Want to trade jogging in the park for riding the rapids in the rainforest? Then set your compass for Sarawak, in Malaysian Borneo, which offers opportunities for "hard" and "soft"
Sarawak, one of two Malaysian provinces that share the storied island of Borneo with Indonesia and Brunei, offers a wealth of choices for communing with nature. Called the "hidden paradise," by the Malaysian Tourism office, Sarawak features some of the best national parks in Asia, where nature lovers can see rare wildlife and spectacular natural attractions.
A truly one-of-a-kind adventure is the opportunity for an expedition to a tribal longhouse, where you can about the daily life of a clan of the Iban tribe, who were still hunting heads up until the middle of the 20th century. You can still see examples of some of these war trophies hanging in a longhouse, and you can learn how to use a blowgun from an elder who probably garnered a trophy or two himself. These trips can either be "soft," where you can spend a day learning about the culture and lifestyle of tribe members, or "hard," where you actually stay overnight in a longhouse and trek through the Bornean jungle on challenging hikes.
Visitors to Sarawak usually start out via an hour's plane trip from Malaysia's capital, Kuala Lumpur, to the Sarawak provincial capital of Kuching, a bustling city that retains some of the trappings of its history as a colonial trading post. From there, local tour companies can arrange overnight "longhouse expeditions" to the Iban or other tribes. Those who would rather not be so authentic as to stay the night in a longhouse, can get some of the flavor, without "roughing it," at the more comfortable Hilton Batang Ai Resort. Other opportunities for seeing nature in its primitive state are offered at Bako National Park and the Matang Wildlife Center, both accessible from Kuching, and the Gunung Mulu Cave System, accessible from Miri, near the border of Brunei. A less arduous way to learn about the culture and environment of Sarawak is to go to the Sarawak Cultural Village, just outside Kuching, where you will be able to see re-creations of longhouses of various tribes, and see an entertaining cultural show.
What's especially attractive about Malaysia is its unusual blend of Chinese, Malay and Indian cultures, in a country that's one of the most progressive on the globe. And yet, despite it's thriving high tech economy, you can still be up close and personal with Probocis monkeys at Bako National Park in Borneo in the morning, and enjoy a beer in the luxurious lobby of the Shangri-la Hotel in Kuala Lumpur that night. That's my idea of "roughing it."
For more information on traveling to the "hidden paradise" of Sarawak, go to www.visitmalaysia.com or call Tourism Malaysia in New York at (212) 754-1113. Enjoy!