POSITIONED as the main gateway to Central Sarawak and the largest port and commercial centre in the Rejang basin, Sibu is a thriving modern town that will charm you with its historical and cultural heritage, vibrant food scenes and beautiful waterfront life.

Although Sibu may not always be the first choice of destination when it comes to visiting Sarawak, the unique charms of the town – a down-to-earth place filled with friendly smiles everywhere – will not disappoint.

For those looking for an opportunity to explore Sibu, here are some of the highlights that might inspire you to explore this vibrant town.

Sungai Merah Heritage Walk in Sibu.Sungai Merah Heritage Walk in Sibu.

Sungai Merah Heritage Walk

History buffs, rejoice! In a town that is predominantly Fuzhou since the migration of early settlers originating from the Fuzhou region in southern China began in 1901, it is no surprise that you will be surrounded by Fuzhou cultural heritage buildings throughout the city. We began the Fuzhou trail in Sibu by visiting Sungai Merah, the earliest riverine settlement of the Fuzhou Chinese in Sibu.

Wong Nai Siong, a Chinese Revolutionary leader responsible for leading the Fuzhou migration to Sibu, decided after travelling for 13 days down the Rejang River that Sungai Merah was the most suitable place to start a new settlement due to its strategic riverbank location.

The trail then led to Wong Nai Siong Memorial Garden, which was built in honour of Sibu’s principal founder and features a bronze bust of him.

We finally reached the end of our heritage walk with the James Hoover Memorial Park, commemorating the renowned Methodist missionary and educator, Reverend James Matthew Hoover from the United States, who helped build 41 churches and 40 schools all over Sibu.

He also helped manage the settlement after Wong Nai Siong left from 1903 to 1935.

Local Malay cuisine and an assortment of barbecue favourites and satay found at the Sibu Night Market.Local Malay cuisine and an assortment of barbecue favourites and satay found at the Sibu Night Market.

Sibu Night Market

After all the walking earlier, our stomachs began to growl in hunger.

Our local guide informed us that Sibu’s night market is a must-visit place when it comes to searching for good local food at night.

Our eyes glistened at the sight of the assembled food, which ranged from Sibu’s signature Kompia (Sibu’s version of a bagel) with meat filling, local savoury desserts such as yam cake and youtiao (a deep-fried Chinese breadstick), steamy dim sums, to local Malay cuisines and of course, satay served with peanut sauce.

While enjoying our snacks and walking around, we found ourselves in another section of the market where visitors can shop for affordable items such as souvenirs, clothes, shoes, accessories and more.

This is a plus point for those who need a quick “fashion fix”, a wardrobe change or just need to buy a gift.

The market usually operates from 5pm till 10pm every evening and we’d say this place is definitely worth a visit as it is perfect for an evening stroll and getting to know the locals better.

Rumah Nyuka Longhouse in Ulu Sarikei about 85km away from Sibu.Rumah Nyuka Longhouse in Ulu Sarikei about 85km away from Sibu.

Ulu Sarikei: Rumah Nyuka Homestay

We embarked further inland into Ulu Sarikei to visit Rumah Nyuka Homestay, a famous Iban longhouse that is entirely made out of Belian Wood, built in 1955.

It is located at Lubuk Lemba, Ulu Sarikei about 85km away from Sibu.

Rumah Nyuka is home to about 300 people from 45 families living together.

For those looking to have an immersive cultural experience, this place is definitely worth the visit.

Be blown away by the nine smoked skulls that belong to the Lubok Lemba community hung near the entrance of the longhouse.

Here’s a backstory: before James Brooke’s era, head-hunting was active as an act of defense or to expand their territory.

Today, the Lubok Lemba skulls are still being used by the longhouse community here for some of their ritual ceremonies.

More adventures await

This trip was just what we needed for a short getaway for a cultural experience and being with nature.

It opened our eyes that the preservation of culture is crucial for the next generation to affirm their identity and to cultivate a sense of unity and belonging in a community.

We felt a strong presence of unity among the close-knit community in central Sarawak where almost everyone could speak Iban to one another, regardless of their race.

At the end of our short trip, our hearts were lightened and full. Of course, this is just the beginning of our journey in Central Sarawak and there is definitely more to discover.

This story was brought to you by Sarawak Tourism Board.