Heading out of Clearwater Cave in Mulu National Park
In the past month I’ve been on a total of 14 plane rides and 5 different countries in South East Asia – each one an adventure! My first stop was Mulu National Park to see the caves (which are one of the largest in the world) and hike up to see the Mulu Pinnacles. This post focuses on the caves that I visited: Deer Cave, Lang Cave, Clearwater Cave and Wind Cave. Despite visiting all these caves, I still have problems pronouncing “stalagmites” and “stalactites”, tongue twisters! I was also very lucky to witness all the bats leaving their cave at sundown to grab some dinner. Watching their swirling formations in the sky as the sun set was incredible to see.
To get to Mulu National Park we flew from Miri to Mulu on Maswings; a 30 minute plane ride and is the quickest and easiest way to get to Mulu. You can also take a ferry and boat all the way to Mulu for those with butts of steel as it’s about a 10 hour boat ride. Once at the Mulu airport we were greeted by our tour guide and whisked away to the Royal Mulu Resort where we would stay for the evening before starting our hike up to the Pinnacles the following day.
The plane touches down in Mulu airport
The resort was very comfortable and plush; if you’re the type that likes to stay out of the sweltering heat but still appreciate nature from afar this is your place! Elevated above the ground along the Melinau river and surrounded by jungle, in the evening just stand near one of the lights and watch the bats swirl around to eat the insects attracted to the light. In the day you can spot all sorts of critters: lizards, fuzzy caterpillars, birds, pygmy squirrels.
The lobby at Royal Mulu Resort
Bags being cycled back to the lobby
A lizard outside our room
In the afternoon the resort van brought us to Park Headquarters (a close 10 minute drive away) where we needed to register for a 5 day pass (about $10 USD) and wear a wristband which was our park permit. If you’re going to be wearing this for more than a day and especially if you’re hiking with it, don’t put it on too tightly. My band was extremely annoying especially when I was hiking the trail up and down the Pinnacles as there’s lots of scrambling involved.
From Park HQ we followed our guide into the jungle to first visit Deer Cave. Park regulations stipulate that you must have a guide with you; our guide actually wore many hats – he also owned the restaurant across the resort where he did the cooking and where I enjoyed many cups of hot milo (a chocolate energy drink; the energy comes from the copious amount of sugar which is why it’s so delicious). The 3km walk to Deer cave is relatively easy – mostly flat and all along boardwalks elevated above the ground and cemented trails.
Heading towards Deer Cave
The walk to Deer Cave took about 1.5hrs at a very relaxing pace with plenty of time to take pictures of all the interesting plants and critters we saw on the way.
Lantern Fly – usually found in pairs
I found this spider with a spherical shaped web, jeepers creepers!
Furry caterpillar with ‘ears’
The caterpillar above seemed to be in a rush to go somewhere; it was moving very quickly! Based on some googling I only know it might be a moth caterpillar but what species I have no idea. If you happen to know leave a comment! I’m always curious. I don’t know if it’s poisonous but I wasn’t too curious to find out. You can watch the short video below to see it wiggle along!
We reached the entrance Deer Cave and made our way inside; the start is unassuming with the ceiling lit to make it a little more dramatic but once you emerge into the chamber the cave is massive. Deer Cave has one of the largest cave passages in the world, the largest section measures 174m wide and 122m high which can hold 2 Airbus A380s (the largest passenger plane currently in operation) side by side and 5 stacked to the ceiling. The cave is massive. There are some lights along the path but a headlamp is still highly recommended. And be sure to put fresh batteries in as by the second day my headlamp was a mere flicker and I was lucky to be in a group to follow. All the cave viewings follow constructed paths with railings, making it accessible to anyone wanting to visit. There are also options to go caving if you’re feeling more adventurous and want to go beyond the set path; you can arrange for this through the Park HQ or the tour agency. If I ever return this is something I’d be up try!
One of the chambers in Deer Cave half lit by sunlight
Lights along the path in Deer Cave
On the way out our guide pointed out ‘Abraham Lincoln’. I looked up, lo and behold there he was! Good to know he’s watching over the entrance.
Abe Lincoln keeping watch
After visiting Deer Cave we went over to the nearby Lang Cave which is much smaller but I thought more interesting to see as you could take a closer look at the rock formations and maybe catch sight of bats or swifts. Close to the entrance we spotted a small group of bats hanging out. It’s also ample opportunity to make more bad puns.
A group of bats hanging out
Once you enter Lang Cave you are immediately greeted with a phenomenally close and clear view of stalactites and stalagmites lit by spotlights. Considering the cave is small and very well lit, this is where I managed to take good photos and really wished I had bought a wide angle lens prior to my trip!
Up close and personal with stalactites (from the ceiling) and stalagmites (from the ground)
Entering one of the larger chambers in Lang Cave
To cap off the days’ visit to Deer and Lang Cave, we waited outside to hopefully catch a glimpse of the bats leaving their cave to search for food. Considering that microbats eat mosquitoes and are probably one of the cave residents, my hike into the jungle and out again was pleasantly itch-free, yay bats. At around 6pm as the sun began to set we saw them; bursts of thousands of bats flying around close to the cave entrance and then swirling upwards as their ribbon like pattern graces the sky. It was absolutely amazing to watch.
Bats leaving the cave to search for food
The continuous swirl they make as they fly is hypnotizing, I can’t imagine just how many are in one formation. I took a short video just to show the pattern they make in motion as pictures don’t do justice. Neither does the video but it provides an idea!
After the show, we head back to the Park entrance where the van was there to take us back to the resort, we get off just before the bridge to eat dinner (and to drink more milo) and walk back with full bellies for a good night sleep.
The restaurant also owned by our guide and located just across from the resort
The following morning we eat breakfast at the resort and then make our way to the jetty by the lobby. There we boarded a boat which would take us to see Clearwater and Wind Cave before dropping us off at the trailhead for the Pinnacles trail.
A boat docks at the resort jetty
Getting ready to board our boat in the morning
It took about 15 – 20 minutes to reach the dock where we got off and another 15 minutes up a plank walk to the entrance. Once we entered this cave was noticeably cooler, and during certain parts on the path you can feel a whoosh of wind (natures’ air conditioning) come through, thus the name!
At the entrance of wind cave
Clearwater Cave was close by, though we were greeted by a steep concrete staircase which was our ‘warm up’ for the hike into Camp 5 we would do later. The Clearwater cave system is one of the world’s longest in the world, with every expedition discovering more caves connected to Clearwater. It’s currently estimated to be almost 200km long and still counting.
The ‘warm up’ staircase leading up to Clearwater Cave
Admiring the water from above in one of the chambers of Clearwater Cave
We made our way back down and had our lunch in the picnic area at the base of the cave. Beside the picnic area was a pool filled with water that flows out of Clearwater Cave. Here you can swim to refresh along with the fishes (and some apparently quite tasty according to my dad). We ate our lunch quickly and headed back to the boat to make our way towards the trailhead to begin our Pinnacles trek. This post will be published soon after!
Our boat waiting to take us to the trailhead of the Pinnacles trail where we would first stop at Camp 5 for the night
You can find more information about the caves and Mulu National Park here.