We stayed in Miri to be near Niah Caves, but the caves were still 110km from Miri. The local bus no longer goes to the caves, so we had to find another means of getting there. Our first evening in Miri we bargained with a taxi driver to take us to the caves the next morning for around 150 ringgit (US $40). We had to be ready at 7:30am in the morning to get to the caves around opening time. It’s better to go early, in case in starts raining in the afternoon. When we arrived we got our tickets at the ranger station and then took the ferry boat across the river (1 ringgit/person/direction). From there we followed the plank walkway for 3 km to Trader’s Cave, and right after it The Great Cave.
The oldest modern human remains discovered in Southeast Asia were found at The Great Cave, which sheltered human life 40,000 years ago! Some locals still make their living in the Great Cave, collecting the delicacy “bird’s nests” or guano (bird and bat droppings used as fertilizer). Trader’s Cave got its name from the bird nest collectors who conducted transactions there.
At the entrance to The Great Cave there is still an active archeological dig site. We thought of Kristine, who would have liked it there! As we walked farther into the cave the plank walkway got slippery from the guano and water dripping from the ceiling of the cave and it got darker and darker. The walk through The Great Cave took about 45 minutes, and near the end we reached a section where it was pitch black! The only light was from our wimpy little flashlights. I started to wonder why I had thought it was a good idea for us to hike through caves- I don’t like the dark, and I don’t like stinky guano… It was slow going hiking up and down and down and down the slippery steps. It’s a good thing we took 3 flashlights, because by the time we emerged from the deep dark reaches of the Great Cave only one flash light was still working! I have no idea what we would have done if it had died on our way back through the cave. If you forget to bring a flashlight you can rent one at the museum at the start of the walkway, but after that point you’re out of luck.
After emerging back into the lit jungle we walked another 1km or so to reach Painted Cave. The Painted Cave is a National Historic Monument due to the little human-like figures drawn in red hematite on the cave walls overlooking a grave site where the bodies of the dead were laid in boat-shaped coffins. The red paintings up near the top of the cave wall and some of the decaying boat coffins were fenced off, so we couldn’t get too close of a look. George managed to get some good photos of the paintings, but in the dim lighting I could hardly see them while in the cave. The Painted Cave is just a small area, so after a look around we headed back the way we came. The going was much easier on the way back, probably since we had gotten used to the dark and the steps. And by the time we reached our taxi (about 5 hours after setting out) we had a sense of accomplishment. We had braved a tourist attraction that not many other visitors attempt (it was pretty empty in there compared to other sites and we were some of the first people through for the day). It was about 1pm and time to grab some lunch in Batu Niah town before the drive back to Miri. And perfect timing– it started to rain just as we reached the parking lot!
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