Leave no stone unturned: Explore the sights (and smells) of Malaysia’s ancient caves

The main attraction here is the Temple Cave which houses a Hindu Temple devoted to Lord Murugan. Pic: Grey Chow/Shutterstock

ADVENTURE caving in Malaysia is not not necessarily reserved for experienced explorers or archaeologists as many of the limestone caves scattered throughout Peninsular Malaysia as well as Sabah and Sarawak have been made accessible for the everyday traveler.

You may need to do a bit of trekking, crawling, climbing and even swimming, but rest assured, most of them would offer a plethora of interesting sights and smells.

Batu Caves, Kuala Lumpur

Pic: Ismail Sadiron/Shutterstock

Batu Caves is known for its annual Thaipusam celebrations. Pic: Ismail Sadiron/Shutterstock

While Batu Caves is famous for its Thaipusam celebrations, there are actually four different caves to explore here: the Temple Cave (or Cathedral Cave), Dark Cave, Cave Villa, and Ramayana Cave.

The main attraction here is the Temple Cave which houses a Hindu temple devoted to Lord Murugan. You would need to trek up 272 steps to get to the temple at the top.

However, before you reach the top, you would come across the entrance to the Dark Cave, which is only open when there is a guide to take you there.

Claimed to be the habitat of the trapdoor spider, one of the rarest species in the world, this cave also offers spectacular sights of rock formations.

As it is a conservation site, some areas are closed off. The other two caves – Cave Villa and Ramayana Cave are show caves where statues and paintings from Hindu mythology are displayed.

Niah Caves, Sarawak

Pic: Juhku/Shutterstock

Niah Caves is famed for its archaeological importance. Pic: Juhku/Shutterstock

Niah Caves comprises a large cave called The Great Cave and other smaller ones like the famed Painted Cave.

To get to the Great Cave, you would have to trek through a rainforest, but it’s usually a pleasant experience as there are plank paths to walk on, and you can witness a range of different plants and wildlife.

As you reach the interiors of the cave, swiftlets’ nests accompanied by a large population of bats are often seen.

Meanwhile, in the Painted Caves, there are paintings on the walls that depict the journey into the afterlife. There are also fragments of boat-shaped coffins called “death-ships” on the ground, indicating that the caves were used as a burial site.

Niah Caves is also famed for its archaeological importance – in 1958, a 40,000-year-old skull of an anatomically modern human, the oldest remains of a Homo sapiens, was discovered here.

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Gua Tempurung, Perak

Pic: Fiqah Anugerah Dah Besa/Shutterstock

Gua Tempurung is one of the largest and oldest limestone caves in Peninsular Malaysia. Pic: Fiqah Anugerah Dah Besa/Shutterstock

One of the largest and oldest limestone caves in Peninsular Malaysia, Gua Tempurung in Gopeng, Perak is believed to have existed at least 10,000 years ago.

Made of five large domes resembling coconut shells that are covered in marble and limestone, there are also three large chambers accommodating a showcase of stalactites, stalagmites and other superb rock formations.

Many cave enthusiasts consider this a “cozy” cave to explore as there are lighted platforms and paths to guide the way, making it relatively easy for beginners.

For those who want to trek through the underground river that runs about 1.6km within the cave tunnels, be prepared to squeeze through a very small enclosure to get to the river.

Gomantong Caves, Sabah

Gomantong Cave produces edible birds' nests. Pic: Sharif Putra Sharif Ubong/Shutterstock

Gomantong Cave produces edible birds’ nests. Pic: Sharif Putra Sharif Ubong/Shutterstock

Part of the Gomantong Forest Reserve is the Gomantong Caves, one of the largest cave systems in Sabah.

The cave is famous for its edible birds’ nests; nest harvesting has been carried out here since the 13th century and today, this cave, which houses over a million swiftlets, remains as one of the prime areas to source this traditional delicacy.

As it is home to a large number of birds as well as other wildlife including bats, dung beetles, and cockroaches, the cave reeks of an ammonia-like smell due to the feces of the birds and bats (guano).

Gomantong Caves consists of nine caves – Simud Putih (White Cave) and Simud Hitam (Black Cave) are the largest ones, and each offers a different experience.

For tourists with little cave exploration experience, Simud Hitam, home to black swiftlets, is recommended as it is more accessible.

Here, there are wooden boardwalks that make the walk much easier; additionally, these planks also ensure visitors do not have to trek through deep layers of guano and bugs.

To access Simud Putih, renowned for its white birds’ nests, you would need permission. As it consists of complex caverns, it’s far more challenging than the Black Cave; it’s recommended that you get a guide to lead the way if you do choose to explore this cave.

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