Sarawak counts beautiful beaches, primeval rainforest and towering mountains among its wealth of natural features, but there’s just something special about a waterfall. Here are 12 of the best...
Sarawak counts beautiful beaches, primeval rainforest and towering mountains among its wealth of natural features, but there’s just something special about a waterfall – particularly those which you can swim beneath. The state has them in abundance, and many of them are extremely photogenic, particularly after the rainy season has filled them with cascading water and turned the surrounding jungle a vivid green. Here are 12 of the most spectacular waterfalls to be found in Sarawak.
The only thing better than hiking through Sarawak’s jungles is finding yourself with a gorgeous waterfall to cool off in at the end of the trail. That’s exactly what you’ll find in Kubah National Park, where the aptly named Waterfall Trail leads you for 1.5 hours through the rainforest to a set of wide falls. The trail includes wooden walkways crossing babbling streams and peaty bogs, and gives you fantastic opportunities to spot some of the vibrant birds that call the forests of Kubah home – from the Asian paradise flycatcher to the crimson sunbird. While you’re here, be sure to check out some of the park’s other attractions. At the Matang Wildlife Centre, a population of wild orangutans, many of them rescued from the pet trade and rehabilitated, roam 180 hectares of wilderness, alongside other unique animals like sun bears. These sleepy-looking ursids like to hang out in trees, and can often be spotted lazing on a branch, sunbathing or napping. The best thing about Kubah’s Waterfall Trail is that it’s only around half an hour’s drive from the city of Kuching.
Not all of Sarawak’s waterfalls require you to don your hiking boots and trek through the jungle to reach them. At Ranchan Recreational Park, a tropical oasis on the southern fringes of the town of Serian, there are a number of beautiful waterfalls and swimming pools connected by wooden footbridges and stone steps. Though it’s close to town, Ranchan’s green, moss-covered boulders are a testament to the clean air, and the forest which the park sits within is rich in plant and animal life. It should be pointed out that, even though the waterfalls here may look spectacular when it rains, they can become unsafe, as excess water at the top of the river can turn into a dangerous torrent by the time it reaches the bottom. With that in mind, it’s best to keep out of the water during a rainstorm.
Many of Sarawak’s waterfalls are popular with visitors, and, given their natural beauty, it’s no surprise. However, some of them remain blissfully under the tourist radar, meaning when you visit, it might feel like you have the whole place to yourself. One such place is Ulu Awik, home to the gorgeous Wong Klangsau Waterfall. Turning off the Saratok Road, you’ll need to leave your car or scooter beside a junction marked by several longhouses, and head off on a trail through the forest. Wild boar might be seen or heard snuffling about in the trees, and mosquitoes are very prevalent, so pack bug spray. Another animal worth being wary of is leeches – these slippery customers also suck human blood, and are unpleasant but, unlike mosquitoes, harmless. Keep them at bay by wearing long trousers and sleeves. Having manoeuvred the forest and its creepy crawlies, cool off at Wong Klangsau’s lovely natural swimming pool.
Another waterfall hike accessible as a day trip from the city, Gunung Gading is around two hours’ drive from the state capital of Kuching. Like Kudah, Gunung Gading National Park has a dedicated Waterfall Trail, although this one takes in not just one set of falls, but a whopping seven. Several of them run into natural swimming pools, meaning there’s no shortage of places to cool off along the way. Tempting as it may be, though, to spend all day splashing about at the foot of waterfalls, don’t forget to make time to seek out Gunung Gading’s star attraction. This is one of the last homes of the rafflesia flower, a bizarre plant which only emerges for a few days each year. Lacking roots or stems, it lives as a parasite in vines and other plants, and emits a smell of decomposing flesh to attract pollinating flies. It’s very beautiful, in an odd kind of way, and a guided tour to safely take you to the blooming sites of these endangered flowers is a must while you’re in Gunung Gading.
The remote Bayong area sits in western Sarawak, near the town of Sarikei. Along the Sarikei River is a layered series of waterfalls, known collectively as Pala Munsoh, which make a rewarding endpoint for a jungle trek. This area is a stronghold of Iban tribal culture, and the Rumah Nyuka longhouse, around an hour and a half’s trek from the falls, is a good place to start. You can learn all about Iban culture at the longhouse, which is home to some 45 families, and discover how they make their living from the jungle by joining the locals in rubber tapping or collecting dabai fruit. The waterfalls themselves also bear the influence of the Iban – the name Pala Munsoh means ‘Enemy Head Falls’ in the local language. This is a legacy of the Iban’s formerly fearsome reputation as headhunters, who collected the scalps of their enemies. Happily, this practice is now a thing of the past; it was banned in the colonial era, although some older members of the tribe can still remember those days.
Belaga is a scenic southern district of Sarawak, centred on the Rajang River. This is the site of the Belaga Rainforest Challenge, which sees members of the local Orang Ulu tribes take part in a 17km run through the jungle and celebrate their culture with performances of traditional music and dance. From the town of Belaga, a ten-minute boat journey will take you to the Kejavo Waterfall, which tumbles down a couple of tiers into a shallow swimming hole – perfect for refreshing yourself after a walk through the surrounding jungle. In the rainforest by the river there are also several Orang Ulu longhouses, to which you can arrange visits from Belaga. The Orang Ulu people are famous for their rich culture, which includes intricate woodworking and beadwork, and for the sape – a stringed instrument used to accompany their longhouse dances. You’ll also get the chance to savour some Orang Ulu cuisine, which is particularly delicious – specialities include smoked boar and tapioca leaves.
Near Sarawak’s southern border with the Indonesian region of Kalimantan, Batang Ai feels like the wild heart of Borneo – even though its famous lake is actually manmade, the result of a hydroelectric reservoir. Still, the park’s natural beauty and potential for adventure are up there with anywhere else in Sarawak. Head to the Nanga Delok area in the east of the park to find a lively waterfall, which cascades between the tree trunks along the Jelia River. Nanga Delok is also an area rich in traditional culture, and is home to the Iban people – one of Sarawak’s most famous ethnic groups. It’s possible to visit their longhouse, a traditional timber and thatch building which is home to several families and serves as the hub of the community – here, you can learn about their arts and crafts traditions like batik weaving. Also not to be missed in Batang Ai is a boat ride on the lake on a traditional longtail boat, stopping off to visit Iban villages and trek through the jungle.
For a true wilderness adventure into the heart of Borneo, look no further than the Bukit Mabong Waterfall trek. The first step is getting to Kapit Town, which – until a new road is finally completed – involves a four-hour boat ride from Sibu. From there, it’s another three hours by car, via another couple of river crossings, to Bukit Mabong. After overnighting in this traditional small town, it’s a trek of a couple of hours through the jungle to the waterfall itself, a dramatic multi-tiered cascade. This part of Borneo is known as the Hose Mountains (named for British colonialist Charles Hose), and is remote and unspoiled. As a result, it’s home to several unusual species of plants and animals. In particular, it’s famous for pitcher plants, unusual carnivorous plants which have a jug-like ‘pitcher’ in which they catch rainwater and insects, which they then digest. Incredibly, some of the largest have even been known to trap and eat rats and other small rodents.
In the far east of Sarawak, around half an hour’s drive south of the town of Lawas, sits the Penawan Waterfalls Eco Park. This lovely protected area is famous for its ten waterfalls, which you can explore by following the park’s gentle hiking trails along the river – as you go, be sure to keep an eye out overhead for colourful hornbills, the national bird of Malaysia. The first waterfall you reach, Batu Meregeb, is some 70ft high and empties into a natural pool; there’s even a convenient flat rock where you can take a seat and enjoy a shower. There are nine further falls along the trail of varying heights, each one beautiful and dramatic in its own way. While you’re swimming or paddling in the falls, keep an eye out for the golden flash of the semah fish, which lives here in great numbers and is highly prized for its delicious taste – the local Dayak people cook it in bamboo tubes.
The pleasant Lambir Hills National Park may be just half an hour’s drive away from the coastal city of Miri, but it’s extremely unspoiled and is one of the most ecologically diverse areas anywhere in Malaysia. Over 1,000 species of trees live in this small park, each home in turn to thousands of insect species and hundreds of birds, including several species of hornbill. They’re joined by animals including saucer-eyed tarsiers, armour-plated pangolins, and gibbons. As you walk along the jungle trails, through towering tapang trees and past tens of bubbling waterfalls, it’s not hard to see why so many creatures have chosen to make their homes here. One of the most pleasant trails in the park takes you to the Latak Waterfall, just 20 minutes from the park HQ. Though it’s not the loudest or most dramatic waterfall in Borneo, it must be one of the prettiest, emerging from a high precipice through dense vegetation and tumbling gently to a pleasant pool below. Enjoy a swim there, and stay overnight if you like – with a restaurant, campsite and basic lodge accommodation, Lambir Hills has everything you need for a comfortable stay.
One of Borneo’s most charming inhabitants makes its home in the wilderness of Pulong Tau National Park: the Bornean bearded pig. Notable for their facial fuzz, these gentle ungulates like to snuffle about for roots and worms at the base of rainforest trees, and you might spot some as you trek through Pulong Tau’s jungles. The elusive Bornean bay cat has also been spotted here, although it’s unlikely you’ll see one. What you are guaranteed, though, is a rewarding hike to the Pa’ Ramapuh Waterfall, which lies around an hour’s hike from the town of Bario, the main settlement in the Kelabit Highlands. As you walk, be sure to cast your eyes to the trees’ higher branches, where you might spot gibbons and macaques peering down at you with some interest. Back in town, be sure to spend some time meeting the Kelabit people, who, despite being headhunters right up until the 1920s, are a very friendly bunch when it comes to outsiders.
The town of Sebauh is just an hour’s drive from the town of Bintulu, but it feels much sleepier, with its wooden jetties and fishing boats bobbing beside the banks of the Kemena River. This is a great place to get out into the great outdoors and enjoy the beautiful Bornean countryside – the Sebauh Nature Run is made up of 9km of running trails, through quiet forests and rolling hillsides. The trail also passes by several waterfalls, which are perfect for cooling off in after you’ve worked up a sweat. Back in Sebauh itself, refuel with some of the town’s famous dishes, which include prawn noodles and lajong – a pink catfish. Another must during your stay is visiting the Natok Kon Sebauh Floating Temple. Though it doesn’t really float, but rather sits on an island in the middle of the river, the temple is very atmospheric, with its red and green painted pavilions, and is said to be home to powerful deities.
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