Usually, the best way to experience culture is to dive right in with the locals. Tours and museums and that sort of stuff don’t always give you the depth that people carry within their souls.
However, I have been proven wrong. Once. By the Sarawak Cultural Village (just outside Kuching).
I have read reviews of the Cultural Village, and not all of them are glowing. But let’s be honest – you will receive out of it exactly what you are willing to put in. Absolutely.
If you turn up, expecting all the staff to simply tell you what is going on and to perform like dancing monkeys for you, then you will receive a shallow experience in return.
But if you are willing to talk, to ask, to participate, and to explore – it really is an amazing reveal on the melting pot of Borneo.
To reach Sarawak Cultural Village, it is a bit of a drive out there (45mins), but it is a nice drive with plenty of scenery. There are a plethora of shuttle buses travelling from Kuching to Damai (the area for the Village), as well as a couple of local buses. You can probably even catch a ride with your hosts (Annie at Fairview told me afterwards she would have been happy to drive us out there – I didn’t even think to ask).
We opted for a shuttle bus (Kuching-Damai) from the Grand Margherita, as it gave us the opportunity to pick up some local breakfast and food supplies for the kids. Prices were around RM20 for adults, and RM10 for kids (return). However, after agreeing to our return time, I later found out that we could have returned to Kuching much later (around 7.30pm) which would have allowed for a walk around the beaches, resorts and other scenic points in the area. If you have the time, do that. It looked beautiful.
Travelling with 2 young kids (5yo and 2yo), you really need to think about exactly what your kids can enjoy with you. This place was great. You pretty much wander around at your own pace, learning about the various tribes and cultures found throughout Borneo.
From my understanding, they are all contracted to the Cultural Village for a period of time, to share their knowledge and experience, before returning home to exchange the knowledge or moving on in the world to grow and learn more themselves.
Each of the people we met were friendly and chatty, even more so if you asked them any questions. One guy did explain that they (the staff) have little expectation of “white tourists” because past experiences aren’t that great. But if you make the effort and ask a question, they open up and share the most wonderful stories with you!
The Village also invites tourists and school students to stay overnight. Since it calls itself a “Living Musuem”, participants sleep in the various dwellings that visitors will see as well. They also have additional activities, with hand-on experience making tribal items, playing games, and village maintenance. We didn’t stay overnight, but we stopped and chatted to a bunch of school students who were staying in the Orang Ulu Longhouse.
Ask the kids, and their highlight will be the activities (of course). Ask the Big Kid and he will tell you all about the Blow Dart Pipe he fell in love with. It was unfortunately confiscated at Customs as it is still considered a weapon, despite being made specifically for souvenir purposes. NB: If you want to bring one back to Australia, you will need a weapon licence. And yet they allowed the decorative bow and arrow we picked up at the markets…
Around 11.30am and 4pm there are concerts, displaying the cultural dances of the various tribes. I was worried that the concert was going to be kitschy, but it was not! It was very enjoyable and at the end, the audience are invited up on the stage to join in the dancing. Little kids love this – so did I!
It is a little expensive, especially if you are going to compare it with the Museum in Kota Kinabalu (which we also visited). Tickets for entry are RM60 per adult and RM30 per child (6-12yo). But SCV has staff available to answer any cultural questions, as well as interactive exhibits and resources available for food and rest. In all honesty, comparing these two is a bit like trying to compare Semenggoh and Sepilok Orang Utan Sanctuaries. Two very different set-ups that will give you two different experiences.
Overall, we enjoyed it a lot! It was a great experience with the kids. It’s worthwhile going to if you want to learn more about the cultures.
Don’t forget – more photos can be seen on my Facebook page!