Known for its rich tropical landscape and mighty rivers, Sarawak is the largest state in Malaysia and also an outback of sheer beauty rich in resources which includes pepper, cocoa, palm oil, timber and oil. Sarawak is a region of endless fascination with the largest cave chamber in the world, verdant jungles, unique fauna and flora, white beaches, and remote islands.
Sarawak is one of the most developed regions of the island of Borneo, the world third largest island, which is shared by Malaysia, Brunei and Indonesia. As Malaysia’s largest State, it is home to at least 27 ethnic groups with different language, culture and lifestyle. Therefore, Sarawak is known as a melting pot for racial-integration. Endowed with the world’s richest and most diverse ecosystems, Sarawak’s ancient rainforest canopies possessed the Rafflesia, the largest flower in the world. Rare species of plant life likes pitcher plants and orchids also can be found in Sarawak’s rainforests. At there, you also can find the orangutan and proboscis monkey.
Sarawak is a place all about culture, adventure and nature. From modern culture to the archaic, Sarawakians celebrate traditional Chinese and Malay religious festivals, rituals and a variety of Dayak Gawai ceremonies. Sarawak rich heritage extends from the jungle wilderness to the pristine underwater world of untouched coral reefs. It offers a potpourri of experiences to travelers from all over the world.
There are fifteen totally protected areas (TPA), four wildlife sanctuaries and five nature reserves in Sarawak. The eighteen national parks include Mulu, Bako, Niah, Lambir Hills, Similajau, Gunung Gading, Kubah, Batang Ai, Loagan Bunut, Tanjung Datu, Talang-Talang and Satang Islands, Bukit Tiban, Maludam, Rajang Mangroves, and Gunung Buda. The Niah National Park is a must visit as it is the most historic, with archaeologists having discovered the earliest dated modern skull in Asia in the world-famous Niah caves. At Mulu National Park, you can find Gunung Mulu, a magnificent 2,377 meter high sandstone mountain, and vast caverns of limestone caves.
The capital city, Kuching and its vicinity have a few recreational areas such as Stutong Park, Wind Caves and Fairy Caves and Orangutan wildlife rehabilitation centers at Semengok and Matang. If you are interested in Sarawak’s history and cultural heritage, you can visit the Sarawak Museum, Cultural Village at Damai or Kuching Heritage trail in the City Centre.
Another Sarawak’s popular tourist destination is Miri. It is the gateway to many national parks, rivers and some of Borneo’s best diving sites. Even people from nearby such as Bruneians often escape to Miri for shopping and sight-seeing.
Named after a local fruit called ‘Sibau’, Sibu is nowadays a centre for eco-adventures and cultural experiences. At there, you will be able to explore the rainforest and visit indigenous communities.
Besides that, there are many longhouses in Sarawak, which are the traditional homes of Sarawak’s indigenous groups. Each tribe has their own style of design even though the overall shape and architecture remain the same. Generally, a longhouse comprises a series of interconnecting rooms built on stilts, covered by one roof and a verandah for communal activities. Normally, visitors will be greeted by a glass of rice wine or “tuak” and entertained with a welcome dance.
Why Not Go
You shouldn’t go Sarawak for holiday if you have seasickness as boats are a common mode of transport in Sarawak. This is because of the dense vegetation of its interior is crisscrossed with rivers. However, experiencing the impossibly dense jungle wall breezes past will ensure you an unforgettable trip.
The main charm of Sarawak lies in its capital city Kuching. Kuching was built along the banks of the Sarawak River and it is also very near the coastline, about 32 km away from the sea. Kuching is a tranquil location with nice landscaped parks and gardens, classic colonial buildings, colorful markets and a beautiful waterfront named as Kuching Waterfront. It is a good place to stroll around and relax.
Besides that, Sarawak’s charm also lies at its most popular and scenic beach, Damai Beach. Damai is located on the Santubong Peninsula, which is about 35 minutes away from Kuching. Besides the beautiful sandy beaches to relax on, there are also water sports such as jet-skiing and windsurfing. The Santubong Peninsula also offers several sites for bird watching. Bird-watchers can enjoy sighting a variety of birds likes Sandpipers, Egrets, Terns, Collared kingfisher, the White-bellied Sea Eagle and Brahminy Kites and Buntal village, an important wintering ground for migratory birds, is the best place for bird watching. Want to have more adventurous activities, you may climb through the rainforest to the summit of Mount Santubong, which is about five to six-hour trek. Others than that, Damai is one of the best places to see the rare Irrawady dolphin, particularly in Santubong, Salak and Buntal river estuaries. This kind of dolphins is really shy, so you need a good guide-cum-spotter to catch a sight of this dolphin in the Damai area.
To find out more about Sarawak’s historical background, visit The Islamic Museum in Kuching is a must. Opened in 1992, it was originally a Malay college but now houses seven galleries displaying elements of the Islamic culture and religion, which includes History of Islam in Sarawak, Islamic Architecture, Science, Technology, Economics, Education and Literature, Music, Costumes and Personal Ornaments, Weaponry, Decorative Arts, Domestic Utensils and a Quran Collection.On the other hand, you also have to visit the Chinese History Museum, which was originally a court for the Chinese community in Kuching. It depicts the rich history of Sarawak’s diverse Chinese groups. At there, you will learn about their origins, traditional skills and culture through the exhibitions there.
Others than that, Sarawak’s charm also lies at the Cultural Village, which is dedicated to preserving and exhibiting the cultural heritage of Sarawak’s major ethnic groups. Catch a glimpse of the lifestyles of major indigenous groups which include the Iban, Bidayuh and Orang Ulu.
Overall, a visit to Sarawak entails a wonderful journey of discovery into its culture, heritage and history. From the peaceful sights of Kuching city to the awe of its historical museums, there are a lot of things for you to do and see in Sarawak.
Best Time to Visit
The best time to go Sarawak is from June to August. In that period, Sarawak has the least rainfall. Besides that, if you intend to go for bird-watching at Buntal village, the best period is from October to March.
Where to Stay
A wide variety of accommodations are available in Sarawak. For the budget backpackers, it is recommended to stay at Mandarin Lodging House due to its rates and facilities provided. For luxury, it is highly recommended to stay at Four Points by Sheraton Kuching due to its excellent services and also the location. Unlike Kuala Lumpur, Sarawak is very big; you should choose the accommodation that is near the place that you want to visit.
Where & What to Eat
One of the Sarawak specialties is Umai. Umai is a traditional dish of the Melanau people, which is a spicy salad of raw marinated fish, limes and shallots. You may get it at Penrissen Inn, Tapanga Tree and Malay food stalls in Top Spot (Taman Kareta).
Apart from that, you also must try the Iban’s fine delicacies likes Pansoh Manok, which is chicken with rice wine cooked in bamboo. The same technique is also used to cook fish. You can savour this dish at Penrissen Inn or the Cottage.
For seafood lover, you must try the steamed pomfret or manchong fish, asam prawns, sambal prawns and slipper lobster.
Others Sarawak specialties like Sarawak laksa, Kolo mee (simple but popular Sarawakian noodle dish), Tomato Kueh Tiaw and Foochow bagel (kompia) are the “must eat” if you make your to Sarawak. The Foochow bagel can only be found in Sibu where ethnic Chinese of Foochow clan formed a majority.
At night, shopping complexes and eating places are the busiest places in Sarawak’s cities and towns. Shopping complexes are close at 9:30 pm, but some eating places are open until midnight. After 6pm, the state’s capital city, Kuching are always filled with colorful streetlights, enhancing the natural vigour and charm of this vibrant city. The city centre showcases Kuching’s rich culture and tradition with beautifully lit up monuments and pre and post colonial landmarks such as the Fort Margherita and The Astana in the charming night. Melodious rhythm from adjoining entertainment outlets, clubs, bistros and nightspots is the greatest lure for the energetic few.
In Sarawak, both Kuching and Miri have the hottest nightlife. Most of the hotels in these two cities house pubs, lounges, and discotheques for the night owl. Outside the hotels, there are many karaoke lounges and nightclubs.
My to do List
– Damai beach
– Timber Museum
– Tua Pek Kong Temple
– Santubong Fishing Village
– Fort Margherita
– Have a fantastic view of the limestone spikes at Pinnacles (a series of 45-metre high limestone formations)
– langkau or Iban whisky (stronger dose)
– local food (‘Belacan’, shrimp paste, birds’ nests, fruit preserves and pickles)
– ‘Kain Songket’
– beaded jewelry, woven mats and rattan baskets
– locally manufactured Sarawak jars and pottery.
Stay Away From
Be careful of saltwater crocodiles (Crocodylus porosus) because they are very common in certain parts of Sarawak. Caution should be taken when entering water, especially brackish areas such as Batang Lupar.
The best way to get to this place is by plane. The largest gateway is Kuching, which is about one and half hours fly from Kuala Lumpur and Kota Kinabalu. There are also a few direct international flights from Indonesia (Pontianak, Bali and Jakarta), Bandar Seri Begawan, Brunei and Macau as well as Singapore flying to Kuching twice or thrice weekly. Other airports with domestic connections to Peninsula Malaysia on both Malaysian Airlines and Air Asia are Miri, Sibu and Bintulu. Besides that, MASWings serves flights between cities and rural areas in Sarawak.