The state of Sarawak in Malaysia is part of the island of Borneo and is highly recommended for the perfect adventure destination. Borneo itself is the world’s third largest island (after Greenland and New Guinea) and interestingly is divided into three countries, consisting of the Malaysian states of Sarawak and Sabah, the Indonesian province of Kalimantan and oil rich Brunei. The island is home to some of the most pristine tropical rainforests, stunning beaches, best diving spots, Orang Utans and fascinating tribal cultures. Sarawak gained independence in 1963 having been leased from Brunei and joined the Malaysian Federation the same year. It currently has a population of about 2.5 million. It is mostly hot or very hot. The rainy season tends to run from early December to February it seems, but don’t forget when you’re in the rain forest, you are covered by a spectacularly dense jungle canopy to protect you from the rain.
As we had a limited amount of time our wonderful guide Rose filled our heads with all manner of fascinating information and factual advice whilst on our various excursions. “Here in the jungle” she said, “you can forget about shopping (although it’s very cheap here) – instead you can immerse yourself in rainforest activities doing all the things I have already mentioned – but you might not yet know about turtle watching on an island where you can stay for three nights and four days learning about how they lay their eggs, watching the babies make it down to the water (I will definitely go back some time to do that – one of the things on my bucket list), dolphin spotting, birding, cave exploring, deep sea fishing, playing golf. It isn’t of course as easy to see animals as it is in Africa because we have far more trees so they are way more difficult to see, you just need a little more patience”.
We are all aware these days that world travel must achieve a respectful equilibrium in order to find a balanced, sustainable way of preserving the environment and local cultures whilst allowing for development. Rose is passionate about Sarawak and is an environmentalist as well as an outstanding English speaking guide (although she appears to speak about seven different languages) and taught us lots about the rich biodiversity of the land. Borneo, she assured us is a location where conscientious tourism is positively encouraged as it provides an alternative income to destructive industries and an incentive to protect and preserve the stunning landscapes. She was very optimistic about ecotourism playing a very important role and talked at length about how they are aiming to protect their priceless rainforest for future generations.
On day two Rose took us straight to Kubah National Park (also known as Sarawak National Park approx 35 mins away from Kuching) for a two hour jungle trek through the dense rainforest canopy. You can stay there and do some serious trekking over several days – ours was not the most intrepid of adventures based on our limited amount of time, but enough to give us a bit of a taste for the lush green rainforest and to hear stories of spitting cobras and orang utan sightings.
To be honest, we were quite happy with our short venture into the park owing to having slightly shot ourselves in both feet the night before, by finding a great restaurant called “Junk” quite near The Hilton Hotel which had a very lively atmosphere and a bar at the back. We ended up singing karaoke with lots of the locals and our teenage children at 3am. Interestingly, it was in Malaysia that I first came across Karaoke over 20 years ago (and even more embarrassingly on that occasion, I had to sing a duet with Simon Le Bon – and here is the photo to prove it if you don’t believe me….):-
We had a spectacularly good evening at “Junk”, but it did mean we were a little worse for wear in the morning. STILL, a brisk walk through pure jungle certainly helped. We had to wear long trousers with long socks tucked in and long sleeves – no exposed skin – to avoid the leeches – they are clever little buggers and several other people heading in the opposite direction to us warned us that they had found several on their arms en route – OR another top tip is smother yourself in Baby Oil – they slip off apparently:-
After our trek we were taken to lunch at the fascinating Dayak restaurant for a delicious indigenous lunch made exactly in the way the Orang Ulu tribe would have cooked many generations ago. Orang Ulu is a tribe in Sarawak. In fact it is an umbrella term that groups about 27 disparate minor tribes of Sarawak. The name Orang Ulu means “remote people”. Here is the owner of the restaurant proudly displaying his tribal tattoos:-
After lunch we had the privilege of watching Orang Utans in the wild. Spectacular. See separate blog post for details http://www.familyaffairsandothermatters.com/orang-utans-in-sarawak-malaysia/
Then we all went for an amazing massage at a place called The Mirage near the Hilton. A no frills environment that cost about £20 for a full body hour and a half massage. It was my daughter’s first massage so they put us in the same room. I was a little worried that we’d both be covered in leeches which would have been a little embarrassing but she didn’t comment. Heaven. Although I think I snored.
After that, we went off to a seafood restaurant about 15 minutes away via taxi called Rock Road – specialising in local prawns, lobsters and crabs. It was an extensive menu and we struggled slightly on our own to find what we wanted – especially when there were things like “Fish lips soup (thick)” and “Fish bladder soup” listed – which frankly wasn’t the sort of meal we were looking for after our long and busy day:-
However, the prawns and lobster were delicious as were their freshly made juices.
Bed after that and a much needed sleep.