Sometime in April/May 2011, I was reading the Singapore Straits Times when I saw an ad for an SMS contest by Airasia. It was promoting a Singapore-Miri flight, and also Miri as a tourist destination. I entered the contest as I had always been interested about Niah Cave near Miri.
A few weeks later, to my great surprise, Airasia called and told me I had won a 3d/2n all expenses paid trip to Miri/Niah Cave for two!!! I was overjoyed. After some juggling of our busy schedules, my wife Sharon and I decided to head to Miri on 13-15 June 2011.
We headed to Changi Airport on 13 June, without any preparation for the trip except for packing some good walking shoes. The short Airasia flight to Miri was on-time, and smooth. When we arrived at Miri, we were met by representatives of the Sarawak Tourism Board, and driven to the brand new Imperial Palace Hotel. It was great place to stay. We walked around the area in search for dinner, and had an early night.
The next day, we had a great buffet breakfast at the hotel. At 8am, the driver/guide came and whisked us off for the 1.5hr drive to Niah Cave. Along the way, we had great views of the beach and also rural farmhouses.
We eventually got to the Niah Cave park. There was a great display on the archaeological significance of the place in the small but informative museum. Apparently, people were already living in the cave some 40,000yrs ago!
We first had to cross the river on a boat to get to the other side. The ride was a very short one, but it was a sign of the exciting things to come!
Our Iban guide informed us that the walk into the cave and back to the park entrance would be about 9km, and it would take 4hrs to complete. It does not sound very far, but when you add all the steps you had to climb, it was a real physical challenge!
The boardwalk that led to the cave brought us through a serene jungle that was teeming with insects and other creatures. The guide was a great help in pointing out things that we would have otherwise missed.
Just before the entrance to Niah Cave was a smaller cave known as ‘Traders Cave’. This was used up till the 1970s by birds’ nest traders. The very sturdy wooden platforms used for the dwellings are still standing!
After a very sweaty walk, we finally got to the Niah Cave entrance. The first thing we saw the cordon-off archaeological excavation site. This site had been studied by archaeologists since the 1950s!
As we headed deeper into the cave, I turned back to see that the cave mouth was facing what seemed to be untouched jungles. It must been quite a place to live for the past inhabitants!
As we got further into the cave, it got darker and darker until we had to rely solely on our torch lights. The steps were never-ending, but the brought us to different parts of the cave system, which we eventually realised was HUGE! In one section, the dark conditions resulted in a type of large blind cricket that we were fortunately enough to see crawling on the railings! We also got to see small bats that were quite irritated by our torches. Along the way, we also passed local men walking up/down the steps with a large pack on their backs; they were filled with bat-droppings that were great as fertiliser. Even though we did not see any birds’ nest collectors at work, we were amazed by how high they would have to climb up slender bamboo poles just to get to the best nests on the roof!
After what seemed to have been a million steps, we finally emerged at the cave mouth again, having gone through the entire cave and back. It was a great relief to my aching legs to see that the stairs were coming to an end, but I was quite sad to know that it would be quite a while before I get to visit Niah cave to see her beauty again.
4hrs after we arrived at the park entrance, we got back to the van. We were exhausted, but glad that we got to see what must be one of the best-kept secrets of Sarawak. The van brought us to a fabulous lunch at the nearby Batu Niah town, and then we headed back to Miri. Once we got to the hotel, my wife and I went straight for the pool to soothe our tired muscles.
The next morning, we took the Airasia flight back to Singapore, tired but glad at the same time. My most sincere thanks to the good people at Airasia and the Sarawak Tourism Board for taking such great care of us. When friends and colleagues ask us where to have a short, but good, break around the region, we would be sure to recommend Miri and the Singapore-Miri flights on Airasia. Thanks again Airasia!!!!