Kayaking in the Sarawak River

  • James 14 seater minivan
  • Rock formations
  • Rain rain rain
  • A deserved lunch break
  • The group ready for paddling
  • The (small) rapids
  • Entrance to Kampong Benoh
  • Biko our guide

The day looked quite dull when I awoke, a real change from the previous sunny and humid week I had just spent in Sarawak, in the lush Malaysian Borneo. I showered and realized the time would not be enough for breakfast so I made my way to the Paradesa Borneo Discovery office, located near the Kuching waterfront area, where I met my two kayaking companions, two young British girls on a Malaysia backpacking tour. We were ready for our kayaking in the Sarawak River tour.

Breakfast with James

Breakfast with James

James the driver turned up at 8,30, we made introductions and we were soon on our way on his brand new Chinese-made14-seater minivan. James is a kind middle aged man of Chinese origins, talkative and friendly. He suggested stopping in an eatery to have breakfast, a suggestion that I happily embraced! The sun was timidly attempting a feeble appearance from behind a curtain of black clouds as we sat and ordered coffee and fried dough from a food stand in a residential area on the outskirts of town, a welcome respite for my hungry belly.

The drive that followed was smooth; the road was flanked by lush vegetation and the traffic was scarce. James stopped at the Semangoh Wildlife Center to pick up a family of four from the USA taking part in the tour before heading towards hilly Padawan, an area where Bidayu tribes live. There the limestone mountains get higher, with impressive pointed peaks. James told us that we were so close to the border with Indonesia that trekkers can easily find themselves in a different country without even realizing it. Wow, I thought.

James 14 seater minivan

James 14 seater minivan

These valleys are densely cultivated: bananas, ferns, tapioca, corn, sloped paddies, fruit orchards. Villagers from this area are economically productive and depends mainly on agriculture, selling their produce at the local weekend markets. At the village of Semadang – a few wooden houses with tin roofs, a catholic church, a school, and all around cultivated fields – we picked up Biko our guide for the day. James drove another 10 minutes along a road sided by plantations of dragon fruit, pepper and rubber, the main cash crops in this area, before reaching Kampong Benoh, our starting point for this kayak expedition.

The group ready for some paddling

The group ready for some paddling

We got geared up with lifejackets, dry-bags and paddles, received a briefing on how to maneuver the kayak and walked down a path to the small river below, where the water was quite shallow due to the dry season. I was assigned a single kayak, and while the other customers seated on their vessels, I got quite worried of the small size of the stream, only to reassure myself after a few meters when we reached the main river, the Sarawak Kiri, which means ‘left’. This tributary joins the Sarawak Kanan – ‘right’ – downriver to become Sungai Sarawak, or Sarawak River, an important source of water and transportation for the inhabitants of southwest Sarawak.

I paddle and paddle

I paddle and paddle

I paddled nonchalantly as we passed a few small rapids; we negotiated small whirlpools, avoiding logs sticking out of the water. The kayaks bumped into rocks and occasionally got stuck in sandy banks, where we had to get off and push it out into deeper water. I looked up at huge and tall durian trees with spiky fruits, observing the clouds building up and eventually discharging a wall of water that caught us unprepared. The alternate bursts of heavy rain forced me to take refuge under the thick canopy of trees and overhanging bamboos growing along the river bank, more than anything to ensure my camera did not get wet.

I motioned the group to paddle forward and stopped a while to listen to the sound of nature, to smell the vegetation and to enjoy the silence. Nature is at its best when it rains so I did not mind getting wet. The sky finally opened up a little, I rejoined the group and we soon stopped for a break, parking the kayaks in a sandy beach that marks the entrance of the Bidayu village of Kampung Danu.

A deserved lunch break

A deserved lunch break

Women picked veggies from the gardens and dogs roamed freely as we approached the local house where we had our lunch: kolo mee noodles, chicken on rice, curry puffs and juicy pineapple and yellow watermelon. A well deserved meal after all the padding. Kampung Danu is home to 300 people and has recently won the price for the ‘Best Dayak Village’ in the area. Its villagers depend mainly on agriculture, while earning a bit from tourism as well. From here it is in fact possible to arrange activities such as rafting, fishing and visiting the nearby caves, and they even have a very picturesque suspension bridge crossing the Sarawak Kiri river.

Rain rain rain

Rain rain rain

On to the second leg of the journey we endured more rain, saw a baby monitor lizard on the shore, marveled at amazing rock formations and had another break. We then paddled past some kids swimming naked and Biko informed we were pretty near the ending point, though the black menacing clouds that had been approaching from behind did not give us enough time: the sky opened when we were at only 200m from arrival. The rain was so think and violent that paddling in itself was an issue, let alone keeping the eyes opened. The rive current got stronger and the full force of nature was against us, soaking us wet and making us struggle to paddle the last 50 meters. At the jetty, the staff was there to help us disembark our kayaks and lead us to a parking area where James was waiting with his minivan. We felt cold and exhausted but happy: we all looked at each other and you could tell there was a satisfaction feeling at having been at one with nature, nearly powerless against it, and at having reached destination safely.

Paradesa Borneo Discovery

Paradesa Borneo Discovery

Rain or sunshine, dry or wet season, if you are in Kuching and have a day to spare, do try this amazing experience: you will not be disappointed and will feel the real adventure. Kayaking tours can be combined with a visit to the Semangoh Wildlife Center to see the orangutans, or with a jungle trek.

Read about Kampong cycling tour with Paradesa HERE !

For bookings Paradesa Borneo Discovery tours, CLICK HERE !

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About the author

Thomas has a university background in the UK and in Latin America, with studies in Languages and Humanities, Culture, Literature and Economics. He started his Asian experience as a publisher in Krabi in 2005. Thomas has been editing local newspapers and magazines in England, Spain and Thailand for more then fifteen years. He is currently working on several projects in Thailand and abroad. Apart from Thailand, Thomas has lived in Italy, England, Venezuela, Cuba, Spain and Bali. He spends most of his time in Asia. During the years Thomas has developed a great understanding of several Asian cultures and people. He is also working freelance, writing short travel stories and articles for travel magazines. Follow Thomas on www.asianitinerary.com

View all articles by Thomas Gennaro