Miri as the oil capital of Malaysia, is well-known as the shopping and entertainment destination for visitors from Brunei and the transit point to go to the Mulu National Park world heritage site and the pre-historic Niah Caves.
However, not much is known, outside the division, about the actual tourism assets that are found in the urban metropolis of Miri and its immediate surroundings.
Besides what is reputed to be one of the best sunrise and sunset views in the world, within the city-limits there are also the following:
For any other towns or cities, these assets would be good enough to claim to be a major tourism centre but there is so much more here and in the greater Miri division.
In terms of natural assets, Miri division has four huge national parks – the highest number in any of the 11 divisions in Sarawak. Each of the four national parks found in Miri is unique.
The most famous is, of course, the Gunung Mulu National Park which has some of the most awesome caves and underground rivers in the world. It is a world heritage site that saw a Royal Geographic Society exploration in 1977 and 1978 that involved more than 100 scientists.
The park covers an area of 52,000ha and is now a major eco-tourism destination.
Today, Mulu continues to retain the sense of adventure associated with its original exploration through the provision of caving and other such activities. However, the focus is now given to the promotion of eco-tourism activities so as to create an awareness of the significance of the park and its environment.
The Niah Caves National Park is a treasure trove of evidence of pre-historic human settlement. Literally, the park is proof that cavemen existed in Borneo more than 40,000 years ago.
Even today, local Penan tribesmen still venture into the cave to collect edible birds nests and the guano.
The Lambir National Park, covering 6,952ha, has the most diverse flora and fauna composition of any tropical forests in the world but yet it is only a short 30-minute drive from Miri. The park was established on June 26, 1976. It is also reputed to have the most waterfalls within a short distance of each other.
The fourth park in the Miri division is the Loagan Bunut National Park, which is about three hours' drive from the city.
Gazetted as a park in 1990 by the Sarawak government, its star attraction is its lake – the pride of the Berawan community who call it “Loagan” (meaning lake). As the largest natural lake in the state, it occupies 650ha of the 10,738ha park.
The fascinating feature of this lake is its “vanishing act”, which reduces the lake to a huge expanse of cracked mud, especially during an extended drought, usually for about two to three weeks in February, May or June.
Another important asset that Miri has, which has gone somewhat unnoticed, is the unique multiracial and religious composition and international mixture of people that are found here.
Miri town has a migrant population made up of at least 19 ethnic and sub-ethnic native groups and dozens of sub-sub groups created by cross ethnic marriages.
Shell Malaysia exploration headquarters here has an expatriate population from Europe, the Americas, Africa and Asia while Curtin University of Technology Sarawak campus has students and teaching staff from at least 25 countries.
Food-wise, Miri has some of the most exquisite bird-nests in the country, with the best quality ones costing some RM5,000 per kg. Some of the best Malay food, Sarawak laksa, cincaluk, Bario rice, super-sweet Sarawak pineapples and the Batu Niah durians can be found here.
Deputy Chief Minister Tan Sri Dr George Chan Hong Nam rightly points out that there is much that needs to be done to harness the full potential of what the tourism industry holds in Miri.
“There are a lot of very successful tourist destinations in the world that have so much less compared to Miri in terms of attractions and natural assets.
“We have tourism attractions on land, along the coast, coral reefs in the sea, caves and mountains in the interior and even our population composition is an attraction by itself.
“What we need urgently to do is to package and market what we have. We must be able to sell our tourism potentials more effectively,” he stressed.
Plans have been drawn up to market Miri to a wider audience at national and international levels, he stressed.
Sarawak Tourism Board director for northern Sarawak, Lee Kim Shin, is one of the most vocal when it comes to trying to develop the assets that Miri has.
And he believes that air links from international tourism hubs are of the utmost importance.
Lee, who is Assistant State Minister for Infrastructure Development and Communications, said it is vital that Malaysia Airlines have direct flights from Miri to places like Hong Kong, Singapore, Tokyo and Australia.
He believes that such connections can be arranged by timing these flights with those direct foreign air links landing at the Kota Kinabalu International Airport in Sabah.
“It is a matter of trying to schedule the international MAS flights. What we hope for is for MAS to fly maybe Tokyo to Miri to Kota Kinabalu or Hong Kong to Miri to Kota Kinabalu.
“It is important that MAS try out these routes so that Miri can have direct foreign links. Miri already has an airport that is big enough to accommodate a Boeing 747, but it is not fully utilised because we do not have access to direct international flights,” he said.
Lee noted that MAS has already increased the seat capacity to Mulu by using Fokkers that can accommodate 50 passengers compared to the previous 19-seater Twin Otters.
Royal Mulu Resort general manager Allen Robinson said Miri and Mulu are like Siamese twins in that whatever happens to one will ultimately affect the other.
“Both are inseparable, thus the tourism potentials of Miri must be developed in tandem with the tourism potentials in Mulu,” he said.
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