Miri: 22-24 September 2009

14
Day 1 - Miri town
Before leaving Labuan, I bought a miniature bottles of kahluar and coffee liqueur. Labuan is THE place for cheap alcohol so I can't possibly leave there without it, can I?

The taxi ride to the Labuan airport from the ferry terminal was less than 10 mins. It cost Rm12. The airport was quiet and rather deserted.

Outside Labuan airport.


Deserted but new and clean airport.


The MASWings flight departed on time. There were about 20 passangers on board. The leg room was what you get on a standard plane, not a budget-type plane.

MASWings plane.


When the plane completed its ascent, it was time to descend! I arrived at Miri airport way ahead of time. I wanted to try taking the bus 28 from the airport to the bus terminal in town. A minibus driver told me that the bus would arrive around 1pm and there's only 1 bus that comes to the airport. I waited around 15mins till 1.05pm. No bus in sight so I got a ticket for a taxi to town instead. The 15-minute ride cost Rm22. The price varies slightly depending on which part of town you want to go to.

I was looking for the Dive Centre located at a place called GCM. The lady at the taxi counter and taxi driver didn't know where it was. The driver drove around trying to locate the place but we could not find it so I requested for him to drive me to Mega Hotel. I read on the Internet that there are resthouses there. I checked out the first place I saw - Cosy Inn (Lot 544-547, South Yu Seng Road, PO Box 2200, 98008 Miri, Sarawak, East Malaysia. Tel: 085-415522) - because it had a big sign stating the price as Rm 49 per night and looked decent from the outside.




The receptionist handed me a key to view the room. I couldn't figure out how to turn on the light and a housekeeping lady at the corridor helped me. The room was tiny - no window, single bed - but it was clean. After I had viewed it, as I was walking pass her along the corridor back to the reception, she smiled and asked me whether the room was ok and if I was going to take it. I was sold on the service extended to me by this housekeeping lady! I paid for the room and made my way out to explore the town and look for the dive centre.

I went across the street to the 3-star hotel, Mega Hotel, and requested for a map. (The receptionist mentioned that the tourist information center was closed for the holiday.) With a map and my mouth, there's no place I can't find! The place I was looking for, GCM, was not on the map. I asked 3 people along the way and managed to get close. The last person whom I asked point me to the back door of the hawker center. He said GCM is just behind. I walked out the backdoor and it was a cemetery! Fortunately, it was 2pm in the afternoon so it didn't feel creepy at all. I finally arrived at GCM which turned out to be a private club with a swimming pool and other stuff.

I placed a Rm50 fully-refundable deposit with Red Monkey Divers (Unit 1, GCM Miri, Jalan Dato Abang Indeh, 9800 Miri) for my dive the next day. The dive would cost Rm 350. The price per person for a group would be Rm 300. The dive shop owner, Steve, said he would need to check the weather conditions and he would call me in the morning if we have to cancel the trip. I gave him the name of the hotel and my room number instead because, for some reason, I can't get connected to the network. It's not because I forgot to activate auto-roaming with my service provider - I have auto-roaming included in my price plan. I sent an email to Singtel at their website and got their auto-reply stating they would see to my request in 2 days' time! I just checked my email again and I received this response:
"Thank you for your email. I wish to inform you that if you are roaming and using your handset device overseas, you are login to the overseas network which we do not have any control over its coverage range. If it is a inactive SIM card error as you have indicated, it could be a faulty SIM card or weak network coverage.
When you return home to Singapore, you may change your existing SIM card to a new SIM card at a fee of $18 at any Hello! store. At SingTel Mobile, we are committed to be of service to you. For further enquiries or feedback, do call our mobile hotline at 1626 or +65 67380123 from overseas (IDD is payable). You may also email us at email. We look forward to serving you. Thank you."
My SIM card was working just fine in Changi airport but they are suggesting that I pay $18 to change it. The coverage range in Malaysia is just fine because my handphone can detect them. How typical of Singtel to give all sort of stupid excuses! Worst cellphone service provider in Singapore.

As you can guess, there's not much to do in Miri town. I took a walk to the bus station, Imperial mall and esplanade. I wanted to eat lobster at the esplanade but they said the lobsters on display weren't for eating. LOL. They've got a really huge one in a tank - I think it's their pet lobster. Kind of cruel I think.

Esplanade.


Seafood restaurant at the esplande.


The pet lobster


Another seafood restaurant at the esplande.


I discovered a cake shop beside Imperial hotel. Their "chocolate ball" is very nice! I will definitely buy another one on this trip!

Cake shop beside Imperial hotel selling chocolate ball.


Chocolate ball


Inside Imperial mall. You can buy pirated DVDs here.


I didn't feel hungry yet because I had a late lunch. There are many massage places around so I popped into one that looked fairly decent and new on the outside. I was able to take a peek at the massage rooms from the outside. They looked new, clean and nice. I went in and was greeted by a well-dressed Chinese lady (from China). She led me to a room and asked me to remove my clothes. I thought she was going to call the masseuse. When she returned, I realised she was the masseuse. I was wondering whether she would know what she was doing but within the first minute I knew without a doubt that she certainly did know her way around the human back. We talked a fair bit. She told me that she's been working in Malaysia for a year. She was introduced to the job by a friend. Her sister is a dancer and is in China. She's got a cousin who is working in Singapore. She said that she didn't find the food in Malaysia good and she's not used to going into an air-con room when her hair isn't dry yet - it makes her nose run. The massage was great but because I'm female, there was no "happy ending" for me.

Entrance to health center


Health center menu


More people hang out at the pubs and restaurants later at night.


Durian sellers across the road from the hotel.


After the massage, I was feeling sleepy already. I had my dinner (Rm4 Hor Fun at the seafood restaurant beside the inn) then went back to my room to rest. The only English channel was Star Movies. Really boring movie on TV. Am I glad I didn't bother to buy a TV. It was lights out at 10.30pm so that I get enough rest for my dive the next day.




Day 2 - Diving

The weather was fine and I made my way to the jetty by taxi (Rm 12). When I arrived, I spotted Steve on a yellow boat waving to me.



The driver, Mark, took us out to a dive site about 50 mins away. Steve said the dive sites closer to the coast usually don't have good visibility. Fortunately, I don't get sea sick.

On the way out, Steve pointed out to me a building facing the sea which looked like a resort. Apparently, it's not a resort or hotel but somebody's house - only 2 live in it. They must be very wealthy!




The first dive location was Siwa reef. The current and surge were very strong and I could not swim against it. I even had trouble swimming down towards the seabed. We had to change course. We saw a cute pufferfish. It wasn't too upset at seeing us. We also saw a big cuttlefish. Wow! It was great witnessing the master of camouflage in action. It burst out from under a reef as a cuttlefish and instantly converted itself to look like and swim like a fish. There are many Angelfish and Butterfly fish at this and the other 2 locations.

The next location, Anemone Garden, is a great place to see and photograph Nudibranches. Nudibranches are easy to photograph because they don't move very much. We also saw one Sweetlips fish here.

Batu Belais is a very pretty dive location. There are many big, beautiful Seafans and Seawhips, in particular, the Gorgonian Seafan. We saw a big Emperor Angelfish and a fantastic shoal of about 20 squid. Among them was a gaint squid. I had to strain my eyes to see them because they were some distance away. The movements of the giant squid was magical.

The visibility wasn't very good. It's all about luck. But I could see that the marine life there is definitely worth another visit. I was lucky to have good weather. Steve said the weather forecast was for bad weather in the afternoon. Because of the current and surge both underwater and at the surface, I found myself going back and forth or left and right. At the surface, I had to cling on to the line and pull myself towards the boat. Catching the line was already a challenge. "Jumping" from the rope to the ladder was another challenge. For the first time I had to leave my tank in the water and climb up the boat. (I usually climb up the ladder with my tank). The boat was jumping up and down and there wasn't much to hold on to above me. I didn't want to risk falling back into the water.

There's only 1 other dive center in Miri according to Steve. I could only find 2 on the Internet. I checked and the rate offered by the other one is higher than Red Monkey Divers. I would choose to dive with Red Monkey Divers the next time! Not only is it cheaper, but I find Steve caring, experienced and he puts me at ease. As an newbie diver, I find it very important for me to feel comfortable with the people I'm diving with. Also, he did not try to save petrol by taking me to nearer dive sites that would have poorer visibility. Oh ya, and it was my honour to be the first Singaporean diver on his boat :)

If you would like to know what marine life there is in Miri, I recommend a book titled "Underwater jungles : Sarawak" which you can borrow from the public library in Singapore.




I reached back at the hotel surprisingly early at 3pm. I had a shower then walked to the Tourist Information Centre to find out how to get to the Niah Caves.

Tourist information center.


I found out that there's a tour bus to Niah Cave departing from the bus station at 8.30am. It would cost Rm 60. The driver whom Steve called for me (Simon, tel: 0198861754) to take me back to the city after the dive offered a full day tour to the Niah cave and wherever else I wanted to go to for Rm 160. He said he can even walk the Niah cave with me. I said I will call him next time when I'm in Miri with friends.

I will need to wake up early (7.30am is early for me) for my trip to Niah cave. I will retire early today if there's nothing nice on TV :P




Day 3 - Niah National Park



Things to bring:

- Money: Rm60 for bus fare, Rm10 for park entrance fee, Rm1.50 for map, Rm2 for 10-second boatride, some extra money for buying souveniors and drinks.
- Mosquito repellent (I didn't bring it)
- Umbrella, in case it rains and to shield yourself from dripping water in the caves and bat shit. Or you may want to bring a cap or hat.
- Water for a 3- to 4-hour walk. But you can buy drinks at one location so don't carry too much water. Don't drink too much because there are no toilets along the way.
- Food or snacks. I brought too much food. There wasn't any time to eat.
- Torch. Or you can rent one for Rm5 at the ticket check point just before taking the boat across. Best to have a strap attached to the torch so you can hang it off your wrist when you take pictures in total darkness. Always keep one hand free to hold on to railings.
- Camera. Best to have a camera strap so you can hang it on your wrist while you are holding your torch.
- Watch. There are no distance markers in between. Looking at the time is the best way to estimate distance.
- Sunblock if you don't want to get sunburn or a tan.
- Plasters in case you get blisters from walking.
- Sunglasses.
- Glove if you don't like to touch the dirty handgrips and railings with bare hands.

Wet market.


Shops by the roadside.


I walked from the hotel, passed a local wet market and was proud to arrive at the bus station at 8.10am. I didn't see the bus to Niah Cave in sight so I went into the tourist information center which was just beside the bus station. I was advised that the bus would be at the other end of the bus station, closer to the tall building. I spotted a sign with "Niah National Park" written on it and a minibus with the name of the tour company printed on its side so I waited there.




There was no bus driver in sight and there weren't any tourists waiting around either. I was getting worried that they might have decided to cancel the service for that day when a bus driver appeared at 8.30am. I asked him whether the bus was going to Niah Cave. A ticketing officer was there too and he asked me to go with him to the ticketing office to buy a ticket. I paid Rm60 for the 2-way trip. I was relieved that they still ran the service though I was the only passenger.

The journey took about 1hr 45mins. The bus driver tuned in to an English language radio station. He and I engaged in a brief conversation. He's a Christian though he looks Malay. He was born in Brunei and brought to Miri when he was 1 week old. Both his parents were from Miri but his father served in the British army and was stationed in Brunei at the time of his birth. He parents did not know that they had to register him as a Malaysian so now he is neither a Malaysian nor Brunei citizen. Being only a permanent resident of Malaysia, he has trouble finding jobs and obtaining bank loans. His application to be a Malaysian citizen was approved 1.5 years ago but he has still not received his identity card. Later, he almost got us into an accident while trying to overtake 3 trucks! It was a bumpy ride overall. For ladies, I would strongly advise wearing bras with good support. I ate biscuits on the bus because I didn't have time for breakfast. I moved away from the arm rest because my elbow was getting sore from knocking against it. Anyway, we got there safe and sound at about 10.20am.




The bus ticket stated that the minibus would depart at 3.45pm. The driver mentioned that people usually are back between 2.45pm to 3.45pm. Since I was the only person, he would just wait for me at the Park headquarters and we could head back to town as soon as I was back. I asked whether he would be going anywhere else and he replied that he would just be waiting there.

I had to pay Rm10 to enter the Niah National Park. A booklet containing a map was available for Rm1.50. Being alone and not wanting to get lost, I bought it. The park looked small in the map. I would have to take a boat across the river, then walk through the rainforest on the boardwalk to the Niah Cave and then proceed further on to the Painted Cave, walk back through the Niah Cave, then back through the rainforest to the park headquarters. Easy, I thought.





I used the restroom at the Park headquarters. There won't be any toilets along the way.

The river turned out to be a very narrow, muddy one. The lady at the Park headquarters said the boat ride would cost Rm2 but the boatman brought me across for Rm1. I think she meant 2-way would cost Rm2. Though the river was very narrow, they never bothered to build a bride. Having a bridge would cost money and deprive the boatman of his livelihood.

I started trekking at about 10.45am. The air was still pleasantly cool. There were many different butterflies flying around, birds chirping, huge trees and overhanging caves along the way. I walked at a moderate pace and stopped to take pictures. The initial part of the trail was on concrete ground but it later became a board walk that was half a meter above the ground. It's impossible to get lost here unless you jump off the boardwalk and head elsewhere.

Distance to the various sights.


An old, abandoned resthouse















































Can you spot the lizard? Sorry, it's not well focused. Click to enlarge.

The actual distance is more than what it looked like on the map. It took me 1 hr 15mins to reach this rest stop that is just outside the Traders' Cave. You can buy drinks and souveniors, such as keychains, here. There's no toilet here or anywhere nearby.

Rest stop





Traders' cave


Traders' cave


You should be prepared to climb up and down stairs. You don't want to fall so be very careful.

Stairs to the Great cave


At the entrance to the Great cave


As I got closer to the entrance to the Great Cave, I could smell bird/bat shit. But after a minute, my nose got accustomed to the smell and I wasn't bothered by it anymore. I heard that one can get hit by bird/bat shit. I have an uncanny ability to attract shit so I opened my umbrella. I felt ridiculous because nobody else was carrying an umbrella. Most tourists didn't even bother to wear caps or hats. But I figured it was better looking silly carrying an umbrella than sitting in the minibus for 2 hours with shit in my hair.

Entrance to the Great cave. Walk straight ahead into the darkness.


I walked straight into the darkness. On the left, the boardwalk starts about 20meters away from this point. It is still not completely dark. A torch is not necessary yet. There's boardwalk all the way so you won't get lost.

I proceeded down a steep flight of stairs. It was started to get darker. I had to use my torch otherwise I won't be able to see where I was going. These 2 pictures below are taken with the use of the flash on my camera. Without it, it would just be completely dark. One would have to be very careful when walking down the steps. The steps are uneven. If someone falls off, there might not be anyone to help or even aware that someone had fallen off.


In the Great cave. Illuminated with camera flash.

In the Great Cave. Illuminated with camera flash.

It was such a relief to encounter any bit of sunlight in the cave.

In darkness only do I really learn how to appreciate sunlight


After about 30 minutes of walking slowly, I reach this spot. Up ahead is complete and total darkness - and I really do mean 100% darkness. The following pictures are taken with flash that's why they look bright. It's about a 10-minute walk through the darkness. If your torch runs out of battery halfway, good luck to you.

Total darkness ahead. Illuminated with camera flash.


There were bats flying around in the cave, making eerie sounds. I was still using my umbrella, just in case bats flew at me. In the darkness, my mind plays tricks on me. To top it off, I was all alone. What does this picture below look like to you?

In the darkness it's easy for my imagination to run wild. Illuminated with camera flash.

There is graffiti on the walls. I wonder who had the time to do all that - and in the dark.


Vandalism/Graffiti. 1000 years from now it'll be art. Illuminated with camera flash.


When my torch shone on the left half of this, I thought it was the end of the boardwalk at a cliff (try covering the right half of the picture). Do remember that it is complete and total darkness in here. I could only see the things that my torch illuminated.

I thought this was a deadend! Illuminated with camera flash.


I was glad to reach an exit of the cave and get back into the light. It was drizzling. Now I was feeling less silly about carrying an umbrella. I had to walk another 10 minutes on boardwalk - thankfully in the sunlight - to get to the Painted Cave. The board was slippery so I walked very carefully.

Slippery and broken boardwalk


It was rather dark at the Painted Cave. Without using flash, it's difficult to see the paintings which were done in red. The paintings are faded. Can you see them? The brighter-looking pictures below show what it used to look like.

Paintings in the painted cave without flash. Can you see it?


Same view with flash. Zoomed out.


Picture of what it used to look like. Click to enlarge.




















After taking pictures at the Painted Cave, I didn't stop to rest. I really didn't want to be the last to leave the cave. If I'm ahead of others, at least if I fall, there is hope that someone behind me might find me.

It was slippery and I slipped and feel on some mud. Nothing serious. Just some mud on my pants and shoes.

I brisked walk back to the park headquarters. It took me 45 mins. As I walked, I felt like there was something stuck on the sole of my shoe. I looked at the sole and realised that one part of it was coming off! I mentioned in one of my previous posts that I needed to buy new shoes. This pair has served me well for more than a year. Well, one thing less to bring back to Singapore.

I stopped by the museum just before taking the boat back across the river. The museum holds a 40,000 year old skull. Picture-taking is not allowed in it.

It was 2.45pm when I reached the park headquarters. The driver was smoking a cigarette, waiting for me. I thanked him for waiting for me. He replied in a matter-of-factly manner, "It's ok. That's my job. I do it everyday."

He asked me whether I got drenched from the rain. He said the rain was very heavy. I only encountered a drizzle. I guess I was lucky to be in the cave when it rained. No wonder there was trickles of water dripping in the cave (the umbrella sure was useful). And after the rain, the weather was cool enough for the walk back to the Park Headquarters.

Out of curiosity, I asked the driver what he would have done if I didn't buy a ticket that morning. He said he wouldn't need to do but would still get paid.

When I got into the minivan, I felt an itch on my leg. I saw that I had a swollen patch on my shin area. I had not eaten anything since my breakfast in the minivan so I ate some biscuits on the way back.

I was back in Miri town by 5pm. The same man who sold me the bus ticket was there when I stepped out of the minivan. He asked me whether I enjoyed the trip. Of course I said I did - and that happened to be the truth anyway. Another guy whom I had not seen on the morning joked that I had a personal tour. Labour cost and petrol must be really cheap there. Rm60 justifies a 2-way 2-hour journey plus the wages of the driver! On hindsight, I'm glad I did not hire the private car and have the driver walk with me. I do enjoy being alone with nature and not having to talk. That 10-minute walk in total darkness all alone was quite an experience!

I took a shower and lay in bed for a while. My legs were tired! But I was hungry too. If you are both hungry and tired, what should you do?? I went to a nearby restaurant. I was already tired of local food so I ordered chicken chop. Was I just hungry or was that the best mushroom sauce I've ever had? I was glad to be flying back to Singapore the next day. I do miss my bed and the food.

Chicken chop from restaurant diagonally across the road from Mega Hotel


I woke up at 7.15am, bathed, packed, checked out and took a taxi to the airport. I was thankful for the direct flight from Miri back to Singapore. The plane took off early and I was back in Singapore early. Am I glad to be back!

Miri is a place I would visit again for diving, nature, cheap massage and it's the gateway to Mulu National Park which I hope to visit during my next trip to Miri :)

Cost
Flight from Labuan to Miri: Rm121
Taxi to town: Rm22
Accommodation in Miri: Rm48 x 3 nights
Taxi to jetty: Rm12
Diving: Rm350
Taxi from jetty: Rm10
Minibus to Niah National Park: Rm 60 (MTC Travel & Tours. Lot 790, 2nd floor, Jln Bintang, Bintang Jaya Commercial Ctr. Tel: (6) 085 428966, info@mtctravel.com.my. Depart 830 bus station -> 915 Lambir -> 930 Borneo Tropical Rainforest -> 1045 Niah. Return 1545 Niah -> 1700 Borneo Tropical Rainforest -> 1715 Lambir -> 1800 Bus station. Rm40 to Lambir. Rm 60 to Niah. Stopover/overnight additional Rm20. (6) 016 886 3669)
Niah National Park entrance fee: Rm10
Niah National Park map: Rm1.50
Niah National Park boat ride: Rm1 x 2 ways
Taxi to airport: Rm20
Air fare from Miri to Singapore: SGD50

14 comments:

David said...

Yu-Kym,

Fun reading all your travel adventures. I look forward to reading about your diving near Miri!

Photos please!

David

Anonymous said...

So how is ur miri vacation? Encounter anything interesting?

Sky

Anonymous said...

Great description of your trip. I think you wasted time going to so many places. You should have stayed in Kota Kinabalu and have plenty of places to visit, eg the islands, the beach, the mountain resort (even though you were not climbing it this time) and the hot spring. And the food would be nice too. But then again, you could have visited KK before. If you have not, you have wasted your time going to all those places instead of KK.

Yu-Kym said...

Thanks David. I will post them when I return to Singapore :)

Sky, I think the fun has just began. I managed to dive today. Great dive! Tomorrow I will be going to Niah Caves. I will update this post as I go along.

Anon, I've been to KK on 2 other trips - Mt Kinabalu and Tunku Abdul Rahman Park islands - that's why I'm not spending more time in KK.

Philip said...

I was also wondering why you did not stay back in KK to visit the many places of interests there.Btw, I still make yearly trip to KK although I have been there about 20 times! Have you been to Mabul and Sipadan Islands? I went to Mabul recently and it was marvelous. You can read the Mabul story in my July entry.Hope your Niah Caves adventure was great and have a pleasant journey home.

Anonymous said...

Was more worried about your safety actually.........

Vick said...

Nice journal with nice photos! If I have a chance to go to Miri I'll surely read your post again (as a guide) before going. :)

Anonymous said...

Hi Yu-Kym

Thank you for writing your Miri trip here in your blog. It is abt time for Miri to be known to Singaporean as a short weekend gateway in M'sia. Hopefully SIN-MYY route is profitable for Airasia to cont' their svcs.

U were lucky to make several dives last week as the weather here had changed from bad to worst.

Thks for putting up beautiful pics of Miri. I c u have been our famous Ming Cafe (opp Mega Hotel) for your western food. U also been to Marina bay where u embarked to yr dive boat (Owned by one of the Timber Tychoon in Miri - Samling Grp) and also saw the big mansion up in the hill (Owned by another Tychoon in Oil Palm, Timber, Supermarket Chain, Hotels, Shipyard ... basically they employed 1/2 of Miri Population :) - Shin Yang Grp)

I hope u do visit Miri again soon and also do hope more Singaporeans do drop by for our local jungle trekking, fishing and diving.

Matsusan

David said...

Yu-Kym,

Great photos! The cave shots were interesting, and the images left by ancient humans were just mesmerizing. Any story behind them?

Your travel narratives are wonderful. To bad the underwater visibility was poor, no U/W scenes and no photos of the lovely diver - Yu-Kym.

Have a great week!

David

Yu-Kym said...

Philip, thanks I will check out your Mabul entry! I've not been there or to Sipadan yet. Niah caves was fantastic. Heard Mulu caves are even better. Intending to visit soon.

Anon, thanks for your concern! I'm back and I'm fine :)

Vick, thanks!

Matsusan, I certainly hope airasia will continue its flights. Miri is a great place for nature and diving, and also has modern comforts like many hotels and cheap massage. I will definitely return to Miri for diving and to visit the Mulu national park.

David, I don't have an underwater casing for camera so I didn't take any underwater pictures. Those paintings are found at a burial ground. There were "death-ships" found there. The pictures "portray spread-eagled human figures, probably representing warriors and hunters, some of the animals of the surrounding forest and... longboats carrying the souls of the deceased on the dangerous journey to the land of the dead." (copied from the guidebook).

taib1000@gmail.com said...

yu-kym, did you have sex in Miri? hope miri boys are good in your sex. taib1000@gmail.com

Kelvin Teoh said...

Hi yu-kym i am heading to miri tomorrow. Hope will able to go to the place mention in your blog. My budget is low and only stay one night. Thanks for your great adventure sharing.

Kelvin Teoh said...

Great post kym. I will be flying to Miri. Hope i able go to visit Niah cave by public transport mention here. Will have a short 2 day 1 night trip and low budget. Your blog really gave me a good plan ahead. Thank you very much.

Hardine Rez said...

Thank for this good n helpful travel log ..Im visiting miri 17.18 may ...hope to meet few nice single traveller..