Revealing Sarawak’s hidden beauty as new roads open up


The newly-opened beach at Pugu, Lundu.

SINCE the starting point of the Pan Borneo Highway at KM0 Kampung Telok Melano opened up a couple of months ago, the tiny fishing village at the eastern most tip of Borneo (a just over two-hour pleasant drive from Kuching) has seen an influx of local and foreign visitors, who have taken advantage of the brand new road to get there.

Hitherto the furthest that a car could get was a few miles to the east of Sematan, the famous old bauxite mining seafront town, now more famous for its fresh seafood and local Malay hawker stalls and roadside snack stands.

Last weekend, I took a drive to the other also newly-opened Inter-Coastal two-lane road, which has extended from the junction of the popular Pandan public beach (just 15 minutes’ drive from the town of Lundu) to the end of the road, which is Kampung Pugu. All along the 8 km newly-paved road, you could drive parallel along the seafront whose fluffy golden sand (white at certain places) beaches face the wide open blue South China Sea. The sky was as blue as the sea the day I was there, with a nice balmy sea breeze, swaying palm trees, and virtually no traffic.

The end of the road, with Sematan town across the river mouth.

Dotted along the way were a handful of recently erected wooden huts and commercial strength tents meant for rent to adventurous backpackers or day trippers there to camp out, have a barbecue and a swim, or just to play sepak takraw on the beach. I was happy to see that there was virtually no littering on the three separate beaches that I visited. Bravo!

Family and close friends who had bought land along this stretch of the new Pugu road, with many as first lots fronting the beach, tell me that they have struck a mother lode of ‘landed gold’! One of them with almost five acres told me that what he had paid for it back in the 1980s is now worth 400 per cent more in just under 40 years. It has since been blessed with accessibility due to the new road, which runs smack past his property!

Another friend has been approached by some local developers as well as PRC investors about the possibility of either selling out to them or going into joint ventures. It’s looking like a mini ‘gold rush’ as the distance from Kuching to Pugu Beach is just under two hours and the entire area is as pristine as any you can find anywhere in the world.

The sleepy laidback town of Lundu, along the banks of the Batang Kayan, has only a small population of 40,000 made up of mainly Bidayuhs, Malays, and Chinese. The name Lundu is derived from a small catfish that used to abound in Sungai Lundu, which flows down from Gunung Gading – today a famous national park where the largest flower in the world, the Rafflesia, can be found in abundance. At last count, the park has noted and announced at least six bloomings in a year.

Both the Pan Borneo Highway as well as Inter-Coastal road linking all the many coastal towns and villages along the long 1,035km shoreline of Sarawak will undoubtedly open up more new places in our lovely country, which was hitherto unreachable and inaccessible to motorists. But many of us, especially local tourists, adventurous backpackers, and those whose work has taken them into all the little nooks and corners of the land, would have visited and seen them.

I consider myself one of these lucky ones.

During my long career in marketing with the Borneo Company, and then with Sebor Sarawak, and later with international conglomerates Toyota Japan and BMW Germany; I had the chance and opportunity to visit virtually every little village and town in Sarawak and Sabah – as long as they had a provision or grocery store.

This was in the 1970s right through to the 1990s – as the products we were marketing had included MTC’s (Malayan Tobacco Company) cigarettes; and Guinness Malaysia’s stout and beers. I was there when a packet of B&H’s 20s was only RM1.80 and a big bottle of stout was RM2.80.

Then along came Hollywood and later the BBC, Disney, Discovery, and others – and in scouting for locations and fixing shoots for features and documentaries for them, I trekked into the most remote and deepest parts of Sarawak and Sabah. I can say that I have been to almost every little inhabited village, kampung or town; and some even without humans except for just the local flora and fauna.

A particular journey had taken me from Tanjung Po, the eastern most tip of Borneo, in Sarawak, right past through Brunei, into Labuan, then Sabah, and to the western most town of Semporna in Sabah. There are just about two places left I have yet to tick off my list – Ba Kelalan and Bario.

Among my Facebook friends, there are many of who have also traversed the length and breadth of Sarawak and Sabah. I would like to specially mention Jay Blakeney, who has been actively hiking the mountainous regions searching out and documenting the many beautiful waterfalls; he is the go-to specialist if you intend to hike anywhere in Sarawak’s first and second divisions. He also actively goes cycling into the many kampungs and villages as well. He is extremely fit and energetic, and he takes such beautiful photos as well. Hats off to you Jay!

Among longtime friends, Alex Wong has probably recorded the most miles travelled globally – I believe he has been to every continent on earth, mostly on his motorbike. But he has also jet-skied and recorded rock albums, and performed live all over the world as Alex STMrock Wong! He has published a book about his biking escapades and has also opened a successful bistro café called Feast & Furious at Jalan Padungan Kuching. The laksa is to die for! Alex too has seen most parts of Sarawak and Borneo – and I wish him many more years of happy travels on his bike, and with his guitar! Rock on bro!

Although I can honestly say that I have been to many places in Sarawak and Sabah, I must admit that there are yet many more I would really love to visit – if only to see what I have missed the first time round – it is always a real thrill and pleasure to return again and again to the places that you have loved or treasured.

Sarawak, my homeland, there’s no other place I’d rather be. Amen to that!