Photo: Go wandering.

How to best enjoy Mulu National Park

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Mulu is very much the flagship tourist destination of Sarawak, and for good reason: it is breathtakingly beautiful in parts. However, it would be wise to realise a few things before going as a healthy dose of managing expectations will contribute to the enjoyment of your trip to Mulu.

Taken during ’wet’ season!

Taken during ‘wet’ season.

The food, although not the worse, can get very samey, especially if you are staying for more than a few days. Things are no better if you eat outside of the park as all places offer the same types of thing: rice, veggies and meat. Bring some of your own supplies (you’ll have to do this anyway, if you are doing the Pinnacles or Summit trek)—failing this bring some condiments to provide some variety.

Mulu is it’s own economic microcosm and as such, everything is around 20 percent more expensive. This includes snacks and water, so again, bring your own. MasWings has a 10 kilogram limit of luggage but you can pay for excess baggage at one ringgit per kilo, which still makes it cheaper for you to bring your own supplies. You will pay a premium for water at Mulu, so if you can, bring one of those water cooler bottles with you and top up as need be.

High Season = Lots of High Vis wearing tourists

High season = lots of high vis wearing tourists.

Try to book at least two weeks in advance for accommodation and longer treks during peak season (June till September) otherwise you will find yourself stuck in Miri for a week waiting for spaces to become available. Even better, don’t go in peak season. Not only will this give you more flexibility but you’ll also miss the hordes of people.

Also, peak season tends to be the ‘dry’ season in Sarawak and it can get really hot; if you choose to come in ‘wet’ season then the temperature is much more bearable. In any case, the ‘wet’ seasons here are not really that wet, just a couple of hours of rain in the afternoon and a few showers at night, but probably not anything that will ruin your travel plans.

Deer and Lang Cave
The walk to Deer and Lang’s Cave is unspectacular and it’s all on boardwalks. The guide will sometimes stop and point out interesting plants but this is an otherwise uninspiring walk through secondary jungle. Once you get to the caves though, things really start to look up. You arrive at the bat observatory and take a small rest before heading up to the caves. Once inside the caves, it is pretty dark so be sure to bring a torch, especially as some of the cave formations are pretty amazing. Highlights of the caves are Adam and Eve’s Shower, The Garden of Eden and Abe Lincoln’s profile.

Yet more incredible still is the mass exodus of bats from these caves at around 18:00. The clever people at Mulu park have built a bat observatory, which is essentially a semi-circle of seats facing the mouths of the two caves. It is quite possible to sit here until dark to watch the millions of bats streaming out like trails of smoke from the caves. However, if stuff like this bores you or you don’t want to walk back to the HQ in the dark, then you can leave before the show is over; just make sure that your guide knows not to have to wait for you.

Walks leave at 14:00 and 14:30 and take 4-5 hours.

Wind and Clearwater Cave
Unlike the journey to the Deer and Lang’s cave, the trip to the Wind and Clearwater Caves is done by long boat (for which an extra 30 ringgit is charged). On your way there is a stop-off at Batu Bungan, a Penan resettlement area where you are invited to buy souvenirs or try your hand at using a blow pipe.

Wind Cave will be the first you come to; there is a smallish walk to the entrance of the cave which is on an upward gradient. Be sure to wear good shoes as it can get quite slippery. This cave is tenuously named Wind Cave because at one point in a cave passage there is a slight breeze. There are some massive cave formations in here and Mulu Parks have lit them in a really atmospheric way but again, all walking is done on boardwalks.

At this point you may be all caved out but fear not, for Clearwater Cave is impressive in its own right. There is a slightly longer walk to the entrance to this cave, in fact the park guides take great relish in informing you that there are 200 steps up to the mouth of the cave. However, there are stop-off points along the way where you can rest. If you’ve already been to the other caves before Clearwater, you may find the cave itself a bit samey, until you hear the rushing water below. This is the only cave open at Mulu which has an underwater river running through, and it’s so long that even after two decades of mapping, they still haven’t found the source of the river.

It is likely that you will be a bit hot and bothered after your half-day of traipsing through the caves; lucky then that the river that runs through Clearwater Cave forms a delightfully clear pool at the foot of the cave. You are encouraged to swim here and it is advisable to bring a picnic lunch if you want to stay a bit longer.

Trips leave at 08:45 and 09:15 and take 4-5 hours.

The Canopy Walk
The walk to the Canopy is very easy as it’s all along a boardwalk but the actual Canopy Walk, which is 480 metres long, can be disconcerting for those afraid of heights. Apparently it is possible to see animals sometimes at the canopy but we saw none when we went on the 10:00 walk. If you want to see animals, try to get on the 07:00 walk as this is when wildlife is most active in the canopy.

Walks depart at 07:00, 08:30, 09:00, 10:00, 10:30, 13:00, 14:00 and take two hours.

The Night Shift
The Night Shift does exactly what it says on the tin; it’s a night walk. Again, it’s a pretty easy walk as it’s all on boardwalks. If you don’t have a torch then your guide will provide one.

On the night we went, there wasn’t much wildlife around as it had rained a couple of hours beforehand but we did see some insects, such as stick insects and spiders. You’ll also hear frogs everywhere but you’ll be lucky if you can spot one.

This is an awkwardly timed walk as it’s slap bang in the middle of dinner but if you try to get back for 21:00 then it’s possible to get back in time for last orders or if you’re the really organised type, you can always eat before but don’t blame us if you get hungry at midnight.

Trip departs at 19:00 (book before noon each day) and takes about two hours.

The Pinnacles Trek
The Pinnacles are the iconic image of Mulu National Park. Their jaggedy edges rise up out of Gunung Api like a spear coming out the top of a blow pipe so it stands to reason that the Pinnacles Trek must be booked at least a week in advance and more during peak season.

It starts at the park HQ with a river journey and follows the Wind and Clearwater Cave itinerary for the first part of the day. Then while the others head back to HQ, you’ll continue upriver to a stop-off point where you walk to Camp 5. This walk is on flat ground and will take around two to three hours (a very conservative estimate).

Camp 5 is hostel-like accommodation. Here you will be allocated a kitchen space where you will cook the food that you should have brought with you. You will use Camp 5 as your base camp and it’s fine to leave some stuff here while you climb the Pinnacles on day two. It’s really important to bring enough food and water with you as you can’t buy anything at this point.

On day two you’re likely to wake up really early and attempt the Pinnacles. Be warned that if the weather is really bad then the guides can cancel with only a partial refund on offer.

Although we haven’t actually climbed the Pinnacles, we’ve been assured that it’s a hard climb and a relatively good level of fitness is needed; a few patches require a strong head for heights. You have been warned. The climb to the top and back is done in one day so you should arrive back before dark, but as always, it’s good to remember to take a torch with you.

Day three is a leisurely day as you’ll just be making your way back to the park HQ. Hopefully you’ll be less laden with food and the walk from Camp 5 to the boat pick-up point will be not so strenuous. Arrival time back at HQ is estimated at 14:00-15:00.

Bring your own food, water, blanket and mosquito net.

Trips leave starting at 09:15 daily and the walk takes 3 days, 2 nights.

The Summit Trail
The trek to the top of Gunung Mulu is not to be taken lightly. It requires a lot of walking—sometimes up to eight hours in a day. The whole trek is 24 kilometres long and reaches an altitude of 2,377 metres; my maths isn’t great but that’s a whole lot of steep.

You will be sleeping in basic conditions in camps along the way and share the cooking duties with your guide. This is perhaps the most difficult walk at Mulu and I can’t stress enough how fit you have to be for this trek.

The trip leaves daily at 09:15 and takes four days and three nights.

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What next?

 Browse our independent reviews of places to stay in and around Gunung Mulu National Park.
 Read up on where to eat on Gunung Mulu National Park.
 Check out our listings of other things to do in and around Gunung Mulu National Park.
 Read up on how to get to Gunung Mulu National Park.
 Do you have travel insurance yet? If not, find out why you need it.
 Planning on riding a scooter in Gunung Mulu National Park? Please read this.
 Browse tours in Malaysia with Tourradar.

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