Friday, September 30, 2011, 00:00

A blend of city and jungle adventure

By Andre Vltchek

A blend of city and jungle adventure Page 12 AFP village.jpg

A blend of city and jungle adventure Page 12 AFP weaver.jpg

National parks, wetlands, rainforests, wildlife centers, ethnic longhouses, beaches, a grand cultural village, and many things more, make up Sarawaks charm and loveliness.

Kuching, the capital, is the ideal place to go exploring the cultures and nature of Malaysias largest state.

Driving around in Sarawak, one can see scenic countryside, beautiful mountain ranges, lush paddy fields, clean rivers, and amazing mangroves.

It is also home to some wonderful national parks. Several of them are easy day trips from Kuching.

Bako National Park is the oldest national park in Sarawak.

It contains almost every type of vegetation in Borneo, and is home to approximately 150 rare proboscis monkeys, found only in this area.

Gunung Gading National Park is home to Rafflesia, the worlds largest flower (diameter can be up to one meter).

Kubah National Park boasts one of the best selections of palms and orchids in Borneo besides crystal clear streams and waterfalls.

Part of Kubah National Park is Matang Wildlife Center where it houses endangered animals in large enclosed areas of rainforest. After rehabilitation, the animals are released into the forest again.

Sarawak also has a 653-hectare Semenggoh Nature Reserve which lies only 20 km from Kuching. It has an arboretum, a botanical research center and a wildlife rehabilitation center.

For over 20 years, the wildlife center has been rehabilitating orangutans that were orphaned or rescued from captivity. Asias only great ape is endemic to Borneo and the Indonesian island of Sumatra.

That one is Seduku, says Stanley, a park ranger at Semenggoh. She is now 40 years old, and the oldest here. We call her the grandmother. The little one with her is Ganya, 3 years old. Seduku is trying to build a nest there.

After feeding time, she will rest with her children and grandchildren. There are eight orangutans here at this moment. They were confiscated from illegal poachers and we rehabilitate them here to be later released to the forest, Stanley explains.

Orangutans here are still wild and they can attack.

One of the park rangers recently got bitten and had to stay at the hospital for more than 2 weeks. The bite was really big. So be careful, they are dangerous, Stanley says.

One of the highlights in Sarawak is a visit to a longhouse a collaborative habitation that serves as a home for the entire community of a tribe. In a longhouse, each family retains a high degree of economic autonomy but common areas are in constant use for cooking, traditional crafts, socializing and celebrations.

Although longhouses in this region share certain features all are built on stilts to insulate them from the damp tropical earth each tribal group has its own floor plan and decorative traditions. Communal life is centered on the awah, a roofed, open-air veranda which is spacious and can exceed two football fields in lengths.

A longhouse village close to Kuching is Annah Rais. There are three longhouses in Annah Rais and this village is perhaps one of the best places to get acquainted with the traditions of the Dayak indigenous group.

Another way to check out various longhouses complete with their unique handicrafts is to visit Sarawak Cultural Village (SCV) at the foothills of Mount Santubong, about 35km from Kuching. SCV houses several longhouses from Iban, Bidayuh, Orang Ulu and other ethnic groups.

Apart from having twice daily 45-minute cultural performance of songs and dances, SCV is also home to the internationally renowned Rainforest World Music Festival.

Not far from Sarawak Cultural Village is the Damai beach, a popular resort area. For those who love to go on river cruises, there is Kuching Wetlands National Park, located only 5 km from Damai beach.

Saline mangrove system that includes an extensive network of marine waterways and tidal creeks interconnecting two rivers is one of the last remnants of the formerly extensive Sarawak Mangrove Forest Reserve.

Sarawak is also home to Gunung Mulu National Park, the largest one in Sarawak and is on the UNESCO World Heritage List.

Important both for its high biodiversity and for its karst features, Gunung Mulu National Park is the most studied tropical karst area in the world. At least 295 km of explored caves provide a spectacular sight and are home to millions of cave swiftlets and bats.

The Sarawak Chamber, 600 meters by 415 meters and 80 meters high, is the largest known cave chamber in the world, says UNESCO on its website.

It is not near Kuching but for those with more time to spend in Sarawak, this is definitely one site not to be missed.