Journey into the Heart of Borneo

Trip Start Feb 23, 2006
Trip End Jun 24, 2009

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Where I stayed
Hiap Chiong Hotel

Flag of Malaysia  ,
Wednesday, July 23, 2008

We are on a 3 day journey up the Batang Rajang River into the heart of Borneo. We first took a boat from Kuching to Sibu across the South China Sea into the Rajang Delta. We only did a quick pit stop in Sibu to have lunch before boarding another boat to Kapit. Kapit is a small town with a large Chinese settlement. Most of the shop and restaurant proprietors there spoke at least some form of Chinese, but at least Mandarin. What's happened to Cantonese as the world's dialect of Chinese? Unfortunately, C had already flown off to Miri and beyond to see a couple places that I wanted to visit, but I couldn't follow because I can't fly without my passport. So Gill and I had to rely on my broken Mandarin and Malay to get us around and order food. We ended up with some stomach and intestines in our soups and noodles half the time, but at least we got chicken, pork or beef stomachs and intestines depending on what animal I ordered. This morning I ended up with a pig's ear in my noodles and Gill got some unidentifiable meat like substance in hers. But at least here in Kapit, it seems to be happy hour all day long with 3 for 10RM Tigers Beers and 4 for 10RM Stella Artois. The vendors here even stock Oranjeboom from Holland. Who needs duty free when you've got competitive free market Chinese beer vendors who don't grasp the concept of tax.

The ride up the river is great. There is densely packed jungle and the farther up the river you go the less logging you see. But it really disgusts me to see all the piles and piles of logs along the river bank. Literally millions of tons of trees chopped down in unsustainable forestry practices by companies like Mitsubishi were strewn along the river banks. Behind the logs, you can see people living in long, I mean really long houses. Traveling in a speed boat, the longest house would last about 15 seconds or I'd estimate about 500-600 feet long. Behind the houses, it seems as if the jungle stretches forever. Without this river as their life's blood, I can't imagine you could penetrate the dense foliage much less live this far inland. I imagine in dry season it would be very difficult to get supplies when the bigger boats can't run the Pelagus Rapids.

You can ride on the outside of the speed boats if you want to. It's much more scenic than sitting inside watching the entire James Bond series. Be careful! It can be very dangerous out there though. Whenever they drop off a passenger or run up next to another boat, the platform that you stand on either goes under or over the next boats platform. If your platform goes underneath like ours did, it would be very easy to get your feet chopped off. Once I had to quickly jump across to the other boat as our boat was backing away from a docking maneuver and then quickly jump back onto our boat before it left me behind. Another time as we were dropping off a local, they had to take 4 attempts to get close enough to the river bank to drop her off. The captain finally resorted to ramming speeds through the brush to get her close enough to jump onto land. Another lady that was waiting to get off had to run back inside to avoid the on coming tree branches and I ran to the back of the boat to get away. I wish I knew what the captain was planning because that would have made a great video.

There is not much to do in Kapit, but you pretty much have to spend a night here if you want to go further up river. There is one boat currently running at 9am to Belaga.

Traveler's Tips: Ignore the LP if you are looking for long house stays or other activities surrounding Kapit. If you go to the New Rajang Inn, they will refer you to a known shyster, Joshua, who will try to rip you off for as much as he thinks you can pay. He's a smooth talker, but if you look a bit under the surface, neither he nor his numbers add up. 995RM for a 3d/2n long house visit is so far from reality, I almost choked when he showed me the prices he said a German couple paid. I thought the 450RM they were charging in Kuching were outrageous. Here's where the motto, "the more you pay, the farther you get from the people you are trying to meet" holds so true.

Be cautious of your bags while traveling up river. 2 travelers had several items stolen out of their bags when they put them on top of the boat from Sibu to Kapit. Apparently, they did a very thorough search through their bags, but fortunately left a very expensive dive mask behind as they probably didn't know the value of it. Fortunately, we took our bags inside the boat with us.
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