A Weekend Guide to Miri, Sarawak Borneo

Gua Niah National Park

If you are ever in this part of the world—more so Malaysia, and want to visit Borneo but don’t exactly have more than 3 days, Miri, Sarawak is one place you can visit in that amount of time.

But before I head into the details, I want to shed some light on where exactly is Miri, Sarawak.

Miri, Sarawak is located on the third-largest island in the world—Borneo! If you didn’t already know, Miri’s exact location is in East Malaysia, and Borneo island as a whole is just East of Singapore and South West of the Philippines.

The island is roughly centered just North of the Indonesian archipelago.

There are three countries sharing the island— Malaysia, Indonesia and Brunei. 73% of the island is Indonesian territory which is also widely known as Kalimantan.

Here, take a look at this map. This map shows the island of Borneo, but if you scroll further in, Miri is close to Brunei and is facing the South China Sea.

Only an hour southwest of its better-known neighbouring state —Sabah by air. Sarawak has long been a rather popular day-trip or over-the-weekend destination for visitors to Borneo from around the world.

However, I would implore you to stay a little longer here to get under its skin and savour the vast limestone caverns the likes of Gua Niah and Gua Mulu which by the way is only accessible by air or water transport.

Otherwise, you can do just Gua Niah and explore a little bit of Miri like my friend and I did.

Self-Drive to Gua Niah?

The consistent narrow single-track winding road is mostly what you’ll encounter for around 83.5 km. Blind corners and huge passing trucks.

Hairpin bends and puddles of rainwater clogged due to road constructions in various sections of the route is a common thing, of course, this increased traffic given the route’s popularity. Certainly, the puddles and the huge trucks can get to your nerves. Other than that, the drive is pretty much straight forward.

Although, for the inexperienced (and for those not used to driving on the left side of the road) you should approach this route with caution and with an open mindset.

That said, take the coastal route so you can stop at the beautiful Tusan Beach along the way. We only realised that we had taken the longer route with the road constructions going on when we were heading towards Gua Niah. The other route is slightly shorter in distance and is closer to the coastline.

Tip: If you’re visiting Miri and need to rent a car to do this route and beyond, check out Green Matrix for affordable car rental. There were also many petrol stations than we anticipated, but never underestimate how far the distance is before you are able to fill up.

Daily rental: RM 106 for a compact Perodua Viva (Auto) per day

Additional hour: RM 6

Entry into Gua Niah National Park

The entrance to the national park headquarters may not look like much but nothing to be despaired about because the ticket counter will be open. So as long as you arrive within the opening hours, you’re good.

Interesting fact: Gua Niah was discovered in 1958 by an archeologist —Tom Harrison, who back then led the discovery of a 40,000-year-old skull indicating the signs of life of modern humans and that the cave was used as burial grounds. Signs were prominent from the painted rocks and small canoe-like coffins — death ships.

It is also home to a staggering number of bats and is, in fact, a huge nesting site for swiftlets.

Opening hours: 9am to 5.30pm (daily)

Entry Fee: RM 10 per adult

Boat rental for the river crossing: RM 1 per person (one way)

Boat operation hours: 9am to 5pm and from 5.30pm to 7pm, extra RM 1.50 per person.

Tip: There will be a licensed guide hanging around if you need one but they cost RM 80. Freelance guides are also loitering around and they cost RM40.

Although for us it was totally unnecessary because there are signs along the trail with information you can read by yourself and cave maps you can refer to. Just make sure to keep time.

If it doesn’t rain all day, it’s not a rainforest

When we started the drive from Miri town, the time was 12 noon, the weather was looking bright and sunny, the car was in great condition and we couldn’t wait to get there.

However, as we approached about 30 minutes into the drive, it started raining. The rain pretty much poured heavily and, at times it drizzled and then poured heavily again. We realised that this wasn’t going to stop anytime soon. I can’t stress enough about how much rain you should expect if you are heading into the national park. They don’t call it a rainforest for nothing.

If you want to keep dry and plan a little better, I reckon you check the weather before you go but if you prefer to just go for it, then make sure you bring a raincoat with you. We didn’t prepare but lucky for us, the ticket lady had a brilliant idea— use trash bags and turn them into ponchos.

This, however, should go without saying, don’t throw away the trash bags. Instead, find ways to upcycle them.

Tip: The park sells ponchos and raincoats if you forget to bring yours. We were unlucky because they were all sold out —hence the trash bag. Torches, on the other hand, are also available for rent (RM10). Otherwise, you can bring your own.

Remember, it’s pitch black once you get deeper into the cave, so a torch is essential.

Attractions to add to your itinerary

Tusan Beach

They call it the beach with the horses’ mouth. Following the recent rave about Tusan beach and how it has become the hotspot amongst locals, we had to make a pit stop here.

This beach has an open secret. Not long ago, a photographer discovered and captured a breath-taking blue glow along the beach, which then became well known.

The glow is also famously known as the ‘blue tears’. To give you a perspective, think of the forest in the Avatar movie. When Sam Worthington’s Avatar character walked through the jungle at night, the ground beneath him glows every time he took a step. That’s how it’s like with the blue tears (or at least that is how it was described to me).

Apparently, this natural phenomenon can be seen through the naked eye, but many failed to identify it and capture on camera, myself included.

We stayed pretty late on this beach just to catch a glimpse of the glow but to no avail, we went back with some pictures of us just walking along the beach at sunset.

Where: Approximately 40km out of Miri city. Tusan beach

Driving time: Half an hour from Miri city.

Explore Rich Cultural and Historical Heritage with Photography

Tua Pek Kong Temple

First up, check out Miri’s oldest Chinese temple which was founded in 1913. This temple is known as one of the few buildings that survived allied bombings in the town during World War II. It’s also located beside Miri’s main local Fish Market.

Address: Jalan Bendahara, Miri

Best times to visit: This place comes alive during the Lunar New Year, where the whole stretch of this area is taken over by the Grand Procession ceremony.

Hai Long Si Temple

If you’ve been following me on Instagram, you may recall that I mentioned I don’t normally visit temples but this is exceptional. I’m shocked to find that my camera loves shooting this place. The limestones and the artisan drawings on the roof panels depict ancient war history.

The temple is also named after the Dragon King of the deep sea. The first thing you see when you reach here is the dragons at the gate.

Address: Lorong 9, Krokop, Miri

Get to know Miri’s Oil History

The Petroleum Museum

The Petroleum Museum of Sarawak opened only in 2005, but its importance within Sarawak and Malaysia’s oil history is immense.

Following the entry of Baram’s district officer in 1882 —where he recorded what he called ‘The celebrated earth oil’, subsequently, led him to record another entry in 1884, suggesting that the oil district near the Miri River should be thoroughly researched. Then in 1888, Dr Charles Hose took his predecessor’s entries to heart and explored the area, giving small rewards to locals who kept him informed of further developments. That led him to a discovery of no less than 28 oil seepages.

The Grand Old Lady – Well No. 1

The first drilling well was fixed in 1910 in Canada Hill where the first few seepages occurred. The drilling well was called Miri Well No. 1 nicknamed the ‘Grand Old Lady’ and in that same year —on December 22, the first oil struck.

Entry Fee: Free. The vast majority of the exhibits are in English. You don’t need a guide to walk you through the Museum.

Although I should mention that the Museum is not well maintained —but the historical timeline of the oil industry and the exhibits are still readable. Certainly enough to keep you well informed of the oil history here.

Address: Jabatan Muzium Sarawak, Canada Hill, Jalan Oil Well No. 1, 98000 Miri, Sarawak

Opening hours: 9 am to 4.45pm Tues – Sun

You’ll also find a pleasant well-designed path for a good jog. Or if you’re feeling adventurous, you can do a 2 km (30-minute trek).

Watch the recap of this trip:

Planning a trip to Malaysia soon? Find inspiration in the Cycle Series #2: Cycling Through the Malaysian Peninsular – Subang Jaya to Kelantan

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