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Sarawak

Sarawak, has a bewildering diversity of culture. Every tribe still has talented exponents of traditional decorative arts, from weaving to woodcarving to tattooing. And a longhouse is more than a traditional form of shelter or a distinctly unique Bornean form of communal living; it is a museum, displaying the vibrant culture and the vital creative impulse and aesthetic artistic skills of 27 different and distinct indigenous ethnic groups. Their cultural ingenuity is their identity. A visit to a longhouse is a visit to a gallery with exhibits ranging from antique brass work, exquisite woven fabrics, carving of tropical hardwoods, beadwork, ceramics, rattan weaving and basketry. Every town and marketplace in Sarawak offers curios of a unique Sarawak style, culture and craftsmanship. Shoppers should spend their time browsing through the Kedai (marketplace) to search for genuine antiques and souvenirs. Sarawak's natural beauty is legendary. So are its arts and crafts - literally - for these unique designs are often based on age-old legends. Inspired by the beauty and bounty of their homeland - be it the effortless flight of a hornbill, the graceful curvature of a jungle fern or the mysteries of a dream each ethnic group, in every longhouse, has a craftsman or woman who beautifies everyday utensils with the most intricate and refined of ancient decorative arts.

The People

What attracts most visitors to Sarawak is its ethnic diversity. There are 27 distinct indigenous ethnic groups that speak 45 different languages and dialects and are proud to call Sarawak their home. That's the official figure. And that's not counting the Malays and the many different Chinese groups with all their different dialects that have also settled in Sarawak. Some anthropologists want to sub-divide the ethnic groups even further to include ethnic sub-groups. One fact, however, remains undiminished: Sarawak has ethnic diversity a plenty.

The Iban

The Iban are the most famous of Sarawak's ethnic groups. They were once the legendary warriors of Borneo; the most feared of the headhunting tribes. Thankfully they now no longer headhunt, and have adopted a peaceful agrarian lifestyle. A visitor to an Iban longhouse will find that they are a generous, hospitable and placid people. There are, of course, 26 other tribes who are also the most gracious and engaging of hosts. There are the Bidayuh, formerly known as the "Land Dayaks", who so enchanted the first White Rajah with their gentleness. Then there are the Melanau fisherman of the littorals of Central Sarawak, and the multitude of upriver tribes who collectively form the Orang Ulu (people of the headwaters); the nomadic Penan, guardians of the rainforest.

Adventure

Adventure can mean anything from rock climbing on a limestone crag to a day's walk up a mountain trail and back in time for dinner at the hotel. You can take a morning's stroll through a national park close to a major town or spend several days trekking along a jungle trail, sleeping each night in a different longhouse. You can explore Sarawak's myriad rivers by longboat, letting the outboard motor do the work, or you can kayak or raft down swift streams.

You can swim from golden deserted beaches or scuba dive off islands and reefs and watch the giant sea turtles. Increasingly popular are live-aboard scuba holidays where you have offshore reefs entirely to yourself. The choice is bewildering. Decide what you want to do or see and leave it up to one of the many experienced travel agents in the major towns to plan an itinerary to suit your particular taste for adventure.

Scuba Diving Experience

Largely unknown to the diving world, Sarawak has dive sites that have been compared favorably with Sipadan and Australia's Great Barrier Reef. The best sites are found on a live-aboard trip that allows you to explore the Luconia Shoals, first explored in the 1980s by divers from Brunei Shell Petroleum. The visibility is astounding as is the variety of marine and coral life. You can dive among World War wrecks and share them with giant manta rays. For those with less time the Tocow and Siwa Shoals are just a 40 minutes boat ride from Miri while the Batu Mat Reef is an hour and 45 minutes away. While the water at the western end of the State near Kuching is not as clear, there are interesting dives to offshore islands where turtles breed. At the extreme western end of the State, Tanjung Datu National Park has crystal clear waters and coral formations close to shore. It is still waiting to be explored as a diving area. Travel agents and dive shops will arrange dives to any of the sites.

Adventurous Experience in Sarawak

Adventure is Sarawak's other name. With the world's oldest rainforest covering 70% of the State - an area the size of Austria - and some of the most spectacular geography anywhere, the State offers challenges at all levels. With a network of rivers ranging from the lazily meandering to heart-stopping rapids, with mountains and cliffs so rugged some have never been climbed and with the world's most extensive cave system, Sarawak has adventures to suit everybody.

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