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.
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
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
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
- 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.
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.