Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Sarawak

We made it back into Malaysia without any incident. Jake had actually left early, hitched to Miri and got there ahead of us, found a cheap hotel and met us at the bus station to take us there. Talk about service!
Miri is the main oil town of Malaysian Borneo and was quite developed. We only spent the night in Miri before moving on. Miri is in Sarawak state, the only other state that Malaysia has in Borneo. Both states have unique histories relative to the rest of Malaysia and I think Sarawak's is the most interesting. In the mid-1800's a British guy named James Brooke sailed into Kuching (the capital of Sarawak) and helped the local authorities put down a rebellion against Brunei rule. As a result he was granted land in the area and became the first White Raja of Sarawak. There were a total of 3 Raja's, they built a palace in Kuching and expanded their territory to the present size of Sarawak. They ruled until the area was overrun by the Japanese in WW2 and after the war when the last Raja realized that he could not afford to rebuild and gave the whole area to the British as a protectorate. Sabah at the time was British North Borneo and both areas (and including Singapore, who was kicked out a short time later, and almost Brunei, who backed out just before the agreement was finalized) joined Malaya (the peninsular part of Malaysia) to form Malaysia and gain independence. To some extent Sarawak has more autonomy than the other states of Malaysia and even stamps your passport when coming in from other parts of the country.
Sarawak is famous for it's jungle and lots of tribal groups which can be visited in their longhouses by taking trips up the various rivers. We didn't bother with such things but went to visit Niah caves, another one of its main attractions.
Niah caves is a national park that would be more famous if not for the fact that there are bigger and better caves further inland at Gunung Mulu that, unfortunately for us, were harder to get to. Niah caves was great though. We stayed in a really nice hostel on site and were relieved to find that unlike Africa, we can afford the entry fees and accommodation on site.
Niah caves is a collection of caves that actually are more like hollowed out hills than caves that actually go underground. There is a walk out to the caves through the rainforest along an elevated walkway. It's a 9km round-trip walk but didn't feel like that at all because it was so interesting. We saw so many different types of strange bug that we kept stopping to take photos. The caves used to be major producers of guano and the bird's nests used for making bird's nest soup. We saw a few locals doing the traditional collecting of nests but there are not nearly as many birds (or bats) around anymore. The caves are not lit inside though with multiple entry points some light filters through. Cool effect but definitely needed our flashlights. Along the ceiling in places you could see a guy with a flashlight and a long pole hanging from some ropes and trying to scrape the bird's nests off. With all the darkness and powerful smell of guano in the cave, it's not a job I'd be signing up for any time soon.
Niah caves is also the site of some archaeology work as human inhabitants seem to have occupied the area for the last 40,000 years. That makes it the oldest site for humans on the islands of south east Asia. Some of their more recent descendants left us some cave paintings too.
Niah is a little bit difficult to get to still so we managed to get a free lift with a local back to the main road to catch the bus. The buses were full for a while so we tried hitching. As a group our size, that just wasn't going to work and all we managed to do was get a little more tanned. Finally found a bus with some empty seats and got down to Sibu where we spent the night.
Rather than taking the bus from Sibu to Kuching we went by ferry. It was nice as the first part travels along a river. Kuching is the capital of Sarawak and as such is the place that has the most tourists and the palace of the Rajas. There is a really nice riverfront walk and we are lucky to be able to stay with a couchsurfing host here for the next few days.
Since we've just arrived I'll have to write more about it later :)
Ammon

1 Comments:

At 4:10 PM , Blogger The Bear said...

Hey Gang,
Was here, read the post, wondered about the Bat Caves - how deep was the Guano? Did you try bird nest soup?

Short on time, gotta run,but will be back, always am!!!

Bear Hugs
Shean

 

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