Before oil was discovered in 1882, MIRI was a tiny, unimportant settlement. While production has now shifted offshore, the petroleum industry largely accounts for the thriving city of today, with a population of 300,000. Some of Miri’s earliest inhabitants were pioneering Chinese merchants who set up shops to trade with the Kayan longhouses southeast along the Batang Baram, and the city retains a strong Chinese flavour, though the Iban and Malays are also well represented, along with a significant number of Orang Ulu.
Now blandly modern for the most part, Miri makes a surprisingly pleasant base from which to see northern Sarawak; visitors generally wind up staying longer than expected, sometimes in several stints interspersed with trips into the interior. In terms of sights, it holds one museum focusing on – guess – the oil industry, plus a few markets and an okay stretch of beach – in short, nothing compelling. Where Miri shines is in its great restaurants, accommodation and air connections. The hub for MASwings’ services to the tiny settlements of the interior (see Twin Otters), Miri also has flights to Kuching, KK, KL and Singapore.