We’d flown into Miri from Labuan on account of the fact we didn’t want to go through Brunei. Shit to do around but not in Miri includes Lambir Hills National Park which is an easy day trip from the long distance bus terminal. We dragged ourselves out of bed at some god awful hour to make a 7.15am bus. It was such a comfortable bus, I was half sad I wasn’t spending the whole damn night on it though that was possibly on account of the fact none of my basic motor functions had kicked in properly yet. About 40 minutes later we were deposited on the side of the road opposite the national park entrance. Right, lets go look at some waterfalls then. We were with a German chap from the hostel called Sebastian who had his little heart set on trying to get all the way to Bukit Lambir, a good four hours from HQ according to the map.
We took one look at the distances and decided that the suggested times only applied to super-humans with rockets instead of legs and we’d probably die if we attempted them. We’d be happy with the three closer waterfalls and perhaps a little wheezing jaunt up Bukit Pantu so after we’d registered at HQ and parted with RM20 each we waved him goodbye and off he went in his shorts and flip flops. I glanced down at my hiking shoes and long trousers tucked into thick socks and regretted nothing. There’d been rain. There would be leeches. Leeches can go fuck themselves.
The trails are very well marked here, not even I can get lost and I can get lost in a department store. They’re numbered on the map you’re given and they correspond to colour codes painted onto the trees along the route so you can always work out where you are. Lots of people just go to Latak Waterfall, a piss easy 20 minute stroll along a relatively decent path. Others make it around the short loop. I think if you wanted to attempt the long trails you’d need to stay in the park overnight and get a bastard early start. We started with Latak Waterfall where we had a little swim and if you weren’t awake by then you certainly would be now. I mean, it’s not going to freeze your blood but it’ll certainly make your nipples sit up and take notice.
Once you’re heading to other places though, that’s when shit gets real. It’s not a stupidly hard walk, I’ve done harder ones and not had to go crawling to the NHS for a new set of lungs, but there are plenty of inclines and declines to upset your calf muscles. Nibong Waterfall was our second stop so I jumped in to put my face in it. I’m a sucker for a waterfall. As I was getting dressed I glanced up through the trees; the blue skies of this morning had been replaced with ominous grey cloud. It definitely looked like rain. In the time it took me to exit the water, change and put my shoes on it suddenly got darker, then the heavens opened. It didn’t break us in gently with a bit of light patter, it just went straight in there for the downpour.
The wind had picked up an’ all, it went from zero to breaking branches off trees in seconds. The map said that if the weather got bad we should return to HQ and they had no argument from us, we had exactly zero desire to be taken out by half a falling tree. We hadn’t bothered with waterproofs for this hike, we knew we’d get wet either from swimming or rain, it rained literally every day here. Our valuables were in dry bags, that’s all that mattered, we’d dry off, and according to the signs and the map we were only 2kms from HQ. Excellent. Off we went.
It’s not the being wet that bothers me but walking in the rain can be kind of miserable, especially when you’re on a trail that rapidly just became a small stream. Rather than doubling back we’d decided to return by Trail 4, it was meant to be a couple of hundred metres shorter. It felt like we were walking for half our lives though when we eventually found a marker telling us we were just 1km away from HQ. Perfect, one kilometre was nothing, especially as it was mostly downhill. We pushed on, wincing every time we heard a branch snap and crash to the ground. The rain was relentless, it didn’t even slow a little bit.
You know what’s soul destroying though? When you’re convinced you must have nearly walked a kilometre by now and you come to a marker telling you you’re still half a k away. You. Are. Shitting me. How?? How is this even possible? Tarrant knows how long it takes her to walk a kilometre even on crap terrain, she does this kind of shit for fun whilst I’m at home binge watching Star Trek and eating Doritos, and even she reckoned they’d fucked up their measuring. We carried on and I tried not to have a complete tantrum.
We did make it back, we slopped into the canteen, ordered tea and hassled some kittens. There was no sign of Sebastian though, we’d agreed to meet him back at the canteen before we left and I wasn’t comfortable just leaving without him so we decided to wait for the rain to stop then decide what to do with our lives. They’d closed the park to new visitors on account of the weather but if you were already in all those slushy trails were fair game, he could be halfway to the end by now. Two bloody hours we were sat there, it carried on raining for two more hours. We applied hot beverages to our faceholes until it finally stopped and we weighed up our options; we either leave here without Sebastian and leave a note with HQ but risk him not getting it, or we wait here for another two hours, or we go and have a look at Pantu Waterfall which would involve slogging back up that elastic fucking kilometre which never seemed to end.
Now, we’re inherently quite lazy, me more so than Tarrant. When faced with the options of sitting down or walking up a muddy hill I will usually opt for the former. But I did really want to see this waterfall… we’d definitely fucked off the idea of walking up Bukit Pantu, there’d be no view in this weather. We could at least make our way towards the waterfall and give up if it got too much… yeah okay, let’s do this. Off we went until we were stood at the bottom of the first part of the hill waiting for me to get my sulk at having to tackle another incline over and done with. But we did it, we made it all the way to the waterfall where we found Sebastian fending off leeches.
He went to check out the oil well (he said it wasn’t worth it) whilst we headed back to HQ to sit in the sun which had decided to show its face. We spread out our possessions and tried to get whatever passes for dry in this part of the world. Oh, and don’t forget that you need to let reception know you’re not dead in a ditch somewhere being drained by leeches once you’re back.
I harbour suspicions that the distances listed in the park are as the crow flies and not as the tourist awkwardly stumbles along paths crafted from mud and regret. I don’t know if all the national parks will be similarly sneaky with their measuring but it’s something to bear in mind. It seems that each national park in Sarawak has some manner of theme, and we intended to put as many our eyeholes as possible.
Lambir Hills National Park, Sarawak, Borneo, Malaysia
Stayed at: Dillenia Guest House, Miri (2020 Update: This place closed down in 2018)
Useful shit to know…
- The long distance bus terminal is called Pujut Corner and is a few kms north of the city. You can catch a bus to somewhere close to there for RM1.60 but you’ll need to check with your guesthouse where from, or you can take a Grab for RM7. You can take a normal taxi of course but I think you’ll be looking at double that.
- There are a few bus companies that run buses that go past Lambir Hills National Park and you do have to make sure you ask for the national park, not just Lambir. We took one that left at 7.15am. There’s definitely one at 7.30am and one at 8.30am run by different companies. You’ll be approached by people as you enter the terminal anyway, you won’t have a problem finding a bus.
- Despite the fact you’re getting off way before Niah Junction you’ll probably be charged until there. It’s RM10 or RM12 each depending on the bus company. The 7.15am bus we took with MTC Express was RM10.
- To get back to Miri you just need to stand by the entrance to the national park and flag the next bus. The guys at HQ said there wasn’t a schedule but they ask that you leave the park by 4pm anyway, a good hour or so before the last bus should come by.
- Don’t bother showing up if it’s pissing rain, they close the park in bad weather.
- You can stay in the park overnight if you wanted to get a stupid early start on that long trail, they have a range of accommodation that you can book online.
- If you don’t want to catch a bus you can rent a scooter from My Homestay for RM60 for 24 hours but they only have two so you need to get in there quickly.