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A Borneo longhouse adventure

Borneo longhouse adventure

A Borneo longhouse adventure on a long porch

A Borneo longhouse adventure is a unique experience

I had a unique opportunity while visiting Sarawak in Borneo. I was able to not only go to a Borneo longhouse, but visit one that had rarely been visited. I was staying with Planet Borneo in Kuching, and they were scouting this new longhouse to see if it was a place they could bring tourists.

They asked if I wanted to tag along. Of course I jumped at the chance for a Borneo longhouse adventure. I was hoping to visit a longhouse, but when I first arrived I was told it takes a lot of logistics to pull the visit off and needs to be arranged in advance, so it was my good fortune that this scouting trip took place during my stay.

Borneo longhouse adventure

The front of the longhouse

Borneo longhouse adventure

A lazy dog has a lot of room to maneuver on a Borneo longhouse porch

What is a longhouse

A longhouse is exactly that.  It is a long house that is the traditional mode of living in the jungle for the indigenous people in Borneo and many other parts of the world. They are usually raised off the ground on stilts and have a long public area on one side and then individual dwellings on the other side. Basically it is a long porch attached to a long house with a long backyard.

Borneo longhouse adventure

Kids playing at the front of the Borneo longhouse

We pulled into the dwelling and climbed the stairs to the porch. Immediately people gravitated toward us. It was me and two guides from Planet Borneo. Shy but curious kids walked behind us and adults smiled and waved from chairs, windows, and even from cars on the streets.

I pictured a longhouse to be in the jungle, but this house was not in the forest. It was in a rural area about two hours from Kuching. Despite not being in the jungle, it was clear these people had not a lot of contact with the more modern world and especially tourists. They did have many modern conveniences; however, like cars, cell phones, and laptops, so they were not completely isolated.

Borneo longhouse adventure

Friendly people waving from a car

Getting to know the villagers

Most of the adults I met spoke decent English. I was able to have basic conversation with a lot of people. Everyone wanted to talk to me and find out where I was from. Even though I was the center of attention, I did not feel uncomfortable at all. Everyone was really laid back and friendly.

A couple of mats were laid out, and we sat around and talked. The purpose of the visit was business. Planet Borneo was reaching out to this village to see if they could bring tourist here, so they were interested in a partnership.

Borneo longhouse adventure

Sitting with the villagers at a Borneo longhouse

Unfortunately, it turned out the village chief had recently passed away. In his absence, there were a couple of elders were handling village affairs until a new leader could be appointed.

Pass the rice whiskey please

The best way to conduct business is with food and rice whiskey. I was the beneficiary of this welcoming as the longhouse community brought out fresh fruit, fresh vegetables, other types of snacks, and shot after shot of rice whiskey.

Borneo longhouse adventure

Fresh rambutan and other goodies

If I was not feeling comfortable before, after a few shots of whiskey, I was really feeling at ease. They were speaking in their native tongue, which was Iban. The guides kept checking on me to make sure I was comfortable. I told them “no problem.”’

No problem

I asked them how to say “no problem” in Iban, and they said it was “nedang naway.” I repeated this to my new friends and they were pleased I had learned a new word in their language. Every time they asked how I was I would repeat “nedang naway,” each time a little more boisterous as the rice whiskey flowed through my system and each time it was received with more laughter and good cheer from my hosts.

Borneo longhouse adventure

Posing with the late chief’s wife, son, and granddaughter

At one point a guitar was brought out. One of the guides tuned it as it sounded like a house of horrors when first strummed. We passed it around, and I butchered a few songs before passing it around. The only time I am ever asked to play guitar is when I have had a few too many and this was no different. I was the recipient of more than my share whiskey shots.

Borneo longhouse adventure

Mercifully someone besides me playing guitar

Travel as a way to unite the world

It occurred to me that here I was halfway around the world with a bunch of people I did not know and could hardly speak to having a great time. In fact, I was doing the same things I would have done with people that I could more easily communicate with and people I have known for years.

Borneo longhouse adventure

Opening up some canned goods with a few bottles of rice whiskey

Whenever my friends and family gather we usually barbeque, drink beer, and pass around the guitar, and I am usually too intoxicated to play. This is what I love about travel. You find yourself in a remote spot completely out of your comfort level, but yet you meet good people who are just like you and your friends. These types of interactions show we have more qualities in common than those that are different even from people on the other side of the world in a Borneo longhouse.

Borneo Longhouse adventure

We have many differences from other cultures, but also many similarities

I definitely would recommend a Borneo longhouse adventure if you come to Sarawak. I also would suggest you book with Planet Borneo. I don’t know if you will have the chance to go to this longhouse, but whichever one you go to, I am sure it will be amazing. I was a guest of Planet Borneo during my stay and on this tour, but the bad drunken guitar playing and thoughts on my experience are my own.


The goal of Traveling Ted is to inspire people to outdoor adventure travel and then provide tips on where and how to go. If you liked this post then enter your email in the box to get email notifications for each new entry. Daily travel photos are excluded from your email in order to not flood you with posts. There is no spam and email information will not be shared. Other e-follow options include Facebook (click on the like box to the right) or twitter (click on the pretty bird on the rainbow above).

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21 Responses to A Borneo longhouse adventure

  1. Olivia March 4, 2014 at 12:56 pm #

    If you’re interested, you could also check out the Annah Rais Longhouse which is around one and a half hours from the city. You could check out details about the longhouse here at this link:

    Enjoy your stay in Sarawak!

    • Ted Nelson March 16, 2014 at 6:34 pm #

      Hi Olivia,

      I am sure any Borneo longhouse adventure is worth it. Thanks for the comment and tip.

  2. @mrsoaroundworld March 4, 2014 at 4:01 pm #

    Had never heard of longhouses. And delighted you had fun on this experience 🙂
    @mrsoaroundworld recently posted..My hOtel: London Marriott Hotel Grosvenor Square @londonmarriott

    • Ted Nelson March 16, 2014 at 6:35 pm #

      Glad to broaden your vocabulary. Hope to see Mrs. O at a longhouse in the future 🙂

  3. Leigh March 5, 2014 at 7:10 pm #

    You look half baked in the one photo but it also looks like you’re having a great time.

    I don’t know how much rice whiskey I could handle but you’ve made a great point about life being the same on so many levels. I don’t know if I’ll ever make it to Borneo but I’d definitely sign up for a trip like this.

    • Ted Nelson March 16, 2014 at 6:35 pm #

      I think you would love Borneo Leigh. I hope you get a chance to check it out someday. It is an incredible part of the world.

  4. Trips By Lance March 5, 2014 at 7:44 pm #

    I’m not familiar with longhouses. So it’s like a small city or apartment building, I guess. Sounds like a wonderful community. I think that guy probably put on the fanny pack as a dare. On second thought, you probably carry around an extra to give people to wear in photos with you.
    Trips By Lance recently posted..Five Spring Break Alternatives

    • Craig Zabransky March 14, 2014 at 4:37 am #

      you need to always bring your props… stay fannypacked, Craig
      Craig Zabransky recently posted..A Mexican Must-Tacos al Pastor

    • Ted Nelson March 16, 2014 at 6:37 pm #

      Basically it is just like it sounds. It is a longhouse with multiple living spaces, so it is like a long apartment complex, but it is also a community. I think bringing around a second fanny pack for photo ops is a brilliant idea. Thanks for the suggestion.

  5. Francesca (@WorkMomTravels) March 5, 2014 at 10:42 pm #

    As I was reading the first paragraph, I kept thinking, “What in God’s name is a longhouse?” So glad you answered that question for me! I appreciate what you said about having more in common with people on the other side of the world than we think. Words of wisdom!
    Francesca (@WorkMomTravels) recently posted..Zip lining with Lake Geneva Canopy Tours and Outdoor Adventure Center

    • Ted Nelson March 16, 2014 at 6:38 pm #

      Glad I helped answer questions you were wondering about while reading the beginning.

  6. Pola (@jettingaround) March 7, 2014 at 4:33 pm #

    Sign me up! Sounds like a great way to connect with the locals. And then there’s the whiskey and music. Yup, sign me up!
    Pola (@jettingaround) recently posted..Book Pick: The Same Sky

    • Ted Nelson March 16, 2014 at 6:38 pm #

      It was a great experience Pola. I know you would love this type of experience.

  7. Leah March 8, 2014 at 7:46 pm #

    Longhouses…that’s a new one for me. I love that you get so involved with the locals on your travels. That’s just one of the great things about travel.
    Leah recently posted..Four Thoughtful Things all Luxury Hotels Should Offer

    • Ted Nelson March 16, 2014 at 6:39 pm #

      I really connect well with people in Asia for some reason. I need to spend more time in this part of the world: maybe re-locate to Chiang Mai.

  8. lola March 14, 2014 at 12:35 am #

    OH Ted! that IS the best part about travel…it does unite us. i cannot wait until this summer when i’m mixing it up on the other side of the globe with people that i can barely communicate with yet will leave a mark on my travels deeper than the completion of the Mongol Rally!
    lola recently posted..Iceland – Here We Come!

    • Ted Nelson March 16, 2014 at 6:40 pm #

      Cannot wait for the Mongol rally reports to come in.

  9. Craig Zabransky March 14, 2014 at 4:40 am #


    Love how you learned the word no problem… “nedang naway” great stuff and a great adventure… plus i am sure the ladies thought you were just perfect on the guitar… just like you were at RWTBEX

    stay (at the) longhouse, Craig
    Craig Zabransky recently posted..Episode 1: Discovering Nuevo Vallarta in the Riviera Nayarit

    • Ted Nelson March 16, 2014 at 6:41 pm #


      “no problem” is my favorite word in any language. #staynoproblem

  10. the lazy travelers March 17, 2014 at 9:42 pm #

    this looks like a really cool experience! had never heard of longhouses.

    we do need to talk about the socks/fannypack combo though, tedward.
    the lazy travelers recently spotter: galway girl

  11. Ted Nelson March 22, 2014 at 6:53 pm #

    Those are no ordinary socks. They are merino wool socks. I once wore them for a month straight without washing. They rock.

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