The city of Sibu in Sarawak, Malaysia on Borneo is often little more than a stopover for travelers on the route between Kuching and Miri. Despite appearing slightly ramshackle when compared to spotless Kuching, the river city has its own pleasant charm when given a chance to reveal itself.
Chinese make up an overwhelming majority of the 285,000 people that call Sibu home. Much like Kuching, the main tourist area is centered on the waterfront and esplanade walk which parallels the Rejang River. Delicious smells from Chinese noodle stalls and seafood restaurants fill the air as people stroll the brick path.
Sibu's primary draw for tourists - other than being a place to break up the long journey from Kuching to northern Sarawak - is the opportunity to visit traditional longhouses in the village of Kapit. Sibu is also home to Borneo's Sarawak Cultural Festival - a week-long event held every summer with music, cultural performances, and food.
Orientation Around Sibu
Life on the waterfront centers primarily around the boat wharf which also acts as the city bus terminal. A brick esplanade lined with small parks and playgrounds follows the muddy Rejang River.
The impressive Central Market - known locally as the Pasar Sentral - is a short walk just north of the boat wharf. The market is massive and interesting to explore; hundreds of stalls sell cheap fruits, food, and gifts.
Wisma Sanyan - a multi-story, modern shopping mall - is the high-rise building visible from all over the city. Just behind Wisma Sanyan is a sprawling, green town square used as the venue for many festivals including the annual Sarawak Cultural Festival and Gawai Dayak. Read more about festivals in Borneo.
Located on Jalan Temple near the western end of the waterfront, the towering and colorful Tua Pek Kong Temple is a peaceful, historic temple that provides visitors with a seventh-story view of the city from the pagoda.
Accommodation in Sibu, Malaysia
Most budget accommodation is located in close proximity to the boat terminal just a short walk south along the riverfront.
- River Park Hotel: This clean, comfortable hotel is located on Jalan Maju directly across from the esplanade. The staff is friendly, rooms are large, and there is free Wi-Fi in the lobby. Deluxe rooms cost $20 for double occupancy.
- Li Hua Hotel: Spotless marble, free Wi-Fi, and a helpful tourist information section in the lobby cause this hotel to fill up quickly. Prices for double rooms start at $24 a night. Li Hua Hotel is located on the esplanade, opposite of the River Park Hotel on Jalan Maju.
- Medan Hotel: Unlike many hotels that are adjacent to bus terminals, the Medan Hotel feels clean and safe. Located directly beside of the long-distance bus terminal, the Medan Hotel is a good option if you intend to leave Sibu early the next day. Rooms are priced from $25 per double.
Getting Around Sibu
The interesting sites in Sibu are easy to reach by walking, however taxis are always available. City buses run from the busy boat terminal to all parts of the city; a one-way fare costs 33 cents. Buses to Kuching, Bintulu, and Miri leave from Sungai Antu - the long-distance bus terminal. A taxi to the long-distance bus terminal takes 20 minutes and costs about $3.
Rejang Express has a tiny ticket window located across the street from the bus/boat terminal; this is a convenient place to buy long-distance bus tickets without going to the Sungai Antu station.
Note: City buses do not stop at bus stands automatically, you must hail them.
Travel to Sibu, Malaysia
Although Sibu has a small airport, most travelers arrive in Sibu either by boat or bus.
By Boat: The express boat from Kuching is a faster, scenic alternative to making the eight-hour journey by bus. The boat takes just under five hours and costs $14 - roughly the same as the bus. One boat a day leaves at 8:30 a.m. from the Express Boat Terminal in Kuching.
Note: Boats do not leave from the waterfront! A taxi from Kuching to the boat terminal takes around 20 minutes and costs $6.
By Bus: Several bus companies make the eight-hour run from Kuching to Sibu; tickets cost between $12 - $14. Buses in Kuching depart from the Express Bus Terminal near batu 3 - approximately 30 minutes south of the waterfront. Kuching city buses 3A, 2, and 6 stop directly in front of the Express Bus Terminal.
By Air: Both Malaysia Airlines and Air Asia operate low-cost flights from Kuala Lumpur and other parts of Malaysia. The Sibu Airport (SBW) is about 14 miles from the waterfront.
From Miri: Buses depart frequently from the bus terminal on Jalan Padang in the southwest of Miri. The Tourist Information and Forestry Office is conveniently located adjacent to the bus terminal.
The Iban Longhouses of Kapit
Many travelers use Sibu as their base in Sarawak for visiting the traditional longhouses outside the tiny village of Kapit. Although many of the indigenous residents of modern longhouses now have mobile phones and satellite television, many of the old traditions are kept alive. Visitors are usually invited to try the local food, rice wine, and even attempt activities such as shooting a traditional blowgun.
Visiting the longhouses is relatively expensive and extremely difficult without a guide. Licensed guides can be researched at the Tourist Information Office in Sibu. The three-hour journey by boat from Sibu to Kapit costs $6; the last boat leaves Sibu around 2:30 p.m.