Travel Features > Getting Around
More Facts About the Rural Air Service
Flied Rice, Anyone?
Up-market hotels and restaurants in Malaysia make a big deal out of the fact that they offer "air flown" steaks or fish. However, if they really know their stuff, your New Zealand sirloin or Norwegian salmon will be partnered with air-flown Bario rice. This is not as ridiculous as it sounds. The fertile terraces of Bario produce some of the finest rice in Southeast Asia, something that visitors have long raved about. For centuries the canny Kelabit people kept this secret to themselves. Prior to World War 2, there was no surplus to export, because anything left over from the harvest would be used to make rice-wine for the famous Iraus or pig-feasts. Anyway, who in their right mind is going to carry a 60lb sack of rice on their back for two weeks just to sell it in Marudi?
However, the coming of Christianity to Bario coincided with the beginning of the first air service. The Kelabit converted en masse, forsook the demon drink, and discovered they had tons of left over premium-grade rice. They also discovered they had an excellent (albeit expensive) transport service to bring Bario rice to market. A small export industry blossomed overnight, and for the last thirty years or more every spare kilo of load capacity on every flight out of Bario has been taken up by fragrant Bario rice.
Flying sacks of rice out of remote mountain valleys on small passenger aircraft is not exactly cheap, so don't expect to sample the pride of Bario at every chicken rice stall. But some of the top hotels and restaurants in Sarawak serve it regularly, and if you want to try cooking Bario rice at home you can find it in most large supermarkets in Sarawak, priced at a staggering RM 10 (about US$4) per kilo.
The Best Little Excursion In Borneo
If you don't have time to head north and explore Sarawak's interior by Twin Otter, don't worry. There's a great little trip you can do from Kuching with just a single overnight stop. The 6 days-a-week* Twin Otter flight from Kuching to Mukah brings you to one of the nicest small towns in Sarawak.
Mukah is the "capital" of the Melanau heartland, and is famous as the home of umei - a spicy salad of raw fish, ginger, limes, shallots and chillies. As well as umei, you can also sample excellent grilled fish and delicious spicy seafood. But the best thing about Mukah is that you are almost certain to be the only tourists in town. Road access is poor and with only 19 seats on the flight the place is not about to be overrun by foreigners.
Like anywhere else in Sarawak, much of Mukah is now given over to modern development, with a bustling new commercial centre and civic buildings. Yet the old heart of the town is still a charming fishing village crammed with colourful wooden houses and small boatyards where craftsmen build beautifully ornate fishing boats. People in Mukah are delighted to have visitors, and everybody from eight to eighty stops to talk, mostly in quite passable English. The place is low key, very friendly, and you could lie in the middle of the street for an hour without getting run over.
Just outside Mukah there is a long, casuarina-lined beach stretching right along the coast to Oya, and dotted with the occasional palm-fringed village. Just the place to rent one of the few local taxis (or even walk) and go exploring. There are a few small hotels in town, but the best place to stay (if they have a room free - they've only got six and folks from Sibu like to stay there) is Pantai Harmony Beach Resort**. Haji Hussain is a great host and his wife Hajjah Dayang is an even better cook. No need to get up early the next morning to catch the flight back. If Haji Hussain isn't around to give you a ride, the airport's just ten minutes walk away.
* MAS flies to Mukah Monday through Saturday. Return fare is only RM 152. (Approx. US$ 60).
** Pantai Harmony Beach Resort, Km 4 Oya Road, 96400 Mukah, Sarawak, Malaysia. Tel/Fax : (60) 84-872566. Room rate RM 45-50
Twin Otter Technical Specifications (DHC6-300)
Twin Otter Links
Era Aviation [http://era-aviation.com] operate Twin Otters out of Anchorage, Alaska. They kindly gave permission to use their excellent drawings for the technical specifications.
JetFleet Management Corp [http://www.jetfleet.com/dh6300.html] have loads of technical information.
Twin Otter International [http://www.vistaliner.com] converts humble Twin Otters to Vistaliners. Is this the Rolls-Royce of small airliners? Or is it the aeronautical equivalent of a lobotomy? You be the judge.
You can download a Twin Otter flight simulator (requires Microsoft Flight Simulator 5.1 or above) from Captain Slug. [http://wacky.org/captainslug/captslug.htm]