This article is part of our "DIY Adventure Travel in Borneo" series.
Link to the other parts are at the bottom of this page, together with a map of the route with elevation profile and a street level photo map taken from our bikes.
Here are some general things to know travel Borneo on a Budget.
the road from Miri to Niah
1. coastal road (Q642): cute waterfront until km 40 where there is the beautiful Tusan beach, then the road turns away from the sea, pleasant but not spectacular up to 10 kilometers before the junction to Niah, from where oil palm plantations begin again, there are no restaurants and no shade. The road is undulating but easy. 84 km
2. old road AH150: longer and up and down, not violent though more tiring than the coastal one, a little easier to find places to eat but better bring supplies with you, alternation of forest and plantations. Is the road that pass beside Lambir Hills National Park. 112km
Niah Nataional park: fees, schedules, accommodation and tiny animals
In the hostel there is the kitchen and we are so glad we can cook a pasta but unfortunately the gas is over. Fortunately, however, the owner of the restaurant prepares some fried noodles even though the place is already closed.
We wake up early and after a breakfast of three fried eggs apiece we pay the entry fee (the usual 20MYR) and walk into the park. There's a river to be crossed by boat, we see if we can spot some crocodiles but nothing. Just where the boat drops us there is the museum of the park, there are many interesting photos explaining how do locals collect bird nests.
And then begins the journey, that is very easy, just follow the path of wooden plank suspended above the muddy primary rain-forest. The highlights here are the bugs, there are many weird insects unseen before, we also we spot what seems to us a pygmy squirrel. No monkeys around though. The diversity of trees and plants very different is really impressive. At one point we hear music coming from our left, we take the junction leading to the Iban village inside the park.
the Iban village
They live in a traditional longhouse, as the name implies, it is a long elevated house. There is a common veranda for all apartments where they're playing gongs and other traditional instruments. They are very friendly and nobody tries to behead us, we are instead invited to listen to some music.
The Iban culture is vast and deserves to be known, they have a rich religion, many different dances and performative rituals and make some beautiful handicraft.
There's also an homestay inside this longhouse, we don't know the price but I'm sure is not expansive, worth a try. This small and beautiful village can be reached by road from a junction on the right just before the park entrance.
We climb to the first cave, it is big and beautiful (but we haven't yet seen the main). There are still remnants of shelters used by the workers collecting the bird nests to sell to the Chinese. They are a very expensive culinary delicacy.
Immediately after that is the Great Cave, which really is impressive, one of the world's largest cave entrances.
In this cave 70% of the bird nest "produced" in Sarawak used to be collected (the birds are small swiftlets).
There are still tall wooden poles on which the workers climbed unprotected, reaching the vault of the cave, sometimes as high as 50m. They still collect the nests nowadays, but luckily there are limitations, because by dint of robbing nests to these birds they have decided not to come back. The population is reduced by 90%.
in the dark
We're back in the green forest, climbing up the last leg up to the Painted Cave, but of the painting there is very little left, I honestly don't see anything. Unfortunately there are no other roads and to get back we have to redo the path in the scary cave... when we're out again we're in a downpour, we rush to back to the our bungalow, we walked a total of 7km today, easy and relaxing. To bad because apparently at sunset thousands of bats go out from the cave, while a similar amount of swiftlets goes in, a sort of spectacular changing of the guard which we miss. Anyway we are very happy, the best day so far in Borneo.
How beautiful this island should have been before the deforestation took place.
Back to road AH150, the so called "Old Road", we find ourselves in the middle of an highway. The ride is smooth but not really exciting until we reach the junction that will lead us to Bakun Dam, after 65km on the highway. We find a shelter in a oil palm plantation, it even has a tub filled with water to have a shower. Tomorrow we'll head to Sungay Asap where the people from Bakun have been resettled for the construction of the dam.
We describe this last stretch of the road in the next article.
our adventures in Borneo:
pt1: from Kota Kinabalu to Tenom, crossing the Crocker range (you are here)
pt2: Jungle Train, from Tenom to Beaufort
pt3: crossing Brunei by bicycle
pt4: around Miri, Lambir Hills and Logan Bunut national parks and Tusan Beach
pt5: the caves of Niah National Park
pt6: from Belaga to Kuching by boat
pt7: Kuching and Bako National Park
pt8: Rafflesia in Gunung Gading National Park
pt9: Overland crossing from Sarawak to Kalimantan, the secret border of Aruk
pt10: Sambas, a wooden Venice in Borneo
here are some general hints to budget travel in Borneo (by bicycle or not)
Check also our reportages:
Chap Go Mei in Singkawang
pierce your face with swords for the sake of Borneo Gods
Hydroelectric devastation in Borneo
part 1: Interview with SaveRivers
part2: a visit to Sungay Asap