Exploring Sarawak Borneo

Borneo, the 3rd largest Island in the world, is divided over 3 countries: Brunei, Indonesia (Kalimantan), and Malaysia (Pulau Borneo or East Malaysia). East Malaysia is divided into 2 states: Sabah (in the North) and Sarawak (in the South). Malaysian Borneo makes up around 25% of the Island. This post describes our visit to multiple sites in Sarawak…

 

Travelling to and around Borneo

When visiting Sarawak you are likely to arrive in Kuching, the regional capital of Sarawak. There are other ways of entering, like overland via Brunei, Kalimantan of from the North… However, roads are poor or nonexistent and the tropical rainforest is very dense. Hence coming via a multi-day river journey is even more likely. Therefore, be prepared to take many small planes between the various sites…

To give an idea: We flew from Singapore to Kuching, from Kuching to Miri, from Miri to Mulu, from Mulu back to Miri. Took a car to Brunei and flew onwards… That is already 5 flights in only a few days… We prebooked these flights, do some proper online research to build your itinerary.

 

Hotel splurge in Kuching

Kuching, the capital and most populous city of Sarawak is quite a sleepy town. There is not much to do, hence great to wander around on your day of arrival before discovering its lush green surroundings…

Check out the Kuching waterfront, as most activities take place along the river. Most prominent will be the New Sarawak State Legislative Assembly Building, also browse around the night market.

 Kuching Waterfont

Kuching Waterfont

Kuching night market

 

Top Tip: Kuching is known for its very cheap – high quality – hotels!… Providing an ideal occasion to ‘splurge’ and enjoy some relaxation at the poolside in between your less comfortable rainforest activities!

Kuching Hotel

 

Visit Orangutans

The next day we went on our pre-booked tour!… First stop: Visiting Orangutans! These Orangutans are semi-wild and part of preservation efforts to these nearly extinct animals… The animals are set free, but food is laid out at the spot to which the Orangutans can return. This way they slowly learn to take care of themselves (again)… Once these Orangutans can take care of themselves and find sufficient food in the wild, the rangers rarely see them visiting back anymore… It is a nice experience to come eye to eye with these human-like creatures… No wonder this is one of the key ‘attractions’ of Borneo!

Borneo Orangutans

Borneo Orangutans

 

Visit a Pepper Farm

Malaysians are crazy about their pepper, particularly white pepper. We made a brief stop at a pepper farm where we could taste straight from the branch!…

Fun Fact: Black pepper and white pepper come from the same source. The difference is that black pepper contains the outer layer, where this layer is removed with white pepper. Hence, white pepper is more expensive.

Borneo Pepper Farm

 

Staying the night at Batang Ai Iban Longhouse

Visiting a traditional Iban Longhouse is perhaps one of the most unique experiences that Malaysian Borneo has on offer!… And this was exactly our next stop… We were not only going to visit, but we were also going to stay the night!…

An Iban Longhouse is a number of stilt houses built directly next to each other. The houses share the common ‘veranda’. Whenever there is a new family extension they build another house next to it extending the longhouse…

We visited a longhouse in the Batang Ai National Park, accessible only via longboat.

Borneo Iban tribe

Borneo Iban tribe

 

Drinking rice wine with the Iban people

As soon as we arrived in the afternoon, the main activity seemed to be drinking very strong rice wine with some members of the tribe at the waterfront. Always a good way to overcome any language barrier… However, after a while, we ‘lost’ our guide who was able to act as a translator… It turned out that he drank too much and did not wake up anymore until the next morning! That left just the two of us with the tribe for the remainder of the day… certainly an adventure…

The tribe elders treated us on a nice dinner before we went to sleep under a mosquito net on the common porch. Trying to fall asleep while listening to the rainforest noises around us…

Borneo Iban tribe

Borneo Iban tribe

 

Try various traditional Iban activities

The next day we tried some traditional activities, like blowpipe shooting and we filled bamboo sticks with our lunch to steam it on a campfire

Borneo Iban tribe

Borneo Iban tribe

Borneo Iban tribe

 

After this, it was time to head back to Kuching again! After some traditional dances were performed, we said goodbye to our friendly Iban hosts and hit the road with our clearly hungover driver-guide… Apart from, or perhaps because of, our drunk guide it was a night to always remember!… I would highly recommend a stay in an Iban Longhouse…

Borneo Iban tribe

Borneo Iban tribe

 

Fun Fact: The Iban tribe used to be known, and feared, for its tribal warfare and even cannibalism. The elder tribesmen must have witnessed and experienced tribal warfare and perhaps even the cannibalism aspects that come with it…

 

Bako National Park

Close to Kuching lays Bako National Park. Our destination on the next morning to spot a myriad of wildlife; i.e. crocodiles, snakes, wild boar, monkeys, uncountable exotic insects, flying squirrels, and much more!…

The main reason to visit Bako National Park is to meet the Proboscis monkey, easily recognizable by their large funny looking noses.

Bora National Park

Bora National Park

Bora National Park

 

Gunung Mulu National Park

Our next stop – and a highlight of Sarawak – was Mulu!… To get there we flew via Miri (where you may need to stay the night to take a plane to Mulu the next morning)… Mulu Airport is merely a strip in the middle of dense jungle, hence no flights happen at night.

A walkway through the jungle and over rope bridges leads you to a nice lodge, from where you can hike some short boardwalk trails. Easily doable, even with a suitcase… (read my take on why you most likely do not have to buy a backpack!). During your boardwalk hikes, you will come across many animals, mainly insects, like these walking leaves…

Mulu National Park

Mulu National Park

 

The creepy Mulu Caves

The key attraction of Mulu is its large cave system. A fairly short walking trail (organized by the lodge) takes you to the main sight: Mulu cave… The cave’s unique ecosystem exists out of millions of bats. Obviously, their excrements have to go somewhere hence this cave is filled with heaps of guano (a nice word for bat shit), which in turn provides the nutrients to tons of creepy crawlers… In short: it is not a cave for the fainthearted!

Mulu National Park

Mulu National Park

 

Flight of the bats

Of course, this guano in the cave has to come from somewhere… Where the bats rest during the day they feed at night… To protect themselves from predators the bats fly out simultaneously… forming beautiful string patterns in the air… This is the key experience of Mulu, which makes you wonder just how much insects must live in the rainforest to feed all these bats!…

After witnessing this spectacle – hard to capture on camera, but trust me! – you return to the lodge for dinner…

Mulu National Park

 

Night safari

After dinner, when it gets truly dark you can join a night safari, to spot the nocturnal animals… To assure you, this is perhaps not as scary as it sounds as you will stay on the stilted walkway. I found this very interesting, as the guide pointed out numerous creatures that I had never seen or heard of… like this ‘hammerhead snake or worm’ and a spikey walking stick…

Amanda stayed behind in the lodge, she had seen enough for the day!…

Mulu National Park

Mulu National Park

 

The next morning we did some additional hiking and took a boat ride into the national park. After which we flew to Miri and travelled onwards to Brunei… This is where the Ghost around the Globe adventure in Malaysian Borneo ends…

Check out my posts of Brunei, nearby Singapore and Indonesia as well!… All great combinations when travelling to this magnificent part of the world!…