Simunjan is a friendly small town in the also named district of Simunjan, located 65km off the main road between Serian and Sri Aman.
Main row of shops Simunjan
Take a van from Serian, RM15 per person, or if going by car would take about two and a half hours from Kuching. One possible person to contact is Nora, 019-8398112, who has a van leaving Kuching early, stops at Serian about 9am, and arrives at Simunjan about midday after stopping at a few local villages on the way.
Simunjan being a small place, the shops, accommodation, food stalls, market, boat ramp, ATM at bank, post office, library and Internet can all be strolled to. The Coal Mines can be reached by flagging down a van (infrequently every hour or so), going to Serian. The mines are at Gunung Ngeli (more a 'bukit', hill,than 'gunung', mountain) less than ten minutes out of town.
- Simunjan Coal Mines, Ruins. The Simunjan Coal Works area, Gunung Ngeli, an historic mining hill exploited by first the British and then the Japanese. With a bit of trekking several interesting mine entrances can be viewed in a fun day outing from Simunjan town. The jungle and farms of the foothills make for an attraction on their own right, the mines scattered more or less close to the overgrown remains of an old coal road, where here and there stonework is still visible. There are nine mine caves in all and to see them it is best to be with a guide as many are overgrown with jungle (RM50 seems to be a going rate, ask around in town). These mine caves are all to be found starting ten minutes walk up the jungle hill section that faces the Hospital, and then the old mine track leads parallel to Jalan Sual which is opposite the school. Do not go inside the caves as they are in a dangerous condition. Besides, almost all have collapsed already, a few meters in, or are flooded. The coal was first exploited in the mid nineteenth century by the James Brooke aided British Borneo company, using mostly Chinese labour. The descendants of these labourers can be met with in the Simunjan area, many of which have inter-married with the Iban. Rail tracks can still be seen a few kilometers along the base of the hill, down Jalan Sual. Near this spot, and only a few years after the mine opening, the British naturalist Alfred Russel Wallace stayed here for a few months collecting specimens of insects and orangutans,as reported in his The Malay Archipelago. The mines were closed early in the twentieth century, but reopened by the Japanese during the war. The locals report atrocities and harsh treatment, the source of many ghost sightings. Many in the area are afraid to visit the mines. (According to two local reports), over a hundred died in one mine alone. An impressive steam engine belonging to the Japanese can be viewed beside the road into town, just before the hospital.
Coal Mine with Engine Base
- Simujan river boat ramp, (parallel and upriver of the main road). Here on the Simujan river, a branch or the Sadong, various small long boats leave every hour or so to villages close by. Ask the other waiting passengers where they are going and when a boat returns. Barges can be seen off loading timber and gravel. edit
- Play Futsul, Central town square. With the friendly local kids, after school, or morning and afternoon on the Weekend. edit
The small market has a few local Sarawak fruits when they are in season. These include the tasty olive like dabai (just soak in hot water for a few minutes), tarap (a creamier version of jackfruit), a refreshingly sweet sour red salak and reportedly 'durian hutan' (wild versions of the famed fruit, some with bright red flesh).
There are many low key places to eat about the main town square, only a few of which are open at night.
There are a set of food stalls attached to the market, and another smaller set tucked away behind the main row of shops close to the community Internet.
- 15 Yap Siew Seng, Market Gerai Makanan Stalls. from 8pm. Serves good home cooking style Chinese food, and is one of the few non-noodle places open at night. edit
- Chop Simunjan Cafe, (Main row of shops, near the Chinese temple). Serves one of the best breakfast Laksas, with a generous serving of Udang edit
- Bambo_cafe and catering Kpg Nanas, Kpg Nanas main road to simunjan bazar. Serves good home cooking, village food, alacarte, Ayam Penyet, laksa sarawak and many more. 7PM-midnight. edit
On an infrequent pay day, quite a few of the locals will be celebrating over a few beers served at the food stalls.
- Rest House, (street behind main road), ☎ 013-5675698. From RM20 with a fan, and they have cheap aircon rooms also. Close to Seng Chong Hotel so check this out also, (not yet tried). Quieter street, though the dozens of fighting roosters housed next door might mean an early rise! edit
- Seng Chong Hotel, Lot 139 Jalan Nanas (on main road in Simunjan), ☎ 082-803586. Basic air con rooms. The main place to stay in town. OK value but with an impersonal atmosphere. From RM35 per night single, 55 double. edit
"Home Bakery", tel 019-8689789, which are at the foothills just below the mines may be able to put you in contact with a guide. They have an uncle who is most knowledgeable of all the spots where the mines can be found, but he may be off working on any particular day. Home Bakery is located at No 49 Jalan Sual, a road which starts opposite the school. They make tasty red bean buns, which if you are not lucky enough to buy hot from the oven, can always be got from the shops around town.
Look for infrequent white vans discretely labeled with Serian around the town square in the morning. Nora, 019-8398112, will pick you up in her van from wherever you are staying midday and take you to Serian (RM15) or Kuching (RM?). If you are going on to Sri Aman or further East, ask to be dropped at the junction (one hour, RM10) and there you can flag down a fairly frequent bus. If you are wanting to go to Sri Aman (RM10) this will probably not go right into town, dropping you about 8km from the riverside centre. Hopefully you can from this junction flag down a van going into town.
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