Although I was born and raised in Kuching, also known as the ‘Cat City,’ I rarely had the chance to explore my hometown when I was much younger.
When I came back home for my year-end holiday in 2016, my aunt took me to Annah Rais Bidayuh longhouse, which is located in Padawan, a sub-district of Kuching. It’s about 1 hour and 30 minutes away from Kuching city.
When my aunt told me that she’ll take me there, I was very excited because I’ve always wanted to go there. I’ve been to an Iban longhouse before, but never to a Bidayuh longhouse. Apart from travelling somewhere new, I thought it would be nice to explore my own culture, too.
When we got there, I really needed to pee. Fortunately, there was a public bathroom just outside of the longhouse. No entrance fee was required.
A Bidayuh longhouse is typically higher from the ground; therefore, you’ll need to walk up a small traditional stairway as you can see below:
The stairway is made of wood and bamboo. Watch your steps as you walk on it. It can get very slippery when it’s wet.
Please note that all foreigners are required to pay an entrance fee of less than RM10 per person. As for us, the longhouse residents allowed us to get in for free. Yay!
Exploring Annah Rais longhouse
There are two ways to explore Annah Rais: you can drive to the longhouse and explore it on your own, or you can get a tour package from a local tour agent and spend a night there. No matter which option you may choose, I believe you’ll have a good experience there.
As for me, I chose to explore the longhouse with my family. That was it. We probably only spent about 30 minutes there. We toured around the longhouse, snapped some photos, and had a little chat with the locals. Although our visit to the longhouse was rather short, it was still a good trip.
If you are serious on learning more about the Bidayuh people, their home, and their culture, I highly recommend you to take a tour package to the longhouse. It’s not just going to be exciting, but also educational.
Since I had my family to tell me more about my cultural background, I didn’t bother to take the tour package. If you decide to take it, I can tell you that there are many fun activities await you.
What to expect there
If you’re looking forward to exploring the Bidayuh culture, a visit to Annah Rais longhouse is highly recommended. The attraction is also a homestay where tourists can spend their nights under one roof with the locals. There are also plenty of fun indoor and outdoor activities offered to all visitors. Of course, these activities are only catered for those travelling on tours. Below are some of the activities offered at Annah Rais:
- Rejuvenate in the wild
When you’re in the outdoors, expect to find two of the area’s untouched gems such as its natural and crystal clear hot spring, and its 3-tier waterfall where you can relax, rejuvenate, and enjoy a waterfall massage.
- Go on a bamboo rafting adventure
If you love water adventures, why not go on a bamboo rafting experience through the tropical rainforest? Bamboo rafting at Annah Rais isn’t just for the adventurous. The family-friendly sport is open for everyone. Yes, it’s important for you to keep paddling while you’re at it, but don’t forget to enjoy the beauty of your surroundings. What’s even more exciting is your guide will be showing you the right ways to build a bamboo raft, as well as the right rafting techniques.
- Jungle trekking and exploration
Love the jungle? Then go jungle trekking. You’ll come across the tropical rainforest’s exotic flora and fauna. You’ll be joined by an experienced guide who will be teaching you traditional survival skills, introduce you to a wide variety of useful herbs, and take you around for bird and wildlife watching.
- Go “hunting” with blowguns
Apart from exploring the jungle, you’ll also learn how to handle blowguns. Blowguns are traditionally used for hunting wild animals. You won’t be allowed to use your blowguns to hunt animals, but you can take them with you into the wild as long as the darts are not poisoned or sharpened. Practise your skills on anything but the wildlife.
- Go harvesting
If you’re visiting around February to April, you can join the locals to the paddy field for the harvesting season.
- Dine in the jungle
After all the activities mentioned, you may be very hungry. The good news is you can have your own barbecue in the jungle, and all of the ingredients will be provided by your local guide. You’ll be taught on how to prepare mouth-watering Bidayuh cuisine. I’m already thinking about grandma’s cooking!
- Explore local ornaments, cooking tools and handicrafts
When I was exploring the longhouse, I came across a traditional “oven”. The locals use it to cook their local dishes. I can assure you that it doesn’t look anything close to your cooking stove back home. You need to see it for yourself. The Bidayuh community also loves basket weaving and handicrafts. They use natural materials from the jungle to make them. There are ready-made handicrafts and accessories at the longhouse if you’d like to purchase them. They’re not cheap, so take extra cash with you if you’re serious on buying any.
- Enjoy local recipes
During your visit to the longhouse, you will learn how to cook traditional Bidayuh cuisine. Bamboo chicken is their specialty. To prepare the dish, rice and chicken are cooked in bamboos which are placed on burning coals. Once the dish is ready, you’ll get to try it along with other scrumptious local dishes.
- Compete in a blowgun competition
If you consider yourself a very competitive person, you should totally participate in their blowgun competition. Awesome local gifts await the winner. Of course, the competition is not meant for one or two people. Get your friends to join you in the challenge!
- Dress up and dance like a Bidayuh
After dinner, the Bidayuh cultural group and dancers will entertain you with their traditional dance. During the show, rice wine will be served. The Bidayuh dance involves graceful body movements. I remember dancing it in church and several local events. I love it, and I bet you’ll love it, too. Don’t be shy, get dressed in the Bidayuh traditional costume, and dance along. There are also traditional music instruments for you to play!
If you’d like to visit another Bidayuh longhouse near Kuching, you can go to Kampung Bunuk. The village’s longhouse isn’t as well-maintained and attractive as the Annah Rais longhouse. Nevertheless, it’s still worth visiting if you want to learn more about it and the Bidayuh community living there.
Don’t expect the longhouses at Bunuk and Annah Rais to be 100% identical to the ones built 8 generations back. Yes, many things may have changed over the years, but the efforts for further maintenance and restorations continue. Your visit is very much appreciated.
If you come across a local, don’t be shy to ask questions. Many of the Sarawak people can speak English. If you can speak Malay, that’s great, too!
Tip: You can learn more about the Bidayuh community during Gawai Dayak. It’s an annual festival celebrated by the Dayak people on May 31 and June 1. The festival marks the end of the harvesting season. During this time, the Dayak community will be spending quality time with their loved ones, dancing, drinking, eating and many more.
Perhaps I’ll see you at the next festival? 😉