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Sibu General Information
Sibu is the gateway to the mighty Rajang River and its vast hinterland. As the main commercial centre and port for the Rajang Basin, Sibu is the starting point for one of the world’s great river journeys. The second largest town in Sarawak, Sibu is situated on the confluence of the Rajang and Igan River, 130 km from the South China Sea. It is a thriving, modern town dominated by its bustling and crowded waterfront.
Sibu’s wealth and fame are largely due to its enterprising, hard working Foochow community, who arrived in Sarawak from Southern China during the reign of Rajah Charles Brooke (1900 – 1917), and the town is still frequently referred to as “New Foochow”. Nowadays, however, Sibu’s populaton of 180,000 is a colourful mix of Chinese, Malays, Ibans and other ethnic races. Each race takes great pride in its own traditions and customs, but racial harmony and unity are the norm here.
Sibu is centrally located in Sarawak (see map) and is easily accessible by land, water and air. The new airport has fast and frequent connections to many destinations in East Malaysia and is set to become one of the busiest in the country. Regular air – conditioned bus services operate to all major road destinations in Sarawak. but the unique feature of travel in the Sibu area is the extensive network boat services along the Rajang and Igan River. These fast, comfortable and reliable crafts connect Sibu with the towns and villages of the Upper Rajang, and with Kuching, Sarikei and Bintangor.
The town itself is well-served by taxis, buses and local boat services. The town centre is compact and easy to walk around, and pedal trishaws are available for short distances.
Accommodation and Facilities
Sibu has a wide range of hotel accommodation to suit all taste and budgets. There is not shortage of entertainment, as discotheques, karaoke lounges, pubs, restaurants and night clubs are found throughout the town centre and suburbs. Sibu is well served by banks and finance companies, and travellers cheques and major cerdit cards are widely accepted by banks, hotels, department stores, travel agencies, nightspots and restaurants.
In addition to a wide range of popular Malaysian restaurants and food stalls, Sibu also offers a good choice of foreign cuisine, as well as some unusual local favourites. These include “Million”, a type of wild fern, “Kang Muan Mee”, a type of noodle and “Kong Pian”, a type of baked biscuit. Fresh seafood and river fish are widely available in restaurants, and wild boar and deer meat (version) are also easily obtained. Sibu offers a particilarly good selection of tropical fruits, including guava, rambutan, papaya, starfruit, watermelon, pineapple, a large assortment of bananas, olives and the king of the fruits, the durian.
A wide range of specialist shops and department stores offer the kind of shopping possibilities associated with any sizable, prosperous town. However, Sibu has a number of particularly interesting opportunities for the bargain hunter.
- Sarawak Pottery
Sibu is a major centre for the prodution of fine quality Sarawak pottery. Some of the designs are traditional, whilst modern items incorporate elements of indigenous art and design. Local ceramics are reasonably priced, and make excellent souvenirs or presents.
- Native Handicrafts
As the entrepot for the Rajang Basin, Sibu is an excellent place to go shopping for native handicrafts. The indigenous people of Sarawak produce very fine wood-carvings, bean work, rattan baskets and mats and woven textiles. Each tribal group has its own unique designs and artistic style. Several shops in Sibu sell a full range of these handicrafts, both antique and new.
Places Of Interest
The pasar malam or night market is a Malaysian institution,popular with young and old alike. Every night hundreds of stalls are set up by the roadside and all kinds of goods and foodstuffs are sold. The pasar malam is a great place to try all kinds of local delicacies and sweets, and to experience local life. Sibu’s pasar malam is located along High Street, Market Road and Lembangan Lane, and the stalls are open daily from 6.30 to 10.00 pm.
The Lembangan Market is the place to get a real taste of Sarawak. With its 700 stalls located along the Lembangan River between Mission Road and Channel Road, it is used by the local and upriver villagers and longhouse dwellers, who sell a fascinationg range of jungle produce, including flying foxes, squirrels, snakes, turtles, snails edible jungle fruits and ferns. It is open daily but is most popular on weekends and public holidays.
The Golden Triangle is Sibu’s central business and entertainemnt district. It is filled with hundreds of shops, many restaurants, several hotels and the multi-storey Sarawak House shopping complex. It is a heaven for shoppers, especially during public holidays and festive seasons.
The seven-storey pagoda is said to be more beautiful than its counterparts in South-East Asia, and even Taiwan. The pagoda offers panoramic views of Sibu town. It is situated next to the centurey-old Tua Pek Kong Temple.
An ideal place to relax or take an evening stroll, the Esplanade was completed in 1987, using reclaimed land along the river front. it is frequently used for cultural performances and public events.
Sibu Civic Centre
The Civic Centre is situated 2.5 km from the town centre on Tun Abang Haji Openg Road. It houses a mini-museum devoted to the town’s history which contains many intresting photographs and cultural artefacts from the various races. It is also a popular venue for conferences, exhibitions, concerts and community events, and is open from 10.30 am – 5.30 pm Tuesday to Sunday.
Opened in March 1993, Jubilee Park has become favourite local place to relax and unwind especially during weekends and public holidays. Phase one of the park covers 8 acres and comprises an observation tower, sky steps, pavilion, amphitheatre, landscaped gardens, canteen, lagoon, children’s playground and barbecue areas. The park will cover more than 200 acres when it is fully completed.
Forestry Recreation Park
The Forestry Recreation Park covers 200 hectares of land at 18.5 km Ulu Oya Road. Managed by the Forestry Department, the park serves as the centre for carrying out research into soil and plants, particularly the mixed dipterocarp species such as Belian, Engkabang, Alan and Bintangor. A section of the park is open to the public. The park’s facilities includie a camping site, a 30-metre watch tower, a cattle and deer farm, and a huge fish pond. A major attraction to be included soon is a butterfly farm.
Pepper Marketing Board Malaysia – Sibu
The state of Sarawak produces 95% of Malaysian pepper hence the trade name, Sarawak Pepper. Over 90% of the 25,000 tonnes produced annually is exported to some 40 countries around the world. Traditionally, 80% of the crop is processed into black pepper with the remainder being turned into white pepper. At the moment Malaysia ranks 4th as a pepper producing nation. Today, pepper production has taken a different approach with the introudction of Specialty Pepper (creamy pepper, naturally clean black pepper and extra bold black pepper), Sarawak Green Pepper products (pepper sauce and pickle) and processed pepper products (sweets and perfume). The Rajang riverine towns of Sarikei and Bintangor accounts for 40% of the State’s total production.
The Pepper Marketing Board – Sibu Branch located at Jalan Then Kung Suk at Upper Lanang Light Industrial Estate welcomes visitors and is open during office hours. At a pre-arranged time, visitors will be taken on a guided tour of how Sarawak pepper is processed and packed for export. There are processed pepper products available for sale.
KTM Edible Mushroom (S) Culture Farm
The first large scale mushroom farm in Sarawak has generated much interest among locals and foreign visitors alike. Set up with the expertise of a grower from China, the farm produces some 8 to 9 varieties of edible mushroom for local consumption and propagation. The main varieties produced here are the Lingzi (chinese medicinal applications), Oyster and Abalone mushrooms (culinary usage). Seedlings are available for sale to add to your private vegetable garden.
An interesting specie found here is the Bamboo mushroom. Although it requires 60 days of germination, it only takes half an hour to bloom before it is ready for harvesting, failing which rot will set in. Large size abalone mushrooms make delicious “steak” a la black pepper.
Come 1996, the farm will be re-located to a bigger premise at Km 18, jalan Ulu Oya. In the meantime the farm welcomes visitors at its Jalan Umpi Rantai location, Off Upper Lanang Road. However, one is advised to pre-arange for a view of one man’s fascination affair with fungus.
A trip to the Sibu area is incomplete without taking the opportunity to visit an Iban longhouse. Although the Ibans in the Sibu area are modern people who have fully embraced the 20th century, they still practise many traditional customs and retain their ‘adat’ or traditional law. The Ibans are a warm and hospitable people, and this hospitality, coupled with their rich and colourful customs and traditions, can be a memorable experience.
The local Malay Kampongs are accessible via a short river cruise along the Igan River between Rajang Port Authority and Sungai Antu Industrial Estate, they consist of several hundred traditional Malay wooden houses built on stilts. The river bank is always a hive of activities, with children bathing and men fishing and boat building. At nearby kampong Datu there is a stately mosque.
Kapit And Belaga
Kapit and Belaga are the two main towns of the Upper Rajang River, the longest and most extensive river system in Malaysia. The region is still relatively untouched by development, with unexplored tropical rainforests, ravines and rugged mountain ranges, clean rivers, waterfalls, and clear-water rapids. The Upper Rajang is home to a sizeable number of indigenous ethnic groups, mostly living in longhouses. These include the Kayan, kenyah, Kajang, Lahanan, Sekapan, Bukitan, Ukit and Punan, all of whom are known collectively as Orang Ulu or upriver people, as well as the nomadic Penan, many of whom are still hunter-gatherers.
The journey to the Upper Rajang is an adventure in itself. Express boats leave Sibu for Kapit nine times daily, and there is a daily Sibu – Belaga service provided the water level is high enough. As far as Kapit, the river is sedate, but above Kapit the boat passes throught the notorious Pelagus Rapids and a number of smaller sets of rapids before reaching Belaga. Above Belaga the Rajang and its tributaries become even wilder as they pass through narrow gorges and fierce rapids. The usual mode of transport upriver is via outboard – powered dugout canoe. Foreign visitors who wish to travel to and beyond Belaga are requested to obtain a permit from the Resident’s Office (Pejabat Residen) and the Police Station in Kapit.
The whole Upper Rajang has great potential for specialist adventure tourism and eco-tourism activites. The completion of phase 1 of The Pelagus Rapids Resort will provided an ideal location for tourists wishing to explore the area. The resort offers longhouse-style accommodation overlooking the Pelagus Rapids, and serves as a base for jungle trekking, bird watching and other nature-friendly activities.
Mukah is an ancient trading and fishing port, situated at the mouth of the Mukah River adjacent to the South China Sea. Historically, the town was an important outpost of the Sultanate of Brunei, and is nowadays famous as the centre of Melanau culture and as a major sago producing area.
In recent years Mukah has become a popular destination for local tourists, because of its tree lined beaches, fresh and affordable seafood, and the friendly Melanau people. The “kaul” festival, celebrated by the local fishermen in April to appease the spirits of the sea, is one of the major events of the Melanau calendar. Mukah is set to become a town of considerable importance due to a number of government initiated development projects in the area, and is beginning to attract significant private sector investment. Mukah is linked with a number of other major towns by air and road.
Sarikei And Bintangor
Located in the Sarikei Division, these 2 riverine towns are essentially agriculture towns. This region is the biggest producer of Sarawak Pepper. Sarikei is famous for her large sweet pineapples, whereas Bintangor is well-known for her aromatic, sweet and sour oranges known locally as “Bintangor Orange”. Not to be missed are the smoked fish and large dried prawns from the neighbouring coastal town of Belawai. These two towns are poised for further growth with the setting up of Tanjung Manis Timber Processing Zone (down stream timber products) and a proposed national college. The processing zone is about half an hour by boat from Sarikei and the proposed national college is to be sited on the outskirts of Bintagor town. And located some 20km from the town of Sarikei is the Sebangkoi Country Park. The park, set amidst the mountainous part of the Sarikei District, is well planned and laid out thus making it an idyllic weekend getaway.
Both Sarikei and Bintangor are accessible by road and river from Sibu.
Batang Ai Hydro Dam And Longhouse Resort
The Batang Ai Hydro – Electric Project is located in the Sri Aman Division, approximately 3.5 hours by road from Sibu. The RM600 million dam project has created an 80 sq km lake which is becoming increasingly popular with locals and tourists. The Hilton Batang Ai Longhouse Resort, which opened in March 1995 is offering deluxe accommodation along the shores of the lake. The RM20 million resort, the first of its kind in Sarawak, incorporates local traditions of architecture and design. Other nearby attractions include the Iban longhouse of Skrang, Lemanak and Ulu Ai, the Batang Ai National Park and the Lanjak-Entimau Wildlife Sanctuary.