This plankwalk spanning 3.5km seems to have become part of the primary forest eco-system already having been built more than a decade ago. I can’t help but stop ever so often as we were headed to Niah Cave located inside the Niah National Park in Miri, to look closely at the many critters, like the millipedes, the bugs and slugs that have seem to have found this wooden walkway as their home. On what should have been less-than-an-hour hike, took longer as we marvel at the unsullied forest. What more of the cave that lay ahead?
Niah National Park
From Miri City proper, we traveled about a couple of hours to the Batu Niah, the jump off town to Niah National Park 110kms. We took the opportunity to have lunch and buy supplies for the trek in the park. From the town itself we could see the humongous wall of karst expanding about 5km to the sides and towering about 100 meters. The park is part of a cluster of limestone karst formations called “Gunung Surbis Limestone Complex”. The Niah Caves, the second largest cave system in Malaysia after the UNESCO Site Gunung Mulu is the highlight of the park. The limestone cave and the tropical rainforest surround the area make up the whole park consisting a vast 3100 hectare area.
The Primary Forest
We had to take a short boat ride along a crocodile infested Niah River to get to the starting plank on the other side. The river cross is also an ingenious way to control visitor traffic against just using a bridge. A museum, housed in a locally designed wooden architecture showcases information about the park and the cave, the archaeological studies done, artefacts found and probably a replica of the 40,000 year-old skull in display, a proof of the oldest human settlement in Malaysia.
The plankwalk is narrow and ideally can fit two people side by side. Our guide, Yeong, said it is made from the hardest wood found in Malaysia and could last decades before replacing them. To make it less slippery, a rubber layer was put on the walkway for traction. The walk was really pleasant, I could feel the change in the air as we go deeper and surrounded by huge and ageing tabang trees and other species. The critters increases in numbers and some interestingly camouflage themselves. riverines and limestone cavities naturally shaped by erosion creates natural sculptures. Halfway, large boulders that fell from the limestone peaks scatter on the sides that made it look like a stone forest but the large tree roots entangling them make it look like ruins from ancient past. The forest has a surreal aura about it.
The Great Cave
The Niah Cave complex is composed of several chambers. The first one, after the end of the 3.5km plankwalk is the Trader’s Cave. An impressive elongated slanted roof-like overhang where dramatic stalactites descend along the natural shelter. Found in this section are some scaffoldings of what’s left of ancient huts and wells used by inhabitants to trade their bird’s nest and guanos.
The West Mouth cave further has an enormous chamber 60 meters high and 250 meters wide. It has a dramatic mouth shape where the dense jungle surrounding the area is framed. It was fortunate we reached the area in time as a squall came in rendering a misty jungle landscape in view. Looking up there were overhang bamboo poles and ladders used by nest collectors gathering highly priced swiftlets nest. There are about half a million swiftlets living in this cave. On one side is the excavation section where most of the remains of an ancient settlement were found. Deeper into the cave are more plankwalks leading to the other chamber. Due to time constraints though we weren’t able to go deeper to see the Painted Cave showcasing the “Death-ships” cave paintings.
The Niah National Park was worth the two-hour drive from the city and extensive walk in the dense jungle. If I ever come back in Miri, I would allot a whole day to explore the area.
The Niah National Park can be visited on a day trip from Miri. I recommend going early in the morning.
- From Miri Bus Station, take a bus to Batu Niah. Travel time is almost 2 hours. Then take a taxi going to Niah Park Headquarters.
- The park operates from 7am to 7:30pm but the Park Headquarters ticketing operates from 8am to 5pm only. There’s an RM 10 entrance fee to the park.
- River boat rides have separate fees. From RM1/person from 7am to 5:30pm. RM 1.5/person from 5:30-7:30pm.
- There are options for overnight stays in chalets within the park. Starting price is RM 42 for a room in a hostel lodge. For bookings contact National Parks Booking Office at (085) 737450 or (085) 737454.
Recommended preparation for the park visit.
- Wear comfortable and active wear clothes for the walk
- Apply insect repellant (there are seasons when leeches are present)
- Bring enough drinking water and trail snacks
- Bring a torch/light
- Poncho or umbrella in case of sudden downpours
AirAsia Zest flies to Manila to Miri Mondays, Tuesday, Thursdays and Saturdays at 2:25pm. The Miri to Manila flights on the same days at 5:10pm.
Ferdz Decena is an award-winning travel photographer, writer and blogger. His works has found print in publications such as Singapore Airlines’s Silver Kris, Philippine Airlines’ Mabuhay, Cebu Pacific’s Smile and Seair InFlight. He has also lent his expertise to various organizations like the Oceana Philippines, Lopez Group Foundation, Save the Children and World Vision, contributing quality images for their marketing materials.