Batang Ai National Park
"Iban Culture Amid Rainforest Splendor"
Set next to a lake landscape and wildlife sanctuary, Batang Ai National Park combines ecotourism with conservation to provide a unique opportunity to observe wild animals and traditional lifestyles.
Established in 1991, the park merges prime orangutan habitat protection, indigenous peoples' rights and modern development of a hydroelectric dam into a showcase for natural resource manangement.
Located 275 km east of Kuching, a 4-5 hour drive inland starts the journey with an hour long boat ride across the lake to reach the park. The Lanjak-Entimau Wildlife Sanctuary borders Batang Ai and supports a diverse variety of primates, birds and mammals.
Rainforest abundance plays an important role for the Iban, who still rely on forest produce to supplement harvests. Share a day or two with these fascinating longhouse dwellers to join in daily practices and local festivals.
Natural Things To Do
Batang Ai National Park: Nature Attractions
As the largest conservation area in Sarawak, Batang Ai borders the Bentuan-Karimun Park in Indonesia and encompasses over 10,0000 km2 of primary rainforest critical for wildlife protection.
These habitats thrive with Bornean gibbons, leaf-monkeys, seven hornbill species, eagles, hundreds each of bird, reptile and mammal species, plus a variety of medicinal plants and wild fruits.
Without any hunting pressure from the Iban, the orangutan population remains healthy with a good chance to see them in the jungle. Listen to the wild calls of gibbons lingering in the air for a real rainforest treat. White-fronted and red langurs now inhabit hill forests after hunting drove them out of lowland habitats.
Salt licks are good spots to sight bearded pigs, sambar deer and barking deer. Sun bears are present but difficult to find. At night, the big-eyed slow lorises and tarsiers come out to feed on insects, the former a slow stalker and the latter a quick attack artist.
Other interesting wildlife includes two civet species, the elusive clouded leopard of the deep forest, several river otters, porcupines and plenty of squirrels.
Lowland and hill forests, together with the open lake, provide excellent habitats for a variety of small and large birds. Surveys at Lanjak-Entimau found over 200 species.
The star species remain the seven species of hornbills, a beautiful group of majestic rainforest flyers. With an ornamental headpiece (casque), the Rhinoceros hornbill is revered as the messenger bird to the spirit world, according to Iban beliefs.
Seen flying in pairs, large hornbills are easy to spot as their honking calls and whooshing wingbeats alert birdwatchers beforehand. Other hornbills include the Black, Helmeted, Bushy-crested, and White-crested, all mainly fruit-eaters. On the ground, the Great Argus Pheasant clears patches for a mating dance.
The forest canopy is full of flickering flowerpeckers, sunbirds, bulbuls, barbets, babblers, flycatchers, fantails, spidercatchers, cuckoos and trogons. Get a bird guidebook and start building your bird brain.
Over the water, search for the fish-fetching kingfishers and Brahminy kites circling above for a fresh meal.
A vast terrain of rainforest hills, valleys and rivers, trekking in the jungles of Batang Ai provides plenty of adventure. The trails traverse through mixed dipterocarp forests, secondary forests and cultivated lands that highlight the interaction of Iban culture with nature.
Some trails even pass over native ancient burial grounds. Guides or park rangers must accompany all visitors into the jungle. And for a relaxing return, all trails end at pickup points by longboats to ferry trekkers back to Park HQ.
Pedalai Trail - A short and easy trail with a 30 m climb to a traditional Iban burial ground marked with old burial jars. Across the river from the Nanga Lubang Baya longhouse, the trail follows a ridge and encounters pig wallows and Argus pheasant grounds before descending to a river with a picnic area and the pickup point.
Bebiyong Trail - Start at Park HQ to walk to the Bebiyong Mit stream, where the path, surrounded by good forest, rises to nearly 300 m, just below the ridgeline. The trail continues downhill to several water pools and follows the riverbank to the Batang Ai River pickup.
Belitong Trail - A more difficult trail that rises to crest a ridge where six Iban leaders are buried. The path proceeds uphill along forested terrain to 320 m and an alternative steep climb to reach Tuchong Inggai peak (420 m), a lookout point during headhunter times. A burial jar marks the peak as the resting place for the warrior Tugang. A rapid descent leads to the Batang Ai River for the boat pickup.
Enggam Trail - Following the Bebiyong Trail to its highest point, Puncak Igau, and veers along a ridge to ascend nearly 2 km through hill forest. A fortification built by the warrior Enggam rewards fit climbers with remnants of a defensive ditch to protect the longhouse. A path drops 600 m to a scenic river and longhouse before rejoining the Bebiyong trail.
Sium Trail - Demanding trails offer rewards too. A steady climb starts this trail to the Sium ridge at 415 m. Trekking through pristine rainforest, pass by an Iban burial ground and a peak at 704 m with clear, panoramic views of the lake and surrounding forest. A fast walk to the Beritik River continues to the Batang Ai River for the ride back to Park HQ.
The benefit of observing the traditional ways of the Iban, a people settled in the park for over 400 years, makes for an interesting addition to any trip to Batang Ai.
Local customs, traditions and taboos all play a role and dominant the rainforest experience as much as the wildlife.
Integration of Iban activities into park planning ensures that the gathering of jungle produce and products allow them to contiune making handicrafts, fabrics and ceremonial gear.
A visit to a longhouse community or separate 'tourist longhouse' provides insights into village life and opportunities to engage in social festivals and daily chores. For ecotourism to work, the Iban must share properly in the employment and profits that help to improve schools and other projects.
Batang Ai National Park: Getting There
The hydro lake is about 275km (or 5 hours drive) from Kuching. Most visitors arrive as part of an organised tour group with all transport is included. Contact the Visitor's Information Centre in Kuching for a list of approved tour operators.
Independent travel to Batang Ai is difficult; there are regular express buses from Kuching to Sri Aman (3 hours 30 mins), from Sri Aman there is a local bus service to Lubok Antu (2 hrs), some 5km from the lake, and from Lubok Antu it is possible to get a free ride to the lake from friendly locals.
However there is no public longboat service; you may have to stay in Lubok Antu for a day or two until somebody is heading to Batang Ai. The alternative is to charter a longboat, a costly option.
The National Park is about 15 km upriver from the lake. Access is by motorized traditional longboat from either the Hilton Batang Ai jetty or the Batang Ai public jetty. There is no public longboat service and transport should be arranged in advance. The boat journey is roughly 2 hours (1 hour across the lake, another hour ascending the fast-flowing Batang Ai River). During low water, visitors may need to jump into the stream to push the boat over small rapids.
Visitors are required to register and pay the entrance fee (usually RM 10 per person) or other park fees at the registration counter.
The Park has no canteen facilities, so visitors should bring their own food and drinking water for the day.
There is no visitor accommodation at the Park, except for some camping. All visitors stay in one of the Iban longhouses nearby or the Hilton Batang Ai Resort, a 1 hour 30 minute boat ride to the Park HQ.
Reservations & EnquiriesNational Parks Booking Office
Visitors Information Centre
Jalan Tun Abang Haji Openg,
93000 Kuching, Sarawak, Malaysia
Tel: 082-248088 Fax: 082-248087
Online booking: http://ebooking.com.my
Hilton Batang Ai Longhouse Resort
Not your typical hotel, the resort sits on the edge of a tropical rainforest to put visitors in the mood for jungle adventure. Trying to blend in with traditional Iban culture, the longhouse-style rooms have garden views and a bit more privacy than the real deal.
A two-hour boat ride to the national park ensures a full day of adventure and fantastic photographic scenery.
After the jungle excursions, relax at the swimming pool or play some tennis. Those requiring business facilities can find meeting rooms and other services.
Restaurant decor reflects the surrounding rainforest to keep to longhouse architecture and there are plenty of local food delights and specialities for hungry jungle trekkers.
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