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Borneo, Island of Tradition and Mystique


An island that has long been associated with Headhunters and dense jungle, Borneo in the 21st century is just as captivating now as in times past. Headhunting may no longer be practiced, but enthralling culture and tradition are very much alive and vibrant in the 60+ indigenous groups that inhabit Sabah and Sarawak, East Malaysia’s states on this southeast Asian island.

Australasian tour company, Travel Collective, offers travellers the opportunity to experience the festivities and rich culture of Gawai Dayak, the annual harvest festival, on a 21-day escorted tour through Sarawak and Sabah.

Celebrated on 1 June each year by the ex-Headhunters of Borneo - the Iban ethnic group - Gawai Dayak gives a glimpse into the melding of traditional and modern life.

Celebrations begin on 31 May, with family and relatives returning from the towns and cities to their longhouse, the aptly named traditional housing of family groups. With up to 50 apartment doors lined by a covered verandah spanning the length of the building, each door leads onto the living quarters for each of the families.

By midnight, festivities have well and truly begun, with music played on traditional instruments such as the sape, guitar-like stringed instrument, and traditional dancing with the richly coloured costumes and ornamental headwear of the Iban. With tuak (rice wine) flowing freely, as the night progresses the traditional dancing gives way to modern moves as the music continues well into the night. In fact, it is the custom that bedtime doesn’t come until the cock crows, so it’s a long night of celebrations. By morning, visitors to the longhouse feel well and truly part of the community as the festival continues with games, festive food and visitors from neighbouring communities.

Travel Collective director and founder of Active Travel, Irene Schrieber, has been travelling to Borneo for the best part of 25 years, and considers it her second home. Close-knit relationships with a local Iban family at Kuala Medalam longhouse, near Limbang, mean that the small tour groups are accepted warmly as an extension of the family, rather than simply tourists passing through.

Gawai Dayak is just one of the many unique experiences travellers will savour on the Borneo Wildlife and Culture Expedition, a 21-day exploration from Kuching, Sarawak to Kota Kinabalu, Sabah.

Bako National Park - near Kuching, the capital of Sarawak - is known around the world as a sanctuary for the rare and highly endangered Proboscis monkey, the ’long nose of Borneo’. A population of only 1000 still exist in the wild in Sarawak and Sabah, so it’s a special thing to be able to catch glimpses of the pot-bellied monkeys in the canopy and foraging for food amongst the mangroves in Bako.

Semenggoh Orang Utan Centre is a free-range sanctuary for wild and rescued Orang Utan, where they are treated and rehabilitated with the skills required to live independently in the wild. Whilst many Orang Utan are found in the centre, they are free to return into the jungle at any time, which makes it a special place to encounter these amazing and beautiful creatures.

Gunung Mulu National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is another highlight of the 21-day Borneo experience. Here amongst the dense jungle are some of the world’s most extensive cave systems, including the largest known chamber, the Sarawak Chamber at 700m long, 396m wide and at least 70m high. Participants on this tour will experience jungle trekking, with a one-day walk to Camp 5, with a two-night stay and option to climb the Mount Api Pinnacles, and then a full day’s walk along the Headhunter Trail, where you’ll then jump on board a longboat, for a river journey that winds through the jungle.

A very special component of the tour is a visit with the nomadic Penan, an indigenous people of Sarawak and Brunei who are one of the last such peoples remaining on earth. These hunter-gatherer people practice Molong, which means never taking more from the earth than necessary. While many Penan are now settled - either by choice or circumstance - they still hold dearly to their traditions, hunting techniques and their relationship with the environment. On this tour you will have an opportunity to meet with these people and learn firsthand about their beliefs and changing way of life. Our visits fund projects in the villages as our way of giving back to the community.

In 2010, Travel Collective will be running two fully-escorted 21-day tours from Kuching, Sarawak to Kota Kinabalu, Sabah, with dates below. Packages for independent travellers range from two days up to eight days, and include Mount Kinabalu, Turtle Island and Sandakan, Bako National Park and traditional longhouse experiences.

LOCATION: Kuching, Sarawak to Kota Kinabalu, Sabah, Malaysian Borneo
DURATION: 21 days / 20 nights
DATES: 22 May - 11 June 2010, 04-24 September 2010
COST: US$2995
INCLUDES: Transport by vehicle, plane, longboats and 4WD; All entrances fees; Accommodation in hotels, park chalets and camps, simple guest houses, longhouses and government rest house; Meals as indicated

An accredited tourism business, with offices in Adelaide and NZ. Specialists in active travel, including cycling and walking tours, around Australia, NZ, Asia, Africa and South America. Travel Collective Group of Companies includes brands Active Travel, Ecotrek, The Adventure Collective and Touches of Luxury.



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