Visiting Sarawak began on a much calmer note to Brunei.
We boarded a VIP coach and after a stop at immigration for a departure stamp as we left Brunei, one immediately after to pass immigration into Sarawak, and an obligatory squat toilet stop half way, we were turfed out outside the city of Miri.
With no local bus going into town from the long distance bus station (go figure!?), we followed some sketchy notes given to us by the hostel we had booked.
In search of ‘a petrol station with a bus stop next to it’, we traipsed through a field and behind some market stalls. Eventually we found it and boarded the next bus bound for Miri city centre (cost 27p!).
I was excited for Sarawak, expecting less infrastructure and (somehow?) cheaper prices than Sabah. In my head, this, therefore, meant a little more ruggedness! This was quickly met with the bus situation alone.
Our hostel, Dillenia Guesthouse, was well recommended online and we were pleased we chose to stay there. It was really homely and the owner, Mrs Lee, was lovely and full of information whenever you asked.
On face value, Miri seemed to be brimming with things to do and places to visit, and it was right by the coast – bonus! However, we quickly realised that advertised buses to the different beaches and areas of town, including the bus station and airport, no longer ran.
That’ll be that ruggedness right there – perhaps nothing to be excited about after all…
So, we decided to be energetic and spent the days walking for miles around the city, and running to the beaches instead. If we timed our runs correctly, at sunset, we felt less like passing out from the heat.
One day we risked running in the morning and ran to Brighton beach, 5km away. While our sweaty clothes dried in the sun, we sunbathed for a few hours on the desolate beach and then ran back. When you’re given lemons…
We also found a recreation park with an amphitheater and outdoor pool not far from our hostel, which we would go to read in or run around and exercise. It seemed to be the thing to do there, so we did it too!
We were excited to visit the pool for just 1MYR (10p!). And, despite the signs detailing the proper swimming attire, Mrs Lee assured us we’d be allowed in with bikini and swim shorts so we went for it.
As I was wrapping my towel around me to make a dash for the safety of the water, Byron shouted out that he wasn’t allowed in with his swimming shorts.
Not tight enough.
Damn! But I totally agree. Back to the counter I went to reclaim our 10p’s.
Other highlights in Miri included a ‘cheap as chips’ trip to the cinema costing less than £3 for both of us. We also discovered Bandung Cincau – a cold drink made with evaporated milk, flavoured syrup and grass jelly at a local restaurant serving tasty Malaysian buffet food.
From Miri, there are a few National Parks to visit; Niah Caves, Lambir Hills and Gunung Mulu.
The largest and most appealing to us was Gunung Mulu National Park which is home to Gunung Api, a mountain you can climb to see The Pinnacles.
The Pinnacles are a series of 45m high razor sharp limestone karsts eroded away by rain over the last 5 million years half way up Gunung Api.
It’s only a 2.4km hike but it’s pretty much straight upwards, rising 1,200m from camp.
Up for the challenge, we opted for a 3 day/2 night trip staying at Camp 5, which are self-catered dormitory style huts used by Royal Geographical researchers back in 1977, 1hr by river and then 9km hike deep into the national park.
Our final days in Miri were spent preparing for the trip, buying fabric to make bed sheets, inflatable pillows, mosquito net and as much non-perishable food as we could carry.
The only option to reach Mulu National Park is to fly, as the one road from Miri is reserved for logging and is not maintained.
The extent of the palm oil business was glaringly obvious from the sky; miles upon miles of palm trees in gridded formation all the way from Miri to Mulu, where rainforest and all her wildlife once stood. It was a huge eye opener.
This is us at Mulu’s rinky-dink airport, just half an hour after we took off from Miri on a twin prop.
Without any accommodation booked, we set off on our search for somewhere to stay ahead of the big trip the following day.
Based on recommendation, we found D’Cave Homestay 10 minutes walk from the airport where we stayed with Dina, Robert and their son Beckham Junior before and our after the climb.
The following day with our backpacks stuffed to the brim full of instant noodles, baked beans and sweets, we boarded a long boat at the National Park entrance.
Allocated a trekking group, we headed upstream to two caves; Clearwater and Cave of the Winds after a brief stop at a local village.
The river was shallow in parts and we were poised to get out and push at any moment. But, the two boatmen were an awesome team and expertly navigated over the stones as they scraped the bottom of the boat.
9km away from Camp 5, we were dropped on dry land and set upon hiking our way through the forest to the camp.
10 minutes in and not breaking with tradition, the heavens opened and we squelched the following 8km.
Greeted with cold showers, a foam plastic mattress for a bed and the prospect of instant noodles and baked beans for dinner, we were thrilled to arrive. We quickly set about constructing a cozy den with the mattress, a mosquito net, pieces of fabric and inflatable pillows we had bought.
Because it was flowering season, huge bees with a taste for human sweat were everywhere and swarmed people’s boots and clothes hanging up to dry.
The rest of the rainy afternoon was spent bee-dodging and instant-noodle-eating.
Unsurprisingly, lying on a plastic mattress didn’t inspire slumber, and a 5am wake up call was a challenging start to what was going to be an even more challenging day.
Unsurprisingly, lying on a plastic mattress doesn’t inspire slumber and a 5am wake up call was a challenging start to what was going to be an even more challenging day.
Luckily, our group was made up of fit people and quickly overtook others in a mission to get to the top.
The climb up took 2 1/2 hrs and 20 litres of sweat. We were climbing in over 80% humidity in clothes bought from H&M and had to keep stopping to ring them out.
It was incredibly steep, so much so that near the top we hauled ourselves up using ropes and B&Q-style ladders, knowing that what goes up must come down.
We were the first group to the top and had the place to ourselves for over an hour to eat yet more noodles until another group made it. The view from the top was pretty cool but it was the achievement of the climb that really made it.
Heading down turned out to be the hardest part and we were keen to do it quickly, so desperate to get out of our sweat-drenched clothes.
The 2.4km down was relentless with endless tree roots to navigate, ladders to do backwards and sharp rocks to avoid.
We eventually made it back to camp with sore knees and made a bee-line for the river. It was the perfect reward.
The next few days were spent trying to recover our legs. We ambled on a few trails in the national park and watched a bat exodus from one of the caves but spent most of our time at the guesthouse chatting – happy not to be moving.
Just as our legs started to return to normal we boarded another twin prop bound for Kuching, the capital of Sarawak.