It’s not often that you can be completely cut off from the outside world, with no signal or wifi, next-to-no electricity and surrounded by nature. On a tour through Borneo last summer, booked with The Great Projects, I spent five days in the middle of Batang Ai rainforest. After teaching my class about the rainforest in the summer term, I was really excited to actually be staying in one.
To get there, we had to travel for a couple of hours in a tiny long boat so we had to pack light. The views on our boat ride through Batang Ai Rainforest included luscious greenery reflecting in the water below. It all seemed so untouched and beautiful. After two hours, we jumped out and into the water and helped to push the boat to shore.
We slept in a longhouse opposite a tiny village of around fifteen people called Jengging in the middle of Batang Ai rainforest. The longhouse was built by the tour group I was part of. They then gave this to the villagers and now pay rent to give them an income. My tour was the only one that visits this longhouse so it is the village’s only source of income. The home was overlooking the river where we would often head down for a peaceful bathe. The place was so cut off that we only had electricity for four hours a day. Just before sunset, you’d see about ten phones and cameras queuing to be charged.
There were many wonderful parts of being in the rainforest including the never ending views, a sense of adventure and wildlife all around. Drinking rice wine and being surrounded by fireflies whilst sat around the campfire was particularly memorable. However, there were also some pretty ugly parts about living in the rainforest which you’ll read about in this post.
It wasn’t the best of starts when we arrived at our longhouse in Batang Ai as the mattresses and pillows were covered in mould. I suppose it’s hard to keep up western standards in the middle of the rainforest though and I loved falling asleep to the sound of the rainforest each night. I could hear the water from the river right below our longhouse, frogs croaking and many birds and insects. There was also a firefly in our longhouse. I was on the top bunk so would feel like part of a Disney movie watching this firefly as I went to sleep each night.
One thing which wasn’t so ‘Disney’ was when I noticed a huge moth flying above me and, as usual, there were also many geckos on the roof. Suddenly, I noticed that the gecko was running (Spiderman style) towards the moth. Surely a moth of the size could have taken him? Nope. Soon the moth was being thrown around before being dropped right next to my mattress. I took a closer look and the fact that it was moving was hopeful. Then I noticed that it’s head was chewed off. That’s enough to give someone nightmares.
Back to the good stuff…
Our guide’s (Richard’s) wife made us delicious meals each day. From curry to rotti to pumpkin, it all tasted divine. The meat substitute in Borneo was fantastic, it’s all vegan and tastes so much better than the meat substitute in England. Each of our meals would be in the ‘kitchen’ overlooking the rainforest which was pretty special. It would have been impossible to carry enough water along with the food to keep us going for five days so the water that we drunk was from the river. It was boiled beforehand but still had a murky brown colour (this is also the water that we saw the locals washing raw chicken in). We compared it to fresh water on the way back and couldn’t believe the colour difference. This personally didn’t bother me though as it was all part of the experience.
One thing I wasn’t too keen on about our home in the rainforest were the outside toilets (though I was used to it by this point in Borneo). I tend to get up two or three times a night so having to put on my shoes, climb down steep steps and walk to the toilets was a lot of effort. It was also crucial to check the toilets with a torch before entering as there was once a huge huntsman spider climbing up the inside of the toilet.
A good thing about the outside toilets and showers was that frogs would often like to join in with a wash. The first time I showered in the rainforest, I nearly jumped out of my skin when something below me shot up into the air like a rocket. It turned out to only be an adorable little frog though.
Most mornings would involve a steep trek through the dense rainforest of Batang Ai. The humidity could be overwhelming and we were always drenched in sweat before we even left the long house. Because of this, it made sense to wear the same clothes for every hike. A fresh pair of clothes would only get soaked within seconds so we all wore the same hiking clothes each day. It’s safe to say that my case absolutely stunk when I got home. My boyfriend, mum and step-dad practically gagged and had to leave the room.
Unfortunately, despite our efforts, we didn’t see much wildlife on our hikes through Batang Ai but we did see many orangutan nests. I was sad not to see a wild orangutan but I suppose that means that it’s harder for the poachers to find them which is a positive thing. On the boat, another day, I soured a rhino hornbill so I was pretty happy about that! Also, on the way back from the rainforest we stopped at Semenggoh Wildlife Centre and saw nine semi-wild orangutans which was one of the greatest wildlife moments of my life. I also saw rescued orangutans when I volunteered with them at the beginning of my tour.
On one of the afternoons we went on a little adventure down the winding river and stumbled upon a small waterfall. We’d had no idea it was there which made it extra special. Sometimes it’s the spontaneous finds which are the best. On our walk back, we saw a green and white snake. I never did find out whether it was poisonous.
One of my favourite things we did whilst in Batang Ai rainforest was floating down the river. We’d spent the morning helping the locals cook on a small island in Batang Ai National Park. We wrapped rice in banana leaves and then pushed them into bamboo shoots with water to cook over the fire. The whole meal was scrumptious.
Afterwards, we all put our life jackets on and went floating for an hour or so down the river. We laid back and let the current take us. It was so relaxing and felt like being on a lazy river.
On our last evening in Batang Ai, the chief of the village invited us into his home. We drank rice wine and played traditional games with them all evening. At the end, he gave us a speech, which was translated by our guide, to thank us for visiting and hoping that we had learnt a lot about conservation.
Overall, I loved staying in the middle of Batang Ai rainforest, despite all the many, many insects. I don’t think I’ve ever been anywhere so remote in my whole life so I consider myself very lucky to have had such a unique experience. It’s not for someone who expects luxury, but for someone who desires a continuous adventure.
Tell me: Would you stay in the middle of the rainforest or prefer just a day trip?
Before my trip to the rainforest, I volunteered with orangutans. You can read more about my experence here.
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