Monday, June 24

On the road to a humble riverside town


A view of Kanowit bridge.

A man fishing at Nanga Ngungun.

KANOWIT: Refreshed and rested, BAT 7 hit the road again yesterday towards Kanowit, a humble riverside town, with the plan to drive as far as the  Kanowit-Song Road would take us.

We wanted to explore how far this road will bring us as close as possible to Song, a riverine town that can only be reached by boat from here.

In fact, Kanowit Road has reached Nanga Ngungun which is about 30km from here.

The section which will soon be constructed will be the 5.2km Nanga Ngungun bypass. Completion of this new stretch will link this town to Song.

Having spent the night at Betong, we started the day with a hearty Sarawakian breakfast of kolo mee at Khen Seng Kopitiam, opposite the hotel before setting off.

The drive from Betong to Kanowit took roughly three hours or 187 kilometres – all of them slowly and steadily while stopping to snap photos and taking in the scenery.

Along the stretch, construction activities to expand the roads that will form the Pan Borneo Highway have started after the festive holidays.

It was a busy day at the construction zones with workers in safety helmets and bright jackets getting heavy machinery to bulldoze, dig and resurface while large trucks moved in and out, bringing supplies.

With half of the road closed at stretches where construction workers helped redirect traffic, motorists plying the road were expected to show courtesy and responsibility – maintain a steady and consistent speed, be alert and cautious of surroundings before attempting to overtake.

At one point, we wandered off to check out the Rural Development Resource Centre at Layar and, at the junction as we were about to leave, we were amused to see a herd of goats taking a walk up a steep hill.

Peking Restaurant is famous for its prawn noodles.

It had been a slow and cloudy day with intermittent showers so we made a pit stop at Jakar for lunch.

The dish was scrumptious with a mix of diagonally-cut large prawns, chewy yellow noodles and green vegetable cooked in a broth of soy sauce.

The restaurant has been operating for 20 years but according to its owner and cook Wong Lin Siong, 54, his business only started booming about 10 years ago.

“When I first started, there were hardly any customers. Thankfully some of my customers kept on returning and brought new customers too,” he said.

When asked what makes his prawn noodles different from others, Wong gave the credit to Jakar’s fresh prawns saying: “The cooked prawns have a nice and tender texture, making them the highlight of the dish.”

“Locals would come to the store to sell me their freshly caught prawns so that’s how I get my supply.”

Wong won’t have this supply during the rainy season when locals don’t not go out to catch the prawns.

“Another good thing for us is our customers are patient enough to wait as it takes some time to cook the dish.”

He needs time to prepare and cook the prawns separately before frying them with the noodles according to his own recipe.

“I want to ensure the quality of my cooking so I only prepare the prawns after customers have ordered the dish.”

However, opening a business at a rest stop like Jakar did not guarantee customers all year round.

“We are kept busy with lots of customers during festive periods such as Chinese New Year, Gawai and Christmas. Other days, there is not much going on here in Jakar,” Wong said.

Jakar’s famous prawn noodle.

After the tasty lunch, we continued our journey.

The drive from Kanowit to Nanga Ngungun was like cruising on a rough sea due to the condition of the road.

Stalls selling local fruits of pomeloes, big-sized mangoes, oranges and pineapples were found along the road into Kanowit town.

The Isuzu MU-X swept through the winding road as sweaty palms tightened the grip on the steering wheel to steady the vehicle each time it jumped on hitting a bump or crack on the road.

On reaching Ngungun Bridge, we jumped down to snap a few shots of longboats lining the serene riverbank and greeted a group of children playing and fishing.

The primary school boys were kicking a torn and dirty soccer ball around while occasionally checking their fishing rods for fish.

As we were in a hurry, we wished them Happy Gawai before speeding off to Sibu where we will spend the night.

Isuzu MU-X Type X passing Nanga Ngungun bridge some 30 km from Kanowit.

Children playing at Nanga Ngungun bridge.

Fruit stall at Bintangor-Sibu road.