Belaga is a small town on the Rejang River in Malaysia's province of Sarawak. Whilst the village can be explored in well under an hour, most visitors arrive in Belaga in order to explore the many longhouses as well as the interior of Borneo. There are a few tour operators which are established in the town; however, the town is very well connected with the tribespeople and finding a local guide shouldn't be very difficult.
Most people arrive in Belaga by boat from Kapit (and further downstream, Sibu). Boats leave from Kapit at 9AM and cost RM30 (5 hours) except when the water level is too low and the express boats can't get pass Pelagus rapids. It is a very scenic boat ride, and if you are in need of some fresh air the boat roof is a good place to take in the jungle river banks. Express boat interiors are usually air-conditioned to a point of freezing which makes the ride on the roof much more convenient option. Just remember that the sun in Borneo is fierce even though it's cloudy. Rejang river is an easy ride most of the way and the only notable rapids are those of Pelagus. Just follow the locals, if they stay on the roof you should be safe as well.
Depending on the river level the trip down stream may only take 4 hours (RM30 and leaves at 8AM) There is a boat heading to Bakun Dam from Belaga (RM10.00, 1 hour and leaves approx 3:30PM)
As of 2018, Kapit to Belaga is a 7ish hours ride and 55 ringgit.
Belaga has a airstrip a few kilometers downstream from the village Punan Bah. There is are no scheduled commercial flights.
Take the long, windy and unkept logging road from Bintulu or if you are dropped off at the Bakun Dam turn off (in Malay: Simpang Bakun) on the highway approx 40 km north of Bintulu, there are many 4X4s heading into Belaga. Wave one down - they will take passengers if they have room (RM60 per person - personal car hire requires min 2pax). It will be best to be around that intersection until max 2pm since the journey takes 4–5 hours depending on road conditions and it may get dark.
You can also try to hitchike a vehicle heading south to Belaga, if they ask you money, take into consideration that the normal fare for 4x4 taking people is RM60 so you can offer less. There are many vehicles passing by.
This can avoid backtracking by boat to reach Sibu in order to get to the coast. Jeeps normally leave early at 8AM, but since they can be commissioned easily, they are flexible. Speak to your guide or one of the shops which advertise land transport.
Belaga is small enough to walk around in twenty minutes. For trips further afield, hire a longboat for a ride up/down river.
- Treks and Longhouse tours. Belaga is one of the best places to do trips to see the longhouses. Indigenous tribes are typically welcoming to tourists and very hospitable. Expect to be shown different styles of villages (old and new), as well as traditional costumes, dances, foods (jungle fern, wild boar), manufacturing methods, local rice farms etc. Most of the children, when not at school are fascinated by Westerners and will tag along for the fun and games. Be prepared to take some gifts for the tribes people (mainly for the children) as a show of appreciation to their hospitality. These should be given to the chieftain who will later distribute them. You can ask Daniel at Daniel's corner guesthouse for some advice and prices about treckings, he will be glad to help.
- Belaga Regatta/Traditional games/Belaga Rainforest Challenge Trail. Every year from 23–27 July. Features all the indigenous tribes and longhouse people in a week long event of games and an inter-longhouse regatta challenge.
Longhouse tours are split up into the following categories:
- Longhouse visits, and sleeping typically in the chieftain's house
- Longhouse visits, jungle trekking and camping
- Longhouse visits, short jungle trek followed by sleeping in the longhouse
One excellent tour operator is:
- Worldwide Exploration Travel & Tour Services, Lot 168 Jalan Penghulu Hang Nyipa, 96900 Belaga, Sarawak (from the boat jetty, ascend the stairs, turn left and walk to the end of the main street), Mr Andreas Bato: 010 5964 808 / 086 461 884 / 086 461 754 (firstname.lastname@example.org).
Prices as at January 2008 are listed below (all quoted in Malaysian Ringgit), although with some haggling discounts will be found.
|1 pax||2-3 pax||4-8 pax||9+ pax|
|Longhouse Day trip||180++||100++||80++||60++|
10 years later, in 2018, a homestay in a previous longhouse now turned village could be negotiated to 100 ringgit per person.
Most of the longhouses in the area will sell locally made souvenirs, such as beads, necklaces and sometimes even traditional clothes and items. There isn't much on offer in Belaga village itself, aside from some old coins and op-shop variety items.
- ATM (Three streets back from the river). The town has a Bank Simpanan National, with ATM. In case your card is quite sensitive, is better to withdraw money in previous cities before you run out.
All of the restaurants in Belaga are of a comparable quality and price. Take your pick or ask a local.
There is a good selection of cheap accommodation in Belaga.
- B&B Worldwide Exploration, No. 4 Belaga Bazaar 96900 Belaga. RM18.
- Hotel Belaga, 14 Main Bazaar, ☏ . One of the more popular places with backpackers, although not the best value for money. RM30-50.
- Hotel Sing Soon Huat, 26-27 New Bazaar, ☏ . A cheaper, better alternative to Hotel Belaga. Behind the main bazaar so it's also a little quieter. Ask for the rooms on the second floor, as they are nicer. RM20-RM35.
- Daniel's corner (Two blocks behind Main street), ☏ , ✉ email@example.com. Daniel Levoh is a local Kayan old man who can help you arrange a 4x4 pickup from Bindulu or the Bakun intersection to Belaga and offers nice accommodations. He also provides treks and longhouse tours. Daniel can be a bit of stingy about money so make sure you bargain for your tour and just pay 20RM for the dorm. RM20dorm-RM40private.
- There is a small internet cafe inside the Malaysian Airlines office, although the prices are expensive and the internet connection a terrible snail paced dial-up.