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Blue sky Borneo

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6 October 2010

Day 1
We departed our hotel at 09:00 for our 14:45 flight and, as the journey down from Brunei to Miri was only supposed to take 2 hours, I thought this a tad over-cautious. Thank goodness we did leave early however as the trip took an hour longer than anticipated, making me rather anxious for my return flight to the UK.

We boarded a small twin-engine propeller plane (seating around 50 passengers) and headed south to Mulu airport, a small airport, with a runway on which the planes have to turn around and back track down the same runway to take off. The airport was not unlike the open-air shack ones you find on small tropical islands - just surround by lush tropical rainforest, and towering mountains that dwarfed our plane, instead of turquoise water.

The Royal Mulu Resort is a short 5-minute tuk tuk ride from the airport and the only accommodation on offer while you’re here. Right by the river and surrounded by rainforest it’s the perfect jungle setting. The property is clean and staff are friendly, but it is a far cry from the traditional 5* luxury lodge experience. The double rooms are air-conditioned with basic décor, wooden floors and balconies that overlook the forest. There is a shower but no bath and additional facilities are basic - my cable TV lasted a whole 5 minutes before it lost connection and there’s no internet in the room, only one cabled access in the main restaurant area.

It’s wet season in Mulu at the moment and I have never seen so much rain. Thunder is crashing down and clouds are looking heavy and menacing so I doubt it will stop anytime soon. I soon discover that there is actually very little to do stuck indoors in the jungle and was tempted to go to the lobby and try the jungle juice! The resort does have a spa centre, billiard table, indoor gymnasium (jungle gym style) and bar with satellite TV so, not a total loss.

Dinner each night is a buffet-style mixture of hot and cold and the best part is the BBQ with a wide variety of freshly char-grilled meats. Asian destinations have never been Meccas for dessert lovers though and pudding fans are likely to find themselves disappointed by the small and often strange (sweet corn custard) selection here. At 20:00 each night there are half-hour long cultural performances with dances and performances from local tribes.

Day 2
The next morning, post breakfast (a decent buffet), we boarded a long boat for the journey down to the Wind and Clear Water caves. First stop was the Penan tribe, a nomadic people that live in long houses and follow the Christian faith. Here you’ll have the opportunity read about their history and culture and to see them making local crafts.

Wind cave is a small cave en-route to the main attraction of Clearwater. Clearwater Cave, with its subterranean river, is Southeast Asia’s longest cave passage at 107 km.

You’ll need to climb down 200 steps to reach the entrance but you will be rewarded at the bottom by the Clearwater lake which doubles as a picnic area. For me, the most exciting thing was seeing the large and exotically beautiful fluorescent green and black butterflies.

We were fortunate, the sun stayed with us throughout the morning, but just as we were leaving Clearwater caves our luck ran out and the heavens opened. The journey home in the long boat was like sitting in the bathtub with the shower on full power overhead.

Stopping back at the resort just long enough to change into some dry clothes, we headed off to the next caves. A rather long 2.5km walk through the jungle brought us to the next set of caves, the Deer and Lang Caves. Luckily the sun had returned once again for the journey - what I learnt later, however, is never trust a clear blue sky to last during wet season!

The entrance to the caves is at the Mulu national park cultural park, which is well worth a visit before heading off along the boardwalk. Inside you’ll find maps and factual information about the area and also further afield.

Lang caves was the prettiest of all the caves we saw, small but well maintained and we even saw one of the long-legged and very deadly centipedes as well as the largest spider I saw on this trip.

Deer cave is probably the most well known cave in the area. Unlike its name, it’s most well known for the huge colony of bats that reside within it - it’s the smell of the ammonia from the bats that attracts deers to the caves. The best time to visit these caves (and also the busiest) is late afternoon, as on clear nights the bats exit at dusk forming a cloud of misty grey in the sky as the bats gather in formations before flying off to find dinner.

Our visit didn’t quite go to plan as we were drenched in torrential rain again about 40 minutes before dusk and an executive decision was made to head back before the crowds all gave up and left together. This meant a 2.5km return walk back along the boardwalk in pouring rain - I can honestly say I’ve never been wetter without jumping in the lake or sea.

Day 3
Journey back to the airport.

Things you should consider before taking this trip:

  • Miri is a great little domestic point to a number of other Asian destinations.
  • If you go in wet season take more than 1 set of waterproofs. Although it’s warm they don’t dry quickly (especially indoors).
  • Mulu Resort has been acquired by the Marriott hotel group and will be undergoing renovation in the not to distant future.
  • Locally guided walks/trips are highly recommended, as you’ll get an in-depth knowledge of the area. They were able to point out a number of different local insects and creatures that I would have missed otherwise.

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