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David Hogan Jr

Taking a River Cruise At A Traditional Melanau Village in Sibu

Taking a River Cruise At A Traditional Melanau Village in Sibu

sibu-telian

Sibu is one of the main gateways for the central region of Sarawak, attracting locals from the surrounding areas. While he city serves as a massive trading ground for the surrounding interiors of Sarawak, I was actually quite amazed on how much culture Is found around here.

The city of Sibu is connected by flights and also using the traditional waterways using boats. In an experience I never thought I would do, I managed to catch a ferry from Kuching to Sibu, seeing how the coastal and river life still operates as if modernization ceased to exist.

sibu-telianCruising down the Telian River towards Mukah

From Kuching city, I boarded the ferry which takes almost five hours, stopping at various villages and towns along the way. This is also a common mode of transport for locals, and just to share with you that it also takes about the same time if you take a bus, only here you can relax and absorb the beautiful views.

Once in Sibu, I was introduced to a very laid back way of life in Sarawak, and visiting iconic places like the Sibu Heritage Center, Sibu Night Market and of course, the largest wet market in Malaysia, the Sibu Market. Soon after, I was on route to Lamin Dana, a traditional Melanau boutique guest house in the heartland of the Melanau people.

sibu-telian

A lone Melanau boatman going to work on his boat

Melanau People of the Telian River

It was here that I was exposed to the centuries old ways of the Melanau people. Lamin Dana is located by the Telian River or Tellian as some spell it, which is on the outskirts of Mukah, a coastal town in Sarawak.

The main Telian river runs from inland towards Mukah, and along the way, Melanau villages are built by the river here. Nearer to the coast, you will see more Melanau fishing villages and as you go upriver, you see a different type of Melanau village.

sibu-telian

Raw Sago trees cut into chunks floating in the Telian River

As I cruise down the river in a traditional Melanau wooden boat, complete with a small engine, I am captivated with how rich the river life is. Meaning that local Melanau people still use the river as a main source for everything. From cooking to washing and even Sago processing.

Sago is one of the main homegrown processes here, and along the Telian River, I saw two main Sago producers, and made a stop to see how the process was done. From the Sago tree, it is cut into chunks and processed by one family using old ways.

sibu-telianProcessing the raw Sago into little balls and baking them on a traditional fire stove

From there, the raw sago is sent to another home where it is then processed into little Sago balls and then baked with firewood. This process was done by skilled Melanau women who painstakingly do this on a daily basis. The younger generation is not seen anywhere, and asking, I was told that the parents have made sure that education was the priority and hence at school.

For me, this was truly an eye opener as I had always assumed that the the Melanau people were seafaring farmers. And little did I know that the Melanau were also found inland and by the main rivers. Asking my guide, I was told that the Telian Village is one of the few remaining traditional Melanau villages in Sarawak.

sibu-telian

The Melanau village by the Telian River known as Kampung Telian

Having experienced this, I would strongly recommend those wanting to see a different side of Sarawak to visit Sibu. Also, I would recommend taking the boat or ferry there from Kuching as it will show you a very unique and different side of Sarawak.

When you are here, do ask them about the walking tours around Kampung Telian as you will see how close the homes are, and how life is at here. My journey here was truly a fascinating and enchanting experience, and I believe it should be explored by other travelers.

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Photos by David Hogan Jr

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Seeing Kuching City on Foot

Seeing Kuching City on Foot

For the visitor to Kuching, the best way to explore this unique city is by foot.  This means, you simply need a pair of good walking shoes and you can walk around the old part of Kuching to see some of its tourist sites.

Kuching City is usually the main gateway into Sarawak as the main airport is located about 20 minutes from the city. Often called Cat City, because Kuching translates from Malay to cat, you will easily spot multiple cat structures which are also great for photo stops.

I would also like to share with you that Kuching city is a morning city, which means this place is best explored in the mornings when it is not too hot and humid. Most of the businesses close by 5.00PM and by 7.00PM, everything comes to a standstill here.

Seeing Kuching City on Foot

Tua Pek Kong Temple along Jalan Main Bazaar

Where to start in Kuching?

The best place to start your walking tours are from the Main Bazaar area where the Kuching Waterfront is located. I started in the morning about 9.00 AM and found that this is a great place to walk around, where I visited the Chinese History Museum and the prominent Chinese Temple called Tua Pek Kong.

Seeing Kuching City on Foot

Kuching’s vibrant Main Bazaar

From these two landmarks, just walk along the Main Bazaar where you will pass through a series of shops that sell ethnic Sarawakian antiques, collectibles and souvenir. This is probably the best place to get your souvenirs for Sarawak.

Along the Main Bazaar, you can spot some decades old businesses that are still trading goods like pepper, rice and so on. Once you reach the end, look across the road and you will see the Kuching Waterfront Bazaar, where you can find more authentic souvenirs.

Seeing Kuching City on Foot

The new Darul Hana Bridge across the Sarawak River on the left

Crossing the New Darul Hana Bridge

From there, you can either take the newly opened 335m-long S-shaped bridge called Darul Hana Bridge that goes over the Sarawak River that links Pangkalan Batu and Pangkalan Sapi.

Visitors can now walk over to the Old State Legislative Assembly building passing through Botanic Gardens and Orchid Garden and also to the iconic Fort Margherita.

After this, head back across the Darul Hana Bridge and walk towards the Brooke Monument for a photo moment. This is also where the old Court House is located at. Walk into Jalan Barrack and you will find the entrance to India Street.

Seeing Kuching City on Foot

India Street and the covered walkway

Called the India Street Pedestrian Mall, this old area has been given a beautiful makeover and is now a covered walkway. Traders are seen on both sides of the street selling all sorts of wares as I walk through and exit at Japan Power.

From the exit, keep walking along Jalan Market to see the old Kuching trading and business communities. While walking around here, do look out for some of the well known local eateries or coffee shops.

Seeing Kuching City on Foot

Carpenter Street in Kuching

After I explored this part of the city, I headed back to Carpenter Street which is just behind the Main Bazaar. I selected this because by the time I was done, it was lunch time and at Carpenter Street, there is a great place to try which is the Temple Food Court. It is located just opposite the Hiang Thian Siang Ti Temple.

Seeing Kuching City on Foot

Hiang Thian Siang Ti Temple at the end of Carpenter Street in Kuching

After lunch, I continued along Carpenter Street towards the end where I ended my walking tour of Kuching. This I where you will find the Hong San Si Temple, which is one of the most beautiful temples in Kuching.

In general, you can see this interesting part of Kuching in just under four hours on foot and very suitable for anyone who has half a day free in Kuching.

___________________
Photos by David Hogan Jr

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Seeing Kuching City on Foot

Seeing Kuching City on Foot

For the visitor to Kuching, the best way to explore this unique city is by foot.  This means, you simply need a pair of good walking shoes and you can walk around the old part of Kuching to see some of its tourist sites.

Kuching City is usually the main gateway into Sarawak as the main airport is located about 20 minutes from the city. Often called Cat City, because Kuching translates from Malay to cat, you will easily spot multiple cat structures which are also great for photo stops.

I would also like to share with you that Kuching city is a morning city, which means this place is best explored in the mornings when it is not too hot and humid. Most of the businesses close by 5.00PM and by 7.00PM, everything comes to a standstill here.

Seeing Kuching City on Foot

Tua Pek Kong Temple along Jalan Main Bazaar

Where to start in Kuching?

The best place to start your walking tours are from the Main Bazaar area where the Kuching Waterfront is located. I started in the morning about 9.00 AM and found that this is a great place to walk around, where I visited the Chinese History Museum and the prominent Chinese Temple called Tua Pek Kong.

Seeing Kuching City on Foot

Kuching’s vibrant Main Bazaar

From these two landmarks, just walk along the Main Bazaar where you will pass through a series of shops that sell ethnic Sarawakian antiques, collectibles and souvenir. This is probably the best place to get your souvenirs for Sarawak.

Along the Main Bazaar, you can spot some decades old businesses that are still trading goods like pepper, rice and so on. Once you reach the end, look across the road and you will see the Kuching Waterfront Bazaar, where you can find more authentic souvenirs.

Seeing Kuching City on Foot

The new Darul Hana Bridge across the Sarawak River on the left

Crossing the New Darul Hana Bridge

From there, you can either take the newly opened 335m-long S-shaped bridge called Darul Hana Bridge that goes over the Sarawak River that links Pangkalan Batu and Pangkalan Sapi.

Visitors can now walk over to the Old State Legislative Assembly building passing through Botanic Gardens and Orchid Garden and also to the iconic Fort Margherita.

After this, head back across the Darul Hana Bridge and walk towards the Brooke Monument for a photo moment. This is also where the old Court House is located at. Walk into Jalan Barrack and you will find the entrance to India Street.

Seeing Kuching City on Foot

India Street and the covered walkway

Called the India Street Pedestrian Mall, this old area has been given a beautiful makeover and is now a covered walkway. Traders are seen on both sides of the street selling all sorts of wares as I walk through and exit at Japan Power.

From the exit, keep walking along Jalan Market to see the old Kuching trading and business communities. While walking around here, do look out for some of the well known local eateries or coffee shops.

Seeing Kuching City on Foot

Carpenter Street in Kuching

After I explored this part of the city, I headed back to Carpenter Street which is just behind the Main Bazaar. I selected this because by the time I was done, it was lunch time and at Carpenter Street, there is a great place to try which is the Temple Food Court. It is located just opposite the Hiang Thian Siang Ti Temple.

Seeing Kuching City on Foot

Hiang Thian Siang Ti Temple at the end of Carpenter Street in Kuching

After lunch, I continued along Carpenter Street towards the end where I ended my walking tour of Kuching. This I where you will find the Hong San Si Temple, which is one of the most beautiful temples in Kuching.

In general, you can see this interesting part of Kuching in just under four hours on foot and very suitable for anyone who has half a day free in Kuching.

___________________
Photos by David Hogan Jr

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Exploring Niah Caves

Exploring Niah Caves

Niah

One of the must-visit caves in Sarawak that I had the opportunity to explore is no other that the world famous Niah Caves, which is located just two hours from the city of Miri in Northern Sarawak. The massive cave system is located in the Niah National Park, which is one of the top three national parks in Sarawak Borneo.

Niah Cave was once a trading cave, where traders from around the world would pay a visit to trade wares with the birds nest that was gathered by the locals from around here. The caves were also discovered by Alfred Russel Wallace in an expedition done back in 1855.

Niah National Park

The wooden stair climb up to the Niah Caves 

A hundred years later, couple Barbara and Tom Harrison made an attempt to excavate part of the Niah Caves and found some interesting discoveries. Till this very day, the Niah Caves are still being excavated. Scientific facts claim that the Niah Caves have been occupied since 40,000 years ago, and proof of human remains have been found here.

My trip to the Niah Caves coincided with a visit to the Patrick Libau Longhouse where the Gawai celebrations or Harvest Festival were held in June. It was my first time and the experience was something that I was looking forward too. From the longhouse, it was an easy trek for about 20 minutes to the cave entrance.

Niah National Park

At the Trader’s Cave, can you see the person in the photo?

Niah National Park

Remains of the traders outpost inside the cave

Trader’s Cave

From there, wooden stairs take you upwards into the Trading Chamber. This was where the Swiftlet Traders set up shop, and you can still see the remains of their wooden structures built into the cave walls.

The chamber is massive, with one side of the cave left open for more than enough light to come in. From the Trading Chamber, it was a short trek up into the main chamber of the caves. Here, I needed to climb a few flights of wooden stairs that had railings.

Niah National Park

Tom Harrison’s House inside the Great Cave

Great Cave

Arriving at the main chamber, Great Cave or Tom Harrison Chamber as I call it, you will be greeted by a house that was once lived in by Tom and his wife. The wooden home sits in one section of the cave entrance and has been preserved by the museum department. You are not allowed to enter the house though.

When looking into the main chamber, you see on your left, an area fenced up to about eight feet. This is where current excavations are ongoing by relevant departments. If you look carefully, you can see what has been dug up or what is in the process of being excavated.

Niah National Park

A fence surrounds the cave paintings at the Painted Cave

Painted Cave

Heading in another 150 meters will bring you the the star of Niah Caves, which is the Painted Cave. This section is also fenced up to preserve the amazing cave paintings discovered. The rock paintings also date back to some 1200 years old and some of them are in good condition while most of them have faded a little.

After attempting to take some photos, at the Padang Area, which is lightly deeper inside the caves, it was soon time to make that return back to the longhouse, as celebrations were still on going. In general, you can visit Niah for half a day, just to explore this fascinating caves.

Niah National Park

Part of the excavation area that is fenced up

Niah National Park

Some of the beautiful cave formations inside Niah Cave

If you are coming from Miri, you will make a stop at the Niah National Park office, where you buy your ticket in. From the park office, it takes about 40 minutes walk to the Trader’s Cave entrance. You will also be walking on a boarded walkway with the beautiful rainforest surrounding your journey.

The entire journey here is worth the visit, provided you love trekking, hiking, caving, nature and adventure. This would easily be listed as one of the main things to do out of Miri City, so if you are in Miri, do look up a tour company that organises trips to the Niah Caves.

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Photos by David Hogan Jr

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A Visit to the Annah Rais Longhouse

A Visit to the Annah Rais Longhouse

A Visit to the Annah Rais Longhouse

As a frequent traveler, and especially all over Sarawak in the last 10 years, I have to admit that I have never been to the popular Annah Rais Longhouse. This is one of the most popular longhouses that a majority of travellers would visit and is sold by local travel agents.

I have been to traditional longhouses deep in the interiors of Sarawak, at places like Lemanak and Batang Ai, which are easily five to seven hours traveling, but not to Annah Rais in the main Padawan area. In October 2017, I finally managed to visit this Bidayuh Longhouse which is just an hours drive from Kuching city.

A Visit to the Annah Rais Longhouse

Everyday life at Annah Rais longhouse in Padawan

Some people claim that Annah Rais is on a more commercial side, due to the proximity being close to Kuching city, hence the dwellers here are more modern and up to date. This was one of the reasons that over the last decade, I choose to visit other longhouses in the remote areas.

Annah Rais village is predominantly Bidayuh, with an exception of cross marriages to other races. The village is estimated to be over a hundred years old, and has expanded in all directions throughout the century.

A Visit to the Annah Rais LonghouseA local Bidayuh man goes about his daily chores at the longhouse

A Visit to the Annah Rais LonghouseA wooden bridge connecting the main longhouse to the communal hall and football field

Ever since the tourism boom in Sarawak, the Bidayuh community here had turned this traditional home into one of the most popular tourist attraction just out of Kuching. Visitors from the world over are seen doing day trips here whole for those who want to experience staying here, there are 9 registered local homestay programs available.

Driving about an hour from Kuching, I made my inaugural step into this fascinating culture where you actually get to walk around and see the Bidayuh people going about their daily lives.

A Visit to the Annah Rais LonghouseSkulls on display in a cage of the Skull House at Annah Rais

The massive longhouse is interconnected by a wooden or bamboo walkway, which is the main common area where families would sit around and talk and kids play. Annah Rais is so huge that it seems like one entire village is connected together with home run restaurants, grocery shops and the local homegrown products.

The first unique feature I came across was a headman’s house or skull house where I was intrigued by a collection of traditional skulls that were in a cylinder wire cage. I believe these were the invaders of the longhouse where the Bidayuh people caught and beheaded.

A Visit to the Annah Rais LonghouseOne of three murals that Ernest Zacharevic painted at Annah Rais

Walking along the main route, two wall murals from world famous Lithuanian artist Ernest Zacharevic is spotted on the walls of certain homes. He was invited to paint some of his murals here at Annah Rais in 2014.

At the far end of the longhouse, there is one unit called a Bidayuh Show House where I saw what a traditional Bidayuh home looked like back in the day. It displays simplicity and basic living by using natural resources.

A Visit to the Annah Rais LonghouseLocal Sarawak black and white pepper sold here

A Visit to the Annah Rais LonghouseFor those wanting to sample the local rice wine or Tuak, they are also available here

Souvenirs can be found sold by a number of homes, which are usually traditional Bidayuh items such as beads or woven baskets or mats. For fans of the world famous black gold or black pepper, you can buy the Sarawak black and white pepper in packets here.

And for those wanting to sample the famous local brewed rice wine or Tuak, this can be done here too. I also noticed that bottles are also for sale from some of the homes here at very reasonable prices.

A Visit to the Annah Rais LonghouseOne of the older wooden houses at Annah Rais

A Visit to the Annah Rais LonghouseAt the entrance, a glass of Tuak is served after purchasing your entrance ticket

Annah Rais is one of the most popular tour packages that can be booked from any of the travel agents in Kuching. Alternatively, many also use private taxi services to get here by them selves or even rent a car to self drive here.

For tickets, there is a RM8.00 entrance fee before entering the longhouse and I recommend you go before 10.00 AM. A glass of rice wine or Tuak is also served to non Muslims when you purchase your ticket.

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Photos by David Hogan Jr

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