Mulu National Park: one of Borneo’s highlights
Mulu National Park is one of the most exciting rainforest areas in Borneo. You will discover:
- fantastic flora and fauna with a variety of endangered animals and plants
- caves and cave systems which are among the largest in the world
- limestone cliffs up to 50 metres high rising out of the vegetation
The park is not only worth seeing for nature lovers, though. Several adventure tours through caves or up Mount Mulu and Gunung Api, some of them highly challenging, also attract adventure-seeking visitors. Gunung Mulu National Park is named after the 2,376-metre-high Mount Mulu. The park has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 2000.
Discover fascinating caves and the famous Sarawak Chamber
The cave system is the main attraction in Mulu National Park. There are four show caves, all of which are easily accessible thanks to paved paths. Deer Cave, the second-largest cave in the world, is the most impressive of the four. It was in fact considered the largest until 2009, when English explorers discovered the even larger Son Doong Cave in Vietnam. The Clearwater Cave System, meanwhile, is one of the largest cave systems in the world, measuring an incredible 137 miles (220 kilometres).
Deer Cave is the second-largest cave in the world
2.5 miles (4 kilometres) long and at its most impressive point, the so-called main chamber, 169 metres wide and 125 metres high: the dimensions of Deer Cave are remarkable. After a walk of about 2.2 miles (3.5 kilometres) through lush rainforest and past jungle rivers, you arrive at the 146-metre-high entrance to Deer Cave. Its huge dimensions are not visible from the outside, but are all the more impressive from the inside as a result.
The cave is partly illuminated, but you should still bring a flashlight, not only to be able to move around more safely but also in order to spot the insects living there more easily. Deer Cave is home to between two and three million bats, of various species, which can not only be heard clearly but also smelt. Vast amounts of guano (droppings) have collected on the ground, providing a food base for many of the insects living in Deer Cave.
If you follow the path into the dark cave, the 1,000-metre-wide „Garden of Eden“ appears in the distance. This „Garden of Eden“ is a green oasis illuminated by sunlight that enters through an opening, allowing lush vegetation to grow. At the end of the cave walk, you will find a rock formation resembling Abraham Lincoln in profile. At the exit, there is also a viewpoint where you can watch countless bats fly out of the cave system when dusk falls.
Lang's Cave: small but imposing
The tour through Deer Cave can easily be combined with a visit to Lang’s Cave, as the two entrances are only about 100 metres apart. Lang’s Cave is much smaller and is indeed the smallest accessible cave in Mulu National Park. Nevertheless, or perhaps precisely for that reason, it is absolutely worth seeing. The smaller size allows you to observe the cave’s inhabitants, such as bats, snakes and small insects, close-up. Lang’s Cave is characterised by impressive rock formations, decorated walls, and spectacular stalagmites and stalactites.
The guided „Deer & Lang’s Cave“ tours offered by the National Park last about 3 hours and end at the viewing platform where you can observe the bats streaming out of the cave. It really is a spectacle worth seeing.
The Clearwater Cave System is one of the largest cave systems in the world
After a 20-minute ride in a longboat along the Melinau River, you will reach Wind Cave. On the way there, you will also visit a longhouse market where you can buy souvenirs. The Wind Cave, named after the cool breeze that blows through it, has several chambers. One of them is the so-called „King’s Chamber“, famous for its fascinating illuminated stalactites, stalagmites, and stone coral.
A short walk along the river and about 200 steps up through the jungle later, you will arrive at the entrance to Clearwater Cave. The Clearwater Cave system extends over an impressive 137 miles (220 kilometres). The cave owes its name to its main attraction: the clear river that flows 105 miles (170 kilometres) through it. While swimming is prohibited inside the cave, you can freshen up in the crystal clear water outside at the end of the tour.
The Clearwater & Wind Cave tour is a four-hour tour led by a guide from the park. If you want to visit Clearwater Cave more extensively, book the Clearwater Revival Tour. This is an adventure tour where you will have to wade, climb and swim, depending on the water level.
Small group cave tours at Fastlane
Fastlane is part of the Lagang Cave. After a short boat ride and a few metres‘ walk through the rainforest, you will reach the steps to the entrance. Since there is little light in the cave, you will be given a flashlight so you can look for bats, snakes, crabs, birds and small insects on your own.
Unlike the other tours, the Fastlane tour is limited to a maximum of 12 people. You should therefore book early; otherwise it may already be fully booked. A guide also accompanies this tour.
Adventure Caving in Mulu National Park
Mulu National Park also has a lot to offer for the adventurous among you. Several guided adventure tours are available where you often have to wade or swim through rivers, squeeze through crevices and climb or abseil. Sometimes you even have to do so in total darkness, with only the flashlight on your helmet providing some light.
The park offers various guided tours: from beginners to advanced climbers, there is a tour for everyone. Depending on the cave, you will see stalactites, stalagmites, cave sediments, and a variety of animal life such as insects, racer snakes and bats.
Adventure in the Sarawak Chamber
The most challenging cave tour lasts for two days including an overnight stay at a camp. The destination is Sarawak Chamber, discovered in 1981 and located in Good Luck Cave. Sarawak Chamber is extensive, at 700 metres in length 400 metres in width, a height of 115 metres at its highest point, and a floor area of about 165,000 m². It is considered the world’s largest underground chamber by area.
After a three-hour hike, you will reach the impressive, completely moss-covered entrance to Good Luck Cave. Then you will have to wade and swim along a river for almost 1,000 metres and shimmy along rocks with ropes before you arrive at Sarawak Chamber. Depending on the water level, the tour may have to be cancelled or moved to another part of the cave due to the powerful current and the large, extremely sharp rocks at the end of the river.
To be allowed to participate in this tour, you must provide proof of fitness. You can do so either by providing proof of having completed equivalent cave tours in the past. Or by completing other, less demanding Adventure Caving tours in Mulu National Park, which will qualify you for the Sarawak Chamber tour.
Hiking to the impressive Pinnacles
The Pinnacles are another one of the highlights that make Mulu National Park so unique: razor-sharp limestone rocks up to 50 metres high, rising above the surrounding dense green rainforest vegetation. Getting to this wonder of nature, however, is anything but a walk in the park.
The climb up to the Pinnacles is highly challenging and takes three days, including two nights at a camp in the Park. The first day starts with a boat trip. The tour also stops at the Wind and Clearwater Caves, so you can join the associated tour directly if you would like to see them.
Afterwards, a 5.5 miles (9-kilometre) hike to Camp 5 awaits. The walk is relatively easy, but very interesting. Firstly, there is both lush vegetation and exotic wildlife to discover in the rainforest, which the guide will point out to you as you go along. Secondly, the hike itself is interesting, leading you uphill over massive tree roots, suspension bridges and steep rock faces.
After the hike, which takes approximately three hours, you will arrive at Camp 5, which will be your accommodation for the next two nights. Camp 5 is a basic place to stay and has capacity for 50 people. You will sleep on sleeping mats out in the open. There is a toilet block and shower facilities with cold water. A fitted kitchen is available, but you will have to cook for yourself. There is no phone reception at the camp.
The ascent to the Pinnacles - and the challenging route back
Early the first morning, you will set off on the hike to the summit. The ascent to the viewpoint is only about 2,400 metres long, but you also have to scale 1,200 metres in altitude. The last section is particularly challenging; you will find yourself struggling up almost vertical, moss-covered rock faces with the help of ropes and ladders.
Along the way, you may from time to time meet people heading back because either their guides or they themselves feel they may have bitten off more than they can chew in trying to make it to the summit. After 3 – 5 hours, depending on your fitness level, you will have made it. At the top, you will be rewarded for your efforts with a fantastic view of the Pinnacles.
After an hour’s break, it will be time to head back to Camp 5. You will quickly realise that the uphill journey was easier than going downhill. The descent is even more strenuous and dangerous than the ascent and accordingly takes longer. When you get back to Camp 5, you will spend the second night there before hiking back through the jungle to the boat dock on the third day and heading back.
Sunrise at the summit of Mount Mulu
The ascent to the 2,376-metre summit of Mount Mulu is the second of the extremely challenging adventures you can embark on in Mulu National Park. Getting there will require a 15 miles (24-kilometre), four-day tour with three overnight stays at simple camps in the park. You will have to sleep on wooden floors, you will only have basic cooking equipment, and you will have to fill up your water bottles with rainwater. Of course, you will also have to feed yourself, so take enough food with you for the four days.
On your way to the summit, you can sometimes see gibbons and, with a stroke of luck, even Malayan sun bears. On the third day, you will leave Camp 4 in the middle of the night, not only so as to be at the summit in time for sunrise but also because the peak of Mount Mulu is often covered in cloud during the day.
If you do want to climb Mount Mulu, you should plan early. You need to book the tour at least one month in advance with the Mulu National Park administration.
There is even more to experience in Mulu
That’s not all, however – there are even more exciting activities to enjoy in Mulu. No other national park in Borneo offers as many different possibilities for enjoying nature.
Canopy Skywalk, Paku Waterfall and trekking
The Canopy Skywalk is an almost 500-metre-long suspension bridge. It hangs up to 25 metres over the jungle and river and leads along a steep rock face. On a guided tour, you’ll first hike towards Paku Waterfall before reaching the Canopy Skywalk.
Along the way, the guide will point out exotic creatures. Enjoying and discovering the beauty of the rainforest from such a height is a very special experience. And since only two people are allowed on the suspension bridge at any one time, it is also very idyllic. Tours to the Canopy Skywalk depart several times a day.
Most tours in Mulu National Park are guided, both for safety reasons and to preserve the park. There are, however, a few marked trails for those wanting to explore and enjoy the rainforest on their own. One of these leads to Paku Waterfall: it’s a somewhat easier (but still muddy) hiking trail that involves crossing small streams.
Once you get to the waterfall, it’s nice to take a refreshing dip in the Paku River. For safety reasons, you have to inform the park HQ before you head out. Upon your return, you must check back out again.
Penan Village, Tree Top Tower or Nightwalk
Another unguided excursion you can undertake is to the Penan village in Long Iman and the Tree Top Tower.
You can buy souvenirs directly from the locals in Long Iman village. To get there, you first need to take a longboat along the Melinau and Tutoh Rivers. You can soak up the diversity of the rainforest along the way.
The Tree Top Tower is a 30-metre-high tower near the park HQ from which you can observe animals high in the trees. Bird lovers in particular will have a great time here.
After dark, the park offers a guided night walk. On the trails near the HQ, you can even set off exploring in the dark by yourself. Like everywhere else in Borneo, many nocturnal animals live in Mulu National Park, so you will get a unique impression of the wildlife at night.
How to get to Mulu Park
Mulu National Park is located in remote eastern Sarawak. Travelling by road or boat from Miri takes a very long time and is therefore only recommended for those with time on their hands. Moreover, the boat trips may be cancelled due to weather or water levels.
Getting to Mulu by plane is much easier. MASwings flies daily from Mulu Airport (MZV) to Kota Kinabalu, Kuching and Miri. Prices are usually quite reasonable: round-trip flights to nearby Miri (only a 30-minute flight away) are available starting from USD 65 (50 GBP / 90 AUD). Flights to Kota Kinabalu (about an hour’s flight) or Kuching (about 90 minutes) are a bit more expensive. When travelling by plane, it is important to remember that weather conditions can throw a spanner in the works. Fog and heavy rain sometimes cause delays of several hours or even cancellations.
Transfers are available from the airport to the park or hotel. Some of the private accommodation also offers individual transfers.
Accommodation in Gunung Mulu National Park
There is a range of accommodation in and around Mulu National Park. The park administration offers various private rooms and dormitory beds in the park itself; however, the prices are comparatively high. A bed in the 20-bed dormitory, for example, costs about 13 USD (10 GBP / 18 AUD) per night. The room is fitted with a ceiling fan and hot water is available in the shared bathrooms. Private rooms (for 2 – 5 people) cost about 70 – 85 USD (55 – 70 GBP / 100 – 120 AUD) per night. In addition to a ceiling fan, they also have air conditioning and a private bathroom.
Other accommodation which is better value for money is available outside the park area, from simple homestays to B&Bs and the 5-star Mulu Marriott Resort. You can stay at the homestays from around 10 USD (8 GBP / 14 AUD) per person per night including breakfast. The Marriott costs over 100 USD (80 GBP / 140 AUD) per room including breakfast.
The Mulu National Park is undoubtedly worth a trip. Direct flights from Mulu Airport to Kuching or Kota Kinabalu make it possible to visit Mulu on your way from one side of Borneo to the other. The caves and cave systems are unlike any others in the world, and the Pinnacles are another impressive highlight.
Depending on what activities you’re planning to do, you should aim to stay at least two nights. Sturdy shoes are required for the hikes and cave visits. A headlamp would also definitely be a good idea, and as anywhere else in Borneo, we recommend rainproof clothing.
Food both inside and outside the park is more expensive than it is in the rest of Malaysia due to the logistical challenges of transporting goods into the region. If you want to save some money, it is best to bring your own food.
Check this out
In addition to Mulu National Park, there are many other highlights in Borneo to check out. Have a look at these suggestions: