Sarawak on a Budget
You have numerous amazing memories of fun-filled holidays to far off places. You made new friends, you have the souvenirs, you are rejuvenated and recharged, feeling better than ever and cannot wait to go on your next trip.
But then you remember the credit card bills and doubt sets in! Getting on a plane for an overseas holiday is great fun but there’s always a price to pay. And in these challenging times it’s impossible to go anywhere without generating hefty credit card debts, or is it?
Who says travelling has to be costly? As a matter of fact, one of the best ways to a more meaningful trip is to spend a lot less, which will make you gain a lot more. And there is a unique part of Malaysia that everyone really should visit. That place is Sarawak. Sarawak is one of the best places in the world to gain a lot without spending plenty. There are countless things to do, interesting places to visit, various accommodation options, and best of all – everything can be achieved without spending an exorbitant amount!
Budget travellers can still have a meaningful travel experience. First of all, use a simple mantra – I want to travel. Next, establish the need to travel on a budget. Being mentally and physically prepared is key to successful budget travelling.
First off, begin with a good plan, and as much as possible, stick to it. There is a good amount of research involved too, for example the best time to save travelling costs is when it is not travel season. Flights and accommodation can be 50 – 60% cheaper during the off season or during school term, making a long weekend a lot less expensive for a family of 4.
Currently, three airlines fly to Kuching from KLIA and these are Malaysia Airlines, AirAsia and Malindo. We recommend you book directly with the airline but first visit each site and see which one offers the best rates. If you are planning far ahead, we recommend you sign up for their newsletters as you will be the first to know when there are any special offers.
Where should you stay if you are on a budget? Sarawak offers various accommodation options for solo travellers, couples, families, groups and backpackers. Couch surfing is growing in popularity. There aren’t any high end house sitting opportunities in Sarawak but there are more and more properties on AirBnB. Do comment below if you recommend any other places!
Other accommodation suitable for budget travellers to Sarawak includes:
- Inns, motels and budget hotels – there are plenty of options scattered around Kuching, especially near the Waterfront area. A dorm bed and a simple breakfast at an inn cost an average of RM15 per night. Check out https://www.sarawak-vacation-destinations.com/kuching-cheap-hotels.html for more info.
- Hostels, apartments, guest houses, homestays, co-living – if you prefer staying at a place where you can cook, then this would be a good option, however check the requirements of the host as well as the location and surrounding areas prior to booking, to ensure you know the dos and don’ts and are not far away from the places you wish to visit otherwise you may incur more costs and any savings will be superficial. If you are travelling alone, most solo travellers and backpackers tend to opt for hostels that sometimes offer free meals. Usually, discounts are also available for longer stays. For more information, check out https://theculturetrip.com/asia/malaysia/articles/the-10-best-backpacker-hostels-in-kuching-malaysia/ for some of the best backpacker hostels in Kuching. If you prefer a mono culture approach, explore these ethnic-friendly homestays https://www.beraduddesa.com/homestay-kampung-benuk.html (Bidayuh community), https://www.beraduddesa.com/homestay-kampung-senau.html (Melanau community), https://www.beraduddesa.com/homestay-kampung-telaga-air.html (Malay community) and more. You can also visit http://dccihomestay.com/homestay/ for a list of Dayak homestays, where prices range from RM30 – RM150/night or RM30 – RM200/pax in areas as far as Bario, Kanowit, Lawas, Miri, and Sibu.
Travellers experiencing communal living in a long house.
- Work and stay for free/volunteers – another way budget travellers can save is to exchange either your work and/or your time for accommodation, which can also include free meals and other fun activities arranged by the organiser, such as cooking or yoga classes. Check this site to see some of the available opportunities in Sarawak https://www.worldpackers.com/search?q=sarawak&order_by=.
- Home-swap – Now if you have seen the film ‘The Holiday’ with Cameron Diaz and Kate Winslet, you will know what a home-swap is. This concept is a bit different to AirBnB as members become part of a global exchange programme that allows them to swap homes with each other whenever they want, staying for free! Check out https://www.lovehomeswap.com/.
- House-sitting and/or pet-sitting – this is where you volunteer to look after a home and the owner’s pets while the home owners are at work or on holiday, and in return you get free lodging. If you or your kids are crazy about animals, this might be an option however, on this particular site there are currently no options for this but that may change in the future https://www.trustedhousesitters.com/.
- Couch-surfing – fancy staying on a host’s ‘couch’ (or usually in an extra room) for free? This is another awesome opportunity to save on your accommodation costs, especially if you are travelling solo. Find a host at https://www.couchsurfing.com/place?location_text=Sarawak%2C+Malaysia.
Another important factor when travelling on a budget is food. Should we cut down on eating just to save costs? No, please do not let this be an option! Travelling to Sarawak is the best time to try out local delicacies and taste food that often isn’t available anywhere else in Malaysia.
But if you really want to save on food, then bring instant or ready meals packed from home but you are missing an opportunity to try out Sarawak’s incredible cuisine.
Another option is to shop for groceries at the local markets and cook your own meals. Kuching or the outskirts has several markets to choose from:
- Serian Wet Market – this is a go-to place if you are looking for fresh fish and seafood, vegetables and all types of fruits, especially the king of fruits – durian! The market is located at 19, Jalan Bandar Serian, Serian, and it’s just over an hour from the centre of Kuching.
- Medan Niaga Satok – if you don’t fancy the drive, then this market would be a better choice as it is only about 10 minutes’ from Kuching Waterfront. Known locally as ‘Satok Weekend Market’, you’ll have a great time exploring exotic vegetables and fruits that you may have not seen before! The market is located at Q309, Petra Jaya.
Sarawak’s famous Terubuk salted fish is a popular item at Medan Niaga Satok.
Sarawak has several night markets and you can’t visit a night market without eating! And there are plenty of street food opportunities at hawker stalls linked to the night markets:
- Uptown Satok at the Civic Centre (opens Friday – Sunday) and located only about 5 minutes’ drive from Kuching Waterfront – food, clothing and accessories.
- Pasar Malam Metrocity Matang, Petrajaya (opens Wednesday – Saturday) – over 100 stalls selling food, clothing and accessories.
- Pasar Seni Jalan Haji Taha (opens Wednesday – Saturday) – food, clothing (good bundle choices, especially Batik) and accessories.
- Pasar Malam MPKS, UniGarden (opens daily) – enjoy the food and entertainment by the buskers.
Travellers trying out Sarawak’s local noodles.
Apart from these night markets, we recommend you visit Pasar Malam Kota Samarahan, Kai Joo Lane Night Market and Pasar Malam Giant Semariang. Sarawak is one of the greatest foodie destinations – but if you are a little unsure of what to try first, we recommend these affordable and tasty dishes: Kolo Mee (this is one of the most popular budget-eats in the city), Sarawak Laksa, Kampua Mee, Tomato Crispy Mee, Belacan Bihun, Kompia, Midin Belacan, Manuk Pansuh, Umai Ikan, Terung Dayak, Dabai, Linut, Kuih Selorot, Tumpik, Kek Lapis and Sago Worms!
Sago worms, a unique street food that can be found at wet markets in areas such as Mukah.
Great travel is all about experiences and eating at night markets is a great experience. In Sarawak, you can have great experiences with a little bit of adventure, while sticking to your budget.
Taxis and ride sharing apps can add to the cost of travel. So instead of renting a car, or getting a Grab, why not try other options such as walking, cycling, hitch-hiking, or taking public transport? Sarawakians are more considerate drivers and tend to give way to pedestrians plus Kuching is a more friendly pedestrian city than other places.
Remember our recommendation to stay near places of interest or areas which are accessible by foot? Doing so allows you to walk around without having to spend excessively on transport. Just remember to stay hydrated.
Kuching is a more pedestrian friendly city than many others.
Sarawak is a paradise for nature seekers & those with an adventurous spirit.
One of Kuching’s best kept secrets is the cycling tour that mixes nature and culture as you explore back lanes and alleys often missed on a normal holiday. Of course it also covers the state museum and other prominent destinations but it’s the lanes, the alleys and visits to local villages that stand out for most people.
Is it time to leave Sarawak already? Even if you are on a tight budget, it does not mean that you cannot shop for souvenirs to treasure all the memories you’ve created during your trip. Go ahead and splurge on cliché souvenirs like fridge magnets, key chains and t-shirts, but here are some other fun and affordable souvenir ideas!
- Write postcards to your family and friends and mail them out. In the digital era, nothing beats a reminder of an analogue era which is why everyone still loves to receive a handwritten postcard!
- Scour the night markets, flea markets and thrift stores, and hunt for some great deals – you never know what treasure you might find!
- If you have fallen in love with Sarawak food – which we can assure you, you will – why not bring some home, for example the Terubuk salted fish or Kuih lapis, and have a get-together with friends and family where you can cook up a simple meal?
- Local artisans’ handicrafts – in promoting sustainable tourism, why not purchase souvenirs that add purpose to the local community? Sarawak has some talented artisans and there are lots of interesting buys along the waterfront but be prepared to haggle.
- Freebies – perhaps, the best souvenirs are those which are free, and you can grab some of these during your stay, for example brochures and maps but do remember not to go overboard.
- Capture photos and/or videos of your experiences with the locals, for example one of you playing a Sarawak traditional game. Priceless yet inexpensive souvenirs!
Get a picture of you battling the locals in a traditional game of batak lampung.
Travelling is something that we should enjoy and embrace, and travelling on a budget makes you appreciate the simple pleasures that life has to offer. It opens your eyes, your mind and your heart. You will make new friends, learn new things in a more interesting way, experience the local way of life, and save money!
As a budget traveller, it is handy for you to have a plan as a guide. But bear in mind that we need to accept the fact that as travellers, some plans do not always go to plan!. When this happens, make the most of the situation – just have fun and create new memories!
Do you have a unique experience or interesting story/stories of other people who have travelled on a budget to Kuching? Share them (including photos) in the comments section and on STB’s social media. We look forward to hearing from you!
If you purchase one of the ‘Sia Sitok Sarawak’ packages – intended for Sarawakians and Non-Sarawakians residing in Sarawak – you can enjoy discounts of up to 50% comprising of over 30 travel attractions in Kuching, Sibu, Mukah, Bintulu, Miri and Mulu. The campaign runs until 31st December 2020, for travels up to 31st March 2021. Go for a tour of Miri’s city for only RM34/pax or join a World War II Historic Tour for only RM45/pax. For more information, visit https://sarawak.travel/explore-all.
Don’t forget to submit an e-health declaration form at least 12 hours before entering Sarawak. For more details, click here.