Batang Ai Iban Longhouse, Sarawak – Day One

Sarawak has a vast traditional culture that it’s different from the other states of Malaysia. Other than the main ethnics of Malay and Chinese, other ethnics like Iban, Bidayuh, and Melanau gave Sarawak the spice of being unique on its own.

There are many eye-opening cultures of each ethnic to see but what most attracted me was the life in a longhouse. A place that I would like to experience for myself which I managed to engaged a 3D2N trip with Adventure Alternative to Batang Ai Iban longhouse, a more than 200km journey from Kuching town.

Day One

We departed from our hotel in Kuching at around 8.15am and traveled  on a car as there were only 3 of us (including the guide) for about 20km (about 30 mins) through the town traffic to our first stop, Semenggoh Wildlife Centre, to catch a glimpse of the orang utan in the forest reserve.

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Semenggoh Wildlife Centre established near to 40 years again as a rehabilitation centre that cares for wild animals that are injured or orphaned. This centre has now reached its capacity and the rehabilitation has been transferred to Matang Wildlife Centre where you can see orang utans in cages, different from this centre where orang utans live in the wild forest.

For more information of this centre, click here.

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At the Semenggoh Wildlife Centre, we were warned that we may not be able to see any orang utan because it was the fruiting season (although towards the end).

Visiting hours (feeding time) :
Morning 8.00-11.00am (9.00am)
Afternoon 2.00-4.00pm (3.00pm)

Ticket price :
Local – Adult RM5, Disabled RM3, and children age 6-18 RM2
Foreigner – Adult RM10, Disabled and children age 6-18 RM5

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At 9.00am, one of the ranger provided a short briefing before we can proceed, advised us on the importance of safety. We then proceed to the viewing platform.

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The initial viewing platform where we patiently waited for about 15 minutes did not attract any orang utan, until we were told by another ranger to head to another location 300m away where orang utan was spotted. Everyone was so excited but we had to be careful walking through the forest walkway which can be narrow, stony and rooty.

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Everyone got alerted to stay at a certain distance when we see the orang utan. They can be aggressive and dangerous. It was a close view, especially for me to sneak through to the front. I was very happy but became scared when the orang utan started to move closer to us. The rangers asked us to move back to keep a safe distance.

We were satisfied to be so close to an orang utan. We then leave to make space for other visitors and continue our long journey ahead. We were told that we were very lucky as the last time an orang utan was spotted was 1 week before. Ah~~ Very grateful, Thank you!

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The journey continued to Serian, a small town about 42km (about 45 minutes) from Semenggoh Widlife Centre. Serian is predominantly a Dayak trading town with a higher population of Bidayuh ethnics and many of the Chinese in this area speaks Hakka dialect. In the centre of the town, you can see a rather big hawker centre and market. There are fresh and cooked food being sold and some I’ve not seen before. This town is famous for durian but I guess it wasn’t the season as we didn’t see any durians sold at the market. There are also some stalls or restaurants outside the hawker centre to get some snacks or food but we did not stop for long as the guide was here to get some ingredients and for us to stretch our legs. We will only have our lunch at the next stop.

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We then took another 82km (about 1.25 hour ) to Lachau, a small town where most of the people will stop by before heading to the longhouse. We had our lunch ordered by our guide at a Chinese restaurant, slightly away from the old town. A lunch of fried rice, fried chicken with tomato sauce, stir-fry cabbage, and green vegetables. It’s simple but good enough for our hungry tummies.

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After lunch, we went to the old town where most of the shops and market are. It is actually very near. It is a custom to bring a gift to visit the longhouse, so we bought some snacks for the longhouse. It is recommended that you buy something that can be shared among old and young.

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From Lachau, it is another 120km (about 1.75-2 hours) more to Batang Ai. Before we reach the Batang Ai jetty, we passed by a dam which was constructed in 1982. It was said to be built be the Japanese.

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Following the signing “Batang Ai Longhouse Resort, managed by Hilton” brings us to a chalet where you can use the bathroom first before taking the boat at the jetty for another 1 hour ride.

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If you are afraid of sunburn, make sure you cover up before you get on the boat. While enjoying the surroundings, our guide pointed out to us the signage that caught us by surprise. They not only have signage on the road for cars but also by the river for boats.

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Arrived at the river bank, following a pathway up to the longhouse, we see some not so long longhouses, many dogs, cats and chicken walking or lying around. The guide led us to the main longhouse, where our room is.

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Longhouse (locally known as rumah panjang / rumah panjai) is built with wood and covered with zincs as roof. They are built raised above ground where chickens are raised beneath.

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There are 4 main areas in a longhouse. Once you enter, you will see the ruai, a common area along the open space in front of many doors. Each door houses a bilik, a room for one family and a dapur, the kitchen area. At the kitchen area, it also has a bathroom and a toilet, separately. It is simple and sufficient but I didn’t expect that we get toilet and shower, which I don’t think every room has them. Be warned that the water is very cold as they are from the mountain. Another area above the ruai, is the sadau, a mezzanine area for storage.

While we settle down and rest at ruai, we observe the villagers resting, chatting there as well. Outside of each door hang each family’s handmade crafts from bead necklace, bracelet to weaved art.

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We walked around and saw some villagers preparing to go out for fishing. We were told that the best time to fish is in the evening.

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Our dinner was prepared and cooked by our guide with the help of one of the family. It’s a simple but delicious dinner, with one of the famous vegetable in Sarawak, Paku vege (a type of wild fern) and stir-fry chicken with tapioca leaves. The rice used was the hill paddy which I like it as it’s not so sticky and taste less sweet from the common white rice we normally eat.

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Before the night ended, a welcoming speech by the Chief in Malay with 3 “oo ha” cheers. We were offered to try their locally brewed rice wine, tuak (a little rice colour) and langkau (clear and colourless), and local whiskey. It then followed by an Iban cultural dance performance of the ngajat. The night ended with our handing over our gift of the snacks we bought earlier and we see how the snacks are fairly shared among all families.

Continue to day two here.