Most people have to wait until their gap year between school and university before they have the chance to travel around the world. But siblings Finley and Layla West are experiencing the wonders of exotic locations during a three month backpacking trip before even starting primary school. Finley, four, Layla, two and their parents Andrew and Kate are currently exploring the jungles of Borneo, this is their second column for the SNJ. Words by Andrew West.


WE are officially a third of the way through our trip now and I feel we are no longer novice backpackers. 

Our rucksacks have been stripped of non-essential items and these have been returned home by sea freight and we feel tuned into our way of life.

Both the children continue to surprise us with their ability to cope with the constant movements to each new destination. 

With mainland Malaysia behind us we took a short flight to Sarawak in Borneo.

For us, getting to Borneo has been a dream for years but we never expected to visit the jungle-covered island with children. 

Borneo is home to the orangutans and we were lucky enough to see some in their natural environment.

We decided we would visit an authentic Iban longhouse set deep in the Sarawak jungle.

The huts house up to 50 families all under one roof and are governed by a chief tribesman.

Iban tribes have a long history of conflict with other tribes who threaten their territory and are notorious for decapitating their captors, hence why they are known as the Iban headhunters.

We hired a local guide and his taxi to take us to the Ngemah ili longhouse, situated six hours into the jungle and one hour by river boat. 

Upon arrival we were greeted by an old lady banging a metal drum, which is a traditional for new guests to warn off unwanted spirits.

With only a few toys to play with from our packs the young inhabitants were kind enough to share their toys with Layla and Finley, which was wonderful to watch.

The children played with ease where the language barrier and culture differences did not hinder them in any way.

Later on we chatted to the chief about our lives and how they compared to the lives of families living in the jungle. 

Here life feels stripped of the everyday stresses such as traffic jams and IT problems. 

We were told by the chief that not many outsiders visit the longhouse and Layla is the youngest western visitor in its history.

We have promised to send them a photo of Finley and Layla with their new found friends but are not convinced that the postal system will be able to deliver the mail.

We have returned now back to the capital of Sarawak and we look forward to travelling to Thailand and making our way to Koh Chang island en-route to Cambodia.