Information on Sarawak
Being the largest of 13 states in Malaysia, Sarawak covers 124,450 sq km (slightly smaller than Greece or Mississippi), and stretches over 750km of the northeast Borneo. It makes up 37.5% of land area in the country.
Sarawak is unique in that there are significant differences in culture, administration and lifestyle from those in Peninsular Malaysia. Roughly 28 ethnic groups make up Sarawak’s population of 2.4 million people; each with its own language, traditions and way of life. The largest of these groups is the Iban people, who make up 31% of the population, followed by ethnic Chinese (28%), Malay (20%), Bidayuh (8%), Melanau (6%), Orang Ulu (5%), Indian, Eurasian and smaller indigenous groups (total of 2%).
Sarawak is renowned for its abundance in natural resources. Liquid natural gas, crude oil and tropical hardwood timber are the stalwarts of the economy. Agriculture (oil palm), together with light industries in food processing, shipbuilding and electronics, is becoming increasingly more important.
Centuries ago, Sarawak was once part of the Bruneian empire. The Sultan of the empire awarded the state of Sarawak, by degree, to a British adventurer who helped eradicate the problem of piracy off the coast of northern Borneo. He was James Brooke, the first White Rajah of Sarawak. The Brooke family were much-loved benign rulers from 1841 to 1946, after which Sarawak became a British Crown Colony before gaining independence through the formation of Malaysia.
Kuching is the capital city of Sarawak, with an estimated population of 600,000. In northern Sarawak, Miri is the main city (263,000). Sibu (254,000) and Bintulu (196,000) are the main towns in central Sarawak.
English is widely spoken throughout the state, though Bahasa Malaysia (Malay) is the official language. Other local languages include Mandarin, Hokkien and other major Chinese and ethnic dialects. There is also a Sarawak version of Malay, called “Bahasa Sarawak” or “Melayu Sarawak”. Tours are available in a variety of languages. Check with your local tour operator.
The Equator cuts through Borneo less than 100 km south of Sarawak. This is truly the wet tropics. Tropical showers can be expected throughout the year, but there are two distinct seasons: November to March is rainy whilst April to October is drier. Comfortable clothing of natural fibres is best worn in our climate.
Like the rest of Malaysia, Sarawak’s currency is the Malaysian Ringgit (RM). Banks, 24-hour ATMs and money changers are found in main airports and urban centres. International Banks like HSBC, Standard Chartered and OCBC can be found in larger cities like Kuching and Miri.