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Kuching to Sibu


Too compromised to have made a move the day previous, I redeemed my frustration at having succumbed to Kuching's cheap and cheerful chill out factor by clearing up still more pressing practicalities. I finally managed to treat myself to a new T-shirt but concentrated in the main on corrolating many important notes, with more hours also invested in the net and the research of imminent considerations.

Next morning I finally managed to shirk off my unintended lengthy stay with an early taxi ride out to a terminal for the express ferry boat to Sibu, the next city north east. It had always been my presumption that Borneo's one major road artery in that direction would make matters simple for the want of alternatives, yet upon research I learned that the bus journey would take fully twice as long as the boat. Though I might have preferred the road trip in order to avail myself of more unexplored scenery, the ferry at little more than a fiver was finally a no brainer. In fact it had been a major point to ponder over the last week whether I would now actually trace any of the land route through Sarawak in the end, since from Sibu an unexpected tantalising alternative had become more exciting the more I had contemplated it. Exploring the reaches of the Batang Rejang, the longest river in all Malaysia at 560Ks long would offer the chance to appreciate a more authentic experience of Borneo away from modernity, up waterways promising variously indiginous culture, rainforest and the sadly associated logging operations. My resolve to extend the simple half day bus journey from Sibu to Bintulu would alternatively be stretched to a week in that detour, but in the end my only reservation at that prospect was the lack of an onward connection. The staged river trip would take me hundreds of Ks into the interior of Borneo to an outpost called Belaga, but it was a crushing realisation to discover that sods law, the onward air connection from there onto Bintulu and back to the coast had been suspended due to aircraft maintenance. It was a ridiculous affair moreover for the locals to have lost their only convenient contact with the outside world for 2 months or more, a poor shortcoming. There was an alternative in the prospect of a 4 wheel drive trip down logging tracks but that would be an uninspiring and notoriously costly indulgence. I would save my decision until Sibu then.

The deliciously modern air-con boat thrust me powerfully up the final reaches of the bay around Kuching past jungle clad banks to realise another exotic wonder, the South China Sea. The name itself was enough to make it amazing just to be here. After a while of sea skimming we entered an arm of the Batang Rejang delta for a short pit stop at a spot known as Tanjung Manis (Cape Sweet), immediately witnessing the sorry forboding scene of logging yards and freighters loaded with the same. One just departing with logs piled the length of its deck was Thai registered I noted. More bankside logging yards, some now cutting it into timber or manufacturing plywood materialised, and massive mounds of offcast sawdust testified to the longevity of the assault on nature. A major confluence then took us from the primary fork of the delta into the Rejang River proper, with the dark hue of the former immediately transforming into a golden tan coloured mud laden highway. The propensity of small log laden merchantmen and larger tugboat towed barges was only alleviated by a couple of enormous gravel filled trampers precariously sunken to the gunwales, then the small town of Sarikei materialised functional and modern but unremarkable. It was simply the location itself which was amazing. More concerted timber operations peppered the banks periodically now, a particularly massive pile of grey logs proving unusually hollow, and then just short of Sibu the already rusted hulks of vessels under construction sat beached at rudimentary dockyards. Still surrounded by jungle, a prominent tower block perversely pierced the horizon from afar, and I knew this to be Sibu's tallest building, a skyscraper some 28 storys high thrusting up from the rainforest. Not what one expects in the Borneo hinterland. The town materialised at another river fork, actually the parting of the Rejang and one of its major delta arteries the Igan, immediately impressive in its modern, clean and colourful Chinese character. It also became promptly apparent that my tatty guidebook lagged somewhat behind it, with prettified parkland lying where my first 2 hotels of choice should have been. Weary of the heat, in the end I ended up plumping for a palpably mid-range option complete with elevator, air-con, TV, western style en suite and even that previously unknown concept, a bath. I dont know if it was the shock but I conked out and wasted the remainder of the day. A late foray down to the river could only muster beer besides a statue testifying to Sibu's title as the "City of Swans", from whence a fantastic sunset over the river then descended into a full on thunderstorm, it was still the rainforest sure enough.

Posted by andyhay 00:00 Archived in Malaysia

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