Sunday, May 15, 2011

The Adventures of Mulu - Unveiled and Uncovered

Finally, the long awaited blog is here! I'm just 1 week late, that's not too bad considering that it could have been worse... I will be as detailed as possible without boring readers with unnecessary information, but at the same time provide as much information about Mulu Caves as possible because I really think you people should visit this place. But then again, I'm long-winded hahaha so I don't care! I'll just ramble on and on and on.........

Short introduction on the place - Gunung Mulu. This is a Unesco World Heritage site, with the biggest caves amidst the natural rainforest (one of the few remaining in Malaysia). Not to be missed are the Pinnacles, limestone formations that looked beautiful (similar to Stone Forest in China, but you have to scale 1500m to view Pinnacles)

How we came about deciding on this location? Actually the idea of a short week long getaway stemmed from Last year, sometime end Q1 of 2010. When we were talking about our Beijing Oct 2010 trip, I planted a little seed in Angeline's mind about a short getaway prior to Beijing (Aug 2010). We started looking at places (Perlis and Langkawi were shortlisted) but the plan fell through as our vacation days could not coincide. So KIV for 2010 while we concentrated on BJ 2010. But the little seed was planted and cannot be deseeded (courtesy of my constant watering). So after BJ, I started the talk once again for a short getaway and somehow, it became Mulu! I can't really remember how Mulu came into the picture, but i think it had something to do with adventure, nature and Angeline suggesting Kuching to visit friend. So Mulu it was, and we started planning sometime end Q1 2011. Come to think of it, i'm actually glad we chose Mulu cos it was really fun!

So looking through the official website, we started to draft our activities to fit into the plan and decided upon a number of activities to fill up 5 days of Mulu. Of cos, Pinnacles looked like the most interesting thing to do given that I like hiking...So we decided upon it, thinking it shld not have been too hard (but he he he...more on that later). Then we planned a 1 day stop in Kuching (visit Angeline's friend) and fly back via Miri (a boring little town). So that was how it all started. Anyone interested in knowing more about Mulu Park can refer to this website

On 29 April 2011, we embarked on our flight to Kuching where we later spent 1 day touring the entire Kuching town.

The Kuching River

Truth be told, Kuching is small and there's really nothing much to do. We woke up early and left to 'tour' at about 9am, thinking early bird gets the worm and that we might have much things to do. But by like 1030am, we were bored and racking our brains on what to do.. Of cos unless you're interested in the cultural village and the Bako National Park, then you can easily spend 2 days here...

So we decided to take a 1hour sampan ride along the Kuching river to kinda waste time...

On the sampan

Then on 1 May, we finally embarked on our Mulu adventure, starting with a 1.5hr flight on a propeller plane! The flight is actually rather smooth, and half empty

Propeller plane we took to and from Mulu. They serve drinks; and food if the flight time is longer

From the Mulu airport (a really small airport), it's a 2min shuttle to the Park HQ where we booked our accomodation. You can actually walk from the airport (it's only 1.5Km) but since Angeline had a large suitcase, we opted for the van...It's only RM5 each per way

Crossing the bridge from the drop off pick to enter the Park HQ

Actually there are 2 more accomodations located outside of Mulu Park HQ that offer rooms (or rather beds) at more cheaper rate, but we didnt know. We thought the only accomo was inside Park HQ and the highly atas Royal Mulu. So anyway, if you want, can consider. One of them is Rainforest lodge at RM35 per bed (it's a dorm), the other is like a homestay. Both have very basic facilities but I think they're sufficient. Our first night, we booked into the 20+bed dorm for RM40 each (with b'fast). It's actually not too bad and the bathroom is attached to the room.

After checking in, we went for the Deer and Lang cave tour (RM20 each). FYI, 90% of the activities in Mulu Park have to be guided. It's compulsory. I guess that comes with being UNESCO listed. With the exception of like 2 walks and wandering around the lodging area and I suppose bat viewing, all other visits to caves etc have to be guided.

1st Lang cave, limestone caves with loads of Stalactites (top down) and Stalagmites (bottom up). They are quite impressive but lightings within the caves are alittle lacking I would say. Compared to Halong Bay caves where they have loads of lightings and Naracoote caves... Photographers enthusiast, no big tripods are allowed. Yes, small ones ok (which i brought along)

The beautiful limestone formations in Lang Cave

After Lang cave, we visit Deer cave, world's largest natural rock chamber!! It's really really big and awesome! Standing inside you just feel awed by the sheer size of it!! It can accomodate London's St Paul cathedral 5 times over and fit 40 Boeing 747 planes side by side!!! Why is it called Deer cave? Apparently, long time ago, deers are attracted to this cave to feed on guano (bat's shit), hence the name.

Just at the far end from the opening is Garden of Eden It just looks like a mystical valley! If you have time, can take a tour to this place. We didnt have the time unfortunately

After the cave tours, it's time for the viewing of bats when they fly out of the caves in search of food! Hence, pls choose the 230pm Cave tour, as by the time you're done with the caves, it's almost just right for the bats which come out around 530-6pm. We went for the 2pm tour, and ended up waiting from 5pm. But the viewing area has chairs and seats, so it's not a bad wait.

2nd April starts our adventure - Pinnacles trek. We were worried that we had to pay for 3 as the day before, there were only 2 of us confirmed on the trek. Luckily 3 more people paid for the trek on the same day. Hence we came to know the 3 as Max (from wales), Edward (Holland) and Gabo (Hungarian, we think his name sounds like this...)

While waiting for the briefing, we were sorta shocked to hear that Pinnacles trek is actually harder than Mt K trek! Ultra shockness! Angeline went completely white! We had signed up for it, thinking it's just a mid-level trek uphill. I've trekked up Gunung Belumut and Stong (over 1000m) and did a number of trekking in Thailand, so i figured (at 1st) Pinnacles can't be that bad, if not we would have heard of it way b4! But this was confirmed by the guide, and Angeline was just simple frightened. We talked about it, and decided to give it a day to think over if she'll do it..

Our adventure starts with a boat ride to the Clearwater caves. The day started pretty cooling only to be followed by slight drizzle

Boat ride to the caves. It was drizzling already

Clearwater cave is Asia's longest cave. You can actually do an advanced adventure caving within the caves!

Just when we were finished with the caves, it started pouring and we had to simply walk in the pouring rain, and ended up soaking wet all the way... And this pouring rain contributed to more adventures along the way

After the clearwater caves, we took the boat to the start of our trek to Camp 5. It's a 8km trek, which on a normal good day is fairly simple and relaxing. Alas, this was not a normal day. Heavy rainfall meant flooding of the lower lands, and what was once an almost stagnant trickle of flowing water became a pool of rushing river! We first started with walking through knee high water, then proceeded to crossing a quick flowing river that is almost thigh high, not once but twice! We totally had no idea that was to be expected!! Can't imagine doing it alone, think I would have been washed away..

Of cos, leeches were the last thing I expected until Angeline felt the 1st bite! That was when it dawned upon me that leech bites feel that way and I discovered I had been bitten a couple of times prior.. And that was not the last of it. Subsequently, I was bitten alot more times, and suffered 2 'fatal' bites that just simply would not stop bleeding! Yes, it continued to bleed for hours even after I arrived at Camp 5, after a refreshing shower... So that was how everyone in the Camp knew I was bleeding, cos I kept going back to change the dressing to soak up the blood. It wasnt until late night, just b4 we went to bed that the bleeding finally stopped. I bet the Vampires would have loved to meet me then...

Of cos the trek was made harder by the fact that we had to pack our own b'fast, lunch and dinner for the 3d2n trek, so that's like extra 10kg of load...Depending on how big an appetite you have.

One of the nasty leech bite and it still hasn't completely healed

Camp 5. It's pretty decent with bathroom facilities, and sleeping rooms (slept on mats only anyway) and a full kitchen (minus food)

River along the Camp5

The next day, we started our trek at 7am, and was told that we had to reach the ladders (about 400m away from the top) before 11am, no later, if not we will not be allowed to proceed. Angeline had decided by then that she'll stop at mini Pinnacle (at 900m in distance). That is the point of decision where you will be allowed to trek back alone. If not, at least 2 people are required b4 you can return back to Camp. I felt alittle bad that I had dragged her into this, so I resolved to carry on no matter what..

Break time. Look closely, he really looks like Novak

After about 1hr, we reached mini Pinnacles! Frankly speaking the 1st 900m was the hardest as the guides were moving a little too fast and it was hard to catch up. Once after, you get used to the pace and it was not as daunting. Angeline made it to Mini Pinnacles when we had all thought she returned at 800m. Good Job Angeline!! You can do it the next time, I'm sure!!

One of the many stunts performed along the way, courtesy of Max. FYI, I slipped a couple of times downhill

The climb is alot of hands and legs work cos alot of times, especially towards the top, you really had to do abit of rock climbing, scaling rocks & ladders and ropes. When they say this is harder than Mt K, it's cos of the steep slopes and pointy rocks all the way up

We reached the top in record time (3.5hrs) at 1030am!! WooHoo we were that fast!

Lunch break at the top at 1500m

The Money shot! Group photo time! On 2nd thoughts, we were alittle serious in this shot

Our trek up Pinnacles included another group which was doing Headhunters trail. Pinnacles is part of the trail. Another 5 people - 2 from Denmark (1 of whom bears an uncanny resemblance to Novak Djokovic) and 3 from Russia.

Another tip - Always bring playing cards! At least 1 pack. What do you know tucked away from civilisation amongst the trees and bushes with a bunch of people?? Play cards of course!! Else i'm sure you'll die of boredom, unless you fancy night trekking and a game of hide & seek in the woods... We spent the 2 nights playing cards and having a ball of a time!! Two new games learnt & memorised (hopefully) - Shit Head (confirmation from the master himself) and 31. I shall commit them to my long term memory and bring it out whenever

The next morning, 830am move out time, and we started our trek back to Park HQ. Thinking that we may encountered the same adventure we had on the way to the Camp, it was lucky that we didnt! Haha, although some people were definitely disappointed.. I was glad cos I wore my trek shoes and didnt want it to be soaking wet. My nice comfy sandals was a victim of the muddy grounds and flash floods on the way to the Camp RIP :(. Now I have reason to go shop for another pair!

Indiana jones-que bridge with 2 wooden planks. One mistep and you're in for some fun

Without the flood, the trek was alot easier, also contributed by the fact that our loads were all lighter (no more food)!

The weather was nice, sunny and hot, so I was literally like an open water tap, except what flows out is perspiration....

We checked into the Longhouse (private room with 4 beds) upon return. Decided to reward ourselves abit. It's nice, own bathrooms with aircon (that stays on for a limited time). If you're a group of 4, and don't mind spending alittle bit more, can consider this. Or there's actually a chalet that can sleep like 8 pple! Yes we checked out the entire area. It's like RM200 for 2 people and you get the entire chalet! That's like only RM20 more exp than longhouse. Extra person is RM0 each up to a max of 8, that works out to be like RM62.50 each if you have 8 people

After we reached the Park HQ, onto other activities!! We decided to do DIY walks to Tree Top Tower and Moonmilk..

Tree Top was a disappointment. Yes it's FOC but even if you have the time, Don't Do it.. I would rather slack around then walk up the tower and see nothing...

Then we proceeded to the Moonmilk walk, not fully expecting how long the trek is and what to see. At the base of daunting 425 steps, we looked at each other and thought 'Is this part of the walk?' and decided against going up, seeing that black clouds were starting to form. So we turned back, and within seconds, it poured!! Poured really heavily!! No umbrella or raincoats, we braced the rain and walked back the whole 30mins or so. You couldnt really run as the ground is very slippery. So we actually had a free shower! Glad I didnt take one b4 the walk, save some water...

Next day, we went for adventure caving to Lagang Cave, one of the beginner's course. As usual, almost had to pay for 3. So morale of the story, if possible go with a group of 3.

Initially we thought 'Oh nothing much, just walking in the dark amongst limestones'. Then the fun begun. The walls started to become lower and lower until we had to be on all fours!! The American who was with us started complaining (and He Just wouldn't stop complaining!!!)

It was fun but tiring, and damn I should have brought knee guard cos my knees are now all bruised (still alittle bruised now).

The start of the crawl

And just when we thought the worst is over, the gap between ground and wall narrowed further until we had to crawl on our bellies and wiggle through! So that is why it said 'wear old clothes, be prepared to get muddy and dirty' on the brochures!

And the rolling begins...

It was stuffy and tough wiggling, so I resorted to simply rolling along. It's actually a very effective way, beats having to crawl on belly.

After much fun in the mud, we then had to navigate through rocks and stones (much reminiscence of Pinnacles). After 2.5hrs, we came out victorious and muddy!!! It is really really dark inside the caves. When you switch off the torches, you really cannot see anything. NOTHING AT ALL. Not even after minutes of accustoming to the darkness...

Us in our dirty clothes. Luckily I threw those clothes away. Imagine the trouble to wash it

What is the best thing to do after getting down and dirty? Clean up in the waterfalls!! So without resting, we headed directy to Paku waterfall (one of the free DIY walks you can do). It's a 40min walk along muddy paths (again!!) to the waterfalls. Muddy cos it rained the day before. But it was damn SHIOK and refreshing to dip in the water and wash the mud off (not entirely). Swimming towards the falls is hard cos of the current but the reward is worth it!

Unfortch, my camera is not water-proof and the distance is too far away, so couldnt take picts of me actually sitting under the waterfall

We spent quite some time frolicking in the water and it's a good thing that there were noone ard but us (except for the same whining American who appeared a few mins after us. Damn it) And feeling bored at night, we went for a short nightwalk trail (lasted all of 30mins) where we saw nothing much except for a couple of fireflies and scared ourselves when we caught something or touched something at our legs....

Our last day in Mulu saw us going for the Canopy Skywalk (RM35 each). It has 15 bridges and rises 25-30m above ground.

I feel so small

It took us almost an hour to complete the 15 bridges. Nice walk. And we learnt that Fig Trees are actually a kind of tree leech, latches itself on its victim, suck the vitamins out of them and totally take over control once the victim dies... Survival of the Fittest

After the Canopy, we decided to give Moonmilk walk another try cos we learnt that on top of the 425 steps, there is actually a Moonmilk cave!

Luckily no rain on that day so we once again climbed up the 425 steps (Like Pinnacles trek itself is not enough..) and was rewarded with the cool air of the cave! Moonmilk cave so called because of the white creamy substance found inside the cave..

So ends our adventure in Mulu. We came back with loads of mosquito bites (Angeline mainly), some scars and scratches and leech bites. And of cos, I would like to say perkier butts and thighs from the many climbs and walks and treks over the 5 days! Beats any session in the gym anyday! I've developed some more defined calve muscles i think!

We had to spend one night in Miri for our flight back home. Miri - Boring little town. We wanted to find a cinema just to watch something to spend time, but their one and only cinema was closed for renovation!! Imagine!! Now I wonder what the people there do for entertainment! We spent sometime shopping (didnt buy anything really, I bought a green sarong dress which I 1st saw in Mulu Park HQ shop at a much cheaper price!)

But at least we were rewarded with a most beautiful sunset @ Miri!!

The quintessential sunset photo

So there you have it, our 1week long holiday in Mulu (mainly). People ask 'Why so many days?'; 'What the hell are you going to do?'. I guess if you're not doing the Pinnacles, 3days in Mulu is good enough to cover the essentials. With the Pinnacles, of cos I would say at least 5 days, so that you have 2 more days to cover the attractions within the Park.

Oh, there is actually another trek up Gunung Mulu (called The Summit). It's 4D3N, and you literally have to hike up the slopes with your full pack(food and everything) for the entire 4D (oh well, 1 day is just the hike up the summit without full pack) It's a challenge, but heard that it's quite nice too...Hire a porter to carry your heavy stuff, cos it's not easy upslope..

Yes, I highly recommend going to Mulu. It is a nice way to spend a week or so surrounded by nature. Yup no TVs or radios (unless you bring your own entertainment) And of course CARDS!! Or any other games or even your Iphone. And hopefully you're self sufficient in terms of snacks cos things are not cheap in the Park HQ shop...


Angeline said...

Great effort! Covered the gist of it all. Found the "seed planting" part rather amusing. Haha, inception?

DShan said...

How did you guessed? Way b4 inception was shown, i already had that idea in my mind!!!