Niah National Park
Though Niah National Park is among Sarawak's smallest national parks, it is the site of one of the oldest human settlements ever found in the South East Asian region.
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At a glance, Niah National Park may seem ordinary, with its 3,120 hectares of swamp, forests and limestone caves. The park's very existence comes from the discovery of relics in caves within the park indicating a civilization believed to be the oldest in South East Asia. The park was first inaugurated as a national park on 23 November 1974, but was only opened to the public on 1 January 1975.
The most important discovery at the park was made when archaeologists excavated a human skull during an expedition to the caves in 1958. Carbon dating placed the skull at about 40,000 years old, corroborating a find made a year earlier which unearthed tools like cooking utensils and ornaments, suggesting that there were humans from the paleolithic era who settled down in this area.
There are a few hundred caves within the park, including the two most famous – the Great Cave and Painted Cave. To make access to the caves more pleasant for the visitors, plankwalks have been built all around the network of caves. These pathways provide visitors with an up close view of the unique tropical rainforest there, including the giant Tapang trees and pandanus plants that are twice the size of a human. The lush forest also enables magnificent and colorful orchids and tree fungi to thrive within the park. For those lucky enough, some of the park's wildlife can also be seen as they make their way to the caves.
The Great Cave, as the name suggests, is an enormous cave with large chambers and passages inside. Located approximately 3 kilometres from the Park's Office, the cave was where archaeologists found remnants of the skull that supported evidence of an ancient civilization in the region. An important archaeological site, its supports a subterranean ecosystem dominated by bats and swiftlets, especially the Black-nest swiftlet. There are eight entrances altogether in the Great Cave, one of which is the West entrance, hailed as one of the world's most amazing entrance measuring well over 60 metres high and 250 metres wide.
The Painted Cave is famous for the paintings that adorn its walls. These paintings tells of the journey embarked upon by the deceased into the after-life by boat. The meaning of the drawings were not known until the discovery of a number of death-ships – boat shaped coffins where the remains of the deceased and a choice of daily items considered useful in the after-life were found. The figures drawn in red hematite, most probably representing warriors and hunters, usually show them standing watch over a gravesite where the dead were buried. Even today, some of these empty death-ships can still be seen in the cave.
Niah National Park is also a great place for jungle exploration. There are two clearly marked walking trails for easy trekking; Jalan Bukit Kasut and Jalan Madu. The first trail has green and white markings for hikers to follow and it leads to the summit of Bukit Kasut. The hike is about 45 minutes and it passes through some beautiful primary rainforest before gradually arriving into Kerangas forest at the foot of the hill. The Jalan Madu trail, with red and white markings, follows closely to the banks of the Sungai Subis, tributary of the Sungai Niah. The hike takes roughly and hour and passes through both alluvial and peat swamp forest along the way. There are plenty of wild orchids, mushrooms and giant pandanus plants to see as the trail progresses.
The Niah National Park is roughly 3 kilometres from Batu Niah, a town located between Miri and Bintulu. Miri is 109 kilometres north east of Batu Niah while Bintulu is 131 kilometres south west of the town. Visitors who wish to enter the national park will have to either charter a boat or a taxi from Batu Niah to the park.
There are regular buses going from the towns of Miri and Bintulu to Batu Niah from Miri Bus Station and Bintulu Bus Station. Journey time is approximately 1 hour 40 minutes from Miri or 2 hours from Bintulu.
The park is also accessible by boat from Batu Niah.
Niah National Park offers lodges and a hostel for those seeking accommodation within the park. The park also provides camping grounds and charges a nominal fee for those who are interested.