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How to get around in Sarawak

One of the perks of Sarawak is that it’s still relatively undeveloped for tourism, especially when compared to West Malaysia or the rest of Southeast Asia — you won’t bump into hordes of people trying to catch the same sunrise or sunset. However, the underdevelopment of tourist infrastructure does mean that getting around in Sarawak can pose a bit of a problem and get quite expensive.

Good luck finding any type of transport here.

Travel around cities is made simpler by the fact that most are quite small and mostly walkable, unless you are trying to get to the outskirts. Only in Kuching is it possible to rent scooters, at a rate of about 40 ringgit per day, not including fuel; this service isn’t offered in any other city and rumour has it it’s because it’s relatively unsafe to park scooters outside. Bikes are another option; you can often rent one for 5 ringgit a day or 10 ringgit for the whole week. Do make sure that a chain is included in the price and always try to park it in your hostel.

Taxis are another way of getting around if you’re going short distances; these are relatively expensive and will cost you around 25 ringgit for a 15-minute journey. You will see meters at the front of the cab but these are rarely used. Instead there are often set prices for certain destinations and these are very reliable. If you get a taxi from an airport, you’ll have to go to a desk and pay for your taxi in advance, at which point you will be given a receipt. You then go to the taxi rank, give the driver your receipt and off you go.

Short-distance city buses are a bit hit and miss, especially outside of Kuching. If you are set on using these, however, head to the central local bus station, take a map and note down local bus stops and bus times – no promises that the information there is actually accurate or if you’ll get where you want to go, though. Frustratingly, there are almost no bus services that service tourist attractions (Kuching being the notable exception), so your best bet will be either to organise trips through your hostel or get a group of four together and hire a taxi.

Yes, that IS the London Underground symbol. No the service isn’t as reliable, and that’s saying something.

Long-distance buses, on the other hand, are much better. You can get between most cities in Sarawak by long distance bus. This is a great alternative to flying if you have the time and an iron bladder. None of the buses are equipped with toilets but there is a scheduled stop every three hours somewhere you can buy snacks and use the loo. Be sure to wear an extra jumper or bring a blanket, as the air-con on these buses is brutal. A ticket will cost you 90 ringgit between Miri and Kuching, and you’ll pay the same from Miri to Kota Kinabalu. Both journeys take around 10-16 hours depending on traffic and road conditions. Be mindful that if you take the KK–Miri bus, you’ll get 10 stamps in your passport as you cross state and country borders more than once.

If you book early enough or manage to catch Air Asia on a promotion, the price of a plane ticket can be less than that of a bus ticket. The same goes for Malaysia Airlines or MasWings. A handy hint is that MasWings flights are cheaper than Malaysia Airlines, even on the same routes, as MasWings’ routes are subsidised by the government. You’ll also want to book with MasWings if you want to head into the interior or any rural areas – they are the only airline that operate these routes.

Hitchhiking is common among locals in Sarawak and this is quite safe, although some people may charge so clarify this before getting in the car. The normal rules apply; it’s always safer to travel in a group, especially if you’re a woman, you won’t get picked up at night and be mindful that most locals have lax rules when it comes to drink driving.

Hitchhiking is perfectly safe but there’s no accounting for break-downs.

As a general rule, travelling around in Sarawak requires more forethought than most other Southeast Asian countries, and the more remote you get, the more the prices increase.

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