Rainforest World Music Festival

Tips for Enjoying the RWMF near Kuching in Sarawak, Borneo

Rainforest World Music Festival 2013
Photo by Greg Rodgers

The Rainforest World Music Festival is an annual, three-day event in Sarawak, Borneo, showcasing bands and performers literally from every corner of the world. From local native chants and African dance to American folk music and percussion troupes -- the always-evolving lineup each year at the festival blends culture with an opportunity to dance and sweat with more than 20,000 people from all over the world!

Began in 1997, the Rainforest World Music Festival was voted by Songlines to be one of the top 25 music festivals in the world. Unlike other festivals where musicians are swept away to hide backstage after their performances, you're likely to see the stars walking around, participating in intimate jam sessions during daily workshops, and simply enjoying the show along with their fans.

The price of entry -- already a bargain -- includes a full day of demonstrations, workshops, and fun before the shows begin around sunset. Two stages keep the evening action going without the usual intermission as bands change over.

Festival Workshops

The Rainforest World Music Festival is hardly only about watching big bands perform on stage. Unlike typical music festivals, visitors can attend free workshops set in longhouses to enjoy educational jam sessions with the performers. When the artists take to the stages in the evening, you'll feel like you know them, their instruments, and their musical traditions a little better.

Both entertaining and educational, the workshops range from percussion to Sarawak culture and local dance; many include crowd participation and you may even be invited to play an instrument!

Workshops run throughout the afternoon in three different venues between 2 p.m. until 5 p.m.

The Sarawak Cultural Village

The Sarawak Cultural Village is the perfect venue for an outdoor festival. The verdant setting between the South China Sea and nearby Mount Santubong really contribute to the atmosphere -- it's well worth taking the time to arrive early and explore the Sarawak Cultural Village. A circular boardwalk winds between wooden houses built in the style of local indigenous groups; statues and artifacts are on display.

See the official Sarawak Cultural Village website.

Important Tips for Enjoying the Festival

  • No outside food or drinks are allowed into the festival; bags are checked.
  • A wide variety of food, snacks, and drinks are sold inside of the festival. The only alcohol available is beer and wine.
  • The only ATM is located in Damai Central just outside of the festival entrance. The ATM typically runs out of cash so bring enough money from Kuching.
  • A 7-Eleven minimart, pharmacy, and small shop are available in Damai Central just outside of the festival main gate.
  • Pets are not allowed inside of the festival.
  • The venue itself is well worth exploring before the music begins. Arrive early to check out cultural displays, demonstrations, and the many workshops that are included in the entrance price.
  • Bring sunscreen, mosquito repellent, and a waterproof bag for your camera -- the rainforest often lives up to its name with unexpected downpours!
  • Seating tends to fill up quickly during the evening performances. You can bring your own mat for sitting on the grass.
  • If the heat inside of the longhouses gets to be too much, try to catch a workshop in the comfortable, air-conditioned theater venue.
  • Real, permanent toilets are available in several buildings; you aren't doomed to the hot, portable toilets!

Rainforest World Music Festival Hours

The Sarawak Cultural Village opens to the public at 10 a.m. for people who want to explore the manicured grounds, do some shopping, and enjoy food before the festival begins. Workshops begin around 2 p.m. and are spread across at least three different venues within the village. Everyone takes a break around 5 p.m. to prepare for the band performances which begin around 7:30 p.m.

The festival day finishes around midnight; the last shuttle bus for Kuching departs at 1 a.m.

Getting Tickets

You can either purchase tickets at the gate or save some time in the queue by purchasing tickets in advance at the Visitor's Information Centre in Kuching. Tickets can also be purchased online (http://www.ticketcharge.com.my) for an additional RM3 (US $1) fee, however, you'll still need to exchange the official receipt for a wristband at the festival entrance.

Both single-day and three-day passes are available for the festival. Three-day passes must be purchased in advance, could potentially sell out, and are not available on the day of the festival.

Prices for single-day tickets:

  • Adults: RM 140 (approximately US $35)
  • Children under 12 years old: RM 70 (approximately US $18)

Prices for three-day passes purchased in advance:

  • Adults: RM 320 (approximately US $81)
  • Children under 12 years old: RM 140 (approximately US $36)

Note: To ensure authenticity, never purchase tickets on the street or from unofficial reps standing outside of the festival.

Getting to the Music Festival

The Rainforest World Music Festival is held at the Sarawak Cultural Village approximately 45 minutes outside of Kuching, the capital of Sarawak in Borneo.

Both Air Asia and Malaysia Airlines offer cheap flights from Kuala Lumpur (KUL) to Kuching (KCH); book as early as possible for the best rates.

Getting to the Sarawak Cultural Village

A variety of transportation options are available from Kuching to the festival; public shuttle buses are the cheapest option. Hotels may provide their own transportation to and from the festival.

Check in with the office located in the Sarawak Tourism Complex located in the sprawling building at the lower end of the waterfront or check the official RWMF site (http://rwmf.net/) to find the shuttle pickup points in Kuching as they may change from year to year.

The last public shuttle returns back to Kuching around 1 a.m. -- don't miss it or you could face an expensive taxi ride!

Full Disclosure

As is common in the travel industry, the writer was provided with complimentary airfare, accommodation, and entrance passes for the purpose of reviewing the festival. While it has not influenced this review, About.com believes in full disclosure of all potential conflicts of interest. For more information, see ourĀ Ethics Policy.