Sarawak adventure vacations

Sarawak adventure vacations


Adventure and adrenaline activities

When thinking about far-flung places that instantly evoke ‘adventure’, it’s all too easy to bypass lesser known destinations such as Sarawak in favour of ‘big hitters’ – Nepal for trekking perhaps, or Canada for sea kayaking - but those that do are missing a trick. Sarawak, a Malaysian state that stretches along the northwest coast of Borneo, is a place of dense rainforest and vibrant green plateaus snaked across by the toffee-coloured waters of the Sarawak River; without question the luxuriant natural hothouse which British naturalist Alfred Russell Wallace studied and wrote about, and whose work famously inspired Darwin - it’s nothing less than an explorer’s dream.
The very best of Sarawak’s attractions are natural, and it’s within nature that you’ll find some incredible adventure and adrenalin activity opportunities. So not only are you privy to experiences that only a minority actually find, but you’re pursuing them in an absolutely authentic setting – so dense is jungle in Sarawak that even the trees lose track of whose bright green leaves belong to whom, and man is most definitely bottom of the pecking order.
What isn’t at the bottom of the pecking order, however, is protected land. Because Sarawak plays host to a whopping 30 national parks, opening up trekking infrastructures and jungle adventures to the type of travelers who go nowhere without their hiking boots. Gunung Gading National Park, for example, sprawls across four jungle-clad mountain peaks with a dense primary rainforest that’s traversed by crystalline streams and tumbling waterfalls. There are 16 colour-coded jungle trails in Bako National Park which should keep any hiker happy; proboscis monkey spotters should opt for the Telok Delima trail and follow the grunts, while those with a touch of the Indiana Joneses about them should take on the Telok Limau, a seven-hour trek through rich rainforest, scrubland and swamps. Perhaps leave your leather jacket at home though.
The uplifting experience of walking through rainforest laden Batang Ai National Park is not merely because of the landscape, but because you will feel as if you are walking through time. And space, into the beautifully preserved world of the Iban people, the local community and Sarawak’s largest tribe which, although proudly traditional, is keen to share its living culture with the world. You can take on a day-long trek with community guides in search of orangutans or, for full on immersion in Iban life, stay overnight in one of their stunning longhouses, constructed to house at least 10 families under one roof, with a central space for visitors.
Gunung Mulu National Park also became a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2000, because of its spectacularly dramatic karst limestone landscapes. And with karst comes caves. Not just poke your head in and shout for echoes caves, but seriously wacky 'Sarawackian' caves. Such as Clearwater, where only 12 people at a time are guided through 1.5km of subterranean scapes, with crabs, snakes, bats and all. Or Deer Cave which is one of the largest cave passages in the world, where your otherworldly expedition finishes with you not only coming back out for air, but the huge colonies of bats that inhabit them joining you, in search for their almost by clockwork evening feast of flying insects. Another gem is the Sarawak Chamber, accessible after a three hour hike, wading down a river canyon, then up a bouldered slope to one of the largest enclosed spaces on earth. Now that is a trip.
For those who like to climb up limestone landscapes, rather than clamber through them, the Fairy Cave at Bau, just outside Sarawak’s capital of Kuching, is far from the world of climbing walls that travelers may have tried out at home. With eight mammoth natural walls and over eighty climbs, they are all monitored and managed by the International Mountaineering and Climbing Federation (UIAA). With challenging overhangs, roof climbing, caving and abseiling, you can spend days negotiating these natural climbing challenges, one of the main rewards being to ‘top out’ at the opening to the Fairy Cave and then walk back through its entirety. And, after adventures like this, travelers will always live happily ever after.
The Fairy Cave is also interesting because, like so many of Sarawak’s cultural heritage highlights, it comes under the stewardship of the local Bidayuh people, as it is of great ancestral importance. As is tourism now, of course, and kayakers may well find themselves under the trusty guidance of a Bidayuh, who have been canoeing the Sarawak River and its tributaries for generations. You couldn’t, therefore, be in better hands as you paddle the watery arteries that slice their way through the rainforested state, where riverbanks are connected by exquisitely crafted suspension bridges, kingfishers lead the way and monkeys howl somewhere ‘out there’.
Swapping paddle for saddle, the Sarawakian jungle covered mountains, ancient trails and back roads are all part of a cycling expedition into the Penrissen Highlands. Although mountain biking trails, in particular, are also popping up now in places like Bau, such as the Bratak and Kampung Opar Trails where old forest tracks, roots and rocks, bends and boulders proffer perfect terrain for MTB’ers to do their grunts and grinds. Because adventurers love a challenge or two on their travels. And Sarawak certainly raises the bar, enabling hikers to explore and summit, bikers to pump, paddlers to put in and climbers to conquer challenges. All off the beaten track. Because that, fair adventurers, is Sarawak.
Responsible Travel would like to thank the Sarawak tourist board for their sponsorship of this guide
Photo credits: [Kayaking: tajai] [Proboscis monkey: Peter Gronemann] [Gunung Mulu National Park: Paul White] [Cave, Kuching: Thomas Quine]
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