Mulu National Park

Mulu was established as a UNESCO world heritage site in 2000.    It boasts:

  • 7 different types of forest biomes
  • 1700 identified mosses
  • 1500 identified species of flowering plants
  • 450 identified species of fern
  • 4000 identified species of fungi
  • 80 identified species of mammals
  • 50 identified fish
  • 270 identified birds
  • 50 identified reptiles
  • 75 identified amphibians
  • Estimated 20,000 species of insect.

Given this biodiverse and species rich environment, it is no wonder that people and scientists flock to this place from all over the world.

With a short runway only small planes can fly in and out, ours was a 60 person plane.  Flying in we could see the dense jungle from above.  We saw massive logging operations. We later learned there was a partnership between logging and the protected areas.  Logging is permitted up until the park boundary in limited form.  That was the official story anyway.  Another version of rampant timber poaching can be found by clicking here.

Large scale deforestation on one side of the river, the other side is Mulu National Park.

The park itself is extremely organized, regimented, and remote.  There was much to do.  There were some self explore activities, but adventure, boat, canopy walks, and cave activities all required a licensed guide through the park.  A main attraction in the park was the Deer and Lang cave.  The Deer cave was featured on BBC’s Planet Earth.  There are accommodations within the park.  A deluxe Marriott outside the park required a shuttle.  There are a few backpacker options.  There is one restaurant in the park and a few just outside the park.  The one outside the park is just across the bridge and undersells the park by two Malaysian Ringgits.  There were no stores and no shopping options.

Like most jungles, the wildlife was all around.  The air was thick with sounds.  Seeing what made the sounds was another thing entirely.  Not only were many of the creatures adept at camouflage, many hid.  There were also two shifts: A day shift and a night shift.  Most mammals were nocturnal, making them especially difficult to spot.  We had to pick our activities and plan our stay.  So many choices existed.  Sharleen did a fantastic job of finding lodging within the park which allowed us to maximize our time in the park.  It was really special to be able to wake up and be in the park.  We took advantage of three main activities in our short time there:  The Deer and Lang cave complex, the Clearwater and Wind cave complexes, and self explore activities.

River swim

After a short flight and landing and being exposed to high humidity and hot weather again, I went swimming in the river with the girls.  The current was a little strong, but the river’s coolness was the perfect antidote to the heat exhaustion we were feeling.

Kylie and Alyssa cool their jets after a long day of travel.

Tree top wildlife

Determined not to let any of the amazing slice of Earth go to waste, I was up at first light and took Alyssa with me to the Tree Top observatory.  It was a 12 story climb into a little tree fort in the canopy level.  From here we saw a different part of the rainforest – the canopy.  We saw a few pygmy squirrels and some birds and then decided to go down and eat breakfast.  After breakfast, and hearing about it, Sharleen and Kylie wanted to see the canopy as well.  This time we saw a colorful Diard’s Torgon, some lizards, and squirrels.  Kylie spotted the tiniest scorpion I had ever seen.  It was the size of her pinky nail.

Diard’s Torgon
Hammerhead worms (Broadhead Planarians) are primordial and alien-like. They are flatworm predators that eat other worms and even mollusks (Click Here).   I would not want to mess with one of these things.
Pygmy Squirrel (2-3 inches in length)
A flying dragon

Inside there were numerous placards informing people of the different types of mammals, birds, and reptiles.  It included animal behaviors, silhouettes, and even information about the strangler fig and its important role in the forest ecology.  From the forest floor the hide was not visible, and from the hide, the forest floor was not visible.  The density of this rain forest was amazing!

Botanical Walk

I walked the entire botanical walk.  An easy 1.5 km stroll over boardwalk meandering through a Riverine Forest.

I was so impressed with the information supplied along the way, I went again with the family after our tree top excursion.

The Goldfield Girls exploring together.

The path crossed several streams that were in various stages of drying up.

A typical river through this Riverine Forest area.

Kingfishers and birds darted about, refusing to stay long enough in one spot for a portrait.  In walking along the boardwalk, every stage of life is represented: New growth, Dying, and regeneration. Beauty could be found everywhere, even in the smallest of things.

A fern unfurls
A mushroom forest within a forest
A petite pitcher plant
Great Mormon Swallowtail

Paku Valley Trail: 8km

Given my last experiences in Sabah, it sounds crazy that I would try another jungle trek. But I was determined not to let any of this experience go to waste.  Plus, it felt a little cooler than in the Kinabatangan River area (indeed the temperature was certainly less 26C versus 34C (that’s 80F v 94F), but the humidity was different (75-80% in Mulu versus 60-70% in Sukau).

I still wanted to see as much as I could, so I thought I’d just do it!  The first part of the track was easy going.  It was used by local villagers to ride upstream on their mopeds to homes upriver from the national park.  The walk was nice along riverside (as long as I didn’t stop and give blood-sucking mosquitoes a chance).  I then turned away from the river towards the limestone formation foot hills.  The path became much more dynamic. There was more bush to get through and mud patches to be wary of.  Occasionally there were small paths going to the various cave entrances.  Entry is forbidden without being accompanied by a guide.  Half way through the trail I really started feeling the effects of the humidity.  My shirt was drenched and starting to soak my shorts.  My water supply were still good as I had a half liter left.  But I knew I was sweating far more liquids than I was putting into my system.  I went by Paku Falls and debated jumping in for a swim, but the moment I stopped, mosquitoes were around, so I forged ahead.  After a bit, the path again went through a Riverine Forest.  It was a bit swampy at times, there were more mud patches and the heat intensified.  I reflected a bit on the amount of water in the air.  It was dry season, and all the locals were crossing their fingers for rain.  Brief showers happened every night, with nearly all of that being evaporated up.  During that process, the rainforest was like a steam chamber.  Hot humid air was what I moved in and what inhaled.  Before coming to Mulu, I had planned to do more aggressive hikes up into the Limestone forest region; however after just a few kilometers in this humidity, I knew I wouldn’t make it.

The wildlife made itself known in a variety of ways.  Birds and mosquitoes made themselves known in obvious ways, as did butterflies, dragonflies, damsels, and stick bugs.  Skinks had unique way of letting me know they are around.  Every few meters, leaves would rustle, making me jump.  Sometimes I just heard them, other times, I’d see a tail disappearing in a pile of leaves.  If I looked hard enough, sometimes I’d see something really interesting.

I made it back by evening a little worse for wear.  I was dehydrated and tired.  But what a great walk!

At times the trail was hard to discern.
Other times, there were red stakes marking the way. (Bottom right)
The trail and their bridges were not always stable.
A skink paused long enough for me to snap a picture
Lantern bug

We really enjoyed this park.  The heat and humidity kept us from enjoying it more.  I wish I could have spent another week exploring it.  After looking at my pictures, I regret not taking more and seeing more.

In talking with the park’s director B’ian, he said that nearly 98% of the employees were Orang Ulu (upper river people).  Any of the proceeds that do not go to the government, go to them in form or another.  Whether it be for guides, housekeeping, staff, or park maintenance.  They are the primary beneficiaries.  Given Sarawak’s complicated ethnic situation, it was hard to parse this out if Orang Ulu were indigenous or not.

One of the small touches I really liked about Mulu was the Honesty Market.  Locals brought their goods and left them on a shelf for “Tamu” (Market).  Many times it was office staff who would bring items for Tamu, but not always.  Sometimes people brought crackers and water.  Other times people brought vegetables.  On our last day it was homemade breakfast treats and mochi.  We left our Ringgits in the bucket and enjoyed.

It was time to say goodbye to Mulu and we flew out in the same small plane we flew in on.

 

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