Niah Caves is one of the most physically impressive sights in Borneo. The caves at Mulu National Park are even bigger but some have said they like Niah Caves even more. At Niah the caves don’t actually go down into the earth. It is a horizontal cave formed in the side of the mountain. In addition to being physically impressive they are also an archaeologist’s dream. Traces of human habitation go back 40,000 years. One of the most interesting artifacts are the boat shaped coffins but most (or all) of these have been moved to museums. In addition to this the caves have a thriving bat guano and bird nest soup industry. I have known about collecting guano for a long time but I never knew how valuable bird’s nests are. They are worth several thousands of dollars per kilogram. Read about bird nest soup here.
Rating and length – Easy – 10kms – one full day if coming from Miri or Bintulu.
How to get there – The travel options for Niah Caves are similar to Lambir Hills National Park except it is further and more expensive. This information is for Miri but Bintulu probably has the same options.
Option 1 – you can take the Miri to Bintulu long haul bus (10-15RM) and asked to be dropped off at Batu Niah Junction. First you need to take a taxi to the long haul bus station in Miri (15RM). It will take about 2 hours to reach the junction. The junction is a major crossroads on the Pan-Borneo Highway. There are restaurants, markets, a gas station, a supermarket and most things you need before going to the park. At this junction you will have to arrange a taxi for the last 5 or so kilometers to Niah Caves. This may or may not be difficult but Lonely Planet says that it will cost 30-40RM each way.
Option 2 – you can take a taxi from Miri but the cost is likely 300-400RM.
Option 3 – your hostel is probably connected to a travel agency and you might be able to sign up for the shuttle to the park or for a guided tour.
Option 4 – it was really easy and cheap to rent a car. If there are 2 or more in your group then it is a very cost effective way to do it especially if you are going to Lambir National Park also. You will probably need an international drivers license. The best place to rent a car is at the airport (several different companies). We rented a 4 door compact for 280RM for 2 days (2015). Inside the city it can be a little difficult to drive but the highway is very easy to drive on.
Take the Pan-Borneo Highway south of Miri for about 100 kilometers. Batu Niah Junction is quite obvious since it is almost the only facilities between Miri and the junction. It makes a great place to stop and get gas, snacks and a meal before or after going to the park. Shortly after the large market area turn right towards Batu Niah as indicated on the sign. In about 10 kilometers turn left on 4107. It’s easy to miss the national park sign because it’s obstructed but if you miss it you will shortly arrive in a small village with a Karoake Bar (turn around). In about 3 kms there is a right turn at an easier to see national park sign and the headquarters are only 1-2 kilometers away.
The hike – Starting at the headquarters walk through the cabins to the ferry. The ferry (1RM before 5pm) will take you across the small river. There are supposed to be many crocodiles. You are safe on the trail but look into the swamp and river for them. After the ferry it is an easy 3km walk (mostly boardwalk) to a small snack stand with a few souvenirs. Turn right and Trader’s Cave is the first cave. It is actually an overhang rather than a cave. Guano and bird’s nest collectors conducted their business in the past at Trader’s Cave. Shortly after that you reach the mouth of the Great Cave. It’s time to get your headlamps out. Take the giant staircase in the center of the cave. After awhile it becomes dark and you reach a junction. The trail to the left leads back to Trader’s Cave. The trail to the right leads to the painted cave and is worth checking out. This part of the cave is really dark and more slippery. Painted Cave is only a couple hundred meters past the exit of the Great Cave. There isn’t much to see at Painted Cave but it’s a nice place to have a snack.
Costs – 20RM (foreigner) and 2-3 RM (total) for the ferry
GPS – Headquarters N3.824701 E113.761888 – Niah Cave N3.816485 E113.781150
Date visited – 2/20/2015
Resources – Sarawak National Parks – Niah Caves