Sarawak is Malaysia’s largest state on Borneo Island.
Dense rainforest covers most of the territory. A handful of cities line the South China Sea coast. Capital Kuching usually gets the highest number of international visitors.
Step away from the cities and find nature spanning in all directions. Visit one of the state’s 25 national parks. Or explore their world-famous caves and photograph otherworldly environments.
Join mangrove river cruises and go kayaking along the rivers for different perspectives of this lush environment. Keep your eyes open for rare primates including proboscis monkeys and orangutans.
Crazy Tourist explores the 25 best things to do in Sarawak to get a taste of the jungle, stay at a tribal longhouse and attend a secret rainforest music festival.
1. Sarawak’s colonial capital
Sarawak’s capital combines colonial architecture with vibrant Buddhist temples and street food.
Kuching translates to ‘cats’ in English earning the nickname ‘City of Cats’. As a testament to its nickname, dozens of cat statues fill the small city center.
Visitors spend most of their time along the Sarawak River which passes through the city. Old Bazaar has dozens of souvenir shops while Carpenter Street is the place to go for food and entertainment.
Take the chance to taste Sarawak laksa.
Check out the colonial Astana (Palace) on the banks of Sarawak River. Marvel at the architectural masterpiece of the State Legislative Assembly.
2. Discover Sarawak’s White Rajahs
Sarawak’s White Rajahs, a British dynasty lasting three generations, ruled Sarawak between 1841 and 1946. This was the only state in Malaysia with a White Rajah ruler.
James Brooke started the dynasty after gaining territory from the Sultan of Brunei.
He and his successors developed Sarawak differently to the rest of Malaya (the old name of Malaysia). Their legacy remains today in Kuching.
The Astana acted as the White Rajah’s palace. Fort Margherita defended against attacks arriving from the Sarawak River.
Both represent a crucial era in Sarawak’s past.
3. Sarawak’s most accessible national park
Sarawak has 25 national parks. Bako National Park is the easiest to reach from Kuching.
Bako National Park has jungle trails, deserted beaches and a small community of wild proboscis monkeys. Located just 37 kilometers (23 miles) north of Kuching, it’s a favorite day trip from the capital.
Most visitors spend a full day inside the protected zone. Bring plenty of water, leech socks and a fully charged camera.
The more adventurous can follow trails to empty beaches and strange sandstone rock formations along the shore.
Join an organized tour from Kuching for convenience. Or take the red bus number one from Central Kuching to Bako Market to visit independently.
4. Discover Sarawak’s indigenous peoples at the Cultural Village
Borneo has dozens of indigenous groups who have lived in the rainforests for centuries (if not millennia).
The Sarawak Cultural Village (approximately 45 minutes by car from Kuching) demonstrates their rich heritage.
Discover how Sarawak’s Dayak people lived in communal wooden longhouses. Find out about traditional costumes. Taste indigenous food and learn how to use a deadly blowpipe.
The village itself sits at the foot of sacred Mount Santubong.
Plan a full day at the Cultural Village. Watch the cultural show performed in the early evening.
5. A rehabilitation center for orangutans and rainforest wildlife
Deforestation and human interference threaten the already endangered orangutans.
Matang Wildlife Center, like Sepilok in Sabah, rescues and adopts young and orphaned orangutans. The primates live inside a semi-wild enclosure. Rangers teach them the skills to return and survive in the wild.
But unlike other rehabilitation centers in Borneo, Matang cares for all kinds of wildlife. Visitors can get close with orangutans and other endemic mammals.
Take the time to learn about their ecology and regional conservation efforts.
Matang is approximately 36 kilometers (22 miles) to the west of Kuching.
6. Exclusive beach retreats on Sematan Beach
Sematan Beach: Once a fishing village near the Kalimantan border; now an exclusive resort.
Long stretches of soft white sand hug the coastline some 120 kilometers (75 miles) from Kuching. According to Sarawakians, Sematan rates among the state’s best beaches.
Spend the night at the resort and wake up to views of the South China Sea.
Or take a day trip and enjoy the pristine shoreline before witnessing the hypnotic Bornean sunset.
Be prepared to splurge – but, it’s worth the costs.
7. Celebrity-standard beaches in Damai
Damai Beach has copper orange sand against a thick rainforest backdrop north of Kuching.
The beach itself belongs to the luxurious Damai Beach Resort, which provides a slice of paradise near the capital. Expect all the comforts and luxuries of a five-star beach hotel.
Spend your time on the sun loungers or arrange a tour hiking along jungle trails. Enjoy views of the majestic Mount Santubong in the distance.
It takes approximately 45-minutes by car from Kuching to Damai Beach.
8. Explore the spooky mangroves
Look at a map of northern Sarawak near Kuching and find a network of rivers slicing the land into jigsaw pieces. This protected area forms Kuching Wetlands National Park.
The saline mangrove systems spread over an area of 6,610 acres. Both silver leaf and proboscis monkeys lurk in the spooky mangrove trees.
Crocodiles hide in the muddy waters. Countless birds including kingfishers and hornbills chatter above.
At just 15 kilometers (9.3 miles) from Kuching, river cruises are a popular excursion.
Some navigate the complex estuaries near both Sibu Laut and the Salak River. Others pass through smaller channels in search of wildlife.
9. Sarawak’s sacred Santubong Mountain
Standing at 810 meters (2,657 feet), Mount Santubong dominates Sarawak’s northwestern coastline.
Santubong plays a profound cultural role with Sarawak’s indigenous Dayak peoples. And it hosts thriving ecosystems and habitats.
Hike along color-coded trails through various terrains to waterfalls on the way to the summit. Look out for monkeys and hornbills.
Luckier travelers might spot both Humpback and Irrawaddy dolphins in the murky coast near Mount Santubong.
Or capture a postcard image of the towering giant behind Damai Beach Resort.
10. Hiking, orchids and natural swimming pools at Kubah
Sarawak provides endless opportunities to escape the crowds and get acquainted with the jungle.
Kubah National Park has six easy trails through the dipterocarp rainforest. Some lead to streams, waterfalls and natural swimming pools.
Most travelers heading in this direction spend all their time at the nearby Matang Wildlife Center. Only a handful take advantage of the easy-to-reach rainforest.
Look out for the 93 species of palm growing in Kubah as well as the hundreds of orchids. Mousedeer and bearded pigs occasionally make an appearance too.
11. See the birthplace of Malaysia’s lucrative petroleum industry
Miri rarely makes the headlines as a tourist destination in Sarawak.
But the oil-rich city provides a convenient base to explore Sarawak’s world-famous caves. Both Gunung Mulu National Park and Niah Caves lie nearby.
Miri’s compact city center offers a handful of Buddhist temples and a slower pace of life.
Learn about the birth and importance of Malaysia’s petroleum industry, the commodity driving the national economy.
Or hike Bukit Telaga Minyak (often referred to as Canada Hill) for sweeping views of the city.
Travelers can use Miri as a base to visit Brunei Darussalam.
12. Sarawak’s best caves and most important archeological site
Niah National Park is among Sarawak’s main attractions.
Located near Miri, the protected zone houses caves, archeological sites and pagan burials.
Join a guided tour through the hundreds of kilometers of caverns and passageways. Discover cave painting and find out why the 40,000-year-old human remains found inside are so crucial to Malaysian history.
Travelers can also learn how local tribesmen harvest the Asian delicacy bird’s nest from the caves.
13. Superlative caves in an Alien-like national park
UNESCO-listed Gunung Mulu National Park is like a scene from another world.
Gravity-defying pinnacles stand next to precarious cliffs. A patchwork of green blankets the undulating landscape.
Networks of caves penetrate the subterranean limestone giving rise to a world record.
The Sarawak Chamber is the planet’s most voluminous cave room.
Nearby Clearwater Cave is the eighth longest on Earth.
Add its biodiversity including primates, hornbills and, of course, millions of bats.
Tourists can either join guided tours of the caves, river cruises or test their nerves on canopy walks.
14. A private jungle adventure in Lambir Hills National Park
Tourists looking for a more private rainforest adventure can head to Lambir Hills.
Unlike Niah and Mulu, Lambir Hills remains relatively unknown and off the tourist trail.
The national park has a handful of hiking routes including the challenging climb to Lambir’s summit. Shorter ones lead to cascading waterfalls in this mysterious rainforest.
Located approximately 32 kilometers (20 miles) from Miri, Lambir Hill is both easy to reach and without the crowds.
15. A taste of Hawaii in Sarawak
Hawaii Beach conjures images of the paradise found in the Pacific islands.
But Sarawak has its own Hawaii Beach less than 20 minutes from Miri.
Just like the islands of the same namesake, Sarawak’s has long palm-tree lined sandy beaches. In contrast to their famous surf, Miri’s beach on the South China Sea remains calm and serene.
Local families take advantage of the beachside barbequing facilities. The one or two international visitors sit on the sand watching the radiant Bornean sunset.
Bus 13 connects Miri with Hawaii Beach. Or take a cab.
16. A glowing sea of neon blue on Tusan Cliff Beach
Tusan Cliff Beach is among Sarawak’s most stunning. Located an hour from Miri, Tusan is unpolluted, photogenic and lacks tourists.
Apart from the coastal rock formations and sandy shoreline, it occasionally hosts a rare natural event.
When conditions are right, tiny organisms called dinoflagellates start to glow. They release bioluminescence transforming the gentle shallows into a blanket of neon blue under the inky night sky.
Few have the privilege to witness the stunning ‘Blue Tears’ at Tusan.
You’ll need a smattering of luck to see it. If not, it’s still worth the trip to admire the magnificent landscapes, with or without the ‘Blue Tears.’
17. Barbeques, piers and sunsets at Brighton Beach
Brighton Beach (Tanjung Lobang) in Miri provides stunning coastal views from its two piers.
Miri’s oldest recreational park is a favorite local hangout and has been for generations. Parents bring their children as their parents did before.
Many families lounge near the shady coconut trees next to a smoldering barbeque.
Visitors can sunbath, visit Miri Marina and explore the lighthouse.
After a spectacular sunset, head to the beachside food court for fresh seafood.
18. Longhouses and night markets in superlative Sibu
Little-known Sibu holds two superlatives in Malaysia.
Sibu Central Market is Malaysia’s largest market, and Sibu Town Square is the largest square.
The small city has a Chinese majority. This creates a different atmosphere to other parts of Malaysia. Rather than the ubiquitous mosques dominating the skyline, Sibu has Buddhist temples.
Tua Pek Kong, built in the 19th-century, is a highlight.
Learn about Sibu’s story and evolution in the Sibu Heritage Center.
Explore traditional Iban longhouses and photograph panoramic views inside Bukit Aup Jubilee Park. Sibu Night Market cooks up local Sarawakian specialties including state-wide famous Sarawak laksa.
19. Sibu Central Market: Malaysia’s largest market
Travelers often report having the best cultural experiences inside local markets.
Sibu Central Market, which holds the title as Malaysia’s largest, is a state favorite.
Explore the network of stalls selling produce, clothes and the souvenirs. Head to the food section for rock-bottom snacks and street food.
Buy bags of tropical fruits picked earlier in the day from the jungle.
The market is opposite the Express Boat Passenger Terminal.
20. Sarawak’s most spectacular caves
Bau, a gold mining town near Kuching, holds a nationwide reputation for spelunking and rock climbing.
The labyrinth of limestone caves features both Wind Cave and Fairy Cave. Both are regional highlights and included on most guided tours of Bau.
Wind gets its name from the continuous draft of air passing through. The arrangement of stalagmites at Fairy’s entrance resembles a Chinese deity.
Join a tour through some of Sarawak’s most stunning cave scenery. Or test your skills scaling the rocks.
Bau is approximately one hour from capital Kuching by car.
21. Soak in Sarawak’s secret hot springs
Only a handful of Sarawakians know of the state’s almost hidden hot springs.
The seven pools lie in Kampung Panchor, a small village approximately 40 kilometers (25 miles) to the south of Kuching.
Each natural pool maintains temperatures averaging around 42°C (108°F). Soaking in the natural minerals gives a revitalizing reward after days of exploring Sarawak’s national parks and caves.
Thick jungle surrounds the locally managed hot springs.
Getting to the springs is a challenge. Rent a car or arrange a taxi.
22. Kayaking through Sarawak’s rainforests
Muddy rivers meander hundreds of kilometers through Sarawak’s jungle.
Few activities can match drifting along in a kayak to the bemusement of primates. Let the current carry you downstream as excited children from riverside villages shout and wave.
Typical tours start in the morning and return by midafternoon. Prepare for delays and even cancellations during stormy conditions and heavy rain, which can happen without warning at any time of the year.
Tour companies in Kuching offer kayaking trips in the rainforest.
Some have more stringent safety measures than others. Research the company before booking.
23. Visit an Iban Longhouse
Sarawak’s Iban make up the majority of the state’s indigenous Dayak peoples.
Traditionally, the tribes live in long communal houses in the heart of the jungle. In recent decades, many have migrated to towns and cities.
But a few remain deep in the heart of the rainforest. Some are so far from civilization that they need to take two boats to reach their village.
Embrace the chance to learn about these former headhunters.
Travelers can join a tour from Kuching to some of the more remote villages and spend the night.
As an alternative, visit the Sarawak Cultural Village for a taste of their culture and traditions without the long hours of travel.
24. Malaysia’s most beautiful golf course
Sarawak’s highlands near the Kalimantan border rarely get the attention they deserve.
Winding mountain roads lead to the cooler highlands in western Sarawak. Environmentally conscious travelers can spend a night in the green Borneo Highlands Resort.
Golfing enthusiasts have a chance to tee off in Malaysia’s most beautiful course. The 18 holes stretch over the undulating landscapes. Mist hangs in the surrounding craggy mountains bordered by jungle around the greens.
Getting to the highlands is difficult. Rent a car in Kuching and drive the 60 kilometers (37 miles) to the resort.
25. The Rainforest World Music Festival: A concert in the middle of the jungle
Sarawak’s rainforest near Mount Santubong hosts a mysterious music festival every July.
Both local and international musicians and artists head to Sarawak for the three-day event.
Live music and performances including folk music from around the world echo through the forest canopies. Musicians play weird and wonderful instruments that rarely see the light of day.
Festival-goers can learn traditional dances in the afternoon. Or try your skills creating local handicraft and cooking ethnic foods.
This spectacular cultural event takes places in the heart of the rainforest creating an even more mystical air. Tickets usually sell out months in advance.
If you want to attend, start planning as early as March.