Monday, March 9, 2009

Batang Ai

After spending 2 weekends at the coastal fishing villages of Rajang and Belawai, I moved inland this weekend to Batang Ai National Park. This national Park gazetted in 1991 is located at Lubok Antu District of Sri Aman Division, some 250 km from Sibu. It is also about the same distance from Kuching, the state capital. The only means of reaching there is by road. The above picture is a row of old wooden shophouses at Lubok Antu which is 39 km from the the Pan Borneo Highway and 9 km from Batang Ai Dam.

The shops here are mainly operated by Teochew Chinese and they sell anything from basic daily necessities, hardware and handicrafts made by the Iban tribe. The 2,338 sq. km Lubok Antu District has a heavy concentration of Ibans, making up about 95% of the total population.

Lubok Antu shot to national fame in the early 80s with the successful construction and completion of the RM540 million Batang Ai Hydo Dam which was commissioned on August 21, 1985. Physical development is evident around the Lubok Antu Town in recent years, a notable landmark which is currently under construction are two tower blocks for the Immigration Department and a new complex for the police.

Lubok Antu is a border town. This new road will eventually lead to Kalimantan Indonesia, just a short distance of a few kilometers. At the end of the road a site has been cleared for the construction of immigration staff quarters although no border check point is in sight at either side of the border.

About 9 km further up from Lubok Antu Town lies the Batang Ai Hydro Dam which is also part of the Batang Ai National Park. The Hilton Batang Ai Longhouse Resort is located on the shores of the man-made Batang Ai lake. It takes a half an hour ride on a motorised boat to reach the world renowned resort which has been attracting international travellers from around the world to experience life amidst the tropical rainforests inhabited by the Ibans who still practise their traditional customs and tradition and the wild men of Borneo, the Orang Utan.Other privately managed lodges and many Iban longhouses are also available to tourists in the Ulu Ai and its tributaries.

This is the private jetty owned by Batang Ai Hilton where the boats ferry tourists to its longhouse style resort.

Views from an opposite hill of the Batang Ai Power Station. The rock-filled dam is clearly seen in the background.

The Batang Ai River is swift flowing and has crystal clear water. Here we see a kind of green "grass" growing in the river bed at a shallow section of the river below the dam.

The huge lake created above the dam has become a major tourist attraction. People simply flock here to admire its secnic beauty. Occassionally water sports like the regatta are also held. The lake is also the source of plenty of fresh water fish, especially the species of Patin and Talapia.

This is the common jetty for the upriver Ibans who travel down from Ulu Ai and park their colourful longboats here.

The limited time and gloomy weather did not permit me to take more appealing photos this trip. I left home at 6 am and reached home 13 hours later at 7 pm, covering a total distance of 530 km and along the journey stopped briefly at Jakar, Betong Rest Stop, Lubok Antu Town and Lubok Subong village.I will certainly plan another trip there in the near future when the weather improves. Next week I will move further inland to the heart of Borneo, to Belaga to be exact.My last trip to Belaga was 6 years ago in February 2003 when I was assigned to take aerial photos for the Bakun Dam project.


Anonymous said...

Please go back during nomination day and by-election day bro and keep live up-dates of situations there. I hope to hear the War Cries of the mighty Ibans loud and clear on by-election day.kpenyu

Nelson said...

nice shots. your article coincides with Desmond of current post (all aerial photos) which talks about sri aman including lubok antu and the new highway link to kalimantan barat. Lubok Antu will thrive and become lively soon. out of sudden, lubok antu has 2 'skyscrapers'!

regarding belaga, are u going to travel by 4WD there via bintulu-bakun road or by express boats (pandaw's track)? make sure u snap photos of bakun's progress (which is very slow).

Daniel Yiek said...

Great post. I have referred your blog and Sarawakiana to Borneo Post. They have a column called "From the blogging world" that features posts from local bloggers.

Anonymous said...

Interesting to see the place now have turned into a dam site. I have been there once or twice, but for sure to Batang Ai once when the dam has just started to be built. I saw the huge lorries where the usual 5-ton lorries can go under them. I went there another time to see (not to eat) the durians. So many long boats carried the durians downstream, and were purchased by the merchants. I stood by the river which was full of stones. Some of these durians were transported by lorries back to Sibu.

Anonymous said...

It's a beautiful place, isn't it? And I uderstand it's a good source of live delicious tilapia. Btw, Hilton Hotel has a resort there. You didn't take the photos? I heard that it's very nice but pooe people like me can't afford to go lah! LOL!!!

Philip said...

kpenyu:Most probably can't go there again as I have other commitments.But I will have at least one post on the by election after nomination day.

Nelson: Couldn't believe the Kalimantan side completed their highway ahead of us!. We always think they are more backward. Of the 4 provinces in Indonesian Kalimantan,2 are governed by Dayak and they enjoy much autonomy. The Dayak population in Kalimantan Indonesia is something like 17 million people. I will go by boat (Sibu-Kapit-Belaga) and return by road (Belaga-Bakun-Bintulu-Sibu). Sure will take lots of photos.

Daniel:Thanks. Yan of Borneo Post did mention to me last month about their weekly column.Yours should also be featured.

Anon: You remind me of my illegal entry into Badau (Indonesian kalimantan after crossing the border ) some 10 years ago with a few friends. We drove right into the Iban longhouse there to eat lots of very good durians and also brought back a full pick-up. Very cheap...RM50 cents to RM1.50 each.Not that we wanted to break the immigration law...there just wasn't any check point at both side of the border.Yes, those huge lorries or dump trucks...I still have many of the photos taken during the dam's construction period.

Stp: Yes, nice place. Like New Zealand? I didn't go up to Hilton Resort this trip. They invited me during the opening many years ago and stayed there for a night.True, the lake is a source of live tilapia and patin fish.

nelson said...

Inter-trading between the towns and cities of the whole borneo can be increased by having more 'legal' links to kalimantan.

Btw, Kapit is another not so well-known town (at least in internet) which needs more publicity perhaps tru ur photography. Mehligai hotel sounds great but i had never seen photo of it. however recently kapit is a hot topic, regarding the road link to it from kanowit and sibu and also their hospital with only 4 medical officers and 1 surgeon only - issue.

Philip said...

nelson:If I have enough time I will snap some photos of the Mehligai Hotel to post them here. The express boat to Belaga has just a brief stop in Kapit.I stayed in a junior suite room in Mehligai more than 10 years ago and it was only RM120 per night.That road proposal was mooted decades ago...don't think it will materialize anytime soon.