If you had to pick one spot on a map where culture, stunning landscapes, and entertainment collide, it might just be Sarawak. The largest state in Malaysia, Sarawak is located on the incredibly lush and diverse island of Borneo. Similar to Peninsular Malaysia–a couple of hundred miles away across the South China Sea–Sarawak has sandy beaches and colorful cities, yet boasts even more jungle adventures. Here are five of our top reasons to explore Sarawak.
This story was created in partnership with Sarawak Tourism.
Unparalleled Festivals and Cultural Events
When it comes to planning international travel, having an event to anchor the trip is a great idea. Look no further than the Rainforest World Music Festival—easily one of the biggest “can’t miss” happenings in this part of the world. The three-day music festival celebrates the diversity of world music and is recognized as one of the Top 25 Best International Festivals for six consecutive years by Songlines Magazine. Between the eclectic beats, craft displays, and food stalls, this is a great opportunity for global travelers to sample the culture of Sarawak in one place. Even better, responsible tourism is at the heart of the event. Tickets for Rainforest World Music Festival 2023 are available now!
If sporting events are more your style, the Sarawak Regatta is an excellent fall-time spectator event in the city of Kuching. This historic event dates back to 1872, when it was implemented as a way for competing tribes to go head to head in a peaceful manner. Don’t miss the blue-ribbon event, called “Raja Sungai” (King of the River), in which longboats carrying 30 paddlers each battle for first place.
Many National Parks to Discover
Sarawak features an astounding 27 national parks, 15 nature reserves, and five wildlife sanctuaries. With so much to explore, it can be hard to know where to begin! We recommend Bako National Park, an iconic destination just north of Kuching. Part jungle, part coastline, visitors could spend several days exploring its hidden waterfalls and unique flora and fauna. Keep an eye out for proboscis monkeys, long-tailed macaque monkeys, flying lemurs, and more than 190 species of colorful and charismatic birds.
Another option is Gunung Gading National Park. It’s here that visitors can view the world’s largest flower: the Rafflesia. These red-hued, unique blossoms can grow as large as 35 inches in diameter. Whether or not the flowers are in bloom (each lasts only about a week), there are ample waterfalls to discover and miles of hiking trails here in this corner of southwest Sarawak.
Those who packed their snorkel may want to head northwards to Miri-Sibuti Coral Reefs National Park. This ocean destination offers world-class diving and snorkeling opportunities among pristine reefs and historical shipwrecks. Go with a local guiding service to maximize your time in the best destinations!
Other Outdoor Attractions: Wildlife & Waterfalls
Sarawak is home to some of the oldest rainforests on the planet, mysterious caves, and beautiful beaches. But one of the most photographed elements of the natural landscape? Waterfalls. While there are countless cascading falls throughout Sarawak, we recommend Susung Waterfall. Located in the Bengoh Range outside of Kuching, the journey to the falls promises adventure and epic photos.
Sarawak’s natural landscape supports a plethora of creatures large and small, and many can be enjoyed in the wild. For the extra rare sightings, try a wildlife rehabilitation center. Semenggoh Nature Reserve protects and rehabilitates semi-wild orangutans that were once illegally kept as pets. Now, these happy residents swing from their trees for daily snacks from their handlers; creating the perfect photo opportunity for visitors.
One Truly Unique UNESCO World Heritage Site
In addition to so many national parks and reserves, Sarawak contains one especially jaw-dropping UNESCO World Heritage Site: Gunung Mulu National Park. (The whole of Malaysia features several additional sites.) Found in northern Sarawak, this park is punctuated with breathtaking limestone pinnacles rising out of the jungle. Beneath the jungle floor, the world’s most extensive cave system forms one of the most intriguing adventure spots in all of Sarawak and southeast Asia. Whether visitors decide to amble through the jungle and spot intricate and rare orchids or embark on a guided overnight mountain trek, their time in Gunung Mulu is sure to be far from ordinary.
Incredible Eats and Cultural Immersion
For the North American and European traveler, the flavors of Sarawak play a meaningful and memorable role in any sojourn through this part of the world. While there are several iconic dishes found in Sarawak, the most famous is easily Sarawak Laksa (Malaysian Noodle Soup). Popularized by American celebrity chef Anthony Bourdain, this healthy dish highlights bright and warm flavors with notes of tang and spice. Prawn and chicken-based broth combine with coconut milk and spices like tamarind and lemongrass for a flavor you will always associate with your time in Sarawak.
And lastly, Sarawak is a special blend of 31 ethnic tribes, each with their own customs and traditions. There is no better place to begin to understand the scope of this diversity than the Sarawak Cultural Village. Considered a living museum, visitors can meander through colorful displays (including replica houses from different groups) and catch live daily performances. Afterwards, stop for an authentic bite to eat at the onsite restaurant. No trip to Sarawak is complete without a visit to this award-winning museum!