Borneo! I was excited to finally visit thisÂ mythical localeÂ of exotic adventure stories. We opted to visit the Malaysian state of Sarawak, which is the northwest part of the island of Borneo. Aside from a brief middle-of-the-night stop in Singapore, this is the closest to the equator we got and we definitely felt the heat.
Known as the City of Cats, Kuching is the largest city in Sarawak. We did three main things in the area: see wild orangutans, learn how to bake and decorate cakes, and visit a traditional longhouse.
First we visited the Semenggoh Wildlife Center, where rehabilitated but wild orangutans come for twice-daily feedings at their whim. We were lucky to see seven, including the youngest of the group, the darling three-year-old Ruby (yes, that is her name!). We took some cute videos: video 1, video 2, video 3, video 4.
We spent two afternoonsÂ at the Anna Cake Training Centre. On the first day, we learned how to make the complex Kek Lapis Sarawak (Sarawak layer cake). It was repetitive, but we enjoyed it and the cake was delicious. On the second visit, we opted to learn traditional cake decorating techniques, including smooth frosting, piping, roses, and leaves. Afterward we returned to the guesthouse with three cakes to share and made a lot of people happy.
Finally, we spent a night in a traditional Bidayuh longhouse village. After an afternoon trekking to a jungle waterfall, we got to see and try traditional costumes, dance, and instruments. We enjoyed seeing how the villagers are blending traditional culture (close, mostly related community; bamboo structures; pigs and chickens) with modernity (electricity, tourism).
We then flew across Sarawak to Mulu National Park (near Miri in the above map) and spent two days exploring caves and the rainforest. Because of our limited time, we were only able to tourÂ the four “show caves” and take a rainforest canopy walk (suspension bridges in the trees). We took aÂ longboat ride, saw a lot, and walked a lot: 9 miles the first day. The caves contained interesting rock formations and in one case, millions of bats, their guano, and the insect ecosystem it supports. There were mixed feelings about walking through this.
In the evenings, we returned to our fancy hotel room. In Mulu we opted to splash out a bit, and enjoyed the resulting air conditioning, spacious room, pool, and resplendent hotel buffet.
Kate’s book recommendation: I like to read books set in the places I visit for additional context, history, and color.Â For Borneo, I recommend Iban Dream by Golda Mowe.