Lambir Hills National Park & Niah Caves, Sarawak

Finally, a 3-day weekend in Brunei. We toyed with the idea of hiking the Pinnacles in the Mulu National Park, but there are no direct flights from Brunei into Mulu. I was keen to explore more of Sarawak, so I did a quick search for some trekking/hiking near Miri that we could do in 3 days. Lambir Hills and the Niah Caves were the closest proximity to Miri, so they were obvious choices.

We rented a car from Miri (a Perodua Viva @RM310 for 3 days) and started driving to Lambir Hills National Park after a hearty breakfast of Sarawak laksa (I am addicted to this stuff!). The drive took 40 minutes from Miri. I was expecting a pretty drive, with dense rainforests flanking the roads.... but what a naïve thought! For the majority stretch of roads, lands are barren and leaden with palm oil plantation. Miles and miles of it. Crossing over into Sarawak felt like entering a vast and grim industrial land.

We lost data coverage halfway into the drive. But there were signages to help us find our way.

(All photos taken on iPhone 7 Plus)

Day 1: Lambir Hills National Park

Lambir Hills National Park

We reached Lambir Hills National Park just after noon. As we are staying here for the night, we located the administrative office and checked in. I have booked a 2-bedroom chalet with ensuite. The place is basic, but decent and clean. They also provide towels, soap and air-conditioning (in my defense, an American friend was traveling with us and he requested for a/c). All this at only RM150 for 3 of us! You can view and book online at the Sarawak National Park e-booking website.

If staying for the night at the NP, you should also inform the canteen if you intend to have dinner there because they close very early (6pm is the last order!). Also buy enough water to stock up for the night.

We dropped our bags, changed into our hiking things, and purchased permits from the Park Office - RM10 for Malaysians, and RM20 for foreigners. We started with an easy trail, with the intention of returning to the canteen for lunch. The trail branched out into 3 separate waterfalls. Very pretty, and of course it started raining heavily in the middle of our hike!

Drenched, as if we'd gone for a swim ourselves.

The first hike was only 15-20 minutes. It took more time to avoid stepping on squishy, muddy spots than actual trekking. When we got to the last waterfall, we consulted a map of the NP. We realized that where we are, it's already 1/6 of the way in towards the peak of Bukit Pantu. We weren't keen to head back and start over. Also, if we return, have lunch and head out again, we may not have enough time to hike up Bukit Pantu - all visitors are required to return to the Park Office by 4pm.

And so, we trudged on. Without extra supplies of water, nor lunch. The beginnings of a bad idea, no doubt...

I particularly enjoyed the hike, unlike the other two, hehe. There are some pretty steep sections, and we had to tread carefully because of the slippery rocks from the downpour. I was in a paranoid state the entire hike, frequently checking for leeches. I spotted two! One of them was a right stubborn one that clung to my shoes for dear life. I was squealing for V to flick it off and he took quite a while to do so, while my squealing intensified. 

3 hours later, after some precarious steps and even ladders - we were rewarded with this view.

Amazingly, the phone  reception on the peak of Bukit Pantu was good! My phone detected 3G and Vinnie even tried to book movie tickets while we rested and took in the view, hehe.

The journey back to the Park Office was uneventful as we hurried to end the trek. By 4:45pm, we made it to base and made a beeline towards the canteen, heh. 

A quick order with the canteen kakak - veggies, chicken and omelette. Dinner is served within 10-15 minutes. While waiting for our food to arrive, we did a thorough body inventory check... for leeches. 

I gingerly took off my shoes, and socks, and was relieved not to see any. So I sat cross-legged on the chair and when my hands brushed against my feet, I felt something soft and wriggly T_T Another round of squealing ensued... 

The portions served for dinner were generous. Stir fried long beans, omelette and chicken curry with  a large helping of rice. After 4 hours of hiking and missing lunch, this was what we needed.

Later that evening, we drove to Tusan Beach (some 45 minutes from Bukit Lambir NP) to catch the glowing bioluminescence. Unfortunately for us, the waves weren't crashing with enough force to activate the glow, so we humoured ourselves by snacking at the beachside stalls. 

Most notably being sold in excess at the stalls were grilled chicken buttocks - something V is quick to point out. There were coconuts being sold, as well as other drinks and shakes. After ordering a whole coconut to myself, I noticed some very black coconuts on display as well. These were charred, and the juice of these coconuts are supposed to be creamier in flavour.

Day 2: Niah National Park

After a quick breakfast at the canteen (half-boiled eggs and roti kahwin, with a very grossly diluted cup of coffee), we were back on the road heading towards Niah National Park. It took us 1 hour 15 minutes to arrive. As we registered ourselves at the NP office, we were briefed on directions.

A short boat ride across the river, then a 3km walk before reaching the Niah Caves. The two guys were dreading the walk, as it was blazing hot - while I insisted we keep on, after all, we are here.

We have truly learnt our lessons after yesterday's ordeals. We deliberately HAD lunch, even though none of us were hungry yet. The sun was baking hot when we were about to start. So I shifted the car to park it under the shade of the tree.... and in that short period of time, the skies grew overcast. 

Seriously, wtf? 

And true enough, after the river crossing, it started raining. Heavily. Like, proper rainforest downpour.

The 3km walk is otherwise an easy trail. Raised platform of wooden planks make it easier to walk and mentally, you are assured from leeches. 

At the end of the 3km boardwalk, naturally the rain stopped....

The caves are impressive! Long bamboo poles suspended from the highest part of the cave (15-20m height) were used by the local people to harvest birds nests! 

Deeper into the caves, torchlights were required. At one descend, it was so dark below that it creeped me out. V exclaimed in the dark that this was akin to the Mines of Moria and even threw in a few choice dialogues from the book.  

We spent about 2 hours within the caves. Expect to climb and descend lots of stairs. The Painted Cave, which required you to venture towards the opposite end of the cave, exit and enter another cave - was frankly a disappointment. The painted cave section was a restricted area, so you can only gaze from some distance away as you convince yourself that the various shadows make up the paintings. 

What I didn't know was, this cave has been in existence since the Stone Age days, and the painted cave was 40,000 years old! I would have paid more reverence had I known this fact then.

The entire Niah Cave experience was approximately 4 hours, including the 3km walk in and out. We were absolutely reeking! We entered the cave soaking wet, sweated buckets in the cave, and the lack of any ventilation only made the stench worse.

Imagine driving back to Miri for 2 hours in this condition.

Along the way, we stopped by a "Hawaii Beach", just after Tusan Beach. 

This is the only stretch of beach with coconut trees, and hence the moniker.

Btw, stripping off all that disgusting damp clothes and that shower in a hotel, was absolute bliss.

Finally finishing off the night with dinner at a seafood restaurant - Meng Chai.
Stir fried fern leaves in red wine sauce, grilled squid and a barbequed fish in sambal which I forgot to photograph.

The fern was a delight. Crunchy and tender, the sauce is also delicious. The grilled squid could be better, I reckon - it was too chewy to my liking. There is a dipping sauce (you'll have to take it yourself, where all the cutleries are stored) of chilli and a prawn paste - fantastic combination.

The barbequed fish was also very fresh, and tender. Delish! 

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