Rajang River Cruise
Rajang River Tour
Tour Code: REJ1
Duration – 9 Days/8 Nights
The Pandaw Cruise was withdrawn from service in March 2012. There is now a similar trip on the Kapuas River in East Kalimantan – accessible from Kuching Pandaw Kapuas River Cruise
RV Orient Pandaw
An Expedition on the Mighty Rejang River on the RV Orient Pandaw
The Rejang River, at 640km is the longest river in Malaysia, flows across Borneo from Sarawak into Indonesian Kalimantan. Though well know to many from Redmon O’Hanlon’s Into the Heart of Borneo, an informative account of his 1983 journey to the centre of Borneo, there is very little tourism here due to the river’s remoteness and lack of facilities. The scenery is magnificent – a total jungle experience with the rainforest tumbling into the fast flowing river.
The Rejang is navigable on a ship the size of the Orient Pandaw for at least 250 km. up to the Pelagus Rapids, and further on its main tributary, the Baleh River. The river is peopled with the Iban, headhunters until the 1950s, whose unique longhouse culture survives well to this day, blending animist tradition with modernity.
There is much to do and see upriver, whether just gazing at the amazing scenery or visiting longhouses – traditional and modern. In these river towns you can explore the architectural vestiges of the Brooke Raj. Jungle treks, for all levels, are a must as are longboat trips to the Pelagus rapids. Wildlife is in abundance and crocodiles, monitor lizards and the hornbill (national bird of Sarawak) are common sights.
RV Orient Pandaw on the River
Downriver, the prosperous Chinese city of Sibu with its old shop houses, markets and friendly inhabitants, is a calm reflection of an old China that possibly no longer exists in mainland China. Sibu, with its rich surrounding farmlands and tropical climate is an important agricultural area. This is the world’s largest producer of pepper, and at Sarikei, you will visit pepper farms, fruit plantations that boast 7 kilogram pineapples, and a host of other exotic fruits. The sea port of Tanjung Manis is a centre of traditional songkat textile production, and you will visit weaving workshops.
The river level can fluctuate swiftly and greatly, affected not so much by tides as by sudden, torrential downpours in the mountainous, jungle-clad catchment area. The draft (depth below the water-line) of the RV Orient Pandaw is just 1.5 metres, and although the Rejang and tributaaries are usually deep enough to accommodate this, the river depth has been known to fall by 1 metre in 12 hours during the cruise. This means that places visited and timings have to be kept flexible.
Day 1 – Sibu
Board ship at the Burung Apu Wharf in the bustling city port, set close to the local markets and temples. at 15.00 hrs, there will be a guided walk through Sibu to explore the town on foot with its attractive streets of old Chinese shop houses, reminiscent of Malacca or Penang but without the tourists. You will visit the main market and Chinese temple. Sibu is a big port with sea going ships coming up and off loading. From here the fast express boats depart for the interior.
Cast off in the evening cruising upstream towards the Durin Bridge
Sibu Waterfront area
Day 2 – Kanowit
Cruise up the Rajang River to Kanowit, where, water levels permitting, you will enter the Kanowit River and cruise deep into the jungle. Return to the Rajang and moor at river station of Kanowit for a walk around the small river port. You will visit the Brooke Raj Fort Emma, built of timber and amazingly surviving intact after 150 years. Cast off from Kanowit mid afternoon and continue upstream until sunset.
Day 3 – Kapit
The upriver capital has an even more interesting Brooke Raj fort called Fort Sylvia, built in 1880 by Rajah Charles Brooke, as an administrative centre for the upper Rejang. It is now used as a museum. Adjacent is the tattoo museum showing traditional Iban designs and techniques. You will visit the Teresang Market and the handicraft museum . After lunch, travel by mini van to a traditional timber long house to experience customary “miring” (goodwill ceremony). Return to ship and cast off to move upriver.
Fort Sylvia at Kapit
Day 4 – Pelagus Rapids
Transfer to a tong-kang (local work boat) and move upriver past shoals and fast flowing eddies to the famous Pelagus Rapids. This section of the river is incredibly beautiful with thousands of islands, reefs and shoals. Pelagus Rapids, are located at 32km upriver along the Batang Rejang, from the town of Kapit town. They consist of seven sets of rapids, extending over a distance of 12.8 km. The most notorious rapids are 1.6 km. of fast, turbulent water with sharp-rock outcrops.
Huge boulders loom in low water making it impassable by large boats. Meanwhile in high water, whirlpools spin with the raging current, turning it into treacherous waterways. In the past, the rapids created a barrier to the Iban people, preventing them from migrating further upriver and clashing with the other ethnic groups who had settled upriver earlier. Today the rapids are tapped as a tourism asset with the Pelagus Resort being built overlooking the rapids.
Pelagus Rapids and Resort
Legend says that in ancient times there was a large serpent called Nabau. One day, the mystical serpent turned into a human form trying to make love to a warrior’s wife. The warrior caught the serpent and sliced it into seven pieces, then threw the pieces into the river. The flesh later settled to form seven rocks where the seven rapids are now situated along the great Batang Rejang.
The rapids are considered mythical among the locals. It is said that once every few years, some lives would be taken away by the rapids. Some local villagers still hold ritual offerings to appease the spirits of the rapids.
Explore the rock strewn rivers edge at the foot of the rapids before returning to Pandaw for lunch.
In the afternoon you will go jungle trekking on trails exclusively prepared for Pandaw passengers, across the river from Kapit. On the trail, which takes 3 hours, you will encounter copses of bamboo, wild fruit trees, waterfalls, and wonderful views across the river to Kapit.
Day 5 – The Baleh River
Travel by open express boat up the Baleh River, the main tributary of the Rejang, to the Palawan area; a picturesque location on the fast flowing river. Along the river you will see a number of logging camps and fine new longhouses. Logging is strictly controlled by the Sarawak government, which has a strict replanting programme.You will see some spectacular shipwrecks, a small inlet with rapids and a longhouse perched on a bluff above that is seldom visited by tourists. Enjoy a picnic lunch on a sandbar. As you return downstream, you will call into the small Nanga Mujong settlement for a walk and visit to the school. You will also see loading points for coal coming from mines located deep in the jungle. Return to ship and move downstream to arrive at Song in the late afternoon.
Song is a small river station between Kanowit and Kapit and you will stop here to make a boat trip up the Katibas River to visit longhouses.
Day 6 – Song
Early rising passengers will have the option to embark on an early morning excursion. Passengers who opt to take this excursion will depart at 06.00 hrs on small flatboats and head up the Sungei Song or Sungei Iran tributaries to witness birdlife and greet longhouse folk travelling downstream to market.
All passengers will meet back on Pandaw for breakfast and later transfer to covered longboats to travel some distance up the Katibas river; stopping at Nanga Kebian to taste the palm wine ljok which is unique to the Song area. Return to the ship for lunch and cruise downstream into the heart of the Rajang delta.
Day 7 – Sarikei/Rajang Delta
You will arrive at Sarikei early morning. You now enter the Rejang delta area with its rich agricultural life.At Sarikei, transfer to vans to travel to Rumah Nyuka longhouse. From this longhouse a choice of two treks are offered, depending on passenger fitness. Both treks lead to pretty waterfalls.
After treks there will be refreshments and activities at the longhouse. Rubber and pepper drying (when in season) will be witnessed in the longhouse grounds as well as traditional weaving and basket making. After lunch, passengers have the option of taking a second trek before returning to Pandaw.
Day 8 – Tanjung Manis
On the coast, Tanjung Manis is the main seaport and gateway to the Rejang.
Cast off early to visit the fisherman’s wharf at Rajang village, situated at the month of the Rajang River. This is a small Melanau village with vibrant traditional cottage industries. Freshly caught fish are transformed into delicious, crispy fish crackers. Visit the famous Songket weaving workshop – one of the very weaving factories left, where fine clothes are made by hand. It counts the royal family and Sultan of Brunei amongst its customers.
Day 9 – Sibu
Dock in Sibu early morning and disembark from 08.00 hrs for your onward flight.
RV ORIENT PANDAW
This brand new five star ship was launched in Saigon in late September, 2008 in the traditional colonial-style unique to all Pandaw ships. This authentic reproduction of the original 1947 Irrawaddy Steamer is 55 metres long with berths for 60 passengers, and has teak decks, and panelling throughout, and an observation or sun deck with bar service partly covered by an awning. Passengers on the Orient Pandaw tend to be all ages, and international. At full capacity the crew ratio is one to 2.1 passengers.
Like other Pandaw ships, RV Orient Pandaw comes with mod-cons unheard of on the Irrawaddy Flotilla Company’s Edwardian-age originals such as air-conditioning, hot showers (of commendable force), an extensive wine list and a varied and imaginative menu. Even with these added luxuries, the shipboard environment evokes the British Raj, rich in teak, brass, linen and gin and tonics. There are 28 luxury staterooms finished in hardwood panelling with brass marine fittings. All open onto the promenade deck, each with private outside seating. Staterooms are large at nearly 16 sq m, air-conditioned, and with en-suite shower rooms, mini safe, mini bar, DVD on demand, room service and wifi.
Staterooms on the Pandaw ship
A spacious single sitting dining room offers fusion cuisine in an informal atmosphere, but smart casual at night. There is a cocktail bar on the observation deck and lounge area with lecture theatre on lower deck. Ship amenities include a spa and fitness area.
The Pandaw dining rooms are designed to open up along the sides and only at night are they closed up and the air conditioning used.
A great choice of local cuisine and exotic foods is offered. Supplies are sourced as locally as possible, given environmental health regulations. Breakfast and lunch are buffets, and dinner is served at the tables. Passengers who do not like hot or spicy foods are offered European alternatives and vegetarians are well catered for.
Dining on the Pandaw ship
Sailing on a Pandaw is essentially an outdoor experience. Whilst the staterooms are very comfortable and roomy, passengers prefer to spend their time sitting outside, on the promenade decks or on the vast observation deck above. Unlike other cruise ships every window (except port holes on lower deck) can open.
When sailing the passengers sit on deck and become absorbed by great panoramas as they unfold about them. If you have ever sailed the Nile between Aswan and Luxor, you will know what we mean. Spellbound, one cannot help but to meditate upon the unceasing human and wildlife activity of these teaming water worlds.
Promenade Decks on the Pandaw ship
Three cruises of eight nights duration every month (the inaugural cruise was July 2009) – departing on the 1st, 10th and 20th of each month, except December when the cruise departs on 20 December only.
Climate – When to go?
Temperatures have little seasonal variation with daytime averages 23C to 32C
Rainfall is year round, with higher levels September to February monthly average 400mm and lesser level March – August, monthly average 250mm. The Rejang is a year round destination!
Schedule changes may be possible due to technical complications or unpredictable incidents and variable river conditions, while travelling along the rivers. The ship purser will immediately inform you of changes regarding the excursions or make an announcement by loud speakers. Please also keep an eye on the notice board for any subsequent notice of any changes to planned timings. River cruising on the Rajang is a dramatic and exciting experience – not like cruising the controlled waterways of Europe or America. The operation is in an area that has little or no tourism infrastructure. As a result local services and suppliers, like boats, buses and guides, can be erratic, to say the least. Be prepared for this and it is all more the fun!
Note that prices shown in this table are in US Dollars
Cruise Price Includes: Airport transfers from Sibu airport on dates of embarkation and disembarkation, park entry fees, English speaking guides, main meals, locally made beers and soft drinks, jugged coffee and selection of teas and tisanes, mineral water.
Cruise Price Excludes: International flights, laundry, all visa costs, fuel surcharges.
Photographs courtesy of Pandaw Cruises and Ministry of Urban Development and Tourism, Sarawak