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Batong River

Around the world travel, Backpacking, Batong River, Borneo, Bucket List, long term travel, Malaysia, Southeast Asia, Travel

The Batong River Run

I left Kuching feeling pretty rough, but the good thing was that all I had to do for the next couple of days was make my way upriver by boat, sit and enjoy the ride. From Kuching, we headed to Sibu, changed boats and made our way to Kapit. We broke the journey up in Kapit and by the following morning, I was able to eat noodles for breakfast with no disastrous side effects- thankfully. From Kapit, we then made our way to Belaga.


It took quite some time and money to reach Belaga, but the journey became more interesting the further we went, and it seemed like we were getting deeper into what they call the “Amazon of Asia.”


We were interested in doing a homestay at one of the traditional longhouses on the Batong River, and we met a man in town named Daniel who could help us organize this. After chatting to him briefly, we had arranged a one-night stay with a family, followed by a day of trekking, visitng the rice paddies and swimming at the waterfalls. What we got wasn’t quite what we expected, but then again, in situations like this, you need to check all expectations at the door.


We were picked up at Daniel’s Corner by Asnu, a 19-year old guy and his girlfriend Mimik, who is 29. Five of us piled into the smallest wooden boat imaginable, and made our way upriver to their longhouse.


The longhouse is home to an entire community. In this case, about 25 families call it home. It is exactly what it is called, one long home. Each family plays a different role in the community, and each longhouse has its own school and church within. (The people in this part of Borneo are predonminantly Christian, not Muslim as in the rest of Malaysia).


After walking the length of the longhouse and saying hello to the families, we all got the sense that we weren’t that welcome. We headed back and sat down outside our family’s house, and started chatting to one of the community leaders, and we were able to get a sense of what life is like for these people.


Sadly though, I couldn’t help but feel this sense of gloom. I’ve been to similar places throughout Southeast Asia and witnessed the poverty people endure, but in most cases, these people surprise you with the joy they embody. Here, however, it was different. It could be that Malaysia in general is a bit more developed than its neighboring countries. Not far from these communities are small, thriving cities, where life feels like its moving in a forward, more western-influenced direction. Maybe these families are all too familiar with the poverty they experience on a daily basis, maybe it’s because they’ve had a taste, or view of a different way of life, or maybe they want no part of moving forward and are content to continue to live the way they do? I’m not sure, but this definitely lacked the warm welcome most Southeast Asian communities offer.


We made our way inside for dinner and were disappointed not to be invited to eat with the rest of the family, but after dinner, Mimik wanted to watch a movie with us. She likes American movies because she can practice her English, so the five of us, along with about ten to fifteen other men from the community watched “Twelve Rounds.” At this point in time, I was sort of thankful that we hadn’t organized a 2-night stay. After the movie, we rolled out thin matresses on the floor and tried to get some sleep.


The following morning after our noodle breakfast, we made our way upriver to the “rice paddies.” This was a steep hill where there was some rice growing. We made our way to Mimik and Asnu’s little hut and prepared some coffee and Mimik began to prepare lunch. It seemed like they were warming up to us a bit now and Asnu suggested we play a card game with the rice wine that we had presented them with as a gift. This made for an interesting late morning/early afternoon, and when they asked us if we were up for trekking and swimming in the waterfall, we opted to go back to town with them and ended up at the local pool hall in Belaga. I guess you could say it was quite an unauthentic homestay based on what I expected, but it did enable us to see what life is like for a 20-something in a village like Belaga.