what to do in mulu national park

How to Visit Mulu National Park – What to see and do in Mulu

We’ve just spent (at the beginning of August)  four lazy days in Mulu National Park.

Mulu is the park that’s famous mostly because its difficult to get to and for the fact that 99% of people fly in and out.

There are two other routes in, 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. No river boat for us.

Or you can hike the Headhunters Trail from Limbang, the stay at Camp Five in the National Park and hike your way to Head Quarters.  There are no roads to get here.

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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 on our return.

Booking travel in Malaysia is easy, especially with online booking from 12GoAsia. There are heaps of comfortable buses and ferries that are easy options. For your transport in Malaysia, use 12goAsia for online booking and make life a lot easier! Get timetables for Malaysian buses and ferries, plus book online and get instant confirmation here.

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It was a tiny little puddle jumper MASwings plane, with a scheduled departure time of 09:20 and an arrival time of 09:50 it really wasn’t much more than a take off and land, although the seat belts sign did go off during the flight and the cabin attendant did have time to deliver a complementary carton of Milo to each of us.

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Milo is an Australian invention – a chocolate, malt mix, it’s EVERYWHERE here.

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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 40 other people, then its wise to prebook your Mulu accommodation!

Where to Stay in Mulu

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, 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. The plush hotel at Mulu also has an indoor and outdoor pool, an exercise area, a game room, and a yoga room. 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 the perfect 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 and 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.

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There are two types of accommodation here in Mulu – that inside the park and that outside the park. The Park has chalets, bungalows, a couple of longhouses and a hostel with dorms. The dorm beds were 55 RM each, the rest of the accommodation was out of our budget. So we’d opted for a short list of accommodation outside the park, with a dorm in the park being our last resort (actually anything in the park would have been our last resort!).

And so, we landed at the cutest little airport, deplaned (it’s a rear entry plane as the front door is taken up with where the luggage goes), walked across the tarmac and into the arrivals and luggage hall, while we waited for the luggage to be loaded 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!).

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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.

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There were 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.

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The only other airport I’ve walked away from was Lukla, Nepal. First we passed the Mulu Homestay Backpackers on the left, just a couple of minutes from the airport, then we arrived at d’Cave, our number one choice.

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No room at this inn, and it was suggested we take the next left and go to the AA Homestay or the Mulu River Lodge “over there”. (cue Asian directional wave)

So at the next left we turned towards the National Park (350 meters). The AA Homestay was full.

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The River Lodge only had a room on the 1st August, so we opted for a dorm, where there were only three beds free 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.

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The River Lodge is right on the river.

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The National Park entrance was perhaps 50 metres 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 5:30pm until midnight and we also got breakfast. There are four toilets with wash basins and cold water showers, that there are no locks on two of the doors is something we’ll deal with later.

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So then we headed off over the suspension bridge into the Park. 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 ATM’s at Mulu).

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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. The park is actually run by a private company, which is part owned by the sister of the Chief Minister of Sarawak.

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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.

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Mulu also insists that for most of it’s walks and all of it’s “show” caves and adventure caves that 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 ok, 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 on the adventure caving trips – which seemed to involve climbing 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.

Mulu’s Show caves are what they call the caves that you can visit with a guide, where there are boardwalks that you can walk through, 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
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 4pm and 6pm everyday 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.

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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 is our first stop – its much smaller than the Deer Cave, but prettier – with many stalagmites and stalagtites throughout, but very few bats. The ceilings are low.

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Deer Cave is vast in comparison, the black that we see hundreds of meters up on the roof of the cave are bats, hundred 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 slow down significantly, the boardwalk is now mainly a metal walkway and it’s slippery.

It’s dark.

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.

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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.

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We walk on boardwalk throughout this cave, up and down metal staircases and get to our turn around point, the viewpoint of the magical Garden of Eden.

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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.

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Departing the cave, its 17:20 and we head to the Bat Observatory to await the nightly exodus. By 18:00 there’s no sign of them and the rain is persistent, the crowd is large and we decide to get a head start on the crowds. Many follow. All of us, we find out, making a bad decision as the bats came out at 18:20.

The Canopy Skywalk

Mulu is famous for having the word’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. Our group was supposed to be 7, but two haven’t turned up, so we join a Brit and two Danes, who have all just returned from hiking to the Pinnacles. (It was HARD we were told). The Pinnacles are a forest of razor sharp limestone well pinnacles reached by a hike of several days.

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Arriving at the Canopy Skywalk, Ishmail turns the conversation to religion, and asking all of our thoughts and then proceeding to have a conversation about Jesus Christ as our savior with five of us who are professed aethiest or agnostics. Conversion in the Canopy was not something I was expecting from a self confessed herb doctor as we all look somewhat uncomfortable, wanting to get on with the canopy.

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What can I say? It’s a canopy, it’s long, it was pretty disappointing and unexpected to have the uncomfortable situation about religion, but we saw several insects, lots of trees and perhaps a squirrel. We’d selected the 08:30 tour, but it turns out it runs at 9am 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.

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The Night Walk

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 until and you can also access the park 24 hours a day.

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If you want to hike one of the unguided trails at 3am, then you’re free to do so – as long as you sign in with security and indicate when you expect to be back.

We took the guided Night Walk with Undi and left the Park HQ at around 19:40 – after sticking around for 10 minutes waiting 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. but now, after the night walk, I want an infrared torch – this way you get to find scorpions in the dark!!

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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 them in their millions and millions of tonnes. Walking through the rainforest in the dark is fascinating though – once you know where and what to look for.

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We saw frogs (although you can hear hundreds of them in chorus), there were millipedes, stick insects, spiders, cockroaches, scorpions, lizards and a kingfisher.

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 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 katydid 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.

Clearwater and Wind Cave

This was our most expensive trip at Mulu, 6XRM each for a trip that 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.

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It was interesting to be able to try the blow pipe 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 breathes needed, just a lot more practice in order to get the accuracy sorted out.

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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 drips down the back of the neck” cave. Rather a lot of steps led 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 for the show cave visitor with the Kings Chamber – a marvelous display of stalagmites, stalagtites, heliotites and columns. Then it was back down the steps again and into the boats to head up to the main attraction.

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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 to 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 those pesky Vietnamese discovered another in 2009.

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 which is endemic to this area – a single leaf plant, yes, that’s all it is, a single leaf.

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We visited Mulu for three nights and four days – flying in from Miri for GBP 29 each, and leaving on the 15:20 flight to Kuching. Our accommodation at the Mulu River Lodge wasn’t great, but I’m not sure that any of it outside the park is (apart from the GBP 100 Marriott or the Park itself). 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).

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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, if they manage to defrost it properly and don’t give you 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 8am to 07:59am 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.

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Just outside the park there are three cafe options – the Good Luck Cafe (great spring rolls, excellent vegetarian laksa, good noodles, rice wine for 12RM for a small (two large glasses) bottle, 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, and the Bamboo cafe, which you’ll find just after the Mulu River Lodge – right next to the burnt out car. 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.

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I expected Mulu to wow me. 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 like we did.

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Mulu was good, not great. 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.

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We left Mulu on another plane, after a saunter to the 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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