Our crazy Bilit homestay adventure
Bilit village, Kinabatangan, Sabah is a tiny village located along the Kinabatangan river. The villagers make their living from fishing and the homestay community program. More than 10 families participate, all certified by the Ministry of Tourism in Malaysia. As with all homestays, the idea is to offer a unique live-in experience for visitors to stay with the local host families in their homes, enjoying home-cooked meals and getting to know the local way of living. Given the convenient setting along the river, it’s the ideal location for getting on a boat cruise, enjoying not only the wonderful river scenery but also a lot of animals.
Our homestay accommodation
Our great guide Joe (Zahari Zainal) arranged for a stay with the village chief. The house is simple, but big enough. The shower and toilet are combined into one small room. No beds, just mattresses on the floor. But a big-ass TV! And – as always – great food!
As the families are Muslim, you need to adapt to their “rules”, of course. So for the ladies the shoulders and knees need to be covered. As Borneo is hot and humid, that’s not always the easiest task, but it’s only for 2 nights, so more than do-able. And food is eaten sitting down on the floor. Before getting to it, wash your right hand with the water can at the “table” and use it as a spoon. You can always ask for a fork, but that takes part of the experience away. It’s not that hard, really.
We had the best of fun at the homestay with our friends Caro & Peter. On the first evening we of course wanted to help with the dishes. After only a few minutes, the tap broke and water was squirting all over the place. We didn’t know how to stop it. Asking for help, but everyone seemed to be turning the other way. Until one of the chief’s sons came in, took a rubber tire thing and turned it around the tap. Tadaaam… Not the first time this happened, apparently. Then later that evening Caro wanted to dry her hair with a hair dryer – which was ok for the family, she explicitly asked – and the power got lost. We thought we had broken the TV that was plugged into the same power point… But then we got it fixed somehow – thank God! Before breaking anything else, we decided to go to bed as we had an early boat cruise to get ready for the next morning.
Cruising down the Kinabatangan river
We just loved the boat cruises! Joe knew we wanted to see as much wildlife as we could, so he altered the program to get more cruises in. And with a great turnout! We saw everything we wanted. On our first afternoon cruise, when arriving from Deramakot, we started with Proboscis monkey – a lot of them! You never get tired of watching them. Then we went on further, as Joe had heard that a Pygmy elephant group was making his way down the river. And yes – Emee (Joe’s wife), spotted the first Pygmy elephant crawling out of the water. Yeeeh! But that wasn’t it for that afternoon. Suddenly, Joe saw a group of Pygmy elephants getting out of the water somewhat further. So many of them… with little ones. Goosebumps! They’re so cute…
But we continued the next morning with… orangutan! A big male at the top of the tree. Difficult to get a good view – they know how to hide – but we were able to get a good shot, after a while. Great animal. What else did we see? Some more proboscis monkey, a big group of long-tailed macaques (including some very young ones), stork-billed kingfisher, purple heron, rhinoceros hornbill, oriental pied hornbill and wrinkled hornbill and monitor lizard.
Other adventures at the village
On our second night of the homestay we were invited to a Mother’s Day party at the village. We accompanied Joe and Emee. Emee’s originally from this village, so we met her brother and some other relatives. It really was an honour to experience this event. There was karaoke, great BBQ and sweet pies. Wonderful experience…
Next to the boat cruise, we also took a hike to the highest point of the village where you got a nice view on the surroundings and a clear distinction between the original rain forest and the plantation. Heavy – sweat was dripping down our faces after the first 10 steps – but rewarding.
So, another great adventure on our way down Borneo. Thanks again Joe for making this happen!