In Sarawak, fortune favours the intrepid. As Malaysia's largest state it isn't just beautiful, it's a land of wild encounters, of 140-million-year-old rainforests and unique tribal cultures. Those that tread lightly - who travel slowly and sustainably - will see a side to the region that few others do, for this is a destination that rewards a deeper exploration. Spend a night in a tribal homestay, and you'll be welcomed as a member of the family. Join a turtle nesting project, and the beach reveals its wild side. Volunteer at an orangutan sanctuary, and you'll see primates at their most playful. In Sarawak, responsible tourism enriches not only the landscapes and local people - but you too. Here's how you can make your trip count...
From the formidable Iban warriors to the rainforest-dwelling Orang Ulu tribes, Sarawak's indigenous communities have lived in harmony with its wild landscapes for milennia. These tight-knit yet hospitable cultures have, in some areas, opened up to travellers. For a compelling introduction, visit the Sarawak Craft Council (Kuching) and the Sarawak Cultural Village (Santuborg Pennisula) or choose to travel with a responsible operator for a multi-day expedition into the indigenous heartlands. This is an incredible way to see and experience Sarawak's remote settlements and you'll be travelling slowly, staying with families in their wood-built 'longhouses' and sharing in the celebrations of their culture.
Every July, artists from all over the state convene at the Rainforest World Music Festival too, a three-day celebration of Sarawak's musical heritage - as well as those of indigenous peoples from all over the world - along with workshops, craft displays, and an impressive commitment to sustainability that has seen it ban single use plastic. It's also working toward a zero-waste goal and collaborates closely with local farmers and entrepreneurs.
Other calendar highlights include Kaul, the Melanaus' festival of spiritual cleansing (April); Sarawak Regatta, a dragon boat tournament in Kuching (November); and the Borneo International Kite Festival in the seaside town of Bintulu (September).
Sarawak's biodiversity is full of surprises. Whether its orangutans joining your hike, the distinctive orange 'do of a rhinoceros hornbill, or the whiff of a metre-wide rafflesia (the world's largest - and stinkiest - flower) in Gunung Gading, there's always something wild and wonderful for you to discover.
Sarawak is home to Malaysia's highest concentration of Important Birding Areas, including Batang Ai and Pulong Tau national parks, meaning more than 650 of Borneo's bird species can be spotted in the region. For more flora and fauna encounters, look to the likes of Bako and Kubah national parks, where you can spot native orchids, almost 100 different palm species, and pot-bellied proboscis monkeys.
To pack in added adventure, experienced hikers can tread the 11.3km 'Headhunters Trail' through Gunung Mulu National Park - with a longboat trip down the Melinau river - or trek between tribal villages in the remote Kelabit Highlands. Kayakers, dip your paddle in the forest-flanked waters of Sungai Sarawak Kiri, a tranquil river just 45 minutes from the capital; cavers, explore the subterranean splendour of Gunung Mulu National Park; and divers, set your sights on Miri-Sibuti Coral Reefs National Park or the shipwrecks along the coast of Kuching.
As well as protecting the state's thousands of acres of parks and woodlands, the Sarawak Forestry Corporation offers hands-on conservation opportunities with local charities - such as volunteering at an orangutan rehabilitation centre, and releasing hawksbill turtle hatchlings into the ocean. Book the latter, and you'll be staying on Talang-Talang Besar - a tiny island reserve that's far from the beaten track - in the company of dedicated conservation specialists.
Sarawak has adventures aplenty, but it reveals its true treasures to those who linger a little longer and pause to give something back. By travelling responsibly, you'll have the opportunity to connect with Malaysia in a truly meaningful manner - leaving your mark on Borneo in the best possible way.