Miri is a busy and prosperous city, which has benefited from the oil industry off the coast of Sarawak. There is an interesting market and it is the central meeting point of tribes people from the interior, many of whom have migrated to the city. This is the starting point for an adventurous trip into the interior. There will be a welcome briefing this evening with dinner at a local restaurant.
We take a short flight to the World Heritage Site Mulu National Park. Situated deep in the rainforest and protected from logging, Mulu is a beautiful place to spend time and enjoy the astounding natural environment. After checking-in at the park and being introduced to the guides, we head through the forest to Deer Cave. The cave floor has a raised platform and there is no escaping the smell of the 'guano' - excrement from millions of birds and bats. Close by is Lang's Cave. Whilst much smaller, it has impressive stalactites, stalagmites and other cave formations. The forest to and from the caves is spectacular and there is plenty of time to explore. The park has some incredible statistics; It has over 3,500 plant species, 8,000 different types of fungi and 170 species of orchid. Over 100 new plant species were discovered between 1960 and 1973, with many more are still being added. There are 262 bird species, almost 300 species of butterflies and many reptiles and mammals. The park contains Sarawak's second highest peak, Gunung Mulu, at 2,376m and the largest caves on Earth. Some of the caves have been mapped by occasional expeditions, they have their own ecosystems with plants and animals living in the cave chambers. Deer Cave, the largest cave passage in the world, is home to millions of bats and swifts that live side by side on the roof of the cave. We will arrive at Deer Cave in time for dusk which is when the bats leave the comfort of the cave to feed on insects (as long as it is not raining). This is a site to behold with the bats leaving the cave in a long line snaking across the sky for quite some time. Members of the Penan tribe live within the park, a small population of nomadic forest dwellers who live as hunter-gatherers. There has been fierce international opposition to the Malaysian government who tried to settle them in permanent longhouses and indeed the Penan themselves have also resisted. In 1994 they were granted an area of the forest where they could continue their traditional lifestyle. Although you are unlikely to meet these elusive people, you occasionally see their fishing shelters or areas in the forest where they have recently visited.
This morning we leave the park headquarters and take a boat up the Melinau River, stopping en route at Wind Cave and Clearwater Cave. Clearwater is the longest and most extensive cave system in South East Asia at 127km long. A clear underground river flows from the cave mouth into the Melinau River. The formations are huge and the small helictites (limestone branches) shaped by the wind are magnificent. Continuing up-river, occasionally having to pull the boat over the shallow parts, we arrive at Kuala Litut. From here we commence a level 8.8km walk up to Camp 5 which will be our base for two nights. Camp 5 is basic with minimal facilities.
Situated in the spectacular Melinau Gorge cut by the Melinau River, 600m high limestone cliffs surround the camp and Hornbills and red leaf monkeys can often be spotted from across the bridge. In the morning weather permitting, we will trek for a couple of kilometres up river to a stunning spot where there are deep clear pools to bathe in. You are now in the heart of the oldest rainforest on Earth! In the afternoon we will trek into the Kerangas forest. Because the soil is nutrient deficient, the trees here are smaller but provide an excellent habitat for specialist plants such as rare orchids and the carnivorous pitcher plants.
This morning we return on foot to Long Litut and catch our boats down the Melinau River towards Mulu park headquarters. For those feeling adventurous, there is an opportunity to experience basic caving on the trip back from Camp 5. This fun trip is dark, wet and muddy and requires a little wading and wriggling. Late afternoon and evening there may be time for a number of optional activities including a visit to a local village or the information centre. Alternatively those with a head for heights can try the optional canopy walkway, this 480-metre skywalk is the longest tropical canopy walkway in the world and takes approx 2 hours to complete. Along the way, visitors may be able to see macaque monkeys, hornbills, flying lizards, squirrels and a variety of rainforest birds. In the evening we can try the local Mulu 'firewater', Tuak. There is also an optional night walk.
This morning we fly to Kota Kinabalu via Miri. (Schedules for this flight often vary). When we arrive in Kota Kinabalu, we will check in to our hotel and then have free time to explore the city, with its bustling Filipino markets. In the evening it is possible to enjoy a sunset drink on the waterfront.
We take an early morning flight to Sandakan, hopefully seeing the summit of Mt Kinabalu from the plane. The town was once a huge logging centre (it first exported wood in the late 1880's to supply the building of the Temple of Heaven in Beijing) and is home to many Chinese and Filipinos. The main attraction here is the world famous Sepilok Orang-utan Sanctuary, 20km from the town. It was set up in 1964 in a 43 sq km reserve of primary forest. It is the largest orang-utan sanctuary in the world and helps to rehabilitate orphans and captured orang-utans into the wild. We visit the informative park headquarters and the orang-utans at feeding time. Afterwards we will watch a video explaining the work of the centre and how the residents came to be living there. We will then head to the nearby Rainforest Discovery Centre. Here there are fantastic bird watching opportunities with Hornbills and the Borneo Bristlehead are often seen. An impressive canopy walkway offers great views into the Sepilok reserve and occasionally Orang-utans can be spotted during the fruiting season. After lunch we take a mini bus (2.5hrs) to the mighty Kinabatanagan River, the 3rd longest in Borneo. This wildlife reserve is home to an astonishing array of wildlife including pygmy elephants, wild orang-utans, gibbons, Proboscis monkey and rare birdlife. On arrival at our riverside lodge we take a sunset boat cruise to spot incredible creatures.
We are up with the animals for a dawn wildlife cruise followed by a trek out to an ox-bow lake and forest restoration site for tree planting. Here, we learn what is being done to protect this fragile environment. In the afternoon, we will return to the river to spot wildlife and if we are lucky a crocodile or two. We will also have the opportunity for a jungle night walk with possibilities of seeing scorpions, night owl and even western tarsiers.
This morning we have a final early morning wildlife cruise, then after breakfast we leave by bus, and make the long drive (5-6 hours) to the cooler altitude of Borneo's largest tea plantation. En-route we stop at the bizarre Gomantong caves. The caves are a major source of the swiftlet bird nests that are a Chinese delicacy. Every day, when in season, workers climb large ladders up to 400 feet up to the roof of the caves to collect the valuable nests. Tonight we sleep in a traditional style bamboo longhouse, in twin rooms.
Early risers are rewarded with the breathtaking sunrise over Mt Kinabalu. After breakfast there is a tour of the tea factory followed by a 3 - 4 hour acclimatisation walk through the plantation and rainforest. Weather permitting, lunch will be picnic style by the river which is perfect for a cooling dip. After check out we make the short drive to our mountain hostel stopping en-route at the local food tamu (market). There may be time to visit the Kundasang War Memorial (optional) upon arrival at our hostel which commemorates Prisoners of War who died during the infamous death marches during World War II. The memorial is made up of four gardens, the Australian, English, Malaysian and the Contemplation Garden that represent the different nationalities. A briefing will be given in the evening about the ascent of Kinabalu.
Mount Kinabalu is the highest mountain in South East Asia at 4,101m. It is an impressive mountain with its lower slopes covered in thick vegetation rising up the huge granite walls. Due to its great height, Mount Kinabalu has a number of different climatic zones. It has an enormous variety of plants and animals and is a naturalist's paradise. There are half of the world's flowering plants on this mountain alone. There are rhododendrons, innumerable mosses, fungi and ferns, over 1,200 species of orchid and the largest flowering plant in the world, the Rafflesia. Particularly interesting are the carnivorous and insectivorous pitcher plants. There are many animals including badgers, monkeys, squirrels, flying lemurs, and deer. However the chances of seeing many of these on the mountain climb are rare as the trail is well trodden and frequently visited. We are more likely to encounter the many birds, snakes, and insects of the region. The ascent of Mount Kinabalu is not technically difficult but most people find it hard so you need to be fit and prepared for a tough two days. We take the alternative Mesilau Trail on the first day, allowing us to enjoy this quieter and more interesting trail. Although the trail is 2 kms longer than the standard route, it does in fact offer better acclimatisation as there is a better variety of terrain, including more flat and even some descent. The path is wide and clear so you can climb at your own walking pace. Obviously the altitude makes it tougher the higher you climb but it really only becomes harder on the summit day. The trek starts from the park accommodation at Mesilau and climbs up through a multitude of vegetation zones and cloud forest to reach Laban Rata Resthouse at 3,300m. The temperature is noticeably colder due to the altitude and really feels chilly, especially when it clouds over. There is a very airy feel to the place with the huge summit cliffs looming up behind the mountain huts. We spend the night in the hut and make the summit climb very early the next morning.
Awoken around 2am we slowly make our way towards the summit (a good way to warm up!). You will need to carry a torch and the going is slow as the thin air at altitude causes you to work harder to breathe. There are a few hand-over-hand rope climbs on the steepest sections, though they are not difficult or vertical. As the dawn breaks we will be close to the summit, Low's Peak. The momentous summit feeling is easily matched by the tremendous view stretching across this part of Borneo as the early morning unfolds. On clear days you can see as far as the southern islands of the Philippines. With a long way to descend and aching legs we return to the base to collect any belongings and have breakfast. We continue down via the main Timpohon route and transfer to our beach hotel by bus, approximately 3 hours drive.
This day is free to explore Kota Kinabalu, relax by the pool or have a massage to soothe aching muscles at a nearby spa, or just swim in the warm South China Sea. There is the option to visit one of the tropical islands in the marine park for the day, a short boat journey away.
End Kota Kinabalu.