Discover Sarawak's diverse charms through movies


The Pinnacles is one of top attractions at the Gunung Mulu National Park. — Tourism Malaysia

Also known as the Land Of The Hornbills, Sarawak is home to thriving rainforests that are estimated to be 140 million years old, inhabited by a vast range of flora and fauna like orang utan, gibbons, Bornean bearded pigs, tree frogs, the Rafflesia and of course, hornbills.

Many of these tropical forests are gazetted as either national parks or protected parks, in hopes of preserving the ecosystem. While there are a total of 42 national parks throughout Malaysia’s largest state, only 13 of them are open to the public, according to the Forest Department Sarawak.

And within these 13 parks, a handful have been featured in local and international films.

Of course, the beauty of these forests is not the only reason why production houses choose to film in Sarawak – the state’s rich history, multi-cultural background and the warmth of its people are also what most visitors find appealing about the place.

If you’re planning to visit Sarawak and are looking to craft your own itinerary, you may want to check out these spots, which have all been used as filming locations for either movies, TV shows or documentaries.

Sarawak’s capital city Kuching has plenty to offer travellers. — KAMARUL ARIFFIN/The StarSarawak’s capital city Kuching has plenty to offer travellers. — KAMARUL ARIFFIN/The Star

SINIAWAN

Movie: Edge Of The World

Released in 2021, Edge Of The World – also known as Rajah – was filmed in the historic town of Siniawan, near Bau. It is based on the “true” story of how English soldier and adventurer James Brooke became the first White Rajah of Sarawak, and stars Jonathan Rhys Myers as the lead character.

Although the movie’s exact filming spots have never been disclosed, Siniawan itself is a gem of a place that’s off the normal tourist trails. A landmark that is popular among the locals here is the Siniawan Old Town, a street lined with shophouses from the early 1900s that are still being used.

The area transforms into a bustling night market on the weekends (Friday to Sunday, 4.30pm to 11pm).

Even though the movie was mostly filmed in Siniawan, there is a scene that features the iconic rock formation or sea stack – known as the Cobra Head – which is actually found at the Bako National Park. Unfortunately, the Cobra Head sea stack collapsed in February this year most likely due to erosion and strong waves, according to a report by the Sarawak Forestry Corporation.

Siniawan is located just under 30km from Sarawak’s capital city, Kuching, or about 40 minutes by car. From Bako, it will take about an hour to get to Siniawan.

BAKO

Movie: Nota

In Bako, a Malaysian movie called Nota was shot there in 2015. The film revolves around a couple, Kamal and Erin, whose marriage becomes strained after years of unsuccessful attempts to conceive. To put some spark back into their romance, the couple decides to visit Bako again, as this was where Kamal proposed to Erin.

Bako is truly a wonderful park that you can visit. It is spread over 2,700ha, and has a variety of recreational activities, including jungle trekking and beach hopping, that you can do.

There are up to 16 scenic trails with varying terrains for hikers. For instance, the Bukit Gondol trail is a 2km loop that leads all the way to the hilltop where you will be rewarded with a view of Pulau Lakei.

The path ascending the hill at Telok Delima, meanwhile, gives hikers the opportunity to see some proboscis monkeys, a long-nosed primate endemic to the Bornean mangroves.

On the Tajor trail, you can enjoy a refreshing dip at the waterfall. The hike takes about two hours and ends at a beach.

The entrance fee to the park is RM10 per person (RM20 for international visitors).

About 30km from Kuching, the park is accessible via boat (RM40 for a return trip) from the jetty at Bako Village. You can hop on a bus at the Kuching Waterfront (RM4) to the jetty, or go with a private car.

Another cave in Bau that's great to explore is the Wind Cave. — Sarawak Forestry CorporationAnother cave in Bau that's great to explore is the Wind Cave. — Sarawak Forestry Corporation

BAU

Movie: Farewell To The King

The gold mining town of Bau near Kuching was where the 1989 movie, Farewell To The King, was filmed.

The story is centred on an American soldier, Learoyd (played by Nick Nolte), who “escapes” from World War II and then somehow gets washed up on a beach on the island of Borneo. He runs deep into the jungle, where he encounters curious local tribes.

Fascinated by his distinctive blue eyes, the natives regard him as a “divine being” and subsequently made him their king. Later, Learoyd joins the natives in their battle against the Japanese – as well as the Allied Forces – to protect their land.

While the film is vastly inaccurate when it comes to the depiction of the “natives”, it did receive pretty good reviews when it was released. Plus, it also showed some nice scenes featuring the beaches and jungles in Bau.

One place that you can visit today is the Fairy Cave, which has a magnificent interior decorated with stalactites and stalagmites.

Another natural wonder nearby is the Wind Cave (cover picture), which got its name from the constant breeze you get in the cave. The plank walk, stretching 1m, makes navigating the cave easy.

Located some 20km from the caves is the Serikin Weekend Street Market, which is popular with the locals.

Visit the longhouse at Batang Ai National Park, where The Sleeping Dictionary was filmed. — MATTHIAS BETHKE/Wikimedia CommonsVisit the longhouse at Batang Ai National Park, where The Sleeping Dictionary was filmed. — MATTHIAS BETHKE/Wikimedia Commons

BATANG AI

Movie: The Sleeping Dictionary

Set in the 1930s, The Sleeping Dictionary follows the story of a young British officer, John Truscott (played by Hugh Dancy), who is sent to a remote village in Sarawak to colonise the natives.

Once there, John is “gifted” an Iban woman named Selima (Jessica Alba), whose unique job is to ... teach John the local language and cultures, by being his sleeping companion. But when the two fall in love, both the natives and colonists disapprove of their relationship.

This 2003 film was shot all around Sarawak, with Batang Ai serving as the primary filming location. It was here that a traditional longhouse was constructed specially for the movie, on the banks of Sungai Lemanak. The longhouse was then dismantled after the movie was completed, so there’s no chance of visiting it, though you can check out the nice river.

If you want to see more longhouses, head to the Batang Ai National Park, where you can learn more about the structures from the locals who live in the area. You can also stay in one of the longshouse homestays nearby (not in the park itself); the hosts will be more than happy to let you experience local culture and food.

The park’s natural surroundings also make hiking enjoyable, and you will be treated to a picturesque artificial lake too.

Batang Ai is located 275km from Kuching, so getting there may be tricky if you’re travelling on your own. The easiest way is to get in touch with a local travel agent who can make all the arrangements for you. For a list of trusted travel agents and agencies, check out the Sarawak Tourism Board website (https://sarawaktourism.com/).

Another location that the movie filmed at is the Buntal Fishing Village in Santubong. The village is home to some migratory birds, making it an ideal spot for birding. Make sure you have your fill of fresh seafood dishes if you ever visit this place.

The village is a 40-minute drive from Kuching city, and is near the Sarawak Cultural Village.

MIRI

Documentary: Sacred Planet

Miri’s Gunung Mulu National Park, a Unesco World Heritage Site, was featured in the 2004 documentary Sacred Planet. The premise of the documentary was to showcase destinations around the world that are not often talked about. Aside from Gunung Mulu, the other spots are the desert of Namibia, the rainforest of Canada’s British Columbia, the rock canyons of Utah and Arizona in the United States, and the Danum Valley in Sabah.

There are many reasons to visit the Gunung Mulu National Park, like its vast underground chamber, its different caves and jagged karst formation.

There are a variety of activities that you can do here, too, from trekking and cave exploration to canopy walking.

One of the highlights of the park is The Pinnacles, made up of clusters of limestone spikes that tower about 45m above ground. The hike up to the vantage point is not for the faint-hearted, as the trail is challenging (sometimes even for seasoned hikers).

You can also opt for a guided treetop walk. Nestled in the heart of the forest, the elevated Mulu Skywalk, measuring 420m long and 25m high, provides a stunning vista of the lush surroundings.

To get to the park, you must first make your way to Miri, and then take a flight to Mulu.

From the Mulu Airport, you can choose to book a car service to the park’s headquarters or just walk there, which takes roughly 30 minutes.

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