The attraction of exploring a pristine jungle terrain heading towards Julan waterfalls, which has only been visited by few people even amongst the locals, was too tempting.
And so began my week-long journey to Miri, Sarawak with the Malaysian Nature Society (MNS) group. Despite being part of Malaysia, I always feel like a foreign visitor to Sabah & Sarawak because of their vast differences in people, culture, natural surroundings etc.
The trail head for Julan waterfalls was located in a remote village of Usun Apau. It is about 300km south of Miri, but took nearly 7 hours by 4WD because of the bumpy and uneven logging road used for most of the journey. The nearest civilised town is called Long San, which is about 2hr away by 4WD.
(View of Usun Apau, our last village before heading inside jungles)
What struck me dearly about Sarawak is the hospitality of the local people. Lipau, our Kenyah host at Usun Apau greeted our group’s arrival with several pit-roasted heads of wild boar. Everyone enjoyed the simple delicious snack, with some licking their fingers at the end to sample every bits of the smoky flavours. I particularly enjoyed the slices of the tongue, which tasted somewhat like pate with its creaminess.
(Pit-roasted wild boar head – yummy jungle snack)
The next two days was spent in the jungles as we walked towards the upper portion of Julan waterfalls. The trek in took about 7 hours and not particularly taxing for me. There were portions where it was quite steep, and we had to grab hold of tree roots, trunks and also rattan being used as guide ropes to help us get up. Surprisingly there were not too many leeches along the way, probably because so few people and mammals roam the surroundings.
(The group of us at the beginning of the hike – note the fresh happy faces!)
The view when we reached the top of Julan waterfalls was spectacular. Only the upper portions of the falls could be seen, the middle section which plunged over 200 metres below was not visible because of our precarious viewing site from the top. That will be left for another adventure in the future!
Because of the limited flat grounds at the top, our group of 27pax & guides had to split camp into two. The few of us who arrived early set up camp on the other side of the river and closer to the upper waterfall.
Camping so close to a beautiful waterfall was exciting, but little did we know of the dangers which came later in the night. Most of us didn’t get much sleep because of the cold wind and water sprays blowing into our camp throughout the night – we even woke up about 3am to readjust the tent and tie up whatever we can get hold of to act as windbreakers.
(View of the mid-section Julan waterfalls falling down to river at bottom)
(Our campsite with upper Julan falls in the background)
Without much hesitation, five of us decided to break camp early and follow a guide out who was ill. The thought of spending another cold and wet night, plus the fact that there were not much food rations remaining tempted the few of us to trek out the next day itself.
The trek out was much more enjoyable, since it was downhill and we were more accustomed to the terrain. The only painful part was the last leg spent on the exposed logging trail, where we trudged under the intense heat of the afternoon sun. Soon enough, our 6hr hike out was rewarded by a picnic beside Julan river. Here we managed to soak and clean ourselves in the cool river waters whilst enjoying more wild boar meat and cold beer.
(Our lead group on the way out. Bernard (in green) was our trusty 4wd driver and Lipau (beige t-shirt) was the knowledgable Kenyah jungle guide. Check out the size of the tree buttress in the background)
The next two nights were spent in the humble home of Bernard, one of the Kenyah 4wd drivers. We enjoyed a lazy day exploring the rivers of Akah and Baram on a long narrow wooden boat with a small motor at the stern. Along the way, we visited a poor Penan village which was quiet during that day because most of the villagers were busy with their rice planting. The boatmen team of father & son brought along fishing nets and we returned in the afternoon with plenty of river fishes for our dinner.
(Penan elder with her granddaughter)
(Boatmen guiding us through the river exploration around Long San)
It is inevitable that tuak, local rice wine, will be generously offered by the locals. We enjoyed the home-brew tuak by Salmiah, Bernard’s wife after a hearty dinner. There were plenty more tuak on the 2nd night when the rest of the MNS group returned to Long Asan. By itself, it is a very soothing drink because of its sweetness. And because of this, one can easily get overboard especially when the locals ensure that your cup is never empty!
Day 5 saw our departure from the depths of the jungles back to the urban town of Miri. It has been raining the whole night and morning, thus making the logging road even more treacherous because of the slippery, muddy conditions. Kudos to all our drivers who had to maintain their focus and composure as they manoeuvre the winding roads out.
(Muddy & slippery logging road during our 4wd journey back to Miri)
Our last day in Miri was spent exploring Niah Caves, about 110km southwest of Miri. The caves system was located inside the Niah National Park which was nicely maintained by Sarawak Forestry. We were on boardwalks for most of the journey, probably built for easier public access and to minimise damage to the cave floors.
Enjoyed the 1hr walk into the caves along the rainforest surroundings. It was cool being under the shades of the many great trees. Reckoned that some informative signboards along the way would have made the experience even richer, which could explained further about the various fauna we were looking at.
The cave which stood out amongst the many was Great Cave. Firstly because of its magnificent grand cave entrance. Secondly we were amazed at the various bamboo structures erected by the birds’ nest collectors, who bravely climb up to the top to harvest their bounty with a sharp knife at the end of a long bamboo pole. There was a group of men that day, who gladly showed off their dexterity earned from years of experience.
(Cave entrance of Great Cave at Niah)
Sarawak is definitely one of my favourite travel destinations in Malaysia. Being such a vast state, I have only seen so little with this trip and a prior visit to Kuching & Mulu. There will always be the burning desire to return in the near future with more time to explore the hidden beauties before commercialisation and logging destroy everything.