Niah Caves, Sarawak

Niah Caves, Sarawak

One of the must visit caves in Sarawak is the Niah Caves which is located at the Niah National Park. This is probably the oldest caves in Malaysia with some amazing history that dates back to the stone ages and it is also my first time visiting this amazing place.

My journey here was in conjunction with the traditional Iban Harvest Festival or Gawai for the local Iban people of Sarawak which falls in the month of June. A special trip was arranged by Tourism Malaysia Sarawak where I was to witness a traditional Gawai celebration at Rumah Patrick Libau Longhouse at Sungai Tangap here in Niah and also to explore the Niah National Park.

Of course, the Niah Caves was my highlight as I always enjoy exploring the many caves of Malaysia for my work. Overall, my passion for culture, nature and heritage always makes me proud of what my country has to offer.

Anyway, the Niah Cave trip was a day trip where from Patrick Libau's Longhouse, it is only a 20 minute walk to the entrance of the cave. This makes Patrick's Longhouse the ideal place to experience a traditional Iban Homestay and also explore the Niah Caves. From the back area of the longhouse, you will cross a bridge which leads to the start of the wooden boardwalk all the way to the entrance.

Niah Caves

Wooden boardwalk to the Niah Caves from Patrick Libau's Longhouse
Walking along the boardwalk will let you chance upon the many flora and possibly fauna of the Niah National Park. Most of the time, you will encounter strange insects or bugs along the way, some worth taking photos too. As a amature photographer, I always make it a point to capture interesting stuff and this make my trek or walk a little longer than usual.

Having said this, I took loads of photographs and to feature them all in one post, it would be really long, so I found a gallery application that will feature them in one image. See the Niah photos below with captions.

Trader's Cave at Niah
Niah Traders Cave
Traders Cave, the 1st cave you see when you enter
After walking for about 20 minutes, the first cave you will arrive at is the Trader's Cave or Gua Dagang Niah. This historical site shows how local traders would sit at their roofless huts inside the caves and wait for buyers to come back in those days. The items sold were high quality birds nest which was collected from the caves here and then traded by barter or cash. 

These trader hut structures you see today have been here since created, all because of the rich 'Berlian' Ironwood used to make them. Another interesting fact is that they were built using only wooden pegs without any nails. Nearby, a couple of natural cave wells served as water for drinking and washing the birds nests. 

Walking through the Trader's Caves shows that this is an open concept cave where natural light flows in from the cave mouth which results in rich plant life growing here as you can see the greens from the pictures above.

Niah Trader's Cave view from up top
Trader's Cave at Niah - Just take a look at the person in white and blue standing there. 
It's amazing to see how big the Trader's Cave is, especially when you are making your way past it towards the Great Cave. At the end, you will climb a flight of stairs and when you look back, you see the massive Trader's Cave from a higher perspective.

What ran through my mind was imagining how busy it was back in the day when the place was bustling with activity. I can also imagine how loud and busy the place was with traders, buyers, sellers and so on.

Tom Harrisson House Niah Cave
Tom Harrisson's replica house at the Great Cave of Niah
Great Cave, Niah

From the Trader's Cave, the next stop is the Great Cave and this will take another 5 minutes walk before you come to a covered wooden boardwalk with a fence on your left. This is the first sighting of the prehistoric site where human remains dating to 40,000 years have been found and has since been fenced up by the authorities.

Why it is called the Great Cave is simply because of its sheer size which is 60m high and 250m wide, it is one of the world’s most spectacular cave entrances, leading to an even larger chamber within. The Great Cave also lies in a huge limestone block which measures about one kilometre long in general and about half a kilometre wide.

This is also the main walkway towards all the other caves found deeper inside. It is compulsory that anyone wanting to explore these majestic caves, go with one of the Sarawak Forestry Park Rangers.

Padang Area, Niah

When you walk pass the Great Cave, the path leads to a large chamber known as the Padang Area, where shafts of sunlight stream down from large holes in the cave roof to illuminate the bizarre rock formations in the Burnt Cave (Lubang Hangus). This is another excellent spot for taking photos.

After the Padang Area, you enter a totally dark passage known as Moon Cave (Gan Kira). This is where a torch light is required as I personally tried putting it off and it was pitch darkness. While you make your way through, don't forget to shine around the cave as there may be something of interest to spot, apart from the interesting cave structures.

For those extra tall person, mind your head as parts of the cave ceiling is quite low so don't get carried away and bump your head as it will require some medical care which is quite far out.

Niah Painted Cave Photo
The Painted Cave Area of Niah, all fenced up for protection
Painted Cave 

Arriving at the Painted Cave, you will notice that an entire wall area has been fenced up for protection. You can faintly see on the walls, the remains of prehistoric paintings that have faded over the years. These ancient rock paintings are dated as 1,200 years old according to studies.


You can go up to the fenced area and look through at the paintings but you need to focus your eyes on the walls to see them. However, they have put up some photographs which were taken many years ago to see the original paintings. Sadly, this has not been up kept by Sarawak Forestry and I hope that they will do something about this. 


Niah Cave Paintings, file photo taken much earlier
Among the images seen are spread-eagle human figures, probably representing warriors and hunters from the early ages, some of the animals of the surrounding forest, and traditional longboats carrying the souls of the deceased on the dangerous journey to the land of the dead. See the above and below photos.

Niah Cave Painting Photo
Actual cave paintings now (2015) in Niah Caves
Niah Cave Photos

Photo of Niah Caves
Beautiful cave architecture along the way
Niah Great Cave
Arriving at the Great Caves, the covered walkways
Padang Area Niah Cave
Padang Area inside Niah Caves
Iban traders selling souvenirs
Iban traders selling souvenirs at the half way trek to the caves
Niah National Park Sarawak
The main boarded walkway around the national park
Niah National Park is located one and a half hours drive from Miri, Sarawak. The best way to get to Niah is either taking a package from any of the travel agents in Miri or by booking a stay at Patrick Libau Longhouse next to the caves. 

There is also the Borneo Rainforest Resort which is located about 30 minutes from the national park which is a 3-star resort with many facilities, including a small water theme park. This is very recommended for those wanting a little bit of luxury or privacy. 


Tom Harrisson House at Niah Cave
Tom Harrisson's House at the mouth of the Great Cave, a replica of it
The Niah National Park was first gazetted as a National Historic Monument in 1958, and in 1974 some 3,100 hectares of surrounding rainforest and limestone hills were included, to form the overall Niah National Park. For more information, you can also visit the Sarawak Forestry website:
http://www.sarawakforestry.com/htm/snp-np-niah.html or you can also view my other experiences of caves in Malaysia

Niah National Park is suitable for anyone who loves the outdoors, caves and generally nature. Nearby, there are also two other national parks called Loagan Bunut National Park and Lambir National Park too so this makes three parks in one visit but the highlight here is still the Niah Caves.


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