Tag - asia

Get To Know Borneo’s Indigenous Population

borneo, Credit- minnpost.com

borneo, Credit- minnpost.com

Exploring Malaysia’s Tribal Traditions In Sarawak’s Cultural Village

Sarawak’s Cultural village provides an excellent opportunity to learn a little about Borneo’s rich cultural diversity and many tribal traditions.Many guides describe the Cultural Village as ‘a living museum,’ a term which can seem slightly misleading at first. There are no permanent inhabitants of the village; instead, tribes-people are paid to greet guests and demonstrate cultural dances and skills in the excellent recreations of their traditional houses, purpose-built on site.

At 60 Ringgit per adult for entry, it is not one of the cheapest attractions on offer in and around Kuching; in fact, it is probably one of the most expensive. However, as it is situated several miles out of town, a shuttle bus can easily be arranged to transport tourists to and from Kuching, for a minimal extra cost. It is also the site of Sarawak’s famous annual Rainforest Music festival.

Sarawak Has a Diverse Population

Sarawak’s population is perhaps one of the most eclectic and diverse of all the Malaysian states. It may come as a surprise to learn that ethnic Malays are not the majority in this state, with the Iban making up almost one third of the state’s population and the Chinese making up another third. Other tribal or ethnic groups represented at the Cultural Village are the Bidayuh people, the nomadic Penan tribe, Orang Ulu, (or river-dwellers,) and the Melanau people, who traditionally live in ‘tall’ houses built several meters off the ground. In total, there are seven different houses to visit, all of which can be read about and recorded in the ‘passport’ supplied on entry.

An Iban Longhouse

While in Malaysian Borneo or Brunei, it is very easy to arrange a trip to see a ‘real’ longhouse, one that is actually a home for several families. However, the cultural village models allow visitors to see what a longhouse might have looked like before the advent of electricity and other modern luxuries, as well as the chance to see traditional crafts such as cooking and weaving on display. There are plenty of photo opportunities and the tribal hosts are very obliging when it comes to answering questions and explaining their customs. There are also some ‘genuine’ shrunken human heads on display inside the longhouse, not for the faint hearted!

Blowpipes, Sword-making and Cultural Dances

Many traditional crafts and practices are also on display in the Cultural Village, some of which can even be tried out by tourists as they walk around. A sword-making area is on display next to the Orang Ulu longhouse, and a Sago processing hut can be viewed behind the Melanau Tall House. Visitors to the Penan temporary shelter, (temporary due to the nomadic nature of the Penan people,) can even try their hand at using a blowpipe, traditionally used to hunt animals. An excellent way to finish the day is by visiting one of twice daily performances situated in the on-site theatre, all included in the ticket price. Some elements of this are a little on the touristy side, but on the whole, the show is great family entertainment, made even more interesting by the anecdotal explanations behind each dance noted in the village ‘passport.’

Spotting Proboscis Monkeys In Borneo

Proboscis Monkeys, cr-adventures.com.sg

Proboscis Monkeys, cr-adventures.com.sg

Macaques, Monitor Lizards And More in The Brunei Rainforest

Spot some of this threatened species and other wildlife unique to the island of Borneo in the quiet sultanate of Brunei. Proboscis monkeys are rarely described as beautiful. Their prominent, pendulous noses distinguish them from other types of monkeys, and they are often overlooked by visitors to Borneo in favour of their more famous and more attractive relations, the orang-utan.

In fact, the country and city where there is the most chance of spotting these distinctive creatures, Bandar Seri Begawan in Brunei, is also often overlooked by tourists, as most visitors to Borneo hurry eastwards towards the Malaysian state of Sabah, in search of more well-known animal inhabitants of Borneo, Pygmy Elephants and Orang-utans.

Brunei – Home Of The Proboscis Monkey.

This slightly unusual looking primate is endemic to the banks of the Brunei River that snakes lazily through Brunei’s capital city, and is one of Borneo’s many wildlife treats that should not be overlooked. It is not widely known that Brunei has the world’s largest population of Proboscis monkeys and an easy and cheap way to spot these delightful creatures is by taking an early evening boat ride down the Brunei River.

Brunei is a tiny country, so it does not take more than a couple of days to check out the sights that Bandar Seri Begawan has to offer. In the centre of town, book one of the local boatmen to take the trip downriver, as this will be much cheaper than trying to organize a similar trip through a tourist agency. It is easy and quick to organize, and the trip should not come to much more than 10 Brunei dollars per person, (around 7 or 8 USD.)

Kampong Ayer – Brunei’s Water Village

Boats will usually set off from the centre of town, opposite Yayasan Shopping Centre and close to the impressive Omar Ali Saifuddien Mosque that dominates Bandar Seri Begawan’s tiny city centre. The trip always includes a brief tour around Kampong Ayer, Brunei’s famous water village, and can sometimes include a look inside one of the village’s typical houses as well, upon request.

The water village itself is a maze of wooden boards and seemingly ramshackle houses, a surprising number of which boast satellite dishes attached to the outside and other evidence of all the mod-cons not usually associated with a water village. The village also has all their own amenities such as several schools, a fire station – manned of course by boats, a police station and restaurants.

Wildlife Spotting On The Brunei River

After the tour around the water village, the boat will head south in the direction of the Malaysian border, past the Sultan’s place and into the thick mangrove tree-lined river that a large number of Proboscis monkeys call their home.

The boat drivers are well trained to spot any animal movement in the trees or pick out even the smallest glimpse of scales resting on the river banks – crocodiles, monitor lizards and snakes can all be spotted easily along the river as well. The engine goes quiet, and the boat driver guides the boat silently into a nook hidden between the mangrove trees until some tell-tale rustling leaves give away a hiding place.

Although animal sighting cannot be guaranteed on most wildlife spotting tours, it is extremely likely that proboscis and macaque monkeys will be spotted along the river banks, and more often than not, a large monitor lizard will be pointed out perched ominously over the roof of the boat on a low hanging branch.

An easy and affordable way to spot some of Borneo’s wildlife away from the large tourist crowds.

Phnom Penn- Cambodia – An Alternate Stopover

 Phnom Penn-

Phnom Penn- Cambodia

Take A Detour To Cambodia’s Capital And Check Out Its Charm

Forget the clichéd and well trodden stopovers that are so familiar in South East Asia and go that extra mile to Phnom Penn instead.

Although there are not direct flights from Europe or North America into Cambodia at present, the country is well connected to its South East Asian neighbours. From Bangkok, take a short flight over to Phnom Penn and see what Bangkok might have looked like a decade or two ago before the hordes of hennaed, corn-rowed backpackers descended on Thailand. Time rich but cash poor? Combine the Cambodian capital with an overland route from Bangkok via Siem Reap and the Angkor Wat temples and really take the opportunity to see what Cambodia has to offer.

Phnom Penn – A City With Attitude

On arrival in Phnom Penn, the city can seem quite over-whelming. It is certainly a city with personality and character, and if arriving by land, the first moments of leaving the safety of the air-conditioned bus and jumping into a clamouring crowd of tuk-tuk drivers can create a feeling of complete chaos and panic. Arriving by air gives a little more time to adjust to the feel of the city, so this might be the better option for novice travellers in this part of the world.

Backpacker Haven At The Boeng Kak Lake

For those shoe-string travellers with a few dasy to explore, a fair amount of budget accommodation is located on the banks of Boeng Kak Lake area, but it is imperative to check out the accommodation on offer before parting with any money. The seedy side to Phnom Penn never lurks too far beneath the surface but can be minimised with a little research and careful consideration before checking in to a hotel or guesthouse. Described by one guidebook as, “Ko Pha-Ngan without the Gulf of Thailand,” the area around the area around Boeng Kak lake is definitely a great place to chill out, with several guesthouses perched over the edge of the lake and most boasting bars, restaurants and general chill out areas dangling over the water.

Budget Accommodation

A twin, air-conditioned room with attached bathroom around this part of town will only set you back around 8-12 USD in the almost identically priced guesthouses; real budget travellers could abandon the air-con, making do with a ceiling fan and the breeze from the lake, for only 4USD or even less. This standard of rooms can also be found in many other popular touristy areas of town if the lakeside scene doesn’t appeal.

Royal Place And The Russian Market

One problem that Phnom Penn does not have is the issue of transport. Numerous tuk-tuk drivers loiter in the streets all day, ready to be of service. This means that all the most famous, and infamous, sites that the city has to offer are easily reached as a half day trip or less from Phnom Penn’s city centre. The Royal Palace is a must-see, providing a stark contrast of wealth against the ever present backdrop of poverty that the city fails to hide. Shopping at any of the huge, maze-like markets dotted around the city centre provides a chance to stock up on clothes, DVDs, and almost anything else imaginable. And of course, a trip to Phnom Penn would not be complete without a glimpse into the country’s violent and tragic past, events that happened barely a generation ago.

S21, or Tuol Sleng Museum

S21, located near to the city centre, provides a sobering and instant reminder of Cambodia’s painful past. Tuol Sleng Museum, previously known as S21 prison, is an incredibly moving insight into what Phnom Penn would have been like at the height of the Khmer Rouge madness.

Much of the former high school has been left in the same condition as it was when the Vietnamese soldiers found it, the day they drove the Khmer Rouge from the city several decades ago. It has since been turned into a museum to remember the lives lost there and the crimes of the Khmer Rouge.

Phnom Penn is a raw, energetic and highly intoxicating city that definitely deserves a look if there are a few days to spare in South East Asia.