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Malaysia Travel Guide

10 Things To Do In and Around Miri

These are some of the top things to do in Miri. The city is Sarawak’s second largest city and the gateway to the state’s fascinating northeast region.

1.Meet The People

A short flight from Miri brings you to Bario, gateway to the Kelabit Highlands, home to the Kelabit people and their large, well preserved longhouses.  Miri is also connected by Twin Otter service to Ba’kelalan, a cluster of seven Lun Bawang villages famous for their orchards and organic vegetables.

things to do miri

Lun Bawang Festival (Irau Aco)

sarawak-borneo-people-lun-bawang-bamboo-band

2. Go For A Walk

Stroll through Miri Old Town, crammed with shops selling all manner of fascinating goods, taking in the Fish Market and the Tua Pek Kong Temple.  Visit Lambir Hills National Park, probably the world’s most complex and diverse forest ecosystem, for a selection of jungle trekking trails to suit every ability.

Gunung Mulu National Park, famous for its extensive cave systems also offers some spectacular trekking trails, including the demanding yet incredibly rewarding Summit Trek and Pinnacles Trail and the historic Headhunters Trail.

The remote Kelabit Highlands has a wide selection of trails, from half-day strolls in and around Bario to week-long expeditions, staying in remote longhouses, passing by ancient megaliths, camping out in the rainforest and ascending the rugged peaks of Pulong Tau National Park.

Sarawak Borneo Miri Lambir Hills National Park

Mulu Clear water cave

visit-2Bsarawak-2Bmalaysia-2Bborneo-2Bbario-2Bfood-2Bfestival-2B2014-2Bmisc-2BmikhaiLLU-2B-10-

3. Wildlife Encounters

Visit the caves of Niah National Park to view remarkable cave fauna, watch an amazing bat exodus and find your way back by the light of luminous mushrooms.  Head for Kuala Sibuti for an evening of crocodile spotting and firefly watching.

The Bat Observatory at Gunung Mulu National Park provides a grandstand view of one of nature’s natural wonders, while the world’s longest canopy walkway showcases the birds and plants of the rainforest canopy walkway showcases the birds and plants of the rainforest canopy.  Spend a night at Loagan Bunut National Park, with its incredible shrinking lake ecosystem and a resident population of Bornean gibbons, as well as hundreds of bird, reptile and small mammal species.

Niah National Park

a-u-bagly_hipposideros-diadema-with-pup_cave-roost-mulu-bat

mulu-frog

4. Take To The Water

Charter an express boat from Kuala Baram brings you to the upriver town of Marudi, gateway to Ulu Baram.  If you have the time, and weather conditions permitting, you can travel from Marudi by express boat and longboat to some of the remotest villages and longhouses in Sarawak, home to various Orang Ulu communities including Kayans, Kenyahs, and even nomadic Penans.

Things to do miri

The Panoramic view of Sela’an Kayan village, Ulu Baram

5. Underground Sarawak

Visit the caves of Niah National Park, settled by modern humans for over 40,000 years and one of the most important archaeological sites in Southeast Asia.  The Great Cave has one of the world’s largest cave mouths, a fascinating cave ecosystem and you can watch the birds nest collectors at work.  The Padang, where a shaft of light pierces the rear of the cave, is perfect for photo ops.  The Adjacent Painted Cave is the site of Niah’s famous cave paintings.  Leave the Great Cave around sunset, to see the nightly “changing of the guard”.  Two great living clouds intermingle in the sky as hundreds of thousand of swiftlets return to their nests, whilst a similar number of bats fly out to forage in the forest.

Gunung Mulu National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is most famous for its limestone cave systems, including the world’s largest chamber, the world’s largest cave passsage and the longest cave in Southeast Asia.

Niah National Park

Mulu Sarawak | A World Heritage Site

DekatJe Mulu Puncak Borneo

6. Underwater Sarawak

Miri is fast becoming a popular dive destination, due to the 22 pristine patch reefs that make up the Miri-Sibuti Reef Marine Park, lying at depths from 7 to 30 metres.  The best time to dive is March to September, with average visibility around 30 metres, but you can expect at least 10 metres visibility all year round.  Hard and soft corals cover the entire reefs, with abundant gorgonians, sea-whips,  anemones, sponges and crinoids.  There are also some interesting wreck dives in quite shallow water, perfect for a first wreck diving experience.

Most of the best dive sites are at depths between 18 and 30 metres, so EANx Nitrox Diver and PADI advanced Open Water ratings are highly recommended.  Bonus activities include whale shark spotting (in season).

7. Food and Drink

Miri has similar culinary selection to Kuching, although with its seafront location the seafood is possibly even fresher.  Inland, be tempted by the fresh jungle produce and organically grown fruits and vegetables prepared by the Kelabit and Lun Bawang people of the northern highlands, served with the unique fine-grained Bario rice, In the upriver Orang Ulu longhouses, enjoy tasty wild boar, free range chicken and exotic river fish served with glass of borak (Orang Ulu rice wine)

visit-2Bsarawak-2Bmalaysia-2Bborneo-2Bbario-2Bfood-2Bfestival-2B2014-2B-2832-29

8. Culture Heritage

Canada Hill not only offers excellent views of Miri and the surrounding area, it is also home to Oil Well No. 1, known as the “grand old lady,”  the first well to strike oil in Sarawak in 1910.  The adjacent Petroleum Museum traces the history and development of the oil and gas industries in Malaysia.  Back in town, visit the impressive and atmospheric San Ching Tian Temple, the largest Taoist temple in Southeast Asia.  If you are heading for Niah National Park, make sure to visit the fascinating Niah Archaeological Museum, tracing 40,000 years of human settlement at Niah.

Canada Hill, Miri, Sarawak

Niah National Park

9. Shopping

Miri Handicraft Centre showcases the ethnic arts and crafts of northern Sarawak.  Stalls are run by the producers, and craftspeople can often be viewed at work here.  items on sale include Penan mats and basketry.  Orang Ulu beadwork and woodcravings.  Miri’s Tamu Muhibbah is a colourful native market selling exotic fruits and vegetables, handicrafts and produce from upriver areas, including fragrant Bario rice, and great photo opportunities.

Exhibitionhandicraft Miri

Exhibitionhandicraft Miri

sarawak-malaysia-borneo-limbang-Bisaya-Babulang-festival-handicraft-exhibition

10. Festivals Celebrations

Borneo Jazz: One of the top jazz festivals in the region, attracting top jazz and blues performers from around the world.

Pesta Nukenen Bario (Bario Food Festival): The world’s most exclusive food festival celebrates the unique food, farming, forest and cultural heritage of the Kelabut Highlands.

Exuberance festival goers posing for the photographer

visit sarawak malaysia borneo miri borneo jazz 2014 andy kho

 

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Categories
Malaysia Travel Guide

Little Known Secrets of the Beads of Borneo

From the Zulu warriors in South Africa, to the ancient Egyptians of North Africa, to the pilgrims of the Middle East or South America, beads have a presence in many cultures but the one commonality is that they have always been more than an eye-catching accessory. The story of the beads of Borneo is no exception.

For many cultures, they were a currency, or perhaps a sign of faith, a symbol of wealth or a family heirloom to be treasured for future generations. Whatever the purpose, the one consistency is that they are always a way of expression.

Sarawak in Malaysian Borneo has a unique relationship with the beads of Borneo. Although there isn’t any definitive evidence of when exactly the beads came to the region, there is evidence to suggest beads were first used in Borneo by visiting sailors for bartering. Back then, beads were made out of shells, teeth, bones and stones that were perforated and worn as ornaments.

Some Sarawak tribes believe that the longer a bead lasts, the more powerful it becomes and the bearer can draw strength from the bead. However, to do so, the bearer must have a strong soul.

Source: Sarawak Tourism Board

There are over 30 tribes in Sarawak and each tribe has its own way of adorning themselves with beads. Some of them use them as necklaces, others as beaded head caps or beaded skirts, others as bracelets or even rings. Beads would also be used as decorations during festivals or other big gatherings.

The baby carriers used by Orang Ulu women to carry their infants are adorned with beadwork and finishes made out of wild boar or leopard teeth. Apart from indicating status, the tingling of the Hawk’s bells and large beads attached to the upper rim of the carrier would soothe the toddler on long journeys through the rain forest.

Many of the antique beads of Borneo are hard to find now. There are a number of reasons for this. Historically, the beads were sometimes buried with their owners as part of their grave clothes, or as “grave gifts”, for the deceased to use in their long journey to the underworld.

As mentioned, beads were also used as currency, often traded with visiting sailors or lost in the sometimes devastating longhouse fires that could rip through 100 doors in less than an hour.

As beads were increasingly hard to come by and time became a precious commodity, modern day beads are mostly imported from Indonesia and China, according to Heidi Munan, Sarawak Museum’s curator of beads. However they are still influenced by the original beads of Borneo.

So while these new beads are still traded, they are no longer the currency of trade. And despite being mass produced, they are increasingly expensive yet have little of the character of the original beads. At the same time, the number of communities still making the beads of Borneo in the traditional manner is slowly diminishing.

Preserving the traditionality of beadmaking

However, the Lun Bawang community in Long Tuma village, Lawas, northern Sarawak continues to make ceramic beads the way they’ve always been made. Partly to generate income for the community but also because they want to keep the tradition alive and let everyone have the opportunity to wear the beads during traditional festivities.

The process begins with a group of five women wading almost nonchalantly into the crocodile infested waters of Pa’ Lawas river to find and dig up the smooth fine clay, which they call “tanah salit”.

The clay is taken to the village by hand, pounded and kneaded to the right consistency and shaped into tiny beads, roughly the size of a pea. The beads are then sun-dried, and strung up on wire loops and fired in a backyard bonfire.

Patricia Busak, daughter of Litad Muluk, who manages the ceramic beads centre, was interviewed by the Star newspaper some time ago and talked through the process, “It takes at least three pairs of hands to make just one bead: one to gather and process the river clay before shaping it into beads; another to paint the underglaze pattern; and a third to paint the glaze and arrange the beads in an electric kiln at the community-owned workshop in the village.”

She went on to say, “It’s very specialised; for instance, only three women in our group are skilled at rolling the beads. I can’t roll, but I’m good at painting the pattern.”

The Long Tuma women are the only beadmakers in Sarawak. Even though their business is thriving, the most important thing for the Lun Bawang community, is the opportunity to preserve their heritage.

“The kind of beads we have, how we string and wear them, give us our sense of identity as a Lun Bawang,” concludes Patricia in the interview.

Beads of Borneo - Painting a bead

Source: Borneo Talk, “The Glistening Beads Of Kampung Long Tuma”

Because beads have been used for so long and came from various parts of the world, the types of beads found in Sarawak vary. Here are a few examples of the types of beads you should look out for during your time in Sarawak and especially if you go to a festival.

Lukut Sekala

The Lukut Sekala beads are worn almost exclusively by members of the Kayan tribe. These beads serve as a symbol of longevity to the community. This is because the beads last for so long that they have become heirlooms, passed down through multiple generations.

Source: @taytayxanadu on Carousell

There are also the Lukut Bela Laba, which are considered male or female depending on whether the shape of the bead was long or flat. The beads are considered extremely valuable. These beads are often of great value to the Kayan.

According to legend, a trader who wanted to travel by river to the interior of Sarawak bought a second-hand outboard engine with just one Lukut Sekala bead.

Beads of Borneo - bead designs

Source: Rustic Borneo Travel, “Borneo Beads – Beautiful Status Symbols”

Ba’o Rawir

The Ba’o Rawir, or the drinking straw beads are created by Kelabit ladies. The Kelabit tribe originates from the Bario Highlands located in the northernmost part of Sarawak. The Kelabit people have a close association with the Lun Bawang tribe as they are geographically close to one another.

The Ba’o Rawir beads are used to create intricate designs on the Peta, a hat worn by Kelabit ladies. It is a status symbol which had the equivalent value of one buffalo in the old days when owning a buffalo was considered a sign of wealth. Today, an antique Peta hat made out of Ba’o Rawir can fetch up to RM 30,000 (US$ 7,150).

Beads of Borneo - Kelabit woman head gear

Source: Kelabit Wiki, “Peta”

Experience bead making yourself

Located in the north of Sarawak, the Long Tuma village is close to the Brunei border. The Ceramic Bead Centre holds workshops where you can learn how to make the beads and create your own piece. The Beads centre is currently managed by Litad Muluk and her daughter Patricia who is quoted above.

These women work the fields during the day and use the bead centre as an extra income stream while keeping the tradition alive. You can even see how this group of dedicated women put together beautiful pieces of jewellery.

And if you like what you see, you can support their efforts by purchasing beads from the souvenir shop.

Here is where it’s located:
Pusat Kraftangan Manik Seramik
Kampung Long Tuma, 98850 Lawas, Sarawak
Tel: +6013 565 6951

If you’re interested to learn more about the beading culture of Borneo, Heidi Munan’s book on Bornean beads is a highly recommended read. In it, she explains the historic significance of beads and how they transcend its mere aesthetic appeal.

You can also order beads online and support the Lawas bead community at the same time. These 3 online stores offer authentic products sourced from Sarawak:

  1. Gerai OA
  2. Gaya Borneo
  3. Bonita and the Beads
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Categories
Malaysia Travel Guide

10 Things To Do In Miri

Miri  is Sarawak’s second largest city and the gateway to the state’s fascinating northeast region.

1.Meet The People

A short flight from Miri brings you to Bario, gateway to the Kelabit Highlands, home to the Kelabit people and their large, well preserved longhouses.  Miri is also connected by Twin Otter service to Ba’kelalan, a cluster of seven Lun Bawang villages famous for their orchards and organic vegetables.

Lun Bawang Festival (Irau Aco)

sarawak-borneo-people-lun-bawang-bamboo-band

2. Go For A Walk

Stroll through Miri Old Town, crammed with shops selling all manner of fascinating goods, taking in the Fish Market and the Tua Pek Kong Temple.  Visit Lambir Hills National Park, probably the world’s most complex and diverse forest ecosystem, for a selection of jungle trekking trails to suit every ability.

Gunung Mulu National Park, famous for its extensive cave systems also offers some spectacular trekking trails, including the demanding yet incredibly rewarding Summit Trek and Pinnacles Trail and the historic Headhunters Trail.

The remote Kelabit Highlands has a wide selection of trails, from half-day strolls in and around Bario to week-long expeditions, staying in remote longhouses, passing by ancient megaliths, camping out in the rainforest and ascending the rugged peaks of Pulong Tau National Park.

Sarawak Borneo Miri Lambir Hills National Park

Mulu Clear water cave

visit-2Bsarawak-2Bmalaysia-2Bborneo-2Bbario-2Bfood-2Bfestival-2B2014-2Bmisc-2BmikhaiLLU-2B-10-

3. Wildlife Encounters

Visit the caves of Niah National Park to view remarkable cave fauna, watch an amazing bat exodus and find your way back by the light of luminous mushrooms.  Head for Kuala Sibuti for an evening of crocodile spotting and firefly watching.

The Bat Observatory at Gunung Mulu National Park provides a grandstand view of one of nature’s natural wonders, while the world’s longest canopy walkway showcases the birds and plants of the rainforest canopy walkway showcases the birds and plants of the rainforest canopy.  Spend a night at Loagan Bunut National Park, with its incredible shrinking lake ecosystem and a resident population of Bornean gibbons, as well as hundreds of bird, reptile and small mammal species.

Niah National Park

a-u-bagly_hipposideros-diadema-with-pup_cave-roost-mulu-bat

mulu-frog

4. Take To The Water

Charter an express boat from Kuala Baram brings you to the upriver town of Marudi, gateway to Ulu Baram.  If you have the time, and weather conditions permitting, you can travel from Marudi by express boat and longboat to some of the remotest villages and longhouses in Sarawak, home to various Orang Ulu communities including Kayans, Kenyahs, and even nomadic Penans.

The Panoramic view of Sela'an Kayan village, Ulu Baram

5. Underground Sarawak

Visit the caves of Niah National Park, settled by modern humans for over 40,000 years and one of the most important archaeological sites in Southeast Asia.  The Great Cave has one of the world’s largest cave mouths, a fascinating cave ecosystem and you can watch the birds nest collectors at work.  The Padang, where a shaft of light pierces the rear of the cave, is perfect for photo ops.  The Adjacent Painted Cave is the site of Niah’s famous cave paintings.  Leave the Great Cave around sunset, to see the nightly “changing of the guard”.  Two great living clouds intermingle in the sky as hundreds of thousand of swiftlets return to their nests, whilst a similar number of bats fly out to forage in the forest.

Gunung Mulu National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is most famous for its limestone cave systems, including the world’s largest chamber, the world’s largest cave passsage and the longest cave in Southeast Asia.

Niah National Park

Mulu Sarawak | A World Heritage Site

DekatJe Mulu Puncak Borneo

6. Underwater Sarawak

Miri is fast becoming a popular dive destination, due to the 22 pristine patch reefs that make up the Miri-Sibuti Reef Marine Park, lying at depths from 7 to 30 metres.  The best time to dive is March to September, with average visibility around 30 metres, but you can expect at least 10 metres visibility all year round.  Hard and soft corals cover the entire reefs, with abundant gorgonians, sea-whips,  anemones, sponges and crinoids.  There are also some interesting wreck dives in quite shallow water, perfect for a first wreck diving experience.

Most of the best dive sites are at depths between 18 and 30 metres, so EANx Nitrox Diver and PADI advanced Open Water ratings are highly recommended.  Bonus activities include whale shark spotting (in season).

7. Food and Drink

Miri has similar culinary selection to Kuching, although with its seafront location the seafood is possibly even fresher.  Inland, be tempted by the fresh jungle produce and organically grown fruits and vegetables prepared by the Kelabit and Lun Bawang people of the northern highlands, served with the unique fine-grained Bario rice, In the upriver Orang Ulu longhouses, enjoy tasty wild boar, free range chicken and exotic river fish served with glass of borak (Orang Ulu rice wine)

visit-2Bsarawak-2Bmalaysia-2Bborneo-2Bbario-2Bfood-2Bfestival-2B2014-2B-2832-29

8. Culture Heritage

Canada Hill not only offers excellent views of Miri and the surrounding area, it is also home to Oil Well No. 1, known as the “grand old lady,”  the first well to strike oil in Sarawak in 1910.  The adjacent Petroleum Museum traces the history and development of the oil and gas industries in Malaysia.  Back in town, visit the impressive and atmospheric San Ching Tian Temple, the largest Taoist temple in Southeast Asia.  If you are heading for Niah National Park, make sure to visit the fascinating Niah Archaeological Museum, tracing 40,000 years of human settlement at Niah.

Canada Hill, Miri, Sarawak

Niah National Park

9. Shopping

Miri Handicraft Centre showcases the ethnic arts and crafts of northern Sarawak.  Stalls are run by the producers, and craftspeople can often be viewed at work here.  items on sale include Penan mats and basketry.  Orang Ulu beadwork and woodcravings.  Miri’s Tamu Muhibbah is a colourful native market selling exotic fruits and vegetables, handicrafts and produce from upriver areas, including fragrant Bario rice, and great photo opportunities.

Exhibitionhandicraft Miri

Exhibitionhandicraft Miri

sarawak-malaysia-borneo-limbang-Bisaya-Babulang-festival-handicraft-exhibition

10. Festivals Celebrations

Borneo Jazz: One of the top jazz festivals in the region, attracting top jazz and blues performers from around the world.

Pesta Nukenen Bario (Bario Food Festival): The world’s most exclusive food festival celebrates the unique food, farming, forest and cultural heritage of the Kelabut Highlands.

Exuberance festival goers posing for the photographer

visit sarawak malaysia borneo miri borneo jazz 2014 andy kho

 

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