In the blink of an eye, we’ve arrived in the final few days of 2020. This year certainly feels like it has flown by, doesn’t it? It has been months since the pandemic first started and many travel plans have been shelved as a result. However, there IS a silver lining to 2020. With international travel not possible for many of us, Malaysians have taken to travelling domestically (during the RMCO) to satiate their wanderlust.
As it turns out, there are an incredible number of travel gems to discover right in our backyard! This is even more true when we talk about the wonderful charms of East Malaysia, especially Sarawak! As Malaysia’s largest state, it comes as no surprise that the Land of the Hornbills houses plenty of attractions (natural and manmade).
This makes Sarawak the perfect post-pandemic destination for every type of traveler. However, while a trip to Sarawak is definitely an unforgettable experience, travelling (whether domestically or internationally) at this point of time will almost definitely come with its own set of rules and regulations. In this post-pandemic travel guide, let’s take a look at some of the destinations in Sarawak to visit after the pandemic and the SOPs you’ll be expected to observe and follow!
Immerse yourself in Sarawak’s natural gems
Here’s a fun fact for you: over 60% of Sarawak is actually covered in jungle terrain. Naturally (pun not intended), this means that Sarawak houses some of Malaysia’s most uniquely stunning and alluring natural wonders! From enigmatic caves to whimsical forests, Sarawak truly has it all.
Bako National Park is one of the most famous attractions in the state. Located just a short ride away from Kuching, it is also one of the most accessible national parks in Sarawak. Home to awe-inspiring limestone formations and rare proboscis monkeys, it is a haven for nature lovers. For those who love hiking, a visit to Santubong (Sarawak’s most famous mountain) and the Mulu Pinnacles (a UNESCO World Heritage Site) is an absolute must.
To experience the authentic charms of the Sarawakian rainforest, we suggest planning a visit to Semenggoh Nature Reserve where you can hang with orangutans. Alternatively, you can trek through the rustic jungles of Bengoh Range, known affectionately as the Jurassic Park of Malaysia! You could also embark on a hike to visit the mesmerising Giam Bakam Waterfall in Miri. The possibilities are endless!
Common SOPs to expect
Even though many of Sarawak’s natural attractions are wide-open spaces, you should still observe COVID SOPs diligently. As Malaysians, we probably already know these by heart! However, as a refresher, remember to check in using mySejahtera for contact tracing purposes, keep your face masks on, especially in crowded spaces, like the base camp of hiking trails.
In addition, since you may not be able to find hand-washing facilities in abundance in some areas, it is always helpful to keep a bottle of hand sanitiser with you while you travel. Also remember to adhere to any pre-entry health screenings should there be any. Finally, as the opening hours may differ due to pandemic-related circumstances, you should always call ahead of time or check with relevant sources before planning your trip.
Explore the rich heritage of Sarawak
Apart from being home to some fascinating natural wonders, Sarawak also boasts a rich cultural heritage that is bound to captivate any explorer. From the aboriginal ethnic groups to the localised culture of the locals, life in Sarawak is unmistakably unique and a totally different experience compared to life in the peninsula. Thankfully, there are a few places you can visit in Sarawak to fully immerse yourself in the heritage and history of this storied state.
Ask any local and they’ll tell you that the Sarawak Cultural Village is THE place to start your tour of Sarawak’s colourful heritage. At this living museum, you’ll be able to learn more about the various aspects of life of the many indigenious ethnic groups that call Sarawak their home. You can admire the way they work with their tools, live in their traditional homes and even enjoy a cultural performance to end the day.
Speaking of performances, the Sarawak Cultural Village is also the venue of the annual Rainforest Music Festival! It is the only music event of its kind that’s held in the rainforest! Those in attendance can jam out to awesome music and even participate in music workshops during the day!
Heritage in the city
Another two locations you simply have to visit to discover the history of Sarawak are the Sarawak Museum and Fort Margherita. At the Sarawak Museum (the oldest on the island of Borneo), you’ll be able to admire the various artifacts and antiquities of the state and learn about the fascinating history of Sarawak. Meanwhile, Fort Margherita is an important landmark and monument that was constructed during the Brooke Dynasty (otherwise known as the White Rajahs) and connects modern day Sarawak to its colonial past. Plus, it offers great Insta-vibes too!
Finally, to fully appreciate the cultural heritage of Sarawak, one must simply visit Chinatown (a.k.a Carpenter Street) in Kuching. There, you’ll be able to sample some authentic Sarawakian cuisine and explore some of the most ambient streets in the city. You’ll also be able to track down some of Kuching’s most popular art murals!
Common SOPs to expect
As many of the attractions mentioned are housed in confined spaces (with the exception of Sarawak Cultural Village), it is imperative that visitors strictly follow social and physical distancing rules. This might mean that there may be a limit of how many visitors are allowed at any one time, so make sure to call ahead to avoid any disappointment.
Apart from that, remember to check in for contact tracing purposes, go through the typical basic temperature checks, and make sure to keep your hands clean and sanitised. And don’t forget to keep your face masks on!
Hop between the major cities of Sarawak
Hand up if you, like me, simply enjoy exploring the hidden corners of a bustling city and stumbling upon hidden gems along the way. Well, I’ve got good news for you! Even though more than half of Sarawak is covered by forested terrain, its major cities (namely Kuching, Miri, Bintulu, and Sibu) all offer a little something for the urban explorer to enjoy too!
One super popular attraction is the Kuching Waterfront! As you stroll along the ambient walkway that runs along the Sarawak River, you’ll be able to spot some of the city’s iconic landmarks such as the Astana (palace), the Floating Mosque, and the Darul Hana Bridge which lights up magically once the sun sets. What’s more, Kuching is also home to plenty of famous eateries, none more so than Choon Hui Cafe. This is the place where the late celebrity chef, Anthony Bourdain first tasted Sarawak Laksa and instantly fell in love with the dish!
In Miri, the one location you absolutely mustn’t miss is Canada Hill. It is here where you’ll find the Grand Old Lady. This historical oil well was erected as a monument to the discovery of oil in Sarawak in 1910! However, apart from sentimental value, there’s another reason why Canada Hill is such an enticing place. Plan your hike accordingly so that you’ll reach the top around the late evening. From the top of Canada Hill, you can enjoy one of the most beautiful sunsets in all of Malaysia! The vista of the sun setting over the sprawling city of Miri is certainly one for the memories!
Meanwhile, Bintulu acts as a gateway to more of Sarawak’s rustic natural attractions. From the pristine forests of Similajau National Park to the historical Niah Caves, there’s plenty of exciting places to discover that lie just a few minutes away from the city centre! You could also visit Taman Tumbina Zoo. There, you can get up close and personal with some of the unique flora and fauna in Sarawak.
Finally, Sibu, in my personal opinion, is THE place for avid foodies in Sarawak. While Kuching has plenty of vibrant eateries, Sibu is where you can find authentic Foochow delicacies. Some of my favourites include kampua mee and kompia. In addition, one should also visit the bustling Sibu Night Market for the best street food in the area. It opens from 6pm daily.
Common SOPs to expect
When travelling around in big cities, the most important SOPs to remember are to wear your face masks and to keep social and physical distance at all times. When visiting some of the attractions or eateries within the city, make sure to use the mySejahtera app for contact tracing purposes should the unthinkable happen.
What’s more, there will likely be an imposed limit of visitors at certain locations. This is even more so if these locations operate in limited/confined spaces. The same applies for eateries where the number of people allowed to sit together at one table is limited. This usually depends on the size of the venue.
Chill out at the pristine beaches
The island of Borneo, on which Sarawak is located, is the third largest island in the world. It should come as no surprise then that Sarawak is home to some incredible beaches and alluring dive sites!
Arguably the two most famous beaches in Sarawak are Tusan Beach and Damai Beach, located in Miri and Kuching respectively. Of the two, Tusan Beach is a more rustic and laidback experience. There, visitors can enjoy the ocean breeze and plant their feet in the soothing smooth sand. In the past, Tusan Beach was popular for its iconic rock formation. Unfortunately it collapsed earlier in 2020. Despite that, it remains a popular tourist destination even today. This is especially true on the rare occasion when the Blue Tears phenomenon can be spotted.
On the other hand, Damai Beach is the more typical beach getaway destination. Part of an exciting resort in Santubong, Damai Beach is the place to kick back, relax, and soak up the sun as you laze the day away. Alternatively, you can also enjoy some fun beach activities or even explore the nearby hiking trails of Santubong.
In Miri, diving enthusiasts can also find plenty of pristine coral diving spots. There, they can enjoy the beautiful underwater world of Sarawak. There are plenty of diving tours you can register with for an incredible experience. However, the one location I have to highlight is actually Pulau Talang-Talang off the coast of Sematan. It is here where you will discover a sanctuary for green, hawksbill and olive ridley turtles!
Common SOPs to expect
During a time of social and physical distancing, beach getaways are the ideal vacation choices. That’s because visitors can easily spread out and enjoy their own personal space on the beach. That being said, if it is possible to register for contact tracing purposes, you MUST do so.
You should also respect any limitations to the number of visitors allowed at any one time and take note of any sanitation processes in effect. This is especially true if you’re planning on engaging in activities where you may need to share equipment (such as boats or diving equipment) with other people. Most importantly, keep your hands clean at all times!
Shop for the perfect souvenirs
Of course, having experienced the beauty and charm of Sarawak, it’s understandable that you’ll want to bring a piece of Sarawak home with you. Thankfully, there are an abundance of locations in the state where you can shop for your favourite souvenirs. From glitzy shopping malls (most of which are located in Kuching) to traditional crafts and even food, there’s plenty to choose from, and plenty of places for retail therapy.
AEON Mall Kuching Central is one of the newest malls in Kuching and one of the largest. Housing over 130 retail outlets, it is THE place to visit for a comfortable shopping experience. Plaza Merdeka on the other hand sells some of the best designer items in the city.
For traditional crafts, the best place to begin your search is Carpenter Street and the many traditional shoplots there. One particular souvenir from Sarawak I never fail to get is the delicious Sarawak layer cakes! These colourful and sweet delicacies are one of Sarawak’s most famous food exports and it’s easy to see why. The best place for authentic kek lapis is Mira Cake House which you can find along the Kuching Waterfront.
Common SOPs to expect
Much like when visiting attractions housed in enclosed spaces, the main SOPs to remember are your face masks, your pre-entry temperature checks, and registering with the mySejahtera app. As you’ll likely be touching plenty of surfaces when shopping, make sure to regularly sanitise your hands too!
Some locations may be operating in a smaller space so be prepared for a set limitation of how many customers may enter the outlet. Other than that, enjoy your shopping experience and bring home a piece of Sarawak with you!
Stay safe as you explore the Land of Hornbills!
And there you have it, a foretaste of the incredible locations and experiences that await in Sarawak! As Malaysians, we are so lucky to have so many wonderful travel gems to discover right in our backyard. However, at this point in time, safety is the most important order of the day. So take note of the SOPs in place and please, stay safe as you explore Sarawak!
Brought to you by Sarawak Tourism Board