Malaysia // Sarawak //

The northern interior

For visitors who take the time and trouble to explore it, Sarawak’s northern interior often ends up being the most memorable part of their stay. Some of the wildest, most untouched parts of Sarawak are interspersed, sometimes in close proximity, with badly degraded patches, thus putting everything you may have read about the state’s environmental problems into sharp relief. The timber industry has been systematically logging here since the 1960s, with tracts of land already under oil palm or being cleared to grow it, yet the rugged terrain still offers fabulous trekking – something most visitors only experience at Gunung Mulu National Park, with its limestone Pinnacles and extensive caves.

As central Sarawak has the Rejang, so the north has its major river system, the Batang Baram. There the resemblance ends, for only the lowest part of the Baram – from Marudi, 50km southeast of Miri, to the river mouth at Kuala Baram near the Brunei border – has anything like a proper boat service, and that stretch is any case devoid of sights. Further upriver, the days of being able to just turn up and find a longboat and someone who can pilot it have long since gone. Much travel is therefore by small aircraft or 4WD, using the spider’s web of logging roads, which adds to the outback feel. Anyone wanting to get off the beaten track will most likely have to talk to the Miri tour operators, who have contacts with boatmen and drivers and can arrange accommodation in towns with hardly any formal places to stay. That said, it is possible to visit remote Penan settlements in the upper Baram using a homestay programme, though this doesn’t come cheap.

Mulu aside, the highlight is the lush Kelabit Highlands, accessible by air, where the pleasant climate is ideal for long treks in the rainforest. Of much lesser significance unless you’re an avid birdwatcher is Loagan Bunut National Park, some distance off the Miri–Bintulu road and difficult to visit independently.

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