Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Sarawak Hidden Gems 2015 - Wind Cave and Clearwater Cave

Wind Cave and Clearwater Cave are usually visited together. The tour starts at 8.45a.m. and will take around 4 hours to finish. To reach the caves you need to take a longboat up river, and along the way there is a visit to a Penan Village. This village is built by the government and is fairly modernized. There is a small handicraft market for some local products and souvenirs.

Once you arrive at the jetty the Wind Cave is just a short walk away. As you arrive at the cave entrance, you can feel a cool breeze flowing through.

Not far down the entrance of the cave you will see the cause of the breeze - a large opening on the cave ceiling. It looks like a missile silo - a Bond villain would love this cave as a secret hideout.

There is a small cave inside the Wind Cave called the King's Chamber - it has the most beautiful collection of stalactites and stalagmites. They look like the chess pieces on a chess board - hence the name of the cave.

After visiting the Wind Cave, you take a short walk on a thrilling plank walk on the side of the cliff and arrive at the rest area outside Clear Water Cave. The water that flows out of Clear Water Cave is crystal clear, having been filtered through the limestone hills. There is a wonderful small lake for a swim.

To get to Clear Water Cave you need to climb a flight of around 200 steps. It is slightly challenging but doable for most people. The cave itself is amazing - with water stream running through it. The cave tunnel system extends for over 200 km, and new areas are still being discovered. Plank walks provide an easy access to the show cave area, and the walkway has been extended quite a bit since my last visit.

Taking photos in the Mulu Caves is a huge challenge as the caves are mostly very dark with limited lighting. Flash doesn't help much as the caves are too big, and tripods are not allowed unless you apply for special permission. This is entirely understandable as you can imagine the damage that can be done to the precious stalactites and stalagmites with hoards of careless visitors tugging their tripods along. You need a camera with good low light abilities, but the best thing to do is just forget about taking photos for a while and just enjoy the natural wonder. 

Saturday, December 26, 2015

Sarawak Hidden Gems 2015 - Deer Cave

If you are not interested in more adventurous caving, then there are basically only a few caves to visit - the Deer Cave, Lang Cave, Cave of the Winds and Clear Water Cave. These are already enough to keep you occupied for a couple of days. The cave visits usually take around half a day - either in the morning or afternoon. Visits to the Deer and Lang Cave leave the Park Headquarters at 2.00p.m.

To get to Deer Cave, you need to trek through the jungle for around 45mins. There are proper footpaths all the way so it is a relatively easy walk. You arrive at the Bat Observatory and from there it is another 5 min to the mouth of the Cave.

Deer Cave is billed as the biggest cave passage in the World. It is a passage - meaning it is open at both ends. The cave is around 170m wide and 120m tall. The small entrance to the cave does not prepare you for the awesome sight once you get into the actual cave passage.

The cave passage is huge. Try to spot the people who are just little specks in the photos.

Deer Cave is also where you see the famous Lincoln's profile.

At the end of the cave passage is the Garden of Eden. It is a beautiful sight.

The cave is home to around 3 million bats, so the floor of the cave is full of guano. The smell can be quite intoxicating in some parts. The visit to the cave ended around 5.00p.m. After that we headed back to the Bat Observatory to wait for the bat exodus - a truly amazing sight which I saw during the last visit. The bats normally fly out from the large opening on the side of the mountain.

Sadly luck was not with us this time around and the bats refused to come out even though we waited until 6.30p.m. By then it was already quite dark so we reluctantly head back to the HQ.

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Sarawak Hidden Gems 2015 - Mulu National Park

My first trip to Mulu National Park was in the early 90s. I can't remember the exact year now, but it was an amazing experience visiting some of the biggest caves in the World. The locals have known about the Mulu Caves for eons - in fact the Penans and the Berawan tribes live in the jungles in the Mulu area, but serious explorations only started in the 1930s, followed by the extensive Royal Geographical Society Mulu Expedition in 1977. The caves are now a Unesco World Heritage Site.

After a lapse of over 20 years, I finally made it back to Mulu National Park in 2015. 20 years ago the Park was a very basic set up. Now it is a well-oiled machine run by the Sarawak Forestry Corporation. There is a very modern Park office where you can book the guided tours, and there are also accommodations and dining facilities on site.

There are many caves open to visitors - some are easily accessed by almost anyone, whereas others require moderate to serious fitness and agility. All visits to the caves must be accompanied by trained guides. There are also several jungle treks which can be explored without a guide.

Accommodation at the National Park can be difficult to come by - you need to book months in advance. Luckily there are many private lodging houses within the vicinity of the Park.

Getting to Mulu used to be quite tricky. There were only infrequent flights with the Twin Otter from Miri - and on my first trip we had to take a 5 hour boat trip in the wee hours of the morning from Mulu to Marudi to get back. That was quite an experience - reminded me of the boat trip on Apocalypse Now. Now it is a lot more convenient, as the airport has been upgraded to receive larger aircrafts. MASwings operate daily flights from Kuching or Miri using the ATR 72-600 Twin-Prop aircraft.

Sunday, December 20, 2015

Eating in Kuching 2014 - Mandarin Restaurant

Mandarin Restaurant was once one of the eminent Chinese restaurants in Kuching. It went into decline for a while and now it is back at a new location - iCom Square. iCom Square is one of the latest commercial centres in Kuching. It is not fully completely yet - but is already shaping up to be one of the hottest F&B destinations in Kuching. 

The revamped Mandarin Restaurant has a simple but stylish interior. We went there for a birthday dinner recently and it was doing brisk business - like most new F&B venues in Kuching.

The Special Hot Appetizer looked impressive. It was presented on a big platter and had scallops, mussels, prawns, ham, sliced chicken and a few other ingredients. The sauce sadly lacked much flavour, luckily the ingredients were able to stand on their own.

The Fish Lip Soup was a good version.

The Signature Tofu was a pleasant surprise - nicely presented with good flavours. The tofu parcels were sandwiched with seafood stuffing.

Vietnamese Prawns - the prawns were fresh but the sauce lack the zing of better versions elsewhere.

Mixed Vegetables in Yam Basket. This is one of the best versions you can get in Kuching - the yam basket is actually light, fluffy and tasty.

Grouper in 2 Styles - nicely executed. 

Red Cooked Pork Leg with Mantou - the pork need longer cooking time, and the sauce need richer flavours. 

Foochow Noodles - a nice version with a light smokey flavour.

The food at Mandarin Restaurant is of a good standard, however there are some rough edges on the service which need to be ironed out. We had a private room and quite often there was no one in the room to serve us, and despite repeated reminders, some of the dishes were served out of out preferred order. On the whole though it was a pleasant dining experience. 

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Christmas 2015 - Christmas Decor at The Spring

"It's the most wonderful time of the year ........ " so goes the song. Drive around Kuching now and you will see quite a number of Christmas trees popping up here and there. Most of these are at the shopping malls - not surprising !

For the best Christmas decor in Kuching - head over to The Spring Shopping Mall. Every year they make an effort to put on the best show and this year is no exception. Right at the main entrance is a huge Christmas tree - the biggest in Kuching for the moment. Inside there are decorations at several locations - the most elaborate is a stack of gigantic Christmas presents at the West entrance.

Merry Christmas 
and Happy New Year everyone !