Sibu and Mukah are two of the many lesser-known destinations in Sarawak that are full of surprises, at least for a first-timer like me. Though they might not appear as lively as Kuching, both Sibu and Mukah offer different experiences, which are more educative and eye-opening.
Thanks to Tourism Malaysia Sarawak Office, I recently headed to these two destinations not only to enjoy them gastronomically, but intellectually as well because both destinations possess outstanding cultural values.
Good to know: Sibu is reachable from Kuala Lumpur by flight. The journey takes around two hours.
Jade Dragon Temple
This roadside temple at Kilometre 26 on Jalan Sibu-Bintulu is said to be one of the biggest temple complexes in Malaysia. Also known as Yu Lung San Tien En Si, this temple is unique because it serves as the house of worship for Buddhists, Taoists and Confucianists. Some of the temple’s notable features include statues of Gautama Buddha, the Smiling Buddha, Bodhisattva Dashizi, and the Four-Faced Goddess, apart from a Chinese Zodiac Garden, bell tower, theatre, cultural centre, fishpond, and restaurant. Spanning 15.5 hectares, the temple was completed in 2009 at the cost of MYR90 million.
Cabe Ijo Restaurant
Situated in Kampung Nangka, Cabe Ijo Restaurant is a familiar name among locals due to its heartwarming Asian fares, the famous one called ‘Nasi Lalapan’. The name is derived from the word lapan, which means ‘eight’ since the meal contains eight ingredients served on one plate. We recommend travellers to try Nasi Lalapan Ayam Madu (honey chicken) and Nasi Lalapan Empel (beef) that make you instantly understand why this place is crowded most of the times. Other dishes worth trying are Sup Terung Asam (hairy-fruited eggplant soup) and Umai Obor-Obor (jellyfish salad).
Sibu Cultural Heritage Museum
For history aficionados, this is a good starting point for you to learn about Sibu. Established in 1988 by the Cultural Heritage Committee of Sibu Civic Centre, the museum receives support from various ethnic associations during its early stage. With over 10 sections, the museum displays a comprehensive collection of cultural heritage of ethnic groups living in the Central Sarawak region that include the Orang Ulu, Iban, Malays, Melanau and Chinese. Besides artefacts and replicas, it also highlights information concerning Sibu from early history until present day.
Lau King Howe Hospital Memorial Museum
Do you know that Sibu has Malaysia’s first medical museum? It originally served as a hospital that provided modern medical services and facilities to the locals back in the 1930s. Lau King Howe, a rich man from China, was the one who proposed the idea to the Brooke administration. He even sponsored half of the cost of building the hospital, while the rest were borne by the administration. As a tribute to his generosity, the hospital was named after him. Now turned into a museum, it showcases collections of medical equipment, including human bones, surgery facilities, and obstetric service, including old medical and dental apparatus. On 1 December 2015, this building was declared as a heritage building by Sarawak Museum Department.
Sibu River Cruise
This new attraction allows traveller to cruise along the mighty Rajang River, the longest river in Malaysia. We recommend travellers to experience the sunset cruise, which takes off at 6:30 p.m. onwards from Pulau Babi Wharf. The one-hour journey going upstream and downstream brings travellers to take a closer look at the people of Sibu going about their daily lives along the banks of the river. From old houses and villages standing on stilts by the rivers, mosques and temples, to a number of shipyards and iconic edifices old and new – there are actually a lot to see. The sunset views from the boat – weather permitting – would drive travellers in awe. This experience costs only MYR13 for Sarawakians, MYR16 for other Malaysians, and MYR23 for non-Malaysians.
Pasar Central Sibu
For a more intimate look at the daily routine of the Sibu people, this market is the right place. Being the largest market in Sarawak, it has mostly everything, from basic necessities to all kinds of food, fruits, handicrafts and more, including items that you might not find at other places in Malaysia anymore such as live chicken wrapped in newspapers. Apart from Borneo’s most famous exotic food called ulat mulong or si’et in Melanau language (sago worm), there are other rare, indigenous fruits that you can savour, for instance dabai (canarium odontophyllum), isau manis (small, longan-like fruit), longan kristal (crystal longan), asam paya (eleodora conferta), engkalak (litsea garciae), and terung asam (hairy-fruited eggplant). If you have time, visit the humble yet famous stall called Sheng Kee 63 Confectionery near the market that sells one of the popular snacks in Sibu called kompia bread.
Kingwood Hotel Sibu
How to fully enjoy a vacation in Sibu? One way is to stay at this hotel lying just next to Malaysia’s longest river, the Rajang. With an obstructed view of the legendary river, this four-star hotel has as many as 420 cosy rooms. It has a convention centre and a hall that can accommodate up to 200 round banquet tables too, besides other facilities such as restaurant, swimming pool and gymnasium.
While there are many sago processing factories scattered around Mukah, Kampung Medong in Dalat, in particular, is best known for producing delicious sago pearls called Sago Medong, which is used for making lip-smacking traditional dishes like sago chicken curry and a type of dessert called bubur leluai.
Founded by Masinah Paris since 2008, the production of sago pearls at Sago Medong still employs the traditional, manual method. From preparing the ingredients the day before, rolling and sifting the pearls, then roasting them on the belanga (a traditional, wood-fired oven) made of clay, the making of sago pearl is time-consuming but truly worth the taste. Sago Medong is unique because it is made from coconut milk and kerisik (coconut that is grated, toasted, and grounded). The size is also smaller compared to the sago pearls produced in other places.
According to Masinah, together with her friends cum co-workers, they can produce up to two thousand kilograms of sago pearls per month. Besides the original Sago Medong, Masinah also produces three other types of sago pearls known as sagu kelapa, sagu kombo and sago tumpik. While here, Masinah also showed us.
Good to know: Sago is synonymous with the Melanau people because it has become their main staple over 100 years ago. In general, sago pearl is made of sago flour, rice bran, salt and desiccated coconut. It often used as a replacement for rice and can be eaten raw or dipped in gravy. Sago can also be prepared in any style you want, depending on your liking.
Kuih Sepit Kampung Judan
Kuih sepit (a snack similar to love letters, also known as kuih kapit or kuih Belanda), is mostly famous during festivities, especially Chinese New Year. But nowadays, it has become an every-day favourite, consumed by people of all races. The ingredients used might differ from one place to another but in Kampung Judan, Dalat, the recipe incorporates the use of sago flour, coconut milk, wheat flour, eggs, sesame seed, vanilla and gula apong (palm sugar). The dough is put on top of a specially-made iron mould, then pressed and roasted. When it is cooked and turned brownish, it will be rolled up and cut into shape, ready to be served. To witness the making of kuih sepit, travellers can head down to Pusat Memproses Kuih Asli, Kampung Judan, which has been operating since 2004. Besides kuih sepit, other snacks like kuih cina, kuih denderam and kuih anggan are also sold.
This old, authentic Melanau village is mostly recognisable because most of the houses stand on stilts. There are also wooden walkways connecting one house to another. If travellers stumbled upon towering, giant dead trees, take note that these are over one hundred-year-old tombs containing the remains of the Melanau ancestors, locally referred as jerunai (burial pole). It is said that there are seven of them in the village. The Tellian River is crucial to the locals because it serves as access to the sago trees. Many sago-tree cuttings can be seen along the riverbanks. If travellers happened to be around Kampung Tellian, remember to take a stroll around the area and interact with the friendly locals.
Good to know: Jerunai is sacred among the Melanau community because in the olden days, it was the final resting place for the nobles. After the death, the body will be left inside a keranda bergantung (hanging coffin) for years until it decomposed. Then, the bones will be transferred onto a special plate and placed inside the jerunai. Two servants of the dead were sacrificed as well, believed to accompany the dead in the afterlife.
Sapan Puloh is a mini museum dedicated to the culture and heritage of the Melanau community. Belonged to Tommy Black Mark Lang who has a deep passion and knowledge towards his own Melanau roots, Sapan Puloh displays every aspect of the Melanau’s way of living, including weddings and costumes to death and healing rituals. This is where travellers can find the answers about the Melanau community since Tommy Black is the right person to ask, and he has no qualms in sharing as much information as possible. Sapan Puloh has been operating since July 2012.
Lamin Dana Cultural Lodge
This boutique lodge offers experience like no other because it is near to Kampung Tellian, which is inhabited by the Melanau community. Besides the opportunity to stay at the two-storey Melanau longhouse, travellers can also experience traditional gastronomy, dance, music and more. It even has a mini gallery for travellers to understand the life of the local people, including their history and cultures. Interestingly, Lamin Dana is also known as the only producer of the innovative batik linut, a traditional piece of cloth made from one of the staple foods called linut.
Kaul Festival Fairground
The Kaul Festival, normally held at Pantai Kala Dana, is the most popular cultural festival of the Melanau community. The date differs each year, but it is somewhere around March to early April. In the olden days, the Melanau community held animistic beliefs, and the festival is held to show their gratitude towards the spirits for keeping them safe during monsoon season and providing them good wealth for the days to come.
Nowadays, the festival is more cultural than religious. The highlight of the festival is the tibau, a giant swing played by men who show their prowess by jumping from a tiered platform, then trying to catch the swing as it swings ferociously. This festival is surely not to be missed.
Mukah Fish Market
Umai or fish salad is a famous Melanau dish. Traditionally served as a packed food for the fishermen when they go to the sea, umai is now a dish enjoyed by everyone. It consists of sliced raw fish eaten with lime juice, chilli, sliced onion and salt. Umai is abundant at this market, located by the bank of Sungai Gigis. Travellers can also observe how the umai is made and sold fresh at only MYR12, excluding the condiments.
Tabaloi or tebaloi is one of the famous Melanau snacks. It is made up from only five ingredients: coconut, eggs, wheat flour, corn starch, and sugar. This tabaloi-making centre at Kampung Tutus Hilir has been operating since October 1990, a family-run business that is now being run by the fourth generation. This centre takes pride in being the only tabaloi-making centre that remains authentically traditional since it still uses the belanga (a specially made oven using firewood). On average, 700 packets of tabaloi – which come in original, pandan, turmeric, Milo and strawberry flavours, making them appear colourful – are produced in a day. A packet of tabaloi costs MYR2.
Petanak Beach Chalet & Café
This beachside café offers Indonesian dishes, especially chicken-based options, with local twist. Among the best-sellers are Ayam Goreng Kremes, Ayam Goreng Penyet Sebrang, Ayam Goreng Gepreg Astagaa, Ayam Goreng Sambal Dabu-Dabu, Ayam Goreng Sambal Matah and Ayam Goreng Sambal Ijo. Travellers can either consume their food inside or outside since the café has an outdoor space with plenty of tables and gazebos. To make it more relaxing, a bonfire is lit at night and hammocks are hung so that travellers can leisurely eat their food while enjoying the cool breeze from the South China Sea.
Gaya Travel Magazine extends our heartfelt gratitude to Tourism Malaysia Sarawak Office for ensuring the writer’s trip to Sibu and Mukah smooth-sailing.