A relaxing beachside retreat is what’s on offer at Damai Beach, one of Sarawak’s more appealing seaside locales. Join David Bowden as he enjoys not only the sand and sea, but the activities, the rich village cultures, and those mesmerizing evening sunsets, as well.
While Sarawak may not be especially well-known for its beaches, they do exist. The variable quality of some of the beaches has a lot to do with the rivers flowing from the Sarawak interior and the somewhat muddy sediments carried down by them. One of the best and most accessible, though, is Damai Beach, less than an hour’s drive from the state capital of Kuching.
The Damai beachfront – including the Damai Beach Resort, the living museum that is the Sarawak Cultural Village, and the Damai Golf and Country Club – is situated at the base of the 810m-high Mount Santubong. All these features provide the essential ingredients necessary for adding a few extra days onto that journey of adventure through the wilds of Sarawakian Borneo.
Damai appeals to me as a total package that includes a reasonably decent beach, fresh sea breezes, vistas across the South China Sea, and often lovely sunsets. While most will find that the swimming pool at the Damai Beach Resort is a better option than a dip in the sea, a walk along the sand and a cool drink under the swaying casaurina trees is a more than pleasant way to while away a few hours.
Sarawak Cultural Village showcases seven of the 30 or so ethnic groups that live in Sarawak in a 15-acre lakeside setting surrounded by rain forests. The village is a fascinating location and not a typical cultural attraction in that visitors can get some idea of how various communities – such as the Penan, Bidayuh, Iban, Orang Ulu, Melanau, Malay, and Chinese who call Sarawak home – live. I suspect older children would love this place, as there are lots of hands-on activities and new things to see and experience. Visitors can see various activities and events such as villagers making intricate bead work jewellery, woodcarving (there is a huge carved wooden totem pole, too), the weaving of the uniquely Bornean pua kumba cloth, and basket-making. Cooking displays and food items for sale are other attractions. For the younger kids, one incentive is the passport given to all guests which briefly outlines the various cultures with a space to collect a chop from each community. There are also two 45-minute cultural shows staged daily in the air-conditioned comfort of an auditorium, and the highlight for most people will probably be the blowpipe display and the various dance performances.
Where the Greens Meet the Sea
Damai Golf and Country Club is a picturesque and challenging 18-hole, par 72 course with a variety of holes ranging from those located close to the beach to those sited along mangrove-lined streams and up into the foothills of Mount Santubong. It has two distinctive ‘nines’ with the ‘Mountain Nine’ and the ‘Ocean Nine’ offering two different experiences. My two favourite holes are the 16th and 17th which skirt the South China Sea and are lined with casaurina trees which really whistle when a strong sea breeze is blowing. Sea breezes come into play on both these holes and golfers need to be on top of their game to successfully land close to the pin.
The course has been described by the golf course designer Arnold Palmer as “the finest test of golf with the most dramatic setting of all in Malaysia. This is a ‘must-play’ course for those who love golf.”
There are several resorts located along the beachfront including the Damai Beach Resort and The One Hotel Santubong Kuching Resort. I’ve stayed in both these resorts, and while I’ve had some maintenance issues with both, Damai Beach Resort is a pleasant retreat with a decent pool, spacious rooms, and nice food and beverages options.
The resort sprawls over several acres of landscaped gardens that extend well into the foothills some distance from the beach. These elevated longhouse rooms are more popular for their views, but the walk up the hill may be a challenging exercise for some.
Facilities include what you would expect in a beachside resort: pool, bar, coffeehouse, and watersports activities. Damai Central, offering additional food and beverage options, is just a short walk from the resort and the cultural village. Jungle treks can be organised to the summit of Mount Santubong (about six hours) or less rigorous walks for those who don’t want really demanding exercise (two hours to a waterfall). I haven’t done either walk, but am told that the summit walk can be quite strenuous especially near the summit where it gets steep and physically demanding. Happily, the resort is just a 10-minute walk from the Sarawak Cultural Village. The Village is also the home of the annual Rainforest World Music Festival, which has just been staged and is on again next year in August (www.rwmf.net). The festival is ranked by respected music magazine Songlines as one of the world’s leading world music events that attracts an eclectic bill of fine musicians.
There are several seafood restaurants in a nearby village (resort staff can direct you to Kampung Buntul, 8km back towards Kuching from the resort) and while it won’t win an award as Malaysia’s tidiest village, the seafood is delicious and fresh. It’s also possible to take a dolphin spotting trip on the Kuching River to possibly sight the Irrawaddy Dolphin or Snubfin Dolphin. I’m told that they do not breach the surface like some other dolphins, so the best that visitors will see is a dorsal fin or two. The river estuary around the Sarawak Boat Club and the departure point for the three-hour tour (ex hotel) is the habitat for these docile dolphins. Tourists are protected from the sun by a canopy on the boat and life jackets are provided. Informative guides provide a good insight to the dolphins, the river life of the local fishing community, and other forms of life along the river. Observant visitors can see birds, the occasional Monitor Lizard, snakes, monkeys and maybe even a crocodile along the remote and forested tributaries. The pioneer operator on the river is CPH Travel (www.cphtravel.com.my), although some smaller operators also
take visitors dolphin watching.
Damai Beach is just a short 35-km drive from Kuching and the airport. Kuching is the gateway for some wonderful adventures in the state, and the beachside area of Damai is always a pleasant place to rest anytime, but is especially appealing after the adventures of discovering the state’s wild attractions.
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Source: Senses of Malaysia September-October 2015