Straight ahead…

The old hometown looks the same

Bintulu

…but no, Bintulu certainly has changed…a lot since the last time I was here on one of my working trips.

Two Sundays ago, the 13th of July, we sent Melissa to her school which is located somewhere in between which would mean that it is more or less the same distance back to Sibu (99 km) or straight ahead to Bintulu (122 km). After everything was settled and done there, my missus and I drove on to attend my cousin’s youngest daughter’s wedding on the 15th but we decided to go a little earlier so we could spend a couple of days there to see whatever they might have in store.

The road to Bintulu from Melissa’s school was not as good as from there to Sibu and it did not help one bit that there were two long stretches where they were doing repairing and resurfacing works, one 2 km long and the other a kilometre. In the current very hot and dry weather, the dust could be seen from far far away like there was some open burning going on.  Other than those, most parts had all those badly-done patches the rest of the way so it was not really a smooth and pleasant drive.

The town centre has not changed much. I remember staying in that inn with the HSBC branch right across the road and there’s a not-very-impressive shopping complex further up that road but I don’t recall seeing this very nice temple…

Bintulu temple

…at the time. Probably it was there, just that I did not notice and they’ve done it up very nicely since.

While the town itself has remained pretty much the same, many vast commercial areas have mushroomed all over, here and there and everywhere outside the town proper. The roads in the town in some parts were, I’m afraid, not much better than what we went through along the way from Melissa’s school and there were simply not enough signs to help first-timers in town get around so we would end up at some place, unintended and u-turns were the rule of the day. I also noticed in places along the road where the grass was very long, left uncut and many of the buildings and blocks of shophouses badly need a new coat of paint. The town authorities obviously need a paradigm shift and should pull up their socks now that it is no longer the little cowboy town that it used to be…to make Bintulu a lot more presentable and impressive than what it is presently.

We stayed at one of those new(er) areas – the  Assyakirin Commerce Square/Commercial Centre at this hotel…

Kemena Hotel Bintulu

…right next to the one affiliated to that cheap airline.

I used my government rate and got a standard twin room like this…

Kemena Hotel - standard room, twin

…for only RM118 nett per night with one breakfast…at the cafe on the ground floor, right beside the lobby…

Kemena Hotel cafe

Breakfast was supposed to be at 6.30 a.m. but I went in way before then. This being the Muslim fasting month of Ramadhan, it was made available extra early for their pre-dawn sahur

Kemena Hotel - breakfast

I thought the fried noodles…

Fried noodles

…were all right and so were this chicken dish with Thai chili sauce…

Thai sauce chicken

…and the beef rendang

Beef rendang

…or at least, that was what I thought it was. The chicken curry was good too…

Chicken curry

…even though it looked like those who had their pre-fasting meal ahead of me had helped themselves to most of it. Normally, at such hotel buffets, there would be people going round to see if anything needs refilling or at least, they would use a spoon to “rearrange” the food to make it look more presentable…but there wasn’t a single soul to be seen. I guess it was simply too early for anybody to be up and about.

There was nasi lemak too with the sambal, hard-boiled egg, cucumber plus the peanuts and fried ikan bilis (dried anchovies) in the tupperware…

Nasi lemak condiments

…to go with it and there was porridge…

Porridge

…if one would be thus inclined and on the other side, there were the cereal, bread and stuff and there was a free flow of coffee or tea and juices as well.

This was all that I had…

Breakfast at Kemena Hotel

… that first morning in Bintulu as my missus and I would be heading to the airport in a bit to pick up two aunties of mine from Kuching who were also coming to attend the wedding banquet and we planned to go with them for breakfast upon their arrival. Do stick around for my blogpost on that and more.

Incidentally, if you are in Bintulu round this time, you may be interested in their Ramadhan buffet…

Kemena Hotel Ramadhan buffet

…which seemed to be quite popular as I would see quite a number of people having dinner in the cafe those three nights I was there.

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30 thoughts on “Straight ahead…

  1. Ahh… a very quiet and peaceful town. Looking forward to your next post on what to see and what to eat in this town :D

    Hang around, this is the first in the series. Lots more to come.

  2. i don’t think i’ve ever been to bintulu … thanks for capturing and showing us a sense of what it’s like here and how the years have changed the city centre and its outskirts :)

    Just hop over one weekend – everyone can fly. Grab the zero fare or cheap fare when there’s a promo going on. Can’t say I’ll be featuring the best there though – we just went around on our own mostly – best to go some place where you have somebody to take you around…like Sibu, no need for random picks, trial and error.

  3. How far is Mel’s school from home? You send her there every Sunday afternoon and back home every Friday afternoon? The buffet spread for breakfast looks good, with rendang and all.. Looks like dinner spread.. But yeah, doesnt look very presentable with those ‘holes’ in between.. They could at least rearrange with the spoon if they didnt want to refill..

    Can’t blame them actually – have to be more considerate. That was before 6 a.m. Puasa month, I think they would have to get up real early to cater for those guests…and non-Muslim ones, not supposed to go for breakfast till 6.30.

    Same thing at the airport hotel where I usually stay, KLIA – breakfast is served at 5 a.m. – nobody around so you can walk in and out and eat as many times as you like (the food is much better than this, I would say) and even if there are people around, they are not bothered at all – no asking for voucher, room number, nothing of the sort like most other hotels. I told my friends living nearby that they could just stop there for breakfast every morning…but they do not dare to do that.

    But yes, at that “classy” Sheraton one in Kuching – I had to tell them that most of the food was gone and needed refilling….and I waited for a while, nothing happened. In the end, I just went and had something else. I blogged about this at the time. Really disgraceful for a hotel of that class.

    Didn’t I mention in the post? 99 km. 1 and half hours by the so-called Pan-Borneo Highway…which of course, is nothing like the highways in the peninsula. See how we folks here have been shortchanged. Tsk! TsK! Lots of HUGE timber trucks, palm oil tankers, oil tankers, buses…and lots of reckless HILUX (and other similar vehicle) drivers in that small two-lane road, one going one coming, so I would not let her drive herself – not enough experience on the road to handle that kind of situation.

    • Yep, I saw the 99km, but just want to make sure.. 99km !!! So she travels twice a week.. Can she ask for a transfer or something, to another school, nearer to home?

      Just one year, not that easy – town schools are always packed with teachers and many are waiting in line to grab their places. I heard when my dear friend passed away in the self-road accident, the officer in charge received smses right away asking for his place in the school he was attached to. She was disgusted by their lack of compassion – some people really cannot seem to think at all and are so selfish.

      It’s not that far and it’s very nice there, not necessarily better in a town school – if you have read my previous posts on it. I would have moved there with her had she not been sharing her quarters with a female colleague. She might not be comfortable with somebody else around, a male at that some more.

  4. A very quiet town. Been there once. That time still a lot of road development.

    I am always into Ramadhan buffet in hotel.

    I wonder when that was. The last time I was there was probably some 10 years ago, very different now. You can always go – not that far, if compared to driving to Mukah, I remember you drove there once…and much more there than in Mukah, that’s for sure.

    • More than 10 years ago when my bil was stationed there for national service.

      I was there more than 10 years ago too – quite different now.

  5. The Ramadhan dinner buffet is so much cheaper than here. I guess the dishes for dinner buffet are tasty, as delicious as their morning breakfast buffet. I have not seen beef served for breakfast. did you go for breakfast again the next morning since you were there for 4 days 3 nights?

    No, I didn’t but if you stick around, you will find out why from the later posts.

    I guess the buffets there are more lavish, all the expensive stuff and a lot more to choose from…but I don’t think the prices are justified – one can’t possibly eat so much to get one’s money’s worth, I’m sure. Not me!

    No beef? There was always beef rendang at the hotel buffet breakfasts that I went to, usually by the nasi lemak – an added condiment to go with it, I guess. Then at the western side, there is the beef bacon or sliced beef.

    • I must be staying in very budget hostel then so the breakfast spread is very limited.

      I don’t think they serve breakfast at budget hotels or maybe you mean those B&B’s or Backpackers, I wouldn’t know. Never stayed in those.

      This may be considered one of the better hotels, priced around RM100, and at such hotels here, this is about the kind of breakfast you may expect though there may be others that are better and others that are worse. If you pay this much in KL, you’d probably get a decently good budget hotel – not one of those sleazy ones and no breakfast.

      A hotel that is not even as nice e.g. Bintang Warisan in Bukit Bintang – you pay almost RM200 and all you get for breakfast is a choice between a plate of nasi lemak or an American breakfast. Concorde KLIA is also slightly less than RM200, government rate, but the breakfast is really good…but of course, it is so far far away. I’ve blogged about all these hotels and the breakfast served.

      • The hotel I have in mind is the chain hotel (or rather motel) but the name is “hotel seri malaysia”. I used to stay there when I was a student with no income. Surprisingly they do include breakfast in the room price. I guess comparing this will be like comparing apple and orange.

        I stayed at the one in Georgetown, walking distance to Komtar. Should be of the same class as this one in Bintulu…had they maintained it well. So run-down – I never bothered checking it out ever again after that one time staying there.

        I had an embarrassing moment with that hotel chain once. I called to book a room for a few nights at Sg Petani in Kedah and when I went to check in, I was told there was no booking and the hotel was full (government people love using such hotels for their workshops and courses – cheaper, I guess). I showed them the number I called on my mobile…and goodness me! It was the telephone number of the one in Kulim!!!! But the staff there were very nice and they got me a room at Sg Petani Inn. Ya, the breakfast there was the pits, for over RM100 (can’t remember exactly) a night – maybe just toast with margarine and kaya and coffee or tea, no egg. It has a new name now, all nicely renovated, looking a lot better…but dunno if it is any better – I have not gone back to stay there since.

      • So nice of them to manage to find a room for you.

        Yes, so very good. They called…found that the other hotel had a room available, made the booking for me and even gave me directions as to how to get there. Really nice – small town folks. Bet you can’t find the likes of these in the big city hotels.

  6. Are you sure that was beef rendang? Looks more like ginger stir fried beef. The temple looks impressive. Very beautiful.

    Dunno, did not taste like either, not like the usual Chinese-style ginger beef, that’s for sure. Probably their own recipe. Yes, impressive temple. We have a few here in Sibu too…and the biggest in SE Asia is here as well – along the way to Melissa’s school.

  7. Never been to Bintulu but had thoughts of going when I was in Miri in 2001 or 2002.. hahahaa.. but eventually we went to Niah caves and Brunei.. not enough time to go Bintulu… perhaps next time if given an opportunity… hotel rate is RM118 with 1 breakfast.. hmmm.. not too bad if can share….

    Yes, twin sharing…just that you will get only 1 breakfast. No big deal – can always go out to eat.

    2001/2002…I think it was not so nice then, something like a one-street cowboy town and a bit of this and that here and there, mostly what you see in the first photograph. Very different now, much nicer. Worth a visit.

  8. This quiet town reminds me of many quaint towns in remote areas of China where life is so simple and lights off at 9pm.
    The buffet spread looked miserable but I would be happy with it as I am easily contented. I am surprised the Kuching Sheraton did not replenish the food trays as I was impressed with their prompt service during my 3 nights there. Perhaps they were busy when you were there.

    Busy? Not really. They were excellent the first time I stayed there, the food was so so so good and the staff was so helpful, so friendly…but it got worse with each subsequent visit – even the croissants that I loved so much the first time failed miserably after that time, so pathetic. I had my reasons for staying there but at that price and considering the location, I would much sooner stay elsewhere. I would rather stay here, paying half what I would need to pay there – never mind that the breakfast isn’t as lavish – one can’t possibly eat everything, anyway. You can?

    The photo shows the old town – all that it was many years ago. They’ve moved out of there already to many other parts of the town now and those would be where the (night) life is, very busy and lively – this part is like quite dead now but even so, they have lights 24 hours a day, no blackout at 9 like those you went to in China. After all, this is THE gas town (like Miri is THE oil town), don’t play play. All very rich one…

    • I will text my friend in Kuching soon who knows the boss whose son oversees this hotel operations. This son is one of the few who has the say there. No worries, no mention about you here but it’s for everyone’s benefit as I am likely to stay there always on my future visits as I like its short distance to airport and high ceilings in the rooms!

      Why would you need high ceilings? You’re Spiderman or what?

      The father is always there, loitering around. Probably there was a change in management…or staff turnover is high – did not see all the nice people the first time I stayed there. That first time, I had to avoid any staff member as they would place their hand on their heart and greet me politely never mind even if I had walked past them so many times already. Felt awkward but that was nice, kudos to the hotel. They should maintain that kind of hospitality and service.I did blog about each time I stayed there…and I did mention EVERYTHING each time.

  9. Bintulu…a place I just know from geography…seems like it’s quite a good place to visit!! =]

    It’s nice. Would need a car or somebody to take you around – same as Kuching or Miri. Sibu, if you stay in the town centre, you can walk everywhere you wanna go – so much to see and to try/taste and experience. Other places in other parts of town, can give them a miss if you do not have anyone to take you.

  10. aaaahhh, I thot how could the Sibu Food Mayor had that so so so little plate of food from the buffet spread.. so that’s actually a pre-breakfast “snack” before he went to feast on his breakfast with his two aunties :p

    That’s the thing about travelling – it would be eat…eat…eat…all day long!!! So nice!

  11. Have not been there…..so what good food there?

    I don’t really know. Other than the belacan and the cincaluk – the best would be from here. I just went here and there, tried this and that at random – nobody to take me around to the best places in town…but I did see many that I would have wanted to try but I did not have time…or the others with me were not that keen. Another time perhaps.

  12. It looks like a hollow sleepy town but quite relaxing to get away from the city. The hotel looks pleasant and affordable.

    That’s the old part of town – it certainly seemed quite dead especially as this was late Sunday evening. Everybody has moved to the other parts with the newer shops, the big supermarkets and trendy eating places. This part isn’t as busy anymore…unlike Sibu which would be very congested especially in the morning and at night. Besides, most here would be people in the gas industry…and that’s another part of town, not here in the town centre.

  13. Hahaha, me never been to Bintulu, so near and yet so far. I only know Bintulu produces good belacan & cincaluk. Chicken dish with Thai chilli sauce and beef rendang looks good.

    When was the last time you came to Sibu? So near yet so far, indeed. At least I can call myself a true Sarawakian – I’ve been to many places from the east to the west. All those people shouting Sarawak for Sarawakians, I wonder if they have ever left Kuching or Sibu not…and I bet they’ve been to Bali and other parts of Indonesia, Thailand, Vietnam, Taiwan and all the rest up north. Cheshhhh!!!! So much for their love for their own home state. Talk is cheap!

  14. I’ve never been to Bintulu before. My husband has planned to take us for a trip to somewhere in Borneo. The hotel rate seems quite cheap there. Thanks for sharing with us!

    Most welcome. Hotels here are generally much cheaper than elsewhere in the country – can’t get anything like this for less than RM200 in Kuala Lumpur, that’s for sure.

  15. The temple (大伯公)has been there forever… At least before I was born. But it has been renovated so now it looks a lot nicer. Looking forward to more pictures of my hometown!

    Just as I thought! I vaguely remember there being a temple there but I cannot remember it being so nice. Had to walk back a hundred metres or two that day from where I parked my car in front of the market to take the photograph.
    Stick around – many more to come. You may know the bride, the youngest sister of your schoolmate/classmate, Malcomn.

  16. I think outside KL, the hotels are usually fully booked for buffet dinners on Ramadan. The bosses love treating their people to a lavish dinner this time of the year, and there are a lot of companies out there.

    Not here. In fact, other than this hotel in Bintulu, I have not heard of any hotels in the state having such buffets…or maybe there are, just that I have not heard of them.

    At one time, they were very popular – every hotel would have it and they would be packed. I guess it has lost its appeal – people don’t go and gorge themselves with food like that anymore…and what can one expect from hotel food? You’ve eaten one, you’ve eaten them all.

    Here, bosses treat their employees come New Year or Chinese New Year, the annual company dinners. We are different here, very different.

  17. Bintulu! Oh my, i think my last trip there was more than 20 years ago? Really cannot remember a thing. But i remember we went to the beach taking a lot pictures! hahahhahahha

    20? You must have been a little girl then. Time to go again. :D

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