Cycling in the Land of the Head Hunters

Do you remember the first television series of Survivor? 

The winner was a guy everyone seemed to dislike, who walked around naked and his saving grace was the fact that he was the only person capable of catching fish for the “tribe”.

The location was initially described as “somewhere in the South China Sea” but we now know that it was off the coast of Borneo, the world’s third largest island. 

Borneo is split between Brunei, Indonesia and Malaysia and it’s an hour’s flight from my home in Singapore.

Last week, my wife Pele and I boxed up our tandem and headed to Kuching, in the province of Sarawak, Borneo.

I’ve been to Borneo a couple of times before. 

The first time, I ran an insane mountain race to the summit of Mount Kinabalu and back (South East Asia’s highest peak).  Cash prizes went to the top 15.  I was seventeenth to the summit, but fell so many times coming down (running!) that I succumbed to take a more conservative descent than most.  One runner died of hypothermia after slipping on the way down.  Needless to say, I now give that race a miss.

But it wasn’t Mount Kinabalu that we went to climb last week.  Instead, we assembled our Co-Motion coupling tandem outside of a hostel called Nook Cafe and Beds, on Wednesday evening, preparing to explore the exotic locales within cycling distance of Sarawak’s capital city of Kuching.

On Thursday morning, after a night in a creaking bed, we paid our $17 accommodation bill (which included a decent breakfast) and we headed south, in the direction of Wind Cave, roughly 26km from Kuching.  When we arrived, nobody was there.  After paying roughly $1.80 each, we entered the 600 meter array of unlit boardwalk caverns, accompanied by chirping bats and their wonderful aroma.

We both laugh at the freedom and “explore at your own risk” mantra in this part of the world.  If this were the U.S., we’d have a guide, lit walkways, mandatory helmets, and a freshly signed waiver.  But this is South East Asia—where a family of seven can fit on a scooter and car seats are considered a waste of space.

Using our tandem, we visited the orangutans of Sarawak at a rehabilitation reserve where the primates are free to roam the jungle and come for a morning feeding if they choose to.  We were lucky, getting relatively close to seven of these amazing creatures before cycling back to Sarawak. 

Riding north towards Damai, we visited a cultural village where we learned about headhunters and different tribes of Borneo, while being entertained by some fabulous traditional dancers.  I made an allusion to the headhunters of Borneo in my book, Millionaire Teacher…which is likely the first time in history that these tribesmen were mentioned in a finance book.  Incidentally, they were formerly required to decapitate someone in battle before being deemed suitable for marriage.  And it wasn’t that long ago!

Then we relaxed at Dumai Beach Resort, where a couple of our more civilized friends were staying. 

What did the trip cost us?

  • $230 for flights (for two)
  • $120 for massages (3 massages each)
  • $80 accommodation  (3 nights)
  • $150 food and drinks
  • $50 cultural center tickets

In total, the trip cost us roughly $630.

Yeah, we could always cut back on massages.  But we won’t.  Ever.

Do I recommend Sarawak?  Absolutely!

Check it out.  You won’t be disappointed.


Andrew Hallam

I’m a financial columnist for Canada’s national paper, The Globe and Mail, as well as for AssetBuilder, a financial service firm based in Texas. I’m also the author of Millionaire Teacher: The Nine Rules of Wealth You Should Have Learned in School and Millionaire Expat: How To Build Wealth Living Overseas. My mission is to educate, motivate and inspire people on basic retirement planning and best practices for investing, using evidence-based strategies. I'm happy to comment on your questions.

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4 Responses

  1. Squasher55 says:

    Hey Andrew,

    Shame on you for tempting us with tropical enjoyment, just as winter is threatening to arrive early here in North America. I am looking at Borneo on Google Earth right now, and it shows this airport. Bintulu Airport is an airport serving Bintulu, a town in the state of Sarawak in Malaysia. The airport is located 5.5 km southwest of the city, and although small, it is able to handle planes as large as a Boeing 747. Maybe that is where you flew in.

    I am flying to Korea and Taiwan in December…..for a business trip with my wife. I know it will be cold in Korea, but warmer in Taiwan. Not quite as warm as Borneo or Singapore. Keep enjoying life… deserve it.

    I am busy following your investing suggestions from your book.

  2. Think Dividends says:

    I really enjoyed my time in Borneo in 2010 (Kuching, Mulu, KK)… Semengoh was great and so was Bako National Park… Nice post Andrew… It brings back great memories!

  3. Paula @ Afford Anyth says:

    Love it! And never, ever, EVER cut back on massages 🙂

  4. georgina o'farr says:

    are you the andrew hallam from the bc summer games?

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