Malaysia is blessed with lush greenery and beautiful tropical landscapes that mesmerise the eyes and the soul. With the abundance of flora and fauna, it comes as no surprise that Malaysians would travel beyond the country’s concrete jungles and urban skylines to search for a place that evokes a sense of belonging.
For Bethany Luhong Balan, a Kayan multimedia designer and visual artist who currently resides in Kuching, that special place is Bakun Dam, Sarawak.
“My most recent trip to Bakun Dam was in December last year,” she says. “My father was still in the middle of building his small lodge or homestay, and we spent a weekend there to see the progress.”
“Once you enter the Sungai Asap area, it’s about an hour’s drive to the Bakun Dam jetty, and then about 20–30 minutes by boat to my family’s lodge. The dam reservoir itself is huge, almost the same surface area as Singapore. Our lodge (The Bayoh Lodge) is built right up against the shoreline, at the edge of where the reservoir ends. My father decided to name our lodge after the Bayoh tree, which grows all around us,” explains Bethany.
The Bayoh Lodge has three separate units, each with a sleeping area that can fit 4–5 people, an attached kitchenette and bathroom, and a shared verandah. Her father and uncle lined the verandah with long benches made from planks and tree trunks. Bethany spent her time there with her family, soaking in the scenery, drinking coffee, and enjoying each other’s company.
“We’re still adding more amenities and creature comforts — perhaps a deck or common area for activities. The goal is to eventually open it up once it’s safe to travel again for company retreats or family vacations. It’s very rustic and isolated. There’s no Internet or even phone signal, so we were basically cut off from the human world.”
“We were right in the middle of the animal kingdom, though. There are waterfalls and streams nearby with a lot of freshwater fish. We saw monkeys in the trees on the shoreline, birds and butterflies, and there was even a family of otters that visited our lodge as if they were curious about what we were doing there.”
Over 20 years ago, Bethany’s family moved from Bakun Dam to a different location in Sungai Asap, where the differences were quite stark. When it comes to basic amenities, her family didn’t have electricity in Bakun. They had to use oil lamps at night and bathed in the river or out on the back verandah, using rainwater collected in huge basins.
Living in longhouses means that you’re blessed with the wonders of the river. “Longhouses are always built near a river, because in the past, rivers were a source of water, food, and communication. They were our roads, basically. The river we relocated to is smaller and farther away than the one near our old longhouse. Everything feels smaller and tamer somehow, but maybe that’s just because I’m an adult now, not a 7-year-old child.”
Despite the lack of amenities, Bethany admits that her stay at Bakun was refreshing, a restful getaway from the hustle and bustle of city life. Bethany and her family would catch fish and prepare them for dinner, visit waterfalls and just enjoy everything nature could offer. In Bethany’s own words, she was experiencing how her ancestors lived: “If they were hungry, they caught their own food. If they were bored, they told stories.”
It is no wonder that a story like Bethany’s garnered so much attention on her Twitter post. With many of us now yearning for a change of scenery and the chance to simply unplug from our daily routine, a glimpse into Bethany’s story allows us to close our eyes and experience the beauty that Bakun Dam has to offer.
Drop an email to firstname.lastname@example.org to experience Bethany’s journey yourself! And if you’re looking for the next place to escape, check out the list of accommodation for your next trip under Yellow Pages Travel & Leisure section.
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