Gunung Mulu National Park embodies the biodiversity of the equatorial rainforest and serves as a true natural wonder. The park itself is tucked deep inside the Borneo rainforest and is only accessible by plane (unless you’re up for a three day river boat ride!). While it may be somewhat difficult and expensive to reach, its remoteness lends itself to unrivaled beauty and adventure.
As your flight touches down at Mulu Airport, it’s apparent you’ve left civilization behind..aside from the tourists on your flight – each camera-carrying man, woman and child outfitted in squeaky clean, new outdoor apparel. The airport itself is extremely small consisting of a one room departure hall lined with your typical plastic airport seats and a one-room arrival hall leading straight through large, wooden double doors to the passenger pick up. If you aren’t staying at the Royal Mulu Resort and instead are staying in one of the few accommodations within the park, you’ll head to a small kiosk on the right-hand side of the stairs to purchase your transport to Mulu. While the quick ride costs much more than is necessary for the 5 minutes you’ll be in the van, it’s still relatively cheap at 7.00 ringlet per person. It’s here you can also prearrange and pre-pay for pick up.
The park itself is only a matter of kilometers down a narrow stretch of blacktop. As you arrive prepare to haul your luggage across a well-constructed suspension bridge hanging above the murky, green waters of the Sungai Melinau river. Pass security and the park office and accommodation registration is to the main building to your right. It’s here you’ll check-in for your bungalow, hostel, longhouse or chalet room and arrange your guides for tours of the caves.
The main area of the park is well-kept, clean and open, but this isn’t a five-star resort and honestly we would want it to be – so don’t expect too much. Worn brown, wooden walkways lead to and from the various accommodations all surrounding a badminton court..just in case you want get out in the heat and play after an already exhausting day of exploring! If you are looking for another place to stay, there is a Mulu Marriott located outside the park.
Food is available inside the park at Cafe Mulu from 7:30am to 8:30pm. While there isn’t a wide selection, the options are decent and include mostly Asian-influenced dishes and some western-style foods. Breakfast is included in your room rate, but the options are limited. Other food options include a small bar and restaurant direction outside Mulu National Park across from the entrance bridge or snacks, which can be purchased at the Mulu gift shops alongside the cafe.
We stayed in the Begonia Bungalow – a beautiful, well-appointed cabin sitting directly across from the Mulu Hostel. For a full resort review click here. During our two days within the park we were able to do just about everything we wanted, with the exception of a few tours that were already sold out – which is why planning is the key to any trip to Mulu National Park.
Planning your time within the national park itself isn’t necessarily an easy task, unless you prearrange everything through an outside tour group. We found it extremely difficult to find information on tours, accommodation and guides through the internet. The park requires you to have a guide to enter any cave within park boundaries, and several of the tours sell out in advance. However, we were lucky and were able to easily arrange spots in tours to all of the tourist caves upon arrival. To be honest, the best way to learn about the tours offered and plan and arrange your schedule accordingly is to e-mail the park office ahead of your visit. The wonderful staff responds promptly with a list of the guided activities for you to book in advance of your visit. Also, don’t hesitate to e-mail the park about the availability of accommodation. It’s often difficult to secure lodging within the park as it sells out online months in advance. While the online booking tool showed no availability, a quick e-mail to the park revealed a cancellation left one bungalow open for several days, and we jumped on the opportunity.
The first thing to to note is the Adventure Caving, Pinnacles, Canopy and Night Walk tours should be booked ahead of your trip to Mulu as they are the activities that fill up fast and will most likely be fully booked by the time you arrive. All other tours can be arranged with the National Park upon arrival at Mulu.
Here’s a look at what’s offered through the national park…
Clearwater and Cave of the Winds Tour
Tours leave via boat from the front office at 8:45am and 9:15am.
Cost: RM 50 per person (20 for boat transport and 30 for the tour)
Description: As you climb into a small wooden boat, a small engine powers you up river through beautiful jungle and alongside small, rundown Borneo homes. Your first stop is the Batu Bungan village and market. The Batu Bungan village is a tiny, impoverish village on the banks of the river. The Penan people have set up an extremely small market beneath a tin pavilion, which is designed to sell cheap cultural items to tourists. While the market isn’t much to see, you’ll be amazed at their way of life and reading the information panels on how the tribe has been forced from a hunting, gathering and foraging people into village life is eye-opening to say the least. You’ll get back on the boats for the short ride upstream to Clearwater cave. It’s a simple ramp to the top and down into the cave, but it’s well worth the effort and is still suitable for all ages and fitness levels. You’ll then walk to Cave of the Winds, and have a short break at the base before climbing the 200 stairs up. You can swim in a very cold, but crystal clear (unless it has recently rained) pool at the base of the cave. It’s one of my favorite in Mulu. The stalagmites and stalactites are a beautiful display of time and nature. A boat ride brings you back to the main office by 12:00pm or 1:00pm.
The Fast Lane in Lagang Cave
A three hour adventure and tourist cave combination
Cost: RM 55 per person
Description: The fast Lane is a combination of typical tourist cave exploration and adventure caving. You will reach the cave by boat and a short walk. The cave itself is 1.5 kilometers of passageways and is filled with stalactites. Only some areas of the cave are lit so you’ll be given a flash light. If you want to see some cave creatures – this is a good tour for you. You can see blue racer snakes, insects and bats. It’s not as extreme as you might imagine and is suitable for most tourists. Fast Lane tours depart at 1:30pm.
Deer and Lang Cave
These two very different caves sit just 150 meters apart yet are very different.
Cost: RM 20 per person
Description: Tours to Deer and Lang cave leave at 2:00pm and 2:30pm each day from the park office. Lang cave happens to be the smallest tourist cave in Mulu, but it doesn’t disappoint. The cave is filled with amazing formations including stalactites, stalagmites, shawls, pools and helictites. Nearby Deer Cave is the largest tourist cave at Mulu, and arguably has the largest cave opening or passage in the entire world. The passage itself is quite a site, but once inside the musty smell of guano stings your nose and the cries of bats getting situated overhead fills your ears. The walkways are covered with a thin layer of guano here, but its not a difficult walk through the cave. Once at the end of the walkway, you can peer into the Garden of Eden before returning to the amphitheater below to watch the great bat exodus from Deer Cave. Three million bats sleeping inside stream from the cave at dusk. You’ll return to the park office by 6pm or 7pm – it would be a stretch to catch the Night Walk after the Deer and Lang Cave tour, but it can be done.
The Garden of Eden and Valley Walk
This guided walk takes you through Deer Cave and into the Garden of Eden and there is an option for adding the Valley Walk
Cost: RM 75 per person Garden of Eden
RM 105 per person Garden of Eden and Valley Walk
Description: You’ll start to the Garden of Eden by following the same 3kilometer pathway to Deer Cave. Once you make it through Deer Cave you’ll climb down to an underground river and to pools of water at the end of Deer Cave. You will be allowed to swim in the pools. You’ll then exit the cave to watch the great bat exodus that’s a part of the Deer and Lang Cave tour. The Garden of Eden tour leaves part headquarter at 11:30am. If you choose to do the extension of the Valley Walk, you’ll leave from the office at 9:30am and complete the Garden of Eden tour, but in addition you have the chance to walk, swim or climb up the Eden River to a trail that winds through beautiful waterfalls and pool. You have another opportunity to swim before making the trek back to park headquarters.
The Night Walk
Just as the title suggests this is a guided walk along the rainforest floor to see the creepy, crawly creatures that come out at night.
Cost: RM 10 per person
Description: The night walk departs from the park office at 7pm and lasts approximately two hours.
A raised tree-based walkway leads you through the rainforest’s tree tops
Cost: RM 35 per person
Description: The canopy skywalk is 480 meters long and is touted as the longest tree-based walkway in the world. You’re 10 to 30 meters above the ground as you learn about life in the rainforest. Only 8 people are allowed per group, and they fill up fast so make sure to book in advance of your trip to Mulu.
The renowned Pinnacles require a three day dedication to reach.
Description: You leave the park office early on day one and take a boat to Cave of the Winds and Clearwater caves (optional) before taking the boat a hour upstream to Kuala Litut. Yes, this boat ride is notorious for not being much of a ride at all and instead requiring you to get out and push the boat thanks to low water levels. Once you reach Kuala Litut, it’s a 9 kilometer walk to Camp 5 where you will be given a sleeping mat and shown a small cooking area where you can prepare the food you brought. Day two starts the difficult and supposedly dangerous climb to the Pinnacles. While it’s only 2.4 kilometers, fit and experienced climbers can reach their destination in two or three hours, according to Mulu National Park. If you’re not fit, guides say it can take up to five hours. If you don’t reach what’s called the mini-pinnacles in three hours your guide will turn you back to Camp 5. If you’ve made it to the Pinnacles, it may take up to five hours to return to Camp 5 where you will spend the night and return to park headquarters in the morning.
There are a number of free walks within Mulu National Park as well. You can attempt the Paku Valley Loop, which is an 8 kilometer round trip loop that takes five to six hour to complete. If you don’t want to finish the entire loop you can walk along the Melinau River to a viewing platform (425 steps) before returning in two to three hours times. Another option is to follow the path to Deer Cave and instead of going to the cave itself, turn left toward the summit trail and walk to the Paku Waterfall for a swim. It’s a 2 to 3 hour return hike. The national park does ask that if you choose to attempt the relatively easy Paku Valley Loop that you register with park security before you go. A much more family friendly activity is following the free Botanical Heritage Trail. It’s a simple 1.5 kilometer boardwalk that winds through the rainforest and is filled with information panel about life in the very different ecosystem. The Kenyalang Loop is another good option. At only 2.5 kilometers it should only take one to two hours to complete.
Again, all activities aside from the Pinnacles, The Night Walk and The Mulu Canopy Skywalk can be arranged through the park office upon arrival. However, if you would like to reserve a spot ahead of time for one of the more popular tours mentioned above – you will need to e-mail the park in advance. For any questions contact: firstname.lastname@example.org or you can always log on to the Mulu’s website for more information.