When talking about Sarawak, many will focus on the state capital of Kuching, the administrative centre since the time of James Brooke, steeped in history and rich in cultural diversity of people from various ethnic backgrounds.
Many tend to overlook another interesting district, Miri, which is undergoing rapid development and not short of its own travel attractions.
The district, which is the second largest in Sarawak, is a fascinating tourist destination with its own history. This is the town where oil was first discovered in Malaysia and an archaeological site where the oldest human remains in Southeast Asia were found.
Miri is also the first non-capital town to be granted city status on the 20th of May 2005, with the title “Bandar Peranginan” or “Resort City”.
Indeed, the Resort City of Miri is a one stop centre with various interesting treasures to be enjoyed by travellers.
THE GRAND OLD LADY
The writer had a chance to participate in a tour organised by Sarawak Tourism Board (STB) to visit several interesting sites in Miri.
The first location is the Grand Old Lady in Canada Hill. The view from the top of the hills is panoramic and mesmerizing, suitable for those looking for peaceful surroundings and also for family outings.
There is an old oil well on the hill called The Grand Old Lady, once described as a ‘mother’ producing precious resource for the people of her land.
The Grand Old Lady is the first oil well in Malaysia, drilled in 1910, and producing oil for 62 years. The well was drilled manually every day by local workers to extract the oil. The well produced 660,000 barrels of oil throughout its operations before it was shut down on the 31st of October, 1972.
The oil well sparked the development of the oil industry in the district and has indirectly transformed Miri from a sleepy fishermen’s village in the 20th century into a modern and thriving city in the 21st century.
For all history lovers, this is a must visit landmark as it is rich in historical information and you are advised to hire a knowledgeable guide to give you a thorough briefing.
The tour guide provided to us by STB was Maza Hamden, who is young but highly experienced. He gave a detailed description of the first well, as good as a Google search, with complete information from the top of his mind with just ‘one click’.
Every significant date, even its oil producing capacity, hundreds of years of history was explained clearly to us without a single note in hand, indicating that the youngster is very well-versed in the history of his home state.
Home to many national parks, Sarawak is full of natural wonders. In total, it has 23 national parks open to the public, one of which is the famous Niah National Park.
Interestingly, Niah National Park houses the oldest cave in Malaysia which is also one of the largest limestone cave system in the world.
Even though in terms of size, the Niah National Park is among the smallest in Sarawak, it is clearly the most important and attracts a lot of tourists. One of the reasons for this is the discovery of 65,000 year-old human fossils (based on the latest research in 2017) in Niah Caves, making it the earliest known human dwelling in Southeast Asia.
Niah Caves is open to the public every day. Visitors can just ‘walk-in’ to the registration counter or take a private guided tour package to the Niah Caves offered by travel agencies.
For the writers trip recently, STB provided an Iban Tour Guide, Boniface Haikal Abdullah who gave us a detailed briefing on the history and structure of the Niah Caves.
Thus, we were more than amazed at its significant historical value.
Before making the journey here, visitors are advised to make full preparations such wearing appropriate gear, bringing a torch light and raincoat. The dark chambers and slippery surfaces filled with bat droppings would hamper movement, especially without the proper footwear.
According to Boniface, bat droppings in the caves are collected in sacks and used as fertiliser for the agricultural sector.
One interesting fact is that before entering the Niah Caves, visitors will past through the Traders Cave, a marketplace for bird’s nest traders to sell their harvests. We can still see remnants of huts built during the 50s.
The Niah Caves is also the nesting location for swiftlets, with the nests being a source of income for the locals. However, the authorities monitor the collection of the bird’s nests in the area to ensure a sustainable population.
Another interesting sight here is the house built by Sarawak Museum Curator, Tom Harosson and his wife Barbara Harisson, back in 1958.
The couple were the ones who made the hugely important discovery of a human skull on the eastern part of the main entrance of the Niah Caves.
After an exhausting 3.5 km walk from the main entrance, visitors can take a break to visit the Inap Desa Rh Patrick Libau Longhouse, to observe first-hand how long house dwellers live their daily lives.
The writer also had the opportunity to meet with Homestay Advisor, John Abau Anak Ujang who served us traditional Iban cuisine called pansuh. He was ably assisted by his wife, who served us ayam pansuh (chicken cooked in bamboo), ikan kelah pansuh (freshwater fish cooked in bamboo), sayur rebung masak lemak (spicy creamy bamboo shoots) and paku pakis (ferns).
Of the four dishes, we have only tried the paku-pakis in Kuala Lumpur. It was the first time we sampled local delicacies such as pansuh. It was a truly amazing experience that can be shared with friends in Kuala Lumpur.
According to John Abau, he and his wife often served this traditional dish to tourists upon special request.
MIRI CROCODILE FARM
Apart from historical sites and ecotourism attractions, The Miri Crocodile Farm and Wildlife Mini Zoo is also a must-see local attraction for tourists.
Sarawak is synonymous with crocodiles. It is quite common to see signboards warning people of crocodiles on pathways in Sarawak. There is also the famous legend of a giant crocodile called Bujang Senang, which is well known throughout Malaysia.
The Miri Crocodile Park has more than 2,000 crocodiles including an albino one. The park is still sustainable although it faced severe challenges due to the Covid-19 pandemic which affected the travel industry as a whole.
In addition to crocodiles, The Miri Crocodile Farm and Wildlife Mini Zoo is also home to about 60 birds and exotic animals such as eagles, pythons, and iguanas to provide visitors with a better understanding of their natural habitat.
Here, visitors can purchase products made from crocodile skin including belts, hats and wallets.
Tickets to the Miri Crocodile Park can be purchased at RM25 for adults and RM1 for kids.
MIRI’S AESTHETICAL QUALITIES
Miri has its own unique aesthetical qualities that sets it apart as a tourist destination, without being overshadowed by other districts in Sarawak.
Apart from the Grand Old Lady oil well, Niah Caves and Miri Crocodile Farm, Miri has other interesting and relaxing destinations such as Coco Cabana, a tranquil location to view the sunset.
Visitors can take picturesque romantic photos with their loved ones and families. They can also see the iconic seahorse landmark of Miri.
Visitors to Miri must not miss the opportunity to visit the Miri Handicraft Centre to see various unique works of art produced by the Sarawak native community, including their famous woven items.
Last but not least, a visit to Sarawak would not be complete without bringing home the Sarawak layered cake. Tourists can get it either from the Saberkas Night Market, Kek Lapis Siti Payung outlet, or from the Miri Airport.
Niah National Park: https://niahnationalpark.my/