I’ve never attended a music festival, and never been to Kuching, Sarawak. So when I saw Rainforest World Music Festival happening on 14-16 July 2017 on my Facebook dash, it was an easy decision. Something different as a weekend activity – fly in on Saturday morning, fly back on Monday early early morning.
It was… amazing. Easily one of my top 10 experiences of the year. This guide is best read together with the Rainforest World Music Festival official website (RWMF for short) – I’m just covering this from the budgeting/personal experience angle, so you know what to expect when you plan to go there yourself next year. For complete show and event itineraries and other information, check the official website.
Rainforest World Music Festival overview
The dates change every year, but it’s always a three-day Friday/Saturday/Sunday event. There were a few budget components to this trip to take into consideration.
- Accommodation. Rainforest World Music Festival is held at Sarawak Cultural Village. That’s in Santubong, about 30 minutes by car from Kuching city. I tried to find places in Santubong, but even at 3 weeks in advance everything was fully booked. So now you know you have to book earlier than that to secure accommodation in Santubong itself during the event. If you can’t, no worries, just stay in Kuching city.
- Tickets. You can buy three-day pass (pre-sale price in 2017: RM343.20 per adult), or daily pass (pre-sale price in 2017: RM131.20 per adult). Tickets at the door are available too but cost 15% more. I decided to attend 1 day only, on Saturday 15th July. There were no two-day tickets.
- Transportation from Kuching to Sarawak Cultural Village. Three ways: 1) Drive there, park at the dedicated parking area at Sanctuary, then take the van for RM7 per way. I didn’t hire a car there so I don’t know parking costs. 2) Take the dedicated RWMF bus from Kuching. RM15 per way (adult), multiple pick-up/drop-off points available. 3) Take Grab or whichever ride-sharing partner they use that year. More on this under Day 1.
It was convenient to check accommodation, ticket prices+authorised sellers, transportation options as it was included in the RWMF official website. They list most of the information you’ll need.
Savings tip 1: I thought that AirAsia will *always* be the cheapest flight option, but it was not the case this time. After factoring in luggage, Malaysia Airlines was cheaper. It was a joy to fly MAS after a while 🙂
Savings tip 2: Unless your itinerary is not fixed, buy your tickets in advance. I saved myself RM20 by getting the pre-sale price.
Savings tip 3: Used Shopback (note: referral link) to book my accommodation in Kuching, got 6% cashback for it 🙂 I stayed at Ariva Gateway Kuching – pretty good value-for-money, central place that costs only ~RM145 per night.
Savings tip 4: The cheapest possible accommodation you can get during RWMF is camping at Sarawak Cultural Village itself. Bring own tent and it’s just RM42.40 per night for up to 2 pax (RM74.20 if you rent a tent; 2017 price). Then you’ll save the transportation headache and costs as well. Although… you do need to prepare in case it rains.
Day 1 – Arrival to Kuching, off to Rainforest World Music Festival
My itinerary of the day was simple. Fly into Kuching from KL International Airport in the morning, Uber/Grab to the hotel, leave unnecessary luggage, order Uber/Grab to Sarawak Cultural Village, and have fun at Rainforest World Music Festival until its time to leave. Everything was fine, except for transportation to/from there. Apparently transportation is a recurring problem during RWMF.
- Kuching to Sarawak Cultural Village. Ordered Uber to go to RWMF – at the time Uber’s price estimate was way cheaper than Grab. Didn’t think much of it but understood why later. Turns out that Rainforest World Music Festival had a partnership with Grab. All non-Grab cars were not allowed to go beyond a certain checkpoint. Because we took Uber , we were stopped from dropped off at Sarawak Cultural Village. Our only option is to take an additional van ride, which costs us another RM7 per pax (for 5-min ride!) -_-
- Sarawak Cultural Village to Kuching. Poor internet, could not even get a signal to order any ride-sharing. Only the bus option was available for us. We waited for more than 1 hour for the bus, and we got in the line early. Imagine, it took so long for the bus to come that when they finally did, the crowd cheered. Some of us (including myself) did not have raincoats and had to wait in the rain. Looking back, it was an experience but it was. not. fun. then.
- I think, one way or another, you *will* have transportation issues no matter what type of transportation you choose. The people who drove there had to park off-site and still depend and wait for the shuttle vans. There was a massive jam on the road back to Kuching. The 30-min bus ride took 1+ hour.
But hey, live and learn and move on. Plus the festival was worth all the effort 🙂 🙂 🙂 I’m going to break down what I personally experienced there.
Note: If you want to rent a car, you can use DiscoverCarHire (note: affiliate links). Checked the rates, it’s fairly affordable.
The music at Rainforest World Music Festival
Many types of world music throughout the day. I’m not even a music lover and I still had fun listening to a bunch of different stuff. My favourite was the Borneo experimental band At Adau (pictured) and the Tahiti group O Tahiti E. To be fair, those were the only night performances I managed to watch, because it
rained poured at around 8.30pm or so right until midnight. It was RAINforest Music Festival, indeed. We had to move from open-air to inside a nearby shelter and couldn’t see any more performances after that. Note to self: bring an umbrella and/or raincoat next time.
But I have to say, dancing in the rain is pretty fun. I got an almost-cold out of it, but I heard some people got sick. So listen to your body okaaay.
The food at Rainforest World Music Festival
Didn’t expect RWMF to also be a world FOOD festival, but it did! I had:
- Traditional Borneo chicken and mushroom dumpling
- Tapioca fritters
- Mee kolok (halal!) – my first time trying it, have never found a halal one until now!
- Sarawak laksa
- Egg oyster from the Chinese cultural society booth
- Matcha ice cream
- Gula anong ice cream – my view is, try palm sugar before the white people ‘discover’ it and push the price high, like what they did with quinoa and coconut water
- Coconut pancake
- And still there were so many other food options ranging from traditional Borneo tribal food to Korean food to meat pies. I saw traditional Borneo dishes which included a keli fish the size of my arm!
The activities at Rainforest World Music Festival
I’m a first-time visitor to Sarawak Cultural Village, and exploring traditional longhouses with its coconut trunk stairs and walking through bamboo bridges were fun on its own. Really enjoyed that.
But aside from that, I also joined the noodle-making workshop and the Drum Circle. Short story about the drum circle: If you’ve never participated in one, here’s how it usually goes – they’ll pass some musical instruments to audience members and the ‘conductor’ at the center will guide rounds of music percussion. Even if you don’t have an instrument you can clap and dance around. Super fun. Anyway, in the middle of the second set, apparently some ‘VIPs’ wanted a photo op hahahhahaha. They were led to the center and posed themselves participating in the event. It was so staged, I internally gagged lol.
Other activities and things to see included wellness workshops (tai chi, yoga,meditation etc), sustainability talks and demonstrations, cultural exhibitions, arts workshops, real and temporary tattoo parlours, booths offering traditional souvenirs and more. And that’s not including the improv performances that attendees decide to put on. Some people sang, some people danced, some practised their musical instruments and their flow arts.
The vibe at RWMF was very much positive and welcoming. Enjoyed people-watching tremendously.
YourStory has a good roundup of Rainforest World Music Festival. See it here.
Savings tip 5: If travelling in two or more pax, consider ridesharing to go to RWMF, but check if they partner with Grab or Uber that year to avoid that additional RM7 shuttle van ride. The bus from RWMF to Kuching was supposed to be RM15 per pax, but they charged us RM10 for some reason. I think they reduced the price to make us less annoyed about the long wait :/
Savings tip 6: The food at RWMF was expensive, but you have no choice. They will confiscate all food and snacks you bring upon entry. They seem to be more lax on drinks, so you can try bring water to save some money. Expect RM10 onward per meal. Some food booths offer discounts nearer to closing time.
Day 2: Explore Kuching + Rainforest Fringe Festival
Contemplated attending Rainforest World Music Festival Day 3 but after Day 2’s transportation problems, we decided to have a no-stress day exploring Kuching city instead. Found a half halal food court in Kuching, with halal Sarawak Laksa and Mee Jawa, had that for breakfast. The place name is Joy’s Corner, you can find it in Google Maps. The food and the price was good, I can recommend it. The entrance is a bit tricky so below is a picture guide.
Note: half-halal because one side of the same store sells halal food, another side sells non-halal food. I admire this arrangement #muhibbah
Then we walked around Waterfront area and accidentally stumbled right into the Rainforest Fringe Festival, a week-long festival celebrating everything Borneo. It was a joy to walk through the arts installations, photography and textile exhibitions. I have a new appreciation for Borneo arts and the rainforest. Sabah/Sarawak peeps, please forgive this Semenanjung girl for taking your states for granted. Your cultures are way more interesting than mine.
Aside from Borneo stuff, there was some eco-related stuff on display. Loved the work of Wild Forest Sculptor Spencer Byles. He made the installation below, gorgeous isn’t it? You can find more of his work in his FB page here.
Walked around Little India – it was a Sunday and they had some booths selling clothes, food, local fruits and snacks. Lots of references to cats around town, this cat-lady is happy.
After souvenir-shopping, we plonked ourselves at the cafe in the Old CourtHouse. A bit on the expensive side but a nice place with great decor, perfect for hanging out with friends. They had board games, including Gua! The Caving Adventure game. We tried it but couldn’t get far – the board was missing a piece 🙁 I enjoyed the vegetarian tapas, but did not enjoy the Lemon Poppy Seed cake. I think they forgot the lemon that day so it was just… poppy seed flavoured, which doesn’t taste like anything tbh. Other cakes and desserts look good though, maybe it’s just my luck.
Savings tip 7: You can support small shops and buy souvenirs along Waterfront and Little India. Buy clothes with Borneo designs, weaved bags and cases, music instruments – basically non-food items – there. For food items, go into Cold Storage at Green Heights Mall and get Sarawak laksa paste, Sarawak pepper, wild rice and more there – you’ll avoid tourist prices. I’m sure you can get it cheaper at some other ‘non-atas’ grocery shops or if you haggle at the tourist places, but as an awkward haggler I prefer upfront price displays, so.
Day 3: Return to KL
Nothing particularly interesting. Ordered Uber to catch early flight back to KL. I wish I had more time to explore Kuching and everything else it had to offer. Will try to make another trip there to check out the culture, museums and wildlife. If you have a particular must-visit location, please recommend in the comments section!
Total cost for my Rainforest World Music Festival+ Kuching weekend
In total, I spent RM975.53 for the weekend trip, inclusive of everything. I’m happy with what I get to experience on such limited timeframe, and shared accommodation and transportation helped to bring down the total cost to under RM1000. My return flights took about a third of the cost – maybe you can watch for flight sales too save money there. Breakdown below:
|House to KLIA2 (return; Grabcar)
|100 (20 per meal x 5 meals)
|150 (for 2 nights)
|145 (my share)
|RWMF Day Pass
|Return flight tickets (KLIA – KUC)
|Shopping/Entertainment/Gifts/ transportation within Kuching
|200 (100 per day)