I almost didn’t go to Mulu National Park. I was staying in Miri – the gateway to Mulu NP – but I just didn’t know if I wanted the hassle of getting there, or the expense. And (I will just whisper this quietly), after two weeks on Sumatra and a week in Borneo… I was kind of over the jungle.
But, after a lengthy bout of indecision (and a helpful chat with the wonderful Mrs Lee, of Delania Guesthouse in Miri), I booked last minute flights and made the short hop into the wilds of Mulu. And inevitably, I’m very glad that I did.
Well, if a place has been featured on Planet Earth, it must be worth a trip. If it’s good enough for old Davey Attenborough, it’s certainly good enough for me.
While it is a bit depressing to visit a national park where the vast majority of accessible sites are boardwalked, it is still definitely worth the visit (and to be fair, if there was no boardwalk you would pretty much be squelching through swamp, so that’s something).
What is there to see in Mulu?
Mulu National Park is genuinely a fascinating place. Listed as a world heritage area in 2000, it is home to a variety of dramatic landscapes, from the dense jungle characteristic of Borneo, to a network of large and diverse caves.
Wildlife spotting is a given in the island of Borneo, but in Mulu you have the additional attraction of river trips, cave tours, and (if that’s not intrepid enough for you, or you just really hate the feeling of being clean) a three-day trek to see the famous rock formation, the Pinnacles.
The key attraction of Mulu National Park is the caves. There are four main ones: Deer Cave, Lang Cave, Clearwater Cave and Cave of the Winds. These so-called “show caves” require a tour guide – which is part of the reason why a visit to Mulu is so relatively expensive.
Essentially there are two cave tours on offer: one to the Deer & Lang caves together, and the other to the Clearwater and Wind caves together. The latter (MYR 67) involves a trip up the river, and an obligatory stop off at the Penan Longhouse (essentially to buy stuff, though of course this is optional). There are some pretty comprehensive information boards at the longhouse, which do provide some interesting info, and you’ll have a local guide from the village if you have any questions.
The Deer and Lang caves tour (MYR 35) is way less involved, and you literally just walk all the way along the boardwalk until you get to the cave. The tour guide is definitely not really necessary, but you have to have one, so deal.
The cool thing about these caves, though, are the bats. After you finish your tour (I’d recommend the evening one), you can go sit in this amphitheatre thing just outside, and if you get lucky you’ll get to see what they call the ‘bat exodus’: thousands upon thousands of bats streaming out of the caves, forming a kind of living jet stream in the sky. It is awesome.
One cool thing that you can choose to do is an adventure caving tour. It’s not a very budget activity, but it would be pretty awesome if you are that way inclined. These tours are upwards of MYR 160, and do have to be booked in advance (with a minimum of three people needed for them to go ahead).
Again one of the more expensive activities on offer in Mulu, the Pinnacles trek (MYR 423) is nonetheless some people’s highlight of their trip. It’s an intense three-day journey through some serious jungle, and a lot of it is real steep, but you do get to see the famous limestone formation which kind of defies belief – jagged rocks piercing their way through the canopy.
Honestly, though, I was pretty well warned off doing this by a guy I met who had done it – he said it was one of the most uncomfortable experiences of his life. Then again, if you wanna trek, go trek I say.
Best time to visit Mulu
Borneo isn’t especially affected by the monsoon – in that it is fairly likely to rain on any given day anyway – but the driest months are generally July to September. Then again, these are also going to be the hottest months so think carefully.
In general, it rains in the afternoons, so ideally you want to be flying in and out in the morning, as flights are regularly cancelled due to inclement weather. However, rumour has it they will often put you up in the Marriott if your flight is cancelled, so maybe it wouldn’t be so bad to be stranded there after all…
Some of the activities might be cancelled due to overly heavy rain, though, so bear that in mind when planning your trip.
Budget tips for your visit to Mulu NP
Mulu is generally not the cheapest of places. So here are a few tips on how you can make the trip to Mulu on a reasonable budget.
Book your flights as soon as humanly possible
The only real viable way in and out of Mulu is by flying. You can only fly direct from Miri, so you may as well make that your stop before visiting Mulu.
Obviously, the further in advance you book, the cheaper the flights, so I’d recommend booking as soon as you know you want to go (I did not do this, I am an idiot, I booked literally the night before).
Choose accommodation outside the national park
Online it’s kind of hard to tell, but there is heaps of accommodation that lies outside the bounds of Mulu national park. This is a whole lot cheaper than staying in the national park-run accommodation. Plus the park is kind of like a corporation, and they’re already getting all your money from the obligatory tours, so if you can I’d say spread the love (money) around.
I stayed at D’Cave guesthouse, which was totally fine (if basic) for MYR 25 a night, and had the loveliest hosts you could ask for. When you arrive, walk out of the airport and head to your right, and you’ll come across the various homestays and guesthouses on offer along the main road. Then you can just enquire whether they have room and how much it is. D’Cave was the second one I passed.
Bring everything you need with you
Mulu is in the middle of the jungle. It is isolated. There is no nearby 7/11.
Therefore, bring all the stuff you might want – especially if you’re trekking. Doing a whole shop in the park store is gonna cost you.
Definitely bring rain gear, sensible shoes, snacks, enough cash to last you, insect repellent, a torch, and a water bottle.
Keep your stay short, if you can
Because Mulu is so self-contained, merely being there is going to cost you a bit more than staying elsewhere, because all the supplies presumably have to be flown in too.
I stayed just one night: flew in one morning, wandered round the park a bit, did the Deer & Lang caves tour in the afternoon, then the Wind & Clearwater caves tour the next morning, and flew out that afternoon. To be honest, if you’re not doing any trekking or anything, that’s enough time – there’s not loads to do in Mulu apart from all the tours. The only potential problem is if things are cancelled because of rain, you won’t get another shot at them – you just have to decide how much this matters toy you.
Learn to spot wildlife yourself
As you’re already paying for every conceivable attraction, don’t shell out more to go on a guided walk. There are a couple of short trails you can do on your own, and there are shelters and towers that you can go up and sit in, to wait for wildlife.
On the Deer cave tour, your guide will likely point out some cool creatures along the way: use their tips and apply them and you’ll see plenty of ugly bugs and the like, without someone to point them out for you.
Pro tip: look along the handrail – there’ll be enough things crawling around to put you off grabbing on for balance.
If you’re desperate to do a night walk for wildlife spotting, I’d wait to do one in Bako national park, near Kuching, because that only costs MYR 10 compared to the MYR 22 that it’ll set you back in Mulu.
It’s never going to be the cheapest of places if the only reasonable way of getting there is a half-hour flight. But it’s still a manageable destination, if you’re smart about it.
Hopefully this guide has been helfpul! If you have any questions, leave them in the comments and I’ll do my best to answer them.
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