A Travellerspoint blog

Is visiting tribespeople ethical?

A critical review

We stepped down, off our boats. Scrambled our way up the steep embankment, and we were there.

Where? We were in the Royal Belum State Park in Malaysia, home to the Orang Asli. We visited them to learn how they lived their lives. I was there with other students from my Year 9 class.

But who are the Orang Asli?

As the “first” or “original” people of Malaysia, the Orang Asli are a tribe living in Peninsular Malaysia, who came to these shores around 8,000 years ago.

These were the people now staring at us as we strolled through their village. They were darker skinned than most Malays I’ve seen, but wore the same casual shorts and t-shirts that is a common uniform in this country.

As we walked through, we saw huts with thatched roofs and bamboo interwoven walls that lined the village. We could tell that modernisation has certainly affected them to an extent; crushed Coke cans were scattered across the ground and they now mainly speak Bahasa rather than their native tongue.

After taking a tour through their village, we started to plant coconuts. I found this strange; they “live off the land”, and apparently hunt with blow darts (to be honest, I have a feeling they just buy their own food nowadays). So why were we planting coconuts?

Photo Credit: Warren Wee

I wasn’t sure why, and I started to get an uneasy feeling at the pit of my stomach.

I looked around, and wanted to see how the tribespeople were reacting to this. Most of them had backed off; they seemed unsure and reluctant to approach us, apart from a few of the more confident children, and the children who were being rounded up by one of the “leaders” of the tribe.

We headed towards a clearing, and then the children who were rounded up earlier reluctantly approached us. We were meant to play with them, I could see.

I noticed that some of the shyer children were being pushed and forced to come to us; again, that uneasy feeling rose from the pit of my stomach.

As we ‘played’, something niggled at me.

It niggled at me later, as we left the village, as we trekked, as we ate lunch.

I felt really uneasy about visiting the tribes; my uneasy thoughts niggled and niggled at me and wouldn’t stop.

On the one hand, we did bond well with them during the ‘playing’, and it was a great experience.

On the other hand, I wasn’t so sure about what was fake and what was real; what was put on for us, so we could get our money’s worth, and what was actually truthful and did happen.

Perhaps not fake; but it was certainly something that was daily life of years past, not now.

For instance, earlier in the week we saw them use blow darts. While they might use them once or twice a year ceremoniously, I doubt they use them to survive. However, it seemed like they were trying to pass it off as daily life.

In reality, it wasn’t like that. They are less out of touch with the modern world than we might think; many of them already get jobs along the highway, and some of them have moved to the urban heights of Kuala Lumpur.

There are positives and negatives to this though.

The financial input they get from tourists visiting their village has allowed them to retain traditional practises; their traditions haven’t died out, yet.

It also can help them access modern health care and education.

Think about it. Without money from tourism, many of them would leave the village to move to urban areas and cities, and the village (as well as the tribe) may cease to exist.
However, they have to suffer intrusion from ‘rich westerners’, some of whom that are ignorant. But could they survive now without the money from tourism?

So there needs to be a balance.

While they will have to put up with intrusion from us, it depends on how we deal with it.

We need to be respectful, sensitive and tactful. We can’t be like some of my classmates, who ignorantly asked, “Do they have WiFi?”


Photo Credit: Warren Wee

Posted by dmiller21 04:50 Comments (0)

The Journey

Travelling to Royal Belum State Park, Malaysia.

I woke up.

5:30AM. Early. Outside, it was deserted and dark. As I left in the car 30 minutes later, the bustling crowds and busy streets had vanished; Singapore was a ghost town, save for a few workers and commuters.

You may be wondering why I woke up so early, and where I was going. It was CEW week, and I was heading to Changi Airport for a 5 day visit to the Royal Belum State Park, staying on houseboats in the middle of a lake.

I was unsure about going. It was a lot of money, and had I made the right decision to go? Many of my classmates had opted out of the trip, and last year’s CEW experience was under par compared to other trips.

A few hours later, I was staring out the window of an airplane. I was sitting next to my sister, Allegra, amongst a crowd of over excited, chattering teenagers. I plugged into my headphones, and zoned out. This was going to be a very long journey.

90_IMG_2329.jpg IMG_2307.png

I spent the majority of my plane ride plugged into my headphones, listening to music.
[Taken by me]

Fast forward 5 hours. It was around 4PM, and we were setting out in speedboats, cruising the waves. As we pulled up to our houseboats, and clambered on, I instinctively knew something.

As I looked out at the picturesque views, something became clear to me.

As a gentle breeze rippled around the boat, and the dappled sunlight warmed my skin, I knew one thing: I had made the right decision. Seize opportunities when they come knocking; those one-in-a-million chances don’t come too often.
I knew that I had made the right choice to come here; despite what would happen over the course of the next 5 days, I thought to myself: the picturesque views made up for that.

[Taken by me]

[Taken by Warren Wee]

They made up for everything.

Posted by dmiller21 02:53 Tagged malaysia forest plane Comments (0)

Up and Up

A poem about trekking

We walked through the clearing, and into the forest.
We scrambled over the dirt, and clung onto ropes.

Out of the heat, and into the cool.

Single file, climbing up and up.
Walking to the waterfall.

The rocks were slippery; mossy and wet.
Cautiously stepping, higher and higher.

Tired now, keep on climbing
Keep on going, I’m nearly there.

Clinging onto ropes; I almost fell
Into the water; luckily, the ropes were there.

But I could see the summit now.
Clearly; I was almost there.

After climbing up a few more
Jet black,
Moss-ridden rocks

I was finally there.

Waterfalls surrounded me, fresh water (though not to drink!).

Trees and foliage, all around me.


Photo Credit: Warren Wee

Now, it’s time to go down.

Keep on going, keep on pushing

Persevere, and you’ll get there.

It might seem like it takes forever;

But I got there; I reached the top.

And you could too.


Photo Credit: Warren Wee

Posted by dmiller21 02:42 Comments (0)

Rafting in Royal Belum

A testimonial

I waited. Waited for my turn. I had a few minutes and then it would be time to go.

I was waiting to raft.

There we were, in Royal Belum State Park, a remote area of Penang, Malaysia. We were there for a week of activities and experiences that would enhance our school curriculum.

It sounded simple really. Raft to one side of the lake, pick up a stone, and make it back to our houseboat before the other teams.

But in reality, was it just that simple?

Firstly, the ‘rafts’ were made out of rickety bamboo loosely tied together with some string, and dark, menacing clouds were letting out huge claps of thunder.

Plus, I was new to rafting and so I was a little apprehensive; would I be any good at it? I have very bad co-ordination and so I was hoping that my poor co-ordination wouldn’t cause problems for the rest of the team - despite all this, I was quite excited and keen to get going.

Anyway, it was almost time to go. In my group were Warren, Alfonso, Katsu and Akshay.

I watched as my fellow classmates cheered on the teams in the first race. Pushing hard and in second place, Team CS (whose boat we had to quickly clamber into) came closer and closer...

Three... two.. one... and we’re off.

We paddled off, counting as we went. “1, 2, 3, 4! 1, 2, 3, 4!”

We started well. We were going smoothly and quickly, and didn’t run into any trouble. Well, that was until we hit the girl’s boat.

Hitting them actually wasn’t an issue - it was only what happened afterwards that was a problem. We had to go right to avoid them, you see.

But I could see something was wrong. We were going too far right! We would end up being perpendicular to the route if we continued.

So I yelled out, “Turn left! We’ve gone too far right!”, and just as everyone was about to start paddling left, Warren yelled “Ignore him! Continue going right!”

And, as I suspected, we ended up going in the wrong direction. I was extremely angry at Warren; he had ruined our chances!

We went left and continued paddling, though; we still had a chance of coming second, as the team who were currently second weren’t far in front of us.

It was now, however, that I found out I wasn’t so good at paddling; I had a hard time staying in sync with the rest of my group.


As you can see, I was completely out of sync with the rest of my group.
Photo Credit: JC Wee (our camp instructor)*

We continued and were in third place with around a hundred meters to go. I could see my fellow peers cheering us on, and the group that came first; they were light years ahead of us and had finished years ago (or at least it seemed like that).


The fight for second place.

Photo Credit: JC Wee (our camp instructor)*

We paddled on, and I could tell Warren was getting repeatedly agitated at my lack of coordination and rafting skills.

Somehow, in the closing stages the group who were second had managed to find a sudden burst of energy. We had lost. We reluctantly paddled towards the houseboat, and stood up and and climbed off our rafts and out onto the boat. Somehow, I had completely lost any arm strength I had and Alfonso had to haul me out and onto the boat.

Warren wasn’t happy. I could see it in his face, and as I passed him he barked,
“Well you better be sorry Darcy!”

I wasn’t sure how to react to that. On the one hand, he had a point; I was terrible at paddling. But on the other hand, wasn’t it him that completely ruined our chances by making a dodgy decision?

Luckily, Warren cooled down 10 minutes later, and we continued being good friends.

I learnt something from that day. We have different strengths; I am better at the “theoretical” and “big picture” part of things, while Warren was better at the more practical side of things - I was better at the theory of rafting (where to turn!) while Warren was better at the actual technique of rafting.

Next time we should both recognise that and work collaboratively using both of our strengths.

Next time, we shouldn’t create a fight out of it!


  • See my bibliography for sources

Posted by dmiller21 01:41 Tagged wildlife park malaysia penang rafting royal state belum Comments (1)

(Entries 1 - 4 of 4) Page [1]