Travel Features > Getting Around
The Unofficial Highway Code to Driving in Sarawak
Wayne Tarman Offers Some Comments on Driving
in Malaysia and A few Tips for driving in Sarawak
"Malaysians are undoubtedly some of the friendliest people on
earth. Warm, caring, polite are just some of the words that spring
to mind and most foreign visitors experience at first hand the
warmth and caring nature that Malaysians are justifiably famous
for. But after spending a few years in Malaysia there is one thing
that I just can't fathom out - Malaysian drivers. Why do a significant
number of Malaysians transform into lunatics the moment they enter
their cars? Once at the wheel an ugly streak often appears and
an otherwise caring Malaysian turns into a reckless road beast,
intent on causing harm as he or she goes about their selfish road
Driving styles obviously differ from country to country. A few
hours on the road is usually enough to work out the differences
and realise that your home country's driving habits are no better
than those of the place you are in. Different local road conditions
require slightly different driving methods. This is also true
for Malaysia, but accident statistics suggest that standards of
driving in Malaysian need to be improved. Malaysia has one of
the worst road safety records on the planet. Admittedly, the high
number of motorcyclists on Malaysian roads makes comparisons with
other countries somewhat difficult but even the government ministers
acknowledges that many Malaysian drivers are road monsters.
OK, I open myself up to abuse from those Malaysians who think
that whenever a foreigner says anything remotely negative about
Malaysia they are trying to knock the country. Not true, I love
Malaysia but I absolutely detest driving on Malaysian roads. Malaysia
does not have 'car nappings' (South Africa), gun hold-ups at traffic
lights (USA) or frequent 'road rage' incidents (UK) so foreign
drivers don't have to worry about these sort of nightmares. However
there are some bizarre driving habits and it pays to anticipate
some of the lunatic moves that drivers in Malaysia are so fond
The following Unofficial Highway Code, drawn up over a bowl of
laksa by myself and some Sarawakian friends, may be of help to
newcomers. Seeing as this is a Sarawak web site this code focuses
on driving in Sarawak and not Malaysia as a whole. Thankfully,
driving in Sarawak is less stressful than driving in places like
Kuala Lumpur where the traffic jams are a nightmare and everyone
is stressed silly from their continual pursuit of yuppie status.
Keep a reference copy of these tips and facts tucked away in your
glove compartment. If you are driving with a friends why not record
unusual road behaviour as you drive. Within 30 minutes you should
have ticked off most the points listed.
The Unofficial Highway Code - 15 Rules or Tips For Driving In
1. Traffic Lights
Slightly different rules apply.
Green = Go but as slow as possible.
Orange = Go as fast as possible
Red = Have a quick look and then go
2. Yellow Lines
Contrary to popular belief these are not 'No Parking' zones. They
normally indicate the location of a particularly fine Sarawak
Laksa stall. In Kuching, yellow lines, numerous parked cars and
Sarawak laksa are found within meters of each other. If you don't
believe me drive along Ban Hock Road one morning.
Do this on the inside without using indicators (see below)
Never use them.
5. Sunday Drivers
Watch out for these slow movers. Every country has its Sunday
drivers but Sarawak has a particularly large population of them,
and what's more they drive everyday.
6. Accidents 1
If you see an accident remember the Unofficial Highway Code dictates
that drivers must slow down to a crawl, stare at the crash scene
and do everything in their power to cause another accident. Knowledge
of this rule helps significantly in avoiding participation in
any knock-on crash. (Quick tip: Keep one eye on the rear mirror,
when the driver behind you looks sideways to view the accident,
get ready to hit the horn to stop him kissing your rear bumper)
7. Accidents 2
So why do drivers in Sarawak behave so erratically upon seeing
an accident? Simple. To obtain an auspicious 4D Lottery number.
An understanding of Chinese culture helps explain this one away.
If a car has been involved in an accident is has had its fair
share of bad luck and should be in for some good luck soon. Therefore
why not take down that number plate and head to the nearest 4D
shop to buy a lotto ticket. Sounds crazy but I know many a stupid
Ang Moh that follows this local practice. When in Rome...
8. Police Road Blocks
Don't be alarmed if you are driving along and come to a road block
that looks like something out of Jackie Chan movie, i.e. a lot
of police and a lot of guns. Malaysian police are armed and like
policemen anywhere in the world they do like to work in big groups.
A foreigner will probably just get waved through. If you are stopped,
the policeman may ask for a quick look at your license and then
quickly move on to asking you which football team you support.
Seeing as 50% of Malaysians are Manchester United supporters there's
no harm in sometimes becoming a temporary Man U fan. After a quick
chat you'll be on your way.
9. Pedestrian/Zebra Crossings
Good News here. Sarawak is the only place in Malaysia where motorists
actually stop for pedestrians when the little green man says it's
time to walk. Try that in Kuala Lumpur and you are likely to be
Beware of these nutters. 99.99 % have a death wish and 100% have
an annoying habit of performing death-defying slalom-type manoeuvres,
weaving in and out of cars until one day they meet their maker.
11. Cars With No Visible Driver
If you spot a car that is cruising along without a driver, don't
be alarmed but do keep a safe distance. Look closely and you will
actually see a pair of shrivelled, prune-like hands grasping the
wheel and perhaps a tiny old lady sitting in the front seat. If
she is wearing glasses then keep your distance, if not then change
down a gear and give it 6,000 revs to get away from this blind
midget who should not be allowed on the roads without an additional
cushion on the seat and a good pair of strong specs.
If you spot a Honda in your rear window, watch out. These cars
are popular with the local Boy Racers, perhaps the most reckless
drivers in the world. Only relax after the young pup of a driver
has gunned his engine, swerved past you and raced off. If the
Honda has stripes, a body kit, the window down and cigarette-wielding
tattooed hand poking out, then avoid direct eye-contact as half
the samsengs (gangsters) in Kuching use jazzed up Hondas.
13. Always Expect The Worse At Junctions
If you are approaching a junction and have the right of way, always
bear in mind that the car waiting at the junction is only waiting
there until you are 20 feet away. As you approach it will come
charging into your path. Forward planning is the key. Always expect
14. Lizards, Snakes, Dogs & Assorted Wildlife
On a trip up country its wise to keep a look out for animals on
the road. On one trip from Kuching to Sibu with a friend at the
wheel we unintentionally managed to wipe out a range of wildlife.
The body count including two stupid birds which flew into the
windscreen, one snake, a jumbo-sized frog, the slowest moving
monitor lizard in Borneo and two incredibly scabby dogs that were
in the middle of the road bonking silly (what a way to go). The
last collision was particularly sad or funny depending on how
sick you are. A blast of the horn gave some advance warning but
these two dogs were glued together and could not separate until
my friend's Suzuki jeep ploughed into them.
15. Purpose Built Car Parks
Always empty as most drivers prefer to save a couple of bucks
and park illegally.