Sunday, 31 July 2022

ABC Apong, Tibou & Camping in Mukah

I headed to Mukah from Sibu with only one thing in mind really. A break in the middle for the journey to Bintulu. I found on google that there was a park by the beach and I figured I could camp there for the night before heading to Bintulu.

In reality, I did not expect much from Mukah, I knew it would be just a passing town but stopping by somehow seamed right instead of just pumping through to Bintulu from Sibu. I tried to visit the few attraction in Mukah which was the Lamin Dana Longhouse, a traditional Melanau tribe longhouse but alas, some film crew was shooting a drama series there and it was out of bounds for a few days. I managed to sneak a shot outside but that was it.

Lamin Dana Longhouse - Traditional Melanau Tribe Longhouse - Mukah, Sarawak

Nearby Lamin Dana Longhouse I stopped for lunch and thats where I met Romeo the owner of the shop. He was curious what I was doing in Mukah and after a few chitchat knowing I was going to camp at the beach, he actually offered for me to stay at his house for the night or suggested for me to camp at the football field just in front of the shop where there is toilets and I could charge my phone in the restaurant.

I hang around for a long time in the afternoon at Romeo’s restaurant just to escape the heat and when my drink neared the end, he came out with a Ais Kacang but this was the Sarawak version called Apong ABC. On the house he said, welcome to Mukah.

Apong ABC 


Romeo's Restaurant, Mukah - Sarawak

I said I will drop by later at night but for now, will take Bluey for a round in Mukah. Mukah is a really small town but well kept. Nothing much to shout about but they do have a KFC in town. I went to the beach or park which is called Pesta Gaul, so apparently the park is where the Melanau people held their festival every year, the Pesta Gaul (Gaul Festival).

I caught a glimpse of the famous Tibou game played by some kids on a smaller version. Four young boys repeatedly jumping off the ledge onto the rattan rope swining all squish up together hanging on for dear life.

Tibou Site - Pesta Gaul - Mukah

Many Kite Flyers at the Pesta Gaul Park - Mukah - Sarawak

By night, I went back to Romeos restaurant and notice a local open air, super loud kareoke has set up shop and the locals were screaming their lungs away having a good time. RM3 per song or RM 10 for 4 songs they said.

Sarawak felt this was this was to me whenever I go out of town. The people friendly and out to help. I eventually camp at the beach anyway since it was the best spot, quiet and serene and in the morning an old man excersizing strolled up to me while I packed up camp and asked what I was doing. My standard story of camping and riding around Borneo was met with a smile and he wish me all the best but at the same time told me to be careful while camping out.

Camping at Mukah Beach - Sarawak

Traveled on: Aug 2019  

Sunday, 24 July 2022

The Unexpected Experience of an Iban Longhouse in Kapit - ( Richard Homestay )

I keep procastinating on writing something that I already knew in my head would be a great blog post. The adventure was unique, the experience one of a kind and the story to tell oh .... but then I am scared I will blunder it once I put it in writing.

This is a story of chance encounters with many “if” and many luck in between.

Kapit was never on my list, in fact I had no idea Kapit existed nor did I knew about the longest river in Sarawak the Rajang River but that all change with a simple visit to the tourist information center in Sibu and the lure of exploring small town Kapit to see the deep inlands of Sarawak which once, can only be access by boat or little planes and helicopters.

Fort Sylvia - Kapit 

Of course the allure of a thrilling ride through an unmarked road to reach Kapit made the decision more easier for I had a feeling Kapit would be such a town, bustling and small but lacking the activities to keep a traveler staying more than one night.

So the day before departure at Kapit, I was back in the budget hotel in Sibu asking the nice old uncle manning the reception if I were to come back in a few days, could I get a discount if I paid directly instead of going through Agoda bookings. (I know ....its a long term traveler habits to try and save every little bit of money they have ).

There I was explaining that I will be going to Kapit and be back in Sibu in a few days and at the same time there was Audrey, a French backpacker gathering information from the same Uncle on how to get to Kapit. Audrey thought for a moment she would have company to Kapit but I tapped my helmet with a smile and the illusion died. See you in Kapit maybe I said. Audrey was going on the express boat the next day while me on the same morning going on a treacherous road thrill adventure all ending at Kapit.

Kapit Roundabout & Clock Tower 

Kapit Market

Kapit Market

We did not exchange contact, nor did we made any arrangement to meet for that short moment in the hotel lobby felt like a Hi-Bye conversation. Once I reached Kapit and after checking into Magilai Hotel and finally rested in the Lobby to get the WIFI signal, there I saw Audrey walking in and checking into the very same Hotel.

I waved at her and this time we exchanged names. That was my chance encounter with Audrey.

Audrey had a story of her own going on the boat to Kapit. She met Dr. Lee which long long time ago works in Kapit and he was so intrigued that a foreigner would actually visit Kapit, (Audrey was the only white French girl on the boat) that he kept inviting her for many things such as tea, dinner, longhouse visit, which made Audrey a bit wary being a solo female traveler.

With me around now, she then asked if I was keen to join the Dr. Lee for dinner. Sure anything is fine I guess but I was planning to explore Kapit at night. We fixed a time 715pm and met up in the lobby going out to explore Kapit, but Kapit at night was a ghost town. No food, no activities of any sort and even the so called Kapit night market area closed by sunset. There was only two thing that we saw that was alive and open, the one and only KFC restaurant that was packed full of people and a few questionable Karaoke Pub near the hotel

Wild Boar with Black Noodle

Audrey messaged Dr. Lee and said yep we will take up the offer for bringing us out for food. Few minutes later Dr. Lee show up with a Hilux pick up truck and drove us slightly out of town to a local Chinese eatery.

We had fried noodles, some local vegetables that I had not seen before and the delicacy of the forest wild boar.

Dr. Lee was part of a church NGO called Lighthouse Foundation which is part of Malaysia Starfish Association and he was looking for a longhouse to bring his guest from Taiwan which was visiting next week. So with that in mind, Audrey and me was pulled along having nothing to do with Dr. Lee mission to locate the longhouse that very same night after dinner.

We found the longhouse at 9pm only by chance since they had some music playing and we figured if there was music, most likely its the longhouse and the community had yet to gone to sleep.

Richard's Iban Longhouse 

Richard Longhouse or as I knew it from google map - Richard Homestay.

This is where coincidence number three came in. One day ago, I had actually saw Richard Homestay on google maps and out of my normal travelling practice, send Richard a WhatsApp message asking if I could stay at his place. I had no idea it was a longhouse and thought it was just a homestay like any other house. Richard never replied so I ended up in Magilai Hotel but as destiny would have it, I would end up staying at Richard Homestay anyway.

Tuai Rumah Richard was a nice hospitable guy always smiling and easygoing. While Dr. Lee entered into serious business conversation for securing an event for his Taiwan guest, Audrey and Me got a glimpse of the longhouse families and cultures.

The kids were playing the traditional Iban instrument and rehearsing a traditional dance. Apparently the next day they had an important visitor and event. A guest of honor, Timbalan Pengarah MARA Usahawan

Once Dr. Lee serious talk was more or less done and the conversation going everywhere to nowhere, I decided to check with Tuan Richard if he got my watsapp messaged. Checking his phone, he did got my message but apological he said he ignored it because he was so busy organizing the event for his guest of honor visit tomorrow.

I asked if I could stay here tomorrow and join in the event and that was a Yes. Audrey asked for the price and Tuan Richard quoted us RM 85 for lodgings, food and any activities that we or they could think of.

The next day we packed up our stuff and left Hotel Magilai in the morning with me piggybacking Audrey illegally without a helmet to the long house just in time to see the main guest arrived and all the traditional Iban performace. A dance, a song, a prayer ceremony and after an exhibition of all the handicraft that the family and families produce and sold online in this digital age.

Iban Prayer & Dance & Music Performance 

Iban Handicraft Showcase

Kapit Entrepreneur 

Iban Bead Handicraft Display 

Group Photo Session with the Guest of Honor

By Noon, the event was finish and the guest had left leaving behind a quiet moment where Audrey and I just chill at the open longhouse watching the individual families go by their usual routine, washing laundry, lepaking at the veranda, watch the kids come back from school at 1pm with a school bus and immediately forming into their own age groups for their own world of fun.

Dr. Lee dropped in at 3pm talking to the older girls between 18 to 22 trying to coax them into a technical program such as welding, sewing, beautician, childcare which the organization was willing to sponsor 100% for these kids to get the technical qualification certificate which could help them get jobs after.

The catch .... it was in Kuala Lumpur and flight tickets was on their own. Even lodgings was fully sponsored, and in a way it looked like a great opportunity only, if and only if the girls were genuinely interested. Technical skills requires a little more passion and interest compared to studying. You can study and be smart without liking it but doing childcare if you don't like kids is a whole different story.

Somehow the story spins and spins and the Doctor tries to rope me into doing some charity works in Kapit .... design a long house or build a long house, help the kids, stay here and be a part of the community .... and Richard quietly slips in and quoted .... and marry a good Iban girl and settle down ..... *chukle*

While most of the conversation was done mostly in Malay mixed in with a bit of English and Iban, I could not help but laughing out loud when the marriage proposal came up for I was wondering how long it would take before it happened. I explained to Audrey, while Dr. Lee tries to tie me up with charity or some sort of project in relation to Kapit, the Tuai Rumah Richard outright just want to tie me up with marriage hence fully owned and unable to escape Kapit.

I told them I had remembered a warning from a friend long long time ago which the saying goes like this. If you ever stay in a longhouse in Sarawak, be careful that you don't accidentally get married and forever unable to leave.

Evening came and it was time for a short track into the forest nearby the longhouse.

Stingless Bee Honey Farm

Stingless Bee Honey Farm

Tracking to the Forest River

Richard showed us this Kelulut Farm ( Stingless Bee Honey ) along with all the Durian tree, jackfruit, banana, enkabang, a brinjal farm, chilli farm, chicken farm and all around. The doctor and I agreed that it has great potential to expend the homestay with activities walking around nearby since it was like a mini jungle track with lots of experience for the city dwellers whom never seen how a durian tree look like or how small scale farming is done. Only need to train one of those girls to be confident enough to explain like a guide to the tourist that visit the longhouse.

That night for dinner, Audrey and me ate together with Richard and his family nothing special but just their daily staple diet which makes the experience even more precious to me compared to a 10 course meal of traditional food but only cooked and ate at big events. The daily mundane lifestyle was enough but then again we also got a treat which was the Ikan Semah, a very expensive river fish which when grown more than 3kg in size would cost roughly RM900 per kilo. Richard treated us to the smaller version ... much cheaper due to the small fish having lots of bone but a chance to eat Ikan Semah was quite a surprise.

Home Cooked Dinner at Richard's Longhouse


Ikan Semah 



Only months later back in Singapore would I have known that the locally called Ikan Semah was also a very close cousin to the Ikan Empurau or as the Singaporean calls it ... “Wang Bu Liau”

I slept in the living room while Audrey being a girl had a room to herself. By morning it was time to move on and we all part ways after breakfast with Audrey heading to Belaga and me back to Sibu.

Kapit Jeti 

Traveled on: Aug 2019

Sunday, 10 July 2022

The Road To Kapit

The road to Kapit started nice and easy from Sibu to Kanowit with google maps still working and guiding me all the way. To get to Kapit one will need to pass through two towns which is Kanowit and Song.

I went for a spin in Kanowit with Bluey, a short 5 minutes around the small village/town and notice that the Brooke monument/fort was under repairs. I decided to have breakfast in Kanowit seeing all the bustling morning life of a small town. Malaysia seam to be the same anywhere, the heart of the town is always in the morning coffeeshop.

Road from Sibu - Kanowit 

Farms & Nursery along the road from Sibu to Kanowit 

Brand new Road to Kanowit 

Township of Kanowit - Sarawak

Speedboat Arriving at Kanowit from Sibu along the Rejang River

From Kanowit, the road was great, fully paved and brand newly laid tarmac. Signboard to Song or Kapit was missing and I could see the signboard pointing back to Sibu and an empty space pointing to no man land.

You could guess which route I followed. In the beginning I thought this would be an amazing ride since the road was perfect and maybe, just maybe the road has been completed so recently that no one knew about it hence I would be riding pretty easily all the way to Kapit.

Unmarked New Road to Song / Kapit

My hopes were soon flushed down the toilet when I saw the fork leaving the pristine tarmac to go off-road onto a yellowish sandy and what seamed like a very slippery slope. Lucky thing was it was dry season so the road was firm albeit a little dusty. A cardboard marked with Kapit/Song and a small arrow confirmed the direction was correct and I would have to navigate the dirt road or as the locals call it, kelapa sawit road. (Palm Oil road)

Right Turn to Kelapa Sawit Road - Kanowit - Song - 2019
The new road on left to Song was not completed at the time. 

In the beginning it was ok, and it was thrilling as well going up and down the corners slowly reminding me back on the adventure rides I had in Thailand, Cambodia and Laos. Then the dirt road became steeper, longer, sharper turns and crazy downhill. I started to sweat and my hand and legs were shaking from gripping the bike too hard. It was not an easy road to go through and all the people seam to use only Hiluk or 4x4 vehicles and even then you can see the amount of control they have over their own vehicle is very thin.

I went as slow as I could but also had to do runs where going up hill needed some initial speed. There were many instants where I lost control of Bluey for a moment, sliding a little when going downhill pressing the brakes too hard, using two legs for additional boost going uphill as Bluey almost gave up the climb and I almost went tumbling downhill backwards. I would not have survived this journey if not for the experience riding and falling the last few months in Thailand, Cambodia and Laos.

The beginning of Kelapa Sawit Road to Song 

The Winding Road up and down towards Song. 
This was the last Photo before the hard stretch started

Around 30km of f*cking kelapa sawit road, and I hit the tarmac again just before Song town. I reach Song and immediately found a place to get a drink and rest for an hour. It was a grueling ride physically but mentally I was exhausted.

The rest of the road from Song to Kapit was beautifully paved. Just 30 km of thrilling 4x4 dirt track adventure done using a 125cc bike. Most people in Kapit whom talked to me said I was crazy but one young chap said it was an adventure, a thrill like no other.

Back on the tarmac road - Song to Kapit 

I decided one time was enough and the journey back to Sibu was money well spend putting Bluey on the express boat. It cost me RM 80 for the Bluey’s boat ride from Sibu to Kapit, RM80 to hire some boys to pick up and carry Bluey down the stairs and load up to the boat at Kapit, RM20 tips to get the Bluey down from the boat and to the port landing in Sibu and finally RM 25 for my passenger ticket on the boat itself. Total cost back from Kapit – Sibu, RM 205 compared to going from Sibu to Kapit which only cost me fuel less than RM 15

Paying money for the journey back was a little painful but it is still a sight to see someone carrying a bike on his shoulders and any non-standard boat ride with Bluey is always a welcomed adventure. Also, mentally I felt if I were to ride back the same road, I was bound to get into a fall just from the shear fear and stress now that I know what I had to go through.

RM 80 for the boys Carrying Blue down Stairs

Just one boy Carrying Bluey down the steps ... 
The other 4 is for loading and unloading Bluey from that one strong Boy shoulder. 

Bluey Carried onto the speedboat in Kapit 

Paid RM 80 to the boatman to strap Bluey to the rails at the tail end of the Speedboat

Post Note: I heard the new road is fully open now ... so its a easy drive from Sibu to the township of Kapit ... or as the locals call it ... the last outpost before going in to the great virgin Borneo forest.

Traveled on: Aug 2019

Sunday, 3 July 2022

Finding Clues in Sibu for the next Great Adventure

My original plans for Sibu was just to rest up for two nights, go to a bar maybe but none of that happened even thou I chance upon all the watering holes during the day, night time was somehow stuck in the hotel just seeing TV and lepaking.

Sibu Gateway

Sibu has no Hostels so I was holed up in a budget hotel for RM47 a night. Higher side of my budget for sure. Sibu had a small charm different than Kuching in a way but nothing to keep someone here more than two days. Actually one day if you are fast enough but I was seriously tired from the fast pace traveling since Kuching and it was time for a break.

Sibu Tua Pek Kong Temple 

Must visit would be the Sibu Heritage Center which has a museum at the second floor of the many different cultures and traditions of Sarawak, It was good since the Kuching Museum was close at the time so this was a good information introduction to Sarawak.

Other than that it was just walking around downtown Sibu which was so small it was done in one Hour as well seeing the Iconic Gateway, the old temple by the river, river docks for express boat to many places up and downriver, wharf, old shop houses and night time was visiting the famous Sibu Night market which was utterly disappointing.

Sibu Museum

Sibu Museum

Sibu Cultural Heritage Museum

There are things to see in Sibu just that Sibu was more down to earth, with the people going about their daily life earning a living more than depending on tourism. Factories, supply warehouse, wholesale of jungle produce, container port shipping, logging, it was a bustling city compared to Kuching and one could see that this was a city where a variety of work was everywhere.

Tourist Information Center was downtown and looking at some Sibu Brochure, most of the recommendation was to take the boat up the longest river in Sarawak, the Rajang River to see the river village life all the way to Kapit where there was Fort Sylvia built during the Rajah Brooke era which held significant historical value.

Sibu

The passenger boat was RM 25 and it took about 4 hours to get to Kapit up river and this was a express speedboat. I could just do a daytrip since Kapit was small enough on the map to explore in one hour and then head back or maybe stay the nights in one of the budget hotels and break my budget again. I jokingly asked if the passenger boat took motorbike as well since I was reluctant to leave Bluey behind for a day.

Surprisingly they said sure, just get someone at the dock to carry your bike onto the boat and negotiate with the express boat on the fare of for bringing the boat. There was no fix fare system for bringing the bike apparently but it was a common for the locals who transported their bikes.

Express Boat up the Rajang River - Sibu

Tourist Information Center: Or you can just ride to Kapit also.

Me: Huh, wait ... say that again ....

So my good friend google, said there was no roads to Kapit from Sibu. In fact there was a lost of broken road between Kanowit and Song and Kapit.

Tourist Information Center: There is a road, under construction but you can use already. Last week one of my friend used a Kancil and he reached Kapit also. I also sometimes go by those 110 cc Kapchai bike and reach Kapit also. Now is dry season, the roads should be ok, not wet so not slippery.

I got the information center guy to show me on the map roughly where the unmarked roads were and drilled his memory of the distance, time, petrol station location, food, conditions of road, steepness of the terrain, etc, etc. He thought I was too worried, and nonchalantly said its doable and lots of locals do it.

The fact was, the moment he said a Kancil can go, I knew Bluey could go as well but it does not hurt to be prepared.

Sibu Central Market Complex 


Sibu Central Market Complex 

Sunset at Sibu Waterfront.

To be continue .... " The Road to Kapit"

Traveled on : Aug 2019


Wednesday, 29 June 2022

Camping in Sri Aman (Simangang)

*This post is a continuation from My Failed Attempt in Border Crossing into Kalimantan with a Motorbike *

I left the border hitting the road hard not sure where I will spend the night since the U-turn at the border had mentally gave me a kick in the ass which made me go into a haze knowing what I need to do but somehow just refuse to create a clear picture in my mind of the next step or next plan.

I rode Bluey as fast as I was comfortable but still slightly over the limit that allow my brain to think clearly since I needed to focus on the road. Once I hit Serian and stopped for lunch giving my ignored butt the long awaited break, my mind started thinking clearly again after some food and a good drink.

The Road to Sri Aman - Sarawak 

Sibu was too far. Doable but not worth the push. I have more time now that 2 weeks allocation for Kalimantan has been shoved down the drain. Sri Aman had no hostels and budget hotels were going to cost me at least RM 50 and usually those are the very crappy ones that you wonder if its safer sleeping outside just to avoid all the germs.

I decided to hit Sri Aman early just to check out the place at least and somehow I was confident to find a nice safe grass patch to spend the night so long I had enough daylight to scout for a spot. By 320pm I reach Sri Aman and went straight to the Fort Alice, one of the old White Rajahs monuments scattered across Sarawak.

Fort Alice - Sri Aman

It was a lovely place, closed at 4pm but at 330pm the caretaker already started locking up the doors and was about to leave. I asked if it was opened and he hesitated to reply knowing the official opening hours were till 4pm but a small town like this with barely any tourist, it was not uncommon to pack up early on a Sunday afternoon. I spared him the dilemma and told him I’ll just look around the Fort Alice compound instead.

Fort Alice - Sri Aman Sarawak

Traditional Malay Canoe Display at Fort Alice - Sri Aman Sarawak 

Fort Alice, the best place to set up camp since the grass was trimmed on soft mount with beautiful high vantage point to overlook the Batang Lupur river. I asked if I could set up tent and he said he could not say. Night time security is someone else responsibility but after closing hours this heritage place is a restricted area. I could read the hidden meaning of the message.

No guards but if you get caught I never gave you permission.

Taman Panorama - Sri Aman Sarawak

Next to Fort Alice was a very small public park called Taman Panorama which the locals hang out every evening watching the river hoping to catch a glimpse of the occasional tidal bore. Looking at the terrain, it was a perfect place to set camp and hence I decided to set camp but only after dark when the romantic walks by couples in the evenings are done.

I went riding around Sri Aman, not very interesting for it was just like any other small town and decided to hang out at the only KFC in town. For the next few hours KFC was my day camp supplying me food, toilet, power point, WIFI, and air-conditioning,

Sri Aman - Sarawak

Sri Aman - Sarawak

By 9pm I headed out to Taman Panorama and not a soul was in sight. In the stealth of night, I pitch my tent and went to sleep. At early morning, I was woken up by someone yelling and I jumped up thinking shit maybe the police or security have found me and I was in trouble but the yelling continued YAAAAAAAAAAA ....... ALLAH HU AKBAR. 

Camping Spot at Taman Panorama - Sri Aman 

Camping Spot Overlooking Batang Lupur River - Sri Aman 

Sri Aman

Oh ... morning prayers. A quick scan and I saw the mosque and decided it was far enough that the early morning worshippers wont bother me. Back to sleep. By sunrise it was really time to run, as the early morning old folks walkers begin their routine, I packed up the tent overlook by their curious eyes and left Sri Aman for Sibu.

Traveled On: Aug 2019