I've just spent a great couple of days in the raucous tranquillity of Niah National Park (wearing leech proof underwear). The main attraction of the park is supposed to be the caves in the limestone hills but for me the forest surrounding the park was the highlight. I had good feelings about the place as soon as I arrived, I'd never heard of the place until I met a couple in Brunei who had just been here. They had told me that they charge you for the whole room in the dormitories so I paid RM42 instead of the RM10 per bed that it should be. When I got to the room though I was shocked, I had basically rented a bungalow with lounge, kitchen and a huge en-suite bedroom, not bad for 6 quid.
The very happy ranger in the park HQ had told me how to get to the caves the next morning. But, as it was only 2pm, I decided to have a trip into the park then. The park is over a river from the main complex and a ferry takes you over for RM1. The whole route to the caves is boardwalk which is great for many reasons but has the major disadvantage that the boardwalk is very old and the planks are all loose so it makes a huge racket as you walk along it scaring all the wildlife away. I had to stop and stand still every now and again to watch out for the forest inhabitants. I have to say that I heard a lot more than I actually saw but the whole forest was teaming with life, on more than one occasion I had to use that famous quote of Captain Kirk, "what the hell was that". I can see how it's still possible to discover unknown species in these forests.
The first cave is the Great Cave and it certainly is huge. There is no chance of claustrophobia in there but the air is very still and humid and the smell of guano is overpowering. The second cave of the park is the Painting Cave which involves going all the way through the Great Cave. but I decided to leave that for the next day. The cave is home to hundreds of thousands of bats and swiftlets, the locals have harvested the swiftlet nests for centuries, somehow climbing up wooden poles dangling from the cave ceiling which in places is 80m from the floor. Dusk at the cave is supposed to be a fantastic sight as the birds return and the bats emerge from the cave mouth in a huge swarm. I was going to wait to watch this but then I could hear thunder in the distance and had a sense that it was going to be a big storm so started making my way back. I didn't get there in time and arrived back at the ferry looking like I'd swum the river.
The evening in my bungalow was very comfortable and the insect orchestra had a few new instruments that I've never head before, as well as the usual cicadas and the fairly common "chainsaws" and "circular saws" there were "rusty pub signs" and "unbalanced ceiling fans" and a few indescribables
I had planned to do all of the forest walks and this time go all of the way to the Painting Cave on the second day, but I took so long just walking to the caves stopping to watch the wildlife and then exploring the caves that I never made it to the longhouse village or the peak of the hills. Going through the back of the Great Cave was an experience, it narrows into a series of tunnels all occupied by incontinent bats, the smell is horrendous and the insects attracted by my torch started feasting on me. To say I don't like caves is an understatement, how people do this as a hobby is beyond me and as for cave diving, forget it. After all of that the Painting Cave has it's prehistoric cave paintings sealed off and I then had to get back through the cave to get home. The white t-shirt I started off in had turned to a nicely mottled bat-shit brown. I didn't wait for the sunset not wanting to risk another soaking but it didn't rain until late in the night. It's a shame I can't put sounds onto this site as I took lots of sound recordings of all the jungle noises.