The dynamic oil town of Miri is busy and modern – not much about it is Borneo – but there’s plenty of money sloshing around so the eating is good, the broad avenues are brightly lit and there’s plenty to do when it’s raining. The city’s friendly guesthouses are a good place to meet other travellers. The population is about 40% Dayak (mainly Iban), 30% Chinese and 18% Malay.
Gateway to the Batang Rejang, Sibu has grown rich from trade with Sarawak’s interior since the time of James Brooke. These days, although the ‘swan city’ does not rival Kuching in terms of charm, it’s not a bad place to spend a day or two before or after a boat trip to the wild interior. Situated 60km upriver from the open sea, Sibu is Sarawak’s most Chinese city.
Gunung Mulu National Park
Also known as the Gunung Mulu World Heritage Area, this park is one of the most majestic and thrilling nature destinations anywhere in Southeast Asia. No surprise, then, that Unesco declared it a World Heritage Site in 2005. Few national parks anywhere in the world pack so many natural marvels into such a small area.
Thanks to huge offshore natural gas fields, Bintulu is Sarawak’s most important centre for the production of LNG (liquefied natural gas) and fertiliser. The town, roughly midway between Sibu and Miri (about 200km from each), makes a good staging post for visits to Similajau National Park and for overland travel to Belaga.
Like Bako National Park 8km to the east, the Santubong Peninsula (also known as Damai) is a 10km-long finger of land jutting out into the South China Sea. The main drawcards are the longhouses of the Sarawak Cultural Village, some beaches, jungle walks, a golf course and a great seafood restaurant in the fishing village of Kampung Buntal.
Niah National Park
The vast limestone caverns of 31-sq-km Niah National Park are among Borneo’s most famous and impressive natural attractions. At the heart of the park is the Great Cave, one of the largest caverns in the world. Niah’s caves have provided groundbreaking insights into human life on Borneo way back when the island was still connected to mainland Southeast Asia.
By the time you pull into Belaga after the long cruise up the Batang Rejang, you may feel like you’ve arrived in the very heart of Borneo – in reality, you’re only about 100km (as the crow flies) from the coast. There’s not much to do here except soak up the frontier vibe, but nearby rivers are home to quite a few Kayan/Kenyah and Orang Ulu longhouses.
Similajau National Park
An easy 30km northeast of Bintulu, Similajau National Park is a fine little coastal park with golden-sand beaches, good walking trails and simple accommodation. Occupying a narrow, 30km-long strip along the South China Sea, its 90 sq km encompasses littoral habitats such as mangroves, kerangas (heath forest) and mixed dipterocarp forest, (classic lowland tropical rainforest).
Kubah National Park
Mixed dipterocarp forest, among the lushest and most threatened habitats in Borneo, is front and centre at this 22-sq-km national park, which more than lives up to its clunky motto, ‘the home of palms and frogs’. Scientists have found here an amazing 98 species of palm, out of 213 species known to live in Sarawak; and they have identified 61 species of frog and toad (www.
The quiet town of Lundu, an overgrown fishing village about 55km west of Kuching, is the gateway to Gunung Gading National Park. The road north out of town leads not only to Gunung Gading National Park but also to two beaches that are popular with Kuchingites on weekends and holidays.