Sarawak

SARAWAK (MALAYSIA)

2009

PART 1, General Information

PART 2, BLOG Pictures and Gallery

PART 3, VIDEO CLIP

PART 1, GENERAL INFORMATION 

Capital city; Kuching

Population; 2.6 million

Currency; Malaysian Ringgit

Km travelled 1380km

Days in Sarawak; 21

Languages; Bahasa Malaysia (official), English, Chinese (Cantonese & Mandarin)

General

Sarawak is a state in Malaysia on the island of Borneo. Borneo is the third largest island in the world and largest island in Asia. The island is home to 2 Malaysian states Sarawak and Sabah and the nation of Brunei. The island of Borneo is home to some of the oldest rainforest in the world. But the logging and palm oil industry is a real threat to the pristine rainforest.  Sarawak’s mega-dam policies have submerged thousands of hectares of forest and displaced thousands of indigenous people and the Baram Dam project is being delayed due to constant protest.

TOURIST HIGHLIGHTS

Too many highlights to list but meeting people from the Iban tribe and staying overnight in their village is a must. The Iban tribe gained worldwide notoriety as the fiercest head-hunters. This part of Malaysia is so different than any other part of South East Asia an alternative if you are looking for authenticity far from the tourist-traps. As part of Malaysia on the island of Borneo, Sarawak is a peaceful and a friendly place to travel.

REMOTE JUNGLE TRAVEL

Jungle driving/exploring in remote Borneo is both challenging and fascinating; challenging because it involves travelling through some of the more remote corners of Borneo away from tourist where the roads may not be at their best. The trip can also be fascinating because you will get to see the real Borneo and meet local people, traditional costumes and eat local food. The many tracks and diversions are endless and through many small settlements. Make sure that you have enough food, satellite phone as the jungle in Borneo is remote and help is not always available immediate. Most people are nice and friendly if treated with respect and a smile but be prepared to be stared by everyone and to be the constant target of laughter and jokes by youngsters if you are from a different race.

KUCHING,

The main tourist destination and while in Kuching you will be amazed to see skyscrapers with a rainforest back drop.   Worth visiting before leaving town to explore the real Sarawak are the Tua Pek Kong Temple, Darul Hana Bridge Kuching, Kuching City mosque, The main bazar, The Sunday market and the waterfront. Just outside Kuching is the Sarawak cultural centre.

GUNUNG GADING NATIONAL PARK

The park is home to the world’s largest flower, the Rafflesia, which can grow up to 1 m in diameter.

SERIAN

Enroute to the Kalimantan border (Indonesia) just 70km south of Kuching. Great place to cool off are the Ranchan Pools. The town is famous for its durians. Lots of jungle to explore here either by 4wd or boat.

WEST KALIMATAN

This is a province of Indonesia. The north border roughly traces the mountain ranges of the state of Sarawak (Malaysia) It is also called the Province of a Thousand Rivers due to its hundreds of large and small rivers that are mostly navigable. Several major rivers are still the main route for freight to the hinterland, despite road infrastructure now reaching most districts.

LUBOK ANTU

This is where you re-enter Sarawak from Kalimantan (Indonesia) Most people here are Ibans (better known as head-hunters) A dam completed in 1985 caused the displacement of thousands of people when their homes were flooded. experience the traditional communal life. When invited into the houses (long houses) You get to try out all sort of local dishes and home-brewed rice.

SRI AMAN

The reason we visited was to visit the nearby Batang Ai National Park and the famous tidal bore (benak) The tidal bore happens daily and comes in from the river mouth and fills up the river very rapidly in the course of about 10 minutes. The wave crest at Sri Aman is up to 2 to 3 metres high. This is one of approximately 48 rivers and estuaries in the world where this phenomenon happens. What is special about Sri Aman’s benak is that it occurs every day, the only river in the world that does that. Please note the real big waves only happen a few times a year

BATANG AI NATIONAL PARK

It is only a small park but has a perfect protected tropical rainforest. The park has hardly any facilities. The lush forests are home to the orang-utan, gibbons and hornbills. The local inhabitants are mostly Iban and very friendly and happy to show off their homes. Interesting to know is that from the around 27000 orang utans left in the wild around 20000 live in Borneo the rest in Sumatra (Indonesia) Deforestation, human encroachment on their habitat, indiscriminate hunting and the live animal trade: all are factors that have contributed to a decline in their numbers.

KAPIT

At the upper Rejang River and can only be reached by boat from either Sibu (3.5 hours) or from Belaga. (this can change as we are told the dam will stop boats going to Belaga) Kapit has a great market where you find fresh hunted meat and many types of jungle food (Unknown to us) Iban handicrafts are also available here. But more expensive than in the villages away from tourist. Same applies to the local guides. We decided to drive to Belaga. Kapit is not a small village it has around 60000 people, however the town can be explored by foot. The town is a real trading town and many locals come to town to sell their goods.

BELAGA

We decided to give the 4×4 a bit of a workout and drove back to Sibu and drove to Belaga. The village is small, but it is a great area to explore the Borneo jungle, the longhouses   Whilst the village can be explored in well under an hour, most visitors arrive in Belaga in order to explore the many longhouses as well as the interior of Borneo. Unfortunately, due to the Bukun dam more and more of the longhouses around Belaga are being demolished and people are being resettled (our visit was 2009) however with lots of tracks in the region plenty of opportunity to venture out and meet the locals in longhouses. The Indigenous tribes are typically welcoming and very hospitable. See traditional costumes, dances, foods (jungle fern, wild boar), manufacturing methods, local rice farms etc. Most of the children, when not at school are fascinated by White people and will tag along for the fun and games. Be prepared to take some gifts for the tribe’s people (mainly for the children) as a show of appreciation to their hospitality. These should be given to the chieftain who will later distribute them. Meet the Tringgus tribes a feared group of warrior head-hunters of the Borneo interior, living a predominantly hunter-gatherers lifestyle. They know how to utilise the medicinal and poison plants, edible plants and roots. Explore ancient rainforest and its flora and fauna. PLEASE NOTE you need a permit to visit the area however it was no problem obtaining one in Sibu or Kapit. We did have a permit but were never checked. The long windy and not maintained track from Bintulu is rough but no problem for a 4X4.

MIRI

Close to the border with Brunei. It is the second largest city in Sarawak, with a population of around 350000 it is a typical oil town with little interest. Palm Oil and Timer are also major industries in the city. The surrounding areas offer lots of exploring. Gunung Mulu National Park with its Sarawak Chamber is the largest known cave chamber in the world by area and the second largest by volume after the Miao Room in China, Loagan Bunut Nat Park, Lambir Hills National park

CLIMATE

Sarawak experiences two Monsoon seasons: a northeast monsoon and a southwest monsoon. The northeast monsoon occurs between November and February, bringing heavy rainfall while the southwest monsoon, which occurs between March and October, brings somewhat less rainfall. The temperature is stable year-round from 24 degrees at night to 34 degrees during the day. In the highlands from 16 at night to around 27 degrees during the day

PART 2, BLOG Pictures and Gallery

We are exploring the Kuching area and visiting a local cultural centre. Kuching is the capital of Sarawak, Malaysia`s largest state. Kuching is a large city of 600.000 people. It is a cosmopolitan city, and this is reflected on the faces of the people. We picked up our 4WD hire car. Now let`s start with the surprises: Diesel 60 cents a litre, lunch for 2 including 2 wines and 2 beers in a good restaurant $20.00AUD, dinner at a local food stall that night $4.00AUD, taxi ride to the food stall (15-minute drive) $3.00 AUD. The city is full of European visitors exploring the jungle, culture, wildlife and on dive holidays a bit further north up the coast. The Kuching waterfront (river) is a popular meeting place with the locals at night. Across the road we also visited the main bazaar, the oldest street in Kuching which is full of Chinese shop houses. We went to Matok National Park the place to find the Orang Utans. And yes, despite the rain we found 4, including 2 mothers with babies. On the way back, we had to get rid of the leeches as we were slip sliding down the very muddy hills. Walking, I must have lost 5kg in the 2 hours we were in the park, but it was worth every step. The real interesting part was we did not follow tracks but went straight into the jungle with our guide. The guide was hired at a cost of 6 Ringgit (2.00 AUD). Instead of camping/lodging out bush at a cost of $10.00AUD including dinner and breakfast, we decided to drive back to Kuching for the Chinese New Year celebrations. We booked the Grand Margarita Hotel, 5-star luxury for the incredible cost of $65AUD for a river view executive room, including breakfast. At midnight all hell broke loose with the fireworks, which were lit by the Chinese community.

An incredible event and the whole atmosphere was that of the NYE we remember from the days we lived in Holland. Food stalls and entertainment everywhere. After an early wakeup call and breakfast at 6am  we were greeted by the lion dance (Happy Chinese New Year). Off to the jungle near the border with Kalimantan. We visited many villages and somehow, we got lost. We started to get worried that we might already have crossed the border with Indonesia but luckily, we hadn`t. Once we arrived at a remote longhouse we were greeted by the village chief (IBAN Tribe). A long house is basically a terraced street of separate dwellings covered by one roof, under the authority of a Headman. Each family lives in its separate apartment.

All use the communal kitchen and all other communal activities take place on the veranda. This is also where single male visitors spend the night while couples and females are invited inside to stay with a family. We have seen some very old longhouses with up to 70 families living in them. This means 70 front doors! However, don`t be mistaken, the twentieth century has also found its way here. People wear jeans, T-shirts and have mobile phones, even in the remote jungle. ( for a cost of 20 cents per minute I can call Australia). However, during special festivals, traditional costumes and head-dresses are worn.

If you wish to see this, you must go with an organized tour where people will dress up once you arrive. Unfortunately, you don`t get to meet the real tribal people. Traveling deeper into the steaming Jungle of Borneo and followed the mighty Rejang River on and off, while driving within a few kilometres of the border (Indonesia), we saw police/army with machine guns and we were in the middle of nowhere. Panic stations! At first, we thought we may already be in Indonesia and that we may have missed the border guards! When we were stopped we were asked if we had seen someone? “No”, I said, “we haven’t seen anybody for the last five hours”.

It turns out that someone had killed a local village woman two days ago and was now on the loose hiding somewhere in the jungle with a machine gun! We were ordered back, and we were told not to stop, get out of the car or take photos. Not even a photo of the soldiers and police who stopped us. The guns were impressive, so we decided to follow orders. The soldiers and police where all smiles and very friendly and must have wondered why we were driving the logging tracks. Once we returned to the village, everyone was aware of the murder, they even knew who did it. Then we reached the Rajang River, the longest river in Malaysia (640 km); the only access to Kapit is via logging roads or boat. Although the river still serves as the main mode of transportation, it is also possible to reach Belaga further north via logging roads, but we decided to travel to the coast and visit Belaga from the north.

The Rajang River itself is a wide muddy river due to the insatiable logging industry. We had a large lunch including one litre of bottled water and a coke at a cost of just under 4.00 AUD. So far, my stomach is coping reasonable well. Clary had to make some urgent roadside stops to fertilize the jungle. The longhouses gave us a unique opportunity to meet the tribal people. Not like the tourist brochures but the villagers are as they are, most seem to have mobiles and the long houses have satellite dishes (local stations only); no doubt all thanks to logging. Late afternoon we entered the main North South road just north of Sibu, and before we knew it we were on a freeway in the middle of the jungle! But wait there is more: after only 2km we came across a round about! After this I was on a high and pushed the peddle to the metal, OOPS! A speed hump … and yes airborne! 80km per hour was the speed limit. After another 5km the road stopped with no warning, and we were then back to the 50-60km per hour. Late that night we arrived in Bintulu, a town with no tourists but a very good local restaurant and a very good local market. Hotels are cheap at an average cost of $35 AUD, dinner cost us just $20 AUD including beers and a bottle of wine. we followed the logging tracks towards Bakun Dam and Belaga. The Bakun Dam is very controversial, and its construction is almost complete. All surrounding forest (rainforest) is logged and an estimated 11,000 tribal people have been resettled. Belaga is a small town and calls itself the “heart of Borneo”. It has many Kayan and Kenyah longhouses. Unfortunately, we were unable to travel by boat from the Dam to Belaga as the water levels were too low. It was a long day with lots of disturbing sights of extensive clear fell logging. The West is paying top dollar for the timber and because they have very little the locals are easily persuaded to sell their trees. The people continue to live as they have done for centuries but now they have money to educate their children. They are simply following the demands of the West for timber to make the products that surround us in our own comfortable environment. If you could see how these people live, you can`t really blame them. Fortunately, they recognize the need to replant the forest but it will be years before the new seedlings reach maturity. The only way to stop the destruction of the forests is to stop the demand for timber. That is simply not going to happen. Late that night we arrived in Miri and this border town is busy. Brunei is alcohol free, Miri is where the Brunei people go for a drink, hence the town has blossomed, included an Irish Pub run by Chinese and Filipino staff (quite funny). Happy Hour is five beers for the price of three. No responsible service of alcohol here, but all the executives from the oil companies and local councils are having a ball. After five days of cheap meals, we really splashed out tonight. Two pizzas and dessert. Total amount was $35 AUD. An early night as we are leaving for Brunei tomorrow morning and our first border crossing by car for us on our around the world trip. We need to organize a carnet for the hire-car, insurance etc. Exciting and it will be interesting.

PART 3, VIDEO CLIP

(Sarawak Video under construction) 

COMPILATION VIDEO Thailand to Europe including Borneo

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Round the world video compilation