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Experience Borneo's Best Festivals

It’s festival season in Borneo and I’m still buzzing from this year’s Rainforest World Music Festival set in the beautiful city of Kuching. So what better time than now to put pen to paper and help you to experience Borneo at its most vibrant by sharing the best festivals within the state of Sarawak. Borneo loves a good festival - so much so that Malaysia dedicated 2015 to 'The Year of the Festival.'

Borneo Ethical Adventures tours are designed to coincide with local festivals and events and here are some of my favourite, yet least-known festivals, in Borneo’s Sarawak. If you'd like to sign up for updates - click here.

1. Miri Country Music Festival, Miri  (February or March annually)

Miri Country Music Festival, Miri, Borneo

I'm a little bit proud of this one. Miri Country Music is the brainchild of Gracie Geikie, one of the most dynamic women I had the pleasure of meeting during my time in Borneo. It was also the very first local festival I attended and I felt a little out of my comfort zone as I arrived in Miri not knowing what to expect from Borneo's version of a Country Music Festival. But hey, I was dressed for country!

A checked shirt and a pair of boots - what more could a girl need to blend in? 

The raw enthusiasm of the crowd and the sea of chequered shirts and Stetson hats on a hot balmy night were as captivating as the location. Set in the hotel gardens of Park City Hotel, the festival enables you to enjoy the sun setting over the South China Sea and the wafting smells of Sarawak curry as you listen to national and international country artists. This two-day festival is still young with less than 3,000 avid country fans, mostly from South East Asia, grooving the night away. Attend once and you'll make new friends. Attend twice and you are practically a local! 

2. Rainforest World Music Festival, Kuching (Annually in July)

Rainforest World Music Festival, Kuching

The Rainforest World Music Festival takes place in Kuching annually and celebrated its 20th anniversary this month with an extra special line-up. The festival brings together world-renowned indigenous musicians and the finest traditional musicians from the jungles, rivers and beaches of Borneo. The result is a kaleidoscope of beautiful costumes, drums, feathers, instruments that you never knew existed, incredible dancing, some damned fine jungle cuisine and a finale that is NOT TO BE MISSED!  

Set against the magnificent back drop of Mount Santubong the festival includes workshops, in which you can learn more about the culture of Borneo's indigenous tribes and buy direct from some of the best artisans from across the island. Oh, and did I mention that Borneo Ethical Adventures’ Tour, The Road Less Travelled started in Kuching the very next day? Fancy that!

3. Bario Food and Culture Festival (Pesta Nukenen), Bario (Annually in August) 

Bario Food and Culture Festival (Pesta Nukenen), Bario, Borneo

I'm struggling to best describe this festival, as it's just so unique. Bario’s population of 2,000 is spread across 14 villages and swells to at least double each August for Bario Food and Culture Festival. Whether you arrive by the 16-seat turboprop plane or trek through the Bario Highlands, 1,000m above sea level, you'll be surprised by the all the action that takes place around the town square.

Dust flies as cowboys gamble on duelling spinning tops, women dressed in intricate beaded costumes sell a variety of Kelabit delicacies including jungle fern, healing leafy green soups, smoked meats, local salt, Bario rice and, the most famous produce of all, the legendary Bario pineapple. Renowned for its incredible sweetness, Bario pineapples are a taste sensation. There must be something in the soil, because even a fruit grown from Bario pineapples elsewhere, just doesn't quite cut it as a 'true' Bario pineapple.

The festival includes music and events in the square all day and night. Take some time to sit back in one of the surrounding coffee shops and watch the world go by. I guarantee it won't be long before a local strikes up a conversation with you. Who knows, someone might offer you some Tuak, a local rice wine made from Bario pineapples - it tastes more like rum than rice wine but packs the same punch.

And it's not by chance that our The Road Less Travelled tour in July was timed perfectly for travellers to hot foot it over to Bario for this event.

4. Baram Regatta, Marudi, Sarawak (usually every second year around August)

Baram Regatta, Marudi, Sarawak, Borneo

This event began in 1899 and was a key driver in creating unity and peace within the various Orang-Ulu (Up-River people) and multi-ethnic communities nestled along the Baram River.

Today, Baram Regatta brings the sleepy town of Marudi to life with a riot of colour as longhouses compete for the illustrious title of  'King of the River.' 

For three days the river teems with colourful boats, full of passionate and proud men and women from remote longhouses as they battle it out for the illustrious title. Meanwhile, the equally enthusiastic support crews bang gong, chant team songs and cook up mouth-watering food from the riverbanks.

It's the Melbourne Cup of the region - and it certainly stops the nation (well, this little section of the nation anyway). Oh, and the party on the last day is not for the fainthearted!

I guess you can see the pattern by now, our Cooking with Culture tour finishes just days before Baram Regatta kicks off in Marudi.


5. Waterfront Jazz Festival

(September, 2017)

Waterfront Jazz Festival, Kuching, Borneo

Kuching is buzzing at the moment with the news of a new and recently announced Waterfront Jazz Festival taking place from 29 to 30th September, 2017 in Kuching.  This is a beautiful time of year in Kuching and not a bad time to justify a trip abroad to purchase some truly unique and ethical Christmas gifts.

Combine that with great music, awesome food and time to stretch your legs in nature and I think you’ll agree that it’s sounding like a win-win holiday! Healthy mind, body, soul and pocket - my kind of travel experience.

If this idea takes your fancy and you want to be one of the select few this trip is offered to, simply sign up here!

If you like, tell me what boxes tick your ideal trip and I can weave that into your unique package!

​Festival dates for 2018 are yet to be confirmed but, if you’d like to be one of the select few to join me at these festivals and experience the hidden treasures of the region and its people, please register your interest here and I’ll be sure to keep you updated.

Have a fantastic day and I encourage you to practice a ‘simple act of kindness’ every day. The rewards of giving far out weigh receiving. Alison x

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