Stay with a local Iban tribe in Borneo’s rainforest
If you’re looking for things to do in Sarawak, Borneo – this may be the most culturally engaging journey out there! There are several different indigenous tribes of Borneo, each with its own culture, traditions, food, and customs. The Iban were at one time known as Borneo headhunters (though this has since been abandoned – don’t worry!).
Originally, all the Iban tribes would have lived deep in the Borneo rainforest, though many community groups are now living in more urban areas. Even still, most have maintained their traditional longhouse communal-based homes.
The Iban tribe we visit lives deep in the jungle still and is more like a Borneo rainforest lodge (though don’t be mistaken, it’s still very much their home), located on the peak of one of the jungle mountains. If you’d like to experience a Borneo eco-tour during your Malaysia holiday, you can’t get much closer to nature or culture on this experience. Iban culture is famously known for its unique Iban tattoo patterns (reflections of travels and personal journeys they have been on). There is also distinctly Iban traditional food that you can feast upon!
This trip is highly interactive, engaging, and profound, though it is also VERY physically demanding, with some jungle treks taking up to 5 hours (in tropical heat) just to get to and from the homestay. If you feel this sounds like something you’re after during your visit to Malaysia, and you’re wondering what to do in Kuching, then you’ve come to the right place!
We have 3, 4 and 5-day homestay options – each will vary in activities (listed below) depending on your duration, and the weather.
|Pick-up Point||Your Kuching Hotel (specified to us ‘after’ your online reservation via email)|
|Drop-off Point||Your Kuching Hotel|
|Duration||3-5 days (depending on how long you make a reservation for)|
|Physical Level||High (intense jungle hiking in the tropical heat involved)|
|Cultural Rating||High – Cultural exchanges|
|Ages||18+ (younger than 18 must be accompanied by an adult)|
|Group Size||Private – Max 8 people per booking|
Itinerary for your 3, 4 and 5 days Iban Longhouse homestay in Sarawak, Borneo
Pick-up from the hotel (city centre) at 6.30 am
We start the day very early, as it’s going to be a long day ahead! There is a 4hrs drive to the foot of the mountain where we’ll have a quick stop for an early lunch break.
Note: Our luggage will be dropped off in a roadside longhouse. It will be collected by a 4×4 driver to be brought directly to the Iban longhouse village we will be staying at, via a different off-road trail. You will need to keep small bags with necessary items for the trek (water, raincoat, torchlight).
We will take another 35 min drive in the minivan to a meeting point. We switch to a 4×4 vehicle for about a 15 min drive off-road to another longhouse which is the starting point for the trek.
There is an estimated 4-5 hrs hike up to the village depending on the group’s fitness and the weather conditions. We will trek on narrow jungle trails through jungle scenery and farms (the views are amazing). We will cross few shallow rivers (can be as high as up to knees) so make sure you have shoes that are ok to walk in the water.
We should arrive at the village in the late afternoon, usually right on time for the sunset which is pretty amazing from up there!
We will have dinner and spend the night in the village.
You will be sleeping in the homes of the villagers (room sharing) on mattresses on the floor. It is the same simple conditions the villagers. Basic shower (bucket, cold water only) and squatting toilets should be expected.
2 Day / 1 Night camping option
Available on 4 and 5-day options only – the 3-day option you will spend both nights at the longhouse.
We will eat breakfast at the village, then depart for about a 2.5hrs trek to the camping site. Installation of the camp will be done by your guides and porters. Once settled, we can do some trekking along the river and shop for food (jungle veggies and spearfishing).
You also can go fishing and hunting at night with the villagers. This is not for the faint of heart – it is real hunting, and it is the way that the locals traditionally catch their food. Should you wish to opt-out, there is no harm in staying at the campsite (not all people go hunting, don’t do anything you aren’t comfortable with).
Lunch, dinner and night at the camp.
Note: we provide military hammocks and blankets.
The following morning, there will be breakfast at the camp. Be prepared that sometimes you are served the catch of the night for breakfast, such as giant bats or civet ragout bbq.
There can be some vegetarian options – though this should be specified when you first make your reservation, so adequate preparations can be made.
Dismantlement of the camp will happen and then we trek back to the village for lunch – the trek back can feel a bit longer, as its mostly uphill (similar to day 1).
We will have dinner and spend the night in the village.
1-day waterfall trek option
Available on 3 and 5-day options – 5 days can do both camping and waterfall trek options
Trekking to the waterfall is approximately 1.5 hours each way. The beginning is a descent into the jungle towards the flowing rivers. Of course, that means that the return hike is back uphill towards the longhouse. You can spend the early afternoon cooling off and play in the waterfall. It is a great nature experience to visit a waterfall which very few foreigners have ever seen, yet has been a pristine enjoyment for locals for thousands of years.
Breakfast and dinner at the village – lunch can be brought to the waterfall.
Afternoon activities after returning from the waterfalls or camping.
In the afternoon it could be possible to visit the Iban hosts’ farms (you can help to collect peppercorns), helping your host family prepare dinner, or having craft time with the skillful ladies at the village, learning how to make their traditional baskets. These are all optional, and dependant on what the villagers are doing that day (we won’t have them perform for us, but rather include us in their activities which they are already doing naturally). You can opt-in or out of any of these activities, or just spend your time socializing, chatting, relaxing, reading or generally just detoxing from the digital world back home.
After breakfast, it’s a trek down the mountain (2 options for trails, from a 3hrs walk to 5hrs).
We are met by the minivan at the bottom of the mountain to start the journey back to Kuching. We will stop for a late lunch at the same local restaurant that we stopped at on the first day and then continue the drive back to Kuching.
Estimated arrival in the late afternoon, early evening.
In case you are too tired and don’t want to go down the mountain on foot, you can opt to be taken by 4×4 – the same one that carries our bags up. It will be available depending on the weather because it is too dangerous if there is heavy rain. The road gets very slippery in the off-road mud). Should you take this option, it will be an additional Rm50 per person (to pay cash to the driver) and is about a 2.5hrs drive (almost the same as the hike).
Note: We advise you to not plan a departure flight on that same day as you are leaving. If necessary, make sure it’s the latest one possible as we never really know exactly what time we’ll be back. Much of our arrival time is dependent on weather conditions, physical conditions of those in your private group, and traffic/construction conditions on the highway back to Kuching. Make sure you have a hotel booked for that night too.
What is included in your Longhouse Experience in Borneo?
Your Iban Homestay Journey includes:
– information provided before your experience to educate you and properly prepare you
– specially trained and licensed English speaking mountain guide who will facilitate your experience
– pick-up and drop-off transfers to your hotel (must be located in Kuching) to the trekking start point.
– lunch and dinner on day 1
– breakfast, lunch and dinner on each full day
– breakfast and lunch on the final day
– 4×4 transfer on day 1
– 4×4 transfer return for luggage on first and last day all the way to and from the village
– longhouse accommodation on sharing room basis
– camping equipment (hammock and blankets)
– porters for the camping equipment
– contribution to the village maintenance (SMK Siba)
What is not included in your Eco Experience in Kuching?
– Travel Insurance (Compulsory)
– International flights or transportation to/from the itinerary’s start point
– Accommodation in Kuching (we suggest Agoda for the best hotel rates)
– Activities not listed in the itinerary
– Meals not listed in the itinerary
– Gratuities and tips
– All drinks
– Spending Money
What to bring:
– Trekking shoes/water shoes (optional, but helpful for walking in rocky rivers)
– changes of clothes and toiletries
– torchlight / flashlight
– light sleeping-bag or linen (not necessary, though if you prefer to have your own)
– basic personal medication (+ sun cream, mosquito repellent)
– hat and sunglasses
– raincoat (or umbrella)
– high socks (in case of rain – leeches come out to play – they’re harmless but annoying)
Best time to visit Borneo
Any time is a great time to visit Borneo!! However, between the months of March and October, it is considered the dry season and so this is the best time to visit Borneo if you want to stay mostly dry. It will be hot and humid throughout, with temperatures rising towards the end of the season before the rains come.
Supporting Local Projects with our TRiP Foundation
Every TRiP that you go on with WSE Travel, we will donate 2% (or $1/day per day, per person – whichever is greater) to an environmental or community-based project in the country you’re visiting. We want to ensure that every guest we help, in turn, helps support and preserve the destination we’re experiencing together as a direct result. We live by an ethos to Travel Responsibly & Impact Positively (TRiP).
For more information on the projects supported by this experience, please visit our Malaysia TRIP projects.
Cancellations & Rebooking
All tours, services and experiences booked through WSE Travel are bound to our Terms and Conditions, which were modelled after most other travel services such as flights, hotels and other tour operators.
Should you need to cancel or change your reservation for any reason (including but not limited to missed flights, illness, or change of mind), you will still be bound to the terms and conditions agreed to at the time of booking.
Should you give us more than 14 days’ notice of a change in your reservation, we can store your payment in the ‘safety deposit box’, to be used for a future travel date, either by you or be transferred to a friend or family member. Refunds are not available unless your reservation is cancelled by WSE Travel for circumstances outside of our control.
Should you give us less than 14 days’ notice of a change in your reservation, a rebooking fee will be imposed. We do try to be flexible for our guests, but not at the sacrifice of the livelihoods of all locals hired for your private experiences. As these are private experiences, your guide and any other local service provider block their days off from other work to accommodate your reservation, and may not be able to fill that day again in the event of cancellation. To be fair and responsible to them and their reliance on your reservation’s promised work, your guide will still be paid for your reservation. As such, last-minute cancellations or changes will be subject to a rebooking fee of $100 USD (per booking, not per guest), to re-hire a guide for your future travel date.
This flexibility is a bend in our Terms and Conditions to try to be fair both to our guests, as well as the locals hired to facilitate your reservation. If you feel there is a high chance of cancellations or changes, please make sure you buy appropriate travel insurance that will be able to reimburse you for cancellations of things such as flights, hotels and tours.