Sarawak: The Do-It-All Destination for 5 Types of Travellers

Sarawak: The Do-It-All Destination for 5 Types of Travellers

Sink your teeth into Sarawak, where there’s something for everyone.

With 13 states, three federal territories, and a total area that spans over 300,000 square kilometres, tropical Malaysia is home to some of the world’s most beloved tourist spots. Travellers flock to the culturally diverse country for highly rated hotspots like Langkawi, George Town, and KL. But of course, what top destination isn’t complete without its underrated gems and best-kept secrets?

While popular go-tos yield sterling reviews online for a reason, the draw of Sarawak is in the fact that it is wildly, grossly overlooked — and that the place offers, without fail, something of interest for every type of traveller! Here is a piece of Malaysia that you’ll easily fall in love with, whether you’re travelling solo or with a big group; whether you’re out to commune with nature in ancient rainforests or get a taste of local life in bustling Kuching.

sarawak's carpenter street

Image credit: Sarawak Tourism Board

The cherry on top? Since it’s still somewhat under the radar, you get to keep Sarawak to yourself for a while — just until others catch on and discover its unique soul and pulse. These things to do in Sarawak will prove that the ‘Land of the Hornbills’ ticks all the right boxes… and can be the all-in-one trip you’re looking for this year. Let’s dive right into it!

Nature explorer

Tucked in the northwestern part of Borneo, Sarawak is an Eden for native wildlife. The place brims with lush vegetation, protected areas, and nature reserves — definitely a must-visit for lovers of the great outdoors.

Spend a day (or two) in a national park

kuching wetlands national park

Wildlife Cruise at the Kuching Wetlands National Park | Image credit: Sarawak Tourism Board

Did you know that “about 63 percent of Sarawak” was still covered by forests as reported by The Borneo Post in 2019? The ‘Land of the Hornbills’ takes pride in the fact that it is considered the Malaysian state with the largest forest area. So it only makes sense to immerse in these ancient Borneo rainforests. This is Mother Nature in all her raw glory — what better way to carry out a nature retreat?

Rest assured you’ll have plenty of options once you reach Sarawak, some even just a short distance from the capital, Kuching. Our top recommendation would be to visit a national park or protected area, so you also get to support sustainable tourism initiatives.

wildlife at kuching wetlands national park

Spot animals on a wildlife cruise at Kuching Wetlands National Park | Image credit: Sarawak Tourism Board

Less than an hour’s drive away from the city centre is Kuching Wetlands National Park. This is where you can take in the sights and sounds of Sarawak Mangrove Forest Reserve. Entering this mangrove environment affords you a unique experience since you’ll have to get around by boat! Cruise along the estuaries of the Salak River and Santubong to spot Irrawaddy dolphins, or choose to pass through smaller rivers to make out proboscis monkeys high up in the trees or crocs under the water.

bako national park

Bako National Park | Image credit: Sarawak Tourism Board

Another site you can head to for wild proboscis monkey sightings is the Bako National Park, which is only an hour away from Kuching. Bako National Park is also Sarawak’s oldest nature reserve, having been declared a protected area in 1957. The area is rich in, well, everything — so much so that they say its diverse biodiversity is incomparable to anywhere else in the state. In just a small area, it boasts of lush forest cover, scenic cliffs, mangroves, coastlines, coves and beaches, plus healthy populations of wildlife! You’ll be glad to know that there are several trails within the park as well, so you can explore Bako National Park according to your own pace and fitness level.

the pinnacles of gunung mulu

Gunung Mulu’s Pinnacles | Image credit: Paul White

Lastly, for a nature adventure punctuated by otherworldly peaks and mystical caves home to impressive bat colonies, schedule a trip to Gunung Mulu World Heritage Area. One of its most iconic attractions called The Pinnacles is truly a sight to behold. The jagged limestone formations are said to be 60 million years old — imagine that! For a day surrounded by Borneo’s natural history, there is no better place. The UNESCO World Heritage Site is also the biggest national park in Sarawak, so you’ll get to enjoy leisurely walks and even longboat rides. Tip: It’s advisable to contact the kind folks at the Sarawak Forestry Corporation in case of specific inquiries regarding any national park.

Kuching Wetlands National Park
Address: Petra Jaya, 93050 Kuching, Sarawak, Malaysia
Opening hours: 9am to 8pm on Monday–Saturday; closed on Sunday

Bako National Park
Address: Muara Tebas Peninsular 93000, Kuching, Sarawak, Malaysia
Opening hours: 8am to 5pm daily

Gunung Mulu World Heritage Area
Address: 94500 Lundu, Sarawak, Malaysia
Opening hours: For bookings, inquire on mulupark.com

Become a beach bum

We’ve been mentioning Sarawak’s mangroves and coastlines, so you bet it also hosts a number of sandy beaches!

A popular pick is Damai Beach, which you can access via the Damai Beach Resort. So yes, it’s a private beach. Damai Beach Resort offers 4-star services and facilities so you’re guaranteed a comfortable stay. The beach itself features fine, light-coloured sand and a calm coast perfect for sunbathing or wading in shallow waters. Nearby, there are a lot of hiking opportunities — like the Santubong National Park, which is a mere 10-minute walk from the property. What’s more, there are daily shuttle trips from Damai Beach Resort to Kuching city centre, so take advantage of the prime accessibility!

If you want to see where the locals go for some sun, sand, and sea, though, you should arrange a trip to Sematan Beach, a serene fishing village-turned-resort. For some serious Great Ocean Road vibes (think Australia’s golden cliffs!), stop by Luak Bay, which is just a 15-minute drive from the Miri city centre. This would be the ideal venue for a beach day if you’re on the other side of Sarawak, opposite Kuching.

Damai Beach Resort
Address: Teluk Bandung Santubong, 93756 Kuching, Sarawak, Malaysia
Opening hours: For bookings, inquire on damaibeachresort.com

Learn more about the conservation of native wildlife

Now would be a good time to truly understand why Sarawak is locally nicknamed the ‘Land of the Hornbills’. Stories of hornbills flying over Sarawak residents’ homes were once common, although it’s much harder to spot one flapping about outside protected areas these days due to dwindling numbers. Sarawak, after all, is home to eight of the world’s 54 hornbill species so you can just imagine countless sightings back in the day. The hornbill is a symbol of perseverance for locals, as the bird is protected all throughout the state. And while the bulbous-beaked bird has become synonymous with Sarawak, it isn’t the only critter to call the place home. 

hornbill in sarawak

Rhinoceros hornbill | Image credit: Sarawak Tourism Board  

The Semenggoh Wildlife Centre, which houses rescued orangutans to be reintroduced to the wild, is just a short drive away from Kuching city centre. Here, you can tarry a while just until you see these reddish-orange primates emerge from the greenery. They tend to be a bit shy, though, so your best bet is to come around at feeding times, 9am and 3pm. Don’t be disappointed if they don’t make an appearance; that just means they have enough food in the forest! That’s a good thing.

Another alternative right in Kuching is the Matang Wildlife Centre, which may be found inside Kubah National Park. The place is dedicated to the care of all native animals, but especially of endangered species. But if you plan on visiting Matang Wildlife Centre, you might have to wait until it reopens in July after they’ve finished repairs and maintenance.

proboscis monkey at sarawak

Proboscis monkey | Image credit: Sarawak Tourism Board; Photo by Tim Bird

Sarawak Samunsam Wildlife Sanctuary, on the other hand, is the oldest animal centre in the country and is a great option outside of Kuching. While it’s also an ideal bird-watching area, the centre is tasked primarily with the conservation of the proboscis monkey and its natural habitat.

Semenggoh Wildlife Centre
Address: KM 20, Borneo Highland Road, 93250 Kuching, Sarawak, Malaysia
Opening hours: 8am to 10am, 2pm to 4pm daily

Matang Wildlife Centre
Address: Kampung Rayu, 93050 Kuching, Sarawak, Malaysia
Opening hours: 8am to 5pm daily (reopens July 2020)

Sarawak Samunsam Wildlife Sanctuary
Address: 94500 Lundu, Sarawak, Malaysia

Culture connoisseur

If your idea of a good time is being steeped in history and culture, fret not. We’ve gathered the best way to experience Sarawak’s vibrant cultural heritage.

Visit Sarawak Cultural Village, a living museum

sarawak cultural village exterior

Sarawak Cultural Village | Image credit: Sarawak Tourism Board

There are many museums and galleries you can visit in Sarawak, but only one can call itself a living museum. The Sarawak Cultural Village observes an immersive, experiential approach to teaching culture; it’s your one-stop live introduction to the state’s indigenous people and cultural heritage! Here, you’ll see replicas of Sarawak’s ethnic houses and learn more about indigenous architecture such as Orang Ulu, Iban, and Bidayuh longhouses, the Melanau tall-house, and even a Penan jungle settlement! You can even watch cultural performances (complete with traditional garments, of course!) and try your hand at local activities and pastimes.

ethnic storytellers at sarawak cultural village

Learn about the culture of each ethnic group | Image credit: Sarawak Tourism Board

As you step into each house, an expert storyteller will guide you through his or her ethnic group’s customs and traditions. You might even get to try playing their musical instruments or handling some of their artifacts if they sense that you’re keen enough. Just remember, these objects and places are markers of these people’s identity; be a culturally sensitive and responsible traveller!

Sarawak Cultural Village
Address: Pantai Damai, Santubong, P.O.Box 2632, 93752 Kuching, Sarawak, Malaysia.
Opening hours: 9am to 5pm daily
Entrance fee: Adult — RM81.23 (~SGD26.89), Child (2-12 years old) — RM51.30 (~SGD16.98)

Attend the Rainforest World Music Festival

drummer performing at rainforest world music festival

Image credit: Sarawak Tourism Board

Now on its 23rd run, the award-winning Rainforest World Music Festival (RWMF) is an institution. In fact, it’s one of the most anticipated music festivals in Asia and it’s held right in Kuching, Sarawak. And as festival tourism is on the rise worldwide, avid festival-goers would do themselves well not to miss this unique gathering of local and international talent. 

Every year, the RWMF showcases diverse musical genius and provides a venue for musical acts that feature indigenous elements and ethnic instruments in their art. This is where you go to witness big names in the international music industry performing alongside musicians from Sarawak’s ethnic groups! Imagine three days of endless music, merrymaking, and art and craft — with the famed Borneo rainforests as your background. Although music is the main act, this isn’t the only thing you can look forward to at the RWMF. There are cultural and craft displays, hands-on workshops, and food and shopping stalls. You can even bring home a cute keepsake since there are many handicrafts and artisanal accessories for sale!

The best part? RWMF is a family-friendly, green event. It’s open to kids and it definitely places the environment first. Just a tip: Bring your own tumbler if you’re planning to attend the festival. You’ll see that even the food stands use eco-friendly plates and cutlery. Also, mind the signages on the garbage bins; this event takes trash segregation seriously! Do note that for 2020, RWMF starts on 10 July so feel free to plan your trip around that date. Learn more about the event and purchase your tickets here.

Go on a heritage tour around Kuching

the astana in kuching

The Astana, a palace in Kuching that serves as the residence of the Sarawak governor. | Image credit: Sarawak Tourism Board

Welcome to the ‘City of Cats’! The name Kuching was supposedly derived from the Malay word that means “cat” (kucing) and this is why cats are iconic in the Sarawak capital. But this doesn’t mean that you’ll only see cats here.

Being in Borneo, Kuching is an old settlement with a storied past. The place has so much to tell, from its ethnic history to the rule of the White Rajahs and the area’s Chinese and Indian influences. You’ll feel this as you walk along its streets and spot its heritage structures. There are many museums, heritage houses, monuments, and iconic landmarks to see, so why not make it an official item on your Sarawak itinerary and go on a tour? Luckily, there are many tours to choose from, most of which you can even book online. Take your pick from walking tours around the city to heritage tours that will bring you back in time.

Pay your respects in places of worship

Tua Pek Kong Temple in Kuching

Tua Pek Kong Temple in Kuching | Image credit: Sarawak Tourism Board

As vibrant and diverse as its culture is, you can expect to find many places of worship dotting Kuching. Drop by Kuching’s mosques and temples, and enrich your experience by watching people in prayer and learning more about their faith. Sure, you can head on over to these structures for a few snapshots, but keep in mind that these are holy sites. Don’t overdo the photo op.

Drop by the Old State Mosque, known for its pretty pastel hues (it’s baby pink!). Visit the Hindu temple, Sri Srinivasagar Kaliamman. Keep a lookout for Kuching’s colourful Chinese temples, too — there are temples of Tua Pek Kong, Hong San Si, and Chingsan Yan, to name a few!

Old State Mosque
Address: Jalan Tun Datuk Patinggi Haji Abdul Rahman Yaakub, Petra Jaya, 93050 Kuching, Sarawak, Malaysia

Sri Srinivasagar Kaliamman
Address: 412, Jalan Ban Hock, 93100 Kuching, Sarawak, Malaysia

Tua Pek Kong Temple
Address: Jalan Tunku Abdul Rahman, 93100 Kuching, Sarawak, Malaysia
Opening hours: 6am to 6pm daily

Insatiable foodie

Malaysia is a culinary paradise — no contesting that. And since this portion is bound to get our tummies rumbling, we won’t dillydally. Note all the tasty morsels you HAVE to try in Sarawak; let’s call them the ‘Sarawak specials’. Shall we dig in?

Get your fill of Sarawak’s noodles dishes

sarawak laksa

Image credit: Sarawak Tourism Board

Think you know your Asian noodles? Think again. Sarawak often spotlights iconic Malay dishes and makes their own versions. Take, for example, the Sarawak Laksa. We’re sure you’ve tasted many kinds of laksa before, even Penang’s asam laksa. But has your palette ever been graced by the subtle tang of Sarawak laksa? So while in Kuching, make sure to order a bowl (or bowls) of the Sarawak laksa and find out why the late Anthony Bourdain deemed it the “Breakfast of Gods”!

Other Sarawak noodle dishes you absolutely must get your fill of are Kampua Mee (a light yet savoury noodle dish originating from Sibu) and Kolo Mee, which is a well-loved yellow egg noodle dish.

Hoard some Sarawak layer cake for taking home

sarawak layer cake

Image credit: Sarawak Tourism Board

This is another speciality that you might have tasted elsewhere in Malaysia, but we’re here to tell you why Sarawak’s is on a whole other level. Sarawak layer cake or kek lapis bursts both with flavour and colour. While other layer cakes are made in the standard golden brown, Sarawak’s come in vibrant colours. You can say it’s a reflection of the area’s diverse culture, too! 

Sweet, moist, and baked to last, the kek lapis is a smart and scrumptious buy, since you can carry it with you for snacking while on tour or even bring some home for giving away. Souvenirs that taste good and look good? Sounds absolutely delish. Choose by flavour or colour — whatever tickles your fancy. 

Take on the Sarawak Food Trail

local making kueh bahalu

The making of Kueh Bahalu, a local take on the madeleine cake or cookie| Image credit: Sarawak Tourism Board

Sarawak is the ultimate underrated foodie destination; the city has even created a Sarawak Food Trail to prove that point! Make some room for filling ‘Sarawak specials’ and open yourself to a whole new world of culinary treats. This is Malaysian cuisine like you’ve never had it before, from tasty sweets to hearty meals that will have you daydreaming about Sarawak long after you’ve gone home. Your ultimate adventure in Sarawak begins here.

Night owl

Excuse the pun, but we think night owls often have a hoot of a time. No offense to all the morning people out there — we’re pretty sure you’re lovely folks as well. But for fun that stretches way past bedtime, Sarawak certainly doesn’t disappoint.

Drop by the Siniawan Old Town Night Market

siniawan night market

Image credit: Sarawak Tourism Board

Jumping off from our last portion, the Siniawan Old Town Night Market is the go-to for foodies who stay up late at night. The ambience is quaint and cosy; imagine a small-town street lined with old shophouses and lit by Chinese lanterns. The street is closed for the evening food market that comes alive on the weekends. That’s one thing you’ll have to remember about the Siniawan Old Town Night Market, though — you’ll catch it weekly, but only from Friday to Sunday. 

It’s a hit with both tourists and locals so expect it to be quite crowded, especially during dinner time and special events. Remember the mouth-watering dishes we previously mentioned? This might be a good place to sample some of them.

Siniawan Old Town Market
Address: Siniawan, 94000 Bau, Sarawak, Malaysia
Opening hours: 6pm to 11pm on Friday and Saturday; 4pm to 11pm on Sunday

Watch the Kuching Waterfront light up at sundown

darul hana bridge illuminated at night

Darul Hana Bridge at night and the light show at Kuching Waterfront| Image credit: Sarawak Tourism Board

Day or night, the Kuching Waterfront remains one of the city’s main attractions. And why wouldn’t it be? It gives tourists a sweeping view of the Sarawak River from its southern bank, with the esplanade stretching to about 900 metres. It also serves as a viewing deck for what lies across the calm waters, the most popular sight being the Sarawak State Legislative Assembly Building, which explodes in lights of technicolour at sundown. This Kuching Waterfront light show is one of the reasons why visitors flock to the area at night, so don’t miss your chance to do so, too!

What’s more, Kuching Waterfront hosts many stalls and restaurants so you’ll have enough grub and tipple to go around. You can even go for long, leisurely strolls that will bring you to the city’s heritage markers and iconic buildings such as the Darul Hana Bridge, Chinese History Museum, Square Tower and the Sarawak Steamship Building. You’ll also spot one of the esplanade’s newest additions, the Floating Mosque! If you want to get some souvenir shopping done at the Waterfront as well, then make a beeline for the Main Bazaar. 

Cap your day with a drink at one of Kuching’s hip local bars

monkeebar

Monkeebar regularly hosts comedy clubs and musical gigs | Image credit: Monkeebar Official Facebook Page

Speaking of tipple, aren’t night owls also known for liking their nightcaps? Whether you’re out to go on boozy holiday binge or are just after that light, pre-bedtime buzz, Kuching’s the place to scout for hip local watering holes. Our top recommendations are both named after monkeys (but no monkey business, alright?!)

Head to Drunk Monkey Old Street Bar for an impressive selection of beers that pairs well with bar chow from nearby restaurants. And yes, that means this place is solely dedicated to drinks — they don’t serve food. For a night out that supports a cause, drop by Monkeebar. It’s an eclectic, eco-friendly joint that serves affordable drinks sans finger food so come over with a full stomach! A quick chat with any of the friendly staff will confirm that 50% of the Monkeebar’s total earnings are donated to a local conservation organisation called Project Orangutan. Monkeebar also sells official merchandise and profits made from these go directly to animal welfare and wildlife conservation efforts as well.

Drunk Monkey Old Street Bar
Address: 68, Carpenter Street, 93100 Kuching, Malaysia
Opening hours: 2pm to 2am daily

Monkeebar
Address: 12 Padungan Arcade , Jalan Song Than Cheok, 93100 Kuching, Sarawak, Malaysia
Opening hours: 4pm to 2.30am daily

Tireless shopaholic

Of course, there are wanderers who simply can’t leave a place empty-handed. Sarawak also proves to be a gem for travelling shopaholics who have a knack for scoring the best finds. Retail therapy, here we come!

Score great buys at Sarawak’s most famous markets & bazaars

wall mural at sibu central market

You’ll even find artistic wall murals at Sibu Central Market | Image credit: Sarawak Tourism Board

There are many markets and bazaars to scour through in Sarawak, and we’re pretty sure you’d like to visit them all. Perhaps you can start with Malaysia’s largest indoor market, the Sibu Central Market — should you find yourself in this part of Sarawak. Although it’s a long way from Kuching, frugal tourists will find a trip to Sibu Central Market worth it. Get lost inside the building, where stalls are lined up one after the other. From fresh produce and cooked food to general merchandise and souvenirs, the Sibu Central Market has all your cheap shopping needs covered.

satok weekend market

Bustling activity at Satok Weekend Market | Image credit: Sarawak Tourism Board

For an unforgettable wet market experience in the heart of Kuching, brave the Satok Weekend Market. It can be quite chaotic so you’ll have to have your wits about you at all times. You should know that this market primarily sells fresh produce, which is perfect for those having an extended stay in Kuching or those who simply prefer to cook meals at their accommodations. Either way, you get to live like a local. Why not learn how to cook Sarawak laksa while you’re at it?

Sibu Central Market
Address: Jln Channel, Pekan Sibu, 96000 Sibu, Sarawak, Malaysia
Opening hours: 5am to 7pm on weekdays; 2am to 5pm on weekends

Satok Weekend Market
Address: Medan Niaga Satok, Q309, Petra Jaya, 93050 Kuching, Sarawak, Malaysia
Opening hours: 6am to 10pm on weekends; closed on weekdays

Go mall hopping in Kuching

And since we’re talking about living like a local, you might as well shop like them. Check out Kuching dwellers’ retail hangouts! Aside from shopping at the Kuching Waterfront Main Bazaar, there’s Plaza Merdeka for zero-frills malling. 

For a more trendy and varied experience, make your way to Kuching’s largest malls, The Spring Shopping Mall, Vivacity Megamall and Boulevard Shopping Mall — all home to international labels, boutiques, services, and even department stores with a wide variety of brands. These establishments were designed to be one-stop-shop lifestyle centres, so if you require emergency supplies during your stay in Sarawak, you’ll most likely find them there too.

Plaza Merdeka
Address: 88, Jalan Pearl, 93000 Kuching, Sarawak, Malaysia
Opening hours: 10am to 10pm daily

The Spring Shopping Mall
Address: 304, Persiaran, 93300 Kuching, Sarawak, Malaysia
Opening hours: 10am to 10pm daily

Vivacity Megamall
Address: Jalan Wan Alwi 93350, Kuching, Sarawak.
Opening hours: 10am to 10pm daily

Boulevard Shopping Mall
Address: Jalan Datuk Tawi Sli, Taman Seng Goon, 93250 Kuching, Sarawak, Malaysia
Opening hours: 10am to 9pm daily

Browse through artsy and quirky finds at speciality stores

Malls are great for no-nonsense shopping, but speciality stores often offer quirky and unique finds that make for great keepsakes. One such shop is Flint and Steel Borneo, a stationery and lifestyle company that features artsy products created by local designers. Browse through one-of-a-kind planners, stickers, and scrapbooks — maybe you’d even want to purchase one to preserve your Sarawak memories. You can find them online, or you can visit their physical store in Kuching.

Looking to splurge on a memento instead? Magpies and jewellery enthusiasts should consider purchasing a handcrafted trinket from a boutique atelier called Left & Right. While they have some ready-to-wear pieces on display, they highly recommend going for a bespoke work. Left & Right prides itself in the use of ethically-sourced raw materials, so that’s another interesting tidbit you should know. If you’d like to drop by, make sure to secure an appointment with them here.

Flint & Steel Lifestyle Store
Address: 1st Floor, Private Lot 48, ​Tabuan Tranquility 3, Lorong Tranquility, 93350 Kuching, Sarawak, Malaysia
Opening hours: 10am to 6.30pm on weekdays; 10am to 5.30pm on Saturday; closed on Sunday

Left & Right
Address: 18, Lorong Kenny Hill 7, Kenny Hill, 93350 Kuching, Sarawak, Malaysia
Opening hours: By appointment only

kuching waterfront

Image credit: Sarawak Tourism Board

Image credit: Sarawak Tourism Board

Phew! Sarawak sounds splendidly diverse, doesn’t it? It truly is a do-it-all destination for all types of travellers — and one that you should be visiting soon. Don’t keep Kuching waiting!

Read also: Sarawak: 8 Insta-worthy Places to Uncover

Visit Sarawak Tourism’s website or drop by Singapore Visitor Centres for more information. For tour packages and transportation needs, check out ASIA.org.my


Brought to you by Sarawak Tourism Board.

About Author

Alyosha Robillos
Alyosha Robillos

In Russia, Alyosha is a boy's name popularised by literary greats Dostoevsky and Tolstoy—but this particular Alyosha is neither Russian nor a boy. She is a writer from the Philippines who loves exploring the world as much as she likes staying at home. Her life's mission is to pet every friendly critter there is. When she isn't busy doing that, she sniffs out stories and scribbles away on the backs of old receipts. She is an advocate of many things: culture and heritage, the environment, skincare and snacking, to name a few. She will work for lifetime supplies of french fries and coffee. Or yogurt. Or cheese, preferably Brie.

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