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Madai Caves
1.5 Hours  89 Km from Tawau Town

Madai Caves

Madai Caves

updated on 10th June 2010

Located between Lahad Datu and Tawau, the hill containing Madai Caves itself rises steeply from the forest floor.

There are more than 25 caves in this area, but Madai is the biggest and best known. The caves were first visited 60 years ago by scientists who noted how the phosphate deposits from the bat and swiftlet guano were collected and used as a fertilizer.

Madai caves is 3 km off Lahad Datu-Tawau Highway. The turn-off is 69km from Lahad Datu. Watch out for the signpost that says 'Gua Madai'.

From the turn-off, it is 3km to the caves. From Lahad Datu, the turn-off is on the right hand side.

Hotels in Tawau and Lahad Datu arrange day tour to the caves around Rm 100 per person (minimum 2 persons)

Link More about Madai Caves

About the Idahan People :





Bicycle touring journals of
Adrian Wagner and Erika Lozano

Tawau to Kampung Madai
Wednesday July 29, 2009,
93 km (58 miles)

  We were asked to stay again....The villagers pointed out the fast encroaching rain clouds. Darkness was close on their heels. I contemplated the road leading out and the distance we might have to pedal before camp. ........We are still in lands of mysticism, perhaps this was a sign we were meant to stay...?

Like the feelings I got, back in Indonesia, when I felt my bike was being jolted up steep pitches and there was no one else about, I got a similar feeling here. It was good. .. I decided we should stay, who am I to argue with the spirits?

Our host, Edi, led me to his home..... he had a very lovely family -- a wife, Dira and two very shy but beaming children. Their 3 older children were away at school...

Many of the villagers helped carry our packs and bikes. Edi and his family live in a small 3-room wooden house on stilts with a tin corrugated roof. They offered us their children's room and they all slept in one room. No indoor plumbing. As guests they let us use a small closet-like room below the house, a "down house" as Adrian coined it, to urinate ........

However, as guests of the village, we were later offered the use of the neighbor's squat toilet. The 'bathing and laundry room' was community and humongous. It was a large, shallow cave with a freshwater stream rushing through it. Now that was definitely cool!

Yes, they were poor but they offered us all they had, including a wealth of genuine warmth in welcome and hospitality........

Read full journals by
Adrian Wagner
Erika Lozano


18 illegals held near Madai Cave
Daily Express : Wednesday, August 25, 2004

Kunak: Eighteen illegal immigrants, who worked as birds nest collectors, were arrested at a village near the Madai Cave here, during an integrated operation on Monday.

District Police Chief, DSP Mohd Zain Yaacob, said the 18 aged between 20 and 48 did not have any identification documents.

The 10.45pm operation was conducted by police, the Immigration Department and Rela, led by District Crime Officer, Chief Insp. Wee Devets Tan.

He warned birds nest companies here against hiring illegal foreigners, saying the operation will be conducted from time to time.

At the same time, three men aged between 22 and 35 were picked up for allegedly taking Syabu in a house at the same village.

Police found three small packets containing crystalline substances suspected to be the drug.

The three were taken to the police station and later found positive for Syabu.

Police also found some drug paraphernalia in the house, Mohd Zain said.

© Copyright 2010 Sabah Publishing House Sdn. Bhd.



November 13, 2007
Madai Caves Trip

  Trip to Madai caves was really spooky interesting. This massive Madai caves raises from 250 meters from the forest floor and is one of Sabah’s most important archaeological sites. Madai caves is home to thousands of bats since hundreds of years ago and it has been well known for generations among the locals for its supplies of bird nests. This generation comes from the Idahan peoples who has been harvesting and they have earned the right for collecting all the nests since 20 generation now.....

Before you reach to the cave, You’ll find there’s a small village outside the caves and you need to passed this village who have lived there since about 100 years ago and they are also the keeper of the bird nests. They also offering a place to stay for nests collectors only during the harvest season.....

The villagers claimed that they have seen many things inside the cave that people would dare not to see, something like a small little green creature aka Toyol....

The one that have witness most are the people who temporary lived inside the cave as a guardian to the bird nest. Since one bird nest can cost you around US$1,500.00 per kilo, they are also thief who would love to steal the nest and sale it with twice the price, but it was said that whoever stole the bird’s nests will get sick and soon will be death.....



The last 100 meters of the road leading to the Madai Caves is a very steep downward dead end.

In this photo the road looks as if it is a straight and level but it is not.

If you drive your car here do not risk yourself with this steep dead end where your car may stuck unable to reverse.

Park you car at the vast new car park 200 meters before here.


Madai Caves Once into the cave, visitors struck by how impressive it is. The ceiling is about 100 meters above, and the chambers are large.

There are several openings high in the roof that allow a small amount of daylight to enter.

In Madai, the collection of birds' nests is controlled by the villagers who own the rights.

On the way to the cave, visitors pass through village houses of the local guardians of the birds' nests.

During the nest collecting season these houses are places for the nest collectors to stay.

There is a small mosque in the village.

Madai Caves

Madai Caves
At the lower part of the cave there is a river passage, where the river comes pouring out of the hill. This is spectacular as there are not many river caves in Malaysia.

Lots of cockroaches running around, feeding on smaller invertebrates. All around visitors hear the clicking of the swiftlets and chirping of insects.

The floor is covered in guano and it was actually quite slippery walking across the sticky, wet droppings.

Madai CavesMadai Caves
Madai Caves
Madai Caves

The Swiftlets

There are 2 type of swiftlets that produce eatable bird nest:

1) Black-nest swiftlets (Collocalia maximus)

2) White-nest swiftlets (Collocalia fuciphagus)

Other then home to the swiftlets, Madai Caves are also home to the bats.

While the swiftlets are out foraging during the day and return to roost at night, the bats sleep at daylight and search for food at night.

Harvesting Swiftlet Nest in Madai Caves

Harvesting birds' nests is a well known industry throughout Borneo, which features many limestone caves that are home to the swiftlets that build the edible nests.

Madai Caves is an important place for swiftlet birds' nests. Madai  village comes alive twice a year when the Ida’an community comes to harvest the birds' nests from various parts of the caves.

It is a special communal festival event. The harvesting is a dramatic event with the men risking their lives to prise precious nests from the cave roof. The Ida’ans have held their rights to the Madai Caves for over 20 generations.

Sabah has a more successful harvest systems function in Gomantong and Madai Caves. Madai Caves are not as well known as the Gomantong Caves half an hour drive from here, or not as popular as Gunung Mulu Caves in Sarawak.

The local Idahan people have had the rights for collecting birds' nests in Madai area for many generations.

Modern Method of Swiftlet Farming

Swiftlet farming is becoming big business in Malaysia in the last 2 decades.

Existing buildings are being converted to bird "hotels", while some places new purpose-built structures are being constructed. The demand for birds' nests has continued to soar over recent years, especially for the culinary and medicinal markets.

The caves can be easily visited, being only 1.6 kilometres from the main road. At the mouth of the cave, you can also see the nest collectors’ village. It is only occupied seasonally during harvesting times. If you do intend to venture into the caves, do remember to take a flashlight with you as some areas are in total darkness. But where you come across daylight shining through some of the openings, you will see the most fantastic limestone sculptures.

In August 2000, after offering special sacrifices and prayers, the Ida’ans gave permission for teams of the Eco-Challenge Sabah to enter the caves, climb rattan-ladders and do the flying fox from its summit, down to the jungle below in the world's toughest endurance race.

A staircase leads up to one of the entrances. First, you walk through a dark tunnel where there is a grave of an unknown person. This passage leads to the cave entrance, where there are a few houses, used by the men who guard and collect the nests.

There is also another grave. This one supposedly belongs to "Nenek Apui", who was one of the earliest inhabitants here.

The collection is controlled and restricted to twice a year, so as not to deplete the swiftlet population.

There were few ladders hanging in the cave, but more will be installed when the collection begins.

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