Published: September 14th 2008September 13th 2008
Belaga is about as far as you can go up the Rajang river by either boat or 4WD. The Bakun Dam is 60 kms further but I dont really want to see an environmental disaster; the whole project is probably just an excuse for intensive logging. Belaga's isolation is attracting travellers and you see more orang putih in this village than in Sibu. The peaceful tranquility absorbs you though there is nought to do at night except drink a cold ale or rice wine at 1.50 rgt a shot. But Belaga is a base for long house visits and travellers tend to stay a few days and unwind.
There are basically 2 ways to get into Belaga so I made it a round trip from Sibu. First leg was bullet boat from Sibu's ever busy marina to Kapit. Apart from having to peer out the window beneath advertising slogans for Tanaka power tools, it was a pretty uneventful charge upriver. I had been to Kapit before, about 5 years ago and it seemed much the same, except there is a major wharf development going on in front of the town square. For a town with no connecting roads, the
new wharf being built in Kapit
number of cars and motorbikes in Kapit is a surprise but they all get shipped up from Sibu to drive around town and into the developing sprawl. Pressure is mounting now for funding of a connecting road but I hope it doesn't really happen as it will spoil the charm of this busy river town.
Stayed the night with relatives and caught the 9.30am boat to Belaga. This boat actually leaves Sibu around 5am so you can catch it all the way to Belaga in a day. I was a bit tardy in getting a seat inside so had to perch myself on the rooftop along with a heap of Iban women drinking beer to bless their journey. I had been warned not to sit on the roof through the Pelagus rapids an hour upstream but what the hell.
The rapids were definitely the fun part of the trip. After them, the boat journey seemed to go on and on as we called to unload people and supplies at countless long houses. But eventually, we arrived at Belaga around 3pm, just in time for the afternoon shower. A race from the wharf to find shelter under the shop
very pleasant for people watching
awnings of the main street was pleasantly rewarded as the cafe i sheltered in had rooms above for 35 rgt
It doesnt take long to explore the town. Really only one main street with shops on one side facing the riverfront. Behind there are a few laneways with a bit more shops and cafes and the odd hotel. A very persistent deaf and dumb lady coerced me to follow her to her friends little cafe and bar which is one of a number behind the shops that is the only happening scene at night. Popular for outdoor drinking and eating, this lady will find you within an hour of arriving and you can bet your boots, you will be at her friends cafe in the evening, sampling the 1.50 rgt rice wine. I certainly did, along with a blonde Lithuanian girl. I think there were 2 other travellers in town that night, we had sighted them during the day but they didnt venture out. Maybe they had had too much tuak the night before.
Getting out of town is relatively easy. 4WD pickups leave from in front of the shops from around 7.30am. Price is 60 rgt. No-one
seems real sure, which 4WD you are supposed to go with, just park your bag, have coffee and get into one thats about to go. The road out is a mud track - a real bush bash up over the Lumut range. It did some damage to our wheel struts as once we reached the logging tracks and made it out onto the Bakun road, a wheel came off.
The Bakun road, though tarred is in very poor condition from logging trucks. The contractor that built the road claims he was never required to maintain it, though he is the one destroying it with his timber trucks.
I overnighted in Bintulu before catching a bus back to Sibu. Will report on my impressions of Bintulu some other time
There are more photos below