In order to have a real, unique, and most importantly, exciting jungle experience, I first had to fly to Borneo. I knew from the beginning that I would like to spend the night during mine in the jungle. And in the most authentic way possible.
My choice fell on Batang Ai National Park in Sarawak. In the end I met very friendly people, wild Orang Utans and all kinds of creepy crawlies.
The travel market is also booming on Borneo and so I learned in advance that there are many tours that are very touristy and above all do not fulfill one thing: the true adventure. And to avoid this touristy scenery I did some more research. Because nothing would be worse for me than a played experience also with the hotel I wanted an authentic experience as possible.
By the way, Borneo belongs to Malaysia, but shares the island with Brunei and Indonesia.
Batang Ai National Park: Tips for your visit to the Orang Utans
Batang Ai – a green paradise in the nowhere of Sarawak
In the end I came across the Batang Ai National Park in Sarawak. Located on the border with the Indonesian part of Borneo. From Kuching, the capital of Sarawak, it is about 400 km by car and then by boat.
Batang Ai is very natural and still inhabited by the indigenous population. The national park of Batang Ai includes a huge lake and many small rivers running from the lake. And just at these rivers the peoples still live in an erroneous way.
1. Tour to Batang Ai National Park
To explore the area around Batang Ai on your own is almost impossible. The only thing that is accessible for every tourist here is a resort located directly at the lake. But if you want to go further into the jungle, you have to find a guide who will lead you.
The journey through the small arms of the river is not easy, because there are quite a few pitfalls that can make life difficult for you. Also, many orangutans live along the rivers and feel threatened when they see humans. Sounds adventurous, doesn't it?
I made these and went into the jungle with a guide. Here you can book several tours and I decided for the three days two nights tour.
Batang Ai National Park – A Jungle Adventure
In the morning at 8:00 o'clock I was picked up by my guide at the hotel. And then the wild ride to Batang Ai begins. This should now take about 4-6 hours, because the roads are partly unpaved and bumpy. Just halfway there is a stop in the small village of Serian, because you have to do some shopping for the jungle trip.
Traditionally you bring your own food to your hosts, the Iban. This is prepared by the women in the houses. So everyone brings as much as they need for the days in the jungle. So we buy vegetables, meat and a few small things.
After the ride over the bumpy gravel roads I feel quite sick by now and I am glad that there is a pharmacy where I can stock up on travel pills. Because, as fate would have it, I don't have my travel pills with me this time.
2. Approach by longboat into the jungle
The drive is over muddy stone tracks, bumpy terrain and through seemingly endless small narrow roads. Eventually we arrive at the huge Batang Ai lake. From here we continue our trip with a small long boat. Long boats are the traditional means of transportation of the population. The boats lie very flat on the water and make it possible to sail in shallow waters.
Basically I sit on the bottom of the boat the whole time. Really comfortable is not. The trip now takes about one to two hours, depending on the level of the water, to get to the village.
3. Wild Orang Utans on the shore
We always keep a lookout with the boat for animals that we can possibly see at the river. Although the probability is diminishingly small, we actually see one out of the blue . Madness!
A wild Orang Utan is what I wanted most for my Borneo trip. Far away from reserves or from breeding station. First we see a small Orang Utan, probably a child, which was left alone briefly by its mother. He tries to throw a stick at us and screams at us. The Orang Utan observation here is not exactly harmless, because there are also larger animals, which tear off actual whole branches and throw on humans.
Now we go on and see another Orang Utan. This time a bigger one, but it hides again relatively quickly in the thick branches. Our guide tells us that this does not happen very often and we feel honored by this moment.
Batang Ai – Playing children and fishermen
Now we arrive after one and a half hour uncomfortable boat ride, but also with a real high feeling in the village Nanga Sumpa. We are greeted by children bathing and playing in the water, as well as fishermen casting their nets around the village.
We spend the night here in the village in a longhouse, which was built especially for guests by the locals from the village. Traditional style through and through and completely made of wood. All rooms are connected with a veranda. We are on one side of the river and on the other side is the actual village.
Our guide tells us that we have to introduce ourselves to the village chief in the evening, because the Iban culture is very hospitable, but the chief always wants to know who is staying in his village.
4. Spending the night in the traditional longhouse
I gladly accept the invitation and in the evening we go over to the village together. On the veranda of the longhouse children are playing, cats are running around and people are eating and laughing. We sit down in a circle with a handful of residents, a total of 60 people live here in a longhouse. Somehow we understand each other despite the language barrier and it is told with hand and foot.
Most of the inhabitants do not understand a word of English and we in turn do not understand a word of their language. Nevertheless it is a funny atmosphere. Then homemade rice liquor is served, because this drives away the evil spirits that could possibly bring strangers into the longhouse. Not exactly a culinary delight, but it does its job and we are pretty quickly dazed. Again and again we are given and so slowly we get really dizzy. Time for bed!
How noisy the jungle is? Deafening!
Armed with our flashlight we then make our way back to our room and lie down in bed. What awaits us then we would not have thought. Then so far from civilization, it's pretty darn loud. We hear the pure jungle and it can be very loud! We would never have thought that. So we sleep amidst all the noise, have no electricity and only rain water for showers.
We feel a bit queasy and so we sleep in our bed with the mosquito net thrown over us the whole night with a switched on flashlight. You never know what to expect. Finally, the whole room is also only made of wood and gaps can let everything come in.
5. Trekking in Batang Ai National Park
The next morning still wakes us up with an extreme loudness. After a short breakfast we get ready for a trek through the jungle. We hike past rubber plantations and then wild pineapple plantations. Our guide explains us again and again, with which vegetables or which plants are cooked here. Partly we had most of it already the evening before our meal, as a spice.
Our trek takes us about one and a half hours through the jungle and we are picked up by a local with a long boat at the river bank. The journey continues and we take the boat towards a waterfall in the middle of the jungle of Batang Ai. The ride is very adventurous because the water level is very low that day.
And so our "captain" has to get out partly and push the boat from behind. We drive completely without engine power and only with a long bamboo stick as a drive. The ride is very relaxing and we get to know the nature for the first time without the noise of the rattling engine.
Our traditional barbecue at the waterfall
Arrived waterfall we go first of all bathing and frighten us quite fast. We are pinched quite often by the feet. In the waterfall and in the river live a lot of nibbling fishes that nip at the feet because they want to nibble off the cornea. It is strange at first, but the water is a dream.
On the other side of the river our guide prepares lunch with the men from the village. In a completely original way. He brought meat and some vegetables and rice. We are shown how the locals cooked here in the jungle at that time. He puts a grate on a fire and builds a makeshift barbecue with a bit of wood.
The rice he cooks in a bamboo pole, because at that time there were of course no cooking pots yet. The bamboo pole is peeled and the rice is stuffed into the pole, the pole is then put into the fire and heated until it is completely black on the outside. The rice is now cooked. So simple. And then I recognize them, the spices we saw during our trek in the morning. These are also used. Mixed with meat, the mixture is also put into a bamboo tube and cooked in the fire.
Time to say goodbye
With a full belly we make our way back to the longhouse after a few hours. Here we have only a little time to walk around and explore the area and have fun with the wild running dogs and cats. The children romp already again in the water and altogether it is a very boisterous mood.
6. Overnight stay at Batang Ai National Park
Then it's time to say goodbye, because we will spend the next night at the Aiman Batang Ai Resort. We have already seen this at the beginning of our little adventure trip. It is nice and very comfortable, but after these intensive days we would have preferred another night in the jungle.
The Aiman Batang Ai Resort is also the only hotel in the area. The alternative is an overnight stay in the jungle, but unfortunately this is not possible on our own. But the resort is very nice and also a retreat is possible here near the jungle.
And you know what? It was so quiet with no noise that we almost missed something.
This article is part of a series about Borneo. Find more articles here:
Do you have any questions about Batang Ai National Park?
Did I forget an important topic or tip for you for your Borneo trip in Malaysia? Feel free to leave me a comment.