Rungus longhouse homestay
So I took a bit of a risk with this one, followed some intuition, and luckily it paid off nicely. What to do in Borneo
with the four days I had spare after cancelling the mountain climb? Hmmmmmmm, there were cheap flights to neighbouring Brunei, see a very different side of Borneo? Or how about going with Mark to Sandakan
to see more orangutans ?. I felt like doing something a little different though and was inspired by a poster I spotted to visit a traditional wooden longhouse in the Borneo jungle where some ethnic groups still live. Price though, including transfer (3 hours each way from KK) and a look around was way out of my price range, 800 Ringgits or something, over, just under £200.
Peter's car, held together with various bits of duck tape!
It was even more if you wanted to stay overnight, something that really appealed to me. I looked into it some more and it appeared the best bet for the homestay experience was around the tip of Borneo in the far North-East in and around the town of Kudat
. So I just hopped on a bus £5 to take me to Kudat. Thought the best thing would be to try and organise something from the main town in the area where most of the longhouses are found, mainly the homes of the Rungus tribal people. Didn't really have a clue what i was doing but lets see where I go from here then....
Really not that much going on in Kudat town itself, absolutely no other Westerners so lots of stares and people approaching me to ask where I am from and what is my age (I still don’t get the obsession here with age but nevermind, it does seem quite important to them!).
Tip of Borneo
This town absolutely stank too, I wasn’t too impressed by the open sewers and all the rats yikes!!.. I wandered to the harbour and by chance asked a taxi driver hanging around how much he would charge to take me to a rungus longhouse and back, would it be possible to stay the night etc... ‘Ahhhhhh my friend he own a longhouse, no problem!! 75 Ringgits (£15) a night you stay there, you have dinner there, you drink rice wine.’ I had met Peter, the craziest, most helpful friendly taxi driver ever. OK, at first I wasn’t sure whether to trust this guy. His taxi did not look official and it had definitely seen better days. The car seemed to have various bits of duck tape holding things together, including the gearstick, the door handles, the wing mirror. I did though spot his ID badge and my rapidly developing ‘creepometer’ told me he was genuine.
palm oil plantation
So I took his phone number then mulled it over. Didn’t take long as first thing I did next morning was to ring Peter and get him to pick me up for what turned out to be one heck of an experience.
For a few more ringgits he also took me to see some of the beaches around Kudat. Miles upon miles of empty white sandy beaches, some with longhouses overlooking the bays, many in desperate need of repair. I couldn’t help feeling surprised that this hadn’t been snapped up as a big business opportunity for renting these longhouses to tourists. He then took me to the ‘tip of Borneo’, a dramatic piece of land jutting out into the meeting point of South China and Sulu Seas, marking the very tip of Borneo before the Philippines (my next country incidentally). All the time, Peter was telling me some incredible stories about the region, the traditional vs modern life of the various ethnic groups, religion, immigrants, his own life, everything.
My room :)
He seemed really pleased to be able to practise his English on me, which was pretty good. He himself was half Chinese, half Rungus in ethnic background. He had a map of England where he requested I mark on it where I live, and a book of comments from clients that he proudly showed me. I also donated, an English pound coin, Indian rupee, Croatian Kuna, 1 Euro, that I happened to have in my purse. He said that he collects coins from people he meets from all over the world while taxi driving and puts them under glass in a table that he will leave for his sons when he dies! We also stopped at a palm oil plantation (depressingly everywhere, see my last blog entry on orangutans) and he pointed out Durian fruit growing on trees! (famous for smelling like the inside of a babies nappy but tasting heavenly, not tried yet but is on the agenda I promise!) I still have Peter’s phone number if anyone is interested in doing this magical mystery tour themselves!
Next up he then dropped me off at the longhouse for my homestay.
Bucket shower in the jungle
I really did not know what to expect here to be honest. Fully aware that these kind of places are often mocked-up tourist traps. I was very pleasantly surprised though. Firstly, surprised that I was the only guest staying there and it literally just felt like I was a guest in someone’s home, yes a very interesting long wooden one! The longhouse itself was incredibly beautiful, in the middle of tropical countryside, huge butterflies everywhere, chickens roaming everwhere cockadoodledoo... I was greeted by a lady carrying a baby and soon worked out that she was actually the grandmother and seemed to do absolutely everything. All the cooking, looking after me, the animals, and goodness knows how many children, including the baby that she carried around with her all the time in a harness, even when serving dinner.
Nose flute lesson, this is how it is done!
. I was shown to my room, nice and open to the elements, wooden structure, exactly what I had hoped for. My bed was a mattress on the floor with a mosquito net, toilet was a little trek through the jungle (very scary at night!) and the shower was a standpipe from a rainwater butt and a bucket. Hey CHECK ME!!!! In 2 days I had gone from five star luxury to this, but no way was I complaining, this was perfect. Actually one of the most peaceful places I had ever been. Well, during the day that is...
I chilled out, enjoying the surroundings and took a bucket shower in the jungle. Dinner was a whole grilled fish with rice, very tasty. A little after dinner though, this peace and quiet was completely emmm ANNIHILATED! A couple of truck loads of people turned up, the other residents of the longhouse returning from a day working in the fields and some in the city.
Unhealthy but v tasty breakfast
Running the length of the longhouse outside the 12 or so bedrooms was a corridor for socialising. The place suddenly came to life, lots of laughter and chatter which I of course could not understand as none of them spoke English, just Malay and Rungus. When guests stay the night, the people here don traditional Rungus clothing and put on a little show. So of course being the only guest there i was asked to participate. I joined in with folk dancing and learnt how to play the nose flute!! I had such a great evening using just the universal language of laughter!! Had quite a comfortable night of sleep, waking up to singing birds and chickens, just heavenly. Downside was that I woke to find some extra uninvited mossie bites and thinking maybe i should have checked the malarial status of this place before i decided to visit? Breakfast was already prepared for me when i joined the family and was just the best! OK, maybe not the healthiest of breakfasts but who cares.
Fried bananas with spice, rice steamed in a banana leaf in coconut milk, and a coconut jelly, banana thing that just melted in the mouth, wow!
Peter picked me up and took me back safely to Kudat where I caught the bus back to KK. I felt pretty proud of myself. Sometimes it is worth taking some small risks to be rewarded with a great adventure.