Food Adventures in Malaysia: Day 12, Gunung Mulu National Park
Ah, Gunung Mulu National Park in Borneo. One of the most amazing places I’ve ever been to. It was featured on Planet Earth, the Caves episode, because of it’s amazing lime stone caves. Those caves were the reason I strayed from my Malaysian eating expeditions, and were well worth the diversion. But Mulu brought its own form of eating adventures, introduced me to some new friends, and left me with an experience that I will forever treasure. When planning your trip to Malaysia, make sure you dedicate some time for Mulu.
Getting to Mulu
Just getting into Gunung Mulu is an adventure in itself. First, you must fly into the Kota Kinabalu International Airport in Sabah. This is the 2nd busiest airport in all of Malaysia. It’s fairly small and is rather filthy. With its small size and service to roughly 5 million travelers per year, it’s probably hard to keep immaculate. But the workers were friendly and helped me around rather politely.
Upon arrival, you can take a small 2 prop and fly into Mulu, or you can take a guided river boat ride into the park. The boat ride sounded awesome, but it was a 5-day journey that I didn’t have time for. So I found myself waiting for the plane in that filthy airport.
Once you get into your gate (passing through several passport check in gates) the wait begins. This is where some patience, a good book, and a portable gaming device of some sort (praise be to iPhone!) becomes critical. The wait was 5 hours long for the scheduled plane arrival. Flying in and out of Mulu is apparently hit and miss timing, because our plane was an hour late. I often questioned if I was waiting in the right place, but there was an adorable little German boy that kept saying, “Mulu! Mulu!” over and over, so I knew all was well.
The plane finally arrived. One more passport check and out to the tarmac we went to find the smallest passenger plane I’ve ever been on. This thing maybe seated 30. Tiny and loud. I loved the adventure! The flight seemed long, which gave plenty of time to enjoy the beautiful scenery of rustic Borneo. I was filled with excitement as I spotted the giant black holes in the ground from the Mulu caves as we approached the park. I was even fortunate enough to see a rainbow hovering over the winding muddy river I would later be traveling on.
Gunung Mulu Airport
Mulu’s airport may just be the smallest I’ve seen. One door in for Arrivals, another door out for Departures. One desk for both. Little and functional. They did have AC though, which I greatly appreciated during my departure wait time later. Borneo is hot. So so hot. And humid, so very humid. But what a place of beauty. I felt like I was in a Jurassic Park Garden of Eden or something. The fauna was gorgeous, the insects amazing, and the limestone mountains all around the park tied it all together to create a tropical beauty I never imagined seeing.
Mulu’s base camp, offering a hotel, private bungalows, and a hostel, is about 10k from the airport. You can walk it if you’d like, or you can hire a taxi for 20RM to drive you there. Far too hot to walk it with my bags, so a hiring I went. This taxi was a beat up 1970′s Datsun that had been tweaked out to sit on a 4×4 chassis. The seats were just foam (no covers), the doors didn’t have panels on them, the dash was cracked in two, and the whole thing was filthy. But it had AC and ran just fine. Loved it!
Upon arriving at Mulu, you have to check in at the office so that they can verify your reservation and charge you for everything you plan to do. Normally, this type of herding and control pisses me off, but the sweet comforting AC inside took away any annoyances I would have otherwise felt. The place was booked solid when I made my reservations, so my only option was the hostel. I’ve never stayed in a hostel before, so I was a bit unsure of what it was going to be like, but it ended up giving me the opportunity to meet people and form some friendships I never would have had otherwise.
The Hostel at Gunung Mulu National Park
After check in, I headed off to find the hostel. All of the buildings were built on raised posts, several feet off the ground. In between all the buildings were ironwood walkways, again, several feet off the ground. I couldn’t figure out why. We’ll come back to the reason later. I followed the little pathway signs, but read them wrong and walked up to a bungalow thinking it was the hostel (which was really stupid after finding the hostel and seeing its size). I obeyed the sign to take off my shoes and then opened the door to walk in, only to be abruptly greeted by a naked older European gentleman standing by his bed. He let out a yell, his wife let out a concerned whimper, and I promptly closed the door. The level of discomfort as the guy hovered over me (wearing some shorts thank goodness) while I put my shoes back on was inspiring. Inspiring for for me to get the hell out of there!
I found my hostel at last, took off my shoes, said hello to the girl smoking on the porch, and headed in. 14 beds greeted me in a large room, followed by a hallway leading to 5 more beds in a smaller room, and 2 private rooms each with a couple more beds. 21 beds in all. Let the fun begin.
I knew the large room was going to suck, so I picked out the first bed on the left in the smaller room. There was only one other bed taken, so it sounded much better than 10 other people sleeping next to me. I had just made my bed, sat down, and was unpacking my bag, when the back door from the bathrooms opened (which I had a perfect view of from my bed). A beautiful tall blond came walking through wearing nothing but a purple towel. I thought to myself, “oh please let her be the resident of the other bed in my little hostel room.” Sure enough, she turned into our room, smiled and said hello as she walked past me, then went to her bed 3 down from mine. Yes! And then the boyhood fantasy became reality as she dropped her towel and began to clothe her gorgeous naked self. Hmm…. I think I like hostels.
Peep show behind us, her name was Jeannette and she was from Switzerland, which explains the casual nudity (she was actually very decent about it and didn’t let much more than her back and a bit of butt show). Her and I hit it off and ended up spending much of the Mulu adventure together. She had been on “holiday” for a year, traveling all over Asia, and had taught herself English only 3 months prior to Mulu. Europeans have it going on.
The hostel provided private lockers for use (5RM cost per day), which I used to keep my crap in. The bathroom was full of interesting bugs attracted to the light, and had 2 working showers out of 3. The accommodation obviously wasn’t 5-star, but it really wasn’t all that bad, and seemed perfectly appropriate for the wild jungle adventure of Mulu. Plus it provided a sense of community with a bunch of perfect strangers, and provided opportunities to visit with people from all around the world. US, Switzerland, Germany, Russia, Japan, New Zealand, and more were all represented. Pretty cool.
Gunung Mulu National Park is a Rain Forest
OK, remember those stilts I mentioned? Well, I quickly found out what they were for. I no sooner unpacked my bags and met Jeannette when it started to rain. Now, I grew up in Washington State, and then spent 10-years in Portland, Oregon. I know rain. But Mulu’s rain is a whole other animal. Buckets and buckets and buckets more just dumped. It was relentless. Jeannette and I were hungry and needed to make a run for the Cafe, but kept waiting for a break in the rain. It never came so we just sprinted for it. We were both completely soaked within the 30 second run. Crazy. We ended up being stuck in the cafe for hours waiting for a break in the rain to run back to the hostel. Without any form of entertainment, there wasn’t much to do other than visit with the other stranded guests, do some journal writing, and listen with awe at the rain. After several hours, we braved the rain and ran back to our beds. It rained all through the night, and I was worried that my weekend was going to be ruined. But it eventually stopped early in the morning. What used to be ground was now a lake. Stilts and boardwalks…. genius.
The Bald Gourmet Travels to Gunung Mulu National Park and Stays in a Hostel.
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