Camping Traditions in Malaysia


The rolling hills, rain forests and diverse ecosystems of Malaysia beckon to the most intrepid visitors and entice them to get out of the hotels and onto the land. Many tourists heed the call and embark on a camping adventure through the rain forests of Malaysia, where they can learn about local camping traditions.

Sarawak, one of the two Malaysian states, is on the island of Borneo. This rain forest area houses 27 ethnic groups, but the Iban tribe dominates most of the region. Many of the Iban tribal members live in wood and bamboo longhouses. Built on stilts, these modest dwellings house up to 100 families, each living in separate small apartments under one roof. Some are private dwellings, while others have partnered with tourist offices and function as stopping points for campers en route to their campsite.


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The Longhouse Tradition

Campers travel upriver in a shallow canoe called a “perahu.” Your longhouse destination depends on how you arranged your trip; some tourist companies have arrangements with longhouse residents that allow campers to make a stop at the houses. Hilton Hotels has its own version of the longhouse, but it is only accessible by riverboat. The authors of “Rough Guide to Malaysia, Singapore & Brunei” advise that if you know a few words of Malay, the locals might direct you to a longhouse off-the-beaten track.

The Welcome Ceremony

Campers journeying up-river to their campsites are often the weariest of travelers. The Iban realize this, and welcome their guests accordingly. When you arrive at the longhouse, a group of its inhabitants descend the staircase, playing musical instruments and singing a welcome song; an outdoor ceremony follows. Before you enter the house, you will see a wooden arch with baskets made of palm leaves hanging from the top. While the Iban do not charge you to enter their home, the rules of courtesy and tradition suggest that the visitor bring small gift items such as coins, pens, coloring books, magazines and toys for children. A banquet awaits you inside, followed by traditional dancing.

Camp sites
Camp sites


If you plan to bring your cooking gear and utensils on your Malaysian camping trip, be prepared to pay increased baggage fees, based on the weight of your luggage. Learning traditional Malaysian bushcraft offers an affordable alternative, which allows you to survive in the natural environment, while using the available natural resources as tools. Your guide might be willing to teach you the basic bushcrafting skills, such as using jungle vines as cords, hand-carving spoons from wood, and tapping a safe source of drinking water from bamboo.

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