1. Our flight from Bario was punctual, leaving Bario at 9.30 and we were back at Grand Palace Hotel in Miri before 11 am. After checking emails at the lobby at the hotel, while Yeow Pheng "cupped" his troubled legs, we had tim sum lunch at the restaurant on the 2nd level. We were off to explore Niah Caves.
2. The Niah Caves are located on Sungai Niah, about 3 km from the small town of Batu Niah, some 100 km SW of Miri. They are huge limestone caves, with the Great Cave measuring some 60 m high and 250 m wide, with traces of human activities here going as far back as 40 000 years. Wall paintings were found in the Painted Cave. They are also spots for bird-nest harvesting.
3. Other than Niah Caves, the other popular cave destination in Sarawak is the Mulu Caves, accessible only by air, about half an hour flight time from Miri. Yeow Pheng and I decided that between them, Niah and Mulu, we would select one to visit; and since Niah was conveniently located on the way South to Sibu, we decided to visit the Niah Caves.
4. Roads to the Niah Caves were good and sign-postings were clear. We reached the Park HQ at 3 pm. After buying the ticket, the female officer told us that it will take about 3.5 hrs to tour the caves. In order not to rush, we decided to stay the night in the chalets at the Park HQ. Pricing of rooms was rather strange here- room with aircon, RM157 and room with just fan, about RM40. We nonetheless decided to take the aircon room, to ensure we have a good night sleep.
5. The caves are located on the other side of the river. After paying RM1.50 for the boat ride, we boarded the boat for the other side of the river. After going up the slope, it was a walk of 4.5 km along a board walk to the caves, with forest on both sides.
6. Along the way, before the Niah Caves, were patches of what looked like remnants of walls, with trees growing over them (much like those in Siem Reap), in the vicinity of a overhang cave - signs of earlier human settlement. A group of youngsters passed us and alerted us of possible attack by bees. One of them was badly beaten, with a swollen face and puffy eyes. We pressed on, but made sure we have something to fend off the bees if they do come.
7. The Trader's Cave was the first cave we reached, after passing through a security gate, at the end of the long and sweaty walk.
Its an overhang cave of about 100 m long. The wooden structures were probably erected for easy harvesting of bird nests. On the ceilings and floors, especially near the cave entrances, are the usual stalagmites and stalactites.
8. Walking further in along the wooden structures, we came to the Great Cave. Measuring 60 m high and 250 m high, the entrance to the cave is reputed to be one of the most spectacular in the world.
Torch light was needed here as we walked through the darkness, along boardwalk and up and down wooden staircases. In one stretch, we had to bend low, almost like a tunnel. We were not alone, as an English couple was not far from us.
9. From the ceiling to the floor were hung a number of long metal poles with small steps, with long cables securing them to the cave walls. They were used by bird nest harvesters to reach the ceiling to gather the bird nests. There were a number of them at work, near the ceiling, with lights strapped to their heads. Was told that in the old days, they would be using bamboo poles, tied to each other to extend their length, in order to reach the ceiling. And they would be doing all this in near darkness. Real hard life, to make a living.
10. At the end of the walk, we came to the Painted Cave. The area where the wall paintings were was fenced up. It was not possible to see the wall paintings from where we stood. There were a number of information boards that gave an idea how the paintings look like. From the info boards, it seems the paintings depict warriors and hunters, animals in the surrounding areas, and long boats carrying souls of the deceased to the land of the dead.
11. Backtracking, we emerged from the caves at about 6 pm and before the sky turned dark. It was a good work out for the day, all in about 9 km of walk, up and down stairs. We were drenched with sweat when we got back, and I poured in two 100 Plus at the canteen. After washing up, we took a short drive to Batu Niah for dinner. Luckily we managed to locate a restaurant, run by a capable Khek lady, that was still open.
We had a good meal and slept early. No internet anyway.