Borneo is well-known for its extraordinary wildlife, rivers and rainforest, but tucked away on its north-western tip is a contrasting and fascinating subterranean world. Mulu is the largest accessible National Park in Sarawak, protecting 554 square kilometres of some of the world’s oldest and most pristine rainforests. As stunning as its surface landscape is, if you venture beneath it you’ll find a vast honeycomb of caverns, rock formations and passages created from limestone deposits that have been pushed to the surface by the Earth’s tectonic plates, then sculpted by the elements. An almost unimaginable 295kms of Mulu’s caves has been explored so far, and many of them are record breakers in their own right.
Known as the ‘show caves’, the superstars of Mulu’s complex are beyond breathtaking. Gaze at the ornate stalactites and stalagmites of Lang Cave, sculpted by thousands of years of water. Take a longboat to Wind Cave, named for the refreshing breeze which flows through its tunnels, and the impressive King’s Chamber with its majestic columns and delicate, lace-like rock formations. Explore Clearwater Cave, home to photo-sensitive algae which grows in needle-like shapes towards the sunlight.
Marvel at the moon-like landscape of Deer Cave, which boasts the world’s largest single cave passage and entrance (there’s enough space for St Paul's Cathedral under its enormous archway) before settling down to watch a spectacular natural phenomenon. Almost every day at sunset, five million bats fly out from Deer Cave in search of food. Wings whirring, they form a column over six miles long, which takes at least an hour to emerge; an unforgettable sight. Talk to our destination specialists about incorporating Mulu National Park into your tailor-made itinerary, and take a look at a few ideas to inspire the rest of your trip…
The main caves are more than enough for many travellers, but for those keen to head deeper underground there are opportunities to try adventure caving: climbing, abseiling, crawling and squeezing through some of Mulu’s less-visited caverns. Time spent above ground in the park can also yield some very impressive sights. Alongside encountering Borneo’s iconic wildlife, those looking for a bracing physical challenge can have a go at completing the Pinnacles Trek. This test of endurance involves spending the night at a basic camp deep in the jungle, before clambering up iron ladders lashed to the rock face, then gazing out over the Pinnacles: a dramatic stone forest of rocks stabbing skywards…
From caves to cats, longhouses to laksa, the energetic capital of Sarawak is a city full of diverse sights, traditions and cultures. Kuching has managed to stay somewhat under the tourism radar, and is somewhere that everyone at Selective Asia would be very happy to spend a few days. It’s certainly no Bangkok or Delhi, but that in turn comes with its advantages. Kuching is easily explored on foot, and a wander through the city centre, and along the waterfront, offers up a visual feast of architectural delights. Classic Colonial grandeur sits alongside 19th-century Chinese shophouses, ornate temples, a golden-domed mosque, traditional Malay buildings, and the distinctive modern payung (umbrella) roof of the Sarawak State Legislative Assembly Building.
The waterfront is also the place to be in the evenings, when it comes alive with buskers and food stalls. Whether you decide to eat there, head to one of the bustling hawker centres, or opt for an upmarket restaurant, this is arguably one of the best cities in Borneo for eating out. Once you’ve finished exploring, cycle out through coconut groves and kampongs dotted with wood and thatch stilt houses to visit National Parks, mangrove forests, the turtles of Satang Island, or Semenggok Wildlife Rehabilitation Centre, home to semi-wild orangutans rescued from captivity.
If you’re keen to continue exploring rural Borneo, a stay in a traditional longhouse can offer a window into the world of the area’s tribal cultures. Visitors to the Batang Ai (a not inconsiderable 7-hour drive from Kuching) will meet members of the Iban community, Sarawak’s largest ethnic group, whose ancestors were infamous as headhunters. They still live in a predominantly traditional style, relying on hunting, fishing and small-scale agriculture.
Given the distances involved, we’d recommend spending at least two nights with the Iban. Some of the most accessible longhouses are considerably less ‘traditional’ than you might have imagined, and you can expect to see plenty of modern tech, mobile phones, televisions and concrete, but the customs of community living in them are very much intact. If you stay for a third night, you’ll have time to go deeper into the jungle on foot and by longboat. Walk through this lush habitat, learn about indigenous plants, and see how the communities coexist with their magnificent surroundings. Bed-down in simple, shared accommodation; enjoy traditional entertainment with dancing and gong music; and (if our experiences are anything to go by) be plied with copious amounts of home-brewed tuak rice wine!
Sarawak state boasts more than enough to keep you busy, but neighbouring Sabah is also overflowing with highlights. From South-East Asia’s highest mountain peak to a world-famous orangutan sanctuary, there are wildlife hotspots, National Parks and towering rainforests aplenty, along with top options for beach-style R&R. Ample flight connections link Kuching with Sabah’s capital, Kota Kinabalu, which is a connecting hub for all of Sabah’s main attractions and mere minutes from some of Borneo’s best beaches.
The guide price of £2,190US$2,490 is a per person price (not including international flights) staying 4 nights in Kuching, 2 nights in Mulu and 2 nights in Batang Ai, all in our favourite mid-range hotels & lodges.
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