Experience Miri (Sarawak, Malaysia): Scuba Diving and Niah National Park

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Kenyalang Wreck, Miri (Sarawak, Malaysia). An abandoned oil platform turned on its side.
Kenyalang Wreck, Miri (Sarawak, Malaysia). An abandoned oil platform turned on its side.

Situated on the northeastern coast of Sarawak (Malaysian Borneo) and near the border of Brunei, Miri is the second largest city in Sarawak. It came to prominence in 1910 when Shell drilled the first oil well in Malaysia on a hill (Canada Hill) in Miri. This oil well (known locally as “The Grand Old Lady”) is preserved as a monument and together with an adjacent museum, allowing visitors to understand the history of oil exploration in the area.

 

The Great Cave. Niah National Park.
The Great Cave. Niah National Park.

Visitors typically do not visit Miri as a travel destination by itself (except for scuba diving; see below). Instead, most uses Miri as a transit point to visit other well-known destinations nearby, including:

We had the chance of visiting Miri for a week in Mar-2016 and below is a write-up on the interesting points that potential visitors should know.

 

 

Miri City Centre

Miri City Centre is small enough to be explored on foot. The landscape is relatively well maintained while serviced by wide and brightly lit roads. The presence of foreign oil companies ensures that the city is populated with a reasonable size of expatriates. The resulting infusion of a diversified populace gives Miri a vibrant and modern feel.

Miri is a safe city and the locals that we met echoed the same sentiments. However, as should be said to any visitors to a new city, common sense and basic precautions should be taken.

Click here for high-resolution map

 

 

Shopping in Miri City Centre

The best shopping venues within the city centre are Bintang Megamall and Imperial City Mall, both of which are within short walking distance (~5 minutes) of each other.

Bintang Megamall opened in Oct-1996, while Imperial City Mall is one of the newer retail malls in Miri (opened Jan-2014). Both malls have proven to be popular with locals/tourists alike. Visitors from neighboring Brunei regularly drive across to Miri for shopping and dining during weekends/holidays.

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Food in Miri City Centre

With the large number of expats in the city, it is no surprise that Miri has a good range of local and western food outlets. The most famous amongst them is unquestionably Ming Café.

Ming Cafe. One of the most famous and popular restaurant in Miri city. Well-frequented by the expat community, it serves both local and western food, while stocking a good range of imported beer.
Ming Cafe. One of the most famous and popular restaurant in Miri city. Well-frequented by the expat community, it serves both local and western food, while stocking a good range of imported beer.
Ming Cafe. One of the most famous and popular restaurant in Miri city. Well-frequented by the expat community, it serves both local and western food, while stocking a good range of imported beer.
Ming Cafe. One of the most famous and popular restaurant in Miri city. Well-frequented by the expat community, it serves both local and western food, while stocking a good range of imported beer.

Located on the southern end of Jalan North Yu Seng (street), Ming Café is the most popular restaurant in Miri city. Well-frequented by the expat community, it serves both local and western food, while stocking a good range of imported beer (now you know why its popular). The food is good, beer even better and prices are reasonable. During our few visits to the café, we observed a good flow of diners at all times and the atmosphere certainly rocks. Surely the coolest place to be seen in Miri!

A few steps away from Ming Café is another popular restaurant amongst the locals; Meng Chai Seafood. A different genre to Ming Café, Meng Chai is a traditional Chinese restaurant that deals mainly in fresh seafood. The freshest catch of the day is displayed and diners take their pick while deciding how it is to be cooked. If you’re looking for Chinese style seafood, look no further. Reasonable rates.

Night roadside eateries along Jalan North Yu Seng. Imperial Mall and Ming Cafe flank both ends of this street. It transforms into a popular roadside food heaven during evenings, serving both local and western delicacies.
Night roadside eateries along Jalan North Yu Seng. Imperial Mall and Ming Cafe flank both ends of this street. It transforms into a popular roadside food heaven during evenings, serving both local and western delicacies.

Another interesting food venue is the nighttime roadside eateries along Jalan North Yu Seng. Imperial City Mall and Ming Café flank both ends of this street. It transforms into a popular roadside food haven during evenings, serving both local and western cuisines.

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Other places of interest in Miri City Centre

Other interesting places not mentioned in this blog (as we’ve not visited them) include: Canada Hill (site of the first oil well and Petroleum Museum), Miri City Fan (Miri’s main urban park) and Tua Pek Kong Temple (Chinese temple).


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Scuba Diving in Miri

Kenyalang Wreck. An abandoned oil platform turned on its side, it is now hosting plenty of marine life.
Kenyalang Wreck. An abandoned oil platform turned on its side, it is now hosting plenty of marine life.

The scuba diving scene in Miri started gaining traction in the last few years as it builds its reputation as a great diving destination with a good mix of reef and wreck dive sites.

Map of dive sites off the coast of Miri, Sarawak (Malaysia). The wreck sites are particularly interesting.
Map of dive sites off the coast of Miri, Sarawak (Malaysia). The wreck sites are particularly interesting.

“Miri is a popular dive destination due to an abundance of pristine patch reefs. The Miri-Sibuti Coral Reefs National Park, lying at depths ranging from 7 to 30 metres has an average visibility of 10 to 30 metres. There are also some interesting wreck dives.”, “The diversity and accessibility of corals and other marine life on the reefs is amongst the best in the region.” (Source: Sarawak Tourism Board (sarawaktourism.com))

Click here for a brief description on some of the dive sites.

 

CoCo Dive, Miri, Sarawak (Malaysia). The most established dive operator in Miri.
CoCo Dive, Miri, Sarawak (Malaysia). The most established dive operator in Miri.

The most established and well-known dive operator in Miri is Co Co Dive. Other than leisure dives, they offer PADI courses for beginners to instructors and internships.

For our Mar-2016 trip, we took up a PADI Advanced Open Water course with them and found the staffs/instructors to be extremely professional and patient even though we’re not fast learners! Claire (Dive Instructor) was especially patient and thoughtful in her lessons, which certainly made our course so much more enjoyable.

Co Co Dive has a sister company operating a hostel (Co Co House) under the same premises. The hostel offers both the typical dormitory rooms and private rooms. Rooms/facilities are clean and the rates reasonable.

Our family ensuite at Co Co House during our March-2016 trip.
Our family ensuite at Co Co House during our March-2016 trip.

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Niah National Park (Niah Caves)

Niah is an important archaeological site as the oldest modern human remains discovered in Southeast Asia were unearthed here. It came to prominence in 1958 when a skull, which was estimated to be 40,000 years old, was found here. Other than the archaeological aspect, Niah is interesting for its vast caves with bats/swiftlets, the collecting of birds-nests and guano, and ancient cave paintings.

Tip: We recommend attempting the trip to Niah National Park via a guided tour departing from Miri city. The hassle of planning for transport to/from the park and the need to walk in complete darkness in the caves (can be intimidating especially for those travelling alone) justify the slight cost involved.

For those preferring to travel there on their own, take a bus from Miri to Niah’s town centre, then hail a cab to the park. There is no direct public transport to the park.

Niah National Park HQ
Niah National Park HQ

Once at the park HQ, visitors are required to register and pay for the entrance fee. Subsequently, visitors will proceed to take a boat (beside the HQ; fee payable) to cross the narrow river separating the park and its HQ.

 

River crossing behind Niah National Park HQ
River crossing behind Niah National Park HQ

Once on the opposite bank, there is a small archeology museum hosting a good range of exhibits and information about the park.

 

From here, it is a single direct path to all the highlights of the park, namely: Traders’ Cave (2.8km), Great Cave (3km) and Painted Cave (4.1km). The entire trail is well constructed and generally flat with stairs at certain areas.

 

Before reaching Traders’ Cave, visitors will come to a junction where locals from nearby villages set up stalls to sell local produces.
Before reaching Traders’ Cave, visitors will come to a junction where locals from nearby villages set up stalls to sell local produces.

Before reaching the first cave (Traders’ Cave), visitors will come to a junction where locals from nearby villages set up stalls to sell local produces. Unfortunately, the stalls happened to be closed during our visit.

 

Traders’ Cave is named as such, due to the early birds-nest collectors building their huts and trading their wares here. The remains of some huts can still be seen.

Throughout the various caves, the collection of birds-nests (seasonal only) and guano can be seen. The bird-nests collectors use little more than bamboo poles and wooden ladders to scale the great heights of the cave ceilings with no safety harness. Truly a dangerous activity.

In the Great Cave, visitors could see the signs of archeological excavations. Excavation activities started in 1954 and show the presence of prehistoric people in Niah approximately 40,000 years ago.

From the West Mouth of the Great Cave, visitors will proceed to walk in the cave in complete darkness for a good distance (~30-45 minutes). Having a torch here is compulsory; there is no way to complete the walk without any lighting aids.

Niah Caves: Exiting the Great Cave and heading towards the Painted Cave which is a short walk away
Niah Caves: Exiting the Great Cave and heading towards the Painted Cave which is a short walk away

The Painted Cave is a separate cave system and a short distance away from the main Great Cave. It was discovered to have nearly 50 metres of wall drawings, most of which are deteriorating and many not clearly visible by now.

Painted Cave is the end of the entire walk. From here it is an about-turn back to the park HQ (4.1km) via the same route.

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