Introducing Niah National Park
The vast limestone caverns of 31-sq-km Niah National Park are among Borneo’s most famous and impressive natural attractions. At the heart of the park is the Great Cave, one of the largest caverns in the world.
Niah’s caves have provided groundbreaking insights into human life on Borneo way back when the island was still connected to mainland Southeast Asia. In 1958 archaeologists led by Tom Harrisson discovered the 40,000-year-old skull of an anatomically modern human, the oldest remains of a Homo sapiens discovered anywhere in Southeast Asia.
Rock paintings and several small canoe-like coffins (‘death ships’) indicate that the site was used as a burial ground much more recently. Some of the artefacts found at Niah are on display at the Sarawak Museum in Kuching; others (a handful) are in the park’s own museum.
Niah’s caves accommodate a staggering number of bats and are an important nesting site for swiftlets, some of whose species supply the vital ingredient for bird’s-nest soup. Traditionally, the Penan are custodians and collectors of the nests, while the Iban have the rights to the caves’ other commodity, bat and bird guano, which is highly valued as fertiliser (no prizes for guessing who got first pick). During the harvesting season (August to March), nest collectors can be seen on towering bamboo structures wedged against the cave roof.
We’ve heard travellers say that if you’ve been (or will be going) to Gunung Mulu National Park, going to Niah might not be worth the effort – unless you’re fascinated by human prehistory, of course.