Little-known Miri in Sarawak played a crucial role in modern-day Malaysia.
In the early 20th-century, geologists struck oil in Miri. The town boomed attracting migrant workers from China. Malaysia’s black gold fuels much of the economy today.
But this small oil-rich city on the South China Sea isn’t just about petroleum.
It has a thriving Chinese community, Sarawak’s oldest Buddhist temple and a handicraft market selling all kinds of locally produced goods.
Miri acts as a gateway to four surrounding national parks, beaches and occasionally hosts the enchanting Blue Tears too.
Let’s explore the best things to do in Miri:
1. Panoramic views from Canada Hill
Canada Hill, sometimes called Miri Hill, towers behind the city center.
The limestone hill reaches a height of 150 meters (492 feet). A network of easy trails leads to its summit for the city’s best views.
An army of taxis awaits those looking for a quick way up.
Marvel at the panoramic over the small city and the South China Sea in the distance.
Canada Hill (Bukit Minyak in Bahasa) is a favorite place to see both the sunrise and sunset.
2. The Grand Old Lady: Malaysia’s first oil well
The Grand Old Lady on Canada Hill marks the spot where Shell first drilled oil in Miri back in 1910.
Standing at 30 meters (98 feet), the monument is a replica of Malaysia’s first oil well. The landmark offers a window into the importance of the industry which revolutionized Malaysia.
While the monument itself isn’t much to look at, travelers usually combine the experience with hiking Canada Hill.
Snap photographs and consider how the oil discovered in this spot fueled the nation’s development and paid for Kuala Lumpur’s Petronas Towers.
3. Learn about the crucial role of Miri at the Petroleum Museum
The Petroleum Museum on Canada Hill tells the story of oil in Miri.
Before its discovery in 1910, Miri was a relatively small fishing village. Locals lived in wooden houses. They made their living from the South China Sea.
Miri transformed in a few decades. Wealthy magnates moved to the area. Chinese migrant workers changed the demographics.
The Petroleum Museum covers this story while giving snippets on oil extraction methods.
If you want to gain a deeper appreciation of Miri’s direct influence on modern-day Malaysia, spend a few hours here.
4. San Ching Tian: Miri’s most extravagant temple
The grand San Ching Tian is among Southeast Asia’s largest Taoist temples.
Set inside a tranquil garden, the temple has an elegant entrance and a two-tiered orange roof. Intricate dragons decorate the exterior while bronze statues of religious icons fill the inside shelves.
Since opening in 2000, San Ching Tian has become one of the most visited places of worship in Miri.
The temple is approximately 3 kilometers (1.9 miles) northeast of the city center.
5. The oldest Buddhist temple in Miri
Tua Pek Kong holds the title as Miri’s oldest temple.
Chinese immigrants enticed by the booming oil industry built this temple in 1913. They dedicated it to their deity who protects all overseas Chinese.
Tua Pek Kong is next to the river in Miri’s old town. The temple exhibits a colorful exterior decorated with dragons.
Visitors need to remove their shoes to enter. Take care to follow the local customs. Limit the number of photographs when monks are inside.
During Chinese New Year, the temple and its neighbourhood transform into a street-wide celebration. This lively festival bursts with color, noise and energy.
6. Search for local craft at the Handicraft Center
Local artisans sell their handicraft at the Miri Handicraft Center.
The small center along Jalan Brooke has dozens of stalls where vendors showcase their handmade products.
Some sell traditional weaved objects, which includes mats made by the indigenous Penan peoples. Others have textiles, handbags and traditional clothes.
Stroll through the passageways and meet Sarawak’s indigenous communities who fall under the umbrella term ‘Dayak’.
Marvel at the colors, craftsmanship and detail. Wave to the smiling elderly women sat next to their stalls.
Miri Handicraft Center is the most recommended place in Miri to buy souvenirs.
The center opens daily between 9:00am and 6:00pm. Cultural shows sometimes take place in the evening.
7. Gardens, promenades and a musical fountain in Miri City Fan
From above, Miri City Fan resembles the shape of a traditional handheld fan.
On the ground, it sprawls 26 acres separated into ten thematic zones. The park’s centerpiece is an amphitheater surrounded by a koi pond, maintained Islamic gardens and a promenade.
Sit beneath the trees and watch the musical fountain. Or head to Miri Library to brush up on local culture inside the spacious air-conditioned reading room.
After opening in the 1990s, Miri City Fan has been a hit with residents.
Joggers speed along the paths in the cooler morning and evening air.
8. Sunset cocktails at Miri Sky Bar
Meritz Hotel’s 17th floor Sky Bar provides unobstructed views of Miri and the South China Sea.
Tables fill the outdoor terrace in dry weather. Customers unwind outside admiring the views in the early evening.
Both alcoholic and non-alcoholic drinks are available.
Sit outside with a glass of imported wine or a cocktail watching Borneo’s famous sunset. Or choose from their selection of coffee, smoothies and soft drinks.
Miri Sky Bar doubles up as a classy restaurant.
Locals usually go for the set-price steamboat. Steamboat uses a flavored boiling soup to cook meat, tofu and vegetables.
Check out their website for regular drink promotions. The sky bar opens between 6:00pm and 10:00pm daily.
9. Miri’s street food at Saberkas Weekend Market
Located approximately 3 kilometers (1.2 miles) northeast of the city center, Saberkas Weekend Market is a favorite with locals.
Rows of stalls have everything from fresh produce and tropical fruits to handicraft. Vendors sell street food at rock bottom prices including satay (Malaysian kebabs) and barbequed chicken.
According to Miri’s residents, Saberkas is among Sarawak’s friendliest and most colorful markets. Head down for dinner and see how the local’s go about their daily business.
The wet market, outside Saberkas Commercial Center, opens in the evenings from Thursday to Sunday.
10. A national park from another planet
Gunung Mulu National Park is like a scene from a sci-fi movie.
Limestone pinnacles rise into razor-sharp points guarding the entrance to dozens of almost hidden caves. Soaring mountains surround 17 vegetation zones inside the UNESCO-listed national park.
Guided tours pass through both Clearwater and Deer Cave before exploring canyons, waterfalls and otherworldly landscapes.
Keep your eyes open for primates, deer and billions of squeaking bats.
Getting to Gunung Mulu is almost as challenging as visiting another planet. Travelers need to either take a 30-minute flight from Miri or embark on a multi-day expedition through the jungle.
Most visitors usually stay the night in the park’s accommodation.
11. Sarawak’s best caves systems
Niah National Park has a reputation for its sprawling network of caves.
Located approximately 100 kilometers (62 miles) to the south of Miri, Niah is more accessible than Gunung Mulu.
After arriving at the national park, guides take tourists through the limestone caverns. Look out for the geological wonders including the patterns of stalagmites and stalactites.
Other parts of Niah have ancient cave painting and pagan burial sites.
Archeologists discovered the oldest human skeleton in Malaysia at Niah National Park too.
Most travelers spend the full day at the national park. Because of its size, find out what you want to do before visiting to get the most out of your trip.
12. Jungle trekking in Lambir Hills National Park
Lambir Hills provides visitors with the chance to go jungle trekking near Miri.
Dozens of marked trails penetrate the rainforest. Some pass through differing ecosystems to waterfalls. Others rise to vantage points and natural pools.
Having a guide is essential.
Listen to their expertise as they identify the howls of distance gibbons and point to the occasional sun bear camouflaged against the tree trunks.
The most popular trails lead to both Pantu Waterfall and Latak Waterfall.
Pack plenty of water. Bring leech socks.
13. An equatorial sunset on Brighton Beach
Miri’s Brighton Beach is a highlight of the city.
Known locally as Tanjung Lobang, the beach with its two characteristic piers stretches along the South China Sea.
Local families play in the sand and swim in the warm, gentle waters. The wafting smell of barbeques hangs in the evening air.
But the real magic happens around 6:00pm when the equatorial sun dips towards the horizon. A mirage of oranges, purples and reds spread across the distant sky.
After sunset, stroll along the promenade and pick up some fresh seafood in the many beachside restaurants.
14. Empty beaches and strange rock formations on Tusan Beach
Tusan Beach is just far enough from Miri to keep the visitor numbers at bay. But close enough to reach within 30 minutes by car.
The beach itself has a long sandy coastline and gentle waters. Vertical sandstone cliffs tower against Tusan’s sandy shore.
Come down in the afternoon with your towel and enjoy the privacy of an empty beach for a few hours.
Or bring the camera and capture the strange rock formations caused by decades of erosion.
15. Witness the rare and hypnotic Blue Tears
The ocean and sea bursts with life so small that we need a microscope to see them.
Some of these micro-organisms are called dinoflagellates. Dinoflagellates have an uncanny ability to generate light under certain conditions.
Tusan Beach, when everything is just right, transforms into a glowing blue mass.
Tiny organisms glow neon blue which spreads across the sea as the waves roll in.
This natural phenomenon is known as the ‘Blue Tears’ in Sarawak and sometimes takes place at Tusan.
Witnessing this natural spectacle is both enthralling and awe-inspiring.
But it doesn’t happen every night, and you’ll need a big dose of luck to see it.