Mulu: Taking the challenge

Starting this post is a photo of me standing in front of MasWings Fokker 50. Later, I found out that MasWings used Twin Otter for Miri-Mulu route few years back (I was using Twin Otter to Bario), but now that they had upgraded it to Fokker 50. Most likely this is because more people are visiting mulu; therefore bigger planes are needed. Twin otter flies at a much lower height and you can see the pinnacles on the journey to mulu. With Fokker, you won’t be able to see the pinnacles. So, you have no choice but to hike to the pinnacles viewpoint. No sweat, no gain.

Arriving Mulu, we took this no-number-plate van to Mulu Headquarter. The van was not in good condition and we had to squeeze together with more than 10 people in it. Thank God it was a short journey. :) A little info, we were on a budget trip where everything had to be self arranged. If you want the easy way out, there are many mulu agents with ready tour packages. The HQ building was a long house with about 10 rooms, a cafeteria, an exbibition room and a souvenior corner. Food was a bit pricy, one meal cost about RM10-RM15. But as they needed to fly the food from miri, so it was reasonably expensive.

The van we took

The big welcome sign in front of HQ

four sharing room

HQ Cafeteria

After lunch, we started a 3.4km walk on a boardwalk from headquarter to the Lang’s Cave and Deer Cave. The Lang’s Cave is well known for its beautiful lime stone formations and the Deer Cave has the world largest cave passage. There were many spectacular views in the caves that were breath taking. I can still vividly remember the the “rain shower” that kept pouring from 60 meter high roof near the Garden of Eden in the Lang’s Cave. (Garden of Eden is at one point of the Lang’s Cave where you can see the outside world). For Deer Cave, I think one would always remember Lincoln’s face. In fact, there were too many to be mentioned or elaborated. One needs to be there to admire the creations of nature.

to the Deer Cave and Lang’s Cave

Captures of cave views

Doesn’t it look like Lincoln’s face?

Besides the view, Deer Cave is also the home for bats. Millions of bats will fly out from Deer Cave for night hunting at 5-6pm. We were not that lucky as it was raining cats and dogs when we came out from Deer Cave. We waited until 6pm and there was still no sign of bat coming out. A contented day with not so perfect ending.

The next day, we moved to Camp5 for pinnacles trail hiking. For that, we had to take long boat from headquarter to Kuala Berar. Half way, we stopped by Clearwater Cave and Wind Cave. Clearwater Cave is the longest cave system. Wind cave, of course was named after the strong wind in the cave. I have to admit that I do not remember each and every of the detail, but then visiting these caves and looking at the scenery that was not available in my daily life were definitely eye opener to me.

Long boat parking at headquarter

Ready to take off

At some points, the water level was very low and the boat man had to use a stick to help the boat moving. Since it rained last night, we did not really need to get down and push the boat. Consolation for not able to watch the bats?

And, and we had made a big mistake. In fact, it was our leader’s fault. (yes, yes, blame him :)) We didn’t know that we needed to bring and cook our own food at Camp5. So, we had to stop at a convenient shop to do the shopping. There were not many choices in the convenient shop. We basically swept almost all the food. A photo as evidence. We had Maggie instant noodles(chicken broth and curry flavour), can food, milo, bihun and rice.

At noon, the long boat reached Kuala Berar and again, we had to walk for about 8km to Camp5. Actually it wasn’t a difficult path, but with the rain last night and the heavy baggages, it was not that simple though. And, we had to walk non-stop to elude the hungry leeches.

Arriving Camp5, the Melinau River in front of Camp5 was the big reward for the 8km walking. The water was crystal clear and we couldn’t wait but jumped into the river.

Camp5 has 5 open rooms for trekkers. The rooms have 6-feet-high walls and have no door. Therefore, it was quite cold at night. I rented a ‘blanket’(actually a bedsheet) from the tour guide, but it was not enough to withstand the cold weather. I couldn’t sleep well at night. But still it was better than none. At one end of the Camp, there was a shared kitchen with all the cooking utensils. We had no choice but to cook ourselves. Again, if you are on a package, the tour guide will cook for you. Nice, right? At first, I thought it would be too tiring for us to take care of our daily meals as we had to climb up to the pinnacles trail. But then I was wrong, I had underestimated myself. ;) It was a special experience. I truly enjoyed preparing and cooking the meals. The tour guides were friendly and I had learnt some tips on how to cook with limited equipments from them. They were also kind enough to give me some vegetables/ingredients. P/S: If you are planning to cook yourself, you should do your food purchase in Miri. Food choices are rather limited in Mulu.

At night, the tour guide came to our room and brief us on the next day hiking. He also warned us to take the hiking seriously as some of the members that went up to the top today had not returned to Camp5 yet. It was 8pm at night and it was raining. I decided to sleep so that I could be fully recharged. However, I couldn’t sleep. The tour guide’s warning and today’s group had hit my confidence. I tried to focus on my breathing….. and I fell asleep.

We started very early the next morning, before 7am with uncertain hearts. The trail, from Camp5 to the Pinnacles viewpoint is only 2.4km but rises to 1200 metres. The trail was steep and rocky. The first 900m to the mini pinnacles was pushing our stamina to the limit. Of course we were not satisfied with the mini pinnacles. We moved on after taking a short break. (It was 2 months ago and honestly I could not remember the sweats that i had gone through. Human has short term memory on pains.) I didn't think of giving up, never in my mind. I knew that negative thinking would weaken my determination. We kept moving and thanked God that we managed to reach the first ladder at 1.9km before the time limit. There was a warning sign besides the first ladder. It warned that one should not continue if he reached the point after 11am. If not, you might put yourself or your team members in danger.

Moving on, there was no more steep trails. But, but it was vertical climbing. There were 15 ladders in total and some ropes and you really need to climb with both your hands and legs. I had to watch my steps. One step wrong might cause serious injury. Just when I was about to ask how far we were from the peak, we reached the peak. The peak provides a great viewpoint to the spetacular pinnacles. The pinnacles were razor sharp limestone spikes as shown in the picture below.

Mini pinnacles

First ladder with warning sign

The red warning

Using a rope to climb

the pinnacles

The peak was quite different from what I have imagined. I was imagining a flat area but still, there were rocks everywhere. I had to look for a not-so-sharp rock so that I could sit down and enjoy my lunch box. We didn’t spend a lot of time at the peak as we were warned that return trip would be more difficult. How true it was. It was worse as I was not good at hiking down.

That evening was a relaxing one as we had achieved our missions. Everyone showed a tiring but happy face. We left Camp5 and returned to HQ the next morning. We checked with the HQ office but most of the interesting tour packages were full. So, a few of us decided to try our luck again, visiting the bats while a few chose to rest at the hostel. It was definitely not a pleasure to walk such a long distance again after yesterday pinnacles hike. Luckily the bats didn’t disappoint us. Thanks to the good weather as well. Millions of bats came out in groups at about 6pm. First, they formed a circle in front of the cave and then flew away. There was nothing I could complain anymore. We reached the pinnacles peak and, we managed to see the bats flying out from the Deer Cave.

I would strongly recommend Mulu as your next destination. It definitely worths all the hassle, flying from Penang to KL, KL to Miri, then only from Miri to Mulu. Go when you are still young as pinnacles hiking requires certain level of fitness.

Bats flying out

Bario: Nancy Harris Homestay

Nancy Harris Homestay
If given a choice, I would always choose homestay. Normally, homestay can only accept a limited number of customers. In that case, you will become part of their family members and stay with them. Some of the homestays provide meals and thus everything is well taken care of. Nancy Harris Homestay is one of them. The moment we met Nancy in the airport, she became our great host in Bario. She cooked delicious meals and arranged activities for us. We spent no time worrying about all these. Most of the time when we were at home, we were lazing around the house, or chatting with anyone in the house, or day-dreaming in front of the paddy field. Until now, I still miss her good food, especially the curry pineappble, pineapple wine, stir fry belin and her secret-reciped kueh.

Nancy's lodge
Note the muddy road to Nancy's house.

the living hall

one of the bedroom

staircase to the toilet and bathroom
Need not to worry, they have proper toilet :)

long dining table

Nancy blowing the wood fire

Harris workers hard at work

new toilet in progress

balcony where I had spent hours day-dreaming

welcome lunch for us

Bbq meat

Dinner menu:
Bamboo shoots with bbq meat
curry pineapple
steamed fish
wild vegetable

fried bihun, fried egg and biscuit for breakfast

Simple but delicious lunch

to start a day

Nancy's kueh is superb.
I had 3 pieces of it.

Sweet Pineapple Wine

Fresh Air in Bario

I will post about Bario first even though I went to Mulu then Bario. Mulu is going to be a long post.


Bario, on the Kelabit Highlands of Sarawak, is more than 1000 feet above sea level. Unless you want to go for a few-day-hike through the rain forest, else the only way to access Bario is with MasWings Twin Otter from Miri or Marudi.

Look at it! It is the smallest plane that I have ever taken.

The plane was so small that they needed to control the load. I was asked to weigh myself, together with my hand luggages. 51.3kg. (My bag was so heavy. :p) On the plane, I counted. Yes, I really counted. 12 passengers excluding the 2 pilots. In that case, of course, there was no pretty stewardess to perform a safety demonstration or to serve me a drink. (Sigh! I was thinking of free drinks had decided on twhat to drink even before I went aboard.)

Spotted a village from the air

I didn't manage to link up with anyone in Bario. Thus, there was no concrete plan for the accomodation and activities as compared to my previos trips. But I had a feeling that the trip would be fun.

After an hour or less, we landed safely on a very small airstrip. The airport building was small and there was no tar road to the town center. I was so glad that luck was always on my side. Nancy, a lodge owner took the same flight with her husband, Harris who approached us and offered us to a stay at their place. The airport was not far from Nancy's place. But due to the muddy and bumpy road, the journey in the four wheel drive took longer time than it should.

We met Nancy's sister, Freda and her husband from New York at Nancy's place. After a good lunch(with Bario rice of course), we followed Freda and her husband to the Penan Village. But before that, we stopped at SMK Bario. We walked up to a small hill to enjoy the beautiful green landscape. The flaunting green leaves swayed in the breeze over acres of green field. All the little wooden houses, especially in white, decorated the green perfectly. We spent quite some time enjoying the cool weather and posing in front of the nice view.

The school entrance

Three different views from the hill

walking hard to the Penan Village

poster-like scenery

Preparing wirewood

Before we could reach the Penan Village, it started to rain. No, we wouldn't want to head back without visiting the Penan. So, we put on our rain coat and started to run on the wet and muddy roads. It was not long before we reached these little huts occupied with adults and children. At first, I thought these little huts are the temporary rest house. But I was wrong.

"Is the Penan place still far from here?" I asked, hoping that I don't need to walk too far.

"This is their house." Freda replied.

"What?" My jaw dropped.

It was just a little hut with no walls or doors, but it was the home to a family of 4 or 5 or even more. Later I found out that Penan are Nomads that move from one place to another place, rather than settling down at a permanent location. Penan here is hunter-gatherers type, where they will leave and look for a new place when the wild plants are finished. We chatted with them for a while and left before it was dark.

Penan Hut

The cooking place

The temperature dropped at night and to make it worst I didn't bring any jacket or trouser. I covered myself with blankets on the bed and refused to go out of the room. And it was only 8pm. Anyway, there is nothing much you can do here at night. Furthermore, the electricity is supplied through generators(each houses have their own generators) and the generators will be turned off around 10pm.

When we were having breakfast the next morning, Nancy told us that there is a morning market in the central of Bario every Saturday morning. Bario people will come from their villages(and that easily takes a few hours) with food and souveniors. And guess what, it was a Saturday morning. I was smiling happily, thinking that I could shop in Bario. I started to picture the morning market. 20 stalls? Let's be a bit realistic, 10 stalls. Ok. We'd better start walking now, or else they might have gone home.

Passed by the fire scene(A fire burnt the Bario Police Station to ground the night before we arrived)

We reached the morning market. The cresecent shaped shop houses were not all opened. In fact, less than half is opened. And, there were only 2 extra stalls selling few packs of wild vegetables for the morning market. It was definitely smaller than I had expected. While the guys marked a pork porridge stall, I sticked to my own plan - shopping. I walked from the first shop to the last shop, checking at the goods and price. Before leaving, we bought some Bario rice at RM18/3kg. (Bario rice is regarded as one of the finest rice grains in the world. And when I am writing this post, my Bario rice is running out of stock. :< )

Local convenience store

This is how Belin looks like

I took picture with Jeannette,who runs a lodge and a shop in Bario

Later in the afternoon, Nancy sent Lian to bring us to the salt spring. I like Lian very much as he is very simple and friendly guy. Salt spring is located ~7km away from Nancy's place. Again, it was walking time. I guess I never have walked so much in my life time.

I walked, walked and walked.

Met a working woman

If you are not paying attention to the sign board, you might end up in Indonesia.

Finally, we reached the salt spring. The salt spring looks just like an ordinary spring. The only difference is the water from the spring is salty. The salt spring water will be boiled until the all the water has vaporized and that takes about 12 hours. The end product is the Bario Salt that will later be wrapped nicely with leaves into cyclinder-shaped.

The salt spring

where they boil the salt spring water

Bario Salt

On the way back, we visited Pa Umor Long House. The long house is long. (Ha. What am I saying?) The long house was empty as most of the young people have married and left the long house. There was this old couple in the long house. The old lady was making some handicrafts. I bought a 'tikar' from her at RM20(Lian helped me to carry the tikar.Thanks Lian.)

There were two new visitors when we reached home. One is a young man aged about 20 from Switzerland. This is his 2nd trip to Bario. He had stayed with Penan during his last trip and this trip he was going to stay with them again for a couple of days. Think about it! What have brought this young man to travel all the way from Europe to Bario. Just the experience of staying with the Penan? I am sure there is more than that. Perhaps I can figure it out myself one of the day. :) The 2nd visitor was also a young man from KL. He was backpacking alone for 1.5 months. He reached Mulu the day we were leaving Mulu. What a coincident.

We left Bario the next day. It was a short trip but it really has a big impact to me. The way I view and I think.