Land of the Headhunters

Bako National Park
Kuching is the capital of the state of Sarawak, the other state together with Sabah which makes up Malaysian Borneo.

The weekend I landed here was also the weekend of the Rainforest World Music Festival which brings in heaps of people from all over the world into this city.
Heading to Kuching was a last minute decision for me so everything was planned on a whim. I arrived with no accommodation booked (a rarity with my extensive travel planning) so I just took a cab into the city from the airport and ended up at a pretty nice hostel, just across from the Hilton.

longhouse

Due to the festival most of the accommodations were booked up, but this also meant that the city was buzzing. The Hilton had a bus that went directly to the festival and I was able to get tickets at the gate. The cool part about this fest is that the concerts are in the evening, amidst a rainforest setting with a muddy moshpit, with musical workshops during the day that take place in indigenous longhouses, where you get to learn about the music, the musicians and their influences.
rainforest sunset

I attended all three workshops for each time slot on my own, and really enjoyed the small group environment where you got to know the musicians and understand their music. This fest was started by an American a few years ago and features music from all over the world!
Aside from music there are loads of food to try, craft huts to visit (and purchase which I did!) and the beautiful rainforest scenery and longhouses to admire. The fest is set in the Sarawak cultural village which is a learning center that teaches about the history of the Sarawak people and their various different tribes.

moshpit

I met a few Couchsurfers in the evening just before the concert started and the rain decided to pour on us. It was quite fun to be ankle deep in splashing mud, dressed in a bright yellow plastic bag.. I mean rain coat, with people I just met while listening to some amazing music in languages I couldn’t understand. This included North and South Indian percussionists (Layatharanga, Musafir Gypsies of Rajasthan), traditional European music from the Renaissance era, Bornean tribal music (Pingansan’K), a French Canadian band (de Temps Antan) and my fave, a fusion band from China (Yerboli). This festival alone made my trip to Kuching totally worth it!
And this was just my first day there …

The next day was spent exploring the city of Kuching itself. It is located just south of the Sarawak river and easy to navigate on foot since it’s very small. The locals all spoke English and were extremely friendly. Taxi drivers constantly warned me about bag snatchers so it did have me paranoid as I walked the streets alone, especially by night.
Being in close proximity to the rainforest, Kuching is quite a humid city by day with refreshingly cool evenings and random showers throughout the day.

The cuisine in Sarawak is also a tad bit different. My fave dish so far in Malaysia has been the Sarawak Laksa – a spicy noodle soup with prawns, tofu, chicken and egg.

After a day of wandering I became pretty acquainted with the city and spent hours browsing shops and hanging out by the river. Jalan Bazaar is the main market street, but is quite disappointing since the name is misleading- it’s not a bazaar or market at all! They only feature tons of souvenirs shops featuring all the same products.

sleeping proboscis monkey

My last day in Kuching I headed to Bako National Park which is about an hour away by bus and is the oldest national park in Sarawak. This park is known for its resident proboscis monkeys and its location which is a 45 min boat ride away, from the bus drop.
The trip is absolutely worth it! I trekked for 3 hours through numerous terrains including the jungle and a dry plateau that overlooks the ocean. Even in the the intense daytime heat, while drenched in sweat, it was hard not to appreciate the stunning scenery and being able to look at pitcher plants so close up. I was also lucky to see a sleeping proboscis monkey right at the beginning of my trek. I ended up at one of the deserted beaches, where you have to agree with a boatman beforehand to meet you at to take you back to the mainland.

view from the top

Sarawak is a beautiful land. It’s filled with untouched nature that creates an illusive world. Borneo on the whole is breath taking and has been worth the venture. I have never been off the beaten track like I have been here. It has taught me a new way of travelling and I definitely appreciated having the chance to travel on my own, even if for a few days.

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