Niah Caves - Sarawaks Most Underrated Place

Welcome to the ultimate Travel guide to Niah Caves! We are thrilled to have you here and we want to ensure that you have the most incredible experience possible. Here, you will find a comprehensive guide that will walk you through everything you need to know in order to make the most of your time and money. 

From the best travel and accommodation options to the must-see attractions and activities, we’ve got you covered. Whether it’s your first time to Niah Caves or you’re a seasoned traveler, this guide is packed with valuable information that will help you create your own unforgettable adventure.

So sit back, relax, and get ready to embark on a journey like no other!

An Introduction to Niah Caves

People come here just for the caves, but it is they are in a beautiful National Park. You can visit on the day trip, but it is well worth spending the night.

Oddly, there isn’t very much information online for independent travellers And most turn up with guides.

In reality, you don’t need one as everything is on a boardwalk and signposted, so I had to write this in-depth guide to help you get the most out of your time here I’m not unnecessarily breaking the bank.

Many tourists skip Niah Caves completely in favour of the infinitely more famous Gunung Mulu National Park. However, Niah Caves is just off the main highway and costs a fraction of Gunung Mulu

Honestly, speaking, in my humble opinion, unless you are a cave enthusiast this will do nicely as the end bill for visiting Gunang Mulu is enough to bring tears to your eyes. What’s you will have to share the experience with throngs of other tourists.


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What is the history of Niah Cave?

The archaeological site at Niah dates back somewhere between 30 and 40,000 years making it some of the oldest cave art in the world. The area was first explored and excavated by Barbara Harrison in 1954 with two friends because it was thought to be a promising place given its bountiful nature. 

When the site was excavated there were considerable remains giving clues to what life was like in the ancient world including what has become known as the deep skull from Niah Cave. 

It was discovered in what is now known as the painted cave that was dubbed back then as hell’s cave due to it being so hot. Why this cave was chosen we will never know. 

It is the oldest anatomically modern human remains ever recovered from an island in Southeast Asia. It has become a subject of great controversy among palaeontologists over what direction these people’s ancestors came from. 

No matter where they came from the deep skull is incredibly archaeologically significant. It even became its own subject known as the Pleistocene peopling of Southeast Asia. 

If you are interested in history check out this in-depth post from Frontiers or this extract from the Encyclopedia Britannica. The Wikipedia page is also a fantastic source of information on the subject and is oddly very readable. 

The site has long been excavated but the art is still there for you to see albeit through bars. Niah Caves has just become a well-deserved title as a Unesco World Heritage Centre. Few places deserve it more or have waited as long. 

The Swiftlets & Bats of Niah

Niah Caves is famous for its large numbers of bats And Swiftlets. At one point, the walls and ceilings hung heavy with animals. Now the numbers are declining probably due to over tourism and people come in screaming into the cave to hear their echoes. Yes, they do that.

A few years ago, Niah caves What is estimated to be home to about half a million bats and approximately 4 million species of swiftlets. No one is sure exactly how many are left, but certainly nowhere near those numbers.

The key reason why Swiftlet numbers have declined is People’s love for bird’s nest soup. A couple of the species of Swiftlet build their nest from salivary secretions. And for some reason, some people think they taste delicious in soup.

It must be a surprise to no one to learn that the swiftlets who make their nests from spit are now in rapid decline and the Swiftlets that make their nests from vegetation are doing just fine. 

The wildlife of Niah National park

Having never counted the species myself or even studied them I have had to source the information. I can safely say the biodiversity is not considered by most as the grand caves overshadow it for most people.  

Thats a shame as Niah Caves National Park is covered in primary rainforest thats dripping with wildlife. The park is home to 74 species of mammals and 241 species of birds. What really sets the park apart from anything I have seen though is the 104 species of reptiles and amphibians. The latter puts on quite the chorus in the evening.

For more details on what you can expect check out the Sarawak Forestry commissions website. It is literally the only resource I have found that has information on it. Not even the Wikipedia page covers the wildlife. 

Getting around Niah National Park 

People say the round trip through the National Park takes three to four hours. You should count on at least five if you’re a wildlife nut like me.

Follow the wide elevated platforms to get to the caves. You cannot possibly get lost. The first cave that you come to is the trader’s cave.

Which is photogenic in itself and after A short walk you will come to the Great Cave. This place lives up to its reputation in a very grand way. If you follow the boardwalks down, you will eventually come to the painted cave. This contains the prehistoric artwork that everyone came to see.

Accommodation in the Great Niah National Park

You have essentially four options for accommodation should you decide to stay And I strongly suggest you do, particularly if you’re an animal lover, because the best time to see the animals is just before sunset and just after sunrise.

However, Niah Caves National Park is an easy day trip from Bintulu or Miri if comfort is an issue.

Government accommodation in Niah Caves 

The first option is to stay at the Forest Lodge. These are booked Through the Sarawak Forestry Commission’s official website. It is easy to use, however. 

Accommodation fills up very quickly so book ahead. Just to note it’s not just in Niah Caves. Search the government website in plenty of time. 

The second option is to Pay for a camping spot. This works when all else fails. Having one bailed me out multiple times.  No matter what there is always space for camping.

Camping in Niah Caves National Park

I bought a tent and was not planning to but I tried booking national parks eight weeks in advance and still, everything was already full. Please note that in other national parks there is no other option. No villages or towns nearby. Its the government’s accommodation or nothing.

So this is a real godsend and a worthy investment. If you plan on seeing the wildlife. Typically, a camping spot in a national park will cost around 5 ringgits.

Just to be clear it is nowhere close to Niah Caves and across a river so you will need to inform the boat driver if you plan on staying late to see the swiftlets return home the bats leave around six pm and the last boat is at four. They will wait if you on request but if you forget you will be stranded in the forest! 

The third option is to stay in Batu Niah. It is a grungy little town with little of interest in itself. I have no idea why you would want to stay there, as it is the very unappealing place to stay.

Rumah Patrick Libau Homestay

The third option and the one that I wholeheartedly heartedly recommend is. Rumah Patrick Libau homestay. This little gem is set inside the National Park, the other side of the river.

So, should you go and choose to visit the National Park early before anybody else gets there the ball is in your court. Every house doubles up as a homestay. And people take it in turns to host.

The residents are Iban, so they live in longhouses. It’s not spruced up to make it look more traditional than it needs to be, like in other areas of Sarawak. The people are very welcoming and it is a very constructive project.

My host Lassan Anak Birai. Was an absolute gem. She fed me well on local delicacies such as roasted river fish and fern curry which was simply delightful. Despite her being very elderly she was also quite the entrepreneur, doubling up as a producer of rice wine and also Had a little shop.

Not only was it a chance to spot some of the magnificent wildlife that lives inside of Borneo It is also an interesting and meaningful cultural immersion that is hard to get elsewhere.

The only thing is that access to the homestay is a one-hour walk through the National Park. It can be hard going with all your luggage in the sunshine But it’s all part of the adventure I guess.

How to get to Niah Caves

Batu Niah is on the main highway between Kuching and Miri. It is easily accessible by bus as it’s on the main coastal road.

Just a note that the boat between Kuching and Sibu is no longer running since Covid 19. That Means what was a three-and-a-half-hour journey now takes 7 to 8 hours with no other option.

The annoying thing is getting from Batu Niah to Niah Caves National Park. It will cost you about 40 Ringgit. I asked around to see if I could get it any cheaper and I could not. That seems to be how much it costs even though it is less than 5 kilometres.

There is no public transport, and your Grab app will be of no use. You have no choice but to pay the fee. If you decide to spend the night or two arrange with your taxi driver to pick you up from outside the National Park main entrance as getting one from the reception will be very tricky indeed.

You will then have to cross the Sungai Niah on a boat at the jetty to get to the National Park. The journey takes about 30 seconds and costs one ringgit. If you’re going to spend more than a night, make sure you tell The boatman or they will wait for you. They somehow seem to remember every guest.

Entrance Fee For Niah National Park

Niah Caves FAQ 

What is special about Niah's cave?

It is not just that it’s steeped in 40,000 years of history it is incredibly beautiful and it is in a national park that’s awash with wildlife. 

Is Gua Niah the oldest cave?

It is indeed the oldest cave in Malaysia in terms of human settlement by miles. However, geologically that answer is very unclear. 

What is the largest cave in Niah?

The Grand Cave is the largest in Niah. The cave is over 2km long and it has been said it is big enough to land a plane in although I would not want to be on that plane. 

In Summary

I have enjoyed writing this post as I rate this place very highly and I wholeheartedly recommend a visit to Niah National Park. Of all the caves of Borneo, this one is one of my absolute favourites. What’s more, it is one of the more cost-effective things to do in Sarawak.

To find out more about the best things to do in Sarawak on a Budget feel free to check my in-depth post for more suggestions. 

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