The recent advent of uber-cheap airfares has made travel around Sarawak a fair bit easier. Plane tickets are often similarly priced to bus tickets, if you can catch a good deal online.
The best way to reach Gunung Mulu National Park and the Kelabit Highlands (arguably the two best attractions in Sarawak) is by plane. Daily MASwings flights depart from Miri in the morning. We highly recommend booking in advance as there are only a handful of seats on each flight. There are multiple daily flights connecting Kuching and Miri.
Transport by boat has long been the traditional way of getting around in Sarawak, though the use of this option has decreased in recent years as roads have improved. War parties and traders used to rely on brute paddling strength to get them up and down Sarawak’s rivers; these days travel on larger rivers, such as the Rejang and Baram, is accomplished in fast passenger launches known by the generic term ekspres (express). These long, narrow boats carry around 100 people, and look a bit like ex-Soviet jumbo jets with the wings removed. Where and when the express boats can’t go, river travel is still mainly by longboat, though these are now motorised.
Hiring a longboat is often your only option for reaching many spots. Be prepared to pay a fair bit for the experience, as fuel isn’t cheap in remote areas (ie most of Sarawak). Getting a group together to share costs can be worth the time and effort.
Travel by road in Sarawak is generally good, and the road from Kuching to the Brunei border is surfaced all the way. Travellers arriving from elsewhere in Malaysia will be pleasantly surprised by the relative sanity of Sarawak drivers. Express buses ply the Kuching–Brunei route all the time, although it should be noted that the boat ride from Kuching to Sibu is significantly faster than the bus route.
Sarawak has an incredible array of travel agencies and tour operators offering trips to every corner of the state. Some companies cater to special interests, such as photography, natural history and textiles, tattoos or crafts. Kuching has by far the highest number of companies.
The most common packages are centred on Gunung Mulu National Park, Sarawak’s biggest attraction. In Kuching, the standard short-stay package will generally involve a city tour and visits to the Sarawak Cultural Village, Semenggoh Orang-utan Rehabilitation Centre and Bako National Park. One- to three-night trips to the longhouses south of Kuching are also big sellers.
As well as trekking tours, there is a growing number of adventure-sports activities, though Sarawak can’t yet compete with Sabah in this department. Possibilities include potholing (caving), mountain biking and some reef diving. Almost any itinerary can be tailored to include a longhouse visit or local homestay, which often include cultural performances or communal activities such as cooking and harvesting.
Most tours are priced for a minimum of two people (and often five or six). Trips are often cancelled because of insufficient numbers, particularly with the cheaper tour operators – refunds should be immediate if a trip is cancelled. If you’re looking for a group to join, you can leave a contact number with tour operators or the local tourist information centre.