How to spend 72 hours in Miri, Sarawak’s second city

From immaculate beaches to natural wonders, there are myriad reasons to visit MiriTuesday, 22 October 2019

While the island of Borneo may be most famous for its jungle, the northwest Malaysian state of Sarawak is better known for its pristine beaches, photogenic national parks and the local version of laksa, one of Southeast Asia’s most famous dishes. As Sarawak’s second city, at the northern tip of the state beside Brunei, Miri is an ideal gateway to the region, not to mention a superb city to explore in its own right. There are four national parks within easy reach of Miri: Lambir Hills, Loagan Bunut, Gunung Mulu and Niah, while those who prefer the coast can enjoy spectacular sunsets from a selection of quiet beaches.
     Once a quiet fishing village, Miri boomed after the first discovery of oil a century ago. It now celebrates its oil-rich history with its Petroleum Museum. After a visit, make like a local by poring over the exotic fruit, veg and handicrafts in the city’s markets.

Day one

The late celebrity chef Anthony Bourdain called it the ‘breakfast of the gods,’ so what better start to the day than with a steaming bowl of laksa? The Sarawak version contains rice vermicelli noodles, chicken strips and peeled boiled prawns. Try it in a clay pot at Laksa Lolita with a kopi peng (iced coffee). Next, head to the Tamu Muhibbah and Tamu Khas wet markets to haggle over succulent fruit and veg including stinky durian and giant bananas, as well as woven bags, Bario rice and traditional biscuits.
To experience local life, Miri City Fan is a must. The 26-acre, fan-shaped park has everything from botanical and ethnic gardens to a musical fountain and huge public swimming pool, ideal for family travel. Close by is The Grand Old Lady, a monument to Miri’s first oil well, set beside the free-entry Petroleum Museum, complete with earthquake simulator and model oil rig. Don’t miss the spot behind the museum with panoramic city views from Canada Hill. For handmade gifts such as earthenware and artisanal necklaces, try the Miri Handicraft Centre.
End the day with a trip to Saberkas Night Market for street food including chicken or mutton satay, grilled sardines and corned beef murtabak (filled Malaysian flatbread).

Day two

An essential day trip just over an hour’s drive from the city, most tours to the Niah Caves include round-trip transport followed by a boat ride or forest walk before entering the caves. Known for the discovery of 40,000-year-old human remains (the oldest in Southeast Asia), Niah National Park is considered one of the birthplaces of civilisation. Its historic significance lends it an eerie vibe, with the Painted Cave housing depictions of boat journeys into the afterlife and even boat-shaped coffins.
The vast cave network also includes the Traders’ Cave, a rock overhang where bird’s nests were sold from wooden huts. Then there’s the Great Cave, where the ground is covered in moon-like craters and bat and swiftlet guano. Deeper inside, it’s pitch black, so hikers must negotiate the network of planks with a head torch to a soundtrack of bats and bugs.
Outside the cave, the highlight is the nightly ‘changing of the guard,’ a sunset phenomenon where bats exit and swiftlets return simultaneously, creating an effect that looks like two black clouds colliding. Night time also offers a glimpse of luminous fungi from the plank walk.
Those who fancy a more local experience can book a homestay in a traditional longhouse outside the park

Day three

After a day of hiking, a beach break is well deserved, and there are some excellent options within easy reach of the city. Closest to central Miri is Tanjung Lobang, a popular sunset-watching spot. The park adjacent to the beach is popular with joggers and tai chi enthusiasts.
Further down the coast is Hawaii Beach, a palm-tree-packed paradise with white sand and a park with seating for barbecues. Still further south, an hour from Miri, is Tusan Beach, centring around the stunning Tusan Cliff. Here, lucky beachgoers can see the natural light show known as Blue Tears, where tiny micro-organisms turn the ocean electric blue at certain times. Look closely and it seems that the cliff itself is a horse drinking from the sea. There’s also a seafood market a 15-minute drive away in Bekenu town, ideal for a post-beach feast.
Miri is also a diver’s paradise, offering the chance to swim past bubble corals and clown fish at sites around the Miri-Sibuti Coral Reef National Park, an hour and a half from the city and close to Niah. Divers can also glimpse seahorses
— Miri’s official mascot.
Once back in the city, try Apollo Seafood Centre for the freshest fish and good value, authentic Chinese flavours in a no-frills setting.

How to do it

Getting there & around: Malaysia Airlines flies from Heathrow to Kuala Lumpur, then on to Miri, which is easily navigable on foot or by public transport.

Average flight time: 20h

When to go: April-September is drier, with temperatures around 24-31C. Showers can occur at any time and humidity is around 70-80% year-round.

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