Travel Features > Getting Around
Self-Drive Sarawak - Roads, Rivers and Rainforests
Mike Reed hits the road for a Borneo adventure on four wheels
Day 3 - The Melanau Heartland
Setting out from Sibu or Kanowit, you proceed north for about
60 km until you reach the turnoff for Mukah and Balingian. The
40 km road that leads to the coast is unmade laterite, and pretty
bumpy in places, so this stretch could take a couple of hours.
However, your patience will be well rewarded, because this brings
you onto a pleasant coastal road lined with palms and casuarinas
and leading to Mukah. Mukah is the cultural heartland of the Melanau people, and the
centre of Sarawak's sago growing industry.
Sago and fish are the staples of the Melanau. Just wander round
the old fishing village that forms the heart of Mukah, and you'll
see floating sago logs tied to house jetties, ready to be pounded
to extract the starch, which is processed into tiny granules or
'pearls.' It seems that virtually every fourth or fifth house
is a boatyard, where craftsmen are hard at work building sturdy
and elegant fishing boats. They're never too busy to stop for
a chat though, and are pleased to explain the techniques of their
crafts and let you wander around the yard. Usually a few village
children turn up, desperate to pose for photos and generally show
off for the visitors, and within minutes one of the ladies of
the boat builder's household appears with a tray of hot, black,
sweet coffee and platefuls of sago biscuits. That's the secret
of Mukah; it's one of the friendliest places on earth.
Local sights worth seeing include the exquisitely rustic Kampung
Tillian, just a short walk upriver, and a disused sago furnace
standing next to a very well kept Chinese temple. There's a fair
choice of places to stay in town, and food in Mukah is a delight.
As well as sago pearls and all manner of sago cakes and snacks,
the place is famous for its fish dishes, particularly umei. This
salad of raw fish, lime juice, shallots and chillies was invented
by Melanau fisherman who wanted to enjoy a delicious meal whilst
at sea, without setting fire to the boat. Fortunately they brought
the recipe back to land with them and it's now one of Sarawak's
best loved dishes. However, if you're not a fan of raw fish, you
certainly won't want to try Mukah's other signature dish, the
sago worm. It's really the larva of a cicada which burrows into
the trunk of the sago palm, highly prized by the Melanau, and
eaten poached or fried with soya sauce.
Kampung Tillian, Mukah.
Dennis Lau ©Adventure Images Sdn Bhd
Day 3 Alternatives
Unless you want to press on to Bintulu and beyond, don't even
think about it. Mukah should not be missed.