Saturday, 9 October 2010

Similajau National Park & Niah Caves (Malaysia)

Hello again.

I can't believe we're on to our second week in Borneo already. Time is certainly flying. Over the last week we have spent time in two more national parks along with a few days in a city in between, to organise the next part of the itinerary.
The original plan was to chill out somewhere for a week or so but we've honestly been too busy to do this - there's too much to see (and so many things that we just cannot afford to miss!)

Similajau National Park is much smaller than Bako National Park and contains far less flora and fauna of note, so consequently it gets less publicity and a lot less traffic. This, however was perfect for Kev and me: glad to get away from the wealth of insects and our simian
friends, the macaques, and to have the trails to ourselves.

It was a great relief to find that macaques are not a pest in Similajau as they are in Bako - although they can sometimes be spotted in the trees on the trails. I was over the moon not to come across any of the little terrors after my scare at Bako a few days ago - and so we enjoyed all our meals outside, overlooking the beach without fear of monkey attack!

Sadly (or fortunately!) we didn't see any crocodiles - which are reported to frequent the river mouths and streams - despite spending many a moment peering into the murky, muddy waters and straining our eyes into the shady crevices of the riverbank.
The threat of crocs also meant that swimming was mostly off the agenda. Even in the designated 'safe area' it's hard to relax into a nice, refreshing swim in the knowledge there might be a croc lurking!

It's not just crocs we had to worry about though and of you heed the warnings of the park HQ it seems there is a whole host of 'marine stingers' including jellyfish, stonefish, weaverfish and sea urchins, all waiting to get their spines into you.
That said, it was a shame that swimming was out of bounds because not only did we pass some beautiful, secluded beaches, but it was very hot and sweaty work trekking on the jungle trails - even the shady ones. Any respite from the humidity would have been most welcome.

The main trail at Similajau is 10km long and leads through the jungle, running parallel to the coast. It runs from park HQ all the way to Golden Beach at the far end of the park (passing Turtle Beach 1 and 2 at the 6 and 8km points along the way). We made it as far as Turtle Beach 2 before deciding to turn back as an 8km walk in one direction means an 8km walk back to base - and in those temperatures we were averaging about 2km per hour, so we needed to be sure to be back before nightfall.

After a long day walking we watched the sun go down on the beach - look out for the pretty sunset pictures to follow.

Although we didn't actually see any turtles, we did see the tracks on the sand, from where they had come ashore to lay their eggs.
By day the beaches are teaming with life. Down towards the shore there are literally hundreds of hermit crabs, big and small, all making their way down the sand to the sea, scurrying in and out of a network of tunnels dug on the beach. The entire surface of the beach is covered with tiny balls of sand from where the crabs have dug out their underground homes.

We spent two nights at Similajau and then headed four hours up the coast to Miri, a base for our next trip: Niah Caves National Park.

Miri, like Bintulu before it, doesn't have a great deal to offer, but we found a nice little hostel in the centre of town and a cluster of excellent seafood restaurants which serve fish, fresh from the tank, cooked to your preference - and all for about a fiver per person. The last couple of nights we've treated ourselves to red snapper, sea bass and bream - lovely!

Niah Caves National Park comprises three main caves: The Great Cave, Mooncave and The Painted Cave.
First up was The Great Cave, with its huge chambers, lit by shafts of sunlight and swarming with clicking and twittering bats and swiftlets. The boardwalks, handrails and floor of the cave are completely covered in droppings and guano, making for a stinky and very slippery excursion.
Next was Moon Cave, a pitch black passageway which makes you wonder what might happen if your torch suddenly died!
Lastly we visited the Painted Cave, once an ancient burial ground with cave paintings dating back 40,000 years. To the side of the (now very faded) paintings on the wall are a series of 'death ships' - coffins (empty, thankfully) excavated from Neolithic times.
A collapsed boardwalk meant getting to the Painted Cave was a bit of a clamber so we were the only ones there - and it was certainly spooky and atmospheric, given it's history.

Our return to the park HQ was a 4km walk back through the caves and along a wooden boardwalk through the jungle. As we exited the cave thunder rumbled noisily overhead until it culminated in torrential monsoon rain, from which we had no shelter. We stopped at one point to pour the water out of our shoes but it was a futile gesture as within seconds we were squelching along again!

So it's back to Miri for one night then off to the famous 'Gunung Mulu National Park', home to the limestone 'Pinnacles' and the enormous bat caves.

I'll blog again once back in civilisation.

Sarah & Kev xx


  1. oi, hello from verity and paul xx

  2. Hello,
    Hope you're enjoying the blog!
    Sarah & Kev xx