Exploring a UNESCO World Heritage Site | Jungle Living in Mulu - Travel Malaysia

Borneo is wild!

Borneo is the kind of destination you visit in order to find yourself, discover wilderness and push yourself outside your comfort zone. Remove yourself from the world of social media & relieve yourself of the pressures that go hand in hand with having mobile phone coverage.

If surrounding yourself in Beauty sounds like the trip you need. If discovering incredible animals & unique and strange landscapes is a journey that entices your soul. If escaping the real world is what you crave! Then it’s time to visit Borneo & explore Gunung Mulu National Park.

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It’s time to explore the stunning Gunung Mulu National Park located on the Malaysian side of Borneo deep in the jungle. Strap your curiosity in and let’s start with the basics.


About Gunung Mulu National Park

LOCATION

Gunung Mulu National Park is located in the tiny village of Mulu which is situated in the Province of Sarawak, Malaysia. The park borders with the tiny nation of Brunei and boasts some of Malaysia’s most impressive landscapes.

The national Park is located opposite the airport so finding the entrance is not hard. Here is an interactive map for the visual learners.

 

HISTORY

Prior to 1842 both Sabah & Sarawak (the two Malaysian provinces on the island of Borneo) were ruled by the Sultan of Brunei. The rebellion was quashed with the help of James Brooke and his men. James was a former British soldier who relocated to Borneo from his home in India.

Sultan Omar Ali Saifuddien II granted James Brookes the title, ‘Rajah of Sarawak’ & he was ceded complete sovereignty of the province. The Brookes ruled Sarawak as ‘White Rajahs’ for almost 100 years.

In December 1941 Miri & the entire province of Sarawak was invaded by the Japanese. The Japanese took control of Borneo and remained in control for 3 years & 8 months. On the 10th September 1945 the Japanese surrendered to the Australian forces and Sarawak came under British control.

It was not until 1963 that Sarawak and neighbouring Sabah voted to become part of Malaysia (along with Singapore). Mulu itself went through huge changes in leadership throughout Borneo’s violent history. It was not until 2012 that Mulu Village as it is known today was restarted by James Baya & his lovely wife Brenda who both still live in Mulu.

Gunung Mulu National Park was founded in 1974 and quickly became the most studied tropical Karst area in the world. The park boasts over 1.5 million years of geological history and a wide range of both plant and animal species.

This is an incredibly important natural area which is why it has been granted the ultimate state of protection - A UNESCO World Heritage Site.

WHAT IS A UNESCO WORLD HERITAGE SITE?

Becoming a World Heritage site is like winning the lotto. When a location is deemed to be a world heritage site an International agreement provides the highest possible protection. These locations must be deemed important to all people of the world in this and all future generations.

This level of importance can be for cultural or natural values and for an area to be listed as a World Heritage Site it must meet at least one of ten criteria (UNESCO World Heritage Centre).

01
to represent a masterpiece of human creative genius;

02
to exhibit an important interchange of human values, over a span of time or within a cultural area of the world, on developments in architecture or technology, monumental arts, town-planning or landscape design;

03
to bear a unique or at least exceptional testimony to a cultural tradition or to a civilization which is living or which has disappeared;

04
to be an outstanding example of a type of building, architectural or technological ensemble or landscape which illustrates (a) significant stage(s) in human history;

05
to be an outstanding example of a traditional human settlement, land-use, or sea-use which is representative of a culture (or cultures), or human interaction with the environment especially when it has become vulnerable under the impact of irreversible change;

06
to be directly or tangibly associated with events or living traditions, with ideas, or with beliefs, with artistic and literary works of outstanding universal significance. (The Committee considers that this criterion should preferably be used in conjunction with other criteria);

07
to contain superlative natural phenomena or areas of exceptional natural beauty and aesthetic importance;

08
to be outstanding examples representing major stages of earth's history, including the record of life, significant on-going geological processes in the development of landforms, or significant geomorphic or physiographic features;

09
to be outstanding examples representing significant on-going ecological and biological processes in the evolution and development of terrestrial, fresh water, coastal and marine ecosystems and communities of plants and animals;

10
to contain the most important and significant natural habitats for in-situ conservation of biological diversity, including those containing threatened species of outstanding universal value from the point of view of science or conservation.

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How do I Get to Mulu?

Mulu is incredibly isolated which is part of what makes this location so damn unique. As you come in to land at the single strip airport surrounded by towering limestone mountains and glistening layers of fog you notice what seems to resemble a small collection of houses. “hmm must be someone’s hostel.. the town must be further away.” Nope! That is the town.

Most people don’t realise that there are actually two ways to get to Mulu, one is much more challenging than the other and requires an adventurous spirit.

  • The first method is the easiest - book a flight. There are daily flights running from Miri & four flights a week from Kuching & from Kota Kinabalu. It is easy enough to book flights online but we recommend booking your return/exit flights before arriving in Mulu. The WIFI is unreliable making online bookings pretty tough. At a pinch you could book something at the tiny hut that is Mulu Airport.

  • The second method is to walk in, you can reach Mulu National Park headquarters via the ‘Headhunters Trail’ which was used by waring parties. The walk takes 5 days and requires some significant pre planning. The trail starts at Limbang a beautiful town on the Limbang River.

    If this option excites you then here is a map to help give you an idea. Click Here to contact the park and arrange your adventure.

 

What to do in Mulu

Mulu is an adventurers playground with enough to keep explorers busy for a few weeks. Tours and activities vary in difficulty giving every traveler a chance to experience their own Mulu adventure. There are free activities (minus the park fee of course) if you are trying to stick to a budget but in order to get the most out of Mulu you will need to pay for the guided tours.

Remember the money is going towards supporting the community and protecting this incredible World Heritage Site.

CAVES

Mulu’s caves offer over 1.5 million years of geological history! That’s insane! You can literally look at a segment of limestone that came into existence 1.5 million years ago, you are traveling back in time.

To enter any of Mulu’s caves you will need to book at the Park headquarters and pay for a guided tour. If you are caught trying to reach the caves without a guide you will be fined. The park offers three options;

  • Deer & Lang Caves: Visit the largest cave in the park Deer Cave, which also happens to be the largest cave passage in the world. A massive underground river once flowed through this area which eroded the limestone leaving this jaw dropping cave.

    By contrast Lang Cave is the smallest of the 4 ‘show caves’ but it has it’s own unique beauty. Incredible displays of stalactites, stalagmites, helictites, shawls & rimstone pools surround you with the subtle sound of dripping water.

  • Clearwater Cave & Cave of the Winds: Cave of the winds is named so due to the gentle breeze that seems to constantly flow through the cave. This cave leads to an impressive chamber called the ‘Kings Chamber.’

    Clearwater cave has a steep entrance and you will be left cursing by the time you get to the cave mouth. It will be all worth it when you see the incredible clear waters that flow through the cave system for over 200km’s. No swimming in this one though!

  • The Fast Lane: This is a great option for those who want to explore a cave system by torch light. Discover racer snakes, bats & unique cave insects.

Remember to be respectful. Gunung Mulu National Park is a unique and fragile environment which can be easily damaged by people. Leave only footprints and take back only photo’s & memories.

THE UNGUIDED WALKS

For those on a budget or just lacking the time to pull off an epic overnight hike you can opt for one of the unguided tours. Your only fee will be a 30RM ($7.50USD) park entry ticket, this allows you to explore the parks unguided trails.

For a quick trip check out the Botanical Heritage Trail which gives you a great introduction to the flora, fauna & terrain. If you have half a day to explore before your afternoon cave tours then check out any of the half day walks; The Paku Waterfall, Long Langsat River Walk or the slightly longer Kenyalang Loop.

You can also opt for a full day option on The Paku Valley Loop, this hike takes 5 - 6 hours so allow a day. There is also an overnight option, Kuala Litut + Camp 5 which includes a 90 minute boat ride (you will probably have to purchase a ticket for the boat). If you wish to stay the night at Camp 5 you will need to check in with the office first.

THE GUIDED WALKS

There are three day walks that require guides, all of which offer incredible experiences. There is a reason why these walks cost extra, they have the goods.

  • The Night Walk: There are thousands of species that call this park their home, as you can imagine day time can get quite crowded and if you are small then your chance of being eaten goes up dramatically.

    To see some of the weird, wacky and beautiful creatures that explore the park at night then this is the walk for you. All guided tours can be booked at the park headquarters.

  • The Mulu Canopy Skywalk: At 480 metres in length this is one of the longest tree based walkways in the world. Walking above the ferns and canopy (10-30 metres up) allows you to see birds, bats and even monkeys if you are lucky.

  • Garden of Eden: This tour is a full day option which includes a visit to Deer Cave, Rock pools, swimming & hiking. The total distance covered is 12km’s so be ready for some sore legs.

Now for the prized tours of Mulu National Park! The Pinnacles & The Mulu Summit Walk are both multi-day trips so if you want to include these trips on your itinerary then make sure you allow at least 8 days in Mulu.

  • The Mulu Summit Walk covers 24 km’s and climbs almost 2400 metres above sea level. Your starting height is 27 metres so there is a lot of vertical!

    The hike takes a minimum of 4 days & 3 nights and the final climb to the summit is the greatest challenge this park has to offer. The climb offers you a chance to explore a variety of habitats with beautiful alpine fauna including the colourful Rhododendrons.

    The accomodation is very basic so make sure that you have your own sleeping bags, plenty of space to carry your own food, sleeping mats, plenty of insect repellent and of course some cosy pyjamas. The guide is NOT your porter or cook so you need to be prepared to carry all your own supplies or hire a porter.

  • The Pinnacles is not as physically challenging as the Mulu summit climb but it is arguably the most risky. This is a high risk, physically challenging, adventure activity so be prepared, be fit & listen to the guides.

  • The accomodation is simple and sleeping mats are provided but you will need to bring your own bedding or pay a deposit for bedding at the park office. You will also need to bring your own food, enough for; 2 breakfasts, 2 dinners & 1 lunch (2 if you think you might need it).

The overnight walks are no joke so you need to make sure you are physically prepared and that you have all the right equipment. If you want to complete both of these incredible hikes then you will need to allow a minimum of 8 days.

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Where do I Stay in Mulu?

Although Mulu is small it still has plenty of options when it comes to accomodation this is mainly due to the huge Marriot Hotel that often resembles a deserted mansion. With a Marriot now firmly in place expect Mulu’s tourism to explode over the next few years.

So now is the best time to visit Mulu, before the Marriot style crowds takeover and the authentic, adventurous vibe slowly disappears (no offence to Hotel dwellers, you guys are cool too).

Here are three options to get you started:

Mulu Village

This is where James Baya & his lovely wife Brenda live & in many ways it is the heart and soul of the Mulu village. The accomodation is great and even comes with a basic breakfast of eggs, toast and coffee(mmm coffee!).

Don’t expect WIFI though but if you really need to skype mum then a quick stroll to the Marriot will give you a small chance at connecting to the outside world.

Mulu Village is also very cheap making it a great spot for budget travelers & backpackers. Brenda is happy to help when it comes to sorting out tours and places to visit during your stay. We highly recommend staying at Mulu Village.

 

Mulu Marriot

Ok so this one is for the families out there & for those of you who enjoy a bit of luxury. The Marriot is what you would expect from a hotel; with great accomodation, a pool, a gym, a cafe & a bar.

It also has brief periods of WIFI which is great if you want to stay connected to the outside world. In all honesty Paulo & I would never opt to stay in a hotel when exploring a place like Mulu. This town lives and breaths adventure so get outside your comfort zone.

The Marriot is definitely a great option for families with small children but be prepared to pay a lot more for your accomodation.

 

Mulu Park

If you are here to crush as many adventures as possible within the park then we recommend staying at the park itself. You can literally roll out of bed & straight onto the next adventure plus the WIFI is pretty decent in certain spots.

The accomodation is relatively cheap especially if you opt for the bunk rooms and you are within a stones throw of the parks cafe.

There are other hostels which you will see on your way to the park entrance but we did not explore any of these spots. If you have stayed at one of these hostels then drop a comment below and let us know how it was.

 

The Best Places to Eat Local

Boom! There is only one place you need to eat in Mulu and it is Diana’s BBQ stall. If you are staying at Mulu Village then it is very easy to find. If you look out of your back window you will see a stall with some tables on the roadside. That is Diana’s and Diana’s is the best food in town!

Diana also does cooking classes during the day which involves a day picking local vegetables, ferns & other produce for the evening’s feed. This is by far the best food we had in Borneo, raw, nutritious and damn delicious!

Here is an easy map to follow.

 

There are a couple great food spots including the Park Cafe & also Tenguloh Cafe but nothing quite compared to Diana’s. The Marriott serves up meals for those wanting a bit of a classy dining experience but it does not compare to the taste at Diana’s or the price!


Some Fast Facts to Finish

The park itself :

  • The park covers an area of 85,671 hectares. That’s bigger than the entire city state of Singapore & it could easily fit all of New York City!

  • The height above sea level changes from 27m to 2,377m at Mulu Summit.

  • The topography changes drastically from deeply cut flood plains to immense limestone cliffs and caves.

  • The annual average rainfall is 4,500mm with rainfall being highest in April-May & October- November. There is no real dry season but rainfall is lowest in July-September.

  • Temperatures average between 23-26°C and can drop as low as 14°C at the Summit.

The Biodiversity is massive and new species continue to be discovered. The following are estimates that continue to increase each year:

  • 2,000 species of flowering plants.

  • 450 species of fern.

  • 1,700 species of mosses & Liverworts.

  • 4,000 species of fungi.

  • 115 mammal species.

  • 305 bird species.

  • Over 200 reptile & amphibian species.

  • 48 fish species.

  • More than 20,000 species of insects & other invertebrates.

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Mulu is hard to get to with limited WIFI and no real backpacker nightlife but what it does contain is one of the greatest experiences a traveler can have. Mulu invokes a sense of adventure, a sense of wander & it is a powerful place to grow as a human being.

If you chose to travel in order to experience new sights, sounds & emotions or to grow as a person then make sure that Mulu is on your list. We can’t wait to go back to this incredible location.

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Life is Great. Travel is Better.
Paulo & Jacques