Last updated on 28th October 2019
There is time to spare in Miri
I have crossed borders from Sabah to Sarawak, taken a tiring 10h bus ride and a flight, to come to Miri. There is no direct flight from Tawau (near Semporna) so I went to Kota Kinabalu first and took a flight from there.
Miri is located in the northwest of Sarawak on Borneo, not far from the borders to Brunei. Nearby is the Mulu National Park with its famous Deer Cave, Tusan Beach with its well-known “Drinking Horse” rock formation, and the Niah caves. I came to see all this. But it turned out that Mulu National Park is best to be visited during a longer stay of a few days so I had to skip it for this time.
On my first day, I did my usual orientation walk and I discovered a surprisingly nice place. In contrast to all other cities I had visited on Borneo, this town offers some quality of life. Undoubtedly this place is worth some time to spare!
Miri does not smell bad and is comparably clean. The haze from the forest fires was gone, the city had suffered badly but now all looked friendly under a blue sky. In the city centre, there is a beautiful and big public park that also hosts a venue for events. Next to it stands a huge public library. Next to it are two big public swimming pools, one with 50m lanes and jump tower. Unfortunately, it was closed at the time I was there. Across the road is a big outdoor sports arena and another, equally big, for indoor sports. Roads are wider and some of them have nice pavements with trees. And it struck me with surprise that there were even some electric cars silently passing by.
Along the beach is a public park where plenty of people go for a jog in the evening hours. While jogging the sun sets over the ocean, I cannot imagine any nicer place for exercising! And at the end of it there is the so called “Coco Cabana” with a seahorse-shaped lighthouse and a big event location. On my last day, they run the Miri Supertalent Show there. Certainly, the town has some problems with rubbish and pollution too, the beach is not clean, and there are jetties again with the known problems. But what a difference! No big old lorries and no busses pollute the air along the roads as much as in other towns, it’s possible to walk the streets of Miri, which are kept relatively tidy. Eateries are not as numerous and their food production is less or not smoky. All in all, what a relief!
During the following days, I found out what made the difference: Oil! In 1882 the presence of Oil was detected in Sarawak and in 1910 the Miri Well #1 was drilled. This historical discovery turned Miri from a fishing village into a bustling town, almost overnight. Shell established its headquarter in Miri and from 1913 onwards oil was exported globally. With the oil companies and related businesses, the city’s infrastructure improved, hospitals and schools were built. The oil of Miri was the foundation of the national petroleum industry and helped the socio-economic development especially in the region of Miri. Today Shell is not in town anymore and oil drilling on land has been given up. But there are still reservoirs offshore and oil platforms are visible from the beach. On top of Canada Hill where Miri Well #1 was drilled, now called the Grand Old Lady, the Miri petroleum museum reminds of the time when the Grand Old Lady produced the first oil but also allows a glimpse into the future of electric cars and renewable energies. Just a little maintenance is required I felt, some exhibits were not in their best condition anymore and some experiments without power.
Involuntarily I came across the Miri Fish Market. My shocking encounter were plenty of little baby sharks, laid out for sale, and quite a few tiny hammerhead shark babies. I could not take any pictures as I felt not safe to do so. I was so shocked that I snapped at the person who friendly offered me to buy some of them. Back home I wrote an email to the MYCAT Wildlife Crime Hotline who had recently published their contact details in a local newspaper. In the email exchange that followed, I gave the address of the fish market and told them that other tourists have had the same experience. Three days later I saw another article in a newspaper publishing the unlawful sale of baby sharks.
I felt so happy as I believe that with this publicity the shark hunting at least in this area will come to an end. And please, if you also see something like this, if you find endangered species killed or in captivity, please report this. Every little effort counts!
The Niah Caves are an absolutely stunning experience. They are located about a 1,5h drive west of Miri. A taxi is the most convenient way to get there. It is best to allocate the entire day as there are three huge caves to be explored and it takes a 3km hike through the forest to get to the first one. The stroll along plank walk is fascinating in its own passing giant trees with their enormous roots, plants twice the size of a person and, if lucky, encountering some monkeys jumping the canopy.
Don’t forget water, a torch and some food. Also insect repellent and sunscreen could be advisable. When I was there all facilities including the museum were closed which I only realised when I was already there. I had spontaneously jumped into a taxi and not thought about all this, relying only on one small bottle of water and the torch of my phone. Luckily, I was not the only visitor and another couple, namely a nice Malaysian man called Hong, took me through the dark passages of the caves and even offered the ride back to Miri in his car, which I happily accepted. There is no bus going directly and taxis do not come there. The public bus stop is some distance away and needs a taxi to access it.
The magnificent Niah Caves were inhabited by humans at least 40 millennia ago. The local tribesmen made their living by collecting edible birds nests built high in the cave walls by swiftlets. The birds’ nests are still collected today, I could see men hanging high above the ground at the ceiling of the caves collecting them. Chinese gourmets love to eat them and believe they give benefits to their health.
There are three big caves, the Traders Cave, the Great Cave and the Painted Cave. In the Painted Cave (GuaKainHitam), ancient human figures drawn on the wall by prehistoric inhabitants watch over gravesites where the dead were laid out in boat-shaped wooden coffins.
Half the distance between Miri and Niah Caves there is Tuson beach, about 40km from the city. The cliff forms an arch that forms the head of a drinking horse, locals say. Colourful stairs lead down to the beach. The arch is a little walk along the beach towards West. Usually, at sunset time the tide is rising but if not too high yet one can climb underneath the horses head through the arch and look at it from the other side. During sunset, this place is magical and reflects the light of the setting sun in all colours and shades.
It is believed that with some luck visitors can see the effect of the “Blue Tears” here: glowing ocean waters with luminous special effects in blue colour. A photographer, Albert Song, once captured the breath-taking scene and shared his photos online. But I was not lucky enough to see a blue sparkling in the waters. But the orange-reddish colours of the beach and its waters were equally stunning.
My next stop: Kuala Lumpur