Sarawak in Malaysian Borneo Goes for Cycling Tourism

Sarawak looks to attract new niche markets. Among them is bicycle tourism—a perfect product combining soft adventure, nature, culture with the experience of enjoying local hospitality in the heart of Borneo Island.

“We have been working for two years with Sarawak Ministry of Tourism to officially launch a bicycle tourism product. We feel happy that we are now ready to expose it to the world”. JC Chua is the Director of Paradesa Borneo, a DCM based in Kuching. He can be considered as the mastermind behind the concept of bicycle tours around Sarawak. So far, he is the only tour operator in Sarawak to propose tours around the entire State. “We actually have 16 different tours across the State including six outside Kuching, our regional capital,” he explains.

The tour operator got the enthusiastic support of Sarawak Ministry of Tourism as well as Sarawak Tourism Board (STB). “This is our policy to diversify our tourism activities. Cycling is part of it and both the private sector and our ministry pulled resources together for promotion. Although it is considered a niche market, cycling tourism is growing in importance and generates increasingly interest from all around the world,” says Angelina Bateman, who is head of Corporate Communication STB. The product is particularly appealing to travellers from Europe, the USA and some Asian markets such as Singapore or Hong Kong.

Enjoying the hospitality of Iban people in their longhouse in Banting
Enjoying the hospitality of Iban people in their longhouse in Banting

The new cycling itinerary is named “the Headhunters’ Heartland Tour” and provides what travellers might expect from a visit on Borneo Island. It combines the discovery of exceptional landscapes, trips in traditional canoes along the  rivers in the midst of the rain forest, history with the visit of Kuching colonial heritage and the discovery of old forts built by Britons. And above all, it gives the opportunity to meet and enjoy the warm hospitality of local people, particularly Iban tribes. The circuit stretches over 140 km in total, half of the distance being on average covered on bicycles.

Although modern life made its print into the life of locals, traditions are still well alive. Such as staying in wooden long-houses, the equivalent of social public housing. The long house is shared by an entire village who continues an ancestral way of living together and sharing resources such as food, agriculture or hunting. Previously known as fierce warriors and head hunters, Iban are today a mostly peaceful ethnic group with a great sense of welcome. “It is the true highlight of this trip. The longhouse experience, the sharing of food and drinks with locals, the fact to be invited to rest in their home is a unique experience that is hard to forget,” said with enthusiasm Weerawan Kaenwong, Adventure Tour consultant for Spice Roads, one of Southeast Asia’s largest cycling tour operators based in Bangkok.

Sarawak is ideal for bicycles. We offer good road conditions, safety and a unique experience of landscapes, history and exotic cultures,” describes JC Chua. Other circuits organised in Sarawak offer trips along Borneo coast or a fauna and flora theme ride in some of Sarawak most impressive national parks. “We would now like to further extend our products for a more Borneo-related experience. I dream to be able to propose riding from Sarawak to West Kalimantan, across the Indonesian border,” he adds.

Admiring Sarawak spectacular landscapes in the land of former headhunters.
Admiring Sarawak spectacular landscapes in the land of former headhunters.

Paradesa Director is already working on a new tour which would eventually link Pontianak, West kalimanta capital, through Bau or Biawak at the border of Sarawak and West Kalimantan. “Bau or Biawak is nearer to Kuching. Both checkpoints are easier to reach and less crowded than Entikong. We are now working to identify visiting places along the Indonesian side of Borneo and we hope to launch the new road by next year,” explains JC Chua. The cycling tour would certainly be a hit for foreign travellers. It would actually be one of the first true cooperation between Malaysia and Indonesia. And it will hopefully make the buzz among professionals to enhance cooperation to create pan-Borneo tourism activities.