Picnic with the Penan tribe - Borneo
The importance of preserving and learning from the indigenous people across the globe has never been stronger. The Penan people of the Sarawak region of Borneo face a continued struggle against deforestation and the loss of their native culture. In this trip we are hosted by the Penan people on their own terms in a partnership designed to support their communities through sustainable tourism and education in the issues that jeopardise their survival.
This trip directly supports our tree planting programme and will allow you to get your hands dirty collecting seeds, planting saplings and working at the nurseries deep in the forest, while living in the Penan villages and seeing how this amazing tribe lives.
Few trips can genuinely claim to offer the experience of visiting a little known jungle tribe and to view a project in forest enrichment which is attempting to tackle the effects of climate change and the destructive impact of logging. This trip into Sarawak offers that and much more.
We work alongside the villagers, where the team will contribute their sweat and efforts to a project that has been requested by the community, a project directly combating the effects of logging on the rainforest. For anyone who has an interest in seeing with their own eyes the destruction of the forest, and how grassroots projects can make a difference, this trip is for you.
The Penan tribe have only recently begun taking in visitors with Adventure Alternative, and we are the only organisation going there, so this promises to be a unique, challenging and rewarding cultural exchange. Learning the lore of the jungle is a very special opportunity, but we do not wish to have any negative impact on the people who live in and off the jungle. We need to be respectful and careful of our ‘footprint’. We do not run many trips to this region for fear of interfering too much with the traditional community life in the jungle, and we will only accept a maximum number of 12 people. We support the concept of community tourism, but we don’t want to suddenly saturate the area with visitors.
The project itself is subject to change depending on the needs of the community and the time of year, but it is presently setting up tree nurseries to rehabilitate previously burnt forest which has been extensively logged, plus building structures to meet the needs of future visitors. This is exciting times for all involved, and the chance to experience a grassroots project in a beautiful location with welcoming hosts. Their way of life is something we might only ever see on television, or in a magazine, but to physically be there and sleep a night underneath the jungle canopy in a hammock with a giant leaf covering you, and with the cacophony of jungle sounds as your music, is the stuff of dreams. We have built this trip purely out of the needs of the community, who came to us, and we envisage this trip as using tourism to really help.
Our purpose is to encourage the Penan to appreciate their own value and the value of their forest and culture, so you will find yourself learning and living a very simple yet fulfilling way of life.
Once out of the jungle, we visit the jungle capital city of Kuching, visit an orangutan centre, and go kayaking on the river. There are also pristine beaches to walk on and beautiful national parks where you can see the famous animals of Borneo.
Read more about our reforestation project in an article and interview by mongabay.com
We use local guides in Borneo and also Western guides who have all worked and proven themselves to us over the years. We also link all of our staff with our charities projects in Borneo. All of our guides have years of experience running teams in Borneo and can be trusted to not only give you a fascinating and fun insight into the various locations where we work but also to ensure that you are safe and well looked after.
The real stars of the trip will be the Penan people themselves, your guides and teachers in the ancient ways of living in the jungle. Their English is extremely limited, but we will have translators, and their exposure to a modern way of life minimal. As a cultural exchange, this trip is very special. They will extend to you the natural generosity and responsibility that any jungle community will give a visitor. They also know that your visit, and the Adventure Alternative programme, is financially supporting their welfare and the re-planting of trees.
Adventure Alternative was a winner of the Responsible Tourism Award in 2009 in the Best Personal Contribution category, and we are member of the Tourism Concern Ethical Tour Operators Group.
A great opportunity to find out how locals live and see the jungle in a way normally inaccessible to tourists.
For every client going on this trip, we donate £100 towards the forest tree-planting programme which we manage through Moving Mountains and the local Penan Koperasi (co-operative) called "Keepers of the Forest". This is more than carbon offsetting, we really get to grips with an important environmental project.
In November 2012 we were presented, with Moving Mountains, the 'Roger Diski Community Project Award' from the Association of Independent Tour Operators (AITO) and the Sustainable Tourism Committee for our work with the Penan communities in Borneo.
Dates and Itinerary
The start date is the date you arrive in Borneo. You will need to leave the UK the previous day, in order to arrive in Borneo on time. The end date is the departure date from Borneo so depending on the flight departure time you could arrive home on the same date or the following day.
This trip is 14 days in total and involves a combination of overland travel, trekking, exciting activities and sightseeing, plus the highlight of visiting the rainforest where the Penan people live, and experiencing a remarkable way of life.
Volunteering & Culture: Tree planting, village stay and trek in the Penan area in Sarawak - 7 days
Kuching & wildlife: Kuching city, Kuching Wetlands National Park, Semenggoh Nature Reserve - 2 days
National Park & the coast: Tanjung Datu or Bako National Park - 3 days
Rest days, flights and travel days - 3 days
|0||Depart UK (usually on and overnight flight to Kuala Lumpur).|
|1||Arrive in Kuala Lumpur and transfer to connecting flight to Miri, a busy if unremarkable city in Sarawak near the Brunei border. Meet your Adventure Alternative leader at the airport and transfer to the guesthouse. There will be time for some last minute shopping to get supplies such a Adidas Kampung shoes. Before dinner there will be a thorough briefing of what the next week has in store. In the evening there will be the chance to eat the fresh and plentiful seafood that Miri is famous for.|
|2||Today we fly deep into the jungle in the interior of Borneo. Your leader will have informed you of the exact plan in yesterdays briefing but the program is flexible and will depend on the group size and which villages we will be visiting. Either way we fly to one of two remote airstrips and reach the villages by way of 4 x 4, boat and foot. The flight usually departs at 10.30 am and takes approximately 1 hour. There is a strict weight limit enforced of 10 kg per person check in plus whatever you can carry so you must pack carefully. Extra luggage can be left at the hostel or hotel in Miri and we will meet it again at the airport on Day 9. As the plane departs the small airstrip leaving us behind you know you are in for a very special experience.|
|3-7||We will spend the next 5 days with our welcoming hosts learning about their rapidly changing way of life and just how much they still rely on the rainforest for their daily needs, which is literally their supermarket. We spend a combination of nights in villages and sleeping in expedition standard hammocks under the canopy in one of the oldest rainforests on Earth. Over the next few days we will spend time learning about the way of life of the Penan people and their native skills and knowledge such as the vast array of medicinal and edible plants in the forest, and of course how to make the infamous blow pipes and poison darts! We will also visit the tree nurseries and other work Moving Mountains Trust supports in this area. Our time here is planned for maximum flexibility, so that we can get the most out of this experience. We can have the opportunity to assist in the planting of saplings in the forest, take walks into the jungle to swim in nearby waterfalls and simply relax in a beautiful environment surrounded by nature. Food will be simple, healthy and organic. Expect lots of rice and wonderful jungle vegetables such as jungle fern and wild ginger flower. Food is collected from the forest – in addition to the vegetables this will quite likely include forest meat which is still the main source of protein for the people here (we hope this is wild pig as opposed to wild cat or frog)! Baths and showers are often taken in rivers and waterfalls (bio-degradable soap to a minimum), however some houses may have a room for washing, with bucket showers. Your hosts are incredibly friendly and welcoming and you will be very comfortable and well looked after. The Penan people make some of the best quality and beautifully designed rattan baskets and mats in Sarawak,and as a memento of your trip there is no better place to buy.|
|8||Although today we may well be looking forward to a hot shower and a cold drink, there will undoubtedly be some sadness as we bid farewell to our friends and hosts. Our flight back to Miri is mid-morning but we must first travel by longboat downriver where our 4 x 4’s wait to take us to the airport. After a short transfer in Miri and we will be off to Kuching, capital of Sarawak. This is a charming city with a fascinating history surrounding it. We will be based here for two nights, before heading off for our last adventures.|
|9||Today we will have a chance to relax and explore the area by boat and foot. In the morning we head out into the mangrove area, off the coast of Sarawak, where a small pod of the increasingly rare Irrawaddy dolphins can be found. This is also a great place to spot the endemic and bizarre looking Proboscis Monkey; throw in some more monkeys, crocodiles and rare bird life and you have a fantastic morning of top wildlife. After lunch there will be the chance to explore Kuching on foot: Little India and Chinatown, the excellent museums and stroll along the riverfront. In the early evening we will all meet up to go and have a smorgasbord of food on top of a car park!|
|10||We have an unforgettable ahead. We will visit Semenggoh Wildlife Centre for the morning feeding of the Orangutans. Semenggoh was established to care for and rehabilitate wild animals which have either been found injured in the forest, orphaned or were previously kept as illegal pets. After this we will head off for a spot of easy kayaking down a classic Borneo river through beautiful limestone scenery, stopping at a beach en-route for lunch. We will be back in time for sunset over the Santubong river in Kuching and a visit one of Kuching's many excellent bars and cafes.|
|11||We finish our adventure with a real treat. Depending on the time of year* we hope to visit the tiny but perfectly formed Tanjung Datu National Park where we will sleep in a comfortable camp for two nights. Located at the very end of Sarawak, on the border of Indonesia this is a real gem of a place. Where rainforest meets the sea, in the morning we will hear the gibbons, in the day time the chance to swim, snorkel or hike a short way to see the world's biggest flower in bloom. In the evening if we are really lucky Hawksbill turtles may come ashore to lay their eggs in the sand. In the morning it is sometimes possible to see the mothers heading back to the water or even the tiny juveniles struggling to make it down to the sea and freedom. * During the monsoon season of approximately Dec – Feb it may not be safe to visit the park by boat. We will have the choice of walking in or we may instead choose to visit fantastic Bako Park in the opposite direction. Almost as spectacular this is an excellent 2nd choice.|
|12||There is an optional half day easy walk through the park on well marked trails and the chance to visit Indonesia as we can make a short unofficial border crossing and visit a village on the other side – but only if we promise to come back! On both days we will prepare all our own food as there is no serviced canteen at the park.|
|13||After breakfast we will take the boat back to Sematan, where we can catch our bus transfer back to Kuching. If there is time we will stop at a great waterfall to swim on the way home. We should be back in Kuching by lunchtime. The afternoon will be spent at leisure with time to peruse some of the excellent handicraft shops for great souvenirs. A final celebratory dinner awaits you in the evening as we reflect on our Borneo adventure!|
|14||Departure times will vary today, but often it is an early evening flight to Kuala Lumpur and onwards to the UK. Your leader can suggest activities to do during the day if it is an evening flight.|
Picnic with the Penan tribe cost: £1,395.00
- Expedition guide
- Organisation and staffing from the local Penan people, covering all of their costs for guiding, translating and hosting visitors in their homes
- All food and meals during the trip, which includes any food eaten in homes in the village, a community surcharge for their development, and any time spent collecting food on our behalf, and collective parties
- All accommodation
- Longboats and any river transport to the Penan area
- Internal flights from Miri to the jungle airstrip by small light aircraft & return to Miri, and from Miri to Kuching
- 4x4 transport in the Penan area and all other road transport
- Entry to Semenggoh Wildlife Centre
- Satellite phone communication
- UK and Borneo office backup and support
- International airfare to Borneo, via Kuala Lumpur
- Travel insurance
- Vaccinations and anti-malarials required
- Personal expenses
- Optional rental of kayaks
Not all about money
This trip works directly with the Penan people in Sarawak. We are also working with the Penan people through Moving Mountains Trust to protect and enrich their rainforest. This work is to assist the Penan communities in a process of long-term sustainable community development.
Travel Insurance - you will need travel insurance for this trip. Your travel insurance should be a multi-activity policy which covers all the usual travel requirements plus jungle trekking, kayaking and camping. We advise you to get this insurance early on, so that if you have to make a late cancellation for some reason then you will get all your money back. All policies will protect you for medical emergencies and get you home if you're injured or sick. You'll also have cover for delays, cancelled flights and lost baggage, though limits differ between providers.
Company Insurance - we have full tour operators liability insurance which covers public liability and employers liability.
Financial Insolvency - we have full financial bonding in place which is both a requirement of membership of the Association o Independent Tour Operators and also of the European Travel Directive.
You can find out more information about taking out an insurance policy here
Adventure Alternative shares it's profit margin with our local company in Borneo, Adventure Alternative Borneo, which provides training and development opportunities for local people and communities. The profit share scheme ensures that our local company can run a good company and provide proper wages and training, which is an unusual thing to find in a tourist company in a developing country.
Every place you visit also has a share in the profit, and we always make sure that we bring clients to the same places over many years so that they can develop and compete against the bigger corporate places.
Places which are supported by Moving Mountains where you stay, for example Penan villages in Sarawak, also share in the profits. This is a highly successful way of using tourism to fund some of our developmental work.
This trip has been entirely thought out in terms of the local people and the impact upon them, and the benefit they can gain from having visitors. It’s not just a tourist trail, it really is an unusual adventure and one that we hope will help to transform the lives of these remarkable people. In that respect the trip falls within all the categories of the FairTrade Volunteering trademark, even if you are not actually volunteering to do some work in the jungle; the visit is still about making a positive impact on the people who live there. You can find more information about the benefits of your trip here and local benefits in Borneo here.
Our local provider is Adventure Alternative Borneo. Adventure Alternative Borneo complies with UK tourism standards.
Where we do use providers such as hostel and guesthouse owners and homestays these are people our Adventure Alternative Borneo staff have known for years, and spent time with to build up the trust between both parties. More information about Local Providers can be found on this page.
You do not need to be super-fit for this trip, however the expedition element is moderately demanding with some long days of sustained walking with a backpack. The effects of heat and humidity will also further tax your body. You will enjoy the trip all the more if you are in good physical shape having exercised regularly and eaten nutritiously over at least the 6 months leading up to the trip.
You do need to be in good health as we will spend some time in locations that are many hours from professional medical care. Any pre-existing medical or dental conditions should be fully appraised by a doctor and their nature fully disclosed to your insurer and to ourselves.
Type of Terrain
The rainforest is actually a very clean and pure place to visit. The canopy offers excellent shade from the intense sun and traps moisture, however it can be very humid and a you will need to drink a lot of water. We travel using trails and the rivers which have been the jungle arteries for the local native residents for hundreds of years. It is very unlikely that you’ll be off the beaten track with a machete. Sometimes the paths can be muddy and slippery, and there are logs to clamber over, streams to cross and it is always up and down.
Movement in the jungle is generally very slow, about 10km maximum per day, and it is easy to feel exhausted after just a few hours. Keeping rehydrated is paramount and looking out for natural dangers such as thorns or tripping over moss-covered rocks. It is unlikely you will see much wildlife while on the move, except for birds and unless you keep very still and quiet, in which case the jungle is full of wildlife! Just a short break well spent listening and watching carefully will yield some tremendous sights of indigenous mammals like the red leaf monkey. Moving through the jungle you will begin to see how a completely green and seemingly impenetrable terrain is actually filled with ‘signposts’ and guides; the lore of the jungle is what you have come to experience.
Crossing streams is an ideal time to have a quick cooling down in the water, get some liquid on board and take a rest. Some of the streams become minor cataracts after a heavy downpour. You should buy locally made jungle shoes to walk in, these are rubber and they have moulded studs for grip on the muddy ground, some also have holes in them for aeration. You can see a photo of these shoes here.
The distance to the village area takes a day by plane, boat, 4x4 and finally on foot. The distance actually walking is not much; essentially the villagers do not have to go far to get their food, it is all around them. Walks in the jungle are slow and the distance never more than about 10km in a day.
During our trek in the Penan area we will be using fly camps, and the expedition will be travelling self-sufficiently, using hammocks enroute. This is one of the great experiences of the trip; sleeping under the forest canopy listening to the jungle around. In the villages we will be staying in homestays with the local Penan people. In the villages the people live in homes built from the jungle. Life in the villages follows an ancient rhythm of hunting, foraging, gathering and socialising. The pace is slow and the priority is the community itself. The house are comfortable and we will receive a very warm and friendly welcome. Some houses have bucket showers, but on some occasions baths and showers are taken in rivers and streams. Most of the houses have long drop toilets.
In Kuching we stay in a small, family run guest house. This is very comfortable with dormitory style or twin rooms, showers and western-style toilets.
At Tanjung Datu National Park accommodation in a building nestled into a clearing in the jungle, right by the beach. Rooms are dormitory style bedrooms, there are showers and western-style toilets.
You do not need to have any previous experience for this expedition as our guides will show you everything you need to know. The Penan people will show you how to live off the jungle, how to make a plate out of a leaf, how to keep yourself clean and how to travel efficiently.
Clearly this trip is quite challenging if you are expecting modern amenities, and since there are none in the jungle the trip will require patience, teamwork and a willingness to work with Mother Nature! Sometimes the heat and humidity can be debilitating, and sap even the most positive of minds. Mental preparation and an open mind are essential!
Adventure Alternative Support
Adventure Alternative supplies excellent guides and where appropriate local porters, plus of course all the villagers who will be supporting you. Our leader has a lot experience of travelling in Borneo and will manage the situations and help teach you any skills which you may not already have, but in the village there will be no better support or teacher than the local people.
The expedition is self-sufficient and the leader will have satellite communication, but there is no doubt that this trip requires common sense and teamwork. Getting out of the area in the event of an accident or emergency will mean doing the same journey in, in order to get out. This means potentially carrying somebody to the 4x4, and then getting to the light aircraft as soon as possible.
- 50 litre rucksack, small day pack
- Waterproof inner or 3 quality garbage bags (Miri
- Medium or full length closed cell foam sleeping pad
- Sleeping bag rated to +15c
- Sleeping sheet (a cotton sheet to cover yourself on a warm night, it can be made in the shape of a sleeping bag out of an old bedsheet at home)
- Trekking clothes: either T-shirt / shorts or lightweight long pants and shirt
- 1 or two pair of lycra style cycling shorts to wear whilst trekking to keep leeches out!
- Variety of clothing for travel, dining in restaurants, and the heat and humidity of the coast
- Swimming costume, small towel
- Lightweight trekking boots with good ankle support and rugged sole
- 3 pairs of socks
- Sarongs x 2 (Miri – cheaper and best style)
- Rubber flip flops or local rubber hiking shoes (Miri) for camp, hut
- Head torch, batteries
- Toiletries, wet wipes
- Personal medication and small first aid kit with plasters, ibuprofen etc
- Water purification tablets, iodine or other water purification system
- Bowl, mug spoon (Miri)
- Sun hat or baseball hat
- Camera, batteries
- Zip lock bags
- Lip balm and sun cream
- 2 water bottles (can buy plastic bottles in Miri)
Additional Kit Info
* On this trip there is a strict baggage allowance on the flight to the interior, so please pack light or be prepared to leave unwanted items in Miri on Day 3 for collection upon our return on Day 9
Notes: Travel very light and compact in the jungle. In addition to the information below, this page will provide you with extra kit tips for trekking in the jungle. Note that anything delicate, absorbant or electronic is likely to suffer from the damp atmosphere, all such items should be housed in a good quality waterproof stuff sack or pouch. Ruptable maunfacturers include Sea to Summit, Ortlieb and Overboard.
The large holdall will carry everything on international travel and can be used to store anything that is not going in to the jungle. A sleeping mat/therm-a-rest is optional, but not necessary. You will be sleeping in hammocks overnight in the jungle and in the houses you will be sleeping on woven rattan mats.
In addition to the insect repellent you may want to consider a repellent for clothing and possibly a bite extractor (For example, Aspivenin) which are available in large chemists/online retailers (Amazon, etc).
There are many brands/types of water purification bottles and you can get them in good outdoor/travel shops and online shops. The Aquapure Traveller Bottle or something similar will work well in Borneo.
The two main brand names for suitable hammocks are 'Hennessy Hammocks' and 'Nomad Travel' though if you end up getting the a Nomad hammock then remember that you will also need to get a mosquito net too, all suitable Hennessy hammocks have a mosquito net built in. A Nomad hammock and mosquito net should work out much cheaper than a Hennessy hammock.
The Shewee is becoming a more popular accessory for the female traveller and is worth considering, however it is still very much a personal preference.
Remember that on internal flights from Miri to the jungle airstrips there is a weight restriction on your luggage of 10Kg, however you can carry and wear as much of the heavy stuff as is feasible, but don't forget you will also be carrying your bag so you will want it to be as light as possible.
Personal Medical Kit
Water Purification Tablets
Personal Medication as required:
eg. Anti-Malarials, Asthma Inhalers, Insulin, Epi-Pen etc
Possible Additional Personal First Aid Items
Prochlorperazine tablets (for sickness/nausea)
Ciprofloxacin tablets (general antibiotic; prescription required)
Note: you must check with your GP for your personal suitability to all medicines and their possible side effects and interactions. Please inform us of the details of all regular medication that you intend to use though the course of your trip and any relevant allergies and medical history related to them. You also need to check the requirements and regulations of the airline and all countries visited in relation to medications. For example; laws governing transport of some pain control medication and the need keep insulin at a suitable temperature, ie not in the cargo hold.
Clothing should be lightweight cotton or synthetic (bear in mind that cotton is slow drying, a synthetic fabric like polyester or nylon will be much quicker drying) though no matter how quick drying your clothes are you should expect them to be damp at best throughout your time in the jungle!
- We offer small scale, authentic expeditions, which can also be tailormade
- We employ fully salaried local staff within a local subsidary company to ensure that revenue is retained in the host nation
- All our guides and staff are professionally trained and have years of proven experience
- We have built up partnerships with local guides and drivers which are mutually beneficial and exist on a fair and open basis so that the host country and its people may fully benefit from tourism without being exploited
- We are continually improving our quality service year on year
- We are passionate about responsible tourism and our company supports sustainable development worldwide in a real way
- Adventure Alternative underwrites the charity Moving Mountains
- Financial security is guaranteed as we are AITO bonded
- We are members of Interhealth which gives you access to pre-trip health information and on-site assistance by phone in the event of an emergency
- Adventure Alternative financially supports the tree-planting project funded by Moving Mountains Trust, who are currently providing over £10,000 per year to the forest enrichment programme in the area where the Penan live