Thursday, February 9, 2017

Mulu National Park Traveling Tips

The Mulu National Park is one of the most magnificent national parks in the world. It's a world UNESCO site--on par with the Great Barrier Reef, Rome, Venice, and Taj Mahal--and hosts four of the most beautiful caves on Earth. 
I have the photos to illustrate my point.

The caves are not the only attraction here--birding and hiking are also popular among tourists. There are several hardcore hiking packages that take several days to complete--so yes you need to stay several nights in the forest. The park is therefore a suitable recreational place for people of all ages and fitness levels.

There's a human in this photo, can you spot him?

The Mulu National Park is located in Mulu, Sarawak, on the island of Borneo. The place is so remote that the only way to get to the park is by air--operated by a subsidiary of MAS--the MASwings. Phone coverage is very limited, WiFi and drinking water are a luxury and the Mulu airport is so small it doesn't even have a luggage conveyor belt--everything is done manually here.

Transportation, accommodation and tour packages are easy to come by so you don't have to prebook everything before going to Mulu.

When you arrive at the airport, just walk out the arrival hall and ask around for transportation to the national park. A single trip costs RM5.00 and takes less than 3 minutes, or you could walk to the park itself, located only 1.6 km away from the airport. Don't worry about getting lost--there's only one road in Mulu and the road signs are clear and accurate.

There are plenty of houses offering homestay accommodation, but they're all located outside of the park, so for maximum convenience consider stay within the park itself. There are several types of accommodation offered by the park--from luxurious VIP suites to the humble, derelict hostel--all within 2-minute walking distance from the park HQ. The park hostel can accommodate up to 20 person at one time and sells for RM55.00 per bed/night. As a side note, I lost the cabinet key and was fined RM20.00.

Food here can be pretty expensive, ranging from RM 8.00 to RM20.00 per item, but the real expensive necessity here is drinking water, which sells for RM 3.50 per liter. I was warned of the expensive water in Mulu and so I bought a 6-liters water at RM 11.00 from Kuching and checked it into my backpack before flying into Mulu.

And, for internet addicts, rejoice!
Because WiFi is available at the park HQ at RM5.00 per day per device. The connection can be sh**ty though. Facebook is okay, but trying to book your last minute ticket out of Mulu can be daunting.

Okay, so here are some of the essentials that you must bring on a trip to Mulu:
1) Insect repellent.
I can't stress this enough. You're visiting a tropical rain forest, home to countless species of bloodsucking parasites. If you forget to bring your insect repellent, prepare to shell out RM 25.00 for one in the park convenience store.

2) Hiking shoes and sandals.
You need the sandals for convenience, and the hiking shoes for stepping over sharp stones or crossing river. Forget your average Nike or Adidas sports shoes because those aren't gonna last in the rain forest, and they certainly aren't thick enough to stop leeches from slithering into your toes. 

3) Leech socks?
No you won't need that. I walked around in shorts and hiking shoes and that allowed me to see leeches that got attached to me. These parasites are more determined than you think, so leech socks and long pants aren't going to keep them out for long. And once they got in, it'd be very difficult to remove them from the long leech socks and pants. Wear shorts with short socks so you can easily see these bastards when they attach to you.

4) Headlights!
This is soooo important and yet I forgot to bring one. You will need it desperately when moving about in the caves.

Must do activies

1) Clearwater cave (RM 65 including boat ride)
This is at the top of my list because the cave is so. Very. Amazing. To quote from a Canadian in my hiking group, "this is the sort of place that you go to where it exceeds all expectations".
There's also a pond at the entrance of the cave where you could jump in for a swim at the end of the tour.

2) Deer cave and the Garden of Eden (RM 125)
Deer cave is the second largest cave in the world, large enough to accommodate forty--yes, that's four, zero--Boeing 747s. It also has the side profile of President Abraham Lincoln. This package is expensive because it brings you to a waterfall where you can again jump in for another swim. Be warned though, there are lots of leeches near the waterfall. To be honest, I'm fine with them latching onto me, I just don't want them to get into any orifice or in between my legs.

3) Birding and animal photography (Free)
I saw some hornbills, egret, kingfisher, mouse deer, leaf insects, stick insects, and lots of other interesting animals. The humidity of the forest can be damaging for DSLRs, though, and mine was so filled with moisture to the point I could see the moisture in the sensor chamber through the viewfinder.

4) Bat show (Free)
The caves are home to close to 3 million bats from 12 different species. Every evening the bats would fly out the caves in a long, spectacular black stream to feed on insects and fruits.

Mulu is one of the last places on earth where true, wild rainforest still exists. The richness of its ecosystem that makes it a world heritage site should be properly promoted and taken care of. However, it's disheartening to see that most Malaysians are still oblivious to the beauty that drives so many foreign tourists flocking in right in their own backyard. In fact the visitors in Mulu during my stay comprised of mostly international tourists and only two Malaysians--myself included.

Perhaps some of us should stop thinking about visiting foreign countries -- and the ringgit is so weak right now under the leadership of you-know-who -- everytime and take one hard look at our local attractions? The grass is not always greener on the other side you know?

p/s: If you still can't appreciate or see the value and the beauty of the park, please read this excellent piece by Robin Hanbury-Tenison, one of the earliest explorers of Mulu National Park.

Malcolm

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