Magical Malaysia: part two
Continued from Tuesday
Surrounded by rainforest
Kuching, the capital of Sarawak, is a short 90 minute hop from Kuala Lumpur International Airport. Sarawak has a population of around 2.5 million and attracts 3.5 million tourists per year. As well as beach resort hotels and golf courses, there are specific attractions such as the search for orangutans. Away from Kuching, the rainforest is so close there’s a feeling that if one blinks it could start encroaching. I stayed in a lodge at our beach resort hotel at nearly tree height and young bamboo saplings and vines appeared to be growing several inches a day. The other manifestation of the height was the sound of birdsong and muttering and snuffling of creatures all around. At night neither the noise nor the heat diminishes. One day it was 32 degrees celsius and the humidity must have been close to 100 percent, so the South China Sea was pure bliss.
The White Raja
This leads to the story of the original White Raja, James Brooke, who captained his own boat from London arriving in 1838 and became an honorary governor and then virtual ruler of Sarawak, until his death in 1868. Subsequently his nephew took over and the Brookes remained in control until well into the 20th century. Today his house is a museum and some of the displays of birds and other animals can be found here in the original Victorian cases. There are several books in print about the White Rajas.
Orangutans, monkeys and crocs’ eyes on the Santubong River
The locals show a touching respect for the Orangutans, and many, with the Rangers, know their names and their children’s names. In fact, Orang means ‘people’, and Utan ‘of the forest’. A tribe comprising five per cent of Sarawak’s population are the Orang Ulu – meaning ‘up-river people’.
The Semenggoh Centre is reached on foot, well away from the car parks, and the Orangutans are not fenced in and freely roam around. There is quite a strict induction talk before going into the forest area as the Orangutans can appear from any direction, including dropping from above, and can be very aggressive if frightened. They don’t like noise, camera flash or sticks or umbrellas waving around! Both the present dominant male, Ritchie, and the senior female – 29 year old Hot Mama – are to be given very wide berths and, if they materialise, the Rangers’ instructions must be followed carefully.
On the Santubong River Cruise we took in fishing villages unchanged for generations, amazing sunsets and snapped some proboscis (long nosed) monkeys. After dark, we enjoyed clouds of fireflies and dark red crocodile eyes caught in the flashlight along the banks. We saw only one other small boat. Most of the river banks have no gaps in the overhanging forest and one had that feeling again, of it all closing in.
Sarawak Cultural Village and the Rainforest World Music Festival
This is a ‘must see’ as every aspect of Sarawak culture is brought together at this award winning 18 acre complex. Set around a lake, there are Long Houses and other structures made by seven different communities within Sarawak all of which were developed for the community and village needs. Curiously one of the Long House styles is described as ‘Baroque’ and predictably there were plenty of shrunken skulls around! Comprehensive information can be found at: www.scv.com.my
This is also the site of the Rainforest World Music Festival taking place this year from 13-15 July. Starting mid morning there are non-stop performances and workshops all over the complex and all the Long Houses are used by the acts. There’s a clue to something of the ‘World’ music flavour in the list of some instruments involved: dhol drums, Australian didgeridoo, African djembes, Brazilian repenique and surdos, Malay gendang and rebana, the Indian sitar and tabla, Scottish bagpipes and a whole lot more…
Food and the ‘Colours of Melaka’
One of the best meals we had was in Kuching at Blah! Blah! Restaurant. The owners just ran out of steam trying to invent a name. Down the road at the Damai Beach Resort ,we had a lunch which included ‘Jungle fern with garlic’ and some classic Malaysian dishes (see picture of menu, below). We were impressed with some of the Food Court meals we had too.
And the Colours of Melaka? For our last night we nipped back to the mainland and down to the port of Melaka and went to a gala dinner evening in a police escorted convoy of flamboyantly floral trishaws – see picture, below. Sadly that’s all we really had time for there but I hope to ‘do’ it on the next trip. Yes, I am going back.
For more on Malaysia, visit www.tourismmalaysia.gov.my