Welcome to a Musically Enchanted Rainforest in Borneo
Mohammad Reza Amirinia travels to Borneo to visit the Rainforest Music Festival and stay at the Damai Beach Resort.
It’s June 2023 and I’m heading to Sarawak on Borneo Island to attend the Rainforest World Music Festival in the Sarawak Cultural Village near the city of Kuching. It was going to be amazing to touch down on the third largest island in the world which is shared by three countries: Malaysia, Indonesia and Brunei.
Rainforest World Music Festival
The 26th edition of Rainforest World Music Festival theme was ‘Reflections’, bringing as it does music and nature lovers together in the natural setting of the Borneo Jungle. The music festival allows the participants the opportunity to embrace sounds of music through the diversity of world culture and the local traditions of indigenous people.
We were so excited that we could hardly wait for the festival to start especially after that long flight from London and the two-hour flight from Kuala Lumpur to Kuching airport.
Damai Beach Resort & Spa
We were staying at the Damai Beach Resort & Spa on Damai Peninsular which is set at the edge of the rainforest on a hillside overlooking a sandy beach, under the shadow of magnificent Mount Santubong. As well as it’s tropical setting, the Damai Beach resort let us lay back by the beach getting tanned or jump into one of the two pools at the resort to cool off. The beachside pool was accessible just opposite our bedroom. The hilltop pool is a different experience and is easily accessible by a shuttle service. The resort offers such delightful temptations with so many activities that I was wondering how to manage my leisure time with the excitement of the music festival.
Sarawak Cultural Village
I took a shuttle service from the hotel to explore the site of the music festival in nearby Sarawak Cultural Village. It was only a five-minute drive. The work was in progress to finish the final preparation before the first day of the festival. I walked through the village and found many wooden structures around a small pond leading to a green ground where two performance stages were located. The technicians were busy testing the sound and light equipment while some bands were tuning their instruments. Colourful banners were flying over the tents, gazebos, food stalls and wooden structures. Everything seemed to be pulling together for this explosive event.
The Sarawak Cultural Village is a major heritage centre on the island, a living museum with replica wooden structures to showcase major native and indigenous groups in Sarawak such as Iban, Bidayuh, Orang Ulu, Penan, Melanau, Malay and Chinese. Throughout the year, native people from various ethnic backgrounds dress in traditional costumes displaying the diversity of tribes, cultures and their various traditional activities to visitors.
I walked back to the hotel through the lush forest, passing across a narrow metal bridge and entered my hotel from the far side of the resort. I passed several chalets with apartment blocks standing on my left. I reached our superior poolside room in the two-story apartment block located in the centre of the resort, opposite the main pool and a smaller pool for children. The hotel has 242 rooms with many choices of King and Queen beds and a selection of modern decoration through to traditionally designed suites.
Damai Beach Resort Activities
Damai Beach Resort’s activity centre offers cycling, motorbike, ATV rides and Jet skiing amongst other water sports. You can also go on a sunset cruise to explore nearby fishing villages and wetlands. If you are exhausted from your sports activities, walking along the beach and hiking over the tracks of Mount Santubong then the Sadau SPA on the hilltop wing is the ultimate place to rejuvenate you. You can relax and be pampered with traditional Sarawak-style treatments and luxury beauty therapy.
The welcoming dinner for the media and performing artists of Rainforest World Music Festival took place at hotel’s Sunset Ballroom, a big hall on the beach front looking out across the ocean. The occasion was a celebration to mark the beginning of the music festival. The guests were welcomed by a well iced soft drink and invited to enjoyed a taster BBQ outside the hall before dinner. After a firework display, everyone was invited to load their plates from a long buffet-style table brimming over with a large variety of food, desserts and fruits. The dinner was fabulous. The Sarawak Tourism Board Chief Executive Officer Sharzede Datu Haji Salleh Askor welcomed all the guests with a short speech and went around to each table to personally greet the participants.
Our days and nights at Damai Beach Resort during the RWMF passed pleasantly but very quickly. We were honoured and excited to meet and interview the artists and bands in Ranchang Room at the resort and attend daytime workshops as well as the night time stage concerts by national and international bands in the Sarawak Cultural Village. We were so determined to make the most of the festival and so didn’t have any time to devote to exploring the resort and its wide variety of activities. Because of our busy festival schedule, our best experience of the resort was to enjoy the breakfast, lunch and dinner at Café Satang. The resort’s main restaurant offers the buffet and a la carte experience from a variety of local and international cuisines, tasty deserts and exotic fruits. The food was halal and we didn’t have any difficulty choosing from a large variety of meats.
The music festival had such a fast pace. I have been to many other music festivals, but Rainforest World Music Festival was different. I must say it was unique in its variety and focus on spirituality and traditional music in addition to modern melody. I enjoyed all the workshops and concerts. In my opinion, the highlights of the festival were the performance of bands such as Rastak (Iran), Gippsy King (France), Safi Theatres (Tanzania) and Big Mountain (USA and Jamaica). The Malaysian and particularly Sarawak bands were also amazing.
Mulu National Park
At the end of the music festival, we flew to the Mulu National Park, a world heritage site north of Sarawak, a two-hour flight from Kuching. We stayed at five-star Mulu Marriot Resort adjacent to the park, one of the best tropical karsts in the world with a wide range of natural habitats, plants and animal species. The park’s spectacular caves are home to millions of bats and collocalia inexpectata. We walked through the Mulu national park to see all fauna and flora. After visiting the Deer Cave and Lang Cave, we enjoyed watching thousands of bats leaving the cave at dusk. Next day, we took a longboat along Sungai Melinau Paku River to visit the Penan Settlement Market which was followed by the boat ride to the Clearwater cave. This is largest cave chamber in the world measuring 80 meters high with 600 meters in length and 415 meter wide set deep in the heart of Mulu National Park.
We returned to Kuching airport and headed to Damai Lagoon Resort located in the Damai Peninsula in the proximity of the Sarawak Cultural Village. It was a new beginning for us to stay at another Damai resort to explore the hidden secrets of Sarawak but you will have to read the next chapter telling the story of our expeditions in Borneo.
Damai Beach Resort & Spa
Book your stay at the Damai Beach Resort & Spa through damaibeachresort.com.
The room and chalets rates per night range from RM225 in the low season to RM355 in the high season.
Things To Do in Sarawak
For Information about Sarawak visit https://sarawaktourism.com/. Flghts to Kuching via Kuala Lumpur, Singapore and Brunei are available from London. Malaysia Airlines has regular flights to Kuching.
Rainforest World Music Festival
learn more about the Rainforest World Music Festival on https://rwmf.net.
Images © Mohammad Reza Amirinia.