Monday, July 23, 2012

Rainforest World Music Festival - Best Annual Events Malaysia

 Indonesia's Rafli Wa SAJA to headline Rainforest Music Festival 2013

The region's best festival of world music is held for three days every June or July in the Malaysian Borneo state of Sarawak.  Directions, location, costs, hotels.

The annual outdoor Rainforest World Music Festival, held near Kuching, next runs from June 20-22, 2014. So far, no further details of the 2014 festival, stay tuned.

Among 2012's year's leading performers were the percussion band Gema SLDN-SCV  and sape player Maya Green  from Sarawak, Australian aboriginal singers and dancers Nunukul Yuggera, Korean dancers Palsandae and  Indonesia's Rafli Wa SAJA  ensemble ( Rafli, or Rafly, is the singer above)

You can see the full 2012 schedule and download a program here.  The headliners perform at night but there are also workshops during the day. These tend to be more interactive and include both the main acts  and some local musicians. Workshops this year will present stories and songs of Borneo's Bidayuh people, Jamaican singers, Malay gamelan players, Bandari dance and song from southern Iran, Korean folk songs, and a Chinese chamber ensemble.

Borneo World Music Expo Trade Show

Immediately preceding the 2012 Rainforest Music Festival, from June 24-26, was the inaugural Borneo World Music Expo.  It appears to be a match-making forum for regional musicians and a wider spectrum of bookers and programmers. Day-time trade fair events are only open to registered professionals. But evening showcases on June 24, 25 and 26--featuring musicians from Aceh, Sarawak, West Malaysia, Indonesia and India--are open to the public for the ticket price of 30 ringgit.Some of these musicians will later perform at the festival. The site says you need to register for performances on the last two days but it's not clear how you can do this.

The expo takes place in the Sarawak capital Kuching, a good 50 kilometers or so from the outdoor festival site (see directions below). If you're planning to attend the festival, it's likely you will be staying in Kuching.

Dancer at Sarawak's World Music Festival

Sarawak dancer at RWMF

Sarawak Cultural Village Location

The rural festival setting, less than an hour from Sarawak's capital city, Kuching, is not too promising. Sarawak Cultural Village is the the kind of government creation for mass tourists that I'd usually take pains to avoid, even if the normal admission weren't equivalent to US$25. (It's a around $3 for Sarawak natives and long-term residents in the state.)   

The village is billed as "a living museum" with daily dance performances. Owned by the Sarawak Economic Development Corporation, the village "depicts the heritage of the major racial groups in Sarawak and conveniently portrays their respective lifestyle amidst 14 acres of tropical vegetation." The site itself is pretty and scenic, squeezed between the ocean and Mt Santubong. 

Yuck, right. I prefer the wildlife sanctuary or Baku National Forest. There's also an annual World Harvest Festival in May where the Iron Man competition might be the biggest attraction for foreigners. But the Rainforest Music Festival is something that the region's musicians and music-lovers plan their year around.

Kuching Music Festival Ticket Prices 

An adult day ticket to the music festival costs 120 ringgit (about US $35). The three-day ticket is a good value at 330 ringgit, but it must be booked ahead of time: You can't buy it in person at the festival. 
No seating, by the way.  Update: You can get a sense of the setting from these photos from the 2012 festival.

Sarawak's Bedok female drummers

Sarawak's Bedok drummers

You can book and pay for tickets online through either or You can also buy tickets directly at the Sarawak Tourism Board's office on the 5th floor of the Bangunan Yayasan Building in Kuching.  Another alternative is the Visitors Information Centres in Kuching, Sibu or Miri. Given my encounters with Malaysian government organizations, I wouldn't risk waiting to buy anything at government offices if I had time to book beforehand.

Where to Stay - Hotels in Damai and Kuching

The Google map linked to by the "location" address at the foot of this post isn't ideal since it doesn't show the Sarawak Cultural Village location. But the map does show the Damai Beach Resort which is walking distance to it and, of course, the beach. Room rates at the Damai Beach Resort and nearby Damai Puri Resort & Spa can run from $50 to $100 a night. Here is a map in sketch form of the village itself.

But probably most festival attendees stay in Kuching and take the shuttle bus from the city to the cultural village. Kuching, being the state capital, has many hotels, including a Hilton and a Pullman. But if you choose to stay in the city, you're probably looking for something cheaper but clean and central with an air-con option. Check out Abell Residence, Singgahsana Lodge, Beds Guesthouse in Chinatown, B & B Inn or Berambih Lodge. Some of these rooms cost less than $10. 

There is a Tune Hotel in Kuching, where a room runs around $17, cheaper if you book far in advance. Affiliated with AirAsia, Tune hotels are super-economy hotels where you pay extra for towels, toiletries, WiFi and air-con. You can do better than Tune in Kuching for less than $20 and without all the extra charges.

Event: Rainforest World Music Festival
Location:  Sarawak Cultural Village, Damai, Sarawak, a 35-km- or a 45-minute drive from Kuching
Usual dates: Three days in June or July 
2013 dates: June 28-30
Price: 120 ringgit per day, 330 ringgit for a three-day ticket
Transport: Frequent shuttle buses from Kuching City take less than one hour to reach the Village; Ticket cost is 8 ringgit one way/15 ringgit round-trip. There is a daily 10-hour bus from Pontianak in Kalimantan (Indonesian Borneo) to Kuching. 
Airlines: Budget airline AirAsia flies between Kuala Lumpur and Kuching. Also check out full-fledged airline Malaysia Airlines, which sometimes offers better deals than AirAsia.Tiny MASwings directly connects Kuching with Miri, Sibu and Mukah elsewhere in Sarawak. 
Nearest hotels: Damai Beach Resort and Dami Puri Resort & Spa. Both are walking distance to the festival and village.

All Airlines Flying to/from Myanmar (Burma) - International Routes

All Airlines Flying to/from Myanmar (Burma) - International Routes

Here are the 25 airlines that fly to Myanmar (Burma) and their air routes. These airlines fly directly on  regularly scheduled flig...