Miri, the ‘natural’ destination for Singaporeans


SINGAPORE: Since the start of AirAsia’s direct flight from the Lion City to Miri in Sarawak last September, the former oil town in the Land of The Hornbills began to draw interest from visitors in this island state.Before this the holiday-makers from ‘Temasik’, as the republic was known in its early history, would travel to states in the Peninsula like Johor, Melaka, Pahang, Selangor and Kuala Lumpur to spend their vacation or to enjoy mother nature like going for jungle-trekking, mountain climbing and venture into the lush green forests apart having frolicks at waterfalls.

However, since the launch  of the only direct flight that links the concrete jungle here to the logging town of Miri, Sarawak’s second biggest after Kuching, Singaporeans have started to switch their attention to this new tourism destination.

In truth, only the South China Sea separates Singapore from Sarawak, located to the island state’s northeast.

Despite being a mere one hour’s flight away from Changi to Kuching,   Singaporeans have yet to be really familiar with the Land of The Hornbills.

The islanders only began to turn their attention to the states in Borneo when the budget airlines, AirAsia’ introduced frills-free flights from Changi to Kuching and Kota Kinabalu in Sabah in November 2008.

Since then, Singaporeans and the island’s expatriate community have started to visit Sarawak that they previously knew via books and other reading materials apart from travel brochures.

Before AirAsia flies to the republic, there are other flights from Singapore to Kuching by other airlines but the fare is not cheap and the flight schedule is not that frequent.

Due to the lack of transport and accommodation facilities in the expanse of Sarawak  Singapore tourists  visit only Kuching and the city’s fringe areas such as Santubong, Bau, Kota Samarahan, Lundu, Serian and Tebedu.

And, their visits were only restricted to attractions like the Sarawak cultural village in Santubong, wildlife park at Matang and Semenggoh, national park at Bako and Batang Ai apart from the Borneo Highlands, Tasik Biru, as well as the longhouses of Iban and Bidayuh located nearby.

As for those who visited Kuching, they were unable to enjoy Sarawak’s real ‘beauties’ despite the state being endowed with a rich natural environment that includes forests, hills and mountains, rivers and the enchanting caves apart from the culture of the more than 30 ethnic groups there.

Realising this situation, the Sarawak Tourism Board (STB) has initiated proactive measures and since last September promoted Miri in tandem with the move to introduce budget air travel direct from Singapore to that city.

The promotions were staged via tourism roadshows in Singapore and organised by the National Association of Travel Agents Singapore and Tourism Malaysia.

STB’s Letitia Samuel said Miri offers various attractions that are both unique and natural which their secrets have yet to be explored such as the Niah Caves and the Borneo jungles located not far from the city.

Those who fly into Miri from Kuala Lumpur or Kuching would usually miss out the Niah National Park and other places of interest located nearby as they prefer to visit the more popular Mulu National Park.

Hence, they used the Miri Airport as the transit point before proceeding to the Mulu National Park that has huge caves declared by Unesco as a World Heritage site.

Therefore they missed out the chance of viewing the caves at Niah National Park, said Letitia who is a Bidayuh from Sarawak.

Caves at the Niah National Park had been inhabited by the stone age man more than 40,000 years ago.

The caves were only explored in 1957 when the then Sarawak Museum Curator Tom Harrison organised an archeological expedition to the caves that still exhibit the features left by inhabitants during the stone age.

Palaeolithic artefacts from the old stone age and the skeleton of the oldest modern man in Southeast Asia were found at these caves.

The discovery showed that civilisation used to exist at these caves making the Niah National Park one of the most important archeological site in the world.

There are three caves at the Niah National Park — ‘Gua Pedagang (Trader Cave), ‘Gua Besar’ (Great Cave) and ‘Gua Lukisan’ (Painted Cave).

The Trader Cave is known as such as the cave is used by the local merchants as the trading spot for the swiftlet birdnest harvested from the caves at the park.

Visitors to this cave would find the remnants or sites of huts and sheds erected by the birdnest traders more than 50 years ago.

Even though the birdnest trading is not as brisk as it used to be in the 1950s until the late 1970s, visitors would still be able to see the activity being carried out by the locals.

What fascinated these visitors was the sight of birdnest harvesters, with the torch tied to their forehead, scaling the wooden or bamboo ladder joined to each other to reach some ‘seven to eight storeys high, in order to look for the birdnest of the swiftlets in the dark cave.

As the raw form of the birdnest fetches the price of between RM3,000 and RM7,500 a kg, it is no surprise that the birdnest harvester are willing to be ‘daredevils’ and risk their life and limb in order to get this priceless commodity.

The visitors would also be able to visit the Painted Cave where one could find more than 100 sketches or Neolithic paintings from the new stone age along the some 50 metre stretch of the cave wall.

The paintings, of various shapes and sizes, are from about several centimetres to until one metre big.

Some depicted the form of humans and boats apart from abstract and geometric shapes believed to have been drawn out using a red dye taken from the plants.

Therefore visitors from this region, including Singapore, would not have to travel far to places in Africa, Europe, West Asia or South Africa in order to view paintings created by the ancient man as the Niah Caves have a history of human civilisation.

Apart from that the vacationing tourists would also be able to view the breathtaking stalagtites and stalagmites and evidence of Tom Harrison’s archeological work in the Great Cave.

Besides these ‘enchanting’ caves, the holiday-makers who visited Miri would have the opportunity to explore the nature such as the lush green jungles apart from viewing the wildlife, picking local fruits and having a bath in the cool and clear water at the waterfalls.

A hotel operator, Henry Law Ing Hua, 59, built a resort named the ‘Borneo Tropical Rainforest Resort’ located next to the Bukit Lambir National Park.

A mere 36 km away from Miri or 30 minutes drive from the Miri Airport, the more than 300 hectares-wide resort has some 50 rooms and chalets as well as a hostel for visitors who came in groups.

The resort, which opened in stages since June 1, 2007, offers various activities like jungle-trekking, negotiating the river on boats, viewing  the livestock and night walk in the jungle.

The resort also has a campsite apart from activities such as abseiling, wall climbing and angling.

Sports such as futsal, badminton and basketball are also available.

There are also orchards that provide an array of local fruits including the jackfruit, cempedak, rambutan, dabai, longan, pineapple, mango, durian, guava, lime, ciku, papaya and banana.

The guests are allowed to pick and eat the fruits fresh from the trees.

Law, who is the resort’s managing director, said he has plans to open a fenced-up safari-like area this year.

With that, Singaporeans who wish to visit mother nature would not have to go far to have this opportunity. — Bernama