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Revisiting Miri’s Kenyah Tribe

A city boy’s adventure in a tropical jungle

By Stanley Liew

We woke up very early in the morning in Miri, Sarawak, about six if I recall correctly. I was still tired, having just arrived the night before via AirAsia. But we have a long journey ahead so it’s best for us to get a good head start.

Our destination is a Kenyah tribe longhouse near a farm; a seven-hour drive into the jungle. My uncle became our taxi driver for the day. You can actually hire jeeps to take you in but it helps to have someone in the family who can help.

     Armed with a dozen packs of ‘Kolok Mee’, we started our journey.

Our adventure begins!


     The journey was a bumpy one because we travelled using dirt roads, not that we had much of an option. It helps if you try sleeping through most of the journey. I find the road system rather interesting because you need to look out for little red arrows that indicate which side of the road you should be driving on. Miss one and you could be heading into a direct collision with one of those massive logging trucks!

     I was so glad when we arrived because I needed to stretch my legs badly. Our jeep was also stuffed to the brim with supplies so you don’t have the luxury of moving around to find your ‘sweet spot’ in the truck.  People don’t drive in very often hence they try to bring in as much as possible when they do. The thing about living in a jungle is that you don’t have a hypermart around the corner!

Now this is something you don’t see every day in the city

The leisurely pace at the village

They still use firewood to cook!

The kitchen with both modern and traditional facilities

Kids enjoying the evening in front of the TV

I was greeted with a gush of fresh air as I stepped out of the jeep. The longhouse seems to be located smack in the middle of nowhere. Lush green foliage stretches on for miles ahead. We were on the side of the hill so you get really nice views of the mountain range.

     This is as authentic as it can get. It’s quite impressive how they managed to build the longhouse without the help of huge industrial machines. About four families occupy this longhouse, each having a small section to them that comprises a kitchen and a room for absolute everything.

     The generator is switched on in the evening as it gets dark. So that means no electrical appliances during the day. Children crowd around the television at night watching literally anything that comes on. At one point, I think they were watching a Hindi movie despite not understanding anything.

Simple living=more bonding time with family members

Goods at the local grocery shop

Group shot!


     I had many fond memories of my last visit, which was almost ten years ago. I would always remember riding the longboat, picnic trips, and swimming in the river. So I was quite excited when my uncle told us that we would be going on a picnic the next day.

     It was raining quite heavily the night before so we had to look for a safe spot that has relatively weaker currents. Riding the longboat is as fun as I remembered. Everyone has the task of keeping it balanced as it cuts through the waters. This means that I can’t lean over the side of the boat to take pictures. The longboat is also not very wide so you tend to feel like you can potentially fall over at any moment, which is generally not a very good idea when you have a really expensive camera in your lap.

     We roasted the fish that my uncles caught over an open fire and cooked rice in bamboo. Every ingredient is sourced from nature. It’s amazing how resourceful they are and it also goes to show how much the native people depend on the jungle and river for their daily needs.

     The next day, we headed out to visit other members of the family. It is the planting season so everyone is spread out working at different farms. They would usually gather back at the main village at the end of the year when the farming work is done.

Yes, folks. The longboat is THIS narrow

A quick photo opportunity

Supplies carried in traditional baskets

Preparation for lunch

Mmmmm…grilled fish for lunch with fish caught fresh from the river

     After lunch I jumped into the river. This may seem like a mundane activity but it was one of the highlights of the trip. I just sat there as the water rushed past me. It’s a special feeling; being alone in such a vast space, a small dot on a humungous patch of green. The water is cold and refreshing though slightly murky from the excessive logging.

     The kids were having a blast. They had a tire tube, which moonlighted as a float. The current eventually swept it away and my uncle had to swim downriver after it.

Down river they go!

Kids hungrily digging in

Cute tribe kids


     Well all good things have to come to an end as we had to leave the next day. Overall it was a really good experience, though I can never get used to the roosters making such a huge fuss early in the morning. Being a typical city boy, I would usually sleep in till eleven. I had a moment of distress when started screaming for a good twenty minutes, seemingly persistent in making sure that I wake up.

     I reckon that this is something everyone should experience at least once in their lifetime. The best time to go is during theGawai’ harvest season when the whole village is abuzz with festivities. You can check the Sarawak Tourism Board for home stay opportunities. It’s also great for those who want to travel but have limited budgets. You don’t have to go very far to discover exotic escapades. Look closer to home and you will be delightfully surprised.

     So what are you waiting for? Low fares at www.airasia.com are just waiting for you to take advantage of so that you can experience the tribal way of life!

This blog entry is part of AirAsia Bloggers Programme.