Sarawak map & itineraries
Make the most of your time
This large Malaysian state’s highlights run on a long northeastern-southwestern axis and as a result most people are a bit stumped as to where to go in Sarawak. Which is where tours come in. Any Sarawak itinerary is guaranteed to get you to at least four of its wildlife-packed national parks with a healthy dose of culture thrown in too, and the best bit is that the travel between them – short bursts of road, river and domestic air – is hugely scenic and engaging. Most of your time will be spent doing day trips by longboat to see heaving rainforest and indigenous tribes; what’s not to love?
Bako National Park
Sarawak’s oldest national park has been protected for over half a century, so its wildlife is less fearful of humans. Pendulum-faced proboscis monkeys are its most famous inhabitants, but keep an eye out too for monitor lizards, otters, bearded pigs and long-tailed macaques. Wildlife is most active at dawn and dusk, and overnight trips give you the chance to spot flying lemurs and pangolins.
Batang Ai National Park
A wonderful example of community-led conservation, the Iban tribes are the custodians of this lush national park and its rare wildlife. At this remote spot, transport is via boat along the rivers and accommodation is in traditional Iban longhouses. Volunteers can work in the orangutan rehabilitation centres here, learning from the Iban – descendents of the legendary headhunters. Read more
Sarawak Cultural Village
Showcasing Sarawak’s incredible cultural diversity, this ‘living museum’ does local life with bells on. Sprawled across 17 acres, there are 150 village inhabitants happy to demonstrate the diverse customs of Sarawak’s ethnicities from craft making to cooking and learning local songs. Kids love it, but there’s lots for adults too – you never know, you might come away a dab hand at tribal dancing.
Less than an hour away from Kuching, Damai Beach is a pristine white-sand, palm-lined resort nestled at the foothills of Mount Santubong with sweeping views across some of the world’s most ancient rainforest. Sit and soak up the sun quite happily for hours, or get out and about hiking up the mountain, sea kayaking over the waves, or scuba diving to a nearby Japanese WWII shipwreck.
Gunung Gading National Park
Gunung Gading sprawls across four jungle-clad mountain peaks with a dense primary rainforest that’s traversed by crystalline streams and tumbling waterfalls. The verdant park is one of the best places in the whole of Asia in which to spot the Rafflesia – the world’s largest flower whose pretty-looking petals can grow up to one metre in diameter, but sadly smell like rotting flesh.
Gunung Mulu National Park
This park became a UNESCO Site in 2000, in recognition of its natural diversity, beauty and geology. The Mulu Caves are its most popular attraction; the Cave of the Winds was used as a burial site up to 3,000 years ago. The monumental limestone karsts are striking, with deep gorges and blade-like peaks. Longboats cruise down the Melinau River, hiking trails lead deeper into the forest.
Thankfully, headhunting, a brutal practice as literal as it sounds and a way for men to show their mettle in days gone by, isn’t common practice in Sarawak anymore, but this trail, which combines upriver travel, jungle trekking and an overnight stay in an Iban longhouse, is a chance to forge your own less gory adventure following the route formerly taken by headhunting parties.
Sarawak’s capital, Kuching, is proudly multiracial, filled with many Chinese and Indian ethnicities as well as indigenous Malays and Indonesians – visit the excellent State Museum to find out more. There are Chinese temples, grand mosques, stilt houses, a handcraft bazaar and a vast Sunday food market. The flashy Waterfront is worth a visit – but beware of steep prices.
Sandwiched awkwardly between the two halves of Brunei, Limbang is remote and little visited, despite its many natural attractions. There are mud volcanoes, with mineral-rich mud baths enjoyed mostly by locals, brilliant mountain biking trails, an unusual Taoist Chinese temple with paintings of hell, and plenty of opportunities to interact with locals in the little villages along the road.
Matang Wildlife Centre
Located in Kubah National Park, Matang Wildlife Centre is a refuge for rescued orangutans looked after in contained areas of rainforest as well as smaller enclosures for those awaiting release. Day visitors can observe feeding sessions; longer volunteer placements include working on the infrastructure and learning animal husbandry techniques. You can also meet the local Iban communities.
A trip along the churning waters of the mighty Rajang River, the longest river in Malaysia, is a cultural exploration of the small frontier towns and longhouses lived in by Sarawak’s indigenous tribes along its swampy banks. The aquatic flora and fauna in its backwater streams are among the most diverse in the country and lend a very authentic and unspoiled vibe.
Semenggoh Wildlife Centre
This Sarawak highlight is a sanctuary for semi-wild orangutans that have been injured, orphaned or kept illegally as pets. Babies are taught, over several years, how to survive in the forest, learning to climb, forage and build nests. Semi-rehabilitated adults are most likely to be spotted at feeding times, when they dangle on vines, swing through trees and play with each other and the wardens.
Sarawak Wildlife (14 days)
Kuching ► Semenggoh Orangutan Centre ► Bako National Park ► Gunung Gading National Park ► Batang Ai National Park ► Ensulai Waterfall ► Kuching ► (fly) Mulu ► Kota Kinabalu ► Mulu
Sarawak Wildlife & Beach (10 days)
Kuching ► Bako National Park ► Kuching ► Rajang River ► Gunung Mulu National Park ► Headhunter’s Trail ► Limbang ► Kota Kinabalu
Orangutan Conservation Vacation (13 days)
Kuching ► Matang Wildlife Centre ► Bako National Park ► Damai Beach ► Sarawak Cultural Village ► Kuching ► Batang Ai National Park ► Semenggoh Orangutan Centre ► Kuching
Travel times in Sarawak
The following times give you a rough idea of the travel times between the main attractions in Sarawak.
- Kuching – Semenggoh: 40mins by road
- Kuching – Bako NP: 1hr road, 20mins by boat
- Bako NP – Gunung Gading NP: 2hrs by road
- Gunung Gading NP – Batang Ai: 5hrs 30mins by road/air
- Kuching – Mulu: 1hr 30mins by air
- Gunung Mulu – Limbang: 1hr 40mins by road
- Limbang – Kota Kinabalu: 2hrs by road/air
Responsible Travel would like to thank the Sarawak tourist board for their sponsorship of this guide