My Mum's country!

Trip Start Sep 26, 2012
Trip End Ongoing

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Where I stayed
Miri Hotel

Flag of Malaysia  , Sarawak,
Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Our alarms were set for 4:30am and by 5am we were on the minibus back to the airport - all looking very bleary eyed! We headed straight to the bag drop off area as we were already checked in & then straight to Starbucks to find something to wake us up a little! When we were called to the gate, we went through the final check point and then on to our flight! Despite the airport being packed full of people, it was actually a pretty quiet flight, so we were a bit more comfortable than anticipated!

Two and a half hours later, we landed in Miri! We had finally arrived!!!
A quick stop at immigration to get another stamp in our passports and on to baggage reclaim. Our bags came onto the carousel really quickly and then we were off to find a taxi!

It was about a 20 minute drive to our hotel which gave us the opportunity to see some of our new surroundings before we pulled up at Miri Hotel. The hotel itself is fairly simple, nothing flashy! In all honestly, the main reason for booking it was Miri is my mum's name so this kinda sounds like its her hotel (silly I know!) but the other reason was it boasted a central location and free Wifi throughout the hotel (it turns out only 1 of those statements is true!!)

We dropped off our bags and had a freshen up then headed straight back out to find the Visitor Information Centre! Along the way, we quickly realised that although Miri is growing and becoming more popular with tourists, it's still in its early stages and the locals still find it odd to see foreigners particularly those with fair skin and blonde hair!! We were back to feeling like celebrities or criminals!!! This became very apparent as we went for dinner at a locals food court, getting greeted with all sorts of smiles and funny looks. Even asking for orange juice seemed difficult as we struggled to get much sense from the lady working there so we had lemon juice, this strangely comes hot but with lots of ice cubes in??? The food was a buffet so we had to just be brave. They boys didn't mind it to be fair but I ended have pretty much with plain rice with just a tiny bit of beef curry.

The Visitor Information Centre was great, they had lots of maps and leaflets as well as information about travel to Brunei and Sabah. Whilst here, we were able to plan getting to our next stop (Brunei) and organise a trip to the Niah Caves (the main objective of our trip to Miri!) armed with a map of the city, we ventured out in search of the 'Top 6 Things to See & Do in Miri' and quickly realised that although the map made it look pretty big, it was in fact quite tiny and we could easily walk round the whole city in a few hours! It was obviously a top 6 for a reason, that being they struggled for a top 6 let alone a top 10.

During our walk, we visited a hawker market, a temple, a fish market, another market, a traditional handicrafts centre, a flower park, the Civic Centre and Gardens, the national monument and a library! Not bad for a few hours eh?! On our way back to the hotel, we walked along the main strip for bars, restaurant and entertainment but instead of trying one of these, we decided to brave the food court opposite our hotel! Turned out to be a brilliant idea as the food was delicious and the people were lovely - taking the time to explain some of the more obscure dishes and helping us make our choices! After a lot of explaining we decided to try and order but the man explaining the menu turned out to be the DJ and nothing actually to do with the food stall. After eating, we headed back to the hotel for an early night, stopping in the lobby to use the Wifi (even there the connection was pretty sketchy causing a lot of frustration!!) on the way!

The next day saw us up at 7:30 and downstairs for breakfast at 8! The menu was fairly limited (fry up, pancakes or noodles!) so we all went for the sausage, egg, beans & toast option! The strangest thing was the baked beans, they were in fact butter beans covered in normal baked bean sauce?! Then next to that, a splodge of sweet chilli sauce?! Nevertheless we all ate well and were set for the day!

At 8:30am, our tour guide arrived to pick us up. He introduced himself as Richman, but was quick to point out he was not actually a rich man! We jumped in his car and set off on the 2 hour journey to the Niah Caves. Along the way he pointed out places of interest including the huge houses owned by the mega rich oil barons & told us the legend of the seahorse which gives the town its emblem. He also chatted about his family and life in Miri, keen to compare it with our life in England. He was a lovely man who never seemed to stop chatting which was lovely as he was our personal guide.

Once we arrived at the Park HQ, Richman went off to register us while we popped to the toilet. Not usually something we'd bother telling you but Matt & Gareth were very excited by the size of a butterfly they saw in the men's! They even took a photo - it was huge!!! To Matt's relief, it was a sunny day & the paths were very well maintained so he was able to ditch his boots in favour of flip flops as he was still sporting big blisters from his Scuba Diving! A short crossing over the crocodile infested Sungai Niah river & a wander round the small museum which houses a replica cave and we were ready for the 3.5km trek to the cave entrance. Doing a 7km round trek and walking in bat caves is not normally recommended in flip flops but Matt was committed and luckily had no problems. He just now needs new ones!

During the trek, Richman pointed out lots of plants, trees, insects and forest creatures, such as the rocket tree, Pygmy squirrels and lizards. It was incredible how easily he spotted them, we were left hunting for them even though he was pointing straight at them!! With all the nature hunting & photographing it took just over an hour & a half to reach the entrance to the main cave, an area known as Traders' Cave, named as such after the guano and birds' nest collectors who once sold their harvest from there. Further along from Traders' Cave, is the Great Cave, one of the world's largest caves, with its mouth measuring a staggering 250m wide and 60m high! It is home to several species of swiftlets and bats, and during harvest season, nest and bat guano (droppings!) collectors camp inside the cave. This isn't the first time humans have lived in this cave though, in 1958, Tom Harrison, a British archeologist discovered skulls and tools at the mouth of the Great Cave - evidence that the caves had been inhabited by humans 40,000 years ago!

We were lucky enough to see one of the men whose job it is to carry the bat guano back to the park as until then we hadn't quite believed Richman's tales that each bag weighs 100kg but this is in fact true! We couldn't work out why they thought it better to make one trip carrying 100kg rather than maybe 4 trips of 25kg?! This man was super strong though and made the job look easy! Unfortunately, during our time in the cave, we didn't get to see any of the teams collecting birds' nests. To do this, one person climbs to the top of a 90m pole (with no harness or protective wear!) and then moves around the top of the cave using simple 'scaffolding' they have constructed up there! They knock the nests to the ground and the rest of the team has to rummage around and find them. They will do this all day during harvest season from sunrise to sunset! As much as this method is ridiculous and they don't just use ladders Richman said that's its to keep it a difficult job to do so only a few are skilled and brave/silly enough, therefore keeping their wages high. This is the same with carrying the 100kg bag of guano.

After a thorough walk around the cave, we began the 3.5km walk back to the river crossing and the main entrance. Lunch was included in this trip so Richman drove us to nearby Niah town centre. It is definitely not on the tourist trail and is very much still in its original state so it was interesting to see a traditional community. We sat down for lunch and were served a few different plates, none of us really understood what they were but we gave them a go! The locals were surprised to see 3 fair skinned foreigners in their local cafe and made no secret of this, one older gentleman walked past with his mouth wide open as he stared at me and only narrowly avoided knocking an entire stand of crisps over! Other, more polite, members of the community, made a big effort to catch our eye so they could give us big smiles which made us feel more welcome! Even the restaurant owners looked dead proud we we eating there. After lunch, we began the long journey back to our hotel where we said our farewells to Richman and headed straight out to the handicraft centre we had visited the previous day to buy the souvenirs we had contemplated overnight!

After a quick freshen up, we ventured out to Ming Cafe, a bar we had spotted the day before and which Richman had confirmed as a good place to go for food & drinks! We decided to treat ourselves to cocktails as they were 'Buy 1 Free 1' and ordered 4 different ones to try (confirming we would only pay for 2!). I'm sure you've probably already sussed where this is going but at this point we hadn't so were very surprised when 8 cocktails arrived!!!! After a bit of negotiating we agreed to keep 6, it was a good job they were tasty! Our waitress never returned to our table so I'm guessing she got a bit annoyed. We ordered food (from our new waiter!) and had a lovely last evening in Miri. Then it was time to head back to the hotel & prepare for another early start ahead of our journey to Brunei.
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