Semenggoh Nature Reserve
Semenggoh (about 40 minutes away from Kuching; accessible via public bus, taxi and minivan shuttle) is primarily known for its wildlife centre where they conduct two daily feedings for orangutangs (who come or not of their own free will). Few people take the time to enjoy the nature trails as the orangutangs are the primary draw.
There are a couple of short trails available for jungle trekking (no more than 2 km in length) which are enjoyable. My favorite part of this trail was how quickly all city sounds fade away and the call of birds, insects, frogs, and other inhabitants quickly take over.
Before heading to the orangutang feeding platforms, we received a briefing from the wildlife centre rangers. We were provided with info with how to behave as we observe the feeding platform (i.e.: no camera flashes, complete silence, etc.), what aggressive orangutang behavior looks like, and of course, some fun facts about orangutang.
We made our way over to the feeding area to see if we could spot some orangutans but sadly, after two hours of sitting in silence, none came. One of the rangers explained that it is fruit season (November-ish to March-ish). With the trees in the wildlife reserve producing lots of fruits, the orangutangs have plenty of access to food in the heart of the jungle so they don’t need to venture to the feeding platform for food. I was secretly hoping for that one orangutang who is too lazy or can’t be bothered to search for food and would just go to the feeding area because it is a sure thing. But alas….I have yet to see Borneo’s Orange Man. [Edit: I saw several orangutangs in the Borneo Rainforest Lodge, check out my adventures: Part I, Part II, and Part III].
Sarawak Cultural Village
Later in the afternoon, the hotel staff where I was staying suggested we go to the Sarawak Cultural Village (also about an hour outside of Kuching). I heard about this particular attraction and wasn’t planning on going to see it as it didn’t really seem like my thing as I thought it was going to be geared more towards kids.
I have to admit that I was pleasantly surprised.
There is no doubt about it – the Sarawak Cultural Village is definitely touristy. It is considered a “living museum” where seven traditional dwellings (one for each of the main indigenous groups in Sarawak) have been built and are staffed by representatives of that particular group. You can go inside the dwellings and have a look around. Dwellings have various artefacts hanging on the walls or have someone cooking a traditional dish (which you can help in the cooking and also sample the dish), playing traditional music instruments, making swords, creating traditional textiles (weaving and beading), etc. You can even try out your skills in dart blowing (I am terrible at it, FYI).
There isn’t a lot of information on the walls in terms of explanations of what you’re looking for, but there is always someone manning the area who is happy to tell you about their culture and traditions. They are happy to answer any questions and I learned a lot about the culture and traditions of Sarawak’s peoples.
For example, I learned that one of the longhouses built on stilts has open flooring (think bamboo slats crisscrossed with major gaps) so that they could see enemies coming and pour hot boiling water on them from above to ward them off (which also explained the huge cauldron randomly placed in the corner).
In another, I learned about the shaman’s process for healing and symbolism used to send sickness away (the shaman removes the sickness from your spirit, constructs a small wooden boat, puts the sickness inside, and sends it down the river).
There is also an air-conditioned (thank god!) theatre near the entrance where there are two cultural shows per day. I attended the afternoon show that showcases various traditional outfits and dances (from celebration dances to funeral dances) of each of the cultural groups. Oh, and when you arrive, you get a snazzy little passport where you can collect stamps from each of the longhouses (great way to keep track of where you’ve been!) and it also provides a brief synopsis of some of the heritage and traditions of the different cultural groups.
Bonus! Damai beach is only a 5 minute walk from the Sarawak Cultural Village. It is definitely worth walking down to the beach to cool off as the heat and humidity in Malaysia can be pretty oppressive. This beach is pretty low key and quiet so you’re sure to find a quiet spot to stretch out, relax and have a refreshing swim.
It’s best to go to Damai beach first thing in the morning or late afternoon (think 3-4 p.m.) since it has a tide. The time of day that you choose to enjoy Damai beach makes all the difference in not having to walk great distances just to get to water that’s past your knees.