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Sarawak
SarawakThe enchanting state of Sarawak is Malaysia's largest state, endowed with the world's richest and most diverse ecosystem. Sarawak's ancient rainforest canopies, the world's largest flower, the Rafflesia; squirrels and snakes that can glide through the air, mouse deer the size of kittens, pitcher plants that eat insects and even relish the occasional small mammal. In fact, there are countless species of flora and fauna, yet to be discovered.

From pristine underwater marine life and untouched coral reefs to rich heritage and from wilderness to modern city landscape, Sarawak is a potpourri of experiences appreciated by travellers from all over the world. Head into Sarawak's interiors and your heartbeat will flutter at the fascinating and enchanting dances of the multi-ethnic tribes living harmoniously with each other.

Indeed, Sarawak is home to 28 ethnic groups; each with its own distinct language, culture and lifestyle. The Ibans form the major ethnic group on this land with about 30.1 per cent of the total population for the year 2000 census. The Chinese who generally live in the cities are the second largest group at 26.7 per cent, followed by the Bidayuh, Melanau and other native tribes of Sarawak. The Malays also constitute a large portion (23 per cent) of the population as well, mainly concentrated along the coast.

Sarawakians practise a variety of religions, including Islam, Christianity, Chinese folk religion (a fusion of Buddhism, Taoism, Confucianism and ancestor worship), Bahá'i and animism. Many converts to Christianity among the Dayak people also continue to practice traditional ceremonies, particularly with dual marriage rites and during the important harvest and ancestral festivals such as Gawai Dayak and Gawai Antu.

On the whole, Sarawak has an equatorial climate. The temperature is relatively uniform within the range of 23°C to 32°C throughout the year. During the months of March to September, the weather is generally dry and warm.

Humidity is consistently high on the lowlands ranging from 85 per cent to 95 per cent per annum. The average rainfall per year is between 3,300 mm and 4,600 mm, depending on locality, and the wettest months are from November to February.

Kuching
Kuching is situated at the banks of the Sarawak River on the North-Western part of the island of Borneo. The climate in Kuching is tropical, moderately hot and receives substantial rainfall. The average annual rainfall is approximately 4,000 mm or 160 inches. Kuching is the wettest city in Malaysia. The wettest times are during the North-East Monsoon months of November to February.

Sibu
Sibu Fort, which was built by Rajah Brooke in 1862, and once located at Race Course Road, no longer exists

Step into Sibu and you are stepping into what was once wild frontier that was given to Sir James Brooke as reward for taming the rebellion for the Brunei Sultanate, who ruled the land then. He became the first ‘White Rajah’ and began his administrative seat from Fort Brooke in Sibu, in 1862. As interesting as its history, the name Sibu comes from the local fruit ‘sibau’ – a small, sour and wild-version of the sweet fleshy rambutan.

While the Melanaus were the first inhabitants of the area, it is now steeped in Chinese influence, as the Chinese settlers began to make their home here encouraged by the first White Rajah.

Although the city was razed to the ground twice – once in 1889 and again in 1928, the spirit of the people survived. They rebuilt the town, this time with bricks and mortar and lots of determination, to become a thriving town.

Enviable located in the heart of Sarawak, Sibu is a holiday destination for culture, adventure and nature. You can shop, dine, go bargain hunting or for a little more excitement, take a ride in fast passenger ferries to remote areas where the locals live right next to the jungle inhabited by exotic animals or simply enchanted by the lure of Sibu.

As you journey upriver from Sibu, Chinese shop houses soon give way to Iban longhouses. This exciting journey will take you on to the Pelagus Rapids where Iban culture quietly merge into that of the Orang Ulu with isolated settlements of Punan Bah, Kajang, Kayan, Kenyah, Bukitan, Lahanan, Ukit and Penan people.

Miri
More than just a booming oil and timber city – Miri is rapidly becoming Sarawak’s most popular tourist destination. With its swinging nightlife, it is where the oil workers and weekend visitors from neighbouring Brunei escape to. As a resort city, Miri offers a wide range of accommodation from international class hotels to budget inns, good beaches and dozens of lively restaurants, pubs and bars.

Miri is also fast becoming an adventure city of its own as it is within easy reach of national parks, huge rivers and some of the best scuba diving in Borneo. For the dive enthusiasts, Eve's Garden, Santak Point, Kenyalang Rig, Tukau Drop Off and Siwa Reefs are not-to-be-missed if you want to see some of the most beautiful corals, turtles, variety of fishes and even the occasional shark. Sunken vessels such as Sri Gadong and Atago Maru, are also interesting.

A trip to Miri is not complete until you have gone on a shopping spree across its modern shopping malls, small handicraft shops near the old harbour and the native market opposite the main bus station that offers exotic jungle produce. Not-to-be-missed is also the town’s most famous landmark – the grand Old Lady on top of Canada Hill, the first well to strike oil in 1910.

As gateway to the Northeast Region, Miri is an adventure city of every nature. The Mulu National Park is just 30 minutes by flight while Niah is two hours drive away. You can reach the world’s most bio-diverse site at Lambir Hills in just 25 minutes. Half a day away is Loagan Bunut, a unique natural expanding and contracting lake, which is fast becoming a bird watcher’s paradise. Then, from Miri you can reach the Bario Highlands by air in 40 minutes or travel by boat up the mighty Baram River and explore longhouses and villages along the way.

Food for Thought
In terms of food, Sarawak has many of its own unique and delicious specialties. Sarawakian specialties include Umai, a traditional Melanau dish which is a spicy salad of raw marinated fish, lime and shallots and a popular Iban delicacy called Pansoh Manok, which is bamboo chicken cooked in rice wine. They also use the same technique to cook fish. There are also two popular types of crispy jungle fern called midin and paku pakis. Other common local vegetables are also available in abundance.

Some of South East Asia's finest seafood can be savoured in Sarawak. Local fish comes prepared in a wide range of ways - steamed, fried, baked, curried, grilled or with sambal - a mild, spicy mixture of Malay origin, made up of onions, dried chillies, candlenuts and belacan (prawn paste). Crabs, prawns, lobsters, clams, squids, oysters and bamboo clams are equally plentiful and fresh.

Dining outlets which include coffee shops, food centres, Chinese, Western, Indian, Indonesian and Japanese restaurants, as well as restaurants that serve seafood, steamboat and vegetarian food are found in Sarawak, particularly in Kuching. Five-star hotels in Kuching and Miri have fine dining outlets offering both western and oriental cuisine.

A number of Japanese, Korean, Thai, Mediterranean and Western restaurants are also available in these two cities. The open-air hawker stalls offer the most scrumptious food at amazingly low prices. You can even treat yourself to dinner under a canopy of stars on a river cruise.

Visitors can also visit the Sunday market, which apparently starts from Saturday afternoon and lasts till Sunday. Itis a very busy fruit and vegetable market, where many local producers offer their tropical produce for sale. In the evening you can sample local fare at the many stalls which offer delightful local dishes.

Some of Sarawak's traditional foods are:-
    Sarawak Laksa
  • Sarawak Laksa. The state's signature dish is freshly made vermicelli submerged in a concoction of deliciously thick soup rich in 'santan' (coconut milk) and spices, topped with tasty chunks of seafood, chicken and slice omelette. This mouth-watering delight is a Sarawak original and best-taken piping hot. You have not savoured Sarawak until you have tasted Sarawak Laksa. A gastronomically delight that is easily available and served in most coffee shops and hotels.
  • 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. It is made of egg noodle, blanched in water that looks like instant noodle and served in a light sauce with some condiments like shredded beef. The difference with Kolok Mee and the Wantan Mee, that is popular in Peninsular, is that Kolok Mee is not drenched in dark soy sauce and water is not added to the noodles when served. But the taste is still pretty amazing.
  • Manok Pansoh
  • Manok Pansoh. One of the best known Iban dishes is manok pansoh (chicken pansoh). Chicken pieces are cut and stuffed into the bamboo together with other ingredients like mushrooms, lemongrass, and tapioca leaves 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 gravy perfumed with lemongrass and bamboo.
  • Kek Lapis Sarawak
  • Kek Lapis Sarawak. It is said that the Sarawakian modern layered cakes was commercially introduced to people in Sarawak about 16 years ago. But of course, Kek Lapis Sarawak has been around much longer than that, as it is traditionally the main staple for the Malays as they celebrate Hari Raya Aidil Fitri (the end of Ramadan, the fasting month). The cakes are interesting as it was almost always colourful, use lots of eggs (sometime about 30 eggs for one loaf of cake), and kept stored in the refrigerator for six months! And it tastes good too!
  • 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, Bawal 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.
  • Midin
  • Midin. The locals greatly indulge in jungle fern such as the midin. 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. Yummy!
  • Mee Sua
  • Mee Sua is basically a breakfast dish, much like Mee Kolok. It is a variety of rice noodles served with a chicken drumstick in chicken/mushroom clear soup and usually some Chinese white wine.
  • Bubur Pedas
  • Bubur Pedas. Another signature dish for Sarawak is Bubur Pedas. Unlike much other porridge that are known, Bubur Pedas Sarawak 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 also prepared most often during the month of Ramadan and served during the breaking of fast.
  • Bamboo Clam
  • Tabaloi. The Melanau has their biscuits called Tabaloi, which is a mixture of desiccated coconut, sago and sugar. Tabaloi can easily be bought at most shops. Today, it is produced in several flavour including cocoa and vanilla.
  • Bamboo Clam
  • Bamboo Clam. Another unique dish in Sarawak is ambal or bamboo clam. It is usually cooked in a mild curry or steamed in Chinese wine. Though it looks like worms in a bamboo shell, it is very delicious.
  • Swallow's Nest. Bird's nest, a Chinese delicacy touted to maintain youth and beauty, is harvested from designated caves of Sarawak by special permits. The bird responsible for this delicacy is the Swallow. Try a bowl of this jelly-like delicacy at upmarket Chinese restaurants.
Where to Eat?
We list down a few places you can dine in Sarawak. They are:-
  • Sri Sarawak Malay Restaurant is a restaurant serving Malay dishes. It is located at Crowne Plaze Riverside Majestic Hotel.
  • Gamelan is a Malay/Indo restaurant located at Simpang Tiga, behind the Bank Utama shop lots. It is a quiet restaurant serving great tempting Indonesian food at extremely affordable prices.
  • Elephant Cafe, situated at Jalan Ang Cheng Ho, Padungan. Another quiet place to drink coffee, tea and chit chat. Also serves full western meals.
  • The Junk 80 Ground & 1st Floor, Wayang Street. Quaint little restaurant with a lot of antique junk lying around everywhere. Very reasonable with the meal pricing. Portions are huge so be forewarned!
  • Tapanga Tree, 4th Floor, Bukit Mata Car Park. Next to Standard Chartered Bank.
    Fusion dining with Asian and Western dining. Air-conditioned and al fresco.
  • Fisherman Restaurant which is located at No. 2, Lorong 2, 1st FloorBrook Drive, Sibu. Serves authentic traditional Sarawak dishes at affordable price!
  • Seahorse Bistro which is situated at Lot 2352, Ground Floor Piasau Indah Commercial Centre, Miri. Al fresco dining under lush trees with colourful lights. A must try is rice cooked in bamboo and also the manok pansoh. A popular place among locals and tourists alike.
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