Borneo is Malaysia’s oft forgotten island, generally favoured by intrepid backpackers and scuba divers for its spectacular untouched natural beauty. It’s a shame that more families don’t venture here because if you take the time to explore the heart of the rainforest and you will discover some brilliant cave walks and ancient civilisations at Niah National Park. For family adventure holidays you won't forget, book a trip to Borneo with the kids.
For children interested in exploring nature’s playground, the Niah National Park in Sarawak is part rainforest boardwalk expedition, part archeological adventure, part cave discovery. Not only is it an exciting way to introduce older children (and active parents) to the great outdoors, it is safe enough for any reasonably fit person to achieve and easy enough to only occupy a short one or two days.
The reasons to enter the Park are the famous caves, but the boardwalk around the park is also a fun way to spot wildlife such as hornbills and macaques and experience a bona fide tropical forest.
The caves themselves are a thriving, living ecosystem of dripping walls, creepy crawlies and stinking guano (bat droppings – yes there are live bats too) that is a thrilling sensory assault. It is a brilliant experience to duck under passageways, creep down dark crevasses and peer at sleeping animals camouflaging themselves in the darkness. And witnessing the spectacle as the thousands of bats leave the caves at dusk is not to be missed.
In addition, the Traders Cave is still a popular spot to extract birds’ nest for its lauded Chinese traditional medicinal properties. Wizened men shimmy up impossibly skinny bamboo poles to extract the valued swallow by-product – an acrobatic feat that will impress even the oldest big kid.
Deep inside the Park is the Painted Cave where you can see also burial paintings on the walls and the remains of generations past.
Niah National Park can be easily visited from either the towns of Miri or Batu Niah where there are several accommodation options.
Exploring the Niah National Park involves a lot of steps and a lot of walking so it is not suitable for young children under 6, infants or kids who don’t like hiking. (It can also be quite dark and spooky so it's also not advisable for those afraid of the dark.) Once inside the National Park there are very few sources of food or water so pack what you need for a full day and carry it with you. It is extremely humid so it is crucial to bring lots of fluids to avoid dehydration and proper walking shoes (not sandals, hiking shoes or sneakers are preferable). Since there are live animals, it is useful to have a hat and a torch to avoid becoming a poop target. And go to the toilet yourself before you go – there are not a whole lot of toilet options once the walk starts.
It is not safe to drink the water from the tap in Malaysia. Only use bottled water for drinking and be wary of children drinking water in the shower or the bath.
For more ideas on family holiday destinations in Borneo, see the suitcases&strollers story Kota Kinabalu.