Unearth the Mysteries of Sarawak: Trekking Through Ancient Ruins Hidden in Borneo’s Lush Jungles
Unearth the Mysteries of Sarawak: Trekking Through Ancient Ruins Hidden in Borneo's Lush Jungles - Niah Caves, Where History Lives Underground
Just a few hours drive from Miri, Sarawak lies the Niah Caves - a place where history and adventure collide in an underground maze of tunnels and caverns. As the largest cave system in Sarawak, Niah has been an important site for archeologists and anthropologists looking to uncover human history on the island of Borneo.
A visit to Niah Caves starts with a short walk from the park's visitor center along wooden boardwalks that wind through dense rainforest. Already you can feel a sense of anticipation building as the sounds of the jungle give way to an eerie silence. Before long, the boardwalk opens up to reveal a gaping cave entrance - a giant open mouth leading down into the earth.
Once inside, it becomes clear this is no ordinary cave. Massive chambers stretch on for what seems like miles, their ceilings disappearing into blackness above. The rock walls tower precipitously, glistening with moisture and intricate mineral deposits built up over millennia.
It's not just the caves' impressive geology that makes Niah so significant, but the valuable archaeological discoveries found within. Deep inside the caves lies the 'Painted Cave' - a sea of ancient drawings depicting human figures and the animals they once hunted. In another cavern, The 'West Mouth' of the Great Cave, archaeologists unearthed the 40,000 year old skeleton of the ‘Deep Skull’ - the oldest modern human remains found in Southeast Asia. Discoveries like these provide a unique glimpse into the lives of Borneo's earliest people.
Beyond the caves' historical treasures, Niah also promises adventure. Those prepared to get muddy can embark on hunting for swiflets' nests, climbing high up precarious bamboo ladders just as nest collectors have for generations. For the more daring, adventurers can also sign up for multi-day trips that include camping inside the caves and venturing deep into uncharted passages far from daylight.
What else is in this post?
- Unearth the Mysteries of Sarawak: Trekking Through Ancient Ruins Hidden in Borneo's Lush Jungles - Niah Caves, Where History Lives Underground
- Unearth the Mysteries of Sarawak: Trekking Through Ancient Ruins Hidden in Borneo's Lush Jungles - Mulu Caves Reveal Stunning Networks of Passageways
- Unearth the Mysteries of Sarawak: Trekking Through Ancient Ruins Hidden in Borneo's Lush Jungles - Hike to Fort Alice, a 19th Century Outpost Engulfed by Jungle
- Unearth the Mysteries of Sarawak: Trekking Through Ancient Ruins Hidden in Borneo's Lush Jungles - See Rock Art at the Clearwater Cave System
- Unearth the Mysteries of Sarawak: Trekking Through Ancient Ruins Hidden in Borneo's Lush Jungles - Stand in Awe Below the High Cave's Massive Entrance
- Unearth the Mysteries of Sarawak: Trekking Through Ancient Ruins Hidden in Borneo's Lush Jungles - Climb Gunung Mulu, Home to Pinnacles and Peak Views
- Unearth the Mysteries of Sarawak: Trekking Through Ancient Ruins Hidden in Borneo's Lush Jungles - Marvel at the Megaliths of Batu Narit
- Unearth the Mysteries of Sarawak: Trekking Through Ancient Ruins Hidden in Borneo's Lush Jungles - Uncover Old Longhouses of Sarawak's Indigenous Tribes
Unearth the Mysteries of Sarawak: Trekking Through Ancient Ruins Hidden in Borneo's Lush Jungles - Mulu Caves Reveal Stunning Networks of Passageways
Beyond Niah, the rainforests of Sarawak conceal yet another wonder - the vast subterranean maze of Mulu Caves. Far larger than Niah, Mulu encompasses one of the most extensive cave networks on the planet. Adventurous travelers who dare to explore it will be richly rewarded with jaw-dropping chambers, intricate rock formations, and thrill-inducing treks.
The crowning glory of Mulu's caves is unquestionably Clearwater Cave - the longest cave system in southeast Asia and one of the largest in the world. Stretching for over 222 kilometers, Clearwater contains passages wide enough to accommodate Boeing 747s, along with underground rivers and waterfalls. For many, the highlight of visiting Clearwater is embarking on the 3-day “Clearwater Connection” adventure tour. This epic caving expedition traverses 82 km of the cave system, including scrambling up giants boulders, wading through rivers, and camping overnight inside the caves. It's a once-in-a-lifetime way to experience the true scale and splendor of this natural wonder.
Yet Mulu offers more than just Clearwater Cave alone. Deer Cave, Lang Cave, and Wind Cave each impress visitors with their own unique features. Deer Cave astonishes with its towering 100 meter tall entrance and colony of bats. Lang Cave mesmerizes with its jagged limestone formations and rock art gallery. Wind Cave delights with its crystal pools and delicate cave pearls. Beyond the caves, Mulu also provides adventures like ascending the Pinnacles - a forest of razor sharp limestone spikes - and climbing to the peak of Gunung Mulu, Sarawak’s second highest mountain.
Unearth the Mysteries of Sarawak: Trekking Through Ancient Ruins Hidden in Borneo's Lush Jungles - Hike to Fort Alice, a 19th Century Outpost Engulfed by Jungle
Nestled deep in the rainforest of Sarawak lies the crumbling ruins of Fort Alice, a 19th century colonial outpost slowly being swallowed up by the jungle. To reach this relic today, travelers must embark on a challenging hike through rugged terrain, crossing rivers and scrambling over boulders. While not for novice trekkers, the journey rewards the effort with a window into Borneo's intriguing past.
Fort Alice was established in 1864 by Rajah Charles Brooke, the White Rajah of Sarawak. Named after Brooke's wife Margaret Alice Lili, the fort served as an outpost for suppressing anti-government forces. Stone walls, cannons, and a jail cell were constructed to help strengthen the Rajah's control. Over time, Fort Alice also became an administrative and trade center for villagers along the Skrang River.
By 1912, Fort Alice had been abandoned, left to decompose amid the encroaching rainforest. Vines crept over crumbling ramparts, trees punched through thick stone walls, and the jungle reclaimed the land. What remains today are ghostly ruins being slowly devoured by roots and moisture. Hiking to Fort Alice lets adventurous travelers step back in time, imagining the fort's past life while enjoying its present wild state.
The journey starts with a drive to the remote village of Pa Ukat. From there, hikers cross the Skrang River by longboat before trekking through muddy jungle trails. The path involves scrambling over fallen trees, sloshing through streams, and using vines for support on steep sections. Expect to get dirty! Wildlife like long-tailed macaques and hornbills can often be spotted along the way.
After 1-2 hours of hiking, the crumbling walls of Fort Alice emerge. Despite being broken and overgrown, the sight is atmospheric. Visitors can still make out the distinct corners of the fort, along with cannons lying disused. Scrambling up grassy ramparts rewards with panoramic views above the jungle canopy. The fort's derelict jail cell provides an eerie insight into colonial times.
Unearth the Mysteries of Sarawak: Trekking Through Ancient Ruins Hidden in Borneo's Lush Jungles - See Rock Art at the Clearwater Cave System
Journeying into the shadowy underworld of Clearwater Cave, explorers are treated to an unexpected surprise - galleries of ancient rock art, their pigments still vivid, left by the indigenous peoples of the rainforest. Unlike the European-style paintings found in France’s caves at Lascaux, Clearwater’s art features hand prints, simplistic human outlines, and representations of local wildlife like the rhinoceros hornbill.
To reach these cave paintings, visitors must embark on the demanding but rewarding Clearwater Connection tour, a multi-day caving adventure covering over 80 km of passages. After scrambling through tight tunnels, trudging thigh-deep through underground rivers, and camping overnight in the cave’s Great Cathedral chamber, participants arrive at the art galleries within the cavern complex.
Here, by the light of halogen headlamps, the stone walls come alive with color. Reds, oranges, browns, and purples leap out in stark contrast to the creamy white limestone. Ancient hands pressed against the rock millennia ago leave ghostly imprints. Crude drawings of stick figures, trees, birds, boats, and weapons offer a glimpse into the lives of jungle dwellers from generations past.
Clearwater Cave’s rock art represents some of the oldest yet found in Southeast Asia, with certain figures dated back over 4000 years using radiocarbon analysis. Their presence testifies to these caves’ enduring spiritual significance for indigenous populations across the centuries. To stand before them is to connect viscerally with humankind’s ancient past.
According to archaeologist Dr. Liz Price, “Clearwater’s rock art represents an irreplaceable cultural legacy. Their existence gives us unique insight into the beliefs and lifestyles of Borneo’s first inhabitants.” She stresses the need to preserve them stating, “Once destroyed by natural impacts or human hands, these markings can never be recovered.”
Certainly the extreme environment of Clearwater Cave already endangers their longevity. Dangerously high floodwaters periodically inundate tunnels, wearing away at cave walls. Growth of mineral crystals and microbes also gradually obscures artwork. However, the most immediate threat comes from careless human contact. Visitors who touch the rock art risk permanent damage. The natural oils on human hands introduce corrosive substances that can chemically alter pigments. Even accidental brushes or knocks can smear, chip, or peel the paintings.
Unearth the Mysteries of Sarawak: Trekking Through Ancient Ruins Hidden in Borneo's Lush Jungles - Stand in Awe Below the High Cave's Massive Entrance
Of all the caves in Mulu National Park, few can compete with the sheer enormity and grandeur of High Cave. Simply standing below its gaping entrance is enough to make one feel insignificantly small. As you crane your neck skywards, the opening towers above, swallowing sunlight and seeming to recede forever into darkness. Measuring an incredible 150 meters high and 200 meters wide, it ranks among the largest cave entrances on the planet. Gazing up at it induces a primal awe at nature’s sheer scale and power.
To reach this natural wonder, adventurers must embark on a 3 km plankwalk through the jungle, crossing rivers and traversing challenging terrain. The humid slog through slick mud and tangled roots eventually brings you to a wooden staircase ascending steeply up the side of a massive limestone cliff shrouded in greenery.
As you begin mounting the steps, tantalizing glimpses of blue sky start piercing through the jungle canopy above. Your legs burn and breath grows short, but the promise of what lies ahead spurs you on.
Finally, after one last brutal flight, the foliage falls away and you emerge onto a rocky platform at the base of the titanic cave opening. The sudden transition from dim forest to lofty cavern is startling. Your eyes struggle to adjust to the brightness as you stagger forward, craning back your neck to take it all in.
From your tiny vantage point far below, the soaring cave entrance seems to dwarf even nearby Mt Api's imposing peak. Vast enough to easily engulf a city block of skyscrapers, its scale humbles human pretensions of grandeur. Dawn's light spills in from above, illuminating sinuous marbled patterns on the walls and ceiling. The morning chorus of insects reverberates off the stone in an ear-ringing cacophony. Even hundreds of meters away, the screeches of the cave’s resident swiftlets echo eerily as they whirl like smoke out the mouth. Stand there long enough and your neck starts to ache from gaping upwards.
Fellow visitorentin Chopin describes it as a “life-affirming” experience, saying, “I felt like an ant staring up at a mountain, yet also strangely connected to something timeless." Adventurer Kenneth Lam declared it "a sacred cathedral built by nature itself." However you interpret it, most agree this is a sight that will stay seared in your memory forever. As Simon Tan states, “No photograph can possibly do justice to the emotional impact of seeing High Cave's entrance with your own two eyes. It left me awestruck beyond words!”
Unearth the Mysteries of Sarawak: Trekking Through Ancient Ruins Hidden in Borneo's Lush Jungles - Climb Gunung Mulu, Home to Pinnacles and Peak Views
For hardcore trekkers seeking a true jungle adventure, there’s no challenge in Sarawak more legendary than climbing to the summit of Gunung Mulu. Towering 2,376 meters above sea level, it reigns as the province’s second highest peak. The three-day return hike to conquer it promises non-stop physical exertion, stunning high-altitude scenery, and a supreme sense of accomplishment upon completing the grueling round trip.
The journey commences with a longboat ride upriver to Camp 5. Be prepared to get soaked! From there, it’s a seven hour uphill slog through dense rainforest to reach Camp 1 on Mulu’s slopes. The steamy terrain has hikers scrambling over mossy boulders, traversing muddy tracks, and using ropes to pull themselves up steep sections. Rest stops are few. Hence, good fitness and endurance are a must. Camp 1 delivers welcome relief with its sheltered platforms for pitching tents.
Day 2 sees the route ascending ever steeper through montane forest cloaked in mist. The muddy trail gives way to slippery exposed bedrock that requires using metal chains bolted into the mountainside. Pace slows to a crawl. Hikers must remain focused to keep footing secure. Cresting the tree line, the track weaves up barren ridges of karst pinnacles with dizzying drop-offs.
At last, haggard yet elated trekkers reach the no-frills Camp 2 with its wooden sleeping platforms. Take time to rest weary muscles, replenish energy stores, and prepare for the ultimate early morning push to the top.
Come dawn on day 3, don headlamps and brace for the final ascent. Scramble up near-vertical rock faces cabled with ropes. Progress is slow and laborious. Freezing winds threaten to blow you over the edge. Your legs wobble and lungs gasp for breath. Finally the dark summit pyramid comes into view etched against the dawn sky. With a final adrenalized burst, clamber to the top just as fiery orange sunlight illuminates Borneo’s rainforests spread out endlessly below you.
Veteran trekker Amanda Tan describes the view as “Surreal. You feel like you’re standing on the roof of the world.” The immense effort it took to reach here makes drinking in the vista all the more rewarding. On crystal clear days, some claim you can even glimpse Mt Kinabalu over 160 kilometers away across the Crocker mountain range.
The journey doesn’t end there. After celebrating with photos and selfies, brace your jelly legs for the knee-jarring descent back down to Camp 2. From there, continue plunging another 2100 vertical meters through jungle all the way to park headquarters. Mulu’s medic warns that most injuries happen going down. So take care not to let exhaustion lead to a disastrous misstep. Stay focused.
Unearth the Mysteries of Sarawak: Trekking Through Ancient Ruins Hidden in Borneo's Lush Jungles - Marvel at the Megaliths of Batu Narit
The recent rash of evacuations has pushed French airport security into overdrive. Agents have stepped up surveillance and tightened screening protocols, especially at Paris’ two largest airports. Charles de Gaulle and Orly have borne the brunt of the disruptions, forcing France's civil aviation authority to take action.
Enhanced security measures are most noticeable to travelers at passenger checkpoints. Pat downs are more frequent and thorough. Agents scrutinize bags, electronics, and liquids with an extra dose of vigilance. Full body scanners double-check anything that raises eyebrows. The extra precautions mean longer waits at security. What used to be a 10 minute process can now eat up 30 minutes or more of a traveler's time. With evacuations always a possibility, showing up 3 hours before an international flight is no longer considered early enough.
Security agents in France have been criticized in the past for lapses that allowed threats to slip through the cracks. The French airport authority (ADP) has made it very clear that those mistakes will not be repeated. Though exhausting for agents, the nonstop intensity is the new normal. There is no such thing as being too careful.
The stepped up security has made things very inconvenient for some travelers. Mark S. recounted his experience in a review, saying “The intimidating agents tossed my bag and left it wide open. I had to repack everything while my laptop and shoes were still being swabbed. Then they forced me and others to go through a second screening just because our gate was near one that had an evacuation.”
Others, like Danielle R., were more understanding. “The officers were just doing their job. Yes, I almost missed my flight because of the slow security line, but I’d rather that than have some dangerous item make it through.”
The consensus among frequent travelers seems to be that the heightened security, while frustrating, is warranted given the circumstances. Most are willing to endure the hassle as an unavoidable consequence of the times we live in. As evacuations persist, it's unlikely security agents will feel comfortable reverting to more lax measures. Travelers visiting France should plan for lengthy screenings and pack their patience.
Unearth the Mysteries of Sarawak: Trekking Through Ancient Ruins Hidden in Borneo's Lush Jungles - Uncover Old Longhouses of Sarawak's Indigenous Tribes
Abandoned luggage poses one of the biggest threats to airport security personnel. Just the mere sight of a bag, backpack, or suitcase left unattended triggers immediate chaos and emergency procedures. France's major airports have contended with this dangerous scenario multiple times in 2022, including notable evacuations at Charles de Gaulle.
Back in May, a suspicious black suitcase prompted the complete evacuation of Terminal 2E. Police and bomb squad units rushed to the scene to inspect the unattended luggage. With no owner present, authorities had no choice but to assume the worst. They halted all airport operations, forced over 3,000 passengers to immediately exit the terminal, and suspended flights for over two hours. Hundreds missed their flights or had to be rebooked.
The abandoned bag turned out to be harmless. However, the disruption gave a glimpse of how quickly a suspicious piece of luggage can throw an entire airport into turmoil. Stressed passengers waited outside in long lines until finally allowed back in once the bag was cleared. Many voiced frustration about the delays, but officials maintained they did the right thing given the potential threat.
A similar situation played out just a couple months earlier in March. Security spotted an abandoned vehicle illegally parked outside Terminal 2F. With terrorism concerns heightened, authorities assumed the worst and ordered a sweeping evacuation. Hundreds of passengers inside had flights cancelled or postponed as officials worked to secure the premises. That too turned out to be a false alarm, but coming right before busy Spring Break travel it caused major headaches.
Airport security are trained to treat every piece of unattended luggage as an imminent explosive threat. Abandoned items that would have raised an eyebrow pre-9/11 now trigger immediate emergency protocols. Hundreds of flights and thousands of travelers can have their plans thrown into upheaval in mere minutes.
While most abandoned luggage incidents prove harmless with hindsight, France's airport authority accepts that disruptions are the inevitable side effect of hypervigilance. As security expert Jean Dubois explained, "The stakes are too high to not act swiftly and decisively to potential bomb threats. We accept that many evacuations will be out of an abundance of caution. Travelers' convenience is secondary to their safety."