Tourism Malaysia

20 Activities to Thrill you in Malaysia

people are thrill-seekers by nature, and are always on the hunt for that
adrenaline rush, no matter where it brings them!

excitement, bumps and bruises, even a scar or two makes it all worth it, body
aches and all!

If that is what you crave for, and thrilling spills are your game, then this is a list for you!

  1. ATV Ride, KL

ATVs, or All-Terrain Vehicles,  allows you to ride across rough terrains and lush greenery, going off-road in chase of that adventure just within and beyond the Malaysian forests. As with any outdoor activity, just be sure to bring water and an extra change of clothes. Rain is almost always expected, even though not anticipated!

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2. Bungee Jumping

Bungee jumping is most definitely NOT for the faint-hearted. However, if thrills is what you’re looking for, then it is just the extreme activity for you! For those adrenaline junkies just waiting to leap through thin air, one of the places one can do this is at the Extreme Park of Sunway Lagoon.

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3. Flyboarding in Putrajaya

Flyboarding, another exciting extreme water sport, is one that will
literally take you to greater heights!

This unique sporting experience is achieved by attaching a PWC (Personal Water Craft), which propels the Flyboard into the air, with the use of air and water. At the moment, this sport is only available at Marina Putrajaya.

Picture courtesy of Pamela Arissa Teow

4. Paragliding

Tandem paragliding is available not too far out of Kuala Lumpur, and is available year-round, subject to weather conditions. Currently, two main venues for this activity is in Selangor and Sabah.

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5. Hiking Trekking

some might argue on the ‘extremeness’ of these activities, try a 3-day 2-night
trekking trip to the Mulu Pinnacles!

For some laidback, family-friendly activity, this most basic back-to-nature activity suits almost all age groups, with varying levels of strength and stamina. Most of the hiking trails here will lead you to a waterfall or river, and you will most definitely be rewarded with a cool dip after all the hard work.

6. White Water Rafting

From beginner to hardcore level, white water rafting is available in many parts of Malaysia; in Sg Gopeng, Slim River in Perak and Sungai Singor, which lies on the border of Perak and Kelantan.

7. Diving

the ‘mildest’ of extreme sports, diving will transport you to a whole new
colourful and exciting world!

This activity is offered almost throughout Malaysia, from Kedah to Johor; from Perak all the way to Sabah. The islands of Langkawi, Pangkor, Sibu, Perhentian, Tioman, all the way to the world-famour Sipadan, all waiting to mesmerize you with all that they have to offer. 

8. Wreck Diving

What differentiates wreck diving with open water diving is that wreck diving is the exploration of the wreckage of ships, aircraft and other artificial structures. However, most wreck dive sites are at shipwrecks. To be able to participate in wreck diving, one must be the minimum age of 18 years, must be certified as an Advanced open water diver, show proof of at least fifty logged dives, and must also be certified as Basic Wreck or Cavern or equivalent.

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9. Ziplining

Ziplining, or more commonly referred to as flying fox, is an activity consisting of a pulley suspended on a cable, usually made of stainless steel, mounted on a slope. It is to enable one to travel via natural gravity, from the highest point to the bottom of the inclined cable, while being attached to a free-moving pulley.

There are many places now which offers such activity, including extreme parks and nature-themed activity parks, including in Sabah and Langkawi.

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10. Parasailing

Parasailing is a recreational kiting activity where a person is towed behind a vehicle while attached to a specially designed canopy wing that resembles a parachute, known as a parasail wing. The manned kite’s moving anchor may be a car, truck, or boat.

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11. Via Ferrata, Mount Kinabalu

A Via Ferrata (or ‘iron road’ in Italian, plural via ferrate) is a protected mountain pathway consisting of a series of rungs, rails, cables and bridges embracing the rock face. It allows access to scenic sections of the mountains that are typically available only to rock climbers and mountaineers (ref:

There are some minimum requirements for those who would like to engage in this activity, but rest assured the use of modest equipment, a good head for heights and basic technique, walking the Via Ferrata is very safe, led by an experienced guide.

Mountain Torq is the World’s highest via ferrata and Asia’s first via ferrata is located at Mt Kinabalu’s Panalaban rock face. Starting at 3,200 metres and ends at 3,776 metres above sea level at Mount Kinabalu, Sabah, Malaysian Borneo.

The minimum requirements needed for the first time via ferrate climber are:

  • Average fitness level (Able to hike up to 3,200m in 6 hrs)
  • Ages 10 and above for Walk the Torq
  • Ages 17 and above for Low’s Peak Circuit
  • A minimum height of 1.3 metres
  • Free of restricting physical disabilities, be fit, healthy, and without fear of heights to fully participate and safely enjoy the activity
  • No prior mountaineering experience required
  • A maximum of 6 climbers per group is allowed to do Via Ferrata at a time (ref:
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12. Microlight

Microlight is a 1- or 2-seater fixed-wing aircraft which is mostly simulated by the hang-gliding movement. It is relatively new in Malaysia.

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13. BASE Jumping

BASE Jumping is the sport of jumping off non-moving structures or hills or mountains, and one MUST be a qualified skydiver before attempting BASE jumping. Annually, KL Tower hosts the KL Tower International BASE Jump ( bringing international BASE Jumpers for a series of jumps organised around Malaysia.

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14. Skydiving

Skydiving, undeniably, will give you an adrenaline rush like so other! Leaping out of a moving aeroplane, and feeling the wind hitti g your face is not an easy thrill t0 forget, and definitely NOT for everybody!

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If jumping out of planes are not your thing, then perhaps you can tiptoe into the sport by first trying it indoors? Yes, INDOORS! Head to 1-Utama Shopping Mall in Petaling Jaya where Airrider is located.

15. Shark Diving

Fancy a swim among the hammerheads?

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offers one the unique experience of discovering life underwater. The colours
and variety of marine life is incomparable to any on land. If you enjoy the
green lush rainforests, then you will be mesmerized by the darting micro life
and gentle giants of the ocean.

diving offers you a thrill like no other, and if you feel a bit apprehensive,
beginners may try the indoor, controlled environment offered by Aquaria KLCC.

16. Caving

There are hundreds of caves in Malaysia and cave enthusiasts will be spoilt for choice, ranging  from the massive remote caves of Mulu National Park to popular tourists spots just within the city limits like Batu Caves.

Merapoh Caves Pahang

caves like Gua Tempurung in Perak is quite accessible as the entrance are close
to main roads, similar to Batu Caves, while some are accessible only via
trekking or even by boat.

17. Wakeboarding

Wakeboarding, very simply, is skateboarding on water. You simply surf across the surface of the water behind a speeding motorboat.

The sport is rather new in Malaysia, but steadily garnering a following amongst thrill-seekers and adrenaline junkies alike!

Currently, there are two places you can try and indulge this this wet and wild water sport, and they are at The Mines (Philea Mines Beach Resort) and Marina Putrajaya.

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18. Kayaking within the Langkawi Geopark

Kayaking is rather easy, and most people would have tried it at least once in their life time. Kayaking in the Langkawi Geopark however, is an experience that is not available elsewhere!

Maneuvering the winding turns of the mangroves of Langkawi provides a taste of adventure and some exercise while enjoying being surrounded by nature. The trip will also offer the chance for a good close up to the ecology of the mangroves especially the wildlife such as monkeys, pit vipers, eagles, otters, some endemic birds and the common monitor lizard.

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19. Waterfall Abseiling

Stepping off the edge of rocks into a fast-cascading waterfall. Sounds exciting and most challenging!

Abseiling is the sport of repelling down a set of lines along waterfalls which can reach any height you dare to try, depending on your level of expertise. Like any other extreme sport, safety first!

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20. Rock Climbing

Rock climbing requires a certain skill set and strength, and definitely not for the faint-hearted!

The most popular site will have to be Batu Caves in Selangor, and has about 170 routes available. With that many routes, the site offers a challenge for all levels of climbers.  

Malaysia being a tropical country, the weather can rather unpredictable, but do not fret! We do have the largest indoor rock climbing facility in Asia, Camp 5, located on the 5th floor of 1 Utama Shopping Centre. It is the largest climbing gym, standing at 24m high and is fully air-conditioned. The gym also offers a 270-degree panoramic view of the city, a café and a climbing workshop. 400 boulders, lead routes and top ropes, suited for all, ranging from beginners to advanced is available here. Routes are altered and changed every 3 – 6 months, keeping things fresh and challenging.

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Malaysia Travel Guide

Little Known Secrets of the Beads of Borneo

From the Zulu warriors in South Africa, to the ancient Egyptians of North Africa, to the pilgrims of the Middle East or South America, beads have a presence in many cultures but the one commonality is that they have always been more than an eye-catching accessory. The story of the beads of Borneo is no exception.

For many cultures, they were a currency, or perhaps a sign of faith, a symbol of wealth or a family heirloom to be treasured for future generations. Whatever the purpose, the one consistency is that they are always a way of expression.

Sarawak in Malaysian Borneo has a unique relationship with the beads of Borneo. Although there isn’t any definitive evidence of when exactly the beads came to the region, there is evidence to suggest beads were first used in Borneo by visiting sailors for bartering. Back then, beads were made out of shells, teeth, bones and stones that were perforated and worn as ornaments.

Some Sarawak tribes believe that the longer a bead lasts, the more powerful it becomes and the bearer can draw strength from the bead. However, to do so, the bearer must have a strong soul.

Source: Sarawak Tourism Board

There are over 30 tribes in Sarawak and each tribe has its own way of adorning themselves with beads. Some of them use them as necklaces, others as beaded head caps or beaded skirts, others as bracelets or even rings. Beads would also be used as decorations during festivals or other big gatherings.

The baby carriers used by Orang Ulu women to carry their infants are adorned with beadwork and finishes made out of wild boar or leopard teeth. Apart from indicating status, the tingling of the Hawk’s bells and large beads attached to the upper rim of the carrier would soothe the toddler on long journeys through the rain forest.

Many of the antique beads of Borneo are hard to find now. There are a number of reasons for this. Historically, the beads were sometimes buried with their owners as part of their grave clothes, or as “grave gifts”, for the deceased to use in their long journey to the underworld.

As mentioned, beads were also used as currency, often traded with visiting sailors or lost in the sometimes devastating longhouse fires that could rip through 100 doors in less than an hour.

As beads were increasingly hard to come by and time became a precious commodity, modern day beads are mostly imported from Indonesia and China, according to Heidi Munan, Sarawak Museum’s curator of beads. However they are still influenced by the original beads of Borneo.

So while these new beads are still traded, they are no longer the currency of trade. And despite being mass produced, they are increasingly expensive yet have little of the character of the original beads. At the same time, the number of communities still making the beads of Borneo in the traditional manner is slowly diminishing.

Preserving the traditionality of beadmaking

However, the Lun Bawang community in Long Tuma village, Lawas, northern Sarawak continues to make ceramic beads the way they’ve always been made. Partly to generate income for the community but also because they want to keep the tradition alive and let everyone have the opportunity to wear the beads during traditional festivities.

The process begins with a group of five women wading almost nonchalantly into the crocodile infested waters of Pa’ Lawas river to find and dig up the smooth fine clay, which they call “tanah salit”.

The clay is taken to the village by hand, pounded and kneaded to the right consistency and shaped into tiny beads, roughly the size of a pea. The beads are then sun-dried, and strung up on wire loops and fired in a backyard bonfire.

Patricia Busak, daughter of Litad Muluk, who manages the ceramic beads centre, was interviewed by the Star newspaper some time ago and talked through the process, “It takes at least three pairs of hands to make just one bead: one to gather and process the river clay before shaping it into beads; another to paint the underglaze pattern; and a third to paint the glaze and arrange the beads in an electric kiln at the community-owned workshop in the village.”

She went on to say, “It’s very specialised; for instance, only three women in our group are skilled at rolling the beads. I can’t roll, but I’m good at painting the pattern.”

The Long Tuma women are the only beadmakers in Sarawak. Even though their business is thriving, the most important thing for the Lun Bawang community, is the opportunity to preserve their heritage.

“The kind of beads we have, how we string and wear them, give us our sense of identity as a Lun Bawang,” concludes Patricia in the interview.

Beads of Borneo - Painting a bead

Source: Borneo Talk, “The Glistening Beads Of Kampung Long Tuma”

Because beads have been used for so long and came from various parts of the world, the types of beads found in Sarawak vary. Here are a few examples of the types of beads you should look out for during your time in Sarawak and especially if you go to a festival.

Lukut Sekala

The Lukut Sekala beads are worn almost exclusively by members of the Kayan tribe. These beads serve as a symbol of longevity to the community. This is because the beads last for so long that they have become heirlooms, passed down through multiple generations.

Source: @taytayxanadu on Carousell

There are also the Lukut Bela Laba, which are considered male or female depending on whether the shape of the bead was long or flat. The beads are considered extremely valuable. These beads are often of great value to the Kayan.

According to legend, a trader who wanted to travel by river to the interior of Sarawak bought a second-hand outboard engine with just one Lukut Sekala bead.

Beads of Borneo - bead designs

Source: Rustic Borneo Travel, “Borneo Beads – Beautiful Status Symbols”

Ba’o Rawir

The Ba’o Rawir, or the drinking straw beads are created by Kelabit ladies. The Kelabit tribe originates from the Bario Highlands located in the northernmost part of Sarawak. The Kelabit people have a close association with the Lun Bawang tribe as they are geographically close to one another.

The Ba’o Rawir beads are used to create intricate designs on the Peta, a hat worn by Kelabit ladies. It is a status symbol which had the equivalent value of one buffalo in the old days when owning a buffalo was considered a sign of wealth. Today, an antique Peta hat made out of Ba’o Rawir can fetch up to RM 30,000 (US$ 7,150).

Beads of Borneo - Kelabit woman head gear

Source: Kelabit Wiki, “Peta”

Experience bead making yourself

Located in the north of Sarawak, the Long Tuma village is close to the Brunei border. The Ceramic Bead Centre holds workshops where you can learn how to make the beads and create your own piece. The Beads centre is currently managed by Litad Muluk and her daughter Patricia who is quoted above.

These women work the fields during the day and use the bead centre as an extra income stream while keeping the tradition alive. You can even see how this group of dedicated women put together beautiful pieces of jewellery.

And if you like what you see, you can support their efforts by purchasing beads from the souvenir shop.

Here is where it’s located:
Pusat Kraftangan Manik Seramik
Kampung Long Tuma, 98850 Lawas, Sarawak
Tel: +6013 565 6951

If you’re interested to learn more about the beading culture of Borneo, Heidi Munan’s book on Bornean beads is a highly recommended read. In it, she explains the historic significance of beads and how they transcend its mere aesthetic appeal.

You can also order beads online and support the Lawas bead community at the same time. These 3 online stores offer authentic products sourced from Sarawak:

  1. Gerai OA
  2. Gaya Borneo
  3. Bonita and the Beads
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Tourism Malaysia

Experiencing Borneo’s tribal cultures

Experiencing Borneo’s tribal cultures

Borneo, the third largest island in the world and 4th most populous, is divided up between Indonesia, Malaysia and the tiny nation of Brunei. Malaysian Borneo occupies around 26% of the island, containing the states of Sabah and Sarawak.

Of Sabah’s 3 million plus inhabitants, divided officially into 32 ethnicities, the largest indigenous groups are the Kadazan-Dusun, Murut and Baja. The first two are hill tribes, which are comprised of many sub tribes, while the Bajau are a nomadic sea-faring people who live throughout the Maritime (island) region of Southeast Asia.

“The largest indigenous tribes are the hill tribes, the Kadazan and Dusun tribes and their sub-tribes, often referred to the Kadazandusun, and the Murut. The Kadazandusun live mostly in the interior of Sabah, they are mountain people who believe the mountain is a resting place for the spirits of their departed, and thus it is sacred to them. The Rungus are arguably the most traditional of the indigenous tribes, a sub-tribe of the Kadazandusun the Rungus live mostly in the north near Kudat, many still live in longhouses. The Murut a group of several related tribes once lived in the longhouses like the Rungus, now they have mostly moved into single-family houses in the Tenom area and make a subsistence living from small-scale agriculture.”

Cultural Village, Kuching. Pic: Peter Gronemann, Flickr, Creative Commons.

Cultural Village, Kuching. Pic: Peter Gronemann, Flickr, Creative Commons.

The state of Sarawak is geographically larger than Sabah, but has a smaller population, giving it the lowest population density in all of Malaysia. Sarawak is home to 40 ethnicities, each with its own language and customs. Major ethnic groups include the Iban – the state’s largest group who were formerly known as headhunters. Iban are a longhouse-dwelling people with an impressive knowledge of the flora and fauna of Sarawak. Other groups include the Melanau – fishers and farmers believed to be one of the original settlers of Sarawak and who still practice many traditional animist customs; the Bidayu – land-dwellers mainly concentrated in the west of the island; and the Orang Ulu – a group including many river and plateau-dwelling tribes. The majority members of most tribes have adopted either Muslim (Melanau) or Christian (Iban, Bidayu and Orang Ulu) beliefs, though some still practice traditional tribal religions.

Sarawak – and Malaysian Borneo as a whole – is often referred to as “Asia’s best kept secret” due to its wide variety of cultures and rich biodiversity.

Thankfully there are several ways visitors can experience the traditional lifestyles of the inhabitants of both Sabah and Sarawak. One method is to visit Sarawak Cultural Village, located just 35km from Kuching in the foothills of Mount Santubong. This center showcases and supports the ethnic traditions of Sarawak, including dance, music, arts and crafts. It is also the venue for the World Harvest Festival and the Rainforest World Music Festival.

Dancers, Sarawak. Pic: Ben Sutherland, Flickr, Creative Commons.

Dancers, Sarawak. Pic: Ben Sutherland, Flickr, Creative Commons.

“This living museum depicts the heritage of the major racial groups in Sarawak and conveniently portrays the respective lifestyle amidst 14 acres of equatorial vegetation. It is possible to see Sarawak’s ethnic diversity at a glance. The handicraft is both bewildering and tempting, including the Kain Songket (Malay cloth with gold inlay), Pua Kumbu (Iban housewives textiles), Melanau Terendak (sunhat), Bidayuh tambok (basket), Iban parang (swords), Orang Ulu wood carving and Chinese ceramic.”

There are many other places to witness the customs and lives of Malaysian Borneo’s various tribes. Cultural tourists can visit Lun Bawang settlements and farms, and Bidayuh longhouses in the Borneo highlands, as well as Iban longhouses in Bawang Assan near Sibu, where they can even spend the night.See the Sarawak tourism website for more.

Sabah also has its share of cultural villages, such as Monsopiad Cultural Village on the Penampang River, and the beautiful Mari Mari Cultural Village, located just 25 minutes from the state capital of Kota Kinabalu, where one can see the making of blowpipes, observe traditional tribal tattooing and sample customary tribal cuisine.

From the Sabah tourism website “Be prepared to teleport back to the times of ancient Borneo through the display of unique ingenious architecture, simulated lives and ritualistic ceremonies. Also, get acquainted with each village tribe as you enter their homes and experience their rich culture.”

Those in search of a genuine cultural holiday or those who wish to combine a bit of culture with various types of adventures in Borneo will not be disappointed by what Sabah and Sarawak have to offer. Though the occasional “headhunt” did occur in the past, tribes are now more interested in hospitality as well as preserving and sharing their cultures. This means farming, festivals, weekly open air markets (tamu), maintaining (and adapting) traditional longhouses and continuing a variety of fascinating customs, arts and crafts.

Longhouse, Sabah. Pic: Paul Mannix, Flickr, Creative Commons.

Longhouse, Sabah. Pic: Paul Mannix, Flickr, Creative Commons.

Tourism Malaysia

Discovering Sabah’s World War Two sites

Discovering Sabah’s World War Two sites

I am standing solemnly in the sticky heat, my shirt clinging to my back, despite the fact I’m in a shaded area of forest. It’s mid morning yet it’s already sweltering and humidity is high here at Sandakan Memorial Park, in the Sabah region of Malaysian Borneo.

Pic: Terence Carter.

Pic: Terence Carter.

I’ve joined a group of some 60 people, mostly Australian passengers from the Orion cruise ship which has docked at Sandakan for the day. Two Australian women are laying a wreath at the base of the black marble monument, another two stand together, tears welling in their eyes, and arms linked to comfort each other.

The four women are descendents of the six Australian men who survived the horrific Sandakan Death Marches in which 2,400 Australian and British Prisoners of War (POWs) died between January and August 1945, and they’re here, along with the rest of the group, to pay their respects.

Sabah is best known to most travellers as an exotic tropical destination that’s teeming with wildlife and boasts some of the world’s best diving, snorkelling and hiking. Yet it’s also the site of some of the most horrific atrocities committed against POWs during the Second World War.

The leafy park, now towering with lofty trees from which I spot pygmy squirrels leaping from branch to branch, was the location of the original Sandakan Prisoner of War camp, where some 2,700 Aussie and Brit soldiers were brought by the Japanese after the fall of Singapore in February 1942 to build an airstrip.

Some 300 were transferred to other camps, with the remainder subjected to the most brutal of conditions. Sick, weak, starving, and over-worked, suffering from tropical ulcers and malaria, they were forced over three interminable periods to stagger some 250 kilometres from Sandakan to Renau. They either died or were killed, often in horrific circumstances, on their way or upon arrival, with just six Australian men surviving, after escaping into the jungle and being helped by local people.

Every year, thousands of Australians and British visit the sites, and experiencing these places with older Australians who have a connection to the tragic events can be very moving. If you’re travelling in Borneo and would like to pay your respects, these are the key sites of commemoration in Sabah you should experience:

Sandakan Memorial Park
It’s worth beginning your visit by reading the display boards at the small but compelling museum in the traditional wooden pavilion at the centre of the park so that you quickly gain an understanding of the hell that the 2,400 Australian and British soldiers went through in this seemingly tranquil forest. The black and white photos and testimonies reveal how very different it was when they were imprisoned here in the closing years of the war.

Pic: Terence Carter.

Pic: Terence Carter.

Labuan War Memorial
Nothing can quite prepare oneself for this enormous expanse of manicured lawns with row upon row of marble headstones etched with the most touching of messages – there are almost 4,000 Commonwealth soldiers buried here in total. Jalan Tanjung Purun, 2kms east of town, Pulau Labuan.

Kundasang War Memorial
The lovingly tended Australian and English gardens here commemorate the prisoners of war who died here at the end of the horrific Death Marches. Protected by high walls, each garden is quite different to the other, the Australian garden comprising a sprawling lawn with flower beds, modelled on a typical suburban garden, the other a quintessentially British cottage garden. Visitors are invited first to an air-conditioned room to watch a poignant Australian documentary, which follows the recent journey of a group of Australians, including young soldiers, re-tracing the route. Equally touching are the photographs, articles, letters, and various paraphernalia on display. There are lists of those who died on the Marches in a third area with a long pergola shading a pond, with majestic views of Mount Kinabalu. Various reports claim that the soldiers came to hate Mount Kinabalu, continually in their sights and representing quite a different challenge than it does today. On the KK-Ranau Highway, near the junction to the Mesilau Nature Resort, Renau.

Tourism Malaysia

The longhouses of Malaysian Borneo

The longhouses of Malaysian Borneo

The enormous island of Borneo adds yet more to the Asian melting pot that is Malaysia. Malaysian Borneo (sometimes called Eastern Malaysia) is comprised of the states of Sarawak and Sabah, which cling to the Northwest side of the world’s third largest island.

Who lives in a house like this? Pic: Ben Cowles

Who lives in a house like this? Pic: Ben Cowles

The Dayak, a collective name for the hundreds of tribes that populate Borneo, make up the largest ethic group on the island. One activity that is growing in popularity among the ever-increasing legions of travellers visiting Malaysia is a visit to the village longhouses that these people traditionally live in.

A Very Long House
As the very name implies, longhouses are elongated buildings raised several feet above ground by numerous sturdy stilts. The houses are typically made from tree bark and grass, but today many tribes also use the more versatile, but less pretty, sheet iron. The exact layout of longhouses varies from tribe to sub-tribe to region, yet they all share similar characteristics.

The longhouses of Borneo generally consist of a lengthy communal hall with private family rooms splintering off to the sides. An entire village, in some cases up to 500 people from three generations, are housed in each longhouse.

The stilts upon which each longhouse rests serve to protect against flash floods and rodents. Their height also helps to catch the cool breezes blowing up high. The entire village, plus any visitors, commune in the longhouse while their livestock lives beneath.

The Iban are perhaps the most well known tribal peoples of Sarawak. In days long gone the Iban were feared by all, due to their practice of headhunting. In order for a boy to be considered a man, he would have to strike out into the world alone, only being allowed to return to his village once he had attained the heads of his enemies. Scary right! Well, thankfully (or not, depending on your stance towards globalisation) this practice is no longer carried out. The attainment of manhood is now achieved by returning to the village with more useful commodities; like generators, air conditioning or TVs.

Someone you’re likely to meet. Pic: Ben Cowles

Someone you’re likely to meet. Pic: Ben Cowles

But by no means are the Iban the only people to live in this communal way. In the Northern state of Sabah, the Rungus also live in communal longhouses and adhere to many of their ancient customs. Their longhouses tend to be much closer to the ground and they are just as willing to accept visitors.

Getting there

Whenever one reads about the Iban or Rungus peoples, their friendly attitude towards strangers is always mentioned.

Do a quick Google search of Borneo longhouses along with the words ‘tour’ or ‘stay’ and you’ll find pages of tour operators offering up a night in one. Of course if you find yourself already in Malaysia, it’s just as possible to organise a trip in-country with a local guide, too.

In and around the Kelabit Highlands – a large plateau in Sarawak close to the Indonesian border – it is possible to trek from one village to another. The longhouses there operate as rest stops as well as villages.

For the independent traveller wanting to reach the villages on their own steam, it’s possible to trek, bus, boat or fly to many.

Before entering a longhouse one must be invited. One advantage to having a local guide means they’ll probably do all that in advance. However, should you find yourself approaching a longhouse without one and the desire to enter, get talking to a local and an invitation is likely to follow.

Life on high. Pic: Ben Cowles

Life on high. Pic: Ben Cowles

It is customary to provide gifts of food, drink, alcohol, etc. for the villagers of any longhouse. You will most likely be officially greeted by the village leader and expected to drink with him and the elders. Obviously stay within the communal area and only go into one of the private rooms if invited to do so.

A Period of Transition
Globalisation is changing the traditional way of life for the Dayak of Borneo. Many young Iban and Rungus people are leaving their longhouses and seeking a life in the urban areas of Malaysia. The 21st century has been coined as a transitional period for these people. Whether this means the traditional longhouse way of life will eventually become obsolete or not, remains to be seen. However, should you find yourself touring Malaysian Borneo, a stay in a longhouse is something not to be missed.

This article has barely scratched the surface on the number of tribes offering traditional longhouse stays in Malaysian Borneo. If you’d like to find out more then a visit to the Malaysian, Sarawak and Sabah tourist boards should set you straight.