Travel Features > Budget Travel

Lundu to Telok Melano & Tanjung Datu

Wayne Tarman offers some travel tips on Southwest Sarawak's
coastal strip & the Kampung Teluk Melano Homestay Programme.

The strip of coastline from Lundu to Tanjung Datu is probably the most beautiful in the whole of Sarawak. You'll find long stretches of beach, small secluded bays, a few traditional fishing villages, two national parks and a wildlife sanctuary. But you want find much information about this area in the popular guidebooks, perhaps because most travellers come to Sarawak for its culture and national parks rather than its beaches. Although the beaches in this area are the best in Sarawak they are not comparable to the backpacker beach zones found in Thailand and the Philippines. If you come here looking for beach nirvana you'll be disappointed but if you want to see a different side of Sarawak then a journey through Southwest Sarawak is well worth the effort. You can take in a national park, hitch hike up the coast in a small fishing boat, stay with a family in a fishing village, and maybe rent a small boat to check out the small bays and beaches of the coastal tip of Sarawak, perhaps stopping briefing at Tanjung Datu National Park along the way.

The Southwest Sarawak coastal strip essentially begins at Lundu. From Kuching, it takes two hours to reach Lundu, a small upcountry town bordered by the various mountain peaks of Gunung Gading National Park, home to the Rafflesia, the world's largest flower. Regular public buses ply the Kuching-Lundu route. The town has two budget hotels and some great food stalls serving unbelievably cheap seafood (e.g. a whole steamed fish, a portion of jungle fern and a veggie soup for RM 8!). Accommodation is also available at the Park HQ. (For a more detailed overview of Gunung Gading see In Search of the Rafflesia, A Rainforest Experience And Mountain Highs also on the Sarawak Alive website).

Two pleasant beaches - Pandan & Siar - are situated near Lundu and are accessible by local buses from town. There are some chalets but these are overpriced so it is better to stay at the Park HQ and make a side trip to Pandan if you want to spend an afternoon at the beach. There are a few rarely visited beaches further up from Pandan. The first of these can be reached from the far end of Pandan at low tide. The others are reached by following a sandy trail which begins where the tar road from Lundu to Pandan ends.

The small fishing port of Sematan is situated approximately 30 kilometres away from Lundu. By local bus the journey takes around 30 minutes. When you arrive in Sematan the first thing you should do is check to see if there is a boat heading up the coast, preferably to Kampung Teluk Melano, a traditional fishing village that sits in one of the most beautiful bays in the area. Its possible to stay with a family at Teluk Melano as the village is involved in the Sarawak Fishing Village Homestay Programme, a community based project set up by the Malaysian Fisheries Board and the village's fishing association. A trip to Teluk Melano is only possible in the dry season as during the monsoon season from October to March there are high seas.

During the dry season there are two ways of getting to Teluk Melano. You can rent a speed boat from the Fisheries Board to take you to Teluk Melano. This is a good idea if you're in a group of 5 or more. The price is RM 250 return and the boat is a powerful twin-engined beast that whisks you to the village in around 45 minutes. If you're on a budget, or travelling alone or in a small group, the best option is to hitch a ride on a local fishing vessel. Almost everyday during the dry season at least one boat from Teluk Melanau comes to Sematan, normally arriving around 10 am and leaving at midday or after lunch. There is no fixed schedule so make your way to the jetty and ask around. If that fails to bring results ask around at the bazaar area. Sematan is a tiny place and everyone knows each other and what they're up to so it shouldn't be too long before you are pointed in the right direction. The local fare for the Sematan-Teluk Melano trip is RM 10. Bear in mind this is the fare for local residents, which normal means friends or relatives of the boatman. Outsiders are expected to pay a bit more although there does not seem to be a fixed price yet. RM 15-20 is normally acceptable.

If you've found a boat, you may have to wait around a bit at the jetty for the boat owner to complete his purchases in town, or wait until the tide is favourable for the boat journey. If you have to spend a night in town the Sematan Hotel has rooms for between RM 20-45. There's not much to do in Sematan although if you are stuck there you are sure to find someone to chat to or something to do. For example, there's a long beach that stretches from Sematan town to Kampung Pueh. Pueh itself is a an attractive village and can be reached by sealed road form Sematan.

Sematan itself consists of a row or two of shophouses, a jetty and a very busy timber dock located just outside of the bazaar area. A collection of food stalls is located near the jetty selling mostly Malay food. This stall area seems to be the place to be. Its a hang out for local residents who go there to eat, sip coffee and watch the world go by.

The jetty area is good for passing away a few hours. There's usually some kind of activity going on. With the Indonesian Rupiah crashing to ridiculously low levels, products from Indonesia are cheap by Malaysian standards. A whole new industry has grown up in Sematan with all manner of things being imported from West Kalimantan for onward sale within Malaysia or for re-export. With Indonesia only a few hours boat ride away, Sematan is the first Sarawakian berthing point for boats rounding the tip at Tanjung Datu. Indonesian fishing vessels can invariably be seen unloading both fresh fish and dried prawns at the jetty whilst and a whole armada of wooden boats, rusty barges and modern ships can be seen on the coastal horizon and manoeuvring around the harbour. The majority of these vessels are used to transport timber from Indonesia to a large log pond at Sematan. From there the logs are trucked to Kuching for onward shipment to the rest of the world.

The boat trip from Sematan to Teluk Melano takes 45 minutes or so in speedboat or about two hours in a traditional fishing boat. Whilst the speedboat skims the surface with the two outboards powering you along, the traditional fishing boat chugs along the coast, rolling up and down to negotiate any swell, with its diesel engine groaning away with the occasional splutter of diesel fumes. This is fine if the sea is flat but if the seas start to roll, as they occasionally do during the dry season, you may wish you've laid out the cash for the speedboat. Whilst the boatman takes everything in his stride you may will end up mentally noting the distance of nearby islets and rocky outcrops, and pondering whether those hard earned swimming certificates from your school days will save your butt if the wooden tub goes down in the South China Sea.

Teluk Melano is home to around 40 families (200 plus people) who live in traditional wooden Malay houses scattered around the bay. Previously the entire community was dependent on fishing for its livelihood. Nowadays about twenty five percent of households derive the bulk of their income form fishing whilst the rest have switched to small-scale farming. 11 families are participants in the Fisheries Development Authority of Malaysia's homestay programme which allows visitors to stay with their host family in a traditional Malay house, eat home-cooked food prepared by their hosts, and take part in everyday village activities. In addition to soaking up village life and gaining insights into another culture there's also plenty to see and do at Teluk Melano.

In addition to the main beach there are number of small isolated bays and beaches a short distance away. Perhaps the best in the area is at Tanjung Datu National Park, a 10 minute boat ride from the village. Although Tanjung Datu is not officially open to the public for overnight stays it is possible to cruise up the coast from Teluk Melano and stop off at the park along the way. The park is one of Sarawak's smallest and essentially consists of a small strip of beach backed by a protected corridor of rainforest. Tanjung Datu is an important conservation area as it contains one of Sarawak's few turtle beaches. There is a small turtle hatchery at the ranger's post.

A short distance offshore from the park there is a small coral reef, a rare occurrence in Sarawak's waters. Further offshore there are a number of artificial reefs which where first established by the Fisheries Development Authority in 1986. These artificial reefs were added to create an additional fisheries resource for the communities in the area and also to prevent commercial fishing vessels from trawling. Ten years on and the reefs are starting to take shape with both soft and hard corals clinging to the concrete spheres and tubes of the original structure, and various marine life taking sheltering amongst the coral. It is possible to dive on these reefs and the Fisheries Development Authority can help to organise diving trips in this area and on small reefs located to the south of Teluk Melano.

The Teluk Melano area is also good for jungle trekking. Its possible to trek from the village to Tanjung Datu National Park or even trek all the way back to Sematan, a full day's walk for most people. Another option is to head inland along well-worn walking paths that lead to small farms and vegetable gardens. In addition to subsistence crops most villagers grow cash crops such as pepper and rubber. Visitors staying at Teluk Melano are welcome to try their hand at tapping rubber, harvesting pepper or, if they are up for it, a full day's work in the fields.

Beyond the farms of Teluk Melano lies the Indonesian province of West Kalimantan. From the coast it only takes 25 minutes to walk to the border which is marked by a small wooden arch welcoming you to Indonesian. Without the arch you would never know that you are leaving Malaysian and entering Indonesian. The border here is not an official crossing point. There are no immigration or customs officials. All official matters are dealt with by three policeman on the Indonesian side and one policeman at Teluk Melano.

There are a number of villages just across the border and many of the residents of Teluk Melano have relatives on the Indonesian side. Community relations are therefore excellent and residents of these villagers regularly criss-cross the border to visit family and friends or play a friendly game of soccer or sepak takraw. Although, crossing the border is fine for local residents, outsiders are not officially allowed to cross from Malaysian Sarawak to Indonesian Kalimantan. But this being friendly upcountry Borneo, it is sometimes possible to get permission to nip over to Indonesia for an hour or two. From the border it takes 45 minutes to walk to the Indonesian coastline and the nearest village, perhaps the most isolated fishing village in the whole of West Kalimantan. This is a very picturesque and peaceful stretch of coastline made up of curved sandy bays, rocky coves and white sand beaches dotted with and small fishing villages. After quick coffee and chat with the local villagers its time to head back to Sarawak. If you don't fancy walking, it's possible to hitch a ride back to Teluk Melano on the back of motorbike. This cross border taxi service costs RM 5 one way and gets you back to your house at Teluk Melano in 15-20 minutes.


Further information regarding the Kampung Teluk Melano homestay programme can be obtained from the Kuching office of the Fisheries Development Authority of Malaysia.

Mr Abg. Ahmad Zulkipli B. Abg Mohd Nerawi
Coordinator "Projek Perintis Homestay."
Fisheries Development Authority of Malaysia (LKIM)
2nd Floor, Bangunan Bank Negara,
Jln Satok, PO Box 2201,
93744 Kuching, Sarawak, Malaysia.
Tel: 082-245481
Fax: 082-256871

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