At one point or another, life makes all of us want to go and hide out in a cave. So why not embrace this and make it one of the highlights of your next visit to Borneo? This island is a veritable wonder ground of must-visit caves in all shapes and sizes. So if you’re a seasoned caver, more of a romantic sightseer, or indeed a keen wildlife spotter, there’s a perfect cavernous destination for you.
What’s your perfect cave? | Must visit caves in Borneo
A cave is not just a cave. These must-visit locations vary in size, geology and atmosphere. Not to mention the range of tours that are offered within each destination. If you have time, why not go and see them all! But if not, you’ll need to prioritise which you visit during your stay.
So are you…
Gunung Mulu National Park is home to a jaw-dropping array of caves. Among them, Racer and Lagang Caves. Expect underground boulder scrambling by torchlight, rope climbing through passageways and even overnight tours. This spot should quench the thirst of spirited cave dwellers!
Pretty much every cave has a touch of the ethereal about it. With unusual natural rock formations, diffused light and mossy linings, caves are the perfect setting to ignite the imagination. The show caves at Mulu, like Wind Cave, are the ideal destination for a little magical daydreaming.
The caves of Borneo have many stories to tell, from pre-history to more recent civilisations. Find ancient artefacts at Niah caves and a middle ages burial place at Batu Tulug. This makes these caves tick the box for both history and geography lovers!
There’s wildlife to be found as part of most cave tours. From swiftlets nesting in the caves at Gomantong to bats swooping through Deer cave at Mulu to snakes inhabiting the deepest recesses of adventure caves. You can even combine a Gomantong cave tour with a Kinabatangan river tour to maximise your wildlife fix.
Where are the Caves?
There are caves to be found all over the island, but we’re focussing on a couple of locations where you can find some real tip-top spectacular cave experiences!
Batu Tulug Caves
This steep limestone cliff houses the Batu Tulug caves. They’re archaeological sites and separates into three chambers, the lower, middle and upper. When excavated, these caves housed around 125 wooden log coffins. These carved pieces resemble buffalo, crocodiles, snakes and lizards. They are displayed in the middle and upper caves adding a historical angle to the experience here. The choice of animal carvings reflects the beliefs of the Kinabantang people in the Middle Ages. Crocodiles, for example, were believed to be related to death. As the Batu Tulug caves are essentially a museum, all of the facilities that you would expect are here. So from restrooms to an information centre and resting huts, the visitor experience is extremely comfortable.
Famously home to thousands of wrinkle-lipped free-tailed bats and flocks of swiftlets. Licences nest harvesting takes place twice a year in a sustainable fashion in order to protect the bird population. The caves themselves are an intricate network of chambers. However, when named, Gomantong refers to the two main chambers which are named after the colour of the nests found inside: The Black cave, which is easily accessed, and the White cave, which is more challenging. For those with caving experience, seeking a more adventurous experience, the White cave is ideal, although requires prior arrangement as there is no general public access. The Black cave is up to 90 metres in height and at just a five-minute walk from the registration centre, is ideal to combine with a river cruise. This means that wildlife enthusiasts can experience both rivers and cave wildlife in one day.
Niah National Park
The Niah Caves are set in limestone mountainside and are the site of the oldest recorded human settlement in Malaysia, at around 40,000 years ago. The Great cave at the entrance will strike visitors by its sheer size. Within the network of chambers, the dark ‘Moon Cave’ can be viewed via torchlight, and the Painted Cave displays wall images of human figures. These drawings date from about 1200 years ago and served to watch over the burial chambers within the cave itself. Artefacts are on display within the cave so a visit here is much like a museum trip! All of this history doesn’t detract from nature in these caves, though. Populations of naked bats and swiftlets are a dramatic sight and swiftlet nests continue to be harvested by licensed locals. Indeed, planks of wood hanging from the roof of the cave show where families access disused nests to harvest.
Gunung Mulu National Park
Clearwater and Wind Caves
Predominantly accessed by boat, this cave is another enormous chamber. Measuring 107 km long, it is Asia’s longest cave. Tours by boat take visitors to both Wind and Clearwater caves as the latter is accessed via the former. Illuminated rock formations in Wind cave such as stalactites, stalagmites, flow rocks, helictites and rock corals make this a photographer’s dream. Then, once in Clearwater you can access picnic areas, walks and even swimming! Butterflies are a common sight through these caves, which adds even more to the hint of magic that you’ll find here.
A 3km plank walk through swamp and limestone outcrops will bring you to Deer Cave. At its lowest point, the roof of this cave is still 90 metres high and wide. Evening visitors are likely to witness the exodus of thousands of free-tailed bats. A hole in the cave roof means that you can enjoy parts of the cave in natural light, as well as the illuminated sections that we find in other caves.
For the more adrenaline-seeking visitor, more challenging caves within the system here are Lagang Cave, Racer Cave and Sarawak Chamber. Across the caves, skill sets from beginner to advanced are accommodated.
With such a range of caves in Borneo, there is a destination for everyone, no matter your age or fitness level. These sights are ones to be seen in the flesh, and photographs that you may see only hint at the wonder within. So on your trip make sure to schedule your perfect cave experience.