The best way to experience the hospitality of Sarawak’s major tribe, the Ibans, is by taking a trip up to Batang Ai and stay for a few nights at one of the many longhouses there.
This is a six hour drive out from Kuching to a jetty at Batang Ai with one or two hours boat ride to the longhouse, depending which one you opt to experience.
The rule of thumb is that the further away from the city, the more traditional experience you would get. That also applies to the level of comfort. The further, the less comfort due to the access constraints which make it rather difficult to bring in modern comfortable home and living appliances.
Expect to be sleeping on thin mattress, basic pillows and mosquito nets. Hot showers are a luxury, so expect a nice cool shower which is not so bad actually since during the day, it can be very hot and humid. So a cool shower is a pleasant welcome.
If you want to experience one with some level of luxury then I would recommend Nanga Ukom Lodge by CPH Travel. The following is an account of my experience during a 3 days 2 nights stay at Nanga Ukom.
What is it like?
After a six hour journey from Kuching we reached the Batang Ai jetty and we embarked on a boat ride to the longhouse. This was about one hour from the jetty, cruising on the lake with views of paddy hills, pepper farms and a few longhouses before we finally reached Nanga Ukom Longhouse jetty.
We brought our things from the jetty and slowly made our way up to the longhouse and about a dozen handshakes and hellos we reached our lodge.
Immediately we went to the living area located at the front veranda of the longhouse. The ibans would call this area the tanju, a place where they would usually dry their jungle produce such as pepper, paddy and rubber sheets. But this “tanju” by CPH was a fresh of breath air. The area served as the main living area, with an open kitchen. Perfect! How best to socialise if not in the kitchen where food is always the best way to bond.
The coffee we had was extra special with the view of the longhouse tanju which had fish nets, clothes hanging out to dry, dogs chilling getting some sun. What a perfect start to this Nanga Ukom longhouse experience.
Nanga Ukom Lodge
Once coffee was done it was then went in to drop off our back packs in our bedroom for the next two nights. This was a pleasant surprise. It had somehow a sense of simple luxury and comfort.
I then went out to the back veranda as to check what else this lodge had to offer. There were a few sinks laid out in a nice row. Another good thought by the owner, I needn’t go too far from my bed to brush my teeth and wash my face.
The washrooms and toilets were also spacious. The best part was no hot water but not to worry, as most of the time it can be really warm during the day and the cool shower provides a relief from the heat.
The lodge started operation early 2019 and Oscar of CPH Travel, the owners of the lodge wanted to give its guests a feel of staying in the longhouse but with some comfort. Other lodges are usually built separate from the longhouse. So the guest would have leave the longhouse to go to their lodge. Oscar did not want to have that feeling of disconnection he said. Staying at this lodge gives you an opportunity to be part of that community but also allows you that privacy you need.
An overnight trip to an Iban longhouse usually would involve a cultural performance by the longhouse folks and after a lovely dinner prepared by our chef by default, Amelia. The mats rolled out at the ruai, the longhouse common area, the gongs came out and before long we had the ngajat dance performance by Mr. Garit and Mdm Bawang.
Guests are expected to try the ngajat and as a gesture appreciation we took up the challenge. Why not? Afterall, we also had the chief with us, 36 year old Mr. Guyu. So better show the chief our appreciation.
In true Iban hospitality, before we start the ngajat dance, we were asked to drink a shot of the local moonshine, langkau, which alcohol levels are equivalent to vodka. Loosens the muscles they say.
Once we all took our turns, the night entertainment somehow ended and chit chat and jokes followed with our friendly Iban hosts. It was time for bed and I was looking forward to the next day as we had planned some hiking.
Activities from Ukom Longhouse
Be prepared for an early morning in Nanga Ukom. I was awake by about 5 am in the morning and I estimated that there should be a few hundred chicken here in Nanga Ukom. The cockcrows woke me up and went on for about half an hour.
Today is all about the outdoors. So after a late breakfast, we embarked on a boat ride to a waterfall nearby.
Picnic lunch at Perabong Waterfall
This is about 20 minutes by boat from Ukom longhouse. We set up our simple picnic stove at a pebble beach and had the trusted instant noodles.
Simple and yet so tasty. Plus the river and surrounding nature gave it that extra ambiance.
After we were done, it was now time to head back to the longhouse. So the longboat left us and we made our way back by foot. Time for the ridge walk.
Ukom Ridge Walk
If you love trekking then this would be your main highlight. One need to be reasonably fit to undertake this. This trek can be done from the longhouse to Perabong waterfall or vice versa. We did our from the waterfall back and the first challenge was 50 degree climb up to the ridge. This took us about 30 minutes to do and once at the ridge, the walk back to the longhouse was easy.
From the ridge enjoy breath taking views of hilltops, paddy fields, rubber farms and pepper farms. Total trekking time was about an hour and include numerous photo taking stops.
Once back at the lodge, it was a wonderful sight to be greeted with Amelia’s hot banana fritters and nice hot coffee.
Traditional Cooking Demonstration
Most Iban dishes are prepared simple and their famous cooking style is cooking in bamboo. More popularly known as Pansuh.
For our dinner, Mong and Jabu help prepared chicken in bamboo and also cooked rice in bamboo.
Our dinner was fantastic. The local rice cooked in bamboo was my highlight. The rice was of the new harvest and its aroma was simply amplified by the bamboo and the lemba leaves.
Having being a hectic day, we retired early. The next day after a quick breakfast, we departed Nanga Ukom and headed back to Kuching.
This 3 days 2 nights trip to Nanga Ukom longhouse is a welcome adventure for me after a while. I can surely add this as another destination which I would call as my home away from home.
The people are not socially affected by the impacts of tourism. They are genuine and believe me, from my travels, I have seen the impact of tourism exhaustion. Communities just do the activities for the sake of doing.
Here it is still genuine if I may say. Traditional dancers still dance proudly and passionately. The friendship is real.
Thank you Nanga Ukom for the great experience. We will definitely be back again.
Thank you also to CPH Travel for arranging this trip and your lodge, two thumbs up!!
Nanga Ulom Lodge is exclusively by CPH Travel and all travel arrangements can be done by them.
Things to bring:
- Good trekking shoes or the local village Adidas
- Torchlight – Lights are out by about 9pm or 10pm
- Insect repellent
- Photo Taking – Ask permission if you want to take photos of longhouse folks.
- Light clothing – it can be very warm so light quick dry clothing is recommended
- Toiletries and own towel.
- Titbits for self-snacking and maybe extra for some kids in the longhouse.
- Tipping – not required but if you need to give maybe extend to the caretakers of the lodge and the boatman for making your trip comfortable.
Thank you for reading and if you want extra details on the above, drop me a line and I’ll get back to you soon as possible. Till my next Bejalai, take care and don’t forget to comment.