After Kuching, Miri is the second largest city in Sarawak, and won’t disappoint in terms of entertainment (malls, bars, restaurants etc). It’s also the birthplace of Malaysia’s petroleum industry – but we suspect that matters of a less industrial slant will be the main draw of making your way here! Gunung Mulu National Park is most popular reason for visitors, with Niah Caves a close second. Known as the northern gateway to Sarawak, Miri is also the main gateway for Loagan Bunut National Park and Lambir National Park, where you can find Sarawak’s largest natural lake.

National parks aside, there is enough to keep you occupied in Miri itself. For one, there are some excellent beaches here, with Luak Bay Esplanade in the city itself looking out onto the sea (so some great options for city/seafood dining here). You’ve also got a number of parks (in fact, 14 in total!) – with a special mention going to Miri City Fan, a 26-acre park in the heart of the city –  London eat your heart out! Another popular choice is theme park Taman Awam Miri.

Finally, South East Asia’s largest Taoist temple – the grand Lotus Hill (Lian Hua San) can be found right here in Miri, in the Krokop suburbs.

Places To Stay:

There are a number of backpacker-friendly places in the city, but our recommendation is Treetops Lodge if you’re after something a little more off-the-beaten-track.  About 20 mins away from the centre, some accommodation here (that includes dorms and private rooms) is set in a purpose-built  longhouse, and is bordered on one side by the forested jungle of Lambir and on the other by miles of beautifully pristine – and wonderfully deserted – beach.

The view from Treetops Lodge, Miri

Things to do:

  • Niah Cave: Approximately two hours away from Miri, there’s no adventure caving of the Mulu kind to be found here (see the following notes on Gunung Mulu if this is what you’re interested in!). Still, it’s an extraordinary place, not least because it houses the oldest remains of early humans in East Malaysia. The wooden frames inside Trader’s Cave clearly show how humans once used it as a shelter, while The Great Cave – one of the largest in the world – displays the results of the first archeological digs in 1957 (including a 40,000 year old human skull, and log coffins from the Stone Age – yes, it was a burial site at one stage, too!). More prehistoric remains and artefacts (including lines of drawings created in what’s believed to be red ochre along the walls) are also to be found at the Painted Cave, although at the time of going to print, this was not open to the public. Surrounded by lush tropical rainforest, the park also has accommodation (book well in advance) and a café.
  • Gunung Mulu Cave Network: Like caves? You’ll love Mulu – the only World Heritage site in Sarawak. The different forest types at different altitudes and hundreds of kilometers of cave passages provides an astonishingly rich biodiversity that includes 30 species of bat – whose presence alone is good reason to come – every evening, over 3 million of them come streaming out of Deer Cave (the world’s largest cave passage) in corkscrewed ribbons to feast on over 15 tonnes of flying insects! (Maybe that’s why they don’t bother selling repellant in the shop?) And of course, the caves themselves – these enormous, ancient formations, cut into mountains, and home to stalactites, snakes, and fossil shells from the seabed now encrusted into limestone – are incredible.  Some lead to rivers, some have boulders to scramble over (or climb up and down with ropes); the most challenging adventure cave takes up to 16 hours to get through – and, of course – there are the Show Caves. Whatever you end up plumping for, though, make sure you don’t miss out on the famous Bat Exodus from Deer Cave. It’s on every night, has a ‘cast of millions’, and like all the best things in life…it’s absolutely free.
An exhausted and muddy member of the S.E.A Backpacker Team having taken on Racer Cave

Other things to do:

Aside from a vast array of forest walks, waterfall trips, boat trips along the Melinau River (where a number of indigenous tribes call home – including the Penan downriver at Long Iman), there are a number of great multi-day treks you can do here, including the climb to the Gunung Mulu summit, and the Pinnacles climb. Both are challenging: the Pinnacles is almost vertical in some places, and the summit climb will take you 4 days! If you aren’t sure about these two, but still want to trek, you can always opt to hike to Camp 5 for the night before your return back to Park HQ. Camp 5 is also a stop-off point on The Headhunters Trail (that finishes at Limbang, a pretty town on the Limbang River).

Getting there:

You do have to plan to get to Mulu – it’s a jungle out there, and a plane-ride away from either Kuching, Kota Kinabalu or Miri (the nearest city). Check times and prices with Malaysian airline MASwings. 

Once landed, you can either stay at the park’s HQ (a good range of accommodation is available, from private bungalows to a mixed hostel, and even rooms in a longhouse), or opt for one of the homestays or lodges just outside the park (the only drawback here is that you’ll then have to pay the RM10 entrance fee every day you go through the gates.

Our advice: stay for three nights if you can – and no less than two! The four Show Cave tours leave the main HQ every day, but be warned:  if you want to do adventure caving (or one of the longer treks), then you need to book as far in advance as you can (and the same goes for your accommodation and plane tickets).

For more information on prices, accommodation, and activities, go to www.mulupark.com

Where to go next?

Bario, The Kelabit Highlands! Just a plane-ride away in a tiny 16-seater otter (great fun!) – this is a must for all those who want to experience the remote Bornean wilderness that provide the surroundings and backdrop for far-flung longhouses and tiny, quaint villages.

Read more about the Kelabit Highlands here.