Travel Features > Getting Around

Self-Drive Sarawak - Introduction

Mike Reed tells you how to get around Sarawak under your own steam

For anybody who's never been to Sarawak, the idea of driving around the wilds of darkest Borneo might sound a little bit intimidating. In fact many people would be surprised that Sarawak's got any roads at all, as the place is so well known for its river-based transport. However, driving yourself around the state's ever-expanding road network really is one of the best possible ways to discover Sarawak and her people. There are literally dozens of fascinating places within easy reach of Kuching, including some superb national parks, and some great journeys you can make Northwards along the Pan Borneo Highway or South into Indonesia. Here's a step-by-step guide to discovering Sarawak on four wheels.

Getting Started

First, you will need a valid driving licence from your own country, plus an international driving licence or a certified translation if your own licence is not written in English or Malay. Holders of British licences should carry some extra identification as the licence does not contain a photo.

The next step is to rent a car, and there are many types available. The diminutive 600 cc Kancil is a good choice for running in and around town, but a little cramped and under-powered for longer journeys. The somewhat larger Proton Saga or Iswara, and its up-market successor the Wira, can carry four normal-sized adults in comfort and should be quite adequate for most people. Automatic versions are available but tend to be in short supply. If you need a bit more space, larger Toyotas and Nissans are available, and anybody who wants to leave an impression can rent a Mercedes Benz or BMW, albeit for a hefty price. Four-wheel-drives are also popular, but not essential for any of the routes I will be describing in future articles. Vans are a good alternative if you are travelling in a larger group.

Having made your choice of car, you need to decide who to rent it from. Hotel staff are often very good at finding cheap rental cars, but many of these are cheap for a very good reason; they don't have a rental licence or the necessary insurance. If you want to save money through an illegal rental that's fine, as long as you don't mind explaining your decision to the police (who always prosecute) or the other guy's insurance company (who always sue).

There are only two licensed car rental operators in Kuching, Pronto and Mayflower. Both offer a wide range of vehicles and a full collection and delivery service. If you're staying in the city centre, Pronto is a lot more convenient as their office is on Jalan Padungan, just 5 minutes walk from most of the major hotels. Rates are about the same, but as Pronto is owner-managed, they may be more amenable to some discussion about the rates for longer periods. They normally have plenty of cars available, but remember to book well in advance if you are planning to rent a car during public holidays.

Out on the Road

The list below covers a number of points to watch out for, including a number of ways to break the law. The local police are usually quite forgiving towards visitors who have made genuine errors through unfamiliarity or inexperience, but expect to feel the full force of the law if you have been disregarding road signs or driving carelessly or dangerously.

  • Traffic drives on the left.
  • Sarawak has a blanket speed limit of 90 km/h. In towns and villages this drops to 50 or 60 km/h and can be even lower near schools and hospitals ­ look out for the signs.
  • Always keep your driving licence with you whilst driving.
  • Most road signs are in English or are clearly understandable. There are some exceptions:
    • Dilarang Memotong = No Overtaking
    • Awas = Caution or Danger
    • Ikut Kiri = Keep Left
    • Beri Laluan = Give Way
    • Kurangkan Laju = Reduce Speed
    • Sekolah Dihadapan = School Ahead
    • Kampung Dihadapan = Village Ahead
    • Had Tinggi = Height Limit
  • Most traffic lights allow vehicles to turn left against a red light. This is indicated by a small sign (in English) on the left-hand light.
  • Kuching's one-way systems need a little getting-used-to, and the roundabouts sometimes confuse first-timers.
  • Petrol is very cheap ­ RM 1.10 per litre - and most service stations offer leaded, unleaded and diesel. Out in the countryside, service stations are few and far between, so never drive off with less than a half full tank.
  • If you are in danger of running out of fuel, small village grocery stores often have a hand-pumped drum out back, but you will pay a little extra for the service.
  • Kuching has a rather complicated coupon-based parking system throughout the city. Coupons are on sale at small booths all over town. If you get a ticket for exceeding the period of your coupon (just a few cents), you can pay it at one of the coupon sales booths.
  • If you are involved in an accident, you must report it to the police within 24 hours.
  • Road conditions are generally quite good, but keep an eye open for the occasional pothole.
  • Heavy vehicles that continue to indicate right without turning are letting you know that it is unsafe to overtake. Those that continue to indicate left are inviting you to overtake.
  • Motorcyclists don't usually practice defensive driving ­ they expect you to avoid them.
  • Keep an eye open for goats, cattle and pigs in rural areas. Dogs are a nuisance everywhere.
  • The wearing of seat belts is compulsory.
  • Using a cellular phone whilst driving is illegal.
  • Driving under the influence of alcohol is illegal. The blood alcohol limit is 80 mg.

Contacts

Pronto Car Rental is at 98 Jalan Padungan (1st Floor). Office hours are 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday to Saturday and 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Sunday. Phone 082-236889 or 082-237889, Fax 082-236889. Outside office hours call 010-8870468.

Mayflower Car Rental is on the 4th Floor of the Satok Building, Satok Road. Phone 082-410110 or 082-410117, Fax 082-410115.

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