Preparing to leave for Mulu, I’d prepped myself that I would be away from civilization and communication. I knew there were some caves and that that was the main reason people went there but I didn’t realize how inspiring caves can be! I realize that sentence sounds incredibly geeky, but after my time here in Mulu, I feel inspired to take on more adventurous caves, treks and the like. I would recommend a visit here to anyone visiting Borneo/Malaysia/South East Asia. However, it is expensive in comparison with what I’ve been spending on my trip so far. It’s become like a mini holiday in Centre Parcs purely due to the sudden increase in my spending. I found pre-travel info a little weak, so here’s what I now know in case you’re up for being inspired….
Arrival by plane is the only feasible way to get to Mulu, which had helped in me thinking it would be totally isolated. Therefore, I was expecting a tiny plane with propellers and 20 seats, similar to a domestic plane I’d taken in Costa Rica a few years ago. However, this plane was much bigger! Yes, it had propellers but there were much more seats. And we got a complimentary Milo!
When you arrive at Mulu, you’re greeted by numerous signboards offering a ride to the park headquarters. It’s only about 1 km away, but for 5RM (1GBP) it’s no hassle taking one of these sign bearing folk up on their offer.
Also worth noting at this point is that before departure, from what I’d read in the Lonely Planet and online, I was led to believe that you had to book accommodation in advance, and that the options at the park were the only options. The cheapest option being 40RM per night for a dorm bed in the park hostel (as opposed to 20RM average I’ve been paying elsewhere in Malaysia). However, when you take one of these rides to the park, you will see a few “homestay” places dotted along the road to the park. Jesper, a Swedish man I met on my tours, was staying in one for 15RM a night – quite a saving on my bed in the park hostel! Info that these existed prior to arrival would have saved me a small fortune. However, you get what you pay for, and from what Jesper told me, the shower sounds rather piddley and his mosquito net a necessity.
The first things you have to do on arrival are register and pay your 10RM park entrance fee. Now is also a good time to plan your time here as trips can fill up fast, so the quicker you book the better. There’re plenty of clear leaflets and a map to help you decide what’s best for you if you have no idea. I would recommend checking the website beforehand to give you an idea of what’s on offer. Be warned: at this point, you will spend more than you initially planned!!
If, like me, you’ve never been caving before, I would recommend the following (apart from Lagang Cave), which is also the itinerary I did;
Day 1: Deer Cave and Lang Cave at 2pm, including the “bat exodus” as they flock out between 4.30 and 6pm, just in time for you finishing the caves. Lang Cave is full or limestone formations of stalactites and stalagmites, whereas Deer Cave is full of bat poo. I was slightly worried about just how bad the smell was going to be when I saw our guide rubbing Vicks under his nostrils before entering, but in all honesty, rather unexpectedly, it smelt like Veet!!
Day 2: Cave of the Winds and Clearwater Cave at 8.45am, including a longboat trip down a very shallow river, a stop at a local village selling crafts (which you will feel pressured to buy…) and a longboat trip back. Expect to return around 12.30 – just in time for lunch before…
Canopy Walk at 2pm. After an hour or so, you reach the longest canopy walkway in the world, which is quite scary at times! The bridges wobble and shake, are attached to the trees with rope and only two people are allowed on at a time. It is good fun though!
Day 3: Moonmilk Cave is the only cave that can be explored without a guide, you just need to let the Security Office know your plans. I did this with Jesper. It was a good workout, with over 800 steps in total. However, we ended up at Cave of the Winds, and had to turn back, adding another few hundred steps to the challenge!
Lagang Cave. This is billed as a “tourist” and “adventure” cave. I was well up for that! A nice little introduction into adventure caving for me, breaking me in gently. But no. To link tourist to the word adventure they don’t get rid of the boardwalk, they just turn off the lights. To make my first experience of “adventure” caving even more adventurous, I was asked after 10 minutes in the cave by my guide what religion I was.
I shook my head, “I have no religion.” Those words I should have learnt not to utter after meeting my crazy LOGOS HOPE! friend at the bus stop in Penang.
His eyes lit up.
“Who made the earth and the universe? Who put all these things here? Do they ever stop?”
“Well, it’s just nature isn’t it? It’s infinite. Nature did it, Mother Nature.” I considered adding a “Mother Nature is my God” but my better judgment helped me bite my lip.
The rest of the journey I was lumbered with stories of how he found God, how God saved him and his granddad can perform miracles, how he went to Singapore for two months to train to be a Pastor, and how one day, I too, will find God. Yeah that’s not gonna be today. Or tomorrow. Or even the day after that, or the day after…you get the picture.
He then proceeded to tell me how he was dating a beautiful Hindu girl (she must have been a stunner – he was always emphasizing the “beautiful”), but then his cousin introduced him to his (now) wife and he had to make a choice. He had to think of his future. So he send a letter to his now wife and signed it with his blood, saying “I’m deadly serious, if you are too, write back with your blood.” All this and he’s still dating the poor Hindu.
“Then one day, I receive the letter. I can feel my heart pumping in my chest…I open the letter….and there it is, her blood. I then had to break off with the Hindu and we soon married.” No mercy when it comes to bloody love.
I took this opportunity to ask about other religions if God was the one who made everything.
“Well, we do not offend other religions.”
“But if they believe in Allah, or Buddha, or Vishnu and not God…one of you must be wrong?”
“Well, we do not speak badly of other religions but, when I pray, I pray in my heart, and God comes to me. It is personal. When the Muslims pray, they use the megaphone. The “Barrr barrrr mmmm bahhhh”. How can this be personal? How can you talk to God?”
“Yeah, but I think that’s just the call to prayer. That tells them it’s time to pray. Then they go in and pray individually in silence, right?”
“Yes they do, yes.”
He’d seen miracles apparently, performed by God, but he wasn’t aware of the miracles of other people, of their beliefs and their rituals. That’s what’s really amazing in life – diversity, and I don’t have to believe in God or Allah or whoever you wish to pray to to be able to see that.
Be prepared to open up your wallet in Mulu. The food costs between 10RM and 16RM, and at least 3RM for a drink. If I was in the city or by a beach I would stretch out my snacks and go for one meal a day but when you’re out walking and sweating like crazy all day, you need to bite the bullet and pay for two meals a day (breakfast comes in the form of a token included in the accommodation price). There are a few restaurants along the road to the airport, but unless you walk quite a way, I think the prices are pretty much the same. As for water, I was not prepared to pay the price of a meal for a bottle of water. Luckily in the hostel, there were a couple of kettles, so I just boiled tap water up and left it to cool whenever I wanted to refill. This works fine until some [insert expletive here] Germans come along and reboil and steal all your precious water. [Insert further expletive for emphasis].
Altogether, my bill at Mulu was 270RM for accommodation and activities. Food must have come to at least 70-80RM and the return flight was 306RM…which comes to a grand total of….around 650RM (120GBP). So far the most pricey venture of my trip.
Was it worth it? Yes and no. Yes the experience was definitely worth it. I had an excellent time and as a novice to this kind of thing, I loved the “tame” adventure quality that Mulu has. No because the food and accommodation was way too expensive. I wish I’d known about the homestay options, although I would probably have eaten in the park still, because the food is very good and the price variation minimal. All things considered, do Mulu!