'Picnic with the Penan' Adventure, Sarawak
The Penan Tribe Adventure is also known as 'Picnic with the Penan'. It takes you deep into the heart of the Sarawak jungle to visit the Penan people and see how they live, and be guests in their village.
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 jeopardize their survival.
The trip will allow you to see how the local people run a seed collecting and tree planting programme and, depending on the time of year, you can see the people collecting seeds, planting saplings and working at the nurseries, while staying in the Penan villages and seeing how this amazing tribe lives.
At the same time you experience a real adventure just getting there! We use a combination of air, boat and 4x4 jeeps to arrive near the Penan settlements, after which you are guided on foot by the local people and hosted in their homes. This is very much off the tourist trail, but the financial benefits of this holiday are already enabling the villagers to send their children to school and provide primary healthcare.
The trip also includes a visit to Lambir Hills National Park near Miri before we fly in to the Sarawak jungle and a wetlands river safari to search for the endemic proboscis monkey and the rare Irrawady dolphin and visit to an Orangutan rehabilitation centre towards the end of the trip.
Who benefits from the Penan Tribe Adventure?
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’.
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 on a river safari. There are also pristine beaches to walk on and beautiful national parks where you can see the famous animals of Borneo.
Read more about the reforestation project that was supported by our charity Moving Mountains for seven years in an interview by mongabay.com
What do I need to pack for the Penan Tribe Adventure?
This trip is rugged, but with the right kit, you'll be good to go. Check out our kit list tips page for more information regarding the correct gear for the deep jungle.
Fitness and Terrain
You do not need to be super-fit for this trip, however the trekking element is moderately demanding mostly due to the effects of heat and humidity that will tax your body. There is obviously no air conditioning in the forest, but after a few days your body will have acclimatised and in the villages there is plenty of opportunity to swim and cool down in the river and fresh pools.
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.
Accommodation and food
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 and in addition to the vegetables there will quite likely be 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.
During our trek in the Penan area we will be using 'fly' camps, travelling self-sufficiently and using hammocks en route. 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 home stays with the local Penan people, comfortable wooden structures often built on stilts.
Life in the villages follows an ancient rhythm of hunting, foraging, gathering and socializing. 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.
Do I need any experience to join the Penan Tribe Adventure?
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!
Why us for your Penan Tribe Adventure?
- This trip allows you to see a tree planting project
- Your tourism directly benefits the Penan tribe and we have an agreement with them, built up over many years now, to carefully expose the local people to visitors and ensure that our impact is minimal and beneficial. We do lots of follow-up with the villagers to ensure that any tourism activities are equitably agreed.
- In November 2012 we were presented with the 'Roger Diski Community Project Award' from the Association of Independent Tour Operators (AITO) for our work with the Penan communities in Borneo.
Penan adventure itinerary
The Penan Adventure is a 16 day trip involving a combination of overland 4x4 travel, jungle trekking and learning about reforestation, plus the highlight of visiting the Penan people to experience first-hand a remarkable way of life.
- Village stay and cultural interaction with the Penan tribe in the Sarawak jungle - 7 days
- Jungle exploration and survival trek under the canopy of rainforest in self made camps, sleeping in hammocks - 4 days
- Kuching & wildlife watching: Kuching city, Kuching Wetlands National Park, Semenggoh Nature Reserve - 2 days
- Arrival and departure days, and acclimatisation and briefing day in Miri, including trek in Lambir Hills National Park - 3 days
|1||Arrive in Miri (usually via Kuala Lumpur) and transfer to the guesthouse. There will be time for some last minute shopping to get supplies such as Adidas Kampung shoes and there will be a briefing of what the next couple of weeks has in store.|
|2||Visit to Lambir Hills National Park for a 2 hour trek in one of the most bio-diverse locations on the planet.|
|3||Fly to one of two remote airstrips and reach the villages by way of 4x4 and foot (and in some cases long boats too). There is a strict weight limit enforced of 10 kg per person check in plus whatever you can carry so you must pack carefully. The current itinerary is to fly in to Long Akah, with a 90 minute 4x4 transfer to the start of the trail to the village of Long Ajeng. It's a 45 minute jungle trek to Long Ajeng and a further 2 hour jungle trek to reach Lomg Laman.|
Accommodation will be provided in home-stays in the village. 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!
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.
|7-10||4 days/3 nights of jungle trekking, exploration and sleeping in expedition standard hammocks under the canopy of one of the oldest rainforests on Earth and the traditional home of the Penan tribe who remain the jungle experts of Borneo and 'keepers of the rainforest'.
Expect to be trekking between 4-5 hours each day while learning all about basic jungle survival skills, how to build shelters, finding safe drinking water and food and starting fires. During these days we'll visit the 'lost world' caves, hidden deep in the rainforest where very few outsiders have visited. Each night will be a new campsite and you will be expected to carry your own kit and expedition hammocks as we make our way through the jungle trails.
|11-12||Enjoy our final couple of days in the Sarawak rainforest by visiting farms, putting some of your new found skills to test by collecting food in the forest and learn some traditional handicraft making skills with the Penan people.|
|13||Our flight back to Miri is mid-morning but we must first travel by foot and 4x4 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 three nights, where evenings will be spent enjoying the superb local cuisine with incredible sunsets over the Sarawak River and surrounding hills, city, beaches and sea.|
|14||Morning for sightseeing, visiting museums, etc and after lunch we'll do a bit of exploration by boat on a Kuching Wetlands National Park river safari to search for the endemic and bizarre looking Proboscis monkey, the rare Irrawady dolphin and a large variety of birdlife, butterflies, fireflies, fish and maybe even a crocodile or two hiding in the mangrove forest!|
|15||Visit Semenggoh Wildlife Centre and Nature Reserve 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 lunch there is the option of heading off for a spot of easy kayaking down a classic Borneo river which is the perfect getaway for those who want to enjoy beautiful scenery and the tranquility of rainforest on their last full day of the trip or alternatively remain in and around Kuching for some souvenir shopping in the markets, historical tours and sightseeing in Little India and Chinatown, beach and waterfront walks or just some R&R in this beautiful location, Kuching offers a lot of experiences to suit all interests.|
|16||Depart Borneo (from Kuching) or alternatively, if you would like to stay on in Borneo, we can help organise optional add-on activities.|
Penan Adventure cost£1895.00
- Local Penan guides in the villages and staff like drivers for all other activities
- Organisation and homestay from the local Penan people, covering all of their costs for 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 throughout as per the itinerary
- Road transport and any river transport required
- Entry to Lambir Hills National Park
- Kuching Wetlands National Park river safari
- Entry to Semenggoh Wildlife Centre
- International airfare to Borneo (Miri arrival and Kuching departure)
- Internal flights to the villages and to Kuching
- Personal travel insurance
- Vaccinations and medication required
- Personal expenses for soft/hard drinks, souvenirs, phone calls, laundry, tips, etc
- Tourist attractions not mentioned in the inclusions, and optional river kayak day trip from Kuching
Penan Tribe Adventure - Local Providers
Our local provider is Adventure Alternative Borneo which manages all the bookings and liaison with the Penan people, and also has responsibility on the ground for arranging your activities and accommodation.
Where we do use providers such as hostel and guesthouse owners and home stays our Adventure Alternative Borneo staff have spent time building up trust with the owners. In the case of the Penan people we employ several of the villagers as local guides and we contribute to a local co-operative which provides income from tourism services for Adventure Alternative. We are the only company currently visiting this area.
Kit list for your trip into the Sarawak interior
Rucksack with waterproof bags inside for individual items
- Sleeping mat
- Sleeping bag
- 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 bed sheet at home)
- Trekking clothes: either T-shirt / shorts or lightweight long pants and shirt (synthetic is better than cotton)
- Lycra style cycling shorts are good to wear whilst trekking
- 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 â€“ 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
- Sun hat or baseball hat
- Camera, batteries
- Zip lock bags
- Lip balm and sun cream
- 2 water bottles (can buy plastic bottles in Miri)
On this trip there is a strict baggage allowance of 10kg 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
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!
Travel very light and compact in the jungle. Anything delicate, absorbant or electronic is likely to suffer from the damp atmosphere, so all such items should be housed in a good quality waterproof stuff sack or pouch.
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.
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 Shewee is becoming a more popular accessory for the female traveller and is worth considering, however it is still very much a personal preference.
Personal Medical Kit
Water Purification Tablets
Personal Medication as required:
eg. Anti-Malarials, Asthma Inhalers
Possible Additional Personal First Aid Items
Prochlorperazine tablets (for sickness/nausea)
General antibiotic; prescription required
You can book your Adventure Alternative holiday for as little as £100.00 and pay the balance in as many instalments as you like. Choose a scheduled date or contact us for private dates, a bespoke itinerary or more trip details.
- Duration 16 days
- Numbers 2- 5
- Altitude 1000m
- Distance 75km
- Challenge Moderate
- Comfort Jungle camping/Home stays