Break From the Law travel blog

Welcome to Niah National Park!

We had to cross this river to get to the trail to...

The trail to the Niah Caves. Here the trail consisted of a...

The trail to the Niah Caves.

Forest along the trail to the Niah Caves.

Me on the trail shortly before entering one of the Niah Caves.


Inside one of the Niah Caves.

Just outside the entrance to one of the Niah Caves.

Inside one of the Niah Caves.

Here we are about to go inside one of the Niah Caves.

Inside one of the Niah Caves.

Inside one of the Niah Caves.

A prehistoric wall painting in one of the Niah Caves.

Inside one of the Niah Caves.

Inside one of the Niah Caves.

Inside one of the Niah Caves.

We are flying to the Kelabit Highlands in Sarawak's interior tomorrow morning, so we filled our day today with a visit to the Niah Caves in Niah National Park, some 115 kilometers south of Miri. Some of the Niah Caves number among the largest caves in the world, and a 5½ kilometer walk leads hikers through some of the caves open to the public. There is also at the national park headquarters an archeology museum built in the Malay architectural style.

Our visit to the Niah Caves lasted around 9 hours, including our return trip back to Miri. The drive itself to the park proved quite interesting. As we left Miri, we drove past subdivision after subdivision of what can best be described as “McMansions." As I mentioned yesterday, even from our short time here in Miri it is clear as day that there is a lot of money in Miri. Many of the local business elite have made fortunes from logging Sarawak’s vast reserves of timber. I have been told that vast fortunes here have also been made by locals from the oil fields lying only a short distance offshore, but that those individuals are much less ostentatious than the timber barons.

The Niah Caves were pretty impressive from a structural and historic vantage point. The largest of the Niah Caves, appropriately named the Great Cave, measures some 250 meters across and 60 meters at its highest point in its interior. There is also the Painted Cave, which contains some faded drawings which scientists estimate to have been made in the prehistoric era around 40,000 years ago.

During our visit to the Niah Caves, however, I found it most interesting to observe the locals climbing up ropes to the ceilings of the caves high above to harvest the nests of swiftlets who live within the caves. In both Sarawak and in Sabah, hundreds of local residents make their living by harvesting these nests. They then proceed to sell from the nests the swiftlets’ regurgitated matter that the mother birds feed their young with. Yes, that's right, essentially the upchuck of the mother swiftlets! Believe it or not, "Bird's Nest Soup” is a very pricey delicacy in Chinese communities around the world. Thanks but no thanks! I'll take a pass on trying that one!

While i'm not about to sample Bird's Nest Soup anytime soon, watching these locals in action proved to be far more interesting than viewing the actual caves here themselves. Sounds like this career might be a prime choice for a segment on Dirty Jobs or some other Discovery Channel program, no?

Tomorrow we are heading to the Kelabit Highlands, from where we hope to depart from Malaysian Borneo and begin the Indonesian leg of our trip. I’ve been unable to discern conclusively as to whether it is possible to cross the border into Indonesia from there, but we’ll find out one way or the other once we get there. In any event, the Kelabit Highlands are home to a number of small villages and longhouses, so it should be an interesting place to check out…

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