Bintulu is a major industrial centre, and soon to be a capital of energy-intensive industries in Malaysia. Its port area to the east of the main town hosts the Petronas Liquified Natural Gas (LNG) Complex, currently the world’s largest liquefied natural gas production facility on a single site, and also the very first Shell Middle Distillate Synthesis plant.
The town is geographically situated half way between Kuching and Kota Kinabalu. Bintulu is a central gateway to tourist spots like Bakun Resort, Niah Caves (Gua Niah in Malay), Similajau National Park, Mulu National Park, Longan Bunut National Park, Lambir National Park, Sibuti Wildlife Sanctuary, Rejang Pelagus, Belaga and the Bario Highlands.
Bintulu was once under the rule of the Brunei Sultanate. However, in 1841, Sarawak (now Kuching) was ceded to Sir James Brooke, an English adventurer who then became the First Rajah of Sarawak. In 1861, Bintulu, which was still part of Brunei, was also ceded to the Rajah and became part of Sarawak.
On September 8, 1867, it became the first meeting place of the State Legislative Assembly, the Council Negeri. Following other Sarawak divisional counterparts, Bintulu has also being under the rule of Rajah Brooke family, Japan, British and now Malaysia.
Starting from a scratch, Bintulu was formerly a fishermen village, with few old Chinese shophouses (now, all of these shophouses no longer exist). Following the discovery of large reserves of natural gas offshore Bintulu in 1969, a feasibility study conducted in 1975 found in nearby Tanjung Kidurong a suitable site for Sarawak's first deep-water port. Realising the industrial potential in Bintulu, the Bintulu Development Authority (BDA) was established in 1978 by the State Government to undertake infrastructure development as well as to coordinate and promote industrial investment in the area. Currently, BDA is celebrating their 30th anniversary.
Bintulu has now thrived tremendously from a small fishermen village with the population of mere 70,000 in the early 1970s to more than 200,000 now. Bintulu has superceded Kapit and Sarikei for becoming the fourth largest urban town in Sarawak. The population of Bintulu is expected to grow 30,000 in the next 5 years. The development in Bintulu can be seen anywhere, while changes in its town landscape can be observed significantly in 2-3 years.
Bintulu is planning to be a fully-industrialized city by the year 2020.
Bintulu, a capital town of Bintulu division and district, can be divided into few areas:
Bintulu Airport (IATA: BTU) is main gateway for Bintulu division (which can further bring travellers to Sebauh, Tatau, Selangau, Belaga and Niah). There is daily connection to Kuala Lumpur on Malaysia Airlines , AirAsia , as well as daily flight to Kuching. MASWings , which took over the rural air service from FlyAsian Express (FAX) on October 1, 2007, links Bintulu with Mukah, Miri, Kota Kinabalu and Belaga. International connections are not available since that Bintulu is not declared as an international airport.
The airport was previously located at Bintulu oldtown (which is now being used for other purposes such as International Borneo Kite Festival and other ceremonies). It was re-located to a new location which is 25km away from Bintulu town. When checking in, note that all flights outside Sarawak are considered "international", even if you're only going elsewhere in Malaysia. A restaurant is located on ground floor at the lower ground and in the boarding hall (named Niah Cafe).
Getting there/away: Bintulu town is about 20 minutes away by taxi, a fixed RM35.00 from the taxi coupon stand just outside arrivals. There are no buses serving the airport. One can be a little bit adventurous by walking for about 1.5km out of the airport to the airport crossing and catch Jepak bus to Bintulu town. Warning, this is an extremely rare thing to be done, so just spare some cash for a taxi to Bintulu town instead.
Express boats can only link to Bintulu town from other smaller Bintulu suburban and rural areas such as Sebauh, Tubau and Labang. No express boats serving Bintulu town to other major cities/towns in Sarawak.
Bintulu regional express bus terminal is located at Medan Jaya, located not so far from Farley Supermarket. All Sarawak major towns and cities like Kuching, Sibu, Miri, Mukah, Betong, Sri Aman, Sarikei, Batu Niah and Sungai Tujuh are well connected with Bintulu. Wide array of choices pamper travellers such as MTC Transport, Biaramas, Eva Transport etc. One can also expect towns which can only be served by Bintulu bus terminal such as Sg. Asap (a small town in Belaga area) and Bakun (a hydro-electric project). An international link bus such as to Brunei (via Sg. Tujuh) and Pontianak, Indonesia can be bought at the terminal. Estimated travelling time from Kuching to Bintulu is 9 hours, which sometimes transit to other main towns.
There is an extensive network of sealed roads linking Bintulu to major cities and towns. One can expect the furthest is from Pontianak (around 1050km) or even to as far as Tawau in Sabah (more than 1000km). Bintulu is always a transit town from Kuching to Kota Kinabalu.
Bintulu has one of the most efficient bus transportation system in Sarawak, which is served by Jepak Transportation Sdn. Bhd. The bus serves transport to other minor parts of the town to as far as Sg. Asap and Tatau/Kuala Tatau. Municipal bus can be found one stop at the Pasar Tamu Bus Terminal.
Normally, only rural people and low-income group urban and suburban people use bus. So, if you are first-time traveler to Bintulu, be prepared to use simple Bahasa Melayu, Bahasa Iban or Bahasa Melayu-Sarawak language. English is not a common language to be used for bus travellers here.
Various express boats serve Bintulu which connect Bintulu to other minor towns and rural areas such as Sebauh, Tatau, Kuala Tatau, Tubau and Labang. The fare ranges from RM2 to RM80 (depend on the destination). Travelers can also opt to rent a 'perahu' or speed boat to other minor towns for greater adventure. However, spare a lot of cash for this purpose because the rent can shoot up to RM500 per day (excluding engine oil).
Bintulu old town is quite a pedestrian-friendly with lots of traffic lights served for pedestrians. However, walk to other parts of town might be a tiring one, especially to Parkcity Commercial area and Medan Jaya. So opt for bus which cost you less than RM2 than to break your expensive legs.
Like everywhere on Borneo people are willing to help if you put your thumb up.
Kampung Jepak is a traditional fishermen village where majority of the inhabitants are Melanaus (Bintulu Melanaus) and Malays. It is separated from the main town of Bintulu by Sungai Kemena. You may be mesmerized by the traditional feature and lifestyle of Bintulu Melanau such as sago processing, fish drying, manufacturing of belacan (shrimps paste), cencaluk (salted shrimps), making of Terendak (Melanau Headgear) and Tutop (food cover or "tudung sarang / tudung saji"). One can get to Kampung Jepak by tambang (from main town of Bintulu) or via road from Bintulu-Sibu road (exit to Kuala Tatau/Kampung Jepak).
Council Negri Monument
Bintulu is home to the first legislative assembly meeting of Sarawak. It was held way back in 1867. With Charles Brooke, the second white Rajah of Sarawak in the chair, there sat 5 of his British Officers and 16 Malay and Melanau Members (Chiefs) to mark a new era in the conduct of the affairs of the state. A centenary stone commemorating the centennial of the historical meeting was erected on this site in 1967 and was further improved to include a clock tower and fountain in 1987, the fountain was attractively fenced up in November 1998 for safety and aesthetical purpose. The monument can be found by visitors on their way to the heart of Bintulu town.
Pasar Utama & Pasar Tamu Bintulu
These markets, located side by side, are the most frequently visited location in Bintulu, both by rural folks and tourists. The market is divided into many parts, each for different type of traded items such as fruits, belachan (shrimp paste) & cincaluk (a solution of fermented shrimps), wet areas (for fish and seafood traders), vegetables and a basic commodities. The upper floor of Pasar Tamu is a place where local delicacies can be savoured. If you visit Bintulu, it is a must to buy Bintulu belachan and cincaluk. Its pure, natural and traditional way of processing makes these tourists favourite keep coming back for more!On the upper floor too and near the staircase, you can find a souvenir shop selling cheap handicrafts and the famous layer cake (kek lapis)
Unlike Pasar Malam in Kuching or Miri, Bintulu Pasar Malam is held every single day, be it weekdays or weekends, and also local holidays. Here you can enjoy local version of 'fast food', from apam balik, roti canai, burger, or even nasi campur. As for non-Muslim, they can also savour pork delicacies such as siew pau. Other traded items are like bundled jeans pants, handbags and also, smuggled cigarettes & liquors (again!).
It was named Masjid Assyakirin, which defines "Gratefulness". It is a centre of religious activities by Muslims in Bintulu. It has once organized state-level event of "Majlis Nuzul Quran" (an event to commemorate 'birth' of Quran). As a matter of fact, it is the largest mosque in Bintulu division, and also the only mosque in Malaysia which is maintained by BDA, a local municipal authority (not religious departments).
Kuan Ying Tong Temple
Situated on Jalan Iskandar and surrounded by three churches; St. Thomas Anglican church, Methodist Church and St. Anthony Catholic church, this is the only Chinese temple in the area. It is located just a mere 2 kilometres from Bintulu town centre. Amongst the peculiar features of this unique spiritual landmark are the rock garden courtyard, man-made waterfall and dragon fencing - all of quality craftmanship. It can be easily seen on your way to the heart of Bintulu town.
Tanjung Batu Beach
Fancy a rocky and sandy beach side-by-side? This unique feature happens to be the attraction to Tanjung Batu Beach (which is also how the name is given, "Rocky Isthmus"). It is a place where people in Bintulu jog and stroll their way along the beach, or the road with their families, apart from taking a sun-tanning session. However, beware the coastline during monsoon season, as there has been cases of drowning annually.
Being the only zoo in the northern region of Sarawak, Taman Tumbina is a house to various animals such as crocodiles and pythons. Most of the visitors enter the park for jungle-trekking or hill climbing. The beautiful scenery of South China Sea awaits people who dare to climb to the top of the hill!
Similajau National Park
Similajau National Park is a park of golden beach (it's really gold in colour!) and also a very harsh mangrove woods. You can take a hike deep into the jungle so you will be able to find the true "Golden Beach". For more information, contact: Forest Department (National Park/Wildlife) Tel: (60) 86-336101.
The latest attraction to Bintulu is the 120-acre Bintulu Promenade, the state's longest waterfront attraction similar to the one in Kuching. It is a commercial and recreational park rolled into one and strategically located near the delta of Kemena River and the Parkcity Everly Hotel. Perfect place for a relaxing stroll and to watch sunset and enjoy the evening breeze.
Festival and Celebrations
Bintulu has hosted several festivals and celebrations throughout the year. Among the most popular celebrations in Bintulu are:
Golfing at Bintulu Golf Course
It's annual event of Piala TYT makes this golf course a must for visitors who love to play golf. It has the splendid sceneries of pine trees along the rocky beach of Tanjung Batu. Don't miss the hole while doing that putter!
Fishing is one of the popular hobbies in Bintulu. People can opt for fishing at the rivermouth of Kemena river, or at the sea for seafood, or if you are looking for freshwater food, you can go fishing at Tubau river, Tatau river (upriver area) or Jelalong river. However, beware of crocodiles and shallow water, your boat might hit those big trunks or rocks at the riverbed and it might spoil your mood for fishing.
Bintulu is not a main tourist attraction. People say, you can spend money in Singapore, but you got to earn it in Bintulu! Bintulu is the place where the biggest integrated gas processing plant in the world and the first Shell Middle Distillate Synthesis (SMDS) in the world located, and also thriving industries taking place, from fertilizers (ASEAN fertilizers plant is situated here) to shipping, petrochemicals, palm oil processing & plantations as well as timber industries. World-renowned companies like Shell and Petronas made their home in Bintulu.
Don't forget, Bintulu is a core development area of Sarawak corridor (SCORE). It will house bigger and more energy-intensive industries like aluminium smelting plant. It is also linked to the biggest hydroelectic dam in Malaysia, Bakun. More and more investors are interested in taking part of SCORE. An estimated 30,000 boost of jobs will flood Bintulu soon.
Bintulu is a place where several academic institution located. It has a branch campus Malaysian-renowned universiti, Universiti Putra Malaysia. It has also Sedamai College (private institution). Recently opened in Bintulu is ADTEC (Advanced Technology College), a college offering diploma by Ministry of Human Resource Malaysia, and also IKM (Institut Kemahiran MARA), a college specifically for Bumiputeras who wish to undergo technical skills training.
Due to the sizeable expat population here thanks to its oil & gas industry, Bintulu is not lacking in night life entertainment. There are numerous bars, pubs, clubs & karaokes here for the working class to relax and enjoy themselves after a hectic day.
Unfortunately, the oil & gas boom era also brought in the vice of prostitution into the city. Although illegal, this vice, allegedly controlled by triad gangs, can still be found at some nightlife spots in Bintulu.
Markets and Shopping Centres
There are various shopping places in Bintulu. You can choose any of them based on your needs and lifestyle.
There are some items you must buy when you are Bintulu. Here are those most essential items that you must buy when you visit Bintulu:
Belachan (Shrimp Paste)
Belachan in Bintulu is the most popular food ingredients in Sarawak. Most Sarawakians, especially Malay, cook their traditional cuisines using Bintulu Belachan. It is made from sun-dried shrimp, mixed with salt solution. It is a main ingredient for Midin Belachan, Mee Hoon Belachan, Laksa Sarawak and Nasi Goreng Belachan.
Cincaluk (Fermented Shrimp Paste)
This salty shrimpy 'juice' is not to be consumed by a people who hate stinky food. It was made from fermented shrimp (dipped in vinegar and salt) with some other additives. Cincaluk in Bintulu is considered to be 'pure' and original due to the fact that there was no added colouring or preservatives in the making of this cincaluk.
Terendak (Melanauh Headgear)
If you notice in Bintulu, there are a lot of recreational parks (or even the Pasar Tamu and Wisma Bintulu roof) are in the shape of terendak, or Melanau headgear. It is normally used to protect oneself under the sun. Head on to local handicrafts store in Bintulu to get your very own Terendak.
Tutop (food cover)
Tutop, or "tudung saji" in Malay, is also in a shape of Terendak. The difference is just its purpose and the size of it. You can get your own Tutop at local market or handicrafts/souvenir shop.
Sagu is an extract of a trunk of Sagu tree. Traditionally, it was made by hard-pressing the trunk to extract its juice and the juice will be sun-dried to make a sagu flour. The sagu flour then can be made into different type of local delicacies like Tebaloi, Biji Sagu, Linut and Sagu biscuits. Most of sagu products are a 'dry product', so don't be afraid to take one if you are in the long journey to go home.
Be it budget or splurge, Bintulu is somehow a fine place for casual dining.
During the week there is not a lot going on in Bintulu, weekend are better. You might need to try any of these good place for a drink or two:
Bintulu is a gateway for various places of ecotourism and cultural attraction.
Niah National Park
The Niah National Park is located some 120 km by road to the north of Bintulu. The faeces of bats at the caves are an important source of natural fertilizer which is known as Guano. The west mouth of the Niah Caves is one of the most important archaeological sites in Southeast Asia. It is significant because of the wide range of stone tools used from the old stone age, discovery of skulls (of earliest human in Southeast Asia). Prehistoric wall paintings also exist in one of the caves. To get here, visitor can drive for about 2 hours via Bintulu-Miri road, or Bintulu-Miri coastal road (both roads are accessible to Niah) to Batu Niah old town. From there, you will be guided with wooden signages to the Niah cave trail. The journey to the Niah Caves involves a 40-metre walk along a 3-kilometre plankwalk. Niah Caves are famous for its luxurious birds' nests.
Sungai Asap & Bakun
Bintulu is also a gateway to the hinterland of Kapit Division. As a matter of fact, although Bakun and Sungai Asap are both in Kapit Division (or Belaga District), they are the only place in Kapit where it was accessible from the main trunk road of Pan Borneo Highway. Sungai Asap is a settlement where tourists can opt for a homestay with local Orang Ulu longhouses and learn their culture and lifestyles. Once in 5 years, Sungai Asap will be the place where all villagers from the surrounding area to gather and celebrate Pesta Sungai Asap. Bakun, in other hand, is a bit far from Sungai Asap. It is the site of the largest hydroelectric dam in Malaysia. The electrical supply from this dam was planned to accommodate supply demands in Peninsular Malaysia, Sarawak and neighbouring countries, Indonesia and Brunei. To get to Bakun and Sungai Asap, you may need to drive from Bintulu with travelling time up to 2 hours.
Beware of logging trucks while using Bintulu-Bakun road to Sungai Asap and Bakun. There are lots of them using this road everyday.
Kuala Nyalau is a place where beach with many coral reefs leftovers scattered on its coastline. There is also beautiful waterfall not far from the beach. To get here, you need to drive using Bintulu-Miri coastal road. The travelling time is estimated around 1-2 hours. Once you arrive at the Nyalau junction (bear in mind, Nyalau, not Nyabau!), drive another 10km to the sea using partly sealed, partly crusher run (stone) road. The road is a bit bullish at certain areas due to its hilly terrain.
The road leading to Kuala Nyalau is narrow, hilly, winding and partly bare soil road. Don't dare to drive during heavy rain. Even during sunny day, watch out for opposite vehicles especially lorries. The condition of the road might be sometimes too rough for any visitors to go in.
Tatau is a small town, which is also a capital district of Tatau. It comprises of different areas such as Kuala Tatau (using its own Bintulu-Kuala Tatau road, or using water transport from Tatau using Tatau river), Sangan (accessible by road), Ng Sangan, Nanga Tau and Kuala Muput. If you love fishing, you will love Tatau especially when you go cruising along the Tatau river for your freshwater catch or down to the rivermouth for seafood.
Sebauh is a small district under Bintulu division. However, it is a centre of trading for people from around Sebauh like Pandan and Ulu Sebauh, and around its area, up to the deepest upriver area of Kuala Kebulu, Tubau and Labang. Like Tatau, Sebauh is popular among fishing freak.