A Sarawakian Bucketlist, Post-MCO
With the MCO coming to an end, but international travel still way too uncertain, it’s time to explore Malaysia and in particular, Sarawak. Sarawak is unique in so many ways; so much so that even if you’ve been there before, we’re confident our list of beyond-the-usual recommendations will encourage you to make another trip.
Whatever you need, Sarawak has a unique way of giving it to you. Whether it’s the thrill of river kayaking in the virgin rainforest or experiencing more sedate village life in an authentic Bidayuh settlement, we’ve put together some activities to help create unforgettable memories, away from the crowds, without leaving Malaysia.
The best way to avoid the crowds is to get away from the city and discover a new perspective by staying at Kampung Annah Rais, a Bidayuh settlement located 100km south of Kuching. To get here, you can either get a taxi, Grab or drive from Kuching and the journey should take about an hour and a half. The Bidayuh community makes up roughly 8% of the population in Sarawak so staying here will open your eyes to just how unique and diverse Malaysia is.
Families are ready to host and guide you throughout your stay where you are encouraged to participate in community-driven activities such as trekking to the nearby Three-Tier Waterfall and natural hot springs.
Located just 3km from the village, the hot springs are heated by underwater geothermal forces that date back to the creation of the planet! Within 5 minutes you’ll feel the tensions of the last few months evaporate as the warm waters work their magic on your aching muscles. This natural spa surrounded by the natural greenery of the oldest rainforest in the world is quite breathtaking. The entrance fee is a mere RM5 although you are welcome to also make a donation to the local community.
Of course, no trip to anywhere in Malaysia is complete without indulging in our favourite pastime of eating! You must try the famous bamboo chicken and ramang (glutinous rice cooked in bamboo). Again, you’ll be encouraged to help with the food preparation. Why not try out the homemade organic rice wine as a treat for your efforts!?
The days end early here and you’ll fall asleep in a traditional, centuries-old bamboo longhouse with a smile on your face. To avoid disappointment, be sure to book your stay in advance from any of the travel agents in Kuching or from this website!
Like everywhere in Malaysia, food is integral to our culture and it’s the same in Sarawak. As you’ll probably travel through Kuching on your way to somewhere quiet or remote, put aside a few hours to take a side trip to Bau town on the Kalimantan border.
During normal times, there’s a popular market here but as the border is closed the market isn’t operating however it’s still worth making the trip because Sarawakians come here to try out the sago worm, a local delicacy more commonly referred to as Ulat Mulong. The taste of the worm is described as creamy and buttery when raw but meat-like when cooked. Not many visitors to Sarawak make this trip so it’ll give you bragging rights on your return!
The journey from Kuching to Bau takes 45 minutes to an hour so again book a taxi/Grab or drive here.
Whether you are experienced or not, river kayaking in the Sarawak rainforest is a unique experience! There are plenty of kayaking tours to suit your ability/comfort level. Choose from four different operators all of whom offer different packages: Kuching Kayak, The Rucksack Rainforest Kayaking, Paradesa Borneo and Semadang Kayak. Most of these kayaking tours will prepare all the necessary gear you need. Prices range from RM198 per pax to a higher rate for the more challenging routes. Ask the operators for details.
2-hour to full-day kayaking trips are available, so cater your adventure based on the capabilities of your group. Paddle past awe inspiring limestone cliffs as well as an endless expanse of lush greenery. Most of these kayaking packages come with a transfer from major hotels in Kuching or certain pickup points of choice so transportation is easy.
Another Sarawak bucket list must do is a visit to the Bario Highlands, a Kelabit territory that’s called ‘The Land of a Thousand Handshakes’ due to the friendliness of the locals. You will need to fly here from Miri, or make a 10-14 hours road trip by 4WD on a rugged logging road from Miri to the highlands. If choosing to fly, book your Miri-Bario seats here via MASWings. The flight duration is 50 minutes in total.
It’s recommended to book flight seats in advance as Bario is still a very remote location and MASWings uses a small 19 seat aircraft so space is limited. If there are no flights available online, liaise with your Bario accommodation provider to help you check for seats out of Bario as sometimes the carrier has seats that may not be reflected on the online booking system. Make sure to bring cash with you because it’s still widely used in Bario. Here are some suggestions for places to stay: The Ngimat Ayu House Bario, Asal Longhouse Homestay and Tarawe Homestay. All these places are homestays, so expect a homely setting with friendly hosts, all while being close to nature. Feel free to get in touch with them to arrange comfortable accommodation for your trip!
It’s a challenging trip and not recommended for the elderly. However, the experience of being in the highlands will make the trip completely worthwhile because the area is so unique. A great time to visit is at the end of July when the Bario Food Festival takes place. This year it starts on July 30th so there’s still time to book your trip! Be ready for three full days of villages coming together to celebrate food, farming and good produce! All carried out with social distancing in mind!
Bario is best known for being a great base for jungle trekking and you’ll need to do some walking to burn off all the amazing food. It’s possible to hike from longhouse to longhouse while exploring the wilderness with local guides providing unique insights into the local environment.
The Bario to Ba’kelalan trek is the ultimate adventure as it requires 4 days and 3 nights to complete. The trek covers a variety of terrain providing stunning views of the Kelabit Highlands. It gets chilly up in the highlands so remember to bring some warm clothes or outerwear with you.
Many people come to Bario just to buy the local produce, much of it organic. There is a great variety of fruits available, with Sarawak’s famous sweet pineapples, considered by many aficionados as the best in the world proving very popular. Kelabit cuisine is also a must-try.
Most Kelabit cuisine revolves around food foraged from the forests so expect dishes built on sago palm hearts and mushrooms, some of which may be new and unfamiliar as they aren’t typically found in commercial supermarkets in West Malaysia. It’s also common for locals to eat wild boar and river crab as their protein source. And all washed down with Tuak! We recommend coming with an open mind and trying it all! No one will ever know!
So what are some precautions to be mindful of while traveling during this period? Effective 10 June 2020, all Malaysians are now permitted to enter and travel within Sarawak. However, Malaysians are required to download the COVIDTrace app for self-declaration to the government. Foreign travellers still need to adhere to a 14-day quarantine upon entering Borneo.
Arrive early to the airport to accommodate health checks and complete the e-Health Declaration Form within 12 hours before departure time for entry to Sarawak.
Throughout your stay in Sarawak and for your safety, please wear a face mask whenever you are in public areas, maintain social distancing and wash your hands at every opportunity.
Lastly, we really hope that you have fun on your trip to Sarawak and participate in these activities that provide welcome income to local communities! They are not just for the brave at heart but for anyone who loves to try out new things.
You can of course pick and choose what appeals most to you and we’re confident you’ll return home refreshed with a new view on your country.
Ready to pack your bags for a trip to Sarawak? Before you leave, please familiarise yourself with the necessary precautionary measures and complete this form a minimum of 12 hours before you leave. For more info on entering Sarawak, please read here.
Finally, if you are looking for more things to do in Sarawak, then please visit this site for some fantastic deals that are only available for a limited period.