Miri, Sarawak's second city, is a thriving oil town that is busy and modern. There’s plenty of money sloshing around, so the eating is good, the broad avenues are brightly lit, there’s plenty to do when it’s raining and the city’s friendly guesthouses are a great 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.
A trip up the tan, churning waters of 640km-long Batang Rejang (Rejang River) – the ‘Amazon of Borneo’ – is one of Southeast Asia’s great river journeys. Express ferries barrel through the currents, eddies and whirlpools, the pilots expertly dodging angular black boulders half-hidden in the roiling waters.
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.
Shaped like a crab claw, the Limbang Division slices Brunei in two. Tourism is underdeveloped in these parts, but Bruneians love popping across the border to find shopping bargains, including cheap beer smuggled in from duty-free Pulau Labuan. The area, snatched from the sultan of Brunei by Charles Brooke in 1890, is still claimed by Brunei.
Nestled in Sarawak’s northeastern corner, the upland rainforests of the Kelabit (keh-lah-bit) Highlands are sandwiched between Gunung Mulu National Park and the Indonesian state of East Kalimantan, and home to the Kelabits, an Orang Ulu group who number only about 6500.
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. With some decent sandy strips, Santubong is the best place in Sarawak for a lazy, pampered beach holiday. The forested interior of the peninsula was declared a national park in 2007.