Meet Mukah, part 1: Malaysian Borneo’s Most Charming Backwater
Welcome to Mukah
With Sarawak famed for its headhunters, longhouses and mysterious rainforest, Mukah often flies under the radar. How could such a small coastal town hope to compete with the sensory stimulation on offer elsewhere?
Easily. This charming backwater is one of Malay Borneo’s low-key attractions.
Indigenous tribal culture, tasty food and a surprisingly upbeat nightlife await visitors who may not expect such a seductive welcome.
Factor in wide-open spaces and a cool climate and the stage is set for a very satisfying stay. Mukah’s hypnotic charms will not take long to work their magic.
Mukah’s greatest appeal lies in its relaxing ambience. Lacking the hustle and bustle of Sibu or, say, the synaptic overload of Gunung Mulu National Park, it’s the ideal place to simply amble along with no real agenda.
Vibe and atmosphere are key. There’s a river, there’s a beach, there’s evidence of tribal culture, the food is good. While it’s true that many visitors bypass the town, those who make the effort will find themselves unencumbered by the pressure to actually do anything.
Instead, the town represents an opportunity to simply breathe. The plentiful cafes and restaurants are perfect for world-watching while the chances of being hassled in Mukah are very slim. With the deficit of touts – the experienced reader can imagine the conversations – comes a certain relaxation.
Writers and bloggers in particular would find a home here. The setting is quiet enough to facilitate concentration but with enough going on to provide stimulation. Reached a creative dead end? Take a stroll down the promenade or seek inspiration from the mosque. Had a successful day? Celebrate with a Laoshan beer at a late-night street eatery.
As the Sungai Gigis river gently churns its way to the ocean, travellers with a few days in Mukah under their belts will find themselves following a similarly relaxed ebb and flow.
Whilst Mukah is not noted for its grand architecture or old-world chic it does offer a pleasingly self-contained environment.
Many of the main sights – the Masjid Setia Raja, the Taman Boulevard Setiaraja, the river – are centrally located while other main attractions are all easily accessible.
What stands out, though, is the effect of Mukah. It radiates a sepia dreamlike quality, heightened by the dusty colour palette. A revolving cast of characters – chatty Mormon missionaries on bicycles, mute sisters making noodles and many more besides – slowly reveal themselves while life’s loop continues afresh.
The impression is that of a Wes Anderson movie, centred on the retro-style, symmetrical Grand Budapest-esque Kingswood hotel. Subtle foibles and nuances rise to the surface and it’s not hard to imagine various escapades, heavy on the whimsy, unfolding behind closed doors.