The drive from Sibu to Bintulu is mundane, the roadscape lacking the grandeur of southwest Sarawak’s mountains, with occasional glimpses of (usually modern) longhouses by the highway to perk up your spirits. The chief point of interest on this coastal stretch is Similajau National Park, a strip of forest with isolated beaches half an hour’s drive beyond the industrial town of Bintulu. With plenty of time, you could also get a dose of the culture of the largely Muslim Melanau people by diverting off the trunk road to the small coastal town of Mukah. While not of huge interest in itself, it’s a potential base for the Melanau village of Kampung Tellian, which has an interesting heritage centre, Lamin Dana, that you can also stay at.
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Forty years ago, BINTULU was little more than a resting point en route between Sibu (220km to the southwest) and Miri (210km northeast). Since large natural gas reserves were discovered offshore in the 1960s, however, speedy expansion has seen Bintulu follow in Miri’s footsteps as a primary resources boom town. Today some quite prosperous neighborhoods can be seen on the outskirts, though the old centre remains as unassuming as ever. In some ways it’s reminiscent of Sibu – lacking Sibu’s few sights, but with somewhat better eating. There are only two reasons why you might want to stop over: to use Bintulu as a base for the excellent Similajau National Park or, if you’re heading south from Miri, as a springboard for Belaga and the Batang Rejang. You can also reach Niah National Park from Bintulu, though it’s easier from Miri as backpacker lodges there organize trips, while any express bus headed to Miri can drop you at Lambir Hills National Park.
Similajau National Park
With its sandy beaches broken only by rocky headlands and freshwater streams, the seventy-square-kilometre Similajau National Park has something of the appeal of the highly popular Bako, near Kuching. Enjoyable trekking makes for a great day-trip, and there’s even good, reasonably priced accommodation – if only the place were served public transport, it would figure much more in visitors’ itineraries. Though wildlife is not a major highlight, the park is well known for its population of saltwater crocodiles (signs along the creeks pointedly warn against swimming), with a few dolphins also sighted each year off the coast outside the rainy season. Birdlife includes black hornbills and, in the mangroves, kingfishers.