Sarawak is known for rainforests, caves and national parks. A trip to Sarawak promises a completely different experience to West Malaysia’s Kuala Lumpur and Penang. Here’s how to spend one week in Sarawak for the best of nature and to see Borneo’s endemic wildlife.
Sarawak is Malaysia’s largest state. Flying is the most convenient way to travel on your one week in Sarawak trip. Vast distances combined with poor roads create long and arduous journeys. We strongly suggest taking domestic flights between Kuching, Sibu and Miri. Otherwise, you’ll be spending most of the day sat on a bus. Our itinerary starts in Kuching and ends in either Miri or Brunei.
Regular flights connect Kuala Lumpur with Kuching in Sarawak, taking approximately one hour and 50 minutes. When you arrive in Kuching, visit Kuching Waterfront, Carpenter Street and Old Bazaar. Snap a photograph of Astana (the Palace) and the stunning Sarawak State Legislative Assembly from the Sarawak River. Be sure to sample state dish Sarawak Laksa (we recommend Poh Lam Laksa for a cheap meal). If you’re a cat lover, stroll around the City of Cats and find their famous cat statues. For an evening drink, head to Drunk Monkey on Carpenter Street to mingle with Kuching’s expats and other backpackers.
Bako National Park near Kuching is a particular highlight on our one week in Sarawak itinerary. Start as early as possible and take the red bus (number one) to Bako Market from Central Kuching. Activities range from hiking along colour-coded trails and relaxing on hidden beaches to touring the mangroves by boat. Bako also houses a small community of tame proboscis monkeys near Park HQ. Read our guide to Bako National Park to get the most out of your day trip. Pro tip: Bring food and water. There’s an on-site restaurant, but it might not be open. Expect to arrive back in Kuching around 5:00pm. Head to Bear Garden, an environmentally-conscious vegetarian/vegan restaurant, for dinner and a drink. And don’t spare on the orders: Bear Garden donates 50% of their profit to the Orangutan Project! Ask the staff and they’ll explain what they do.
The third day of our one week in Sarawak itinerary combines a trip to see baby orangutans with a beach sunset. Sarawak’s orangutan rehabilitation centre lies approximately 40 minutes by car from Kuching. Matang Wildlife Centre adopts injured and orphaned orangutans. They nurse and rehabilitate the young primates in a protected area before releasing them back into the wild. We suggest arranging a taxi from Kuching to Matang, which costs approximately RM60 ($15 USD) one way. Ask the park ranger to help you find transport back to the city. In the afternoon, make your way to Damai Beach some 34 kilometres (21 miles) north. Jungle fringes the orange and white coastline inside Damai Beach Resort with Mount Santubong in the background. This is our favourite place in Sarawak for the sunset.
Most travellers usually skip Sibu on their trip to Sarawak. But it’s worth a day to see the town’s superlatives: Both Malaysia’s largest town square (Sibu Town Square) and indoor market (Sibu Central Market). Take a 40-minute domestic flight from Kuching rather than the six-hour plus bus ride. Compared to other parts of Sarawak, Sibu has a Chinese majority giving it a different atmosphere. Check out the 19th-century Tua Pek Kong Temple and the Sibu Heritage Centre (free admission) to learn about the town’s history and culture. In the afternoon, visit nearby Bukit Aup Jubilee Park and follow the short jungle trails to viewing platforms and traditional longhouses. The Sibu Night Market is a top spot to taste local delicacies and street food in the evening.
Malaysian Airlines (MAS) offers daily flights from Sibu to Miri departing at approximately 8:00am. Expect to arrive in Miri city centre around 10:30am. Our whirlwind sightseeing itinerary involves climbing Canada Hill, visiting Miri Fan Recreation Park and catching the sunset at Brighton Beach. The Miri Handicraft Centre on Jalan Brooke offers traditional souvenirs and a glimpse into indigenous culture. In the evening, check out Alice in Borneoland to unwind with a drink and live music.
Miri acts as a hub to four of the state’s national parks, but it’s not practical to visit them all with just one week in Sarawak. Instead, spend the day at Niah Caves located approximately one and half hours from Miri. Niah Caves boast a labyrinth of passageways penetrating the limestone cliffs connected by boardwalks. Tourists can also see rare canoe-shaped coffins in some of the chambers as well as prehistoric cave art. Getting to the caves can be challenging on public transport. Pro tip: Rent a car or try to share the cost of a taxi or minivan with other travellers. When you return to Miri, check out Madli’s Restaurant opposite Imperial Mall. Order some of their Sarawakian satay (Malaysian style kebabs on a stick).
The final part of our one week in Sarawak itinerary involves departing from Miri. Direct flights connect the city to either Kota Kinabalu in Sabah, Kuala Lumpur or Singapore. As an alternative, take the two-hour bus to Bandar Seri Begawan and spend 48 hours in Brunei. You can then fly direct to Kuala Lumpur, Ho Chi Minh City, Bangkok and Manila.