Souvenirs from across the World is a feature hosted by Marie @ Drizzle and Hurricane Books. (Check out her awesome blog!) It’s a feature where bloggers talk about their hometowns and share it with each other. I thought it would be fun to tell you guys about where I come from.
And then I started fretting about what to talk about. The history? The culture? The people? The food? The landmarks? Nature? There’s just so much to say. And then there’s also the question whether I should talk about the town I was born in or the city I grew up in? Or maybe the state? The country? Or the island?
Anyway, after thinking for a few weeks, I decided to talk about my home state – Sarawak, Land of the Hornbills! Here’s a short introduction to Sarawak.
Sarawak is one of the thirteen states in Malaysia. It’s at the north western part of Borneo. Unlike most states, Sarawak has more control over its state affairs, such as immigration where West Malaysian can only stay here for 90 days, and have to apply for work permits to work here. Lots of historical stuff there that I won’t get into. A brief history, the Sultan of Brunei gave Sarawak to a British adventurer called James Brooke, leading to a series of White Rajahs. The Japanese occupied Sarawak during World War 2, and being unable to rebuild the state, Vyner Brooke signed it over to the British Crown. Sarawak achieved independence soon after, and then later joined the Malaysian Federation.
Sarawak is one of the least developed state in Malaysia, there’s even a running joke where West Malaysians assume we live on trees. And in recent years, there’s talks of secession, but I doubt it would happen. Now that I think about it, Sarawak is kind of like the Scotland of Malaysia.
Sarawak has over 40 different ethnic groups, with the largest being the Iban (the Sea Dayak) people. And the largest religion in Sarawak is, surprise, surprise, Christianity. There’s twice as many Christians as Muslims in Sarawak. Pretty weird in a predominantly Muslim country. That also means many public holidays for all the different cultural celebrations, like Chinese New Year, Gawai (the Dayak festival), Hari Raya Aidilfitri and Christmas. We also have three different days of “independence” celebration. The day that Malaya achieved independence, the day Sarawak became independent and the day Malaysia was formed. Basically, we find every excuse not to work.
If you want to visit and is worried about language barrier, don’t be. English is mandatory in our education system. And there used to be English syllabus schools back in the day, before we followed the Malaysian standard. And a few years back, Science and Maths subjects were taught in English. So we’re golden. Though you’ll have to forgive our grammars and slangs. Particularly the “lah”s. If you’ve been to Singapore, it’s pretty much similar to that.
I think food is one of the things you really have to try when you travel to a new place. So I thought why not talk about some of the famous dishes in Sarawak. If you ever come to Sarawak, please never leave without trying the Sarawak laksa. Laksa is a spicy noodle dish that is typically curry based, but Sarawak laksa uses shrimp based hot sauce (sambal belacan) instead. It also typically uses rice vermicelli instead of Chinese noodles. Celebrity chef Anthony Bourdain calls it the breakfast of the gods. So you know it’s great. (Actually, I know nothing about Bourdain except that he said that, so I don’t know how great his judgment is.) It’s a breakfast food because the soup gets bad if left to sit for too long, so once its past noon, it’s usually not advisable to consume it, especially if you have a sensitive stomach like I do.
Another staple food found in Sarawak is the kolo mee. There’s two variants of it. The Chinese and the Malay style. Both are excellent. I’m not sure what makes them special, but it’s a great but simple dish. The Chinese style uses lard to enhance the taste which the Malay style doesn’t use, for obvious reason. Along with the Sarawak laksa, the kolo mee is one of the dishes frequently missed by locals when they go overseas for long periods of time. Or so my friends studying abroad tell me.
Things to do
The capital of Sarawak, Kuching, is where most of the attractions are. Kuching is also one letter away from the Malay word for cat, kucing, so the cat is the city’s mascot. That means cat statues, cat museums and more cat statues. The statues are even dressed for festive occasions. And to show our devotion to cats, the museum is located in the north city hall, you know, the place where the northern part of the city is administered. And since it’s the Cat City, that means a ton of souvenir items based on cats. So, cats.
About an hour’s drive from the city center is the Damai beach area. Most of the hotels there sucks, but it’s where the Sarawak Cultural Village is and where Mount Santubong is. So if you fancy learning more about the state’s cultural background, and hike and go swimming in a beach on the same day, this is the place to go. The mountain takes about six hours to climb, you’ll need gloves and good boots to climb it. There are parts where you need to climb rope ladders. The Cultural Village isn’t exactly small either, so I doubt you’ll actually do both in a single day though. Also, once a year, the Rainforest World Music Festival is held at the Cultural Village.
The Gunung Gading National Park is about two hours’ drive from the city. It’s home to some animals like civet cats and wild boars, but I think the main attraction are the waterfalls and the rafflesia, which is the largest plant in the world. It also stinks a lot. Besides Gunung Gading, another national park near Kuching is Bako, it requires a boat trip, but well worth it just to see the views. There’s a rock formation in particular that’s really pretty. It’s also home to proboscis monkeys and pitcher plants. The Semenggoh natural reserves is also worth a visit, it’s a rehabilitation center for orangutans that is about an hour’s drive from the city.
The second largest city in Sarawak is Miri. It’s at other end of Sarawak. It’s the first non-capital city in Malaysia to be granted the status of city. Two of the biggest attractions near Miri is the Mount Mulu and Niah Caves. Both are national parks. Mulu is a UNESCO heritage site. It’s famous for the Pinnacles trail, a series of rock formation jutting out of the tree tops. It also has the largest natural room, where 40 Boeings 747 can fit inside. Some animals in the national park that you might see are the hornbills and bats. Niah is a series of caves that were inhabited during prehistoric times. It is also know for bats and swallow’s nests.
Besides that, Miri also has a series of beautiful beaches. Tusan beach is said to be very pretty at night. It’s one of the places where blue tears form. Though the place is very remote and hard to reach. If you’re a diver, the Miri-Sibuti Coral Reef National Park offers a diving spot to look at coral reefs.
Last but not least, there’s the longhouses. The Ibans live in traditional longhouses, and some of them still do in the interior parts of Sarawak. It’s basically a small village of people living in a long, long house where each family occupies a room but the living area is basically one huge room. They are open to visitors to stay for a night or two, though reaching some of them requires quite a journey. Usually require traveling on sampans through the river.
No doubt you’ll notice that many of the attractions in Sarawak are national parks, that’s because a huge portion of Sarawak is covered with forests. Most of the towns are along the coastline while the interior is still mostly untouched. Except for deforestation, which is a somewhat political/controversial topic, so I won’t get into that.
That’s all from me. Thanks for reading through the entire post. Have you been to Sarawak? Would you ever want to visit? Let me know in the comments down below.