Batang Ai National Park
Batang Ai is located some 250km into the interior and sits on the border with Kalimantan, Indonesia. This area is the last area to come under the control of the White Rajahs, with much resistance from the Sea Dayaks (Ibans), which resulted in a massacre of 800 Ibans. James Brooke was later accused of persecuting innocent people. A Commission of Inquiry was set up in London to investigate these claims and eventually he was acquitted but his reputation had been tarnished. St.John who was appointed General Secretary in 1847 felt that Brooke had been a little too high handed and ill-informed in handling the natives in some aspects in order to gain peace and order in the area but later came to his defence during the inquisition at the House of Commons.
This ancestral home of the Ibans has long been established. Before the hydroelectric dam was created, there were at least 40+ longhouses located along the river. When the dam was completed, the water rose by 60m flooding the low-lying areas; inundating some 8500h or 33sq miles of jungle. The government had to relocate tenants from 26 longhouses to Lubok Antu and the higher areas. The hydroelectric dam now serves Kuching and surroundings with uninterrupted supply of water. Being a water catchment, the government also gazetted this area a National Park in 1991.
Batang Ai National Park itself is not easy to get to. For the odd traveller, it's possible to take a bus from Kuching to Sri Aman and then change for another bus to Lubok Antu. From Lubok Antu, it's possible to hire a boat to Batang Ai National Park but once there, no accommodation is available. It may be a little easier to take a tour with the local travel agents who can arrange accommodation at the Iban longhouses or if there is a place to indulge a little, then perhaps try the Batang Ai Hilton for a change.
Staying at the Batang Ai
Wanting to visit the longhouses, we were determined to make a trip to Batang Ai. The only accommodation we could get at the reservoir is The Hilton Batang Ai, now known as Aiman Batang Ai Resort. Built in the style of traditional Iban longhouse architecture, it was as far as we could get to staying at a longhouse without having to arrange a tour package that included a stay at a 'real' longhouse.
In fact, we went there on a bed & breakfast package, having purchased a very affordable priced package during one of the earlier 'Cuti-Cuti Malaysia' fairs. These travel fairs are particularly good where local travellers and also expatriates staying in Malaysia or Singapore can pick up some good deals for resorts and tours. The 'Cuti-Cuti Malaysia' roadshows travel around Malaysia throughout the year and a number of resort operators / travel agents participate in these fairs, which is promoted by Tourism Malaysia. You may be pleasantly surprised at the packages offered. Just be on the look out in newspapers for ones coming to a town near you.
We arranged our van transfer at least 2 days in advance from the counter at the Hilton Kuching. The ride leaves Kuching Hilton for Batang Ai at about 8.00am. This takes roughly 4hrs over pretty good roads. There is a short stop of about 15-20min in a small place where a row of shops selling sundry and local produce such as Sarawak pepper and the highland rice, a few shops also sell handicraft, mostly brought over from Kalimantan and a few eateries make up the tiny community's town centre.
Nice basket weaving for a fraction of the price in Kuching. But remember to bargain. A little market in the morning is a nice place to walk around. The ladies bring out their produce like little bags of rice, perhaps access from their bountiful harvest this season.; and sometimes even wild game meat are for sale at the market.
A suggestion though, perhaps you may want to stock up on bottled water , snacks and other necessities for your stay at the resort and this stop is the last place for a last minute buy.
We arrived at the Batang Ai Dam and were ushered to the guests' waiting area. Within 15min we were sent to the jetty and onto the boat - speeding off to Batang Ai Hilton. The resort itself is well hidden from view, which is a pleasant surprise. Although the resort is made up of a complex of longhouses, it really doesn't feel as though the resort is sprawling. In fact, as first impression suggests, it's kinda snug and intimate
Not long after check in, most guests seemed to have disappeared only to later find out that they had lost no time in finding a comfy spot by the pool with a good book, a bottle of sun block and a tall glass of refreshing beer. The pool isn't big but it certainly makes it a priority in guests' daily routine whilst staying at the resort especially coming back after an afternoon of hot and muggy day trekking.
Around the resort
For those not prepared to just sit out the day in the cool shade of the pool area with a long cool cocktail or tropical fruit juice... one could always take a walk round the grounds. Of which i did. Walking over a wooden bridge along the way, a gliding snake startled the daylights out of me and I was pretty sure I did the same to it as it fell off its perch. Stunned for a few short seconds, it quickly recomposed itself and slithered away into the undergrowth. A beautiful creature with distinct crimson red and black stripes.