enough strength to propel themselves over the cave “wall” and up into the sky. Watching them swirl into the purple-pink sky was fun.

By this point it was close to 7:00pm. The park canteen closes for orders at 8:30pm and we still had a 45 minute walk back from the bat viewing area, so we had to hustle.

Mulu at sunset.

While we went as fast as we could in the dark (neither of us had headlamps and the walkways are only partly lit up), we kept hearing interesting animal noises. Luckily we ran into a guide who did an impromptu night walk tour, pointing out animals and insects that only come out after dark. My favorite was of course the rough-sided frog who makes a noise like “whak!”

Dinner was a chicken burger and fries, which tasted fine but took over 30 minutes to get out to us. By the time we got back to our homestay it was after 9:00pm.

Overall a wonderful first day at Mulu National Park!

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Anastasia is a former librarian turned digital nomad. She's been traveling the world full time for two years and has visited 18 countries so far! Just Gone Wandering is a travel resource for solo female travelers on a backpacker's budget-- or slightly more-- and highlights amazing places to visit as well as providing tips and tricks for traveling smart and frugal. Read more...

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