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Getting Around Sarawak, Borneo

How to Move Around Sarawak By Bus, Boat, and Plane

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Boat in Sibu, Sarawak

A boat on the river near Sibu in Sarawak

Image © Greg Rodgers, licensed to About.com

Orientation

Most of the settlements in Sarawak are strewn along the coast facing the South China Sea. The interior is a matrix of impassible rainforest, muddy rivers, and remote villages. One well-maintained road serves as the main vein between Kuching in the southwest and Miri in the northwest on the border of Brunei.

Before planning your itinerary in Sarawak, read about festivals in Borneo to avoid missing a fun event!

Arriving in Sarawak

Most travelers arrive in the pleasant city of Kuching on the southwest tip of Sarawak then make their way north. For those with limited time wanting to see Mulu National Park - a UNESCO World Heritage site - the best bet is to fly into Miri on the northern end of Sarawak. Both Air Asia and Malaysia Airlines have cheap daily flights from Kuala Lumpur and other places in Malaysia.

Unlike Sabah, Sarawak has its own immigration control and you must be stamped in upon arrival.

Kuching

Kuching is billed as one of the cleanest cities in Asia and serves as a cultural hub for Borneo. The people are friendly, the food in Kuching is excellent, and there always seems to be a festival in progress. The best time to visit Kuching is during the Gawai Dayak festival on June 1.

Kuching serves as an excellent base for visiting the attractions in South Sarawak such as Gunung Gading National Park, Bako National Park, and the Semenggoh Wildlife Centre.

  • Air: The Kuching International Airport (KCH) is seven miles south of the city; fixed-rate taxis to the waterfront are $8 and take around 20 minutes.
  • Bus: It is not possible to walk to the long-haul bus terminal in Kuching - you must take a taxi or hail city buses #3A, #2, or #6 going south. Buses are available from the long-haul terminal to all points in Sarawak including Miri - a maddening, 16-hour journey.

From Kuching to Sibu by Boat

Unless you are just a fan of winding, eight-hour bus rides, the best option for moving east to Sibu is by boat. One boat a day leaves the Express Boat Terminal in Kuching at 8:30 a.m. The Express Boat Terminal is not on the waterfront; you must take a 20-minute taxi. The scenic boat journey to Sibu takes just under five hours and costs $14 - roughly the same as the bus.

Sibu

The city of Sibu serves as a convenient stopover between Kuching and Bintulu or Miri. Sibu's strategic location on the Rejang River makes it perfect for penetrating Sarawak's interior. Several boats a day push up the river to the remote villages of Kapit and Belaga - the usual centers for visiting traditional longhouses and seeing indigenous culture.

  • Air: Sibu has a small airport (SBW) serviced by Air Asia and Malaysia Airlines.
  • Bus: City buses shuttle people to the long-haul bus terminal just outside of town for 33 cents. Regular buses run to Kuching (eight hours), Miri (eight hours), and Bintulu (four hours). Overnight buses to Kuching are available.
  • Boat: Only one boat a day runs to Kuching (five hours). Departure times change frequently.

Bintulu

Bintulu is little more than a place for most travelers to transfer buses on the eight-hour journey from Sibu to Miri. If you wish to see the city, take a taxi or local bus three miles south from the long-haul terminal. The airport is 15 miles west of town.

Miri

Miri - Sarawak's primary city in the north - may not be as spotless as Kuching, but its charm is infectious. Miri serves as the base for exploring the Lambir Hills National Park, the Niah Caves, and for flying to the ever-popular Mulu National Park. Miri is also the last stop in Sarawak before crossing into Brunei or Sabah.

  • Air: The renovated Miri International Airport (MYY) just west of the city is the busiest in Sarawak. MAS Wings operates small planes to Mulu National Park, the Kelabit Highlands, and Labuan Island.
  • Bus: The Pujut Corner long-haul bus terminal is outside of Miri; bus #33A runs there hourly from the main bus terminal in town. Buses run from Pujut Corner to every part of Sarawak, including all the way to Kuching (16 hours).

Getting to Lambir Hills National Park

The northbound bus from Sibu to Miri actually passes the entrance of Lambir Hills National Park. If you intend to stay in the national park before going to Miri, ask your driver to drop you at the entrance.

Getting to Mulu National Park

Going overland from Miri to Mulu National Park requires buses, boats, and lots of patience over several days. Unless you enjoy doing it the hard way, book a cheap flight with MAS Wings and fly from Miri. The planes are small - plan ahead in the busy season.

Crossing Between Sarawak and Sabah

The tiny, independent nation of Brunei separates Sarawak and Sabah in Borneo. Although possible, taking the bus from Miri to Kota Kinabalu in Sabah is an immigration nightmare. The road weaves between Malaysian territory and Brunei, meaning that you must exit the bus each time, complete forms, and wait in the queue. A typical journey may fill up to two pages in your passport!

Labuan Island

One pleasant alternative is to cross the border once, do an overnight in Bandar Seri Begawan - the capital of Brunei - then take the ferry to duty-free Labuan Island in Sabah just off the coast. There are many interesting things to do in Labuan anyway! Six boats a day run from Brunei to Labuan (90 minutes) and then from Labuan to Kota Kinabalu (four hours). The Muara Ferry Terminal in Brunei is one hour outside of Bandar Seri Begawan; boats fill up quickly so arrive early to book your ticket.

Travel From Sarawak to Brunei

Only one company - PHLS Express Bus - runs two buses a day from Pujut Corner in Miri to Bandar Seri Begawan. PHLS does not have an office or counter in Miri - ask around at the other windows for where to wait. After paying for the $13 ticket on the bus, you will be provided with immigration forms to complete. The bus from Miri to Bandar Seri Begawan takes around four hours.

Read more about Malaysia travel.

  1. About.com
  2. Travel
  3. Southeast Asia Travel
  4. A Travel Guide to Malaysia
  5. Top Destinations
  6. Transportation Guide and Advice - Sarawak, Borneo

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