Long San: A tale of breathtaking waterfalls, inviting homestays, and the mythical ‘mawas’

Linda posing for a photo in the living room of Jevinda Village Stay.

By Marlynda Meraw & Ling Hui

DEEP in the interior of Baram, in the quiet village of Long San resides 39-year-old Linda Paul, a compassionate and soft-spoken Kayan businesswoman who doesn’t look her age. But behind her gentle demeanour is an intelligent, entrepreneurial, and visionary businesswoman.

She doesn’t sell handmade jewellery, layered cakes, scented candles, or skincare products. Instead, she sells waterfalls. Yes, waterfalls. Or more accurately, waterfall experiences. From mystical single-drop cascades to rare triple waterfalls, you name it, she has it.

Now, you may wonder, how does one sell a waterfall experience?

Similar to selling any other product, she hunts down waterfalls (product development), curates attractive packages including food, accommodation, transport, and guides to waterfalls (branding and packaging), creates regular product posts on social media (marketing and promotion), and demonstrates professional customer service pre- and post-sales (customer service).

How many waterfalls are there in Ulu Baram for her to sell? According to her, there are to-date 14 discovered waterfalls in the vicinity of Long San, and so far, only two of them, namely the Three Sisters Waterfall and U’ong Bilong, are open to the public.

The Three Sisters Waterfall, as its name implies, comprises three beautiful falls while U’ong Bilong is shaped like a giant cross. Among the others, there is one that resembles a python’s head and another like stairs.

As Linda described some of the waterfalls with peculiar appearances, she specifically mentioned one which she had decided to name ‘Garden of Eden’ due to its unique placement within a crater-like area.

“We hope to open that waterfall (to the public) in one or two years. It’s not as nice as Three Sisters Waterfall, and it has a single fall, but the surrounding is like a crater. The entrance (to the crater-like area) is small, and once you enter, the area is like a garden.

“It is, however, difficult to get there. The trek is very hardcore. Even our guides get dizzy and acrophobic on the way there, getting cold sweat. For now, we haven’t found any good path leading there as the trails are all too steep,” she elaborated.

Looking back, these amazing waterfalls including the most popular Three Sisters Waterfall today were once “just waterfalls” to rural dwellers like Linda. She recalled her first trek with her cousin to Three Sisters Waterfall, which had murky water back then due to logging activities nearby, as merely a pastime during the Covid-19 lockdown because travelling was limited.

Thinking outside the box, she did what no one else had ever done before despite the pristine waterfall having existed there for ages. She gave the unique waterfall a name, came up with a travel package, and shared it widely on social media. Sure enough, she started receiving inquiries from nature enthusiasts throughout Sarawak.

From there, she refined her packages based on customer demands, and soon, she was making strides as an entrepreneur, all because she was driven by one, and only one goal—for Long San and Ulu Baram to make their name known not only in Sarawak and Malaysia but also around the world.

“My mission is that I want people to get to know Long San and Ulu Baram. All this time, tourists who come to Sarawak have never heard of Long San or even Ulu Baram. They mostly visit other places. That’s why I want to promote this area,” said Linda.

“Today, Long San is a little well-known in Miri, Kuching, and even Kuala Lumpur. People are slowly getting to know Long San, so I feel like I’m closer to my dream. At first, I only wanted it to be popular in Sarawak, then all over Malaysia. Now, I want it to be well known worldwide, though I know it will require a lot more work.”

Her dedication and passion have turned her into a local hero of Long San. She had given up the comforts of city life and returned to promote her hometown after relinquishing her career in sales and public relations (PR) at a big hotel in Miri.

Putting her experience to good use, she now runs Jevinda Village Stay—a rustic homestay and a haven where travellers can find solace in the embrace of nature’s beauty. With her homestay-waterfall product bundles, she positions the village as a must-visit destination for travellers seeking natural wonders and simultaneously contributing to Long San’s economic growth and cultural enrichment.

Managing a homestay alone may seem like a daunting task for any individual; however, Linda finds comfort in the fact that she has her mother, Maria Sara, with her in this endeavour and whose presence alleviates the challenges and enriches their journey in offering hospitality in Long San.

Jevinda Village Stay seen from a distance

Jack of all trades, Sylvester Bilong 

Behind every successful woman stands a supportive partner, and for Linda, that pillar of strength is her 36-year-old husband, Sylvester Bilong, a Kayan-Kenyah from Long Sela’an whom she first met eight years ago.

Much like Mr Darcy to Elizabeth Bennet in Jane Austen’s “Pride and Prejudice”, Sylvester, a strong, reserved, and capable gentleman, devotes himself to supporting and complementing Linda’s business endeavors and character.

While Linda serves as the brain and backbone of their business, Sylvester plays the crucial role of the limbs and muscles. His strong physique and extensive knowledge across diverse subjects have been invaluable in developing their waterfall products.

Before opening a waterfall to public access, he will first meticulously scout out and design the optimal path, ensuring both accessibility and an enriching experience for visitors, all the while balancing the appropriate level of challenge. In his quest to understand the secrets of those pristine waterfalls, he fearlessly plunges into their depths to examine the underwater landscape and assess its safety for visitors.

Despite his considerable diving skills, he admitted he was defeated when confronted with the daunting depths of the Three Sisters Waterfall. He could never reach the bottom even after employing several strategies over multiple attempts. Each dive exhausted his oxygen-starved lungs, compelling him to resurface time and again.

Sylvester telling us about the jungle’s flora and fauna during our hike to the waterfalls.

Sylvester is a humble man, although he is also known as the trustworthy ‘custodian’ of the untamed and enchanting waterfalls of Long San. Whenever he leads visitors to any of them, he adheres to the tradition of respectfully acknowledging the waterfall or its guardians before he quietly recedes into the background, allowing visitors to enjoy their private time.

“I’m not really a superstitious man, but every time I bring tourists to the waterfalls, I will stop by the waterfall first before letting the visitors have their fun.

“In my heart, I will kind of inform or tell the waterfall: ‘I’ve brought some visitors. You’re very beautiful, and that’s why people have come to see you. They’re only here to admire you.’,” he told DayakDaily.

Together, Linda and Sylvester make a power couple.

Unified in their vision to propel Long San into the spotlight and gain it national and global recognition, they embody humility, kindness, and professionalism. Their genuine warmth is reflected in their hospitality, and when paired with their skilled competency, every guest’s experience is nothing short of exceptional.

Despite their accomplishments and the recognition they have garnered so far, the two remained firmly rooted in their values, treating each interaction with humility and genuine care.

Linda (right) and Sylvester of Jevinda Village Stay, Long San.

Demanding but satisfying: Two waterfalls along one trail

Before we started our early morning hike to the waterfalls, Sylvester had suggested a shorter route which only led to Three Sisters through private farmland, which we declined as we were there to experience both waterfalls.

Our journey began with a seemingly innocent trail with a slight incline from where the 4WD was parked. The lush forest greeted us and the air was still heavy and fresh with the morning mist. The initial hike began easily enough as we walked along while enjoying the forest’s tranquility.

However, as we went deeper into the jungle, the terrain grew increasingly difficult. The once even trail transformed into a challenging path, and our muscles began to ache, begging us to stop with every ascending step. Still we pressed on, mustering as much strength we could to push through the fatigue as we were reluctant to keep our companions waiting.

During our hike, we were introduced to a variety of plants, with one standing out—the ‘akar lati’ (Merremia vitifolia), which Sylvester explained could be used as eye drops to relieve ocular discomfort. In the Kenyah language, ‘akar lati’ means earthworm’s vine.

‘Akar lati’ plant found in the wild during our hike (left); Our fellow DayakDaily team member demonstrating the use of the plant (right)

We were also introduced to the ‘mata kerbau’ (cow’s eye) fungus, scientifically known as Calostoma insigne. According to Sylvester, the fungus is mainly used to as a source of hydration for thirsty travellers should they run out of water.

Reluctantly, we sampled the fungus, noting its glutinous texture as well as its resemblance to rambutan flesh as Sylvester told us that its small stalk can be used to gelatinise other foods.

The ‘mata kerbau’ fungus we found during our return hike.

Sylvester’s expertise facilitated our smooth jungle navigation, demonstrating his versatility and proficiency across a wide range of skills, and marking him as a true jack of all trades capable of tackling various tasks with ease.

We progressed with our waterfall destination in mind, each step bringing us deeper to the wild jungle. Finally, the sound of rushing waters offered a reprieve, a comforting melody that told us we were drawing nearer to our goal. With every step closer, the roar of the waterfall—the sound of salvation to our tired bodies—grew louder.

As we reached the edge of the clearing, there the Three Sisters Waterfall stood in all its majestic glory—the roaring water, a beacon of hope after the tiring hike through the rugged terrain. We couldn’t help but feel a surge of excitement coursing through our veins as we beheld the magnificent sight before us.

What seemed to be an eternity of endured exhaustion just to get there disappeared instantly, washed away by the awe-inspiring sight of nature’s majesty. All the hardships of the journey—the sore muscles, the weary limbs—it was all worth it for this glorious view.

Without hesitation, we eagerly waded into the cooling waters, relishing the sensation as they enveloped our tired bodies. The icy embrace was like a balm to our weary muscles, revitalising us with each passing moment. For a brief instant, all the exhaustion and hardship of the journey melted away, replaced by a sense of pure bliss and contentment.

When asked about the inspiration behind its name, Linda explained that Three Sisters Waterfall earned its moniker due to the presence of three distinct cascades, aligning with the customary personification of natural elements with feminine attributes, hence the term “sisters”.

“When we talk about the environment, we would say things like ‘Mother Nature’, and that is feminine. That’s why I decided to name it (waterfall) as Three Sisters.

When it came to the inspiration behind the name for U’ong Bilong, Sylvester made a wordplay by saying that the waterfall ‘belong’ to his wife, a statement that elicited laughter out of us. Though in truth, it was inspired after his family’s name, Bilong, whereas in the Kenyah language, ‘u’ong’ means waterfall.

The breathtaking sight of the cross-shaped U’ong Bilong

The round-trip journey lasted about five-and-a-half hours, with the hike to U’ong Bilong and Three Sisters waterfall taking two hours, and an equal duration spent on the return journey, with the remainder of time spent appreciating the unrivalled beauty of our natural surroundings.

Traversing the thick jungle of Long San proved to be an immersive experience, with its lush greenery and comforting sounds of fauna. Despite the demanding trail, the refreshing river hike offered great relief and provided us with renewed energy, imbuing us with determination to press onward.

The impressive sight of the waterfalls awaited at the end, each boasting their unique natural beauty which left us speechless before their grandeur. As we drew closer, a tingling breeze gently kissed our cheeks as its mists enveloped us in its cooling embrace.

The majestic sight of Three Sisters waterfall in the verdant jungle of Long San

Sylvester even showed us great spots to take photos, a boon for those enamoured with capturing exquisite images during their travels.

We savoured our lunch by the tranquil Three Sisters waterfall, where the soothing sound of its falling waters provided a serene backdrop to our mealtime.

Each dish, thoughtfully prepared by Linda, was neatly packed in individual containers, allowing us to indulge in the flavours amidst the melodious harmony of nature’s symphony.

A lovely packed meal prepared by Linda for lunch at the Three Sisters waterfall.

We were fortunate to witness these remarkable waterfalls firsthand, and despite the challenging treks required to reach them, the sheer beauty and majesty of the destination made every step of the journey worthwhile, offering a sweet respite before we once again return to the bustling city of Kuching.

Homely, cosy Jevinda Village Stay 

Surrounded by the serene ambience of the idyllic village of Long San is the homely Jevinda Village Stay. Linda took over operating it after inheriting the place from her father, Temenggung Paul Kalang.

During her father’s time, it was a government transit point used to house visiting officials before it was passed on to Linda who converted it into a homestay in 2018.

Jevinda Village Stay is a charming retreat with its name an amalgamation of the names of Linda and her siblings—Jessica, Kevin, and Linda—a name embodying a warm and welcoming sanctuary for visitors.

According to Linda and Sylvester, the homestay can house up to 20 people, and guests are provided a free flow of water, tea, and coffee while canned drinks will incur extra charges.

The homestay has an exceptionally spacious living room, a perfect place for gatherings. Everything has its own place and the walls are decorated with photos of family as well as a few ‘saung’, the Kenyah traditional sunhat.

Upstairs is a welcoming and comfortable bedroom furnished with essential amenities including a table for belongings, while towels and cosy blankets are provided.

The homestay’s bathroom is clean and stocked with toiletries like shower gel and dental floss.

Throughout our stay at Jevinda Village Stay, we were treated to a variety of delicious meals crafted from fresh jungle bounty. Each dish was bursting with rich flavours, providing us with a delightful gastronomic experience that highlights the vibrant taste of local produce and cuisine.

Linda and her mother prepared us a diverse array of mouthwatering and satisfying dishes. One morning, we indulged in hearty noodles and banana fritters. The next morning, we enjoyed lovely warm porridge to go with the fritters.

Dinner can only be described as a treat for our taste buds as we feasted on to an equally varied selection of jungle produce, including fresh fish soup, ferns, chicken soup cooked with eggplant and ginger, and fried fish during our two-night stay there.

To make a booking at Jevinda Village Stay, contact Linda at +6 016-446 1686.

The spacious living room with sofa seating and television set.
A bedroom at the homestay which comes with comfy blankets and towels for use.
Clean bathroom equipped with essential toiletries
The delectable meals Linda and her mother prepared for us during our stay at Jevinda Village Stay

Nerve-wracking encounter with Bigfoot and dramatic mother croc’s revenge

A tale frequently shared by locals in Long San is of ‘mawas’, a local version of Bigfoot.

According to a 67-year-old elder whom Linda and Sylvester amicably address as “Uncle Peter”, he encountered the creature near Long Akah where he and his friends had gone on different routes to hunt for wild boars.

“At first, I heard monkeys screaming, so I instantly went to the source of the sound because sometimes the monkeys would fight the boars. Then I heard branches snapping. The trees above me shook and I saw the creature with its red-furred back, prying heads off the smaller monkeys,” he said, making a motion of shaking trees.

He admitted to being too scared to move, waiting until the ‘mawas’ was completely distracted before making his escape to safety. That was his first and so far, only encounter with the horrifying creature.

Hearing the narrative, we couldn’t help but debate whether the ‘mawas’ described could have been an orangutan due to its red fur, but we had our doubts as the ‘mawas’ appeared to be far more aggressive.

Another point in favour of the ‘mawas’ being a different creature is that Uncle Peter described its prominent nose as akin to that of a Proboscis monkey. Uncertainty lingered as we were left to wonder about the truth behind the ferocious animal and what species it belonged to.

Uncle Peter regaling DayakDaily with stories of his experiences in Ulu Baram.

Another story shared by Uncle Peter revolved around the local belief that consuming crocodile meat would alert its kin, prompting them to seek vengeance against individuals who partook in the meal.

“I caught a small crocodile with six other villagers once and gathered with them later that evening. They served all sorts of things, until I was handed this dish they claimed as ‘buntut ayam’ (chicken tail).

“I ate it, of course. Only after the villagers laughed did I realise it was the crocodile we caught earlier,” he said while shaking his head derisively at the memory.

A few days later as he was on his way to his ‘terung asam’ (Dayak brinjal) garden located by the Akah River, he saw a humongous crocodile resting nearby.

“I was terrified! What if it was the mother of the small crocodile that I ate and she had come to seek revenge? I couldn’t take any chances, so I avoided going to the river for a week,” he exclaimed, evident fear echoing in his voice as he recounted the story.

We were enthralled by the stories Uncle Peter had to share, but alas, we had to call an end to the night as the day’s exertions to reach Three Sisters Waterfall and U’ong Bilong had taken its toll on our exhausted bodies.

As we bid farewell to Long San, our hearts brimmed with gratitude for the unforgettable experiences it had bestowed upon us. This captivating destination had proven itself as a sanctuary for those yearning to escape the bustling city life, offering moments of tranquility amidst nature’s embrace. It also serves as a haven for thrill-seekers, with its stamina-testing trails leading to spectacularly grand waterfalls.

Long San is home to an array of diverse experiences, catering to the desire of every traveller imaginable, and as we journeyed onward, we carried with us cherished memories of this enchanting place, eager to return someday for more adventures and discoveries. So long, Long San. Until then. – DayakDaily