After the bright lights of Singapore it was time to get back onto the traveller circuit and to somewhere where we could afford accommodation not frequented by prostitutes and where we didn't feel so under-dressed, so we took a short flight to Kuching on the Borneo part of Malaysia. Way back in 2006 I had really wanted to visit Borneo as part of my travels around South East Asia, however I was forced to omit Borneo for financial reasons. It didn't work out too badly for me because it was at the start of that trip that I met Monique so I can't really complain (at least not somewhere that Monique can find out), however it goes some way to explain the level of anticipation I had for this part of the trip.
Kuching is a reasonable-sized town on the Sarawak (West) side of Borneo that doesn't have much in the way of charm or anything of great interest going on. The annual rowing regatta was in full swing when we arrived, so the town was probably pretty much as lively as it gets; however the lack of Pimms meant that the regatta didn't hold my attention for long. However, Kuching was always a destination of convenience as it was the obvious place to fly into from Singapore and is in close proximity to a number of much more exciting places to visit.
Prior to arriving in Kuching we hadn't really spent the time to plan how we were to spend our time in Borneo. We had plenty of ideas of the things we wanted to do and see (which mostly involved orangutans and turtles) but hadn't planned how we were going to split our time or move around. Only after arriving in Kuching did it really dawn on us that the Borneo side of Malaysia is massive, and that if we travelled the entire way from West to East, and then back West again to fly out of Kota Kimbalu, we really didn't have much time to dwell anywhere.
This problem was solved after a little internet research and the booking of a cheap flight from Kuching to Kota Kimbalu to save us a good 16+ hours on the road. The downside was that this significantly limited our time on the Sarawak side of Borneo, and left us with only three days to make the most of Sarawak. Consequently, we decided to base ourselves in Kuching for those three days and make three day-trips around the area rather than moving from place to place. Two of those day-trips warrant separate posts so I'll only mention one here.
Sarawak is home to a wide range of vertiginous tribes that still live in a traditional way, and live in long, wooden houses on stilts known as longhouses. We had hoped to visit one or more of those traditional tribes, and perhaps stay in a tribal village for a night. Unfortunately, the limited amount of time we now had in Sarawak meant that this wasn't possible. The next best thing was a day-trip to the Sarawak Cultural Village 35km north of Kuching that is touted as a “living museum” of tribal life.
The Cultural Village was a bit of a disappointment. We started with the dance performance, the highlight of which was an entertaining blow-dart demonstration. The performance was nice enough, but extremely contrived.
Afterwards we wandered around the various longhouses made in the style of different tribes which, to be honest, started to look the same after a while. Each longhouse had someone in it who was supposed to be there to talk about tribal life and demonstrate some traditional skills, however they were mostly interested in trying to sell the things they made. The exception was a really friendly guy who we talked to for a while about making traditional instruments, and who then played some really relaxing music for a while.
The Cultural Village did give a little insight into tribal life in Sarawak, but was a far cry from seeing the real thing. However, our other day-trips from Kuching more than made up for the disappointment, and in hindsight we should have given the Cultural Village a miss and made one of our other day-trips into a two-day trip.