KUALA LUMPUR, July 14 — Cave systems in Southeast Asia are popular spots for spelunking beginners and experienced explorers.
However, not all caves are open all year long and some are too dangerous for public tours.
Recently, it was reported that the Perak government plans to temporarily shut off public access to Gua Tambun and its trove of Neolithic-age hematite rock art.
State tourism and culture exco Tan Kar Hing said the paths to the paintings were unsafe and poorly maintained, and lacked signage.
But caving enthusiasts are spoilt for choice as there are a number of other magnificent cave systems waiting for you.
Gunung Mulu National Park
One of the most famous places in Sarawak, the park is a Unesco World Heritage Centre and recognised for its biodiversity and karst features.
It is also home to the Sarawak Chamber, the largest known cave chamber in the world, where you can pay a fee to camp there for a night. Imagine fitting about eight 747 jets in it.
Other cave tours included the bat-filled Deer Cave where it leads to a hidden valley and a waterfall enclosed by the limestone cliffs of Gunung Api.
Other caves open for tours are Racer, Lagang, Clearwater, Lang and Cave of the Winds.
June, July, August and September are the busiest months of the year. Trip bookings can be done at mulupark.com.
Visitors usually head to Miri to catch a flight to Mulu or charter a boat.
Niah National Park
Two hours from Miri town is the Niah National Park.
It is home to the Niah Caves where traders from around the world bring goods to barter for birds’ nests that are gathered by the locals. Archaeological finds unearthed human remains that were 40,000 years old.
The National Park has preserved some of the structures of the early trading posts in the Trader’s Cave while parts of the main chamber (known as the Great Cave or Tom Harrison Chamber) are closed off for excavation works.
Then there is the Painted Cave where rock paintings were discovered. Some of them date back to some 1,200 years old.
However, visitors cannot go further as fences are put up to protect the paintings.
All in all, you only need a few hours to explore the caves here as much of it is closed off.
Fairy and Wind caves
Some 40 kilometres from Kuching sits two popular limestone caves — Fairy Cave and Wind Cave.
According to the Sarawak Tourism Board, the Fairy Cave is so named from a stalagmite structure at the entrance that is said to resemble a Chinese deity.
The rocks inside have hues of brown and grey as well as patches of moss dotted around.
The Wind Cave is named after the cool breeze that blows throughout its cavern.
It is also home to swiftlets and bats.
You will also find a subterranean stream that runs through the cave.
Known for birds’ nest harvesting, there are two cave complexes — Simud Hitam and Simud Putih — here.
According to Sabah Tourism, Simud Hitam is a five-minute walk from the registration area and more accessible for visitors to watch harvesters at work while spotting bats and birds in the area.
As for Simud Putih, it is the larger of the two and calls for more serious caving.
It is not open to general public and access is restricted to experienced cavers.
The name alludes to the valuable “white saliva” swiftlet nests. Those with cockroach phobia need not apply.
To get to the Gomantong Caves, head to Sandakan.
From there, it is a 90 minute drive or take a package tour from Bilit to the Kinabatangan river.
Make sure you bring extra shoes as the cave floors are covered with bat guano and bird droppings.
Some 67 km from Seremban, lies Gua Pelangi.
It is spread over 16 hectares in size and was explored by Universiti Sains Malaysia researchers a few years back.
According to Bernama, the archaeologists found artefacts such as stone tools and axes, as well as snail shells, similar to those found in Gua Bewah near Tasik Kenyir and Gua Gunung Runtuh in Lenggong Valley, Perak.
The site is now in the care of the National Heritage Department and visitors are welcomed. Tours are accompanied by security staff.
Precautions to note
- Ensure cave guide is experienced for that particular cave system
- Wear headlamps, protective wear, knee and elbow pads, gloves, socks, trekking shoes
- Bring food, water, batteries, flashlights and small first aid kit, and any regular medication especially antibiotics
- Spare clothes in waterproof bag
- Trash bags for muddy clothes and shoes
- Mylar blanket, towel, Ziploc bags