Rediscovering Batang Ai
For someone living comfortably in Kuching full of modern technology and infrastructures like me, a trip to its outskirts has never sounded that exciting, at least not before my expedition to Batang Ai on Jan 30.
The familiarization trip organised by Aiman Planet Borneo Group of Companies made me really excited to go somewhere that is usually not my cup of tea and experience all Batang Ai had to offer.
On the morning of January 30, I met up with Aiman’s group general manager Mona Abdul Manap, director Gracie Geikie, database and online management executive Alcila Abby Afflin at their Riveredge Commercial Development headquarters before starting our long awaited trip at 8.30am.
From Kuching, we arrived at Batang Ai Dam at 1.10pm where a boat took us across the lake to the newly rebranded Aiman Batang Ai Resort and Retreat.
The 20-year-old Hilton Batang Ai Longhouse resort previously owned by Tradewind Hotels and Resorts and managed by Hilton International is now under the management of Planet Borneo Lodge Management Sdn Bhd.
From the jetty to the resort, guests will have to wait for their turn to board the boat that leaves at specific times between 9.30am to 5.30pm, and it takes a minimum of 20 minutes each way.
Situated at the edge of the verdant Batang Ai National Park, the Aiman Batang Ai Resort and Retreat itself is well hidden from view and it was a pleasant surprise for me to finally disembark at 2.15pm and be received warmly by the resort staff.
Upon arrival, a very tasty lunch was prepared at the Nanga Mepi restaurant, famous for local cuisine including chicken cooked in bamboo, better known here as ‘Ayam Pansuh’. After a delectable lunch of Tilapia fish and chips
while enjoying the peaceful atmosphere from the Wong Irup Lounge, I went straight to my room to rest before we proceeded with our next activity.
In the evening, we were taken on a Nature Walk led by the resort’s guest relations and activities manager Ramona Ngalih.
We walked amongst treetops, discovering the canopy layer of the rainforest on a 130-meter long walkway, suspended by 50 meters from the jungle floor. Our very knowledgeable guide Ramona showed us pretty much everything she could; the flora and fauna including the kapok tree bark with large thorns and spines which can be used to create music. She also gave us tips for surviving in the rainforest.
The most interesting part for me during the Nature Walk was crossing the sky bridge, something that I would have never imagined doing and I was glad to finally have conquered my fear of heights all thanks to the sturdy bridge structure.
At 8pm later, I joined in the night cruise activity where we brought along our torchlights to search for animals roaming in the area. Among the animals we spotted were a civet and frogs but we were told that sometimes – if you’re lucky – you can even spot a Black Hornbill roaming in the area.
After the cruise, we stopped for awhile to gaze at the stars shining beautifully in the sky before we headed back to our rooms for a good night sleep.
I was pretty much excited about our activities for the second day of the trip. Starting from 8.50am, travelling by a longboat in the cold start to the morning indulging in the calm beauty and serenity of the lake, we took a thrilling trip upriver to the remote reaches of Batang Ai and visit an Iban longhouse..
We arrived at the Nanga Mengkak Engkari longhouse, located along the Engkari River, a tributary of the Batang Ai reservoir at 9.30am. A small church stands behind the 37-door longhouse which was set up in the late 1980s as part of the Batang Ai Resettlement Scheme. The longhouse still uses a generator set to produce electricity.
Most of the dwellers here are fishermen, rubber tappers and pepper planters. To generate income, the villagers also produce their own handicrafts and mats for sale.
It is highly recommended for guests at the resort to come and experience the longhouse lifestyle including indulging in some original tuak (rice wine).
At 11.50am, we boarded the boat and continued our journey to a secluded waterfall which we reached at 12.20pm. We quickly rushed to the waterfall to listen to nature’s best ambient sound for relaxation, have a swim and enjoy our picnic lunch.
After the much needed relaxation, we went back to the resort to welcome our honourable guest for the afternoon, Jason Desmond Anthony Brooke, the grandson of the last ruling Rajah Muda Anthony Walter Dayrell Brooke.
Jason’s visit to Sarawak this time was to see the items of the Brooke Gallery placed at Fort Margherita in Kuching, scheduled to open in April or May this year. After several trips to historical places including Fort Margherita, Jason was invited to spend a night at the resort.
Jason and his entourage were welcomed with an Iban dance performance, before joining in a ‘miring’ ceremony. Later on, he endorsed the ‘Fort Alice Escapade’ brochure that features one of the resort’s new activities that include a visit to Fort Alice to learn more about culture and heritage in Sarawak.
After that, we were brought on a tour around the resort to look at the facilities which included a spa, massage parlour, tennis court and BBQ Island. BBQ Island offers a unique alfresco dining experience in the middle of the Bornean jungle.
The experience in Batang Ai was something I would not forget so easily. It is undeniably true that Batang Ai has very high potential as a tourism destination due to its location, giving a breath of fresh air away from the business of the city. Thus, I can now gladly say that I am hoping to come back again for another sweet trip to Batang Ai.