Kuching off-road, exploring the Fairy cave and enjoying a Bidayuh meal amongst others amazing things !

We booked the Bau History Tour with James during our holiday in Kuching and we learnt a lot about the history of this region. James has a deep knowledge of the area and knows a lot about caving : that was really interesting !

It was a full day tour during which we visited Bau and a “bird nest factory”. Bau has been a gold mining town since 1840. In 1857, there was a lot of fights between the Chinese miners and the first Rajah, James Brooke, resulting in a violent massacre. The dead bodies were left to rot in the river because there were too many to bury. The decomposing bodies produced a bad smell, which is said to have given the town its current name. In Malay, Bau means “smelly” :-) Don’t be scared, the town is not smelly anymore and it is actually quite nice ! On our way to the village, we stopped at a fruit market where we tried some Jackfruit ! It was very sweet !

In Bau, we stopped at a “Bird nest factory”. It was the first time I was actually seeing a real edible bird nest ! In ancient times, the bird nest was consumed by the Chinese Emperor and was considered as a luxurious healthy food for privileged people. Nowadays, it is still very popular in certain parts of Asia and frequent consumption is supposed to promote better immune system and a healthier skin tone amongst others benefits.  We visited the factory and we learnt more about this strange practice !

The nest is created by the Swiftlet bird, using its saliva, and is often placed on cave walls. It’s high in nutrients but they must be cleaned from impurities (feathers, mud, etc) before being eaten. The process is often very time consuming and since no chemicals are used this explains the high price. I was shocked to hear that 1 kilo of processed cave swiftlet nests is around 5000 US$.. this is crazy ! I let you imagine the business… I understand why it is sometimes called “the Caviar of the East”.

We also visited the Fairy cave. Accessing to the cave is very easy, as a road is leading to the base of the cliff. You just have to climb the steps to the entrance situated at 30 meters above the base of the cliff. It can be a bit strenuous due to the humidity in the air (I stopped several times…).  Inside, the trail can be very slippery at some places, better to have good shoes. The vegetation over there was luxurious and the colours were beautiful, but very humid, not very good for the photography gear !

If you want to know the back story of the first picture, I invite you to visit Hanne’s blog where she organized a photo contest :-)

For lunch, we had a Bidayuh meal and that was delicious ! I can’t remember what was the name of the juice, but it was so so good. It was pouring down outside but the little hut was really waterproof  :-) The woman played some traditional instrument and we were able to give it a go ! It was a lot more difficult than it seemed.. and unexpectedly we weren’t that good :D

We finished the day by the exploration of typical Bidayuh village and old gold mine where we saw a lot of fossils. Then it was time to head back to Kuching.

I think this tour is a must if you visit Kuching and it can be suitable for everyone’s physical condition and for every interests. Compared to others tours, it may seems pricey, but when you compare with the service provided, you get your money’s worth and you learn so much !! You also got some complimentary pictures taken by James (I featured some in this post, credited as http://www.kuchingoffroad.com) at the end of your trip.

Packing my Suitcase
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53 responses to “Kuching off-road, exploring the Fairy cave and enjoying a Bidayuh meal amongst others amazing things !

  1. What an interesting tour!! I am shocked by the price of the processed cave swiftlet nests… wow, 5000?? Crazy!
    Great photos as always!!

    Happy to have you on board #MondayEscapes again :D

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  2. What always comes to mind when I hear of strange/different things to eat is “who tried eating it first?” I mean, who looked at a bird’s nest and thought ” hummm that must be delicious” …

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  3. What fun to try food from different places on earth.
    We ate Jack fruit and other ‘exotic’ fruits in Australia.
    They were fabulous!
    Keep on sharing your adventures – I love haring about them.

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  4. An interesting post, but it saddens me that people eat Swiftlet nests. In the UK Swift numbers have dramatically reduced in my lifetime. I wonder how the swiftlet numbers survive the human assault on their offsprings habitat.

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    • It is true that there is an impact of nest harvesting on the reproductive success of the swiftlet. But more and more, harvesting is limited to a certain amount of time in most caves and you need to have a permit for that (but of course, there is still some illegal practicing). But there is still a negative impact, no doubt. If you are really interested, there is a very informative paper about that : http://www.academia.edu/3069342/Impact_of_nest_harvesting_on_the_reproductive_success_of_Black-nest_Swiftlets_Aerodramus_maximus

      In Belgium as well, the swiftlet population is also decreasing, but it’s not related to this bird nest harvest since the black swiftlet they are harvesting nest from is a subtropical/tropical species that does not migrate and stay in caves. It’s not the same one we encounter in Europe. But you are right to mention this problem as well, it’s decreasing quickly in Europe and it is a real problem.

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    • Thank you! The cave was magical, but it was very difficult to take pictures, because: 1) it was dark in most places, 2) the humidity was so important that the lens was really misty and 3) water was dripping off the walls, and we had to be careful with the camera. I tried my best, but they are a bit blurry ;-) I’m glad you liked them :-)

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  5. So very interesting. Travel, on the scale you seem to fancy, is something I’ve never done and not anything I think I could ever get used to. Our daughter lives in Switzerland and getting me on a plane to visit there is like ‘pulling teeth.’ I believe travel is something that needs to be learned when still young. You know what they say about ‘old dogs.’ Anyway … I enjoyed the images … they certainly brought me as close to Kuching (somewhere in China I assume) as I’ll ever get. Thanks for bringing us along. D

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    • Kuching is part of Malaysia and located on the Borneo Island. Not too far away from Singapore, but a bit further away from China :-)

      I was wonderfing myself the same question, if travel is something that needs to be learned when still young… hmm, I think it depends from one person to another. I know someone who started travelling and volunteering abroad in remote places close to 35-38 years old and now, she can’t live without travelling. I also know other people close to the same age who prefer the comfort of home, and the best holiday at the ones spend with their horses and with the nature around their houses.

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  6. Oh I haven’t had bird’s nest soup for a very long time!
    The last time I had it was in Thailand :)
    Have you tried hasma before?
    Texture wise, it’s very similar to bird’s nest. ;)

    >I’ve heard about people having mixed feelings about Kuala Lumpur.

    Yes, I guess it’s a bit like Marmite!
    You either like it or hate it.
    Then, again beauty itself is very subjective.

    Have you also tried Marmite? It’s very British.
    We have it in Malaysia too.
    But we only mix it into plain rice congee.
    Here, they spread it on bread! Ha ha~

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    • I’ve never heard about Hasma before, and to be honest with you, I had too google it ! :-) It is true that it looks like a bird’s nest soup :D I’ve found this webpage, it is very informative, but I don’t think I would eat that : http://www.flavorandfortune.com/dataaccess/article.php?ID=248

      I was a bit confused when you asked me if I’ve tried marmite before, because marmite is the name of a cooking pot in French. Then I realised (again, google is my friend today !!) it is also a yeast extract. I’ve never seen it in Belgian supermarkets, and never tried it! I’ll try to give it a go next time I’m in the UK :D

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      • Oh, hasma is actually very delicious.
        It’s tasteless and has a soft jelly like texture.
        We usually cook it with dried jujube and rock sugar.
        Then, it will just absorb the sweetness from them.
        It doesn’t taste anything like frog at all. ;)
        But it’s an expensive ingredient, a bit like the bird’s nest.

        Ha ha… Marmite is actually very, very salty.
        There’s another thing called Bovril, similar to Marmite but made from beef extract.
        Both are easily obtainable in Malaysian supermarkets.

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        • I see… but I still maintain my position about Hasma : I’m not going to eat that :D

          I think we have some beef extracts as well that we used when we make soups to add more flavour. Does it serve the same purpose ?

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          • I see your point, but we only live once.
            So why not try everything once in our life. Ha~

            Like I also tried herring while I was in Holland.
            Escargot in France.
            Is there anything “unusual” I should try in Belgium?
            No, I don’t mean chocolate. Of course. ;)

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            • Herring and escargot don’t sound too exotic for me, I’m eating them quite often :D

              Hmmm boudin noir ? it’s made with blood, a bit like the black pudding, and it’s not really a Belgium delicacy, you can find it in many European countries. But we are eating that a lot. Foie gras ? goose liver… or cuisses de grenouille (frog’s leg) with a creamy sauce ? It’s more typical of France, but again, we are quite close to France… or Tête de veau (mock turtle) ?

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  7. Some awesome photos! I’ve never mentioned that I love your photography! Nice work :) No doubt you are enjoying what the world has to give you! Keep posting :)

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