Searching for adventure in Sarawak’s great outdoors

Enjoying the scenic coastline during a hike along the Santubong Peninsula.

By Wilfred Pilo
All photos courtesy of Ian Vong

KUCHING, Sept 22: Would you dare to venture into the great, unexplored expanse of the wild and make it your weekend playground?

Would you push your body and mind to their limits, just to reach the peak of a hill or mountain, to fill your lungs with fresh air, and see a breathtaking vista that only a few, or even no one, has seen before?


What about trekking for hours off the beaten trek into pristine jungle, in search of a beautiful creek or a natural waterfall that no one has ever seen or even set foot in?

Such adventures are not for the fainthearted and are something most of us would find hard to imagine, let alone live them. But Ian Vong is among the rare and few who have and actively seeks them out.

Vong, an interior designer by profession, loves nature, and his weekends are mostly taken up by hiking and trekking with a few friends through Sarawak’s unique rainforests and terrain around Kuching District.

A gap in limestone hills form a gigantic passageway in the jungle for hikers to pass through.
Vong ( top left) taking a rest while hiking in the jungle. Seen with him is his eldest son, Ethan (centre) and his youngest son, Aiden (bottom right).

He told this writer when met recently, that he could not wait to return to nature and hopefully the current Covid-19 movement restrictions will be soon lifted or eased to allow him to.

“I remember my first hike as a teenager was at Mount Santubong during a secondary school weekend nature retreat.

“Back then, it was tough, as we had no proper lightweight camping gear, and we brought so much food.

“That experiences left me with a deep impression and unforgettable memories of the mountain,” he recalled.

Vong enjoys jungle hiking because he has the opportunity to visit unique places such as this picturesque waterfall in Lundu District.

In 2016 after 27 years of absence, Vong, then aged 42, took up hiking again and once again had Mount Santubong in his sights.

“After a few hikes all over Mount Santubong that year, I realised the mountain is not just one summit but is part of a mountain range.

According to Vong, his curiosity about the mountain range ignited his interest in hiking Mount Santubong in its totality.

“Before the hike, I started to learn about Mount Santubong’s topography. I then set a goal to explore the whole range,” he revealed

From August 2017 until March 2018, he and a few friends explored all the summits, the mountain range and the coastal area.

“The final part was to accomplish the Santubong 7 Summits Challenge. The challenge aimed to support a Malaysian Nature Society event in October 2018,” he revealed.

Vong said that he and his team managed to complete the challenge in 36 hours. The challenge saw them trekking around 33km from Santubong summit 1 to 7, then to the tip of the Santubong Peninsula to the Tanjung Sipang Lighthouse.

Mount Santubong has not only become his weekend playground but fueled his interest in exploring other areas and jungles around Kuching.

“While I was hiking and trekking Mount Santubong, it certainly had become a place where I learned a lot about exploring the jungle,” he said.

Since 2017, Vong has been hiking jungle areas mainly within Kuching District, but also some outside like Santubong, Lundu, Padawan, Bau, Tebedu, Serian.

Expressing his appreciation for the beauty of the jungle, Vong observed that different elevations have different vegetation and animal life.

“I have trekked through primary and secondary jungles, with most of the primary jungles amazingly in pristine condition.

“Primary jungles are relatively unaffected by human activities. The secondary jungle has been disturbed in some way, naturally or unnaturally created in several ways, from degraded forest recovering from selective logging to areas cleared by slash-and-burn agriculture.

“Each area has its uniqueness. It motivates me to continue exploring more of these unknown places,” he shared.

Steep rocky terrain are among some of the challenges Vong encounters during his hikes.

In terms of safety while in nature, Vong said he is only wary of snakes as it is unpredictable to know when they will strike.

“Snakes only bite when you are in their territory, and if you understand their behaviour, then they are not scary. Most of the snakes flee before you reach them unless when the female is guarding her eggs.”

Vong advised that when trapped or stranded, the person must not panic but be patient and wait awhile.

He also said that before trekking, he reads maps and studyies the location to look for an area to explore.

“I always travel light for my day trip exploration so I can move faster. My essentials are a headlamp, first aid kit, GPS (global positioning system), food and drink,” he said.

Vong advised those new to hiking to find a hiking group and follow a responsible and experienced hike leader.

“I will not encourage the beginner to go explore (on their own). The jungle is full of surprises and you don’t know what to expect. Go to places that have an easy trail to understand your limit,” he said.

Vong still considers Mount Santubong to be the best trekking experience he has had so far.

“Probably because it was the first mountain that I have explored the most, ” he shared. — DayakDaily