Monday, September 25, 2006

Scenes - Sarikei Wharf Terminal 1 Boats

Sarikei express boat (boxy design) - 1974

Sarikei express boats (bullet design) - 2004 (source: Sarawak Ministry of Urban Development & Tourism)

Toot! Toot! The Sarikei-Binatang (now Bintangor)-Sibu express boats horned for their passengers who were still sipping kopi-O (black coffee) in the nearby kopitiam (coffeeshop). The Rejang River was the lifeline of Sarikei in the 1950-80's due to poor road infrastructure. Folks had to patiently follow the meandering river on boats. Naturally the wharf was the centre of activity in Sarikei where goods and people embarked and disembarked.

Sarikei Wharf Terminal 1 boats - 2004. Find the Kuching express boat heading to Terminal 2.

Sarikei Wharf Terminal 1 boats - 2004. Low Tide.

Distances between towns were reduced in the 90's as new roads penetrated dense tropical forests. To entice people to ride the river rather than hit the roads, the boxy express boats of the 70's were replaced by faster bullet shaped ones in the 90's. Business continued to slow exponentially with more people using the ferry points to drive to Bintangor and Sibu. Sibu's Rejang Bridge completion in Apr 2006 further reduced travel time. The express boats changed routes to ply the rural river towns in the 2000's.

Sarikei Wharf Terminal 1 boats - 2005 (source: Petre). This type of old boat serve river villages.

Sarikei Wharf Terminal 1 boats - 2005 (source: Gong NH)

The rubber tyres hanging on the sides of the boats are used as dampers to reduce the impact of boats banging into each other when docking. In the peak period of the 70's-80's, Sarikei wharf was full of express boats that departed hourly to Bintangor-Sibu with notices & fake clocks displaying the departure time and destinations. The boats were sometimes docked two deep and passengers had to walk through another boat or walk precariously on the ledge of the boats to reach the wharf.

Sarikei Wharf Terminal 1 boats - 2006. High tide. (source: Yong Chen Seng)

Sarikei Wharf Terminal 1 boats - 2006 (source: Lam Lai Chee). Find the isolated convectional rain in the distant background.

On the right of the Terminal 1 is the docking area of the privately owned small speed boats. You can charter them to drive you to places like Tanjung Manis. The price is negotiable. A whole day's trip to Belawai Beach will set you back RM$200-250 and the tan by the warm river breeze is complimentary.

Toot, Toot! .... Are all of you on board?


GongPiang said...

I recall many many years ago there was a Foochow family living in a wooden boat docked beside the wharf, on the side closes to the wet market. I think is a big family and you could see children wearing school uniform appearing from the boat in the morning and returning back after school. Just right infront of the boat you could have your one and only supplier of PienPienHu then....

gongpiang is replacing swift drops

jw said...

hmmm ... are u sure those are not students living in "Bukit Huan" (i'm not sure the correct spelling for this place.)?

Another classic dish from FooChow. I guess the correct pronounciation is "DiangBienHu" which means the Stickiness on the wok's side hehehee ...

Daniel Yiek said...

Gong Piang,
I dont recall that family coming off the boat. Good anecdote.

Yes, that stall by the Rejang River has great Diang Bien Hu. I remember those benches on soil! I believe the stall owner's son is the one still cooking it at the 1st shop of Payang Puri Hotel Block. I had a blog post on that.

The spelling is close enough..:-)
The correct spelling is Bukit Huang.

gongpiang said...

You must speak it with a Foochow lingo....MuKeeWang! No one in Sarikei called it Bukit Huang.

I think I a old enough to recall the family living by the jetty, the man took a new wife (Iban) after the death of the first wife who die after capsize of their boat. The man with his new wife continue to live at the same place for several years. I think he would be probably in his 90s if he is still around.

burunghelang said...

In the many trips to and fro Sibu during the river taxis' hayday, each trip was very long, cold, dark and accompanied with the blasting Anita Mui's MTV playing in the small tv hanging in front .... Again, this is one of the memories from my grandmother's time.

Daniel Yiek said...

SIBU: The first express boat plying the Sibu-Kapit route was launched in 1968.

Chairman of Sarawak Express Boats Association (Third, Sixth and Seventh Division), Lau Hieng Choon recalled he was still skippering the traditional motor launch along the Sarikei route when the Kapit route was launched.

During those times, he said, the Kapit route was not as popular as the Sibu-Sarikei route as the logging industry had yet to gain traction.

Distance, lack of river transportation and various inconveniences could be the reason why the people shunned travelling to Kapit back then.

In comparison, the Sibu-Sarikei route was more popular due partly to the poor road condition between Sibu and Sarikei.

On the Kapit trip, Lau recalled he once took a 6.30am express boat and only arrived in Kapit at 7.30pm.

It was almost a day trip but Lau said nothing could be done about it as the express boats back then used the 216hp engine that produced only 20 per cent of the power generated by modern-day engines of more than 1000hp.

“Today, it takes only about three hours to reach Kapit, depending on passenger load and the water flow. If there were fewer passengers and the current favoured the express boats, the journey would be faster.”

By the 1970’s and 1980’s, Lau said the logging industry had mushroomed along the Rajang River and that directly pushed up the demand for more travelling schedules, hence the need for more express boats.

Within a few years, popularity of the Sibu-Kapit route spiralled, so much so that the express boat industry became an instant hit.

At its peak, Lau recalled, there were more than 150 express boats plying the Rajang River, covering routes to Sarikei, Meradong and Kapit. For the Sibu-Sarikei route alone, there were more than 50 boats in operation, he added.

“Everyone jumped on the bandwagon, hoping for a windfall. It was the talk of the town and during those days, it was one of the most popular industry,” he told thesundaypost.

By the 1990’s, improved road accessibility between Sibu and Sarikei had a protracted impact on river transport between Sibu and Sarikei.

“It was like a domino effect. Naturally, with improved road accessibility between Sibu and Sarikei, few people took the trouble to use express boats as they could conveniently use road transport which was a much better alternative.”

l From Page 1

Express boats operators plying the Sibu-Sarikei routes had to pay a heavy price for development after road transport between Sibu and Sarikei became easily accessible.

As a cost-saving measure, Lau said express boat operators had no choice but to phase out the Sibu-Sarikei route by 1996.

Page 1

Daniel Yiek said...

Page 2

By the early 2000’s, the express boat industry suffered a further blow with many speculating it would not last long.
But every cloud has a silver lining and when the Sibu-Sarikei route was stopped, operators switched to alternative routes, which by then, had become rather lucrative.
New routes like the Sarikei-Tanjong Manis, Sibu-Matu Daro and Sibu-Song-Kapit sprouted up and the operators used their boats to service these new routes, Lau said.
Over the years, he added, expressboat designers also came up with new ideas — from the traditional boats made of plywood to the latest made of aluminium alloy.
The engine power had also increased substantially as well as the size of the boats that could accommodate more passengers.
For instance, Lau said boats of the 1980’s only had a seating capacity of 60 compared to the latest models boats that could carry up to over 150 passengers.
Those built for export have a seating capacity of up to 330.
The advent in technology also revolutionised the design of express boats with many boasting comfortable chairs, spacious leg room, fully air-conditioned cabin and an interior designed like an airplane.
Lau said the cost of building an express boat also escalated — from about RM500,000 each in the 1990’s to almost RM1 million each in recent years.
Managing director of Express Bahagia (2020) Sdn Bhd Ling Kouk Chuong is optimistic the express boat industry is here to stay.
He highly commended the fixed operation schedules as one contributing factor that would ensure the industry survive through tough times.
Under this programme implemented by the Sarawak Rivers Board some 10 years ago, he said no single operator could operate a trip from Sibu to Kapit at his time.
Elaborating, he said if an operator had already chosen an operation schedule — say 1.30pm for Sibu-Kapit trip — he would be entitled to operate that schedule and nobody could disturb it.
He thus dismissed the notion that express boats could be a sunset industry due to road development projects currently being implemented.
The state government recently approved a multi-million road development project linking Sibu to Kanowit-Song-Kapit under the 10th Malaysia Plan.
“Whether or not that will effect the express boat industry remains to be seen,” he said.

Daniel Yiek said...

7 June 2010
EXPRESS boats operating between Kuching and Sibu are facing a bleak future after getting fewer and fewer passengers each day.

There used to be at least six express boats making return trips between Kuching and Sibu daily with short stops at Sarikei and Bintangor.

But currently, only two boats are servicing this route daily — one that leaves Kuching at 8.30am, and another that leaves Sibu at 11.30am.

The reason why they are losing out is because air travel is now cheaper and the road networks have improved.

Boat operator Ling Kuok Chiong was servicing the Kuching-Sibu express route for about 20 years. He finally decided to sell his boats and is now only focussing on the Sibu-Kapit route.

“The express business was really good in the 1980s and 1990s because express boats were cheaper compared with air travel, and faster than land travel. Besides, there were not that many express buses those days,” he said.

“Over and above these, diesel prices kept going up — fromabout 70 sen per litre to RM1.43 per litre now,” he said.

Ling said he sold off some of his express boats in early 2000 after he noted a big drop in passengers and eventually scrapped his Kuching-Sibu service completely.

Today, he maintains only three express boats to service the Sibu-Kapit route.

“Business is still good between Sibu and Kapit because there’s no connecting roads yet but I hope the fuel prices will not be increased too much, otherwise, operators like me will again suffer,” he said.

A return trip used 1,200 litres of diesel and tickets were priced at RM30 per trip for first class, RM25 for second class and RM20 for economy class. An express boat can seat up to 200 passengers.

Concurring with Ling, an employee of Express Bahagia, who did not wish to be named, said currently only one express boat would depart from here to Sibu daily.

“What used to be a full house daily, now have become just a few passengers. We only enjoy good business during Gawai when people are rushing back to their longhouses for the celebration,” he said.

He said the boat would make stops at Tanjung Manis, Sarikei and Sibu and one way ticket was priced at RM40 for Kuching to Tanjung Manis and Sarikei and RM45 for Kuching to Sibu.

“A trip would take between four and a half hours and five hours,” he said.

Compared to air travel, a person could reach Sibu from Kuching in about half an hour for less than RM100 these days, he said.

Sarawak Third, Sixth and Seventh Divisions Express Boat Association chairman Lau Hieng Choon said there used to be hundreds of express boats connecting the towns in the state but now only a few places needed them.

“These places are now connected by roads and many people can afford to buy their own cars, so they have stopped using express boats for nearly 10 years,” he said.

“The only routes that are still relevant for us are Kapit, Matu-Daro and Igan areas which are not connected by roads yet.”

He said many of his association members had ventured into other businesses including operating express buses which were more profitable and sustainable.

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