Sunday, December 15, 2013

8 Things You Need to Know About Miri, Malaysia

This year has been a year of surprises, even in terms of traveling! I've had trips that were planned just 2 weeks or less before the actual trip and this is one of them. After being informed that I'm flying to Miri, I searched Google images for Miri, Malaysia. The first image I saw was the photo of the pinnacles (photo below). Basing it on that image, I expected that this place will more or less be about eco-tourism. To spoil it to you first, we didn't go to the pinnacles because I'm still not fit enough for that trek. We did go elsewhere and still had fun in Miri.

Honestly, it didn't look like an airport in the outskirts of Malaysia. It looked good and decent enough to be called an international airport and this airport is the third busiest airport in the entire Malaysia. Since this is an inaugural flight, upon deplaning, we were given traditional necklaces and there were a lot of media people waiting right outside the plane bridge. There were also a lot of immigration counters open so it didn't take a lot of time to exit the immigration.

8 Things You Need to Know About Miri, Malaysia

1) Miri International Airport
Tip: No money changers and grab yourself a torch light in one of the shops.
There are several food shops and even a Starbucks, taxi stands and rent a car inside the airport. There's also a stall selling simcards and some random snacks and other stuff. Just to let you know, there are no money exchange stalls here. 

Bought a sim here. 1GB of data for 40RM with simcard good for 30days.
Funny that my sister brought with her 40RM. It's leftover money from a recent trip. I forgot to bring my leftover RM. After exiting immigration and getting our luggage, we went straight to buy a simcard to use locally. After buying the sim, it was the only time we found out that there were no money changers inside the airport! Good thing was, the guys from the simcard stall where we brought the sim agreed to change our US dollars to local currency. The rate was not good but at least we now have RM for our trip to the city.

In one of the shops inside the airport, they are selling this headlamp torchlight. If you are planning to go to Niah caves, buy one here because in the park, they are renting out these same torchlights for 5RM. Better yet, bring one from home to save money. The brighter the better. You'll know later if you read my Niah caves blog.

2) Miri Taxi Cabs
Tip: They have fixed cab rates
From Miri international airport to our hotel (Meritz Hotel review soon), we paid the taxi stand 22RM. Apparently, taxi cabs here do not use meters. They travel on fixed rate. Unlike here in Manila, that's really how they do it there. From our hotel to nearby destinations, lowest rate was 13RM and traveling around the city can range from 13 to 18 RM.

The more expensive taxi stand at 30RM.
The more affordable taxi stand at 22RM.
By the way, in the airport, there are two taxi stands (almost in front of each other). The other one charges 30RM and the other one charges 22RM. You yourself decide where you want to book your cab.

3) Miri Money Changers
Tip: Bring some Malaysian Ringgit with you if possible
Since this is not a very tourist-friendly place just yet because there are only 2 international flights coming in (Singapore and Manila), money changers are closed on Sundays. So two things. If you're coming over, make sure that you have RM because there are no money changers in the airport and they are closed during Sundays.

4) Choosing a Hotel in Miri
Tip: Stay in the city center
Prior to the trip, I was just planning to stay most of the time in the hotel because when I checked other websites, there were not much places to visit around town. My number one criteria was to look for a good hotel since I plan to stay there most of the time. I was choosing between Marriot and Meritz. I ended up choosing Meritz. Why? Below the hotel, there is a door right inside the hotel lobby that gives you direct access to the mall. You don't even need to go out anymore. Also, I think it was a well made decision because I found out that it is important that you stay in the city center because cabs there operate on fixed rates. Also, you can literally walk around the city center! From our hotel, it was not a long walk to the Miri handicraft center, Mega Hotel, Imperial hotel and the Imperial mall. Saves money and time plus you get exercise.(Check out the image above)

5) Shops open late
Tip: Plan your trips and food trips
When we went to our Niah cave trip, we asked our guide to recommend a few places to eat. Since we were staying in Meritz Hotel, we asked for nearby places. He gave us two and the next day, we went to the seafood one. It was closed. When we asked, they said that they open around 5pm. We then walked to the other one beside Bintang Megamall called Maxim. It was open and we had a very affordable meal but sadly, the Hong Kong Chicken Rice I had was full of blood which I ended up not eating (left a tip on Foursquare for it). Anyway, make sure that you know the operating hours of the places you want to visit.

6) Get an additional passport stamp
Tip: How to get an additional passport stamp
Miri, Malaysia is just 45-minutes away from the border of Brunei. To get to the city center, it might take you around 2 hours but if you just want to have an additional stamp in your passport, just hail a cab and go get yourself that stamp. It's fun for others and it might not matter for some.

7) Going to Niah Caves
Tip: Look for a travel agency
Remember earlier when I said that taxi cab have fixed rates? Well, from the city center to Niah caves which takes around 1-2 hours, taxi cabs charge around 150RM. I suggest that you go book yourself a tour. What I did was search for a day tour to Niah caves and picked the one from 'Happy Trails! Borneo'. You can either contact them or contact their Niah caves tour supplier directly via Miri Trail Inn. I paid 220RM per pax and if you think about it, the cab already costs 300RM roundtrip but with this tour, you have a comfortable van for your roundtrip transfer from your hotel to the caves and back, entrance to the caves (which is around 15~20RM per pax according to a local), lunch and a private tour guide.

Our actual experience
Part 1:
Part 2:

Happy Trails Borneo:
Miri Trail Inn:

Pathway to the caves
Pitch black part of the cave. What you can see is what my torchlight can reach and what we can see as well.
8) Niah Cave Trek
Tip: Bring water, bright torch light/headlamp, jacket/raincoat and a good shoes with traction.
I'll be posting a whole blog about Niah Caves. I just want to leave a few tips for you before you embark on this day trip. We arrived 10am and left the park 4pm. Almost non-stop walking until the end where you can see where the excavated remains of the female archaeologist who discovered the area. The guide even said that the skeleton was still there but I didn't know what to look for and I was so tired by the time we reached that area that I just took a photo of it and will leave it to you guys to looks for the remains.
It's somewhere by the right side of the bright light
A good shoes that has very good traction is needed. The pathway is full of algea and since this is not a well developed tourist place, it is very slippery on the way to the caves and even inside the caves. The torch light is needed because there's a pitch black part inside the cave that you have to go through. Bring jacket or raincoat in case it rains because it rains often around this area.

Overall, I wasn't expecting much about Miri but ended up enjoying it very much. The surprises we encountered and the fact that the city isn't that developed for tourists yet made it better and we felt more adventurous because of that. For a place where there's not much to do, it is surprising that I want to go back and explore the other remaining caves and maybe one day, I'd have the strength to trek through pinnacle point and the entire Mulu cave.

Thank you AirAsia for opening a new door to another country, direct from Manila.

Check out for flights direct from Manila to Miri, Malaysia.

Disclaimer: Our trip was not sponsored by AirAsia but I won 2 roundtrip tickets (Manila-Miri) from AirAsia during an event. Everything else other than the roundtrip air tickets was paid for by us.

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