Sarawak

Travel Guide Asia Malaysia Malaysian Borneo Sarawak

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Introduction

Sarawak is one of the two Malaysian states on the island of Borneo (Sabah being the other state). This territory has a certain level of autonomy in administration, immigration, and judiciary which differentiates it from the Malaysian Peninsula states. Sarawak is situated in northwest Borneo, bordering the state of Sabah to the northeast, Kalimantan, the Indonesian portion of Borneo, to the south, and surrounding the independent state of Brunei. The capital city, Kuching, is the economic centre of the state and the seat of the Sarawak state government. Other cities and towns in Sarawak include Miri, Sibu, and Bintulu. As of the 2015 census in Malaysia, the state's population is 2,636,000. Sarawak has an equatorial climate with tropical rainforests and abundant animal and plant species. The state has several prominent cave systems at Gunung Mulu National Park. Rajang River is the longest river in Malaysia; Bakun Dam, one of the largest dams in Southeast Asia, is located on one of its tributaries. Mount Murud is the highest point in Sarawak.

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Geography

The total land area of Sarawak is nearly 124,450 square kilometres, and lies between the northern latitudes 0° 50′ and 5° and eastern longitudes 109° 36′ and 115° 40′ E. Sarawak makes up 37.5% of the total area of Malaysia. It contains large tracts of tropical rainforest with abundant plant and animal species.

The state of Sarawak has 750 kilometres of coastline, interrupted in the north by about 150 kilometres of Bruneian coast. Sarawak is separated from Kalimantan Borneo by ranges of high hills and mountains that are part of the central mountain range of Borneo. These become loftier to the north, and are highest near the source of the Baram River at the steep Mount Batu Lawi and Mount Mulu. Mount Murud is the highest point in Sarawak. Lambir Hills National Park is known for its various waterfalls. The world's largest underground chamber, the Sarawak Chamber, is located inside the Gunung Mulu National Park. Other attractions in the park include the Deer Cave (the largest cave passage in the world) and the Clearwater Cave (the longest cave system in Southeast Asia). The national park is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Sarawak is generally divided into three ecoregions. The coastal region is rather low-lying and flat with large areas of swamp and other wet environments. Beaches in Sarawak include: Pasir Panjang and Damai beaches in Kuching, Tanjung Batu beach in Bintulu, and Tanjung Lobang and Hawaii beaches in Miri. The hill region accounts for most of the inhabited land and are where most of the cities and towns are found. The ports of Kuching and Sibu are built some distance from the coast on rivers. Bintulu and Miri are close to the coastline where the hills stretch right to the South China Sea. The third region is the mountainous region along the Kalimantan–Borneo border and with the Kelabit (Bario), Murut (Ba'kelalan) and Kenyah (Usun Apau Plieran) highlands in the north.

The major rivers in Sarawak are: the Sarawak River, Lupar River, Saribas River, and Rajang River. The Sarawak River is the main river flowing through Kuching. The Rajang River is the longest river in Malaysia, measuring 563 kilometres including Balleh River, its tributary. To the north, the Baram River, Limbang River, and Trusan River drain into the Brunei Bay.

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Cities

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Sights and Activities

  • Mulu Caves - Among these limestone caves in the Gunung Mulu National Park is Sarawak chamber, the world's largest known underground chamber.
  • Sarawak Cultural Village - Located 35 kilometres from Kuching on the foothill of Mount Santubong, it is a showcase of Sarawak's fascinating culture.
  • Niah National Park
  • Bako National Park - Proboscis monkeys and great coastal walks
  • Batang Ai National Park
  • Kelabit Highlands
  • Bukit Lambir National Park
  • Loagan Bunut National Park - including the largest freshwater lake in East Malaysia.
  • Gunung Gading National Park - good place to spot the Rafflesia, the world's largest flower
  • Kubah National Park
  • Tanjung Datu National Park
  • Talang-Satang National Park - including Sarawak’s marine turtle population
  • Similajau National Park

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Events and Festivals

  • Thaipusam - This annual Hindu festival commemorates the birthday of Lord Murugan. Over a million devotees and visitors throng Batu Caves on this eventful celebration, every year.
  • Chinese New Year - Chinese make up about a quarter of the total population and in honour of the Chinese New Year, Malaysia has declared the first two days as public holidays. In the Gregorian calendar, Chinese New Year falls on different dates each year, a date between 21 January and 20 February.
  • Hari Raya Aidil Fitri (Eid ul-Fitr) - This Muslim festival marks the end of the fasting month of Ramadan and is celebrated by 60% of the population. The first two days are public holidays, and most people take extra days off to spend time with family and visit relatives and friends.
  • Mid-Autumn Festival - Alternatively known as the Lantern Festival or Mooncake Festival, the Mid-Autumn Festival falls on the full moon day (15th day) of the eighth month of the Chinese calendar – usually in September.
  • Deepavali (or Diwali) - A significant Hindu festival also known as the Festival of Lights, celebrating the victory of good over evil. Based on the Hindu luni-solar calendar, Deepavali typically falls between mid-October and mid-November.
  • Christmas - This joyous day is declared a public holiday in Malaysia. Year 2000 census indicates that almost a tenth of the population are Christians.

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Weather

Sarawak has a tropical geography with an equatorial climate. It experiences two monsoon seasons: a northeast monsoon and a southwest monsoon. The northeast monsoon occurs between November and February, causing heavy rainfall; the southwest monsoon sees less rainfall. The climate is stable throughout the year except for the two monsoons. The average daily temperature varies from 23 °C in the morning to 32 °C in the afternoon, with Miri having the lowest average temperatures in comparison to other major towns in Sarawak. Miri additionally has the most hours of sunshine (more than six hours a day), while other areas receive sunshine for five to six hours a day. Humidity is usually high, exceeding 68 percent. The annual rainfall varies between 330 centimetres and 460 centimetres, spanning 220 days a year. Lothosols and lithosols make up 60 percent of the land, while podsols accounts for 12% of the Sarawak land area. Alluvium is found in the coastal and riverine regions while 12% of the Sarawak land area is covered with peat swamp forest.

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Getting There

By Plane

Most travellers arriving by plane, arrive at the Kuching International Airport (airport code: KCH). Air Asia is a budget airline that serves Kuching, as well as other airport in Sarawak, including Bintulu, Sibu and Miri. There are connections from Kuala Lumpur, Kota Kinabalu (Sabah) and Johor Bahru to most of them. Kuching has many more international flights as well, for example from Macau, Jakarta and Singapore, as well as direct flights from Penang in Malaysia.
Malaysia Airlines has an extensive network of flights as well.

By Car

Sarawak has land borders with Brunei, Indonesia and the Malaysian state of Sabah.

There are several land crossings between Sarawak and Brunei. They are at Sungei Tujuh (on the road between Miri and Bandar Seri Begawan, Tedungan (on the road between Limbang and Bandar Seri Begawan), Pandaruan (a ferry crossing on the route between Limbang and Brunei's Temburong district) and Labu (along the route from Temburong district to Lawas).

The main crossing between Sarawak and Indonesia is the Tebedu-Entikong checkpoint which lies along the Kuching-Pontianak road. There are many other crossings between the two countries although the legality of these crossings are questionable and are mostly used by locals living in those areas. It is also possible to legally cross the border in the Kelabit Highlands between Bario and Long Bawan.

As Sarawak controls its own immigration matters, there are checkpoints at border between Sarawak and Sabah at Merapok (Sindumin on the Sabah side) near Lawas.

By Bus

There are direct international buses from Pontianak, Indonesia to Kuching, a direct express bus service between Lawas in northeastern Sarawak and Kota Kinabalu, Sabah as well as bus connections between Bandar Seri Begawan, Brunei and Miri.

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Getting Around

By Plane

Malaysia Airlines and budget airlines AirAsia provide frequent flights between Kuching, Sibu, Bintulu and Miri.

The rural air service is operated by MASWings. Flights use Fokkers and Twin Otter aircraft. Fokkers flight cover Kuching, Sibu, Miri, Limbang and Mulu National Park while Twin Otter planes link Kuching, Sibu, Miri and Lawas with rural towns and longhouses like Mukah, Marudi and various settlements in the Kelabit Highlands like Bario, Bakelalan, Long Seridan, Long Lellang, Long Banga and Long Akah.

By Car

Sarawak is big and, by otherwise high Malaysian standards, its roads are poor, making planes the most convenient way of getting around.

By Bus

Most cities in Sarawak are now linked by express buses although travelling times can be long because of the distance. Companies include Vital Focus Transportations Sdn. Bhd. , which operates Suria Bas, PB and Borneo Highway express buses, and Biaramas.

By Boat

Express boats run from the coast inland along Borneo's larger rivers. They are generally faster than buses and cheaper than planes. Popular routes include Kuching-Sibu (4 hours) and Sibu-Kapit (3 hours).

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Eat

Unlike fellow Malaysians in Peninsular Malaysia and Sabah, the range of food and drinks in Sarawak, particularly Kuching is somewhat different. Here are the food you might never heard of when you browse through the food menu:

Sarawak Laksa. Sarawak laksa is the most noticeably Sarawakian food in Kuching. It was a favourite among Sarawakian from Chinese and Malay decent. It has a base of sambal belacan, sour tamarind, garlic, galangal, lemon grass and coconut milk, topped with omelette strips, chicken strips, prawns, fresh coriander and optionally lime. Ingredients such as bean sprouts, sliced fried tofu or other seafood are not traditional but are sometimes added. Non-Halal Sarawak laksa can be found at most Chinese coffee shops while Halal Sarawak laksa can be found at most Malay coffee shops (and some Mamak too). Halal and non-Halal Sarawak laksa are not that different, except for the usage of Halal chicken meat and the cooking utensils used by the cook. The Chinese version of Sarawak laksa has a less thick gravy but is rich with condiments and toppings. The Malay version of Sarawak laksa has a thicker gravy but more taugeh (beansprouts).
Kolok Mee. Kolok mee is a type of noodle dish commonly found in Sarawak. It is served throughout the day - for breakfast, lunch or even supper though some eateries only serve kolok mee until noon because supplies run out. It is made of egg noodle, blanched in water that looks like instant noodle and served in a light sauce with some condiments like sliced pork, chicken cutlets, minced meat or sometimes shredded beef though this is unusual. The difference between kolok mee and wontan mee, which is popular in the Peninsula, is that kolok mee is not drenched in dark soy sauce and water is not added to the noodles when served. Kolok mee comes in two common flavours, plain or seasoned with red sauce. Cooks tend to season kolok mee with red sauce when they are served with pork. Occasionally, diners may also request their kolok mee to be seasoned with soy sauce, to give the dish a darker appearance with enhanced saltiness.
Mee sapi. Mee sapi (mi sapi) is a gravy-ish version of kolok mee. It is garnished and prepared just like kolok mee with a slight difference in cooking method. The noodle can be somewhat egg noodle been used in kolok mee, or mee pok, mi sanggul - a curly type of noodle similar to angelhair spaghetti).
Manok pansoh. Manok pansoh is the most common dish among Iban. It is a chicken dish which normally be eaten with white rice. Chicken pieces are cut and stuffed into the bamboo together with other ingredients like mushrooms, lemongrass, tapioca leaves etc. and cooked over an open fire - similar to the way lemang is cooked. This natural way of cooking seals in the flavours and produces astonishingly tender chicken with a gravy perfumed with lemongrass and bamboo. Manok pansoh cannot be found easily in all restaurants and coffee shops. Some restaurants require advanced booking of manok pansoh dish prior to your arrival.
Manok kacangma. Manok kacangma is a Chinese type of dish which has grown in wider popularity in Sarawak. It is a chicken dish which normally be eaten with white rice. Kacangma is a type of herb which normally being used for medical and healing purposes. It is believed that woman who eat manok kacangma can enjoy ease menses. As for Malay, they normally cook manok kacangma without wine, while as for Iban and Chinese, they squinch in wine for more delicate taste. You can try manok kacangma when you eat 'nasi campur' during lunch hours in Kuching. However, it is extremely hard to find a coffee shop or restaurant who serves this.
Umai. Umai is a raw fish salad popular among various ethnic groups of Sarawak, especially the Melanaus. In fact, umai is a traditional working lunch for the Melanau fishermen. Umai is prepared raw from freshly caught fish, iced but not frozen. Main species used include mackerel, nawal hitam and umpirang. It is made mainly of thin slivers of raw fish, thinly sliced onions, chilli, salt and the juice of sour fruits like lime or assam. It is usually accompanied by a bowl of toasted sago pearls instead of rice. Its simplicity makes it a cinch for fishermen to prepare it aboard their boats. Umai Jeb, a raw fish salad without other additional spices, is famous among Bintulu Melanaus. However, it is rarely prepared in Kuching. You can try umai when you eat Nasi campur during lunch hours in Kuching. Most Malay/Bumiputera coffee shops, serve umai daily for 'nasi campur'.
Midin. The locals greatly indulge in jungle fern such as the midin (quite similar to pucuk paku that is popular in the Peninsular). Midin is much sought after for its crisp texture and great taste. Midin is usually served in two equally delicious ways - fried with either garlic or belacan. You can try midin when you eat nasi campur during lunch hours in Kuching. Most coffee shops, served midin daily for 'nasi campur'.
Bubur pedas. Unlike many other porridge that we know, bubur pedas is cooked with a specially prepared paste. It is quite spicy thanks to its ingredients, which include spices, turmeric, lemon grass, galangal, chillies, ginger, coconut and shallots. Like the famous bubur lambuk of Kuala Lumpur. Bubur pedas is exclusive dish prepared during the month of Ramadan and served during the breaking of fast. So don't expect to eat bubur pedas at anytime you want.
Linut. Linut (also known as ambuyat by Brunei people or jalit by Miri Locals) is a Melanau food. Appropriate amount of sago flour, depending on the number of people, is prepared by cleaning with water. Clean water is then added to the flour before boiling water is poured on the flour as it is stirred until it turns sticky like glue. Linut is best when served hot, and that is why the accompaniment and side dishes must be prepared before hand so that the linut can served right away while it is still hot. The traditional way to scoop the sticky linut from the bowl is to use a special clipper made from the vein of the sago palm frond. Just poke the clipper into the linut and twist it around a few times and scoop the linut which sticks to the clipper. Linut is normally served during a family reunion or a gathering of friends and visitors.
Dabai. ‘dabai’ scientifically known as ‘Carnarium Odontophyllum Miq’ is a Sarawak local fruit .
Mi Jawa. Mi Jawa (mee Jawa) in Kuching or Sarawak in general is somewhat different from the one served in Peninsular Malaysia, or even at its birthplace on Java island. It is a thick egg yellow noodle served with tiny slice of chicken and a sprinkle of 'daun sup' (or bay leaves). Some coffee shops serve a 'special' type of mee Jawa (which you need to add from 50 cents to RM1.50) with an additional few sticks of satay (chicken and/or beef). Mee Jawa is normally served at Malay/Mamak coffee shops.
Roti corned beef. Roti canai is a widely-known Peninsular-origin of Indian decent food of Malaysia. However, Sarawakian has modified one type of roti canai which you might not find on Peninsular Malaysia even in Mamak stalls or Malay coffee shops. It is a roti canai with a corned beef filling and is widely available at Malay and Mamak coffee shops. It can be bought for as low as RM2 per piece due to cheap canned corned beef. However, since the Gateway-brand corned beef was officially considered non-Halal, roti corned beef has lost its popularity and if it does exist, the price may range from RM4-RM5 per piece.
Nasik Aruk. Nasik Aruk is a traditional Sarawakian Malay fried rice. Unlike nasi goreng, nasik aruk does not use any oil to fry the rice. The ingredients are garlic, onion and anchovies, fried with very little oil and then the cook is added. The rice must be fried for a longer time compared to nasi goreng to allow the smokey/slightly-burnt taste to be absorbed into the rice. It is a common to see nasik aruk in the food menu list at Malay and Mamak coffee shops and stalls.

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Drink

The local firewater, served up in prodigious quantities if you stay in a longhouse, is known as tuak and is distilled from rice, sago or any other convenient source of fermentable sugar. For those who want a stronger dose, langkau or Iban whisky can be sourced from longhouses in the interior. You can buy commercial tuak (The Royalist) at most supermarkets in Kuching, and is a good souvenir. The commercial rice wine/tuak is rather pleasant to drink, and with none of that home-brewed murkiness.

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This is version 31. Last edited at 15:11 on Nov 4, 19 by Utrecht. 25 articles link to this page.

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