From Kuching we fly to Miri, but we don’t see the city at all as we are staying somewhere about ten miles away and using it as a base to do a couple of day trips to the National Parks in the area.
Our first trip is to Niah Caves. The caves are absolutely enormous, it’s like being a mouse in a cathedral. The caves contribute to the local economy in two ways (three if you count tourism). One group of local people harvest the birds’ nests, a valuable commodity as the key ingredient in bird’s nest soup. Another group collects the guano; bat poo that is used as fertiliser. You would think that being a nest-harvester would be preferable, but only until you see them doing it. We see a guy balanced on top of a thin 15m high pole, leaning right over and poking the cave roof with another long pole. It looks dangerously precarious and it is. Our driver tells us that people get killed doing this all the time, but the nests are so valuable that the practice continues.
Inside the caves you can see hundreds of bats hanging from the ceiling. If you look at them for long enough, the torchlight wakes them up and you can see them start to fidget and preen themselves before swooping off to another spot. The caves is so big that the smell of the guano is not too overpowering. It is like a mixture of compost and HP sauce.
There’s another cave which has cave paintings on the walls. But they are very faded and you are kept well back with barbed wire so you can’t actually see much.
On the way back from the caves we see some monkeys in the trees, but they are too far away for us to identify which king. Then the rainforest starts to live up to our name and we get drenched.
The next day we go to Lambir Hills National Park. We’ve a big trek in a few days time, so we stick to just a couple of hours’ walking. Lambir Hills is quite small anyway, but we visit a couple of pretty waterfalls, where we have a paddle and some sort of crustacean nibbles our toes.
Back at our hotel, we see a metre-long snake sunning itself on the deck just outside our room. Later on, we tell the owner that we saw a snake. “Green or brown?” he asks. “Orange” we say. “Orange! I’ve never seen one of those before!” Eeep – I’ve been walking around barefoot for the past few days!
More photos from around Miri are on Mr Beet’s flickr page.