…….The World Without Boundaries

The Out-of-This-World Mulu Caves

Written By: jipp - Apr• 07•18

I first came to Mulu in 2010 and I was so amazed by the caves. Mulu is probably the only place in Malaysia that fascinates me more than Mount Kinabalu and both of them are on the UNESCO Sites list. Mount Kinabalu for me is too showy. It stands tall for everybody to see. Mulu on the other hand prefers to stay humble and mysterious, and it requires people to go underground to explore what it has to offer.

I remember how I promised to myself that I’d return to Mulu and bring my mother with me. It is one of those places that I’d like to bring my mom to because it is quite easy to explore (but I went there when I was actively joining running events and climbing mountains and whatnots so it didn’t feel that tough. Now that I returned eight years older, and with a significant lack of training, I found it quite physically challenging LOL).  And I think that long overdue plan was meant to be fulfilled. When my sister called to ask if I could take her and her husband to Mulu, I eagerly agreed but on one condition – my mom must go too.

Kenny’s B & B, also known as Benarat Lodge

So off to Mulu we went. They flew to Miri from Kota Kinabalu while me from KL and we flew to Mulu from there together. I think my eagerness to buy the tickets (they were quite cheap at RM79 one way from KK to Miri on Air Asia, and another RM160 from Miri to Mulu on MAS Swing) had cost me and family quite dearly, as our flight back to Miri from Mulu was delayed for about 2 hours, causing my family to miss the connecting flight back to Kota Kinabalu.

Too bad MAS would not take any responsibility over issues involving separate tickets so we (or rather my family) were forced to buy new tickets back to Kota Kinabalu and the last minute purchase had cost us about a thousand bucks. What I didn’t know was that, there are now direct flights from Kota Kinabalu to Mulu and they are even cheaper compared to the combination of air fares of Air Asia and MAS Swing with an interconnecting flight. I only found out about it when I saw the scheduling notice plastered at Mulu Airport. It wouldn’t have hurt that much if I didn’t see it. Damn.

Despite the unfortunate incident of missed flight, the trip to Mulu was still very much worth it. We checked in at a place called on Kenny’s B&B on the first night because the family rooms at Park HQ (the most popular choice, and it is operated by the Mulu park management itself) were fully-booked. After all it was school holidays. Their reps came to the airport to pick us up and after a dinner at their restaurant, we walked over to Marriot Mulu Resort which was actually just on the other side of the river but required us to walk around to get to it and back. We spent our first evening going about the beautiful resort and enjoying the breath-taking river view from there.

The real fun only happened the next day when we moved to the Mulu Park HQ. We registered at the counter and each of us had to be tagged with a plastic wristband. I was told that the wristband could not be removed and we had to have it on all throughout our stay at Mulu Park HQ. I found it quite ridiculous because the edges were quite sharp and they could actually hurt especially when we were taking a shower. Grrrr!

We checked in at a family room called Belian and it was superb. I booked it via email – together with all the activities that we wanted to do. We were required to pay RM200 for the booking fee (I paid online with credit card) and the rest was settled during the registration. If disconnecting from the outside world is not your thing, you can pay RM5 to get a password to you mobile phone but you would only get the coverage around the office building (which co-joins the café anyway). They change the password every day so you may have to pay another RM 5 if you still want a Wi-Fi connection the next day.

Mulu Park HQ has changed a lot since my first visit to Mulu. Even the arrangement and the setting of the resort buildings have now changed a lot. There are more private rooms in separate buildings unlike last time when there were all in the same building. The café was much more spacious and some of the tables were set in a way that you can enjoy the river view while enjoying your meal.

We started our activity by joining the afternoon tour to Deer and Lang caves. It was a light and easy walk on a wooden walkway all the way to the caves and back. The tour guide was going quite too fast so I told him that we could not keep up with him because we had a 70-year-old woman with us (which was my mother of course). The fact is, I wanted to enjoy the walk and the beautiful forest that the walk board was taking us across.

I remember I was so fascinated by the very same forest during my previous visit to Mulu. In fact, despite all the hiking and mountain-climbing that I did since, I found it quite difficult to find a forest that could even match the lushness and richness of this very forest – at least among all the Tropical forests that I’ve ever been to. Of course that changed when I went to Mount Tambuyukon last February. But the bottom line is – it really is a beautiful forest.

Happy to be back in Mulu

Lang Cave and Deer Cave still fascinated me. The beauty of Lang Cave is of course the bizarre rock formations – which are still very much unspoiled, thanks to all the protective measures that the park management had put to force. The iconic ‘jellyfish’ rock formation was just so amazing to see up close. Then the one that resembles an intercourse, which was highlighted by our guide during my pervious visit to Mulu. This time the guide didn’t point it out at all, may be because there were children among the group members. With my family around, I tried to take no notice of it but the resemblance was too unmistakable to ignore. LOL.

Then the gigantic Deer Cave. It is still as big as ever and I felt so small walking along the walk board that took us around the inside of it. And of course the iconic Lincoln formation – as it is called – because it resembles the face of the 16th president of the United States of America. I don’t quite see the connection but the face is unmistakable, thanks to Abraham Lincoln’s distinctive facial features.

The Lincoln rock formation at Deer Cave

It was raining by the time we were done with the caves. We walked back to the gazebo or pavilion or whatever it is called (an observatory area), and waited for the bats to come out of Deer Cave in hordes to put on a spectacular display of spiraling ribbons known as Bat Exodus. Unfortunately, they never came out that day, probably because it was raining. We walked back to our hotel with a tinge of disappointment. But of course the bat exodus was just a tiny part of the whole beauty that Mulu has to offer.

Perhaps the most awaited activity in Mulu was the half-day trip to Wind Cave and Clearwater Cave. We started off at 8.45am, on a short boat ride. We stopped at a Penan village (Penan is one of so many ethnic groups in Sarawak and many of them still practice nomadic life) to check out their morning market. I remember coming here in my previous visit and how there was nothing special about the market and the village. But I think it had progressed a lot since then, and my mother and sister appeared ecstatic going from one merchant to another. They even bought a few stuff. My brother in law even tested his talent in darting a target board using a blow pipe, which is a traditional weapon used by the Penans to go hunting.

Then we returned to the boat ride and continued on to first the Wind Cave. Wind Cave has always been my favorite cave in Mulu. The rock formations are so out of this world. To say they are spectacular is an understatement. We all know how it takes hundreds of years to form a tiny column of stalagmite or stalactite in a cave and this Wind Cave has dozens of them, some of them are so tall it could take millions of years to take form.

Looking at them across the gloomy lights that they have put on for the convenience of visitors, these columns look like (they are) floating. I call them the hanging columns. My mom was ecstatic. As a church person, she’d keep crediting all the beauty to the greatness of God. This is what I love most about her. She really enjoys seeing stuff, provided she is in a good mood. And she apparently was (in a good mood). LOL.

My biggest surprise of the whole trip to Mulu this time came in the form of Clear Water Cave. I remember how it was quite nothing during my previous visit. We went down to the underground river and touched the water as a form of check-in ritual and returned to the entrance on the same walkway that we came in on. When I returned again this time, I was hugely surprised and pleased to find out that they had put up an additional walk way that take visitors to more corners of the gigantic cave – something that was not there back then.

The views from the new walkway were surreal. I could see the river with clear water (from which the cave is named after) flowed thunderously along the naturally formed corridor. The whole thing reminds me of Mordor in the Lord of the Rings where the evil orcs multiply (or rather created into being) in number under the instruction of Saruman. Then I realized that such thing does not exist but merely a product of J.R.R. Tolkien’s billions-dollar imagination. Heh.

Entering the Clear Water Cave

Done with Clear Water Cave, we returned to the gazebo to have a little lunch. Me and the other guys in the group went down to the river to have a little swim. It felt so great to be floating in a clear water river in the middle of a pristine forest. It was a great way of embracing nature in entirety. Unfortunately our enjoyment was cut short due to a sudden rain. We climbed hastily out of the river and ran for cover. Once it had stopped, we returned to the boat which was waiting to take us back to Park HQ.

We spent the rest of the afternoon lounging around at the café area. I had a couple of beers with my brother in law later in the evening – until we were too sleepy to stay up and went to sleep to wrap up our last night in Mulu.

Clear Water River

We woke up to a very rainy Sunday. After having breakfast (it comes with the accommodation), we paid one of the airport transfer operators at a restaurant near to the park entrance to take us to the airport for RM5 per person. The driver was a lady and she told me how most of the people in Mulu would prefer to go and buy stuff in Marudi, which was a few hours away by boat, instead of flying for 30-minutes to Miri.

Then she told me how her daughter was molested by a security guard at her boarding school. She reported the case to the police and the security guard is now serving time in jail. “I’m thinking of transferring her to another school because I heard the guy is coming out of prison soon”, she told me. The fact that she readily told the story to such a total stranger like me startled me quite a bit but then if there was something that you’d find the people in rural areas are lacking of, it’d be hypocrisy. They can be very naïve, and they’d rather be honest to themselves. They just tell things without thinking much.

After a couple of hours at the airport, we finally said goodbye to Mulu. I wouldn’t say I wouldn’t come to Mulu after two visits, because I’ve got this crazy plan to conquer all the five highest mountains in Malaysia and Mount Mulu happens to be one of them. I’ve done 3 of them so I don’t think it’d be long before I return to Mulu to do the fourth, or probably the fifth. Heh.

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Mount Tambuyukon Part 2 : The Summit Attack

Written By: jipp - Mar• 10•18

We woke up at about 1pm for a simple breakfast (we boiled rice the night before) and pushed for the peak at about 2.30am. That was when the hell began. I’ve been to so many mountains and going to the peak was always the most challenging. But this one was extra challenging. The trail was so heavy with undergrowth and the trees were interlocking with each other by the roots and branches!

Coffee-ing before pushing for the summit

In fact there were times when our feet no longer had to touch the soil but stepping from one tree root to the next. It was very slippery and I can’t even remember how many times had I slipped and almost injured myself. I simply lost count. Holding to the tree trunks and branches for support was futile as they were covered with some sort of cold and sticky moist. It was like touching a hair-gel and it didn’t feel good at all. I wish I had a pair of gloves with me but I didn’t.

Things were worsened by the existence of overhead tree branches or even fallen trees on the trail. Bumping my head on any one or two of them was unavoidable especially when I had to watch my step and my head at the same time.

Things became easier when the sun came up and we reached the bonsai area. The bonsai area really was so beautiful. I gotta highlight this one. I remember thinking about those beautiful bonsai parks in Japan or probably China. The existence of beautiful rock formations among the beautiful spread of bonsai trees made it look even more spectacular. The jagged rocks that jotted out reminded me of the beautiful pinnacles at Mulu National Park.

We actually took 7 hours to reach the peak from Musang Camp. I did not expect to see the sunrise because we were there when Sabah was experiencing one of its worse monsoons in many years. Floods were reported here and there and I had almost postponed the climb, probably for the umpteenth time because I wanted to be there when the views were good. But then based on my experiences in the past, weathers at high altitudes are always different and very much unpredictable. And that was proved to be right again this time.

Apart from the brief rain that we had experienced the day before, it was all clear. Over at the peak, we were served with a spectacular full view of Mount Kinabalu – something that I rarely saw at photos taken by other climbers from Mount Tambuyukon. I gotta say I’ve had enough of pictures of Mount Kinabalu – they are like all over – but it was good to see it from a different angle and elevation. It was certainly different. We could even see Kota Marudu (which I assumed it was) in the far distance and beyond was of course the dark-blue South China Sea.

After having lunch at the peak (rice and canned food), we started down with renewed energy. I always dread descending but this one was extra worse. I was at the back of the pack so I let them all go down well ahead of me while I took all the time in the world to enjoy the spectacular views that came my way. I’d take time to stand still on one of the boulders and watch the clouds parading their way across over the mountain side.

I could not believe that they actually moved so fast. It almost felt like watching a time-lapse video, only this one was real. I was back to dreading when I returned to the trail with undergrowth and interlocking tree roots. It was like there was no end to it. It really was quite a struggle for me and there were times when I felt like shouting my frustration out because just when I thought I was almost there (Musang Camp), I’d be slapped with the bitter fact that I still had a long way to go. Urghhh!

After what appeared to be unending way down, it was such a great relief when I finally made it safely back to Musang Camp. Unfortunately that was not quite the case for my fellow climber Din. He stepped on some loose boulder, put his whole weight onto it but landed at the wrong angle of his right ankle when the stone gave way. He ended up spraining his ankle real badly. He had to literally drag his injured leg down the mountain and it was quite a struggle to see him struggling.

After a little bit of rest, we packed our things and descended further to Kapuakan campsite where we camped for the night. Again, I let the others go way ahead of me so that I could enjoy the wilderness by myself. The forest was so silent and all I could hear was the rustling sound of the lush leaves as the mountain winds blew steadily against them.

Then there were those weird sounds made by wild animals. Some of them felt so close to me while most were distant, although it has always been known that sounds by animals in a jungle can be deceiving. Of course they could smell my existence from miles away so they’d disappear even before I had the chance to spot any of them. But I knew for sure that they were there somewhere.

One thing I gotta highlight about Mount Tambuyukon is its pristine and unspoiled forest. I’ve been to quite a number of forests in Malaysia (and beyond) and most of them are a leftover of heavy logging activities in the past. The forest in Tambuyukon is certainly NOT one of them. It is so virgin that I could not trace even the slightest sign of logging activities in the past. It’s amazing how they were spared since most of the forests in Sabah are secondary forests (logged down and replanted). The towering Tropical trees are so marvelous to look up at. Their unspoiled bodies stood tall, their souls intact. They certainly have stood the test of time for hundreds of years.

Kapuakan Camp is located very near to a thunderous river. To tell the truth, I don’t fancy the idea of camping near to a river – especially a thunderous one. The growling sound can be quite intimidating. I’d wake up in the middle of the night thinking that a pair of giant feet was thumping around my tent, waiting for the right time to stomp on me.

Luckily I was too tired to allow myself to wake up to some imaginary intimidation. Unlike in previous nights when we went to sleep quite early, we took quite a bit of time chatting ourselves away over coffee while enjoying our last night at Mount Tambuyukon. It was amazing how we did not encounter anybody else but ourselves all throughout our climb and back. We literally had the whole mountain all to ourselves.

at Kapuakan camp site

Our guide Richard told us how only a couple of weeks before somebody got lost while descending from the peak of Mount Tambuyukon and it was actually all over the news. Just so happened the lost guy was actually under his care. He told us how the climber was quite a difficult one, insisting to continue hiking on his own even when he was told to wait for the others in his group (I wish the guy was there to confirm or deny this. I mean, I know whoever was guiding him would try to discredit and find excuses. I’ve had row with guides in the past because they’d rather stick to their fellow guide and let his climbers go on their own despite the hefty guiding fees smh).

Somehow he took a wrong trail – which was probably a trail left by wild animals or illegal hunters (sadly) who are known to roam the area – and lost his way. A full swing of rescue mission was dispatched, and he was only found 2 nights later, weak and hungry. He had probably picked up some survival lessons from somewhere that when he lost his way, he traversed along a river that he came upon in the hope that the river would lead him out to some village or something. Richard told us that he would have made it to a village even if he was not rescued anyway. In fact he almost made it when he was found.

Trekking across the forest of Mount Tambuyukon, which was so dense and thick, I could imagine how easy it was to get lost. There were trails – or at least looked like one – that could lead you off the right trail which was not easy to return to once you are lost. In fact I almost strayed off course once. Luckily my fellow climber called out to me, because he too almost took the same wrong trail and was worried that I’d fall into it too so he decided to wait up on me. Apparently, his worries had saved me from getting lost. Phew!

Trekking back to Moggis Sub-station from Kapuakan Camp was quite light and easy. We did not intend to rush so we enjoyed whatever there was to enjoy especially the beauty of the forest which never failed to amaze me. The trees were so heavily foliaged and the limited sunlight had probably limited the growth of plants underneath. Combining that with the existence of creeks with ever-streaming crystal clear water, they would certainly make a perfect campsite. I did not mind to stay another night or two really.

It was almost four when we made it back to Moggis Sub-station. There was a jubilant feeling about making it back alive especially when we had just returned from conquering what was certainly one of the toughest mountains for me so far. I mean, it was not only about the mountain but also about the fact that we brought everything on our own. It was quite an experience. We returned to our hometown Keningau feeling accomplished, satisfied and proud. We had conquered all the three highest mountains in Malaysia. Those feelings would probably keep us going at least until the call for another climb come knocking at our doors. LOL.

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