Travel Guide Kuching

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The Iban longhouse of Lemanak River

Posted by James on January - 24 - 2015

2D1N Longhouse visit to Lemanak

Lemanak is a river about 4 hours (250 km) drive away from Kuching along the main trunk road to Sibu. The longhouse is another 30-40 minutes by motorized longboat upriver along the river canopied by over hanging tree branches.

A typical tour of this longhouse starts from the city and the road winds through the suburbs of Kuching and then upcountry arriving in the market town of Serian where a wet market and the commercial area bustles with people going about their daily chores or just hanging out at the numerous coffee shops, a favourite pastime of the locals. This is where the tour guide will go grocery shopping for cooking dinner, with the guests in tow.


The wet market at Serian town at Km62 of the way to Lemanak. This section of the market is selling the traditional Malay pastries called “kueh”.

The road journey continues pass verdant greens and spectacular mountain ranges. Around noon, the driver will stop at a market town called Lachau for lunch. This is another bustling place with many jungle produces on display for sales. Avid photographers will be clicking away happily here.
After lunch, the next stop is a farm, where visitors get to see the a most famous Sarawak produce that’s exported worldwide – pepper. The farms has hundreds of the plants and visitors get to see the pepper berries up close on the vines, and a description on how they are processed into white and black peppers, packed into berries or in powder form. Souvenirs packs are available for sale here. There are also some cocoa plants and other fruit trees.



This is the pepper plant and can grow as tall as ten feet. Pepper is one of the most important cash crops of the farmers here.

On arrival at the river jetty, the longboat which was pre-arranged earlier is already on standby to transfer the visitors to the longhouse. The boatman is usually the longhouse’s resident and a farmer who earns some extras by transporting visitors and local folks since not all of them can afford a motorized longboat.
The river journey usually take about 40 minutes depending on the swiftness of the river flow and the depth, as sometimes in dry months like July and August, the water can be shallow and passengers have to get out and sometimes even help push the boat along. But this is part of the fun of traveling upcountry. The pebbles on the river can be seen as the water is clear when it is shallow.


The Lemanak River is usually murky after rain fall on the upper part of the river. On dry months, the river can be very shallow and the water crystal clear.

On arrival at the longhouse jetty, it is usually a short climb up the slope as the abodes are built to avoid rising river water level during torrential downpour. At the entrance to the longhouse, the host will welcome the visitors with a small tumbler of “tuak”, the famous or infamous (depending on who’s speaking) rice wine of the Iban, with the frangrant sweet taste.


Entrance to the longhouse which is usually built on stilts, even though it is already on high ground from the river.

The first few minutes on entering the longhouse is the most magical. Many jaws are dropped as the visitors feast on the sight before them. A long, seemingly endless corridor (the “ruai”) reaching out to the far end, darken interior with shafts of sunlight penetrating the gaps of the wooden walls and air well of the roof. The ruai is cement but there is a raised wooden floor about a foot high that runs alongside it. The “bilek” or room unit is the private living area of the individual family, and there are about 30 bileks, ie 30 families living together in this longhouse.
Iban people are famous for their hospitality and are usually most happy to invite strangers or visitors to their home and partake in feasting, drinking and eating, especially during festive seasons like the Harvest Festival (the Gawai) or during New Year day or Christmas (they’re mostly Christians) where there are many merry makings and returning relatives liven up the atmosphere of gaiety.


This is the “ruai”, the common corridor that runs the whole length of the longhouse. The ruai is the ” communal living room” of the longhouse folks.

While the guests are walking around and interacting with the longhouse folks, (usually by sign language or body language), or exploring the surrounding environment of the place, the guide will disappear into the host’s kitchen and prepare dinner – simple but tasty stir-fried local veggies, omelette, fried noodles, and one or two meat dishes


Food cooked are mostly stir-fried veggies and small chopped pieces of meat.

After dinner in the evening, a cultural dance (the “ngajat”) is usually performed for the entertainment of the visitors. The women dancers are beautifully attired in exquisite Iban traditional costume, and dance gracefully to the melodious beats of the brass gongs. Often when the vibes is right, the dancers will invite the visitors to dance alongside them, knowing the latters’ clumsiness will have the longhouse folks in stitches. The rest of the evening is spent socializing with the local folks with the guide explaining the culture and traditions of the Iban and of course, picture taking sessions. As electricity is by generators, lights out is normal at about 10.00pm.


The traditional Iban dance “ngajat” is backed up by a gong ensemble. The dancers are always richly attired.

Bed is a mattress on the raised wooden part of the ruai, with clean bed sheet cover and mosquito netting, but washroom, though clean and modern, is quite a walk away, so if you are a frequent nocturnal riser, try sipping water instead of drinking 🙂 Anyway, in case of emergency, stepping out of the ruai under cover of darkness (bring a torch!) will bring you to the nearest bush where you can do your business (standing, I mean) in peace.


Iban love cockfighting, and are expert at rearing the aggressive birds for pastime and often gambling during festive occasions.

The next morning, the guide will prepare breakfast after which a cock-fighting, a favourite Iban pastime, demonstration is held outside the longhouse. Then a “lesson” on the use of the blowpipe, a hunting weapon used by the natives of Sarawak. Of course this is just a target practice, and guests are given a chance to test their aptitude in handling this weapon.
At mid-morning, it’s time to say goodbyes to the host and the locals, a few more handshakes and group photos and the guests will be off to the jetty for the ride back down the river to where the car is parked.
The rest of the journey to Kuching is back along the same route along the road to Kuching. There is another lunch break along the way and usually the trip end at 3.00 – 4.00pm on reaching the city.

(For rates of this tour, please look to the booking link here)


Categories: Places & Attractions

One Response so far.

  1. Gabie and Debbie says:

    I can highly recommend this wonderful experience, the trip to the long house was very pleasant and relaxing, we got to experience local markets and local delicacies on our way. Everyone at the longhouse was very welcoming and friendly, and most importantly we felt safe and taken care of. To top it all, we had super guides who are extremely knowledgeable of the culture and living in Sarawak. A truly unique experience which is worth every bit of your time in Borneo. Best Regards to James and Jagarai

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