Vacations to Sibu, Borneo

Sibu is affectionately known as 'Swan City' from the legend that a flock of swans ended famine in the town. Although it’s a small inland town on the island of Borneo, it’s a major port where the mighty Rejang and Igan Rivers meet and have shaped its fortunes. Sibu has a distinctly Chinese feel to it, thanks to the early Chinese merchants that ran successful rubber and timber trades from here. Trade has been the cornerstone of Sibu, so much so that the 100-year-old Tua Pek Kong temple is dedicated to the patron saint of merchants. It’s worth a visit too - the temple has a seven-storey pagoda that has wonderful views of Sibu and the rivers.

The Rejang River is almost a mile wide at Sibu. It’s a busy stretch of water, with plenty of activity going on with ginormous ocean liners jostling alongside the tiny sampans and brightly colored longboats. Most of the city’s hubbub is along the waterfront, so find a riverside spot at dusk to enjoy the sunset and enjoy people-watching

You’ll be itching to head off on a Rejang River adventure, but try and spend some time getting to know Sibu first. It has an indoor market that’s lively and colorful, selling tropical fruit and local handicrafts. As with most Malaysian towns, there’s also a good night market where you can peruse the stalls and brush up on your bartering skills. Channel Rick Stein and amble the streets with your hawker food in hand. 'Kam pua mee' is Sibu’s signature dish - thin noodles served with slices of roasted pork, chilli sauce and soya sauce - and it's lipsmackingly good.

Eventually, the Rejang River will beckon you and an express boat will take you upstream into the jungle. If water levels allow, you could go as far as the Pelagus Rapids, a two kilometer stretch of torrents and whirlpools that promises an exciting ride.

Highlights

  • Large markets where you can bag a bargain

  • Journey upstream to the Pelagus Rapids

Katie
Travel Designer
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My first sighting of a wild orangutan in Malaysian Borneo will stay with me forever. Subsequently spotting pygmy elephants, proboscis monkeys and saltwater crocodiles was an incredibly special bonus!

Map of Sibu

When to go to Sibu

Sibu's tropical climate means humidity and temperatures are high all year round. The driest time of the year is between May and August, when visitor levels are higher too.