Whether you’re the type of traveler seeking an eco-adventure getaway or a tourist wanting to get a glimpse of unique cultures, you’ll find it all in Sarawak, Malaysia.
Sarawak, land of the majestic Hornbill bird, sits on Borneo, the third largest island in the world and has a temperature that varies between 23 and 32 degrees Celsius or 73 and 90 Fahrenheit.
As the largest state in Malaysia, Sarawak is home to one of the world’s richest and most diverse ecosystems. Its ancient rainforests canopies the world’s largest flower, the Rafflesia, along with other exotic creatures such as the Proboscis Monkey, Orangutan, Leaf Monkey, and the aforementioned Hornbill, which the native Iban tribe believes to be a messenger from the spirit world.
For centuries, adventurers and explorers have traveled to Malaysian shores, including the Dutch, Portuguese and British, who came seeking riches in the form of tin and gold mines, but today Malaysia is known around the world just as much for its eco-tourism and nature-based adventure activities, such as rock-climbing, cross-jungle trekking, white water rafting, four-wheel drive expeditions, cave exploration, diving, windsurfing, jet-ski and para-sailing.
A True Nature Lovers Paradise
More than half of Malaysia’s 329,758 sq km. surface is covered by tropical rainforests. Its treasures include rare species of flora and fauna found only at Mount Kinabalu, not to mention its wonderful limestone caves at Gunung Mulu National Park, which is listed in the United Nations Education, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) list of World Heritage Sites. Additionally, Kinabalu Park, in the State of Sabah on the northern end of the island of Borneo features rich tropical rainforests and mountains regions to explore.
Water enthusiasts will also find more than their share of beaches and dive spots, including Miri – “ the Luconia Shoals, Taukau Drop Off, Siwa Reefs, Eve’s Garden, Santak Point, Kenyalang Rig, Sri Gadong wreck and others. There is also a yearly Borneo Cup Yachting Challenge that features a three-day event with a harbor race in Labuan, followed by a 120 nautical mile ocean race to Miri. The event concludes with a huge two-day regatta at Miri.
On my recent visit to Sarawak, we traveled to the Semenggoh Wildlife Centre, an orangutan sanctuary where tourists can get up close with live orangutan in their natural habitat. We watched several orangutan feeding and swinging through the trees. Only a day before our visit, the sanctuary’s latest member was born. Listed as an endangered species, orangutan are only found in Borneo and Sumatra. There are now 23 orangutan living at the sanctuary in Sarawak.
I also took a swim in the South China Sea at Damai Beach Resort, which features not only a 5-star hotel, golf course and country club, but also tree houses and cabins to stay in for those seeking to be in nature. The water was the warmest I’ve ever swam and that includes Hawaii. The beach itself was kept immaculately clean and there were surprisingly few mosquitoes (note: if you are allergic to spray, they do spray heavy to keep the insect population under control).
Easy Accessibility, Friendly People and Nice Weather
For those traveling on vacations not lasting beyond three months, Malaysia does not require a visa for nationals of Norway, Sweden, Italy, Canada, United States of America, Albania, Austria, Algeria, Belgium, Kuwait, Lebanon, Egypt, Morocco, Czech Republic, Republic of Slovakia, Denmark, Finland, Germany, Hungary, Iceland, Japan, South Korea, Luxembourg, Bahrain, Jordan, North Yemen, Oman, Saudi Arabia, Qatar United Arab Emirates, Turkey and Tunisia.
On my visit to Sarawak’s capital, Kuching, I found the city to be a melting pot of cultures, including local Malays, Chinese, and Indian. Tourism Malaysia bills “Malaysia as truly Asia” because of its rich diversity of cultures, heritages and religions. The Malays are Muslim, but there are many Chinese and Indians that follow the Buddhist, Hindu and Christian religions living in Malaysia. Most everyone in the major cities speak English so communication was not a problem. However, if you do not speak Malay and plan to go to smaller towns or into the villages, I would recommend going with a tour group or guide. Most of the tourists will speak English, as they are from Britain, Germany, Australia or other surrounding Asian countries like Singapore, Indonesia, Brunei, Thailand, China and India.
If you visit Kuching, you will find that the city is a shrine to cats. Kuching means cat in Malay. Any visit to Kuching would not be complete without a visit to Kuching’s Cat Museums located in the city’s two city halls. You can even view an Egyptian mummified cat dating back to 3,000 B.C.
Seeing that the climate is primarily tropical, it remains hot and humid throughout the year. But May through September are considered the ideal weather months of the year to visit Malaysia.
When I visited the Sarawak Cultural Village for the Rainforest World Music Festival in July, it was warm but not overly hot. However, no matter what time of year you choose to visit, you will feel a sticky sauna-type of sweat. Also, be prepared for sudden rain showers during the day and night. During my stay in Kuching, it rained at night so we were lucky enough to have clear weather during most of the daytime travel activities. It also rained heavily during the first night of the festival, although the rain didn’t keep spectators from enjoying the music.
Since it rains heavily during October-November and April-May on the West coast and from November to January on the East coast and in Sabah and Sarawak, I would suggest beachgoers avoid going during those months.
However, rainy season is said to be the best time to spot turtles which come out to lay their eggs. Again, people, who really want to enjoy the beaches, should avoid monsoon season (November to January).
Nevertheless, apart from the highlands, the temperature hovers around 30°C in the lowlands with high levels of humidity. It is also not recommended to visit in Monsoons if you love water sports, since they don’t operate during that season.
Due to the many festivities and mega sale carnivals, Malaysia’s peak travel season is November-January, since this time of year covers the winter holidays and major festivals like Christmas, New Year’s Eve, Chinese New Year and Hari Raya Puasa. It is possible to find shops closed during major holidays, but shopping malls and amusement parks remain open.
The Price is Right
Those visiting Malaysia will find that prices are generally more than affordable and a great value when factored into U.S. dollars. At the time of this writing, the exchange rate was about 3.24 ringgit for 1 U.S. dollar. I found many bargains shopping in Kuching, ranging from clothing to food and local crafts. In fact, the range of foods in Sarawak’s capital Kuching was amazing. Everything from local Malay dishes to Chinese and Indian cuisine was easy to find. For those with cravings for American fast food, there were also several Burger King, Pizza Hut and KFC restaurants.
Getting there does cost money though, but depending upon what time of year you travel, the typical round-trip airfare is around $1350 from the West Coast of the United States. I stayed in five-star hotels where the price was just over $100 dollars U.S. per night. Try getting that price in San Francisco or New York. Budget-minded travelers will have no trouble finding even cheaper accommodations.
Want to live or study abroad in Malaysia?
Tourism Malaysia offers foreigners several programs including Homestay packages whre you live and immerse yourself in daily life with a local family, as well as, educational study packages. For more information visit the website at www.tourismmalaysia.gov.my
The Malaysia My Second Home Program is promoted by the Government of Malaysia to allow foreigners who fulfill certain criteria, to stay in Malaysia for as long as possible on a multiple-entry social visit pass. The Social Visit Pass is initially for a period of ten (10) years, and is renewable. For more information visit the website www.mm2h.gov.my