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Part 3: Mulu national park

25-26.6: Munich -> Dubai -> KL
27.6: KL
28.6: KL
29.6: KL -> Miri
30.6: Miri -> Mulu
1.7: Mulu -> Camp 5
2.7: Pinnacles
3.7: Camp 5 -> Miri -> Kuching
4.7: Kuching -> Singapore
5.7: Singapore
6.7: Singapore
7.7: Singapore -> KL
8.7: KL -> Merang
9.7: Merang -> Lang Tengah
10.7: Lang Tengah
11.7: Lang Tengah -> Kuala Terengganu -> Pulau Kapas
12.7: Pulau Kapas -> KL -> Teluk Intan

13.7: Teluk Intan
14.7: Teluk Intan, Ipoh, Kuala Kangsar, Taiping
15.7: Teluk Intan -> KL -> Kuching
16.7: Kuching, Kubah NP, Matang wildlife reserve
17.7: Semenggoh, Kuching wetlands NP, Kota Kinabalu
18.7: Kota Kinabalu -> Labuan
19.7: Labuan -> Bandar Seri Begawan (Brunei)
20.7: Ulu Temburong NP -> BSB
21.7: BSB -> Seria -> Tasek Merimbun -> KL
22.7: KL
23.7: KL
24.7: KL -> Dubai
25.7: Dubai -> Munich

30.6:  Miri -> Mulu
Dorm bed in the Mulu park HQ for RM 40. Actually it's two rooms one with about 13 beds and the other with 6 beds. Basic facilities, no A/C (only fan). Breakfast included.

Weather: sunny in the morning in Miri, rain between 11am and 12pm, then a mix of sunny and cloudy. In Mulu it's initially overcast, then it rains heavily between 4:40 and 7pm.

I wake up at 8:30am, get ready, have breakfast and by the time I pack my stuff it's 11am and it has started raining. Never mind, I'm prepared for this. I take out the umbrella and start exploring Miri. Some shopping of essential stuff in the shops, a quick lunch in a KFC restaurant.

Miri is a typical Malaysian province city, with shops carrying the necessary stuff for a life in a provincial place at the border to the wilderness. I can't manage to find leech socks for some strange reason and instead buy some textiles to put on the legs to protect against leeches.

Supposedly there is a river in Miri, but I can't find it, or perhaps I do not walk far enough. I was thinking that there would be a nice waterfront with shops and cafes like in Kuching, but I can't find such thing in Miri.

When I'm back in the hotel at 12:55pm the sandals I bought in Germany break. Luckily they break here and not in Mulu, otherwise I would have had problems. I rush to a shop and buy some cheap rubber slippers. Rubber slippers/shoes are essential in this tropical country because it rains a lot and normal leather shoes get wet and don't dry quickly.

Shortly after 1pm I'm in a taxi to the airport (15 minutes trip because there is some traffic). After checking in I check my emails using the free Starbucks WLAN hotspot. Then I proceed to the gate.

The plane leaves with 20 minutes of delay and after a short 20 minutes fligfht lands in Mulu. The plane is an ATR 72, which is now bigger than the small Twin Otter planes which were in use during my last visit in 2003.
I take a minibus to the park HQ (RM 5), then register. Tomorrow I will do the Pinnacles trek with five other people.

Chit-chat with the park staff. They rent blankets for Camp 5 for RM 15. Water is boiled at camp 5 (they have gas bottles), so I don't have to carry the water with me (only for the first day). Have to show up at the park HQ tomorrow at 8:30am.

After getting rid of my stuff, at about 4pm I start walking to the Deer cave, which I reach at 5pm after a couple of stops. In the meantime it has started raining.

I'm in the cave until 5:45pm then start walking back. Very heavy rain. Luckily I'm wearing the rubber slippers and not the trekking boots, because the boots would have got soaking wet under the heavy rain and would not have been dry by tomorrow.

I'm back at the cafeteria around 6:40pm, then have dinner. Later I order food for the Pinnacles trek. They sell both cooked and uncooked rice (which you can cook yourself at the camp), meat with sauce which must be cooked at the camp 5 (first night only because there is no fridge at camp 5), bread and other stuff.

1.7: Mulu -> Camp 5
Camp 5,  RM 30 for a dorm room with mattresses (and mosquito nets for rent), very basic, food not included but you can buy soft drinks for RM 5. There is a kitchen in which you can cook, toilets with cold showers, no electricity but illuminated at night with solar power. Friendly and helpful staff.

Weather: sunny blue sky with some clouds in the morning. Sunny until the afternoon, then clouds buildup and briefly some rain around 5pm.

I initially wake up at 6am, then sleep again and finally get up at 7am. I get ready, have breakfast and buy food for the trip: one loaf of bread, jam, 2x200gr of rice (two portions for two dinners), chicken with soya sauce, canned chicken and some drinks.

At 8:30am I'm at the park HQ. There I'm assigned to a group consisting of three couples, a French, a Danish and a Norwegian one. I leave my suitcase in the luggage storeroom at the park HQ.

Shortly before 9am we are in the boat, a long thin boat capable of carrying a dozen people. We proceed along the river, making a stop at 9:15am at the Batu Bungan  Penan longhouse settlement. Brief shopping stop, having a look at the handicrafts. Then we continue to the Wind cave, which we visit at 10am. Our guide says that we are not allowed to visit the caves alone. Boring presentation of the guide who explains with many words the meaning of insignificant things.

At 10:45am we are at the Clearwater cave. Long stop here, first we visit the cave, then we have lunch and swim in the creek. Nice swim in the refreshing water. Lots of tourists, of which many are Asian.

Around 12:20pm we leave by boat to the start of the trail to Camp 5. During the final boat trip we have to push the boat a couple of times (shorts get wet due to the deep water).

We arrive at 1:30pm at the landing place and tell the boatman to pick us up on Saturday at 12pm. At 1:35pm we start walking to camp 5. It's actually an easy walk, but I'm carrying so much stuff on my shoulders and I'm not used to it, so it's quite tiring.

With a number of stops we reach Camp 5 at 4:30pm, which is not a too exciting time, given that the distance covered is just 9km. But the terrain, while relatively even, is far from easy and we are walking in the hot tropical heat.

Once there we relax, swim in the river, and prepare dinner. Then Joseph, our guide, briefs us about the trip. 10 times tougher than the Mt Kinabalu climb,  leave at 6am, wake up at 5am. Trip will be cancelled if it rains. We sleep by 10pm.

2.7: Camp 5 -> Pinnacles -> Camp 5
Overnight in Camp 5

Weather: good weather in the morning, sunny blue sky with clouds and a thin clouds layer. At 2:25pm it starts raining for five minutes, then later at 4pm it starts raining like hell. Heavy tropical downpour lasting until 6pm, then lighter rain until 6:15pm. Very heavy rain after 7pm until after 8pm (feels like being under a waterfall).

I get up shortly after 5 am, take a cold shower (a bit freezing since it is still dark), have a simple breakfast and get ready.

At 6:15am we start the trek. Initially the trail is relatively plane, but very quickly it starts climbing steeply on the mountain. Lots of rocks and tree roots. You have to use both legs and arms to proceed, i.e. you have to climb. The trail is wet and slippery in large sections. There are ropes here and there which you can use as an aid to the climb.

At the halfway point, i.e. at 1200m distance (total trail length is 2400m), each of us leaves a 1.5l bottle of water behind which we will pick up when we go down again. That way we avoid carrying it up and down the mountain.

By 9am we reach the 1800m point, where the ladders start, i.e. you climb up using metal ladders. Every now and then there are metal steps fixed into the rock wall. The trail is vertical in certain places. The vegetation has changed (there are now pitcher plants) and it is more fresh.  Essentially the last 600m of the trail consist of rock climbing.

The rocks are sharp, very sharp in some spots. If I had not seen it with my own eyes I wouldn't have believed it. So much erosion and other weather impact and the rocks are still that sharp. The rocks have good grips, which you can use if you wear gloves so that your hands don't get hurt (I'm wearing my gym leather gloves with free finger ends).

At 9:45am I reach the viewpoint. The French couple is already there, the Norwegian and Danish couples follow a bit later.  The Pinnacles are quite cool. Razor sharp (almost) rock tips with no vegetation on them.

We spend almost one hour there, having some food and drinks, then at 10:45am we start the descent. What then follows are more than four gruelling hours spent climbing down the mountain. The trail is absolutely crazy. You essentially have to walk over sharp rocks and tree roots, all wet in the upper part. No plain ground. You have carefully choose where to put the feet, step by step.

This is a very tiring exercise. Every now and then somebody slips, but nobody gets hurt. I'm really glad when at 3:05pm I'm back at the Camp 5.

Rest of the day spent not doing much. I briefly go swimming, then take a shower.

In the evening at 6:45pm Kasper, the Danish guy, says that Joseph wants to bring us to a night time wildlife spotting safari. Duration one hour or so. I'm way too tired for anything and decline.

Later while chit-chatting with the others in the canteen we note that it has started raining. In fact the rain is getting stronger all the time and quickly becomes like a heavy shower. Under the roof of the canteen it feels like being under a waterfall. It turns out that Kasper and the French guy went with Joseph to the night safari and now they must be somewhere under the rain. In fact after 8pm they return soaking wet. By 9pm the whole group is in the bed and sleeping.

3.7: Camp 5 -> Mulu park HQ -> Miri -> Kuching
Four points hotel, Kuching. Four or five star hotel, belonging to the Sheraton chain. RM 345 for a big, luxury room with everything. What a difference to the mattress in Camp 5. The bed mattress is soft. The hotel seems to be quite new, is beautifully decorated and furnished. Huge entrance hall. Breakfast not included in the price. WLAN in the room is not free, but it is free in the lobby (and quite fast). The hotel is quite close to the airport (less than 10 minutes by car), in a sort of commercial area.
Near the hotel there is a place with a large number of open air Chinese restaurants, eateries and food stalls, kind of a Chinatown. Part of this area is dedicated to seafood restaurants.

Weather: in Mulu overcast in the early morning, then sunny blue sky. Overcast in Miri, dry in Kuching in the evening.

Long, almost lazy sleep until 7:30am today (compared to the previous days). After a simple breakfast we pack our stuff and at 9:10am start walking back to Kuala Birar, where the boat will wait for us at 12pm.

After about 1.5km I realise that I forgot the towel and the swimsuit in Camp 5. I rush back to Camp 5 and pick up my stuff, thereby extending this morning walk from 9 to 12km.

Despite the tiring walk of yesterday the walk this morning is surprisingly smooth and by 11:40am I reach the main group right when they arrive in Kuala Birar. The boat there is already waiting for us. The French couple which left Camp 5 a bit later arrives at 11:50am and by 11:55am the boat leaves for the Mulu park HQ.

This time the boat trip is much faster. On the one hand the river is carrying much more water because of yesterday's heavy rainfall, on the other hand we are now moving downstream. At 12:30pm we arrive at the park HQ jetty. We head to the cafeteria and have some lunch, then I retrieve my luggage and go to the dormitory where I have a shower, then repackage my stuff.

At 2:10pm I walk to the park entrance, take a car to the airport (RM 5) and check in at the airport. They can't check the luggage through until Kuching. At 3:20pm the plane leaves for Miri, arriving at 3:50pm.

Once in Miri I retrieve my luggage and check in for the flight to Kuching. Then I have some food in a restaurant and use the Starbucks hotspot to connect to the Internet. I download my emails and start processing them. Then I proceed to the gate.

The flight is a bit delayed and arrives in Kuching at 6:40pm. The plane is again an ATR-72. In Kuching airport I start calling a number of hotels, all midrange hotels in the Rough Guide guidebook, except the five star and lowest end ones.

Everything is fully booked. Only the Continental has a suite for RM747. Apparently there is an event connected to the Rainforest festival going on in Kuching right now. Had I known this I would have choosen a different route to Singapore, i.e. not one including an overnight stay in Kuching.

Out of desperation I go to the information counter and ask the lady if she can find a hotel for me. Budget is RM200 or so. She makes a few calls and also only finds fully booked hotels. Then I tell her that I don't need to stay in Kuching, that tomorrow morning I have an early flight and a hotel near the airport would be fine.

She mentions the Four Points hotel and calls them. They have rooms for RM345 without breakfast. So I book a room there, then take a taxi (RM 17 for the very short distance). The hotel is high-end, what a difference to the rainforest hut where I spent the last two nights.

After checking in the hotel, I recharge the batteries of all electronics gear I carry with me. Then I walk out of the hotel. Next to the hotel is an area with many Chinese food stalls and restaurants. I have a noodle soup, then explore a bit the surroundings. Lots of life here, I'm surprised because we are quite out of Kuching here.

Copyright 2010 Alfred Molon