Long Houses, Tribal Dancing and Head Hunters
Trip Start Jun 15, 2011
84Trip End Jun 01, 2012
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Our flight was from KL to the capital city of Sarawak, Kuching (which means cat and there are bloody cat statues everywhere). It was a quick and easy flight and Air Asia is so good for what you pay.... Ryan Air should pay attention, you can give good service whilst keeping costs down! We spoke to some American girls at the airport who said they had stayed at a guesthouse called "lodge 121" so we headed straight there hoping they would have a room
Now, when I pictured Borneo I imagined thick jungle with monkeys everywhere and people living in bamboo huts hunting with spears. So when we got into a taxi and drove a city with a few quite tall buildings and a McDonald's sign shining down the road, it didn't quite match my ideas of Borneo. Kuching is a small city which tries to be a big city but you quickly see that it's very basic and generally quite quiet. We went on a river cruise in the city, and whilst the centre has enormous hotels and some shopping centres, just across the river there are simple shacks on stilts which ordinary people are living in and probably have been living there for years and years. During the week Kuching was pretty quiet but at the weekend it comes alive
Its not surprising to hear that every city/town/village we've been to has a market at the weekend, but the weekend market in Kuching was on a different level to the other ones we've been to. For one it's by far the biggest, but more than that it is not setup at all for tourists, it's just the main way local people do their shopping. The Kuching Sunday market is a proper traditional market where you can buy just about anything from live animals, any type of fish, every fruit and vegetable, sharks, clothes, pieces of rubber, Valium .... anything! We really enjoyed strolling around the market and found it really interesting but not half as interesting as the local people seemed to find us. We were properly foreigners here with people turning to look at us and children grabbing their parents to point at us. I guess I don't really think about it too much but from what one of the tour guides told me, a lot of the people at the market will come from all the remote villages around Kuching and they will very seldom see a white or foreign face so we were quite a novelty. In particular Katy with all of her plasters covering her many many mosquito bites (she's now up to 53 bites)
At first we thought perhaps we would leave the market with some goods, maybe some fruit or something but the more of the market we saw, the less we wanted to buy anything. There was a lot of food lying on the floor covered in fly's and the fish section was horrible with fish guts and heads flying all over the place. The floor had a thin layer of fishy water which splashed up your legs and stunk! Still, it was a really interesting market and good to give some entertainment back to the locals.
The cool thing about Sarawak is that the culture of Borneo is never far away and actually a lot of people still live in tribes in the jungle in longhouses. On our second day we visited the Sarawak cultural village which explains the different tribes that have existed in Sarawak, how they live and with life-size examples of their longhouses which you can walk around in. It was a great introduction to the different tribes and traditions and was the first time we heard a bit more about the Headhunters of Borneo!!
The longhouse we visited wasn't quite what we had expected and the people just live there as usual despite having the occasional tourists coming to look around. It was an enormous village, all of the houses are on stilts near the river and are made and maintained by the tribe using materials they could access from the jungle, mainly bamboo
When we visited the longhouse all of the people there were wearing normal clothes, jeans and a t-shirt or a long dress for women, so it was good to see the traditional clothes when we were at the cultural village. The highlight was a performance showing a variety of different tribal dances, clothing and ceremonies. Obviously we were most interested in seeing the older tribes with head-hunting etc but it was also interesting to see a traditional Malay house and how the early Chinese settlers lived and worked/used the land. Again, the theme was on how great it is that Malaysia has all these different cultures, painting a picture of harmony amongst them but it's interesting when you speak to actual locals as they have a slightly different view on things
The food in Borneo has been so good and quite different to what we've had before and fortunately we haven't been forced to eat birds nest soup or shark fin soup, although some of the shops here are full of both! When we visited the caves some of the birds nests had been stolen to be sold for birds nest soup much to the disgust of our guide as it makes life far more difficult for the birds. Birds nest soup sounds disgusting to me, they look for birds nests which have as much bird spit as possible and boil it up... supposedly delicious. Katy asked our guide if he ate birds nest soup and his response was brilliant....
"Do I eat birds nest soup? No way, I don't want to eat Bird Spit!....That's disgusting"
So other than these delightful delicacies we have tried to eat as much Malaysian food as we can and have tried quite a few different things, especially as the local food is much cheaper
We chose some ice-cream for dessert and one of them was yellow. I assumed it was vanilla but when eating it found that it was actually Sweetcorn ice cream and had pieces of sweetcorn in it.... surprisingly nice.We have found Alcohol to be quite expensive in Malaysia (certainly compared to Thailand) so have been having Rice Wine which we bought from the tribe at the longhouse. It's quite sweet and really nice..... doesn't taste at all of rice which is good! And best of all, Milo is massive here and everyone drinks it. I used to have Milo all the time in South Africa so have been enjoying a Milo shake every other day.
So.... Borneo's culture can be ticked off the list... now for some nature. Where are those Orangutans?!?