While I was planning for the Malaysia portion of the trip, I found out that Kuching has a number of caves that are up for exploration. I found a company that ran caving tours locally with an experience English speaking guide. I was in contact with him for the months leading up to arriving in Kuching and following the Fairy cave adventure from yesterday, we were excited to try our hand at some real caving.
We get picked up at our hostel early in the morning. We go to the office for a briefing about cave formation and some of the caves we will be exploring. Our guide’s name is James and he works with a local who knows the caves well. Our local guide is Mr. Echo, a former swallow’s nest harvester that worked in the caves that we are now going to explore. James is an old Britishman who’s been working in Malaysia for the better part of the last few decades. He had lots of interesting stories about his time in Malaysia, one of which was meeting the head of the tourism ministry in Malaysia to discuss conservation efforts. However, he said the minister’s eagerness to meet with him likely stemmed from the notion that public appearances with white people tended to increase their own reputation as politicians.
We drive about an hour and a half out of town to a remote village. The area is filled with palm plantations and durian trees. The smaller fields are owned by smaller farmers and they plant a random assortment of vegetables and crops. We arrive at the end of this dirt road and climb a long set of stairs to get to the cave opening. The opening is large and open but not nearly as grand as the Fairy caves yesterday. There was at some point an excavation here because there are bits of shells in pits and a series of wall paintings. According to James, some of the early peoples of the land had lived here back when sea levels use to be higher.
Finally, we strap on our packs and flashlights and begin entering the cave. It isn’t long before all sunlight is completely gone. We are reliant on our flashlights and luckily. James and Mr Echo carry high powered ones able to light up everything. And the sights are amazing. The ceilings are immensely high and textured. There is no patch that is identical to another. The walls can be smooth from erosion or can be rough and patched with crevices. The ground goes from dry gravel to mud all the way to small streams. every few meters the look changes. There are these really small gnats (I’m actually not sure what they are) that buzz around us. They must be attracted to our lights but they never leave, and eventually we stop trying to swap them away.
James shows us some of the abandoned swallows nests that hung around the lower walls. Throughout the caves you could see bamboo scaffolding for the nest collectors to climb on during swallow’s nest season. The work is very dangerous in nature and many people die doing this. Mr Echo himself has had an uncle who died harvesting swallow’s nests. There are also lots of little critters around, like birds, bats, spiders and scorpions. At one instance, the I stood on the lip of a crevice and James told me to step down. I felt so bad, maybe i was stepping on a feature? He then proceeds to point out the giant dish sized spider that was about a foot away from my leg, inside the crevice.
We go from big open spaces to crevices that we have to squeeze through one at a time without our packs. Parts of it are slippery as hell and I end up slipping and scraping the blister off my burn from yesterday’s accident. Now I’m worried about leptospirosis since the water here is probably filled with bat and bird poop. By the end of the cave, we end at this open area where there is a large drop off with a heavy flowing stream. James says that during the rainy season the whole area is flooded since there are openings in the roof of the cave that lead to holes at the mountain top.
Overall, the experience was absolutely amazing for a first time caver. In addition to the main cave, we also went to a much shallower cave that was partially submerged so we had to do some swimming. Cool! I’ve never been to a cave before and this was well beyond what I could hope for. If you’re ever in Kuching, make sure to spend a day with James exploring these caves.
- I booked my cave tour with Kuching Caving. James is an old Brit and he’ll make sure you get in and out safely. He currently offers 3 different packages and you pay more if you need to rent clothes etc. Pickup, morning coffee and pack with flashlight are provided. Just as a note, he took us to get the best coffee I’ve ever had and I went and bought a bag of beans after.
- I cannot stress how important it is to have some medication/first aid supplies when you’re traveling. If anything for peace of mind. Luckily, James took me to a pharmacy after to get a burn cream and lepto pills.