We’ve just spent four lazy days in Mulu National Park. Mulu is the Malaysian Borneo National Park that’s famous mostly because it’s difficult to get to and for the fact that 99% of people fly in and out. Mulu is one of the least visited parks in Malaysia because of this. And it’s glorious. There are hiking trails, and caves to see, and it’s delightfully cool. Here’s our guide on how to visit Mulu National Park.
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MUST DO FOR MULU
There is limited accommodation at Mulu National Park – so as SOON as you know your dates, book your accommodation. There are homestays here and dorm accommodations, but the Marriot is the best place to stay. Book early to confirm availability.
Getting to Mulu National Park
99% of visitors to Mulu National Park fly here. That’s because there’s no road to get to Mulu.
There are two other routes, you can take a boat up the river, but you have to find one Then you have to hope that the level of the river is high enough to get you all the way. It’s the dry season in July / August, so that means no riverboat for us.
Or you can hike the Headhunters Trail from Limbang, stay at Camp Five in the National Park, and hike your way to Head Quarters. Welcome to Mulu National Park.
Virtually all visitors start their trip to Mulu National Park from Miri. Or at least Miri airport.
Flying to Mulu
There are flights to Mulu from Miri, flights from Kota Kinabalu, and from Kuching to Miri. There are usually two flights a day from Miri to Mulu. It’s best to book your flight at the same time as booking your accommodation and visits to the caves and skywalks at Mulu.
We found one-way MASwings flights for GBP29 each from Miri – the closest airport – and so took the easy option. Our flight was less than a third full. You can also fly here from Kota Kinabalu and Kuching. We’ll be flying to Kuching when we leave Mulu.
The planes that go to Mulu are small puddle jumpers, with a flight time of about 30 minutes from Miri. It’s little more than taking off, leveling out, and then landing. Although the seat belt sign did go off during the flight, the cabin attendant did have just enough time to deliver a complementary carton of Milo to each of us. Milo is an Australian invention – a chocolate, malt mix, it’s EVERYWHERE here and tastes pretty good.
Arriving at Mulu National Park Airport
And so, we landed at the cutest little airport, deplaned (it's a rear entry plane as the front door area is taken up with where the luggage goes), walked across the tarmac and into the arrivals and luggage hall, and waited for the luggage to be unloaded onto a hand-pulled trolley and trundled across to us (they'd save money and time if they just let us grab it from the hold ourselves!).
Luggage collected - it was probably the first time ever that our bags were first and second off! - We walked out of the airport and turned right.
Driving Overland / Boats to Mulu
You cannot drive all the way to Mulu – you will need to fly, walk or follow this route and take boats. This route to Mulu will take a minimum of 12 hours if it's even possible at the time of year that you're traveling. And if you don't make connections or find the boats, then you could be looking at a couple of days, mainly of waiting around. Your best bet in terms of arranging it is to ask around at hostels in Miri and see if it's possible when you're there. This will NOT be cheaper than flying. You'll need to
- Go from Miri to Kuala Baram (a taxi will be easiest)
- Then go from Kuala Baram to Marudi up the Baram River by boat - there's a boat that usually goes at lunchtime. It's not possible to book it online though. This is a scheduled boat on this part of the trip.
- In Marudi take a boat up the Tutoh River to Long Terawan. These boats don't run every day, and it also depends on the water levels in the river.
- in Long Terawan, then you'll need to hire a private boat to take you to the National Park entrance.
Hiking to Mulu National Park - the Headhunters Trail
The Headhunters Trail to Mulu National Park is not for the faint-hearted. It follows the trails used by the Kayan Headhunting parties. It starts with a boat trip to Kuala Berar, then you'll trek for around 3 hours to get to Camp 5. At Camp 5 there's an 11-kilometer (6.8-mile) hike that gets you to Kuala Terikan. This hike is hard going and can take 5 hours. Overnight options include camping and a communal longhouse on the way. You can read more about the Headhunter Trail and book a place hiking to Mulu here.
If hiking is your thing, then head t Cameron Highlands in Peninsular Malaysia, where there are some spectacular hikes (and a great climate for it), I wrote about the best 7 hikes in Cameron Highlands here.
Going from Mulu Airport to Mulu National Park
There are transport options here (5RM to get you to your destination of choice), but as we didn't quite know our destination we set off walking. And honestly, it's hardly very far at all. Even the entrance to the National Park is just a 15-minute walk.
The only other airport I've walked away from was Lukla, Nepal and that was an amazing trip too. Anyway, it's a short walk and you'll pass by some of the accommodations that you can book to stay here.
Where to Stay in Mulu
There are two types of accommodation here in Mulu - that is, either inside the park or outside the park. The Park has chalets, bungalows, a couple of longhouses, and a hostel with dorms. The dorm beds were 55 RM each, (you can check the current prices here) the rest of the accommodation was out of our budget. So we opted for a short list of accommodations outside the park and walked past each to only be told they were full. A dorm in the park would be our final option (actually anything in the park would be our final chance to find accommodation!).
The places to stay at Mulu are very limited. If you want to stay inside the National Park, then book your accommodation here. In fact, wherever you want to stay at Mulu, book as soon as you can.
Staying inside Mulu National Park
There are several options for accommodation inside the National Park. The best are the 8 garden bungalows, with private bathrooms, AC and hot water. Then there are twin rooms, longhouse rooms, and dorms. We didn't book accommodation at Mulu and ended up in the dorm rooms, which have 24 beds. Book accommodation ahead of time.
You can also stay outside of Mulu National Park, and all these accommodation options are REALLY close so it's not that difficult to get into the park in the morning, or on your night hikes.
Staying outside Mulu National Park
There aren’t that many places to stay near Mulu National Park. And if you’re coming here you should book sooner rather than later, so here’s our pick of the luxury places to stay in Mulu, mid-range places to stay in Mulu, and budget accommodation in Mulu.
Mulu Marriott Resort and Spa, Mulu: The Mulu Marriott Resort and Spa is conveniently located in Mulu right in the lush rainforest of Borneo. This five-star Mulu hotel offers guests stunning views and luxurious rooms equipped with air-conditioning, a balcony, satellite/cable channels, a private bathroom with a hairdryer and bathrobes, a closet, a fan, a mini-bar, an in-room safe, iron/iron board, fridge, a desk, and a balcony. There’s all-day dining at the Marriott Café which serves both local and international dishes and wellness cuisine; they also have the River Bar for light bites. This top hotel at Mulu also has laundry services along with a spa and massage. m. You can check room rates and availability here and plan your visit to Mulu.
Most of the places to stay here at Mulu are homestays, and the best Mulu homestays book up really quickly. Here are the top homestays in Mulu.
Mulu Diana Homestay, Mulu: Mulu Diana Homestay is just a 15-minute walk away from the entrance to Mulu National Park. Each room at this fabulous Mulu homestay is furnished with a bedside table, free WiFi access, a private toilet, and a fan, and there is also a seating area in selected rooms. Free breakfast is also offered and it can be enjoyed in the homestay’s shared kitchen. This homestay in Mulu is situated in an ideal location, putting you close to the National Park activities and they also offer laundry services too. The Mulu Diana Homestay is a great place to stay in Mulu. Enjoy your stay by booking in advance here.
Mulu Homestay, Mulu: Mulu Homestay is located near the entrance to Jalan Mulu National Park. This excellent value homestay in Mulu provides rooms equipped with fans and good ventilation. The bathroom has a shower a bathtub, and free toiletries. The homestay boasts a balcony that offers guests spectacular views of the park and the surrounding area. Mulu Homestay is the ideal accommodation for those looking for a quiet and local place to stay when visiting Mulu. See room rates and availability here.
Staying at the River Lodge in Mulu
When we traveled we had NOT prebooked accommodation and so ended up staying at the River Lodge just outside the National Park entrance, it's the closest accommodation to the park, literally 30 seconds away from the entrance. It had space (as you couldn't book online) And Mulu's River Lodge is right on the river and easy to find.
The River Lodge only had a room for one night, so we opted for a dorm, where there were only three beds available out of 24. Feeling lucky we attempted to ignore the moldy mattress and pillow as we put sheets on them and scouted out our new surroundings.
The River Lodge is right on the river.
Our accommodation at the Mulu River Lodge wasn't great, but I'm not sure that many of the places outside the park are fantastic (a notable exception being the Marriott - remember to book accommodation well in advance). After four days of cold showers and toilets that don't have locks (use the ones at the Cafe Mulu in the Park itself!) I'm ready for a hot shower and a room of my own.
Although we managed to move into a room with just two beds at the Mulu River Lodge, the toilets and showers were still the same shared options that you have to walk through the dorm to get to. (In retrospect, the dorm is a much better option, as the electric socket in the private room was broken and the room was really stuffy).
The National Park entrance was perhaps 50 meters away. So for 35 RM each per night we at least had a bed, even if there might not be electricity outside of the hours 5:30 pm until midnight and we also got breakfast. There are four toilets with wash basins and cold water showers, and there are no locks on two of the doors.
Despite having booked a Canopy Walk and a trip to the Deer and Lang Caves with the National Park before booking our flights in and out of Mulu we hadn't booked any accommodation. And yes we'd also read the note on "you will want to book accommodation because the capacity of the planes is more than the capacity of the accommodation" in the Lonely Planet. Unless you want to end up in a dorm with 24 other people, then it's a really good idea to pre-book your Mulu accommodation!
About Mulu National Park
You enter Mulu National Park by walking over a suspension bridge and our first stop was at the park offices.
While we'd booked the walk and the cave trip we hadn't paid for them, as the National Park online payments "system" wasn't working (actually it wasn't clear on the website whether they had one or not..).
We didn't use credit card payment at the park but other folks did and there were problems with this as well - take CASH! (there are no ATMs at Mulu).
Mulu was declared a World Heritage site in 2005 and the pass that you buy will last for five days - you're tagged with a colored bracelet indicating when your time is up. The pass costs 30 RM.
When you sign in, you'll be given a map and details of your bookings for seeing the caves and taking guided hikes. You're not allowed to go into the caves by yourself. (And yes, they're worth the time)
The Mulu National Park pass lasts for five days and costs 30 RM per adult. During the five days, you wear a colored wristband that shows the staff when you have access and you can also access the park 24 hours a day.
If you want to hike one of the unguided trails at 3 a.m., then you're free to do so - as long as you sign in with security and indicate when you expect to be back.
What to See at Mulu National Park
There are a variety of things to see, hikes to take, and caves to explore at Mulu National Park. You can do as much or as little as you want, but it is advisable to prebook anything that you specifically want to do. There are a limited number of park rangers here and it is required to go with them for some of the activities.
The things to do at Mulu are basically
- Visit Mulu Caves
- Take the Rainforest Discovery Walk
- Take a night hike with a park ranger
- Take a canopy skywalk
Accessing the sights and walkable locations of Mulu revolves around a central boardwalk, called the Rainforest Discovery Walk - it stretches 3.8 km from the park HQ to the Bat Observatory near Deer Cave. Virtually all walks use this as their starting point.
Mulu also insists that for most of its walks and all of its "show" caves and adventure caves, there is a Sarawak Forestry-accredited guide with you. This doesn't mean that it has to be a park employee, so if you book tours that are not through the park (i.e. through your accommodation), then that's okay, so long as the guide is accredited and it's such a small community up here, that I can't imagine that any guide your accommodation provides won't be accredited). It also means that you don't have to rely on "just" the park's supply of staff, as caving trips and walks get booked up reasonably early.
We also booked onto a Night Walk and the Clearwater and Wind Cave trip while we were there, but declined the adventure caving trips - which seemed to involve climbing and then swimming through underground rivers for several hours.
Mulu is unique. There are no mosquitoes here. That's because of the millions of bats that live in the caves here.
Visiting The Caves at Mulu National Park
Mulu's Show caves are what they call the caves that you can visit with a guide, where there are boardwalks that you walk on, and steps to climb up and down into and within the caves. Adventure Caving is where you go beyond the boardwalk, onto the cave floor, into the rivers, and where you'll be wearing helmets and swimming.
Deer and Lang Caves Trip at Mulu National Park
Our first trip is with Esther to the Deer and Lang Caves and we leave the Park HQ at 14:15 . The Deer Cave is so named because Deer used to shelter here, but it's actually famous for housing millions of bats, which depart the cave somewhere (says the park literature) between 4 pm and 6 pm every day unless it's raining heavily.
It's 3.8km along the boardwalk to the Deer Cave, Esther points out plants, animals, and insects en route and the time and distance passes quickly. It seems hard to speed up the walking here as the boardwalk is pretty slippery a lot of the way.
We have a short stop at the Bat Observatory - where we find a covered and uncovered seating area, from where we'll be able to watch the bats on their nightly food-hunting trip later.
The Lang Cave, Mulu National Park
The Lang Cave is our first stop - it's much smaller than the Deer Cave, but prettier - with many stalagmites and stalactites throughout, but very few bats.
The ceilings are low.
The Deer Cave, Mulu National Park
Deer Cave is vast in comparison, the black that we see hundreds of meters up on the roof of the cave are bats, hundreds and thousands of them. Sleeping for now. Or pooping. The smell of guano is strong, to say the least. The desire to use the handrails is zero. And we can spot hundreds and hundreds of cockroaches loving their life in the guano. We slowed down significantly, the boardwalk is now mainly a metal walkway and it's slippery.
As we make our way into the cave we turn to face the entrance and get our view of the most famous vista of Mulu - the Abraham Lincoln profile and it really is quite stunning.
Not quite so magical though as how the light plays on the water falling from the ceiling in this cathedral of a cave. It's great to see that Esther is as enthralled with it as we are.
We walk on the boardwalk throughout this cave, up and down metal staircases, and get to our turn-around point, the viewpoint of the magical Garden of Eden.
The Green Cave, Mulu National Park
A ceiling fall split this cave and the Green Cave beyond eons ago and created this beautiful area (you can hike to it, but at 140 RM per person we didn't have the budget). Right here are two ceiling spouts through which water is pouring. These are the Adam and Eve shower heads explains Esther.
The tour that we took ended when we departed the cave. However, seeing as we were there in the late afternoon, we stayed around to see the bats exiting the cave. There's more on this later, but first, let's continue with the final cave at Mulu.
Clearwater and Wind Cave, Mulu National Park
The final cave at Mulu National Park is the Clearwater and Wind Cave. You'll visit this on a separate trip, as you can see on the map of Mulu National Park it's in a slightly different area of the park.
This was our most expensive trip at Mulu. It's a half-day trip. For us it started at 09:15 and returned us to Park HQ by 13:15. It starts with a longboat (6 or 7 people per boat) trip up to the Village Long House, where the local Penan people have a small handicrafts market which opens for the tourists.
It was interesting to be able to try the blowpipe and see if we could hit the target for 1 RM for two darts.
We both had a go and were able to hit the board surprisingly easily, no real deep breaths needed, just a lot more practice in order to get the accuracy sorted out.
Wind Cave, Mulu National Park
The next stop was Wind Cave, named because there is a wind that comes through it, although not while we were there when it should have been named "cold water drips down the back of the neck" cave.
There are rather a lot of steps leading to the cave entrance and a short trek into the cave, formed by an old river. There's a boardwalk throughout, descriptive information boards and the cave culminates with the show cave, the King's Chamber - a marvelous display of stalagmites, stalactites, heliotites, and columns.
Then it was back down the steps again and into the boats to head up to the main attraction.
Or rather the prelude to the main attraction, this was "Lady Cave" - named for the stalagmite that throws a shadow like a praying nun. We had to climb 100 steps to get to the entrance of the cave and then descend into it. The French family with the two small boys were getting pretty antsy by now, so I'm pretty sure that Harvey our National Park guide sped things up a little and this was now the main attraction - and right next to the entrance to the Lady Cave we headed down into what used to be the biggest cave in the world, until the Vietnamese discovered another in 2009, in the Phong Nha area..
The Malays still claim that Clearwater is the "largest cavern passage" in the world, being that it contains the largest amount of air.
Either way, the cave system is huge. More than 220 kilometers long, although the part that's open to the public is extremely small, and our trip takes in a minuscule amount of that.
The cavern is truly huge, there's a constant drip of water, it's been raining pretty consistently, in this the dry season, for at least 3 hours a day since we arrived here in Mulu and there's the roar of the river that runs through the bottom of the cave, Clearwater by name and by nature too.
From the temperature of the water that's dripping down my neck, I'm glad that we didn't opt for the adventure caving option, where you get to spend nearly two hours swimming in that river.
At the entrance, we find a single-leaf plant that is endemic to this area - a single-leaf plant, yes, that's all it is, a single leaf.
Guided Walks at Mulu National Park
There are several guided talks that you can take at Mulu National Park. The Rainforest Discovery Boardwalk can be used at all times, but the Canopy Skywalk needs a guide and if you want to go at night around the boardwalks, then having a guide is a great way to actually be able to see things!
The Canopy Skywalk, Mulu National Park
Mulu is famous for having the world's longest canopy walk at 480 meters in length - it's accessed via the main boardwalk, so we head off down it again, this time with Ishmail.
We'd selected the 08:30 tour, but it turns out it runs at 9 am on a Friday, although no one told us until 08:35, and with waiting around for our no shows we didn't leave until 09:20. Mulu times are pretty laid back and setting off late with no shows seems to be the norm, which is a huge shame, considering that people are turned away from trips because there is no space.
The canopy tour was great to be walking along the bridges at eye level with the trees. The guides know the park well and will take you to places, and most importantly, point things out that you would not find by yourself.
The Night Walk at Mulu National Park
We took the guided Night Walk with Undi and left the Park HQ at around 19:40 - after waiting around for 10 minutes for another couple of no-shows. You learn to carry waterproofs, water, and torches whenever you head off into the park, it just makes everything easier.
At first, it's pretty intimidating in the dark - everything is a threat. From the branches that leap down and try to get you, to the small bugs that are fascinated by your torchlight. At least at Mulu, there are very few if any mosquitoes - those millions of bats consume millions and millions of mosquitoes! Walking through the rainforest in the dark is fascinating though - once you know where and what to look for.
We saw frogs (and you can also hear hundreds of them in chorus), there were millipedes, stick insects, spiders, cockroaches, scorpions, lizards, and a kingfisher.
And now, after the night walk, I want an UV torch - this way you get to find scorpions in the dark!!
Our night walk held us in good stead, as two days later, we headed off on a few trails, taking the Kenyalang Loop (and also walking to the end of the Dead End) to the Deer Cave to sit and wait on our final evening in the park to see if the bats would oblige. They did, although because of the weather, not in the huge, vast swarm that we'd envisaged - in smaller groups, circling, and wheeling away and back, avoiding the hungry Bat Hawks waiting for dinner.
The Bats had appeared at 18:20 (for the third day in a row), so it meant that we hadn't gone far down the 3.8km boardwalk back to the park entrance before darkness fell. At least the rain wasn't continuing to fall (it had started to rain again around 17:40, while we sat waiting for the bats).
There is something incredibly magical about walking in the dark in the rainforest with the music of frogs, crickets, and katydids serenading you. Standing still to listen, perhaps closing your eyes and then opening them to see pinpricks of vividly bright light dancing along. Fireflies! Not lots by any means, but fireflies, some following us on the boardwalk, some staying in the trees. Some bright white lights, one an almost neon green.
Food Options at Mulu National Park
There's a cafe at the Park HQ "Cafe Mulu", which serves a variety of dishes for around 12 RM for a plate of noodles. Pumpkin curry (9RM) is good, although with a little hot on the outside and frozen inside pieces of pumpkin. The cafe also has wifi - which you actually buy from the gift shop for 5RM for 24 hours (runs from 8 am to 07:59 am the following day - they input the password to your device for you each day), but neither we nor anyone we spoke to managed to do anything other than Skype text or download small emails. No web pages or IOS apps would load at all.
Just outside the park, there are three cafe options. The Good Luck Cafe with great spring rolls, excellent vegetarian laksa, good noodles, rice wine for 12RM for a small (two large glasses) bottle and Tiger beer for 8RM a 330 ml tin. The Mulu River Lodge where we stayed - with great fried noodles and fried rice dishes, the same beer deal at 8RM and where breakfast of egg, sausage, two slices of toast and coffee/tea was included in our rate. Also, the Bamboo cafe, which you'll find just after the Mulu River Lodge. The D'Cave homestay will also do breakfast for 10 RM per person and a dinner buffet for 15 RM each. There are other accommodation and food options heading further away from the park and the airport.
We left Mulu on another plane, after a saunter to Mulu airport - where there's a small outdoor but undercover cafe, but you'll want to head through "security", as the "departure lounge" is air-conditioned. It's a slightly longer flight this time - we're heading to the cosmopolitan Kuching, our last stop in Bornean Malaysia.
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Final Words on Visiting Mulu National Park
Mulu was fabulous. There weren't great numbers of people (even the 18 British teenagers we shared the dorm with were quiet and well-behaved!) and it was relatively easy to get off by yourself and just listen and be in the rainforest, but you can also find that solitude if you try at Bako National Park too. (Our guide to Bako is here)
I expected Mulu to wow me. And it did. I also expected there to be more to do, which was one reason for staying four days and three nights. In retrospect, you could hike all the unguided trails and visit two caves, the canopy, and do the night walk in two days, if you got your act together and didn't huddle undercover when the heavens opened as we did. However. this is a great place to relax and take it slow and easy.
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