If you’re looking to experience some primary jungle in Sarawak without lumbering all the way out into Borneo’s interior, a river kayaking trip in the Padawan region provides some breathtaking scenery and is an easy way to do it.
Tourist excursions in Sarawak and Sabah are often overpriced, crowded and head to overrated attractions; so it was with a heavy dose of cynicism that I set off this excursion. In short, however, the trip turned out to be one of my all-time favourite Borneo experiences. I hang out a lot in Borneo’s interior and I’ve trekked through lots of old forest; this kayaking trip went through some of the most breathtakingly beautiful rainforest I have ever seen.
The trip starts with a pick-up at your hotel or hostel in Kuching at around 09:00. It’s then a 45-minute scenic drive to the start point. Once you get 20 minutes outside of Kuching, the scenery changes from suburban housing areas to towering limestone outcrops — squint and you could be in Krabi.
Before jumping into your kayak, you’re given a safety briefing, a life jacket and a disclaimer form. Then it’s down to the river to start the 11 kilometre paddle down the river. The river itself is calm and wide, so the difficulty level is low and is very suitable for beginners. This isn’t a trip for thrill seekers and certainly not for those in search of white water.
From start to finish, the trip takes around six hours, with a 45-minute lunch stop at a village about four kilometres from the start the point. And what a six hours it is! As you paddle leisurely down the river, you’ll see huge old growth trees and jungle mists, the likes of which I have only ever seen in the interior.
What makes this a truly singular tourist experience is the feeling of isolation. A real effort has been made by the community who own this stretch of river to protect it, and it’s because of this that we saw no other people on the river other than those in our group. Even with so few people on the river at any one time though, it’s unlikely that you will see any animals, bar a few fish, as no matter how you try, the sound of six to 10 people kayaking down a river is enough to scare away any wildlife.
The day trip I went on was 188 ringgit, which includes transfers to and from Kuching, lunch, water and all things necessary for a kayaking trip. It’s not cheap by Southeast Asian standards, but entirely worth it if you think about how much you would normally pay in transport costs to reach rainforest vistas like this one. A minimum of two people is required and you can either go in a single or a double kayak, depending on experience. We went with Semadang Kayak / Adventure Alternative Borneo, but a few outfits run the same trip on different days, and they are similar priced. If you only have one splurge in your budget, make this it. As my kayaking partner (the photographer) said,”This may be the best day excursion this side of the Malaysian Peninsula.”
Photos courtesy of Ryan Gray — thanks Ryan!
By Hollie Tu.