From its humble 1850s origins as a tiny Melanau encampment, SIBU has grown into Sarawak’s third largest city and its biggest port. Nearly half its quarter-million population are ethnic Chinese. Unusually for Malaysia, many are Foochow, descended from migrants from what’s now Fuzhou in southeast China. Their diligence is often credited with helping the city become the commercial centre it is today. Its Foochow flavour aside, Sibu is also identified with Sarawak’s controversial logging industry, which helped the city recover from the Japanese occupation, when many Chinese were forced into slave labour. Sibu subsequently became, for a time, the centre for timber processing in Sarawak. Investors, many drawn from long-established Chinese families, made large fortunes as a result.
Today the city retains one glaringly obviously link with the timber industry – its tallest building, a downtown office and shopping development, is the headquarters of the major logging concern, Sanyan. More interesting for visitors are an excellent though small history museum and the city’s waterfront, with its Chinese temple nearby. Boasting a huge central market, too, Sibu has enough to keep you occupied for half a day, which is just as well as most travellers en route to or from the upper Rejang spend at least a night here.