Adventure in Sarawak, Malaysia (Part 1/3: Introduction to Kuching & Mulu National Park)

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It’s been a long time since I last flew alone; probably 3 years have passed since I travelled alone for a business trip. So it seems kind of “lonely” when I have to travel for this trip without my partner and kid in tow.

It all started 1-2months ago at a gathering with my secondary school buddies. At the gathering, SH announced that he’s again going to embark on another of his solo hiking trips in Malaysia. It will be a “very tough” hiking trip to see “The Pinnacles” somewhere in eastern Malaysia, Sarawak.

The Pinnacles, Mulu National Park, Sarawak, Malaysia @2015
The Pinnacles, Mulu National Park, Sarawak, Malaysia @2015

I seriously didn’t pay attention to the words “very tough” nor the location. But the very thought of the opportunity for another hike, especially when not far from Singapore, greatly entice me. I thought how challenging could a 3 days 2 nights hike be? Well, it turned out to be very tough indeed!

AirAsia flight, Changi Airport @2015
AirAsia flight, Changi Airport @2015

 

Changi Airport
29-Mar-2015, Sunday.

Arrived at the airport via train without any hiccup. Smooth and quick check-in at the airline counter and dropped off my check-in luggage. It’s not the first time I’m flying with Airasia. For a budget airline, I would say their efficiency is good.

After entered the transit area, I quickly had dinner and bought a bar of chocolates from 7-11 as my in-flight snack. Not to forget the budget travellers’ ritual of filling up my water bottle before boarding.

 

Kuching

The flight from Singapore to Kuching took 1.5hours as expected. Once landed at Kuching (9.30pm), clearing immigration and collecting luggage was a breeze. At the arrival lounge, I found my taxi driver waiting for me; my hostel had arranged for it.

The drive from Kuching airport to my hostel (city centre) took ~15minutes. It seems that taxis here do not run on meters and the “standard price” for airport transfers are fixed at RM26/=.

Room at Lodge121 @2015
Room at Lodge121 @2015

I was staying at Lodge121. It is a small hostel located on the 2nd floor of a row of shop houses. It’s rather difficult to find as the signboard is small.

 

Lodge121 (website)

The location is good; it’s a 10 minutes walk to Kuching Waterfront and is extremely near to various pubs, cafe and local coffee shops. The famous pub/restaurant The Junk (FB) is just 5 minutes walk away.

The interior of the hostel is good and the hosts are friendly. It has a very homely feeling and is reasonably well decorated and clean. They have both private rooms and dorms. Toilets/showers are shared, however, the shower fittings are not in the best condition.

It’s not particularly big. Facilities include water dispenser, small pantry/dining area (though no cooking facilities), PC, free wi-fi (though connections can be patchy at certain spots), fridge, ironing board, TV room and a small storage room. Free breakfast is provided in the form of bread and a few simple spreads + coffee/tea.

Most importantly, I find the rates very reasonable. For my double room, I paid RM69/night and they even throw in a 10% discount. It’s a bargain.

 

First night in Kuching

By the time I reach the hostel at 10 pm, SH was waiting for me and we decided to head out for a quick “supper”.

There’s a number of pub/cafe and local coffee shops around the area. The most “happening” pubs tend to congregate along Jalan Green Hill (google map).

We noticed that these pubs/eateries tend to operate late only on Friday and Saturday nights. When SH was here on the previous Friday, most of the pubs/eateries were open and often crowded. However, on this Sunday night (~10 pm), only a handful of them were open and the crowd was thin.

The Junk, Kuching @2015
The Junk, Kuching @2015

Some of the establishments operate both restaurants and pubs under the same roof in traditional Chinese shop houses. The restaurant is normally located at the front of the shop while the pub is at the rear.

After circling the area for a while, we decided to try The Junk (pub) since it seems “more crowded” (at least it has a few tables occupied) compared to the other deserted pubs.

 

The Junk, Kuching @2015
The Junk, Kuching @2015

The Junk

Though small, The Junk was tastefully decorated with the numerous red Chinese lanterns dominating the ceiling. The atmosphere was great and music lively though there’re not many patrons around.

We ordered 2 pints Hoegaarden and a Hawaiian pizza, which was yummy. Total cost is ~RM90, which is not exactly cheap by local standards.

Overall, we had a good time enjoying the ambience and discussing next day’s trip to Mulu.

 

Flight to Mulu

Early morning, we had a simple breakfast at the hostel before taking a taxi back to Kuching Airport for our MasWing flight to Mulu.

Kuching Airport, Domestic Transit area @2015
Kuching Airport, Domestic Transit area @2015

Mulu is served only by MasWing (a subsidiary of Malaysia Airlines) using ATR-72 turboprops. Flights depart daily from both Miri and Kuching. It appears that the Kuching-Mulu route is under-utilized; on both my inbound/outbound flights, the aircraft is less than 15% filled. Tickets are cheap at RM80 per way, all-inclusive. They even serve sandwiches and drinks onboard. =)

ATR-72 Turboprop in Mulu @2015
ATR-72 Turboprop in Mulu @2015

The flight from Kuching to Mulu is 1.5hours. Being on a turboprop for the first time, I was happily snapping away with my camera. It helps that the weather was relatively clear and I could capture a few nice aerial photos/videos.

Somewhere over Sarawak @2015
Somewhere over Sarawak @2015

 

Arrival at Mulu Airport

The Mulu Airport is very basic. After collecting our luggage, we walked out of the transit hall to find a few people holding placards offering transfers either to Mulu National Park or the Royal Mulu Resort.

The Royal Mulu Resort (map) is slightly further down the main road from the National Park (map). The resort is more luxurious than the accommodation at the National Park. However, since all activities and walks start from the National Park, it’s more convenient to stay directly at the National Park compared to the Resort. Having said, the Resort does provide free transport between itself and the National Park for its guests.

Mulu Airport @2015
Mulu Airport @2015

We approached one of the ladies quoting RM5 (apparently the “standard rate”) for transfer to Mulu National Park. After collecting the fare, she pointed us to the direction of her pickup truck, which we soon realized we’ll be squeezing 4 adults in the rear seats. Luckily, the drive to Mulu National Park takes only 2 minutes; 1.4km.

 

Arrival at Mulu National Park

After a short packed-like-sardine ride, the lady dropped us off at the main entrance (or rather main bridge) leading to the National Park.

Main entrance, Mulu National Park @2015
Main entrance, Mulu National Park @2015

There are 2 restaurants and some backpacker hostels near to the main entrance of the National Park.

After gathering our luggage, we crossed a bridge, which led us to the HQ office of the National Park. All enquiries and reservation of accommodation/activities are conducted at the HQ office.

Bridge leading to Mulu National Park @2015
Bridge leading to Mulu National Park @2015

At the HQ office, we collected our bedsheet/blanket/towel for our 1night stay in the dorm. At the same time, finalized details of our 3days 2nights Pinnacles hike, which commence the following day. The staffs at the HQ office are extremely friendly, helpful and speak reasonably good English.

 

Mulu National Park (website)

A UNESCO World Heritage site, Mulu National Park is famous for its limestone caves. The world’s largest natural chamber (Sarawak Chamber) is located in the park though it’s not accessible to the public.

Popular activities in the park include visiting show caves, adventure caving, canopy skywalk, waterfalls and hiking. The National Park HQ is the launch pad for all activities in the entire area.

Mulu National Park HQ Building @2015
Mulu National Park HQ Building @2015
Map of Mulu National Park and nearby activities @2015
Map of Mulu National Park and nearby activities @2015

In addition, the HQ has a number of accommodations options including dorms, private en suite rooms and bungalows. There are a number of amenities including a cafe, Discovery centre, gift shop, luggage room and jetty.

Cafe at HQ building @2015
Cafe at HQ building @2015
Bungalow at Mulu National Park HQ @2015
Bungalow at Mulu National Park HQ @2015
Dorm at Mulu National Park HQ @2015
Dorm at Mulu National Park HQ @2015

The mobile network is patchy. WiFi access can be purchased from the gift shop at RM10 per day (24hrs unlimited access; 8 am to 8 am next day), though the wi-fi signal is consistent only at the cafe area.

 

Paku Waterfall

After a brief trip to the dorm to leave our belongings, we proceed onto our first hike; Paku waterfall.

The waterfall is an easy 3km (~45minutes) flat terrain walk from the HQ and clearly labelled. Along the way, we pass by other points of interest (see pic above on “Mulu Discovery Planner”) such as The Botanic Trail, Tree Top Tower and Canopy Skywalk.

Without much hassle, we reached Paku Waterfall, which is a rather small waterfall.

Paku Waterfall
Paku Waterfall

Except for 3 hikers that were preparing to leave when we reach, the entire place was deserted. After snapping a few photos, we changed into our swimming gear for a swim.

Paku Waterfall
Paku Waterfall

The water was cool though not crystal clear as there are sediments in the river bed. Nevertheless, it was an interesting experience to swim and waddle in the waist-high river. In particular, you could feel the fishes trying to “kiss” you.

After 30minutes of fun, we change back to our hiking clothes. Just as we’re about to leave, another group of 3 caucasian hikers arrived for their turn to swim.

From the waterfall, we took another 45minutes easy hike towards the entrance of Deer Cave where the next interesting sight awaits.

 

Bat Exodus

Every evening between 5-6pm. Millions of bats will fly out from Deer Cave in batches to look for food, thus the term Bat Exodus.

There is a viewing gallery near the entrance of Deer Cave where visitors could view the daily event. The viewing gallery comes equipped with toilets, shelter and even a small snack bar (which I assume only operates during the bat exodus timing).

When we reach the viewing gallery, it’s almost 5 pm and raining. We waited with the rest of the visitors that had gathered at the gallery, hoping that the rain would not disrupt the event.

It seems a little rain is not about to stop the hungry bats.

Bat Exodus @2015
Bat Exodus @2015

About 15minutes later, the bats started to appear.

I was initially expecting a massive wave of bats all leaving the cave at the same time; much like an angry mob in a riot charging towards their nemesis. However, it turned out that the bats flew in spiraling lines and in batches. At any point in time, there’s only a stream of bats leaving the cave. I heard the entire episode could take up to an hour.

Bat Exodus @2015
Bat Exodus @2015

After 20minutes, we decided to head back to the HQ as it was raining heavily; making the viewing difficult.

 

Meals at Mulu

Meal options at Mulu National Park are limited. The park HQ has a cafe which serves breakfast till dinner. Price is ~RM12-RM15 for a set of local dish (i.e. fried/soup noodles, fried rice, nasi lemak, laksa etc). For those staying in the National Park, the room rates include a set breakfast at the cafe (options: nasi lemak, fried noodle, toast. All with juice/coffee/tea/fruit).

If you’ll like more variety and slightly cheaper food, there are 2 restaurants just across the main entrance bridge.

Over my entire stay at Mulu, I’ve tried both restaurants and found the restaurant nearest to the bridge serving cheaper and more variety food. The food seems more delicious too. Chilled beer (Tiger beer) is available at RM8.50 per can.

On this night, we proceed for a nice warm dinner with beer before calling it a day. We have a long day tomorrow.

 

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Travel Blogger

Someone with a passion for travelling. I love travelling for the experiences and adventures it presents. It gives me the peace, freedom and excitement that few other activities could offer. Balukoo Travel Blog is started to chronicle all the travel experiences/tips that I had gathered. Hope that it will inspire our readers to explore the world. It's a beautiful world out there!