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open mind, empty stomach

travel, food, and fun

Miri is an oil city in Sarawak that has transitioned to producing palm oil after its fossil fuel deposits began to run dry. The city itself is totally void of character and charm and reminds me of the bad parts of America. There are cars everywhere, way too many shopping malls for a place its size, and people are fat.

In Sibu I began to notice a change in the people. Instead of all smiles and welcoming faces, there were a lot more dirty looks and scowls. This was even more so in Miri. Not that there weren’t friendly people, but the place overall lacked the welcoming feeling I had grown accustomed to and quite fond of.

The saving grace of my time in Miri was my wonderful CouchSurfing host, Kate. Her dad is Malaysian Chinese from Miri and her mom is Thai. She spent the first 9 years of her life in Bangkok, then moved to Miri. Her boyfriend, Alex, was a really cool guy. He is half Iban (the indigenous people of the area) and half Scottish. He provided a ton of awesome background on the area and the people. Despite him spending all of his life and her spending most of hers in Miri, they feel the same way about the place as I do. While I was sorry for them having to live in such a place, I was selfishly happy to have them as company while I was there.

I wasn’t able to stay at Kate’s place, but she sent me to Dillenia Guesthouse. A dorm room costs 30 Ringgit ($10) per night, which is standard for Miri. Mrs. Lee, who runs the guesthouse was extremely sweet, warm, and welcoming. Dillenia is in a good location, close to the center of town.

Kate went out of her way to show me what Miri has to offer culinarily. The food wasn’t horrible, but was far from great. I wasn’t wowed by Miri’s most famous dish, kolo mee. It was my first time seeing pandan chicken, chicken wrapped in pandan leaves then fried. On my last night, Kate took me for seafood. Bamboo clams were yet another first for me. We also had mussels, which were quite good, and oysters, which were not very spectacular.

I took a day-trip to nearby Niah National Park to see its famous caves. A car ride out there costs 60 Ringgit ($20) return and the drive is 90 minutes each way. The park entry fee is another 20 Ringgit and the ferry from the park to the area where the caves are is 1 Ringgit each way. The ferry ride literally takes 30 seconds. I seriously wonder why they didn’t just build a bridge, but did enjoy the novelty of the world’s shortest ferry ride. Unfortunately, the Painted Cave, which contains 40,000 year old petroglyphs, was closed for renovation. The caves I did see were amazing though. They were way bigger than I thought they would be and I was pleased with the experience.

My reason for going to Miri was to fly to Bario, a remote town in southeastern Sarawak that can only be accessed via plane (or an 18 hour drive in a 4WD vehicle) from Miri. Miri is also the access point for Mulu, home to the biggest cave and most popular mountain in Malaysian Borneo. If you plan to go to either Bario or Mulu and must pass through Miri, spend as little time as possible there.

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