After our introduction to Kuching at the Da-Light Food Court, we take a 45-minute drive to the outskirts of Bau, a former gold mining town, to Fairy Cave (Gua Kapor) and Wind Cave (Gua Angin). We pass rubber estates, pepper plantations and lush rainforest on the way.
Our cave tour guide David from gives us each a bottle of water and a torch.
We climb five storeys of concrete stairs to reach the cave entrance, where we find…
Once inside the cave, there are even more stairs, steep and slippery. We switch on our torches as we carefully climb the stairs to get to cave’s main chamber.
I could’ve also called this “my knees hate me so much right now”
I’m secretly starting to worry that my creaky knees will fail me but amazingly, I manage to keep up without falling over. I don’t know where the fairies are supposed to be but there are A LOT of stairs. They really should rename this “Stair Cave”!
The view inside is beautiful. Sunlight streams in through a hole in the roof of the cave, giving the cave plant life a bright green, almost surreal aura.
Juggling my torch and taking photographs in the cave proves challenging and hazardous – I know I’ll be extremely lucky to find my lens cap again if I drop it in the cave – so I don’t photograph the roosting bats and swiflet nests that we see in the darker parts of the cave.
The worst part? Realising we have to go back down all the stairs again to get out!
Be prepared to emerge from Fairy Cave a lot dirtier than when you went in. Inside, it smells of damp, rust and what I presume is build-up of many years of guano (bat poo). Be warned, the wooden hand rails are also covered in bat poo so watch what you do with your hands after gripping the rails!
We get back in the bus and drive a few minutes to Wind Cave. David assures us Wind Cave will be not as physically demanding as Fairy Cave – access to and through Wind Cave is via wooden walkways rather than stairs. A few of us breathe audible sighs of relief.
We are even more relieved to see the Wind Cave trail guide and note that none of the trails are particularly long! But we take the longest trail, Passage No.1.
Here we go again!
We see more bats and birds nests inside Wind Cave and get a glimpse of the Sarawak River. It gets very dark in the heart of the cave and once again, I decide against using my camera for fear of losing my lens cap.
We can’t completely escape stairs at Wind Cave!
Exiting the cave, we follow David along the walkway through the nature reserve. We make jokes and laugh about all the food we’ll eat tonight to undo all the good from this afternoon’s unexpected exercise!
Fairy and Wind Cave tour
Fairy Cave and Wind Cave are located in Bau, around 45 minutes drive from Kuching.
Toilets are available, but very basic (not everyone will feel comfortable using them).
- Appropriate shoes (with good grip, good for walking)
- Mosquito repellent – don’t forget to put in on BEFORE you get inside the caves
You need to be reasonably fit to access/explore Fairy Cave. Wet wipes may come in handy, especially after visiting Fairy Cave.
Our tour guide David was from Cat City Holidays
Suite 29.0, ground floor
Kueh Hock Kui Commercial Centre
Jalan Tun Ahmad Zaidi Adruce
93150 Kuching, Sarawak, Malaysia
Telephone: (+60) 82 414 200
There is a Cat City outlet in the Pullman Kuching hotel lobby.
Durian and water guava, roadside fruit stall
On the way to the caves, Natalie and I spot a roadside stall selling durians and other fruit. We ask David if we can stop there on our way back.
By the time we get back to the wooden shack, there is just one durian left. Thank goodness – I’d be devastated if we’d missed out. Two large papayas sit on old newspaper. Bags of water guava and starfruit and bunches of petai (stink beans) hang from raffia strings.
David asks the two girls running the stall if we can buy the durian. Because of its smell, we can’t take the durian back on the bus with us to the hotel, so David asks the girls if they’ve got a knife that we can use to open the durian right here.
One of the girls runs up the path to the house and comes back with a man (I think he’s their dad) carrying a cleaver in one hand and half an open durian in the other, which he offers us to taste. I don’t think he really believes this group of foreigners (apart from David our tour guide, I am the only one of Asian appearance in our group) will like the durian, and I think he’d rather not waste the last one on us! David assures the man we do want to buy the durian.
You can tell he’s done this many times before. He doesn’t bother protecting his hand with a glove or tea towel as he grips the durian firmly by its thorns.
He pokes the cleaver into the durian, twists it, and then prises the fruit open with expert ease. A durian will have a number of chambers inside, each holding the soft, yellowish pieces of fruit. The first time Jac watched a durian being split open to reveal its chambers with the fruit inside she said it looked like an alien having babies. There’s a seed in the middle of each piece of fruit – you eat the flesh around the seeds and discard them (when I was little girl, I tried burying one or two to grow my own durian tree).
It’s the first taste of durian for most of the group. They describe it as “custardy”, “nutty” and “oniony”. Most admit they wouldn’t jump at the chance to have it again. Me, I lick my fingers and relish every bit. I secretly laugh to myself – we’ve gone from bat poo to eating a fruit that smells like poo.
I’m often asked what durian smells like. Durian is both famous and notorious for its smell, which has been described as being like rotten onions, the stinkiest overripe cheese you can imagine, petrol, turpentine and old gym socks wrapped in a dirty nappy. It’s sort of like all of those yet has its own distinct, recognisable aroma. To many, it’s an offensive shocker of a stench that in some countries has seen durian banned in hotel rooms, on public transport and planes and places like cinemas (can you imagine a durian in a cinema?).
On his TV show No Reservations, Anthony Bourdain ate durian in Indonesia and said: “Its taste can only be described as…indescribable, something you will either love or despise. Your breath will smell as if you’d been French-kissing your dead grandmother.”
British novelist Anthony Burgess described durian as “eating sweet raspberry blancmange in the lavatory”.
In a comment at my previous post, reader Ivy described the taste of durian as being “like eating custard off a toilet seat”.
My favourite descriptions of durian in a long time come from Perth food blog Hungry Again?, where durian is described as “The fruit that smells like it’s run a marathon then rolled in poop” and “the pungent, foul smelling spiky fruit that you can use as a weapon and kill someone a thousand times with its thousand daggers”. Indeed, durian is dangerous – people have been killed by durian – no, not from the smell, but from being struck in the head by durians falling from the tree. When I was a child I was warned not to stand under my auntie’s durian tree for that very reason. Luckily, I was a very obedient child.
To me, the penetrating, pungent scent of durian is reminiscent of sewage (yes, I did say that) but it’s a smell I find intoxicating. Durian smells like… durian. I get excited every time I catch the faintest whiff of durian. If I can smell it, there’s chance I’ll get to eat it!
When perfectly ripe, the durian flesh is creamy. It clings to your fingers. It’s finger-sucking good and the aroma stays in your fingers even after you’ve washed your hands. And for hours afterwards, there will be durian burps.
I’m not trying to convince or convert anyone with my post – I know it’s a polarising topic. Some of my best friends are durian haters.
If we’re ever walking together down a street in Malaysia, will you be trying to avoid that stench of blocked drain or rotting carcass… or will you absolutely crave and be seduced by the glorious siren scent of durian?
If you’ve eaten/smelled durian, whether you love it or loathe it, feel free to share your stories and descriptions in the comments!
More durian tales
- An old post from 2008 – durian gelato ecstasy: much to Jac’s disgust, I eat durian gelato
- Another from 2008 – two sponge cakes slathered in durian cream at my Dad’s early birthday satay lunch
- and again in 2009 – a durian cream cake at an August birthday family feast
As we stand on the roadside finishing the durian, Anna buys a bag of water guavas (jambu air – pronounced “jumboo ah yeh”). These bell-shaped fruit don’t have much of a taste but are crisp and juicy – their crunch reminds us of water chestnuts.
And moving onto more malodorous foods and durian’s smelly associate, petai. David explains why petai are also called stink beans. They have a pungent, pervasive smell that lingers for days afterwards. The standard warning that comes with petai is not to use the toilet after someone who’s eaten petai. You don’t eat the twisted pods – you eat the bright green beans inside them. I’m not a big fan of petai myself. Any of you guys love it?
We get back to the hotel for much needed showers and a very quick rest before dinner. I’m ready for a lot more eating and looking forward to dinner!
More Kuching posts
Read the posts in my Kuching Trip 2011 series
Where is Kuching, Malaysia?