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18 July 2008

Caves and caving in Malaysia - WildAsia

Caves and caving in Malaysia

When it comes to caves, Malaysia is blessed with many of the world's best: the largest chamber, the longest passage, rare archaeological sites, and diverse cave fauna. LIZ PRICE reviews these hidden Malaysian treasures for adventure seekers and spelunkers.

[Published on Wildasia 27 May 2006]

Caves and Limestone Hills of Malaysia

Malaysia has some of the biggest and longest limestone caves in the world, some are archaeological sites, others are beautiful with stalagmites and stalactites, and maybe underground rivers. Some caves are home to a wide variety of cave fauna such as bats, swiftlets, snakes, and invertebrates.

Amongst the most famous caves in the world are the caves in Mulu National Park, Sarawak, which was inscribed as a World Heritage site in 2001. Some of the caves there are world record holders, such as Gua Nasib Bagus which houses the world's largest chamber - Sarawak Chamber. Clearwater Cave is the 10th longest in the world, at 110km. Deer Cave is one of the world's largest passages. The Niah Caves, also in Sarawak, is a famous archaeological site. A 40,000 year old human skull has been found there, and the rock paintings have been dated at 1200 years. Near Kuching the caves of Bau can be visited.

In Sabah, the Gomantong Caves are renown for their birds' nest industry. It is fascinating to see the local people collecting these nests using bamboo ladders and poles. There are many other caves scattered across Sabah, at places such as Madai, Tempadong, Baturong and the Sapulut Valley. Many of these caves have been used as human burial sites.

In Peninsular Malaysia caves can be found in all states north of Kuala Lumpur. The tropical karst towers occur as steep isolated hills rising from the valley floors. In Selangor the Batu Caves near KL are a famous tourist destination and site of the Hindu festival of Thaipusam. Temple cave and the Art gallery caves are open to the public. Dark Cave is one of the best studied caves in Malaysia and is rich in cave fauna. It is the longest cave in the hill and is open to guided tours : education or adventure tours. Other caves in the hill can be visited by people equipped for caving.

In Perak there are many cave temples which can be visited. Gua Tempurung is a show cave with electric lighting and walkways, and a variety of tour options. It has a fine river passage and some enormous upper chambers. There are other 'wild' caves which can be visited by equipped cavers. The Lenggong area is an archaeological site, home to the 11,000 year old Perak Man, and a 70,000 year old stone tool industry.

In Perlis, Gua Kelam 2 is one of the peninsula's longest caves and is open for adventure cavers, likewise Gua Wang Burma. There are many caves and tin mines in the Perlis State Park.
In Pahang the Charas caves house a reclining Buddha. There are caves at Gunung Senyum and Kota Gelanggi which have been developed for tourism. There are several caves in Taman Negara.

Kedah, Kelantan, and Terennganu also have caves worthy of a visit.

There are more than 500 limestone hills in Peninsular Malaysia, and more than 700 caves, many of which have never been explored by cavers. For a more comprehensive coverage of Malaysian caves, get a copy of the Malaysian Cave Register.

Visiting caves
Caving is a safe sport providing the visitor is properly prepared and equipped. Caves are dark so it is essential for each caver to have at least one source of lighting, preferably a light attached to a helmet such as a carbide light, or else a torch attached by string, leaving the hands free for moving though the cave. Don't forget spare batteries and bulbs. Old clothes and lace up shoes or boots with good soles should be worn.

Some caves may require the use of ladders or ropes, in which case you should only visit accompanied by an experienced caver.

Remember to tell someone at home where you are going and what time you plan to return. Never cave alone, a minimum of 3 people is advised. Take careful note of the route as you travel through the cave, keep looking behind so that you can recognise landmarks on the return.

Caving Etiquette
Do not litter in caves, do not write any graffiti, and do not touch or damage any of the natural formations or rock walls. Do not interfere with the cave fauna.

Cave Conservation
Help us conserve Malaysia's caves. You can contribute by supporting the Malaysian Nature Society. You can also add to our body of knowledge of Malaysian caves by communicating caving reports or any other useful cave-related information to Liz Price.

Caving Contacts
A wide range of useful contacts can be viewed in our Caving Directory. You can also find contact details for the Malaysian Nature Society (MNS) Caving Club and also cave tour ogranisers. If you would like to visit the Dark Caves of Batu Caves, MNS organises educational and tourist trips, I suggest you contact them for more information MNS website.

Need More Help?
If you need more help on getting hold of caving resources (books, equipment, etc), you can learn more from Liz Price's personal website on Malaysian caves and caving.

© Liz Price - article may only be republished with the author's permission.

Books on Malaysian Caves
Caves and Karst of Peninsular Malaysia, by Liz Price (2001) , 98pp.A register which lists all the known limestone hills and caves of Peninsular Malaysia, divided into geographical states. Each entry is allocated a reference number, listing the state, hill number and cave number. There is a description of the karst geology, and tables of highest hills and longest caves. Other pages provide an introduction to Malaysian history and 19th century visitors to caves, as well as archaeology and history of cave exploration. There is a map of the limestone areas, glossary, 16 cave surveys and many photos, and a bibliography of cited references.

Malaysian Cave Bibliography, by Liz Price (1998), 104pp.This bibliography covers the whole of Malaysia, and contains more than 1800 references to Malaysian caves and karst, archaeology, conservation, flora and fauna, geology, geomorphology, hydrology, history, dating from the 1700's to 1997. In addition there is an extensive newspaper bibliography covering 1968 - 1997. Other pages provide an introduction to Malaysian caves and history.

The Natural and Other Histories of Batu Caves, by Shaharin Yussof (1997), 55pp + plates.Describes the various caves at Batu Caves, with information about the geology, ecology and religious significance.

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