Sarawak's Rainforest World Music Festival a cultural treat
The Rainforest World Music Festival, held in Sarawak, brings in 20,000 participants from all around the world
When I first heard about the Rainforest World Music Festival (RWMF), an annual cultural music festival organised by the Sarawak Tourism Board and held last week, I expected it to be a snoozefest.
But this was not your typical music festival, and had a special vibe of its own.
With tie-dye shirts galore, traditional hand-tapping tattoos and dreadlock braiding services at the three-day event in the Malaysian state, one might even think of it as some kind of a Woodstock revival.
The RWMF has come a long way, from 300 participants in 1998 to 20,000 this year.
From July 13 to 15, it featured acts from all across the globe. There were performers from countries ranging from Korea to Guinea, as well as local Malaysian musicians.
It is held at the Sarawak Cultural Village, a 45-minute drive from the capital city of Kuching (a 90-minute flight from Singapore on Malaysian low-cost airline AirAsia), and just a stone's throw from Damai Beach.
It has become a calendar event for not just the locals, but festival-goers from around the world and from different walks of life.
I was surprised to see multi-generational Korean families and flocks of Australian teenagers with glitter spread across their cheeks.
But as I explored the premises, I soon realised that there is no fixed target demographic.
Some of RWMF's on-stage acts, like Warato'o, a bamboo orchestra from the Solomon Islands, gave off an upbeat reggae feel that got everyone on their feet and dancing along.
Grace Nono, who specialises in Philippine prayer chants, gave a memorable performance, while the Orang Ulu Warrior dance was spellbinding, with dancers decked out in tribal outfits and armed with spears and beautifully engraved shields.
But for me, the fringe activities were the real highlights.
There were relaxing hour-long yoga sessions, dance workshops for learning different traditional dances and a food bazaar where you could eat to your heart's content.
It was hard to keep up with what to do at RWMF, with so many activities happening simultaneously.
I spent most of my time exploring the craft bazaar, boasting a variety of affordable handmade accessories and basket bags.
Sarawak's Minister of Tourism, Arts, Culture, Youth and Sports Abdul Karim Rahman Hamzah said in a statement: "The festival has brought in visitors from around the globe to our beautiful land of Sarawak, with many choosing to take a few extra days to stay back after enjoying the festival and explore the cultural adventure and natural attractions the rest of Sarawak has to offer.
"Many destinations in the State await exploring, its amazing wonders ready to be experienced."
One of the main tourist attractions, the Kuching Waterfront, which is along the city area, offers views of many historical sites like the Astana and Fort Margherita.
The waterfront really comes alive after 5pm, with eateries and one-ringgit sampan rides.
Just opposite it is the Main Bazaar, which may come across as something you'd pass by at first, with stores selling dusty antiques and touristy souvenirs, but in reality, it is a hipster's paradise.
Besides basic home appliances, you can find vintage items such as film cameras, turntables and typewriters.
Nestled in the colourful alleyways are cafes serving Instagram-worthy cakes and coffee, at prices that won't cause too much damage to your wallet.
I was interested in tasting some local flavours, and followed a recommendation to the Mira Cake House, which offered a variety of freshly-baked kueh lapis and other cakes.
With AirAsia flying from Singapore to Kuching 16 times a week (from $51, one-way), Sarawak proved to be a quaint state full of surprises and hidden gems, well worth a visit for those seeking a short getaway.