When I first went to the festival back in 2011, I didn’t really know what to expect. For first timers the festival can be rather daunting. With 40 days left towards the 20th edition of the RWMF, here I’ve compiled the ultimate guide to the Rainforest World Music Festival with hopes that you’ll find it helpful!
ABOUT THE FESTIVAL
Nestled between the settings of Mount Santubong, the Rainforest World Music Festival is an annual three-days music festival held in Kuching, Sarawak, East Malaysia. Packed with daytime workshops, cultural display, crafts, food stalls, and evening concerts, the festival celebrates world music diversity and blends of multiple cultures.
I’ve been to a handful of festivals in Malaysia but nothing came quite close to the RWMF. As one of the most anticipated music festival in Malaysia, the RWMF garnered thousands of festival goers each year. It’s definitely one of the well-structured, action-packed music festival that everyone should attend. This year the 20th edition of the Rainforest World Music Festival will be taking place on the 14th to 16th July 2017 in Kuching, Malaysia.
HOW TO GET THERE
Situated in Kuching, you will first need to get to the Borneo side of Malaysia. Both AirAsia and Malaysia Airline offers cheap flights to Kuching (KCH), so book as early as possible to get the best rates! And while you’re at it, don’t forget to check out the Mulu Caves (a UNESCO World Heritage Site), explore the Niah Caves in Miri and see the Orang Utans at the Semenggoh Wildlife Centre!
GETTING TO THE FESTIVAL
Located roughly 40 minutes away from the city centre of Kuching, take the official shuttle to reduce carbon footprints! Dubbed as the finest living museum in South East Asia, the festival is held within the grounds of the Sarawak Cultural Village. There is a limited parking spot for locals at the Century Santubong Resort (previously known as One Santubong Hotel), and from this point onwards you can either take the shuttle to the festival, or walk to save money.
The official shuttle runs hourly from the city centre, and you can find the bus schedule here. This year, the three main shuttle hubs is located at The Hills Shopping Mall, Harbour View Hotel and Plaza Merdeka Kuching. Tickets from the city centre costs RM15/way and RM80 for 3 days pass, and shuttle service from the Century Santubong Resort costs at RM7/way.
BONUS: In conjunction with the 20th anniversary, there is a limited complimentary shuttle service for the first 500 daily customers! The last shuttle returns back to Kuching at 1.30 am, so plan your journey well and try not to miss it 🙂 There is also Uber, GrabCar and public taxi services as a last minute resort.
WHERE TO STAY
Ideally it’s best to stay nearby the festival ground as it’s located 40 minutes away from the city centre of Kuching. This year the program starts as early as 11am, so expect to spend at least 12 hours at the site! Furthermore it’s much more practical to stay nearby, as it gives you the freedom to head back, shower and rest. Listed below are some of the popular choices, and for convenient purposes I’ve added the budget options as well!
WITHIN THE FESTIVAL GROUND
1. Damai Beach Resort (4 stars). Few minutes away from festival ground, but also one of the most popular. Book as early as possible to get a spot.
2. Damai Puri Resort & Spa (4 stars). Decent hotel, ten minutes walk from the festival ground.
3. Century Santubong Beach Resort (3 stars). This is also a prime parking spot for the locals, so expect a lot of crowd coming in from the city centre. There is a shuttle service from the hotel to the festival ground (RM7/way).
4. BB Bunkers (Hostel). This is one of the best budget option for the festival, but also one of the most popular. Book as early as possible. Prices starts from RM78 for a dorm bed.
5. RWMF Campsite. Another budget option for the adventurous mind, and less than 5 minutes to the festival site! You can bring your own tent, or rent one from the organisers*. I personally love the idea of camping for the festival, imagine sleeping underneath the stars by the beach. Washroom, showers and compound lights are provided, and there is a 24 hour security at the camp site.
*There were feedbacks where tents provided are not really waterproof. Best to bring your own tent, or some waterproof tarp as a groundsheet/cover.
WITHIN THE CITY CENTRE
Kuching city is one not to be missed, and there’s plenty of accommodation to choose from in Kuching! Here I’ve listed some of the top picks from each budget range, with main access to the shuttle service for convenience.
1. Pullman Kuching (5 stars). This is the newest addition to the 5-stars brand in the city! Pullman Kuching is also adjacent to The Hills shopping mall, which serves as one of the main shuttle hub for the festival this year.
2. Merdeka Palace Hotel (5 stars). In all honesty, I have a soft spot for the Merdeka Palace Hotel. This is a really fancy hotel located at the heart of Kuching.
3. Harbour View Hotel (4 stars). Set in Kuching’s Golden Triangle and overlooking the Sarawak River, this is also the main shuttle hub to the festival grounds.
4. Singgahsana Lodge (Hostel). One of the top hostel in Kuching, and within walking distance to the shuttle hubs (The Hills & Plaza Merdeka). Dorms starts from RM35, free breakfast and a cool rooftop bar for you to chill.
5. Beds Kuching (Hostel). Located in Jalan Pandungan, it’s relatively close to Kuching’s own Chinatown. Also walkable distance to the shuttle hub (The Hills). I’ve personally stayed here over my last few trips to Kuching and found it to be decent. Dorms starts from RM22, complete with free breakfast, wifi and hot showers.
SEARCHING FOR A HOTEL IN KUCHING? TRY OUT BOOKING.COM!
THE MUSICAL LINEUPS
There will be a total of 27 performers for the RWMF this year, each hailing from different parts of the world! My personal favourite for this year’s list of line up would be the O Tahiti E from Tahiti!
Some notable local bands will also be performing, such as Lan E Tuyang, At Adau and Ilu Leto, so bring out that Borneo pride and see you at the festival!
WHAT TO DO AT RAINFOREST WORLD MUSIC FESTIVAL
The Rainforest World Music Festival is definitely more than just your typical music festival, and there’s plenty of cool fun stuffs to do here! Here are my top 10 things to do at the RWMF.
1. ATTEND THE MINI SESSIONS!
Previously known as the Workshop, the RWMF Mini Sessions are one not to be missed! It’s one of my personal favourite for the festival, and each year they brought interesting stuffs to the table (hey it rhymes!). I’m particularly excited for the Dialogue of the Drums, Brazilian Samba dance workshops and of course the interactive Tahiti Dance workshops (because you know, gotta learn that ‘ote’a movements).
Festival Tips! Be sure to read up on the festival programme, as some events may overlap at different venues. Plan ahead and go for the ones that suits you best. And while you’re at it, don’t forget to download some useful festival information from the official website!
2. PARTICIPATE IN THE DRUM CIRCLE
They first introduced the drum circle as part of the program back in 2014, and it was a whole lot of fun! Feel free to go crazy and choose your weapon of choice (the drums I mean). This is also a great way to make new friends and pick up some drumming skills!
3. CHECK OUT THE RAINFOREST WORLD CRAFT BAZAAR!
Deemed as the ‘shopping part’ of RWMF, you should definitely check out the Rainforest World Craft Bazaar. There will be craft vendors and assorted unique goods you can bring home. Be sure to check out the batik textiles, bamboo products, rattans, bead works and novelty clothes made out of tree barks! All of this are truly unique to Borneo, and hey it makes a perfect last minute souvenirs 🙂
4. DON’T FORGET THE KIDS!
No really, don’t forget the kids! One of the best thing about the RWMF is that it’s very family friendly. This year there will be a Pustaka Bookaro with special workshops specifically catered for the kids, so bring along your little ones and enjoy the festival!
5. RWMF WELLNESS PROGRAMME
As the newest addition to this year’s festival, the Wellness Programme is perfect for the health enthusiasts! I love that they’re implementing wellness workshops such as yoga, zumba and even body combats. I am particularly excited for yoga, but the only downside is that you will need to bring your own mat. Don’t forget your sports attires!
6. TRY OUT LOCAL CUISINES
Be prepared for a gastronomic experience, as the Asia Food Kitchen will be gracing the festival grounds this year! Expect scrumptious delicacies, and if you have the chance to try the Sarawak Laksa please do! It’s a local favourite 🙂
7. MEET THE PERFORMERS!
You will spot some performers roaming freely along the festival ground, so take up this chance for a quick selfie and autographs! Meet and greet sessions are also held after each performance, so show some love and support! You can also purchase some merchandise and CDs at respective booths.
8. EXPLORE THE FESTIVAL GROUND!
There is a lot to do at the festival! From cultural show houses, exhibitions and even Sape tutorials, wear your comfiest shoes and explore the festival ground! I particularly love the show houses, particularly the Melanau Tall House and the Rumah Orang Ulu.
9. CHECK OUT DAMAI BEACH AND DAMAI CENTRAL
The Sarawak Cultural Village is strategically located right next to Damai Beach, so feel free to explore and play around in the sand! Depending of what you need, Damai Central has it all. This multi-purpose public complex is situated right outside the festival ground, and it’s hard not to miss it. Here you can find ATM services, mini mart, shower facilities, hawker stalls and even laundry services if you need one. The campsite ground will also be here, so you’re definitely in good hands!
10. LAST BUT NOT LEAST, ENJOY THE FESTIVAL!
The RWMF is still a music festival, so don’t forget to enjoy yourself! 18 acts from all over the world will be performing at the two outdoor stages from 7.30pm each evening. So sit back, relax and enjoy the festival!
WHAT TO BRING TO THE FESTIVAL
As the festival’s pretty far away from the city centre, I would definitely recommend on traveling light to the festival. If you’re unsure, lockers are also available at the Damai Central for bulky belongings. Below are my top 10 things to bring to the Rainforest World Music Festival!
10 THINGS TO BRING TO THE RAINFOREST WORLD MUSIC FESTIVAL
1. Plenty of cash.
The last thing you want is to run out of cash throughout the day. There is an ATM at the Damai Central (the only one!) but considering the amount of crowd turning up to the event, it’s best to be safe. Plus, you might want to spend on food and souvenirs at the festival.
2. Bring separate change of clothes!
You’ll be spending hours at the festival, especially if you’re planning to attend the workshops in the afternoon. There will be a short break just before the evening concert, and a fresh change of clothes can be a blessing in the blistering heat. If it makes things better, there’s a shower facility outside the festival at the Damai Central. And hey, your welcome!
3. Don’t forget your raincoat and waterproof bags!
There’s a reason why it’s called the Rainforest World Music Festival, so expect unexpected rain throughout the festival! This is a rain or shine event, so be prepared or be drenched! A simple plastic bag will make do to keep your valuables dry, but just to be safe – small waterproof bag is the way to go.
4.You may also want to bring your own mat or chairs to sit back and relax.
A lot of people doesn’t know this, but you are definitely encouraged to bring your own foldable chairs and mats. Think picnics at the festival! A cheap waterproof tarp would also function as a mat, plus it’s big enough to share too!
5. Insect repellant (very important).
For some reason the mosquitoes are always on to me, and if you’re as sensitive to bugs as I am then insect repellant is absolutely mandatory. Tiger balm works for insect bites too. Best to be safe than sorry!
6. Wet wipes.
For toilets (you will thank me later!), emergencies and to freshen up throughout the day.
7. Sun screen.
The Malaysian heat is ruthless, and the last thing you want is to burn like a lobster. Pack on some sun screen and you’re well on your way!
8. Plenty of water!
This is still a rainforest, and humidity is thick with the blistering heat. Be sure to keep yourself hydrated throughout the festival, because the last thing you want is to be sick. Also, bottled water is allowed into the festival ground so bring at least 1.5L with you at all times!
9. External charger or a power bank.
Unless you want to compete with thousands other festival goers for the limited plug points, bring your own external charger. Because for some reason we all can’t live without our phones.
10. Last but not least, good vibes!
Have fun at the festival!!
FESTIVAL CLOTHING & EXTRA INFORMATION
Since the festival is nestled within the rainforest, think humidity! Light weight clothing is definitely the way to go. Breezy shorts and comfortable tank top would be my pick, but feel free to bring spare clothes to change throughout the day. Also, with the Wellness Programme this year it’s best to turn up in your sport attires first and then change for the later night. There is a shower facility at the Damai Central, and minimart for soap and shampoos. Wear comfy shoes, flip flops or sandals, just in case it gets muddy!
It is also advisable to download the showtime and festival programme beforehand (download here) and be there early! There’s usually a long queue at the gate for security measures and ticket verifications. Food, drinks (expect bottled water) and non-permitted items such as knives and sharp items are not allowed.
Also a quick note of advice; don’t be surprise at the limited network connection at the festival – it is the rainforest after all. So if you’re traveling in a group be sure to set a safe meeting spot, so no one gets left behind.
And that concludes the whole guide! Don’t forget to check up on more updates at the RWMF Facebook page, and I do hope that you’ll find this guide helpful! For more information, head to the the official RWMF website here. Ticket details can also be purchase online here. See you there and until then – safe travels!
Disclaimer : Photos are heavily credited to the Sarawak Tourism Board. Some of the pictures are from my RWMF 2014 experience.