The Average Traveler's Guide to Gunung Mulu National Park
(Sarawak, Malaysian Borneo)
This guide is for the *average* American traveler. Some of you
out there could trek many times this far through the jungle with bare
feet and a loincloth. You already know who you are and what you
need. I'm writing for reasonably healthy people who may
occasionally go on day hikes in their local state parks, but aren't
Big, beautiful, relatively accessible caves in the rainforest.
Also, supporting eco-tourism in Malaysia.
How to Get There
no real road that goes to Mulu Park. Most people travel
there by plane. Our flights went from Johor Bahru to Miri in
northern Sarawak, where we spent the night. (It would have been
faster to take a flight from Singapore to Miri. If you start out
in Singapore, I don't actually recommend driving to Johor; it looks
close on the map, but the traffic backup on the causeway is
terrible.) We took the short flight to Mulu the following
morning. The plane
was not large -- only Twin Otters (propeller
planes) fly into Mulu. Keep this in mind when deciding how much
luggage to bring.
Even if you're coming from West Malaysia, Sarawak has its own passport
control, which you'll encounter in Miri (or Kuching, if you fly through
there instead). You don't need a visa, though.
The airport at Mulu was just a strip with a small terminal building
I don't think
there was a baggage carousel or anything. It did
have a surau, a lunch counter, and a small souvenir shop. No air
conditioning, though. The Royal Mulu (see below) provides a
shuttle for hotel guests.
I think it's also possible to get to Mulu by (open) boat along the
but that's about all I know about it.
What to Expect
- not a lot of land animals, although you can hear frogs
- (there are orangutans in Borneo, but you're unlikely to see
- unique plants, such as the "one-leaf" plant that lives only in
- cave animals: swiftlets and bats
- Some bugs (giant millipedes, walking-stick insects, large
but not that many mosquitos
- heat, humidity, and rain!
- The outdoor trails are mainly boardwalks. They're often wet
can be slippery.
- Inside the caves (and outside the Wind Cave) are a large, large
- Helpful park rangers, some of them from the local Dayak people
- Boat rides on the river to get to the Water and Wind Caves
- Local Penan people selling crafts
Where to Stay
stayed at the Royal Mulu Resort, which is right on the river and not
too far from the airport and the park headquarters. (I don't
recommend walking there with your luggage, however. It's hot and
you are likely to be rained on. Use the hotel shuttle van.)
They give you free orange juice when you arrive. The rooms have
individual air-conditioning, hot and cold running water, and are
mosquito-free. The rooms have electric pots with which you can
boil water and make tea or coffee. Complimentary bottled
water was also provided. The food is OK. The resort has a
pool. Prices are pretty reasonable by US standards.
There's guesthouse and hostel accommodation by the park headquarters
that may be cheaper, but I have no firsthand experience of it. I
think that package tours often make arrangements at guesthouses instead
of the Resort.
What to bring: Clothing and Shoes
- Shoes for wet hiking. Inside the caves it's wet and
slippery. Be prepared for puddles and bat guano.
- My hiking boots worked pretty well. I worried that my
feet would be too hot, but actually they were fine.
- People who wore sneakers ended up with wet feet. If you
must wear sneakers, at least bring extra socks! Also, make sure
they have good traction.
- Water-resistant sandals, such as Tevas, would probably also
if you don't mind your feet getting a bit dirty from the guano-laced
- Raingear. The best would be a poncho
- NOT a raincoat. Even during a rainstorm, it's too
hot and you won't want to put it on.
- Note that at the time of our trip, the hotel shop
carried raincoats, but no ponchos.
- NOT a short rainjacket (won't stand up to the torrential
- Probably not an umbrella (it's awkward to carry through
Other Essential Items
- A bottle of water
(possibly from the hotel). The trails have faucets by them, but a
lot of them don't work, and drinking the local water is not always the
- Flashlights -- one per
person. The paths inside the caves (and in the rainforest) are
lined with electric lights, but the maintenance of the light system
seems to be erratic, so you often pass by stretches where the lights
are out. Also, if you stay at the entrance to Deer Cave to see
the bats come out
at sunset, it's likely to be dark by the time you exit the forest.
- Kleenex or toilet
paper. There are outhouses in the rest shelters by the entrances
to the show caves, but they are not well equipped.
- A day pack to put it all
- Sunglasses. Obviously you won't need them inside the caves,
and actually I was fine without any, but if you're usually
sun-sensitive you may appreciate these on the boats.
- A hat. The trails are largely shaded by leaves, but I still
recommend a hat.
It's good to keep the sun off your face during boat rides, and in the
caves sometimes water will drip onto your head. (Make sure your
- Insect Repellent. Even in the evenings, we did not have any
trouble with mosquito bites at Mulu, but then again, we used insect
repellent. Also, if you stay at the Royal Mulu, the rooms are
well-built and air-conditioned, so you're unlikely to need a mosquito
net. If you stay somewhere else, ask them whether you should
- Cheap washable gloves. We didn't have these, but they might
have been useful inside certain of the caves -- specifically, the ones
in which the handrails were coated with guano. If you feel that
at any time you might want to hold on to a handrail inside a cave,
definitely bring the gloves.
- Hand sanitizer, hand wipes, etc. See Kleenex above.
The "Show Caves": Deer, Lang's, Clearwater, and Wind
The show caves are the main attraction at Mulu and can make up a
worthwhile two-day itinerary all on their own.
Deer Cave and Lang's Cave are close by each other. The
one-hour walk (on a boardwalk) through the rainforest from the park
headquarters. A van from the lodge drops you off at the entrance.
Deer Cave is enormous and, well, cavernous, whereas Lang's Cave is
deep, but narrow and intimate. The main attraction in Lang's Cave
the great variety of fantastic limestone formations inside. The
interior of Lang's Cave was actually fairly stuffy as well. (Deer
was cool and windy.)
We didn't see any sign of bats inside Lang's Cave.
Clearwater and Wind Caves are close by each other. Boats to these
two caves depart from the entrance to the Royal Mulu.
On the way to the Clearwater and Wind Caves we stopped by the
Penan village to visit their bazaar.
Left: The bazaar at the Penan village. Right: View of the
hills from the Penan village.
Left: A hen and chicks at the Penan village.
Right: Geese on the river.
Beyond the Scope of This Webpage: Other Stuff to Do in the
Adventure Caving. Learn something about spelunking beforehand and
be prepared to get wet and very messy.
"The Pinnacles." Although the park guides are excellent, if
you've never been on an overnight backpacking trip before, a remote
tropical rainforest in a foreign country is probably not the place to
start. Practice in a state park closer to home first.
The climb to the summit of Gunung Mulu is a several-day affair and
probably less of a good idea than the Pinnacles for those without
significant hiking or camping experience. That being said, if you
don't have any serious health problems, go join your local outdoors
club and start gaining the experience!