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Niah Caves, Miri National Park, Sarawak

Niah Travel Blog

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Petrocarpus forest dominates in Borneo. The gnarly things are roots of some of the climbers.
Niah Caves is situated near Batu Niah town. ( less than 5 km) We came in from Miri ( 120km away) - it's a city with lots of hotels, amenities, airport and petrochemical processing facilities. Visitors can now use this as base for various visits to the national parks in the district and even going into  Brunei.

 Niah National Park gazetted on 23 November 1974 contains several beautiful caves. The Painted Cave holds paintings / drawings made by early inhabitants of the land , The Great Cave has remains under archeological study, it also has some long poles attached to the roof of the cave chamber for gathering bird's nest.  The parks claims to have the oldest modern human remains discovered in Southeast Asia.
Bamboo access poles in the main chamber.

  Current inhabitants are bats, swiftlets and other floor/wall crawlers.  Guano (bird and bat droppings for fertilizer) and bird's nest are still collected. Maybe some lost tourists will also be discovered in the darkness one day too.

Starting point - Park your car / drop off at ticket office. There are chalets for rent there too. (For those intending to do a comprehensive tour of the surrounding forest, trails, interact with the aborigines or do a detailed cave exploration - or maybe just escape from the city for a while)

We arrived by rented vehicle (self drive), trooped into the ticket place, bought a set of 5 tickets - discount for group purchase. It's already so cheap, I felt bad - go spend some money on the T-shirts or something.

Access poles for collecting bird's nest.
Always visit the toilets before taking a hike, it's a good 1 hour to reach the caves via the pathways.

Cross the river from the ticket office by boat. MYR 1 only per pax, the river is too deep & fast for swimming so don't try. Besides you might end up feeding the crocodiles that may be hiding in there. A short 1 minute later, you are across. We went in the information centre to look at the relics they have dug up from the place and they have the trails shown too. You can plan your trip here if you want to go for the grand tour. See what the original birds nest looks like (unprocessed ) - yuck !

Path starts from information centre across the river. Much improved with raised platforms so you don't end up doing a army training program sloshing through waist deep water & streams for about 3 km or so.

The stones have this strange green hue which kinda glows a bit.
There are monitor lizards lounging about the water too, the water is nice & clear. I felt tempted to join them lazing in the shallows too. ( I had limited time so too bad, next time maybe)

The forest scenery is nice and  very little mosquitoes. Main Paths are paved / concreted and easy on the legs. I was apprehensive cause I only wore a pair of slippers. Listen out for the birds chattering and the monkeys. Maybe the occasional shotgun too, the aborigines were hunting that day. No more blowpipes for them, lucky thing I never heard any automatic gunfire or i would have left, national park or otherwise.

Entrance to the Great Cave is via Traders Cave. This is smaller cave where the people erected platforms to trade.  The log poles are still there.

Traders Cave leading to Main Chamber
You have some idea of the scale from the photos. A human is very very tiny in the cave. The archeological dig is at the entrance of the Great Cave. Wash your hands & refresh yourself with the water falling from the cave roof if available.

Those who are lazy or too tired to go further in can rest at the wooden house built near the cave entrance. It's a new structure but nice enough. There are long bamboo poles which reach up into the darkness of the chamber roof. These are poles for climbing to collect bird's nest. The swiftlet will make these nests from regurgitated saliva. The finished product costs US$ 3,000 above per kg in bulk. Retail is nearly the same price as gold for the premium grades. Unprocessed, it looks like a dust/hair ball that came out under your couch.

Stairs leading further into the cave complex.
Finished after being padded with agar jelly, etc. and pressed into shape again - it's opaque (common)/ reddish tinged (expensive) / white ( fake alert). Choosing the real stuff is not for beginners. Anyway, they don't sell it at this site. If you eat this ' bird vomit'  occasionally like I do, buy in the nearest town with a local friend who knows something about it. Otherwise get it at Miri or Kuching city.

Watch your steps once you enter further into the main cave chamber, the stairs leading up into the further reaches are slippery with guano (crap) and falling down 30 m plus of stairs is no fun. Bring a cheap cotton glove along if you are squeamish about holding the handrails.  Flashlights are required once you move into the gloom reaching further inwards from the main chamber. (rent them at the visitor centre) A few ringgit only.

I didn't have enough time to explore the Painted Cave but enjoyed my stroll through the Great Cave. For those with a good camera, you can convey the sense of beauty & expanse of the caves. For me, it lives on in my memories. The puny camera I had simply was a reminder of why I have to go back there some day again.


almond72 says:
Nope, I didn't recall the stuff from 1974. I was 2 years old then. :P
They do have such info for the public via the handouts, tourism guides, etc.
Posted on: Jan 26, 2010
ctjevans says:
wow, 1974? good memory to recall such details from so far back.
Posted on: Jan 25, 2010
Eric says:
Great writeup and amazing photos! Have you seen the Planet Earth DVDs? There is a special on caves, and they look incredible.
Posted on: Jul 01, 2009
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Petrocarpus forest dominates in Bo…
Petrocarpus forest dominates in B…
Bamboo access poles in the main ch…
Bamboo access poles in the main c…
Access poles for collecting birds…
Access poles for collecting bird'…
The stones have this strange green…
The stones have this strange gree…
Traders Cave leading to Main Chamb…
Traders Cave leading to Main Cham…
Stairs leading further into the ca…
Stairs leading further into the c…
Part of the Great Cave Chamber.
Part of the Great Cave Chamber.
Waterfall inside the cave
Waterfall inside the cave
Entrance via Traders Cave - see th…
Entrance via Traders Cave - see t…
Great greenery. Go touch, sniff an…
Great greenery. Go touch, sniff a…
The trees are very straight and ta…
The trees are very straight and t…
Any crocodiles lurking here ? Let …
Any crocodiles lurking here ? Let…
Fancy hiking through this ?  This …
Fancy hiking through this ? This…
Cool stream runs alongside the wal…
Cool stream runs alongside the wa…
View from inside the main chamber …
View from inside the main chamber…
View of the main chamber walls
View of the main chamber walls
Wooden house within main cave cham…
Wooden house within main cave cha…
Hills around the cave complex
Hills around the cave complex
Platforms on stilts used by trader…
Platforms on stilts used by trade…
Walkway leading to the caves and o…
Walkway leading to the caves and …
Cool, breezy and mosquito free !
Cool, breezy and mosquito free !
Chalets available for those lookin…
Chalets available for those looki…
Looks easy right ? Want to save MY…
Looks easy right ? Want to save M…
Rates for accommodation.
Rates for accommodation.
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photo by: almond72