SARAWAK’S northern-most urban centre – Lawas – which is located next to the state’s border with Sabah and Brunei, has always fascinated first-time visitors with its cleanliness and well-planned environment.
Not many people would expect a town so far away from the state capital – Lawas is 1,200km from Kuching – to be well organised and developed.
In the 1970s and even up to the early 1990s, Lawas, together with nearby Limbang (both Lawas and Limbang are in the same Limbang division), had the notorious reputation for being sin capitals of Sarawak.
Prostitution, sleazy pubs, massage parlours, dirty eateries and rundown motels were a norm in these border towns.
Today, both towns have seen a total transformation following a decade of extensive urban redevelopment and reengineering.
Hundreds of millions of ringgit was invested from 1995 to develop residential estates, agriculture projects, new shops, commercial centres and roads.
There have also been moves to develop hinterland tourism destinations like the Ba’Kelalan and Bario highlands located between six to nine hours by road from Lawas.
The efforts have produced remarkable results. Lawas is now a little model town.
It is clean and free of traffic jams even though it has a population of about 35,000 and a “floating population” of about 10,000 travellers daily who move between Lawas and Brunei as well as Lawas and Sabah.
The rundown and dirty motels have been transformed into nice little inns and tourist-class hotels with decent modern facilities.
Eateries and restaurants, which cater to both Muslims and non-Muslims, are big and clean and there are plenty of shops.
The road system is good, as is the public transport system.
The riverfront has been given a new look with well-maintained public parks and gardens.
Lawas River, which runs by the town, has been cleaned and it serves as a vital river transportation mode linking Lawas with neighbouring towns and villages and deep interior settlements.
The state recently outlined plans to build new housing schemes and open areas for small and medium-scale industries.
It also plans to build a new airport.
Lawas has also been earmarked as the nerve centre for interior settlements like Long Semadoh and those in the Ulu Trusan region.
The state has drawn up plans to develop the settlements into rural growth centres, and Lawas will serve as the supply area for building materials and as a logistics hub.