There are two ways to get to Bukit Kasut. The first involves catching a boat to the base of the Bukit Kasut Trail, just across river from the town of Batu Niah. The second follows the Madu ("Honey") trail which branches off the Boardwalk to the caves, and leads through swampy riverine forest to the start of the Bukit Kasut Trail.
The Trek is described here starting by boat, and returning along the Madu Trail.
Boats can be arranged from the pontoon at Park HQ - at the time of writing, it cost about RM10 The boat trip is very pleasant, although only about 7-10 minutes. The river passes through riverine forest on the left side, with villages, farmland and secondary forest on the right. There are spectacular views of the cliffs above as you round the final bend. The boat pulls up at a discreetly marked landing spot, which marks the start of the Bukit Kasut Trail.
The trail initially passes through low scrub and muddy riverine forest for 45 minutes. Some of this forest is secondary, although a few patches of primary forest remain.
Prominent along the ground here are lemba' plants (Curculigo sp), resembling a lily or orchid, with long broad leaves that grow from the ground up to about 75cm high. The Iban traditionally used the fibre from the leaves to tie the pattern prior to the dyeing of the warp threads of a pua' kumbu (traditional Iban ceremonial blanket). An average pua' required as many as 250,000 pieces of fibre tied around it to get the pattern! (Nowdays, plastic raffia string is used instead.) The fruit of these plants is also considered very tasty.
But the really notable plants through here are the trees with massive buttresses. These are primarily benuang (Octomeles sumatrana - see box in the Boardwalk page), with some keranji (Dialium laurinium - see below). A mangkuang, with massive buttresses stretching from 4-5m off the ground makes the benuang on the Boardwalk look small!
Keranji is a legume - a very large member of the bean family. The small (1.5cm) black velvety oval fruit pods contain a single fruit and one or two seeds. The fruit surrounding the seed is sweet and quite pulpy, tasting a bit like tamarind. Piles of the fruits are a common sight in Kuching markets, when in season.
After about 15 minutes from the river, the Madu Trail (see below) joins from the left. The trail veers right and over a slight hump, offering spectacular views up to the limestone cliffs of Gunung Subis on the left. The trail passes a couple more spectacularly-buttressed benuang trees soon after.
The muddy trail continues through disturbed riverine forest, skirting the base of the cliffs, visible on the left. Various unmarked trails lead up to little caves (please stay on the main trail for, your own safety and to help preserve the fragile environment). A couple of very impressive strangling figs with splayed curtains of roots (probably Ficus benjamina) grow next to the trail. Macaque monkeys can sometimes be seen (and heard) as they forage for fruit in this forest.
Another 10 to 15 minutes through this forest, and a cave (Gua Lelong) can be seen in the cliff-face to the left of the trail. A clear stream emerges from its base.
The climb to the top of the cliffs starts a further 5 minutes on from the cave, about 45 minutes from the boat. It takes at least 1 hour to reach the top from the start of the climb.
A large fish-tailed palm (Caryota sp - probably C. No) grows near the trail at the start of the ascent. Various Indigenous groups make extensive use of this palm. The shoot is edible raw or cooked; the trunk is used as a building material for floors, the black hairs from the trunk are woven into bangles, and the leaf spines can be used to make blow-pipe darts. The decaying trunk may also host edible worms. This is also one of several species of wild palms which the Penan use as a source of their staple food, sago. Sago is extracted from the stem - a laborious process, which involves scraping out the pith, shredding and mashing it, and then washing it in water to extract the starch, which must then be dried.
The trail up the slope is immediately steep and difficult - it is slippery and muddy, and covered in irreguarly shaped loose limestone rocks. The forest on the slopes is noticeably thinner and more open, with a few impressive large trees. A number of small flowering herbs can be seen on the ground.
The trail curves around the slope, with a sheer drop away on the right. After about 30 minutes of scrambling, there are already views down to Batu Niah from a small clearing. The limestone is honeycombed with small caves and crevasses (good idea to stick to the trail!). Begonias and bauhinias grow on the limestone.
Another 15 minutes takes you to the top. This last section is very steep, and requires climbing up a very narrow and steep limestone ridge, with sheer drops on both sides, using cracks in the rocks and a few roots. This section has the potential to be dangerous - proceed with caution, and do not proceed if you do not feel comfortable.
The top is a small limestone platform, which is cut-off from the main body of the mountain by a deep crevasse - making it effectively a small island. There is a relatively flat area, and a few small limestone pinnacles projecting up. The vegetation is very stunted on this dry and exposed location. A pine-like casuarina grows on the main mountain behind, and there are numerous small plants with pretty lilac flowers, known locally as bunga batu or "rock flowers".
The views out are spectacular, with dense rainforest immediately below, the town of Batu Niah close by, surrounding oil-palm plantations and the South China Sea in the distance. Small swiftlets from the caves flit around catching insects, and the occasional call of the great argus pheasant can be heard if you stop and listen for a while.
The Madu Trail
To get back to HQ, you can either go back by boat, the way you came, or you can walk the whole way, along the Madu Trail. The Madu Trail starts from the turnoff about 10 minutes from where you came by boat, and takes just over an hour to return to the Boardwalk trail (at a point about 15 minutes from Pangkalan Lobang).
Soon after the turnoff from the Bukit Kasut Trail, the Madu Trail crosses over the small Sungai Subis - freshwater prawns can be seen stirring the water. The trail continues through riverine forest similar to that along the flat part of the Bukit Kasut Trail, with a number of large fig trees, pandanus plants and ground gingers. Caves can be seen in the looming cliffs above - some with hanging poles used for collecting birds nest - similar to the poles in the Great Cave.
20 minutes along the muddy trail, and you cross a small creek to the base of a cliff (in fact a large outcrop). The trail splits here - the trail to the left is marked in blue, and is not in use. Continue along the main trail to the right. Around the corner from the cliff, some impressive house-sized limestone outcrops emerge from the forest floor, looking like ancient temples. Some large trees manage to cling onto these rocks with amazing networks of roots which practically cover the rock.
Two large caves can be seen in the cliff face above, to the right. One of these is called Gua Kusat, "Macaque Cave". Both are inhabited by birds' nest collectors. The trail crosses a small creek several times on blank bridges, and continues around the base of the cliff, past some more amazing big strangling fig trees.
About 40 minutes on, there is a short section of boardwalk across a swampy area. The trail then climbs up a gentle slope into mixed dipterocarp forest, before descending to another swampy area, and another section of boardwalk. From the end of this boardwalk, the trail climbs gently again into mixed dipterocarp forest, and meets the main Boardwalk only a few minutes along. Pangkalan Lobang is only about 10-15 minutes off to the lefft.