[mulu 2019] caves, camping and pinnacles

During the March holidays, my family went on a 5-day trip to visit Mulu National Park in Sarawak. Before the trip I’d only heard of Mulu from my uncle’s family, who had gone there previously and enjoyed seeing the caves and bats (what Mulu is famous for). But, my parents decided to up the challenge by adding in a trek up to see the Pinnacles, which is this surreal-looking limestone formation:

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from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7-rxMLx_Qls

For the trek, we would have to stay at a base camp for 2 nights and bring+cook our own food, so before the trip we had to plan out and buy all our food supplies for the days at the camp! We also read that the trek is pretty intense so the sis and I got dragged to bukit timah hill/ macritchie for training on a few weekends before the trip…

Day 1: arrival & bat exodus

Mulu is actually not very far away from Singapore if you look on a map, but there’s no direct flight so we had to take a flight to the city of Miri before changing to a smaller propeller plane to go to Mulu. The flights took a total of less than 3h and before we knew it, we’d reached the tiny airport in Mulu!

For our first night, we had a taste of luxury at the Marriott hotel (it’s the only hotel operator in Mulu but you can stay in homestays too). It’s a really nice resort for just chilling and unplugging! Helped by the fact that there’s no wifi in the rooms, and the wifi at the lobby is a bit intermittent hahaha.

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The resort is connected by this pretty boardwalk
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Also, it was my sis’ birthday that week and my dad had emailed the hotel previously for it so we had a nice surprise when we got to our rooms! :D

It was around 4pm when we reached, so we quickly headed out to the park entrance/HQ to settle the arrangements for the following days’ cave tour and pinnacles trek. Then we took the boardwalk (less than 1h walk) to the bat exodus viewing point. Every day around 5-6pm, the bats in the caves will all start flying out to find food and it’s quite a unique sight!

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The bats just suddenly started flying out from somewhere behind all this rock
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No idea why they fly in a “snake” like this!!

Day 2: caves tour & journey to camp 5

The next day, we loaded up on breakfast at the hotel buffet (the last “legit” meal we would have for a while) before going over to the park entrance with all our camping stuff. We boarded a longboat at 9am and set off for a tour of Wind Cave and Clearwater Cave.

Before reaching the caves, we stopped by at a local village where women were selling bags and various souvenirs. Didn’t buy anything but we paid a few RM to try out shooting with their blowpipe which I was pretty decent at!

Both the caves were huge and it was so cool to see the underground river flowing through Clearwater Cave. Fun fact: It’s one of the longest caves in the world and the entire cave system is believed to be the largest in the world by volume! Another funny thing is that there’s this “one-leaf plant” near the entrance to the cave (photo above).

Had our lunch stop at the nearby picnic area, then we continued on the boat for about an hour. For this journey, the river was very shallow at some parts because it hadn’t rained the past few days. So the boat often got stuck on the rocks below and the boatman would get up and push the boat. Sometimes it was so stuck that we had to get off to lighten the load and “help to push” (more like struggle to catch up) too LOLOL. But luckily my dad had read about this and we’d brought our aqua shoes, so we were fine with getting into the water.

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Pushing the longboat!

The boatmen dropped us at what looked like a totally random spot but turned out to be the start of the trail. After drying off and changing into our hiking boots, we started on the 9km trail to the camp. It was pretty much flat and boring the whole way except for 2? scary hanging bridges.

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After about 3.5h we finally saw the sign for camp 5!!!! We couldn’t wait to jump into the river after so much walking and it was real shiok. Fun fact: soaking cold water helps to heal the micro-tears in your muscles, according to my sis.

Anyway, I said camping in the title but this was not the sleep-in-a-tent kind of camping. Camp 5 is like a base camp that has basic mattresses for sleeping, a well-equipped kitchen, and a very nice toilet with showers that wildly exceeded my expectations! (I was expecting like a composting toilet and no showers cos my previous camping experiences were all the sleep-in-a-tent kind.) Some shots I took around the camp:

For dinner, we cooked our Prima Taste ready meals which are amazingly easy (just boil or microwave the whole packet) and taste good too! Then had a short briefing for the next day’s trek by our guide, before sleeping super early cos there’s nothing much to do in the dark hahaha.

Day 3: we made it to the Pinnacles viewpoint! and back down

Finally the big day arrived! We left the camp around 7am and started on our treacherous climb. The path was totally natural ie. no paved road, we’re walking on soil and tree roots and climbing around rocks, and it’s also super steep so by the first 30s we were panting already. The first section to the “mini pinnacles” was crazy tiring – imagine climbing up stairs two steps at a time for 30min non-stop. It was the longest 30min of my life and I was seriously contemplating whether my mostly-but-not-100%-recovered knee would be able to take this for another 2.5h, plus coming all the way back down afterwards.

We finally reached the mini pinnacles for our first break and I honestly couldn’t imagine climbing another 3x of this. But everyone was up for continuing and so I couldn’t give up LOL. So after a short rest, we continued the uphill task.

Somehow, the climb got less bad after this. Probably because our muscles were warmed up and we went at a slower pace (after mini pinnacles, the guide made simin be in front to set the pace). Simin and I started playing the 20 questions game which helped A LOT in distracting us from the climbing. At the halfway point, we could leave some of our water there for our way down, so our load was lightened a little!

The final section was the most interesting because it’s more rocky, and there are ladders set up for us to climb up or between the rocks. We knew there were 17 ladders so we slowly counted as we made our way to the top!

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The start of the ladder section was not very reassuring. The sign says “You made it to the danger zone” wow hooray!!
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We made it to the viewpoint!!! After 3.5h of climbing
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View of the pinnacles- not the best photo angle because I was too tired to move

Honestly the main things I felt were relief that the climbing up was over and a sense of dread at having to climb down next. The view of the Pinnacles was cool but it was pretty much the same as the photos I’d seen online LOL. Maybe not even as nice as some of the photos online cos they’re taken with a drone! (Scroll up to see the first photo from the internet and compare that with mine hahaha)

We stopped here for about half an hour to take photos, rest and have our lunch (we brought a fruit and nut loaf and muffins). Then…… it was time to go back down :'(

The climb down was super tiring too. Ok, going up definitely was worse in terms of cardio, but going down when your legs are already tired but you need to take each step carefully so that you don’t fall and die was… bad. It helped to use my arms to lower myself more when I could, and I picked up a branch to use as a walking stick on the way down too which lessened the stress on my legs a bit. But it was still bad.

We finally reached back to the camp after taking 5.5h to go down x__x I just sat in the river for a long time until I felt like I could walk again. But for the rest of that day and the next day we were all limping around and going “ouch ouch” when walking any steps hahahahaha.

Cooked maggi mee + spam for dinner, and of course we had an amazing night’s sleep after the trek!

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The route info that my sis and I pretty much memorized cos it was pasted up on the wall of the dining area

Day 4-5: back to Miri and home sweet home

Left camp 5 in the morning for the 9km hike and 1h longboat ride back to civilization. The hike was quite sian but I was forced to re-evaluate my previous judgement of it being “flat and boring” because there were some parts with a bit of up/down. I barely noticed them when we were hiking in, but with our aching legs they were reallyyy painful.

Going back was downstream so we didn’t have to push the boat much! I even fell asleep towards the end of the boat ride hahaha. Had a decent, freshly-cooked lunch at the park HQ cafe and then we left for Miri to rest and relax for a night before flying back.

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