Niah Caves = travel fail.

Here’s my Borneo Travel fail story. When you go to less traveled countries, you’re bound to have some nightmare transportation stories. This one was for the Niah Caves.

Borneo travel fail story

Imagine this day. You sit on a 5-hour bus ride to see an attraction. Upon arrival you find out it’s are closed due to flooding. And has been for a few days. With no notice.

They suggested I “try back in a week or so.”  Ahhh!

me sitting on the curb waiting for the bus. Borneo travel fail - a 5 hour bus ride to find out it's closed
My saddest face after learning we burned two days and wouldn’t even get to see Niah. There was no notice on their website, no hotline, no notice to the 8 hotels in the nearby town.

What is Niah?

The attraction I’m referring to are the Niah Caves, supposedly the most impressive of Malaysia’s natural wonders.

Transportation nightmare

To start the day, we were in Brunei. We ultimately headed to Kuching on the northwest region of Borneo.

Instead of taking a 45min flight, we took a 5-hour bus ride to Junction, a small town near Niah. It’s another 15 hour bus ride afterward to get to Kuching. That’s quite a bit of effort, but people told me it’s worth it!

The plan

We negotiated into our hotel price (that’s right, in Asia hotel prices are often negotiable) a shuttle from Junction to Niah, 45 minutes away.  Our “shuttle” turned out to be space in the back of a flatbead truck, as part of the driver’s errands.

We checked the Niah website and called ahead to confirm the hours.

And here’s where the wheels fall off…

Our plan was to arrive right when it opens. That’s unfortunately not what happened. Upon arrival, we learn it’s closed. I assume we can just wait an hour and regret not sleeping later. Nope, it’s actually worse. They said it’s been closed due to flooding for 3 days. Ahhh!

They apologized and said they were thinking of updating their website to tell people. But they didn’t. They suggested we try back next week. What?? Thanks Malaysia.

Conclusion: Borneo Travel Fail

Malaysian Borneo is simply not set up for travelers on a limited time schedule. That’s my Borneo Travel fail from my (attempted) Niah Caves experience. But that’s traveling – you need to roll with it and make the best of challenges.


For future visits to the Niah Caves, I suggest you call ahead. Call multiple times. Other travelers loved the experience, so I have to assume it’s special.

What’s your worst “travel fail” story?

Celebrating Chinese New Year in Asia

To celebrate my first Chinese New Year in Asia, I left the jungle and headed to Kota Kinabalu (everyone calls it “KK”), the largest city in Sabah, in Malaysian Borneo. I was really interested to see how people celebrate; apparently not enough to do any homework on what Chinese New Year actually is. Oops!

For those of you that are as ignorant as I was, it’s a family holiday, similar to the way Americans celebrate Thanksgiving. So there were no big parties with the irrational excitement of elaborate countdowns signifying the exact moment of the new year. Instead I found myself in a predominantly conservative Muslim country (read: doesn’t drink) in a city with 11 bars, on a night that’s least likely to have any energy at the bars. Hmm… Still it was a good time.

We ate at the night market with the locals (dinner for them, appetizer for us). Look at all of that goodness!

Afterward we ate our actual dinner along the beautiful waterfront where most of the bars are.

All except 1 were empty, with more staff than patrons. There’s two more bars clustered on our part of town (10 minute walk), and another nearby. We finally found one to stop by with a live band, and the singer certainly wasn’t expecting us… (more in the next post)

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