Kunak Trip : Madai Cave

Yes, the last part of our Kunak trip and the very best part yet. We had a blurry idea of how this trip would turn out for us, except that we were willing to take the risk. In fact, it was very risky. We arrived at the location in the afternoon, at around 3pm. The Madai Cave is owned by the villagers that lived at the outside of the cave, and through the bird’s nest collecting activity from the cave they were able to support their lives and family.

Arriving at the village outside the cave, a few people were already there, sitting leisurely while watching our car, knowing that another visitors coming up to see the cave. Just right after we parked in at the side, they approached us and immediately talked about the cave tour. A late 30s guy briefed us a little bit about the tour, the time that it’d take for us to see the entire space of the cave and showed us the guys who would be responsible as our guides. We then started our tour with one guy leading the way while another one is following behind us.

My first thought upon climbing the staircases that lead to the cave was that I am so terribly terrified to go in and something does not feel okay. I kept thinking of the bad rumors we heard about a female visitor being raped in the cave and given that there was no men that come with us, I felt a lot more worried about our safety. We just met these guys for 5 minutes and knew nothing about them except that they are the experts of the cave. To make it worse, a few other guys came up to join us. Yes, I thought of the worst possible that could happen to us. I almost wanted to take a step back. almost.

Turned out, the tour was really an eye-opening experience. Not only they have been superbly nice and helpful with the torchlights and leading the way, there was nothing bad that happened. In fact, they were very conscious about our safety and often times reminded us to watch our steps. In comparison to the Gomantong Caves (Read our trip here) where we visited few weeks before, this cave offered a much more adventurous feel to us. I personally have enjoyed the tour in Madai cave. It was really dark and a lot of the paths are quite dangerous as it slippery and rocky. The entire floor was covered with inches of birds/bats/cockroaches’s poops and there was no way we could skip those. Thankfully, Madai Cave was not as smelly as Gomantong Caves, which could be a suffocating experience for us, having to walk in a limited and narrow space like Madai cave. Gomatong was way bigger than Madai but there is nothing much of a thrill as compared to Madai cave.This cave is becoming increasingly popular these days and it is usual for the cave to have visitors every week.

The Idahan people really take careful care of the bird’s nests as we have learned that they were willing to take day and night shifts and stayed in the cave to protect their nests from any unwelcomed outsiders. Apart from that, we were shown the exact locations where some collectors died from falling off while collecting the nests. It was hard to respond when you were shown the rope that was still hanging on the ceiling and it was the last rope the person have come to used before his time came. It was a very dangerous job, given they were not using any safety equipment for the work.

We did not get to hike to the upper side of the cave as the rain had just stopped and they’ve told it would be slippery for us to go for it. Another upsetting thing about this tour was that we did not get to see the collecting activity as the nests are not ready yet. They have told us to come again in December so we could see how the work is done. They collects trice a year, within two-three months interval from each season, and we came at the wrong time.

We left the cave about an hour later and paid for the tour to the first guy who briefed us earlier. If you asked how much was the pay, it was up to how much you are willing to give. Given they have been really nice and helpful, we could not thank them enough for the experience in the cave. We thanked them and left the place with a very relieved feeling.

Madai Cave is located in Kunak, a small town in between Tawau and Lahad Datu. There is a signboard on the left (from Tawau) that shows where the Madai cave is located. There is another 10-20 minutes drive to the foothill of the cave from the main road and since the cave is traditionally owned by the villagers (Idahan people), you should not expect to see a standardized developed area of typical tourism destinations. It’s a village and car park could be a problem if it’s in high season.

There is no fee that were fixed to have a tour to this cave but the people could have a side income (especially during non harvest season) that come from the visitors. In short, give as much as you are willing to pay. They are very much helpful.

1. Use proper shoes. It does not have to be branded, use a rubber footwear as they are easy to be washed after the tour.
2. If you are a woman, please bring at least one man to accompany you.
3. There are millions of cockroaches on the floor, hiding under the guano and if you are not fond of this creature, it’ll be a challenge.
4. Be as light as you can, the floor is slippery while there are some hiking on rocky area too.
5. Bring water.
6. Bring a torchlight. It was a real pitch dark in there.
7. Iphone could still catch good photos inside the cave, if you have one, then you don’t have to bring the heavy DSLR together.
8. Come during harvesting seasons which are around April-May, August-September and November-December.

Hope this helps for your next trip to Kunak, Sabah. To read my other related posts, here are the links:
1. Menara Kayangan/Tower of Heavan in Lahad Datu, Sabah
2. Things you Should know about Tingkayu Archaeological Site, Mud Pool and Mostyn, Kunak
3. Madai Waterfall, Kunak


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