As part of my dream to see UNESCO World Heritage sites for the rest of my vacation years, we transited at Kuching, the capital of Sarawak and the gateway to Mulu Caves for International travelers.
Kuching is a small city, reminiscent of Singapore in the 1970s. We had booked our hotel at Damai Beach Resort, which was 45 minutes away from the city and cost RM20 per pax via hotel shutter to go. We had virtually imprisoned ourselves at Daimai, and our quest to eat all the famous food of Kuching – Sarawak Laksa, certain kolo mee, that mee suah beside the wharf, rooftop seafood – all went poofed when Mike refused to pay so much to go into town. After all, we could sample these food at the foodcourt at Damai Central next to our resort.
There was a travel office at our resort and we decided to book some tours with Mr Zaba manning the counter. There aren’t that many tourist places around Kuching. Some of the tours offered were City tour, Crocodile Farm, Semenggoh Wildlife Centre, Bako National Park, Bidayuh Annah Rais Long House, Matang Wildlife Centre, Kubah National Park, Gunung Gading National Park, Fairy and Wind Cave.
Since we would be in Mulu, we deleted all the national parks and cave visits (although a ranger I met trekking told me that Bako National Park should not be missed) and booked a day trip to Semenggoh Wildlife Centre and Bidayuh Long House with him, costing us RM400 total.
Semenggoh Wildlife Centre is a temporary home for various endangered wildlife of Sarawak, especially orang utans and hornbills. The Centre is only opened for an hour during feeding hours at 9.30 am and 3.30pm, in order not to disrupt the semi-wild animals.
The journey there took us 1.5 hours. Along the way, we had a brief city tour.
Groups of tourists were already mingling around a pair of mother and child primates when we arrived. The guides were strict and firmly told off some tourists to keep their voice down, reminding them to mind their manners as they are visitors to the primates’ home. We were told to keep our distance from them. Our guide pointed out the nests atop the trees, telling us that orang utans make new nests every night to sleep.
Soon, we heard a call. It was feeding time. The centre supplements the food as there were not enough fruits in the wild for them. However, during the fruiting seasons in December, there may not be any response to the feeding calls, leaving many tourists frustrated and disappointed when no orang utan is sighted. We were lucky. June was a low fruit period. We watched as a female with an infant clinging onto her arrived first and took a bunch of bananas. Following close behind was a juvenile, swinging wildly. They moved away quickly when a huge male appeared.
As we were walking out, a grandmother primate was trying to nap at the visitor’s verandah while her grandchild pestered her to move to the forest. She refused and patiently tolerated his prodding and pushing. They attracted a crowd, all fascinated by how human-like the primates were in behavior.
Our next stop was the Bidayuh Annah Rais Longhouse. Bidayuh is one of the largest aboriginal tribes in Sarawak. They live in houses joined in a chain, not unlike the modern terrace houses. This type of housing arrangement protects the community against enemies. The longhouse we were visiting was situated at Annah Rais Village.
Upon reaching, guests have to sign in at the guard post and we were offered a locally brewed rice wine as a form of welcome.
The longhouse was largely empty as we strolled along the bamboo porches. Doors were tightly shut as most residents were working and residing in town. Those remaining were mostly old folks, farming in nearby lands for padi and pepper seeds. A visitor centre has been set up in what was the village head’s house, and our guide explained the skulls on display. The tribes were head hunters before.
An enterprising man was selling souvenir and a chance to try out the blow pipes used by hunters. My son Aaron turned out to be a pro, shooting right on target on his first try and drawing a round of applause from the other visitors.
Mike and I had visited a long house in 1985 and we marveled at the progress. In place of primitive adjoined huts we had seen before were modern houses, still joint, with satellite dishes on the roofs, brick walls and fancy windows. Still, the tour did give us a brief idea of how the tribes were before Western missionaries came at the turn of the twentieth century.
Our brief tour ended with a visit to a souvenir shop for pepper. Did you know Sarawak produces the best pepper in the world. I did not.