Lachau Town, an Iban Trading Post in Sarawak

Lachau Town Sarawak
Lachau Town is a very small town along the main highway to Sibu, Bintulu, Miri and Sarikei in Sarawak. One may ask what is s special about this town that at a blink of your eye, you would miss it. I am serious, once I was looking the opposite side and when I asked my driver where is the town, he said we passed it a few minutes ago.

Lachau or Pekan Lachau is well known for stop overs with tourist on route to visiting the original Iban longhouses near Lubuk Antu or Batang Ai (Where the Longhouse Hilton is located). It is also a favourite toilet stop for drivers and also visitors on this long journey. However, on the weekend, this place thrives with local activity like a day market with locals selling all sorts of produce and craft.

Pan Borneo HighwaySignpost on Highway 1 in Sarawak

Sarawak has only one main highway (Highway 1 or Pan Borneo Highway) connecting all the main towns from Kuching so Lachau would be along the way after Serian and Sri Aman. Most people would just drive past this town as there is nothing special here, but for the traveler or tourist, Lachau is an important stop for a toilet break or just to stretch your legs and have a drink while on the way to visit the Iban Longhouse or heading to Miri, Sibu or even across the border to Brunei.

Shops at Lachau TownGrocery shops at Lachau Town

The town is so small that there are only three rows of shops here. I kid you not when I say "blink your eye and you would have missed it". The unique thing about this town that closes after 4pm is that many of the Iban people around the area would bring their wares here and barter trade with the local shopkeepers. And you thought barter was no longer in use? Well, you are wrong as it still goes on here in Lachau.

Gambar Lachau One of the Grocery cum Souvenir shops

The shops here are all run by the Sarawakian Chinese and all you see are general grocery stores, about 10 of them and about five coffee shops cum restaurants. You get your general groceries here and is usually frequented by the local Iban people.

Lachau Iban TownAll kinds of groceries sold

So, what is so special about this place called Lachau? It is the fact that the Iban people would bring hand crafted items to barter with the shopkeepers for general goods. Items are usually hand crafted parangs (swords), warrior shields, statues, weaved baskets and even antique Iban items like Gongs, Jars and Jewellery.

Iban weaved basketsIban weaved baskets

Occasionally, you would find some really rare Iban artifacts being sold here for a steal. Trust me, this is one of my main shopping grounds whenever I visit Sarawak. The prices here are way much cheaper than what you find at the craft shops at the Waterfront in Kuching town.

Sarawak Iban HandficraftIban wood carved statues

I was also told by Berek and Selvam - My personal guides in Kuching, that native tribes, namely the Iban of Kalimantan would cross over the border with wares and visit Lachau to barter trade. In return, the shopkeepers would give them a place to stay before they make their way back to Kalimantan via foot.

Yes, these Kalimantan Iban would trek over 4 to 6 hours across the border by foot with the basket of wares. Note that the Kalimantan border is just a 2 hour trek from Lachau and is the nearest border to Sarawak.

Gambar Parang IbanIban parangs and knives

So, depending on the time, you would get different designs and styles of items sold here at Lachau. Excess items are also sold to dealers from the shops at the Waterfront in Kuching and the price would be almost 30% to 50% higher there.

Iban Craft PhotosAssortment of Iban craft

There are about 3 to 4 shops in Lachau that specialise in barter trading with the Iban people so you get a good variety of goods here. Among some of the other items available are miniature sized statues of tribesmen and various animals. They come in small, medium and large carvings and some of them very well finished.

Iban warrior shields and daggersIban warrior shields and daggers

One of my favourites are the Hornbill Bird carvings. Locally known as the Burung Kenyalang, these intricately carved birds also come in a few sizes. I personally bought 3 of them for my collection. Well, I do have an eye on one of the extra large antique Kenyalang carving which cost about RM1,200. Maybe on my next trip there, I would get more of these.

Teh C Peng Special SarawakTeh C Peng Special (Local Special Tea)

The town of Lachau has also been in the media back in 2005 due to a conflict of meaning where a member of Parliament brought this case up. "Junaidi (An MP) suggested that the name of a small town in Sarawak - Lachau - be changed as it carried an inappropriate meaning. MPs were tickled as they knew what he was referring to. "Lachau" sounds similar to the word for male genitalia in the Hokkien dialect."

Finally, stopping over at Lachau town before the Iban longhouse, I always make it a point to have my favourite Teh-C-Peng Special (Special Layered Tea with Brown Sugar) and a plate of Kolok Mee (Sarawakian Dry Noodles).

Map to Pekan Lachau in Sarawak

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Best way to get to Lachau would be to self drive from Kuching and the drive is about one and a half hours. Alternatively, you can take a Longhouse Tour package while they make a stop here. Other packages like going to the Hilton Batang Ai Longhouse Resort would also make stops here.

For those interested in visiting this place, you can check with any of the local tour companies in Kuching. As for taking a bus here, it is not recommended for tourist. It is better to hire a taxi to come here so do check with the local taxis about the trip to Lachau Town, an Iban Trading Post in Sarawak.