Mulu National Park: Deer and Lang Caves

At the entrance to the famed Deer Cave

Deer and Lang

This tour started in the afternoon and required a hour hike to the base of the caves.  This was was mostly on boardwalk to minimize the impact to the ecosystem from the thousands of visitor footsteps. Even the the walk to the cave entrance was boardwalk and three kilometers, it felt like a ten kilometer hike.  Along the way the guide pointed out walking stick bugs, lantern bugs, and even some millipedes. We rested at the bat viewing platform for a few minutes to recover and then went to the Lang cave.  All the caves in the area (over 20 of them) were named by how they were discovered or who discovered them.  Lang cave was discovered by a hunter following the tracks of a wild boar.  The entrance was unassuming enough, but it opening into a an amazing underground world of stalactite, stalactites, and many other underground formations.  Small non-glowing glow worms hung from the ceiling like thread and wavered in the wind as we walked by.  The cool dank air was a welcome reprieve the heavy rainforest outside.  “Only a few rules inside the cave.” Our guide Richie said: “No smoking, No littering, stay on the path, no touching — watch your head because if you break a formation we will be very angry.”

Stalactite in the Lang Cave


Non-Glowing glow worms in the Lang Cave

In the cave systems they took the care to establish boardwalks and minimal lighting periodically.  Some of the more interesting formations are illuminated.

After a brief 200 meter loop through the cave we exited and started up the ramp to Deer Cave.  Deer cave is the largest cave opening in the world.  It is also home to a very large colony of bats — nearly three million wrinkle-nose bats.  The “Mulu Perfume” hits you first (the bat guano).  “People followed deer into the cave and saw it drinking the guano enriched water.  The guano provides minerals the deer crave.” Richie informed us.

Prehistoric looking tree ferns are look like miniature guards to this massive cavern opening.

Giant Ferns make for a prehistoric entrance look

If you look hard enough you can see many face silhouettes

Whose face can you see?

The trail goes along the side of the cave under an overhang.  Bat guano, feet deep, is everywhere. “Watch your hand on railing, snake on rope later.”  As if snakes on the rope railing wasn’t encouragement enough, the railing were either covered with guano or spider webs.  I didn’t want my hands to be a part of any of those three things.  We walked through the main chamber feeling very small in the middle of something large and grandiose.

1.5 times the height of statue of liberty.   The Sarawak Chamber (above) is so large it could hold 40 Boeing 747s. It is, dare I say: Cavernous!

We walked through the small narrow chambers until it opened into the “garden of eden”.  This was a place of a ancient sinkhole collapse allowing light and jungle foliage to grow into the cavern.

The Garden of Eden

Chattering bats above filled the cavern.  “If you look up, keep your mouth closed unless you want super bat energy.” Richie continued.  We saw several swiftlet nests as well. The the ceiling was the main show, covered with bats.  They were too far to discern individuals, but there was a writing black mass high on the rooftop of the cave. Every giant drop on our heads made us wonder: “Is that water, guano, or bird poop?”

We made our way out the way we came to the viewing station below.  It was crowded with nearly 150 people from all over the world here to see one of nature’s great shows: The bat exodus.  Three million is a big number, and in my experience people usually have trouble with big numbers.  Luckily a informational placard in the viewing area had a nice calculation to help people understand how much bats that actually is, while explaining their importance.  Every night, when that colony goes out to feast, they consume nearly 30 tones of insects.  Which of course translates to a lot of of poop.

The energy level kept climbing with people chattering more and more excitedly, when a troupe of macaques broke the tension with a domestic dispute on the nearby cliff walls.  Like with all things wild, there was no guarantee we would see it.  Sometimes it is small.  Sometimes they come out later past dark.  If it rain was immanent, they would not come out at all.  “I am very sorry, but I hope the bats do not come out tonight, we need rain.” Richie said.  We all waited anxiously, and then: “The bats will come out soon, keep talking to a minimum.” One of the guides shouted over all the chatter.  The first sortie came out.  “BATS” shouted some exited kids.

Another sortie, and then another came out.  Each time the bats funneled out en masse and twisted and spiraled out.  This is done like schooling fish in order to confuse predators, namely the hawks that wait for the bats to come out every night.  A few more sorties, then just one long continuous flow of bats, twisting and shifting in the night sky.  For 30-40 minutes in the dusky night, bats flew out of the cave.  Between the oohs and ahhs, the fwt fwt fwt fwt flapping of wings could be heard.

The snake formation
The sperm formation
The extra long intestine formation that went on for nearly 30 minutes.

We watched for a bit more then headed back gobsmacked by the wondrous sight we were privileged to witness.

On our way back the light disappeared, leaving only the small glow of low watt florescent light every 40 meters on the boardwalk.  Frogs and insects filled the air.  Occasionally bats swooped down next to the lights and picked a snack.

We were all drenched in sweat when we came back.   Everyone took turns showering.  Even though the entire trip was no more than seven kilometers, I collapsed from exhaustion.  I couldn’t imagine doing the 24 kilometer Mount Mulu hike.


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