Often known as ‘The Land of Hornbills,’ Sarawak is one of the two states located in East Malaysia. Despite its rich culture and their long preserved indigenous traditions, people often have the misconception that Sarawak is less developed. However, it is a place where you can have close encounters with nature and choose from a plethora of outdoor activities. Spend your weekend in Sarawak by strolling along the beaches, jungle trekking, and watching football matches at food courts to witness the vibrant nightlife of hipster streets. There is always something for you in Sarawak as it is a state which appeals to all age groups!
Now, let’s have the UNMC students from Sarawak share about their state and the wonders it has to offer for visitors!
Vevila Hong – 1st Year Pharmacy
Keith L. Robert – 1st Year Civil Engineering
Wong Ging – 4th Year Mechanical Engineering
Compare KL or Semenyih to Sarawak. Do you think there are any differences?
Vevila: In Kuching, we only have to travel short distances to get to places. Even traveling to the airport takes only around 15 minutes. Whereas in KL, I bet it would take more than an hour to get to KLIA due to the traffic. Though in comparison to Semenyih, I would say that Kuching is definitely more developed. Most importantly, the food from my hometown is much cheaper!
Keith: From where I come from, Miri, it is more peaceful as compared to the busy, hectic lifestyle here in KL. We have public buses which I have never tried, mainly because it’s not well maintained. Alternatively, we drive around as most places are within reachable distances and there’s no bad traffic there.
Wong: Needless to say, KL has more leisure activities and places to hang out with your friends in comparison to my hometown, Bintulu. There aren’t that many branded shops either. In fact, we only had our first McDonald’s in 2012. Our transport system is also not fully developed, thus it is more convenient to travel in KL. However, food in Bintulu is cheaper and I personally think that people here are friendlier.
What are some of the misconceptions people often have about Sarawak?
Interestingly enough, all three interviewees agreed upon a common misconception that people often have about Sarawak, which is that Sarawakians live on trees.
Vevila: People tend to think that Kuching isn’t well developed but I’d like to argue that we are! Another interesting comment that I have received is that people tend to perceive the Ibans as traditional or even old-fashioned, but the truth is most people here are modern and fashionable.
Keith: Personally, I’ve never had anyone ask me that question, but if someone does, I would jokingly respond by saying that sampan (wooden boat) is our mode of transportation too. Though I’ve met some people who think we are underdeveloped and that we don’t even have access to the internet at home. Just so you know, even those who live in longhouses have access to internet and satellite television.
Wong: During my National Service Training Programme (PLKN), many people asked me if we lived on trees. In other cases, some even thought that all Sarawakians are rich, assuming that each and every one of us run fossil fuel business. Another common misconception is that the main language we converse is in English. However, the fact is that most of us speak Chinese or other local dialects.
What are some of your favourite places to hang out with your friends?
Vevila: In Sarawak, there are not many Mamaks for us to visit, so instead we would frequent Kopitiams or Food Courts. I enjoy hanging out at Open Air Market with my friends as this market mostly serves local dishes, a few being Beef Noodle, Ais Kacang and Siew Mai. On top of that, football enthusiasts often drop by to watch matches while having their supper. As for Kopitiams, my favourite would be Choon Hui Café. When I’m home, I often have breakfast there; their specialties include Laksa, Kolo Mee and Popiah. For supper, I enjoy eating at Lok Lok, a place famous for their sauces.
For those traveling with friends or family, a place that I would like to recommend is the Ooha Chill Donut Boat Ride which tours along Sarawak River for about 45 minutes. If you do plan to take the ride, I would advise for you to go at night for the breezy air and a full night view of the waterfront. After the ride, you can walk over to Carpenter Street, where they serve a wide range of food, such as Fish Ball Soup, Satay, Kway Chap and more.
Keith: Honestly, I don’t hang out often, but I do enjoy trying out different food and delicacies. If you visit Sarawak, definitely try out the Kuching Laksa served at 28 Kopitiam. Their ingredients are fresh and the soup base is great. On top of that, you wouldn’t want to miss out Naga Liar Nasi Lemak on your list of mandatory food to eat in Sarawak!
Wong: I enjoy strolling along Tanjong Batu Beach with my friends, especially the stone path walkway. Occasionally, we even have BBQ sessions there! If you happen to visit, don’t forget to try out ABC shaved ice and Satay. Also, I like having dinner at Farley Food Court as they have a variety of cheap but great food.
Could you share with us some underrated places to visit in Sarawak?
Vevila: One of the underrated places would be this particular stall that sells Kway Chap along the streets of Kuching. They do not have a physical shop so it’s quite hard for people to hunt it down. While it may not be the cheapest Kway Chap in Kuching, the soup will definitely leave you wanting more! For those who do not know, Kway Chap is a Teochew dish that is made up of a combination of soy sauce broths, rice sheets and assorted pork and sides.
Keith: I would recommend Summit Café as you get to try some good Kelabit food without needing to travel up to Bario Highland. Among the list of dishes they have, there are some pork dishes that I really like. For those who are interested in visiting Bario Highland, the only way to get there is by plane from Marudi. Bario is located in the north-eastern corner of Sarawak and is a Kelabit territory. In Kelabit language, Bario stands for ‘wind.’ With a large variety of exotic food, ranging from worms to wild boar, be mentally prepared for this food adventure! For the less adventurous, you can opt for home-grown highland rice and salt, which Bario is famous for. What I particularly like about this place is that they still maintain their authenticity! The elders there are also very friendly and welcoming.
Wong: As a person who enjoys nature, my personal recommendation would be Taman Tumbina Bintulu. The special factor that sets this place apart from the others is that it is an integration of a botanical and zoological garden. Although there aren’t that many animals like you would expect to see in a zoo, it is still a great place to jog or simply stroll as you enjoy the view.
What are some places you must visit or things you must do in Sarawak?
Vevila: I would recommend visiting Semenggoh Nature Reserve as you get to see semi-wild orangutans swaying freely here. The best time to visit would be during their feeding sessions, as that is when the orangutans will come back to the centre. Other than that, I also recommend for you to stop by Taman Ranchan Rekreasi. It is a relaxing place for people who need some time off for themselves. The trekking trails are well- maintained so people can walk or trek with ease. We also have clear water streams where you can often find people having picnics by it.
Keith: In Miri, the Borneo Jazz Festival is held annually and is one of the longest running Jazz festivals in the region. So, I would suggest for you to participate if you happen to be here during the festival. Tusan Beach is another place you won’t want to miss. It has always been popular for the large cliff with a natural arc through it. A few years back, Tusan Beach exploded in popularity due to its fluorescent glowing water at night. This phenomenon is caused by the millions of phytoplankton in the water and the glowing effect can only be produced when it is disturbed by motion such as waves. Among the beaches around the area, I would say Tusan Beach has the best view. Unfortunately, it is quite a rare sight recently, probably due to the pollution caused by the influx of tourists.
Wong: I would recommend Similajau National Park if you need a break from city life. Coming here really cuts you from the outside world as there is no internet connection here. If you are lucky enough, you might get to see crocodiles by the beach. On even luckier occasions, you’ll manage to see dolphins too! If you trek for about two hours from the park, you will reach the Turtle Beach where you get to witness the process of turtles laying eggs (usually in March). Trekking for another extra hour will get you to the Golden Beach.
Once again, we hope that you have gained new insights on Sarawak and the exotic beauty it has to offer. Upon receiving some tips from the Sarawakians, we hope that this article can aid you in planning a trip across the other side of Malaysia to experience the hospitability of the people and the culture. Until next time!
By Wong Xeang Min