Tag Archives: Sarawak

Sarawak, Borneo. Part Three.

Scrumptious delish food in Malaysia is as important as breathing. So many choices and not necessarily spicy (unless you ordered it that way). Sharing with others is always a treasure trove of delectable offerings which in turn entices much chatter amongst the devourers. As always cuisine is subjective – in what one may like, another may prefer a more vegetarian or non-veg option giving everyone their varied choices – and in Malaysian either way it’s easy enough. Please note, meat eaters in Malaysia are predominant.

But to be honest, I could easily eat a bowl of hot boiled rice with a range of any of the tasty sauces poured over the top – with neither meat or vegetables, it’s still so yummy.

Lachau Market was one of our stops along the way to the Gawai Festival in Matop. Here’s where you’ll find lots of goodies, but it’s the fruit and vegetable market we were all eager to check out its produce.

Markets are always interesting with no shortage of food choices. Smelling the smoky BBQ within the complex, it was hard to resist the temptation before our pre-booked lunch.

Ginger and spice and all things nice. The variety and freshness of the goods would ensure no plate full of homemade cooking with these kind of ingredients would ever be left uneaten. Preservatives do not exist here!

Anyone for a hot chili? I’ve been warned that the smaller the chili, the hotter the seeds are. Just ask me, taking contact lenses out after preparing chilies is never ideal. You would rather poke your eye, than forget – lesson learnt. Here an abundance of the ‘hot stuff’ and what value for money!

Durian … many hotels scourge, but lovers of the fruit are adamant the smell is its drawcard. One can only assume that’s the same for any kind of fruit, but durian prevails and grows prolifically in the wilds.

Basket weaving by hand is also an artform in its own right. This lovely lady allowed me to take her photo whilst perfecting her much sought-after wares for sale. And, of course, everyone needs a reusable bag to carry home all the produce that’s being supplied by locals.

Keeps mosquitoes away a great way of natural interventions without using sprays and pesticides. A big plus from me.

Considered a ‘dry market’ you can also buy cooked meats and fish. Why waste time cooking at home when someone can do it for you earlier on? More time to watch some of the incredible sunsets in the evening over the mountain ranges which are near to these quaint stops.

The variety of fish is quite astounding, no need for making a plan; just head to the market and decide on the day what’s for lunch or dinner.

And to add to those fishy ingredients, here’s all the flavour under one roof. Add a bowl of rice and presto!

So fresh and available in Malaysia as a staple is this Midin plant. First-time visitors to Sarawak are likely to be introduced to midin, perhaps stir-fried with shrimp paste (belacan) or sautéed with garlic. There are plenty growing wantonly in peoples’ backyards, but there is “something different” about this humble wild jungle fern called midin (or lemidin). The crunchiness as well as its sweet-briny taste when cooked with shrimp paste, or perhaps its allicin-like toasted-nuance flavour when garlic-fried, that makes it an “out of this world” sapidity.  

Tasting very much like a Pink Lady apple, it’s as sweet as.

Heading onto Serian there’s much to admire about the lushness of the flora of Borneo. It benefits from year-round temperatures averaging between 27°C and 32°C, with a relative humidity of around 80% for much of the year. Rainfall can exceed 4,000mm per year in pockets of Borneo, although in most destinations an average of 220mm per month is the norm.

Generally speaking a peak in rainfall occurs between November and March, although even in these months the rain can be sporadic, making it difficult to pre-determine which will be the wet weeks or the dry ones.

Furthermore, there are many benefits of lower visitor numbers to be enjoyed in the traditionally wetter months, and the National Parks, wildlife sanctuaries, jungle lodges, caves and dive sites may be far more appealing with fewer fellow visitors.  

Once we had finished off our day travelling through the amazing countryside it was time to relax. And, what better way than to share a Bad Cat Borneo drink with your colleagues. Very appropriate.

When the you’ve enjoyed a shot of Bad Cat Borneo, you too can be bad and wear clothes which resemble pajamas and make friends with a tame bullock in Serian. Yes, he’s my new bestie mate in Malaysia.

Next stop Kuala Lumpar for a quick stopover.

Gawai Dayak Festival, Betong, Sarawak. Part Two.

Remember when you were a youngster and the first festival attended was an absolute jaw dropper? Well, that’s what the Gawai Festival in Matop, of the Betong region delivered – the same reaction.

The Gawai Dayak comes from the meaning festival and Dayak is a collective name for the indigenous Iban peoples of Sarawak.

And there’s that Hornbill again having a marvellous time and pride of place in the parade.

The excitement and community spirit with the eye-catching costumes was bling on steroids. This gentleman allowed me to take his photo whilst showing off his region’s tribal outfit for the upcoming ritual associated with the Gawai Dayak Festival.

The Iban are a vigorous, outwardly expansive people of West-Central Borneo who number some 400,000 in the east Malaysian State of Sarawak. Despite increasing urban migration, the greater majority live in Longhouse settlements along the main rivers and smaller streams of the interior and subcoastal districts.

Our official welcoming at the Rumah Engkeranji Longhouse from the Minister for the Ngabang Gawai Dayak Open House in Matop, Sarawak. Colourful and bright, the anticipation of meeting the friendly locals was quite humbling.

A birds-eye view of a typical Longhouse. Afterwards, we were able to participate in an exchange with the Chief of the Longhouse – a form of gift-giving presentation and a habit for visitors to show gratitude in being allowed into the community for the short duration of the event.

Staying at a Longhouse in Matop with the Iban people of Sarawak was an unforgettable insight into remote tribal traditions that still exist on the island.

The generosity of the combined families showed us warmth and a outpouring of sincere friendliness… along with plentiful snacks and drinks.

This little man was more than happy to take my case and show me my place at the Rumah Engkeranji Longhouse Homestay. He was ready and waiting long before the beginning of the Gawai Dayak Festival in full costume – along with his family and friends.

Longhouses have been around for a long time and are usually passed down through the ownership of past generations. With each family having their own apartment-style quarters, they are also very deep and narrow, but look comfortable and practical.

Before heading into Rumah Matop Longhouse, outside a traditional offering to show respect to all who had come along to share their last year’s successful harvest. The celebration starts in the early evening with a ceremony called Muai Antu Rua to cast away the spirit of greed, also ensuring the spirit of bad luck will not interfere with the cheerful celebrations and of course, the new year of another successful harvest.

A rhythmic tune was played throughout the ceremony giving everyone – regardless of age, a turn at the helm to show one’s skill. The Engkkerumung has small agungs arranged together side by side and played like a xylophone and the sound is quite similar.

There was a genuine eagerness to share their traditions with the outside world – and hopefully they continue on with these customs for many generations to come.

As the pecking order of participants and guests ascended into the Rumah Matop Longhouse, there was a show of the bright locally patterned vests. Worn with pride, the mood was happy and excitable.

The Iban people are a strong community and while there are around 20 families who reside here, they live as one harmoniously and care for each other unconditionally.

A shared communal area for all residents who offer their daily greetings, food and company to one another – especially to the elderly, frail and those who need assistance.

What’s a festival without food and drink? The Iban people will greet you with smiles and they love to shake hands – a custom they have come to know from the days of British rule and present-day interaction with westerners. Here everyone sat on mats with an abundance of goodies to share amongst locals and foreigners.

Lucky enough to see the beautiful Miss World Malaysia 2018 perform for our group at the Gawai festivity. So polished and her dancing was exquisite.

Folk traditional dancing starts at a very early age and there wasn’t any mistake they enjoyed every minute of their showmanship. Perhaps, another Miss World Malaysia here in the making?

And the following day, the early morning parade of very proud youngsters, mums, dads and residents were continuing on the true spirit of the Gawai Festival. I can’t think of anything better to photograph than men showing off ‘a bit of leg’!

To finish off the early morning celebrations, an anticipated dose of traditional Malaysian Keropok Lekor was gratefully accepted by all who participated … along with the onlookers. A fish-cracker snack and yummy as when freshly cooked!

Next stop? Some markets and eateries we enjoyed along the way.

Kuching, Sarawak, Borneo. Part One.

Kuching, a seaport and capital of the state of Sarawak in East Malaysia. Borneo, an exotic island and still today, a curiosity with its natural lush flora and unique wildlife inhabitants makes it a sought-after destination which is easily accessible.

Starting off, we had a wonderful carefree afternoon admiring the Borneo Convention Centre Kuching which sits mightily watching over the Sarawak River’s waterfront which stretches as far as the eye can see.

A photographer’s paradise. Look at those clouds? Wish I could say I painted this photo, but it’s the “real thing” as Russell Morris sang back in 1969. And as the lyrics go, “There’s a meaning there … come and see it for yourself.” That’s exactly what you need to do – come and see it for yourself!

There’s no touch ups, make up or photoshopping, this is what you can expect when visiting this drawcard, with its civilised traffic (no constant beeping), harmonious religious faiths cohabitating and ever-friendly people.

But best of all, what a delightful surprise to find a classy and extremely clean city in the heart of Asia. Wait till you see what’s to eat.

In the 16th century emissaries of Spain and Portugal reached Borneo’s shores, then soon after the Dutch and British arrived and it was these two latter nations that held power in Borneo from the 17th century into the modern era. In 1949, Indonesia’s area became a foreign state and in 1957, Malaysia gained its independence.

At home in Australia, you might be asked often, “Are you a cat person, or a dog person?”

Well in Kuching it’s preferable you are a ‘cat person’ because interestingly enough, Kuching means – ‘Cat City’ in Malay. Monuments of posing cats can be seen around and about and no one can tell you not to give kitty a bit of a back scratch when you happen to meet one demanding your attention.

There’s a Cat Museum too and can’t wait to tell my purring mates. Perhaps there’s an opening for a group cat tour? Meow!

Let’s talk food. Laksa to my knowledge is the food from the ancient heavens above who bestowed it onto the Malaysian people and bypassed Australia.

Doesn’t matter. Luckily, we have Malaysian chefs and eateries at home which make my favourite winter dish to perfection like shown here. And yes, even on a hot day it’s still a mouth-watering experience.

India Street Pedestrian Mall was opened in 1992 after years of trading, but traffic was halted in this time. Pockets of multicultural backgrounds can be found throughout the city which ensures a must-have shopping therapy session which calms the mind and purse, especially for all of us ladies.

Temples galore, offering you that melting pot of lifestyles who cohabitate with acceptance and respect.

The Tua Pek Kong Chinese Temple is considered to be quite famous among the tribal communities as Kuching has a substantial Chinese population. This is the oldest temple in the city and forms a part of the Kuching Heritage Trail. Opposite is the Chinese History Museum for easy access.

Don’t mind some street art… Rhinoceros hornbill (Buceros rhinoceros): the iconic bird of Sarawak. Apparently, this large, mostly black bird can be seen frequently flying over the Sarawak River in pairs. They have a colourful red and yellow bill with a ‘banana-shaped’ casque on top of the beak. The long white tail has a broad, black band near the centre making it an extremely attractive bird. They have a loud, barking-like call. Maybe it was developed to ward off any cats?

Tiger beer is one of many and there’s no chance an Aussie would ever find a shortage of a few bevies. Plenty of choices with a smooth taste from many suppliers and not just your usual frothy Four X while overseas.

Borneo’s west coastline laps up the waters of the South China Sea and is home to a plethora of various fresh fish. You’ll have no problem in finding an eatery to enjoy a selection. A popular place for locals alike and who will recommend you save up those calories for… drum roll please… Top Spot Seafood. Go early to avoid disappointment and must say, especially on weekends.

When one has finished off all that delicious seafood, there’s another local favourite being the traditional Sarawak Warisan Layer Cake (or Kek Lapis Sarawak). Layered with bright colours which appeals to all – adults and children alike. Soft, spongy and slightly dry. Eaten fresh and dipped into a cup of hot milo or coffee is the way to go I’m told.

Relax with an Afternoon High Tea, treating yourself to a seductive Sarawak treat at many of the 5 star hotels.

Meandering along the Sarawak River is a stretch of approximately 1.9 kms from Brooke Dockyard to Sarawak Plaza with so many of the city’s attractions: Chinese History Museum, Sarawak Steamship building home to arts and crafts, the Main Bazaar and Darul Hana Musical Fountain to name a handful. Here’s where we were able to burn off some of those goodies devoured earlier on.

Ok so we’ve all had a yukky hairdresser at some stage of our lives. But, there’s some of us who just adore taking photos of doors… Whilst walking around the quaint streets of Kuching, it’s a juxtaposition of heritage and old money along with newer contemporary architecture in the latter years.

Characteristic of the area, it shows how early days the structures were built for sturdiness that would last the test of time – and for many, to appreciate the secrets that may be hiding behind some of these intriguing entrances. Umm, is that a ghost below?

A short walk away from the timeless treasure-trove neighbourhood I just visited, the Kuching City Mosque is an architectural stunner and was formulated in the 1960s. It features a main central onion-shaped dome of Mughal influence and is flanked with four smaller domes. At the back of the Mosque, the pleasure again of viewing the river’s aesthetic flow, was perhaps reserved for nobility in days gone by.

After all that walking, shopping and eating you’ll probably want to escape for a nanna nap – like me.

In Kuching there’s availability in various styles of accommodation, but predominately along the waterfront there’s the Riverfront Majestic Hotel Astana Wing, Pullman an Accor property and Imperial Riverbank to name a few. These present amazing vantage points and Kuching is comparable to other destinations in offering exceptional value for your hard-earned dollar.

Young families looking for a reprieve from daily stresses would find Kuching ideal for a multi-generational get together as it’s much easier and affordable if on a shoe-string budget. Many of the tourist sites are free or quite inexpensive.

For Australians the current rate at the time of writing this blog, the exchange rate was approximately 3 Ringgit for one AUD. Bargain I say!

For further information about Sarawak, Borneo check these websites https://sarawaktourism.com and for all of Malaysia https://malaysia.travel/about-malaysia

And at the end of the day, not one of us wanted to retire immediately – just look at this spectacular commanding sunset from the Dural Hana Bridge with the India Mosque Kuching in the background.

Captured magnificently by Malaysian local Mr. Aazmeer Iskndr who kindly borrowed me this photo to showcase the extraordinary light show which reflects so perfectly over the water – and it drew me in like a magnet. It doesn’t come much better than this!

Next stop was the Betong district with the Gawai Festival – stay tuned.