Image: Wardi Wasil

The state of Sarawak shares many similar qualities with our Abode of Peace; from the pleasantly good natured locals to the wild untouched depths of the jungle. It’s a scene that we Borneans are all too familiar with. 

Just like any other locale, there are hidden quirks hiding within every nook and cranny and just 200 km Southwest of Miri lies a quiet coastal town known for its oil and gas, Bintulu. 

Blessed with pristine greenery, rich indigenous culture and a rapidly growing urban area, Bintulu is slowly setting up to be one of the go-to destinations for tourism in the Malaysian state Land of Hornbills. 

Immerse yourself in the wilderness of Similajau National Park

Despite its burgeoning urban development, Bintulu actually boasts quite a number of offerings for those who prefer the company of mother nature; the Similajau National Park being the prime example. 

Image: Wardi Wasil

Considered to be one of Malaysia’s best national parks, Similajau is filled with lush plant life and golden beaches that run along the South China Sea. 

Awashed with the sounds of the tropics and the crashing of waves, traversing through the thick foliage of Similajau is like a journey through the land of giants, as centuries-old trees blot out the sky. 

There are numerous places of interest found throughout the national park, among the most prominent however are its picturesque beaches that are famous for the marine life that frequents them. 

With points of interest like View Point and Teluk Padok, lucky visitors can catch a glimpse of Irrawaddy and Bottlenose dolphins frolicking about the shoreline or they can choose to witness the miracle of sea turtles laying their eggs at the Turtle Beaches and Golden Beach. 

To better your chances, our local guide told us that the best time to visit Similajau National Park is during the dry season which falls between February and October. 

Reacquaint yourself with Borneo’s flora and fauna at Taman Tumbina Bintulu

Based on a portmanteau of the Malay words ‘Tumbuhan’ and ‘Binatang’, Taman Tumbina Bintulu is a zoological and botanical garden that was established more than two decades ago in 1991 as a “living heritage of the flora and fauna of Borneo”. 

Image: Wardi Wasil

The garden provides sanctuary to a multitude of wildlife species, particularly Bornean mammals, birds of prey, reptiles as well as fish, it is no surprise that Taman Tumbina Bintulu has become a well-loved and must visit locale – especially since its renovation and reopening last year. 

Image: Wardi Wasil

Marvel at the resident tiger solemnly prowling within its large enclosure, gawk at the affectionate Javan Deer that approach visitors without fear and get charmed by the Binturong Bearcat that lazes about in perpetual lethargy. 

The garden also features a number of floral complexes dedicated to the different genera of plants endemic to Borneo and as such, be full of wonder as you walk amongst the vibrant orchids, hibiscus and bougainvillea. 

The garden has free admission and is open every day from 9am to 5pm. 

Explore Bintulu’s cultural and historical offerings with Rumah Jaraw and Tua Pek Kong Temple 

In Bintulu, the indigenous natives account for the largest portion of the population, with the Ibans representing the town’s majority. 

Image: Wardi Wasil

There are still pockets of traditional indigenous communities that are open to visitors such as Rumah Jaraw, located within a 30km radius of Bintulu town. 

This Iban longhouse shelters more than 61 families, with the latest census recording more than 360 members. 

Here, guests are welcomed with a traditional Iban ceremonial dance called the ‘Ngajat’, performed expertly by longhouse members decked in their traditional garb of feathers and animal skin as they are accompanied by the rhythmic beats of the gulingtangan.

Image: Wardi Wasil

Guests can also don on the traditional Iban garb for photo ops or have a lesson on using the blowpipe, a ranged weapon previously used by the Iban for hunting and warfare. 

Image: Wardi Wasil

Meanwhile, smack dab in the centre of Bintulu, sits a Taoist structure that was erected in the late 19th century by Hokkien immigrants. 

Believed to be built to ward off evil spirits, the Tua Pek Kong Temple is one of the busiest temples in Bintulu, attracting worshippers far and wide, as it decks with beautifully engraved marble and granite from China. 

The temple is a major landmark for the Chinese community in Bintulu housing major cultural events such as the welcoming of the Chinese New Year and Chap Goh Mei. 

Facing the town’s esplanade, the temple is a beautiful structure to behold, with figures from Chinese myths and legends adorning its pillars, walls, and all the way up to its ceiling – it’s a work of art that holds important historical and cultural weight. 

Seafood feasts that satiate the soul 

From afar, Sajian Mas may look like a regular restaurant with its plastic chairs and white-tiled floors. Specializing in Malay food, this unassuming food joint serves a mean Udang Galah (Giant Freshwater Prawn) dish. 

Image: Wardi Wasil

The Udang Galah Masak Merah is a heaven sent for prawn lovers. With sweet and succulent prawns cooked in spicy chili sauce, this dish is flaming hot and packs quite a punch. It’s the kind of pain worth suffering through and will leave you wanting for more. 

Image: Wardi Wasil

Sajian Mas’ Sup Tulang (Beef Soup) is also nothing to scoff at. The cut beef is slide-off-the-bone tender, and with its hot and savoury broth, it’s a dish that will make you guzzle every last drop. 

If you find yourself craving for other varities of seafood, then the shell out at Anjung Selera is a good place for you. 

Image: Wardi Wasil

With shell out options that come in two distinct sauces – the creamy buttermilk Butter Basah and the spicy Blackpepper, the layered and unique taste spectrum of these shellfish dishes will make your palate work overtime.

You should also try the Umai, a Sarawakian staple made from cured raw fish mixed with lime, chillies and onion. It’s a daunting dish that will reward your taste buds with flavourful delight. 

No trip to Sarawak is complete without Sarawak Laksa, and Dapur Bonda will serve you a decent one.

With a broth that has the essential complexity of taste; Dapur Bonda’s Sarawak Laksa will stave off any cravings toward this iconic dish. 

If you’re seeking a little street food adventure, then drop by Bintulu’s Night Market which opens daily from 5pm to 10pm. 

Image: Wardi Wasil

The market features a variety of local offerings; from Bintulu’s famous sambal belacan to the various Chinese and Malay delicacies that line up the vast street market, there is a wealth of choice that is sure to satisfy everyone’s needs. 

Image: Wardi Wasil

The food adventure does not have to stop there however as there are two other main markets that are perfect for snacks to bring back home. 

Tamu Bintulu and Pasar Utama is where it’s at when trying to find food and products that reflect the quintessential Bintulu.  

From the Minyak Engkabang, a butter that is mainly paired with rice for flavour to freshly harvested honeycomb from the forest, the markets are brimming with sights unfamiliar to the regular urbanite.

This is the unique charm of Bintulu, a place that is often overlooked by the uninformed traveller.

There is a life that pulses vibrantly beneath the surface of this energy town, one that requires more inspection to notice. 

Image: Wardi Wasil
Image: Wardi Wasil

Just as Brunei is the kingdom of unexpected treasures, there is more to discover in Bintulu than meets the eye. 

Consider this quiet coastal town as your next destination when you travel. 

Royal Brunei Airlines now serves Bintulu five times a week via its latest regional service RB Link flights in partnership with Malindo Air on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, Thursdays, Saturdays and Sundays.

Image: Wardi Wasil

This article was first published on November 30, 2019 in our Weekly E-Paper issue 65

The Bruneian | BINTULU

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