There was only one reason we Durian-Obsessed peeps got interested in Lawas — Durian. This tiny little sliver of Sarawak is famous for it.
But, once we started hanging out in this sleepy, tourist-free town, we realized that it’s really a beautiful area with plenty of cool nature-things to do between all the durian snacking. The awesome is just not obvious.
So to make it easy and obvious for you how to have the Best Durian Trip Ever in Lawas, here’s a Lawas Durian Guide and also adventures to give your belly needs a break to digest and help you have an amazing trip to Lawas.
What you’ll find in this guide:
- About Lawas: Regional Overview
- Best Lawas Durians to Hunt
- Other Fruits Famous in Lawas
- Lawas Durian Farms to Visit
- Nature Adventures Around Lawas
- Where To Stay For Maximum Durian Hunting
- How To Travel To Lawas
The town sits on the banks of a sluggish brown river, like all almost-big cities in Borneo, which happens to have a healthy population of man-eating crocs. Not joking. Always check with locals before you hop in a river here.
The Lawas region is big. It includes the swampy crocodile-coastline full of mangrove swamps and proboscis monkeys all the way into the cool foggy mountain border with Indonesia, sparsely populated by the Lun Bawang Tribe, highland durian farms, and gorgeous views (find out how to visit the hot springs below ↓ ↓ ).
Lawas Town is small. In 30 minutes you can zigzag on foot down every lane of Chinese shop houses, counted all 6 hotels, and circled back around the main indoor vegetable market (photo below ↓↓↓) where a few fruit vendors set up in the parking lot with teraps and wild durians.
There’s a gym that opens in the late afternoon, a massage shop that looks rather brothel-y (but does good reflexology, we weren’t brave enough to try body massage) and a vegetarian restaurant (C.K. Healthy Vegetarian) that has a cute interior but only serves fake meats, no vegetables. Except rice, if rice is a vegetable. There is always rice.
But, if you’re a regular tourist in Lawas looking for packaged tours, architectural art walks, or exciting wildlife adventures I can see how the town could feel a little…dull.
But that’s because the Lawas is still “off-the-beaten-path” and it’s attractions are not well advertised.
May it stay tourism-innocent forever 😍
But probably it won’t. This sleepy river town might just become the most exciting and rewarding Durian Destination of your whole trip to Borneo.
Just make sure there will be durian available during your trip using our new App for iOs, Durian Season Tracker.
About Lawas Durians
In Lawas, the names are in Lun Bawang and Malay language.
The Lawas region has an extended durian season, thanks to having both lowland coast and mountains. The lowland season tends to be earlier than most places in Borneo, starting in early December or sometimes even November
(Depending on the year, in 2019 the season is delayed till end of December. But everywhere else was delayed till end of January. So. Still early)
Because of it’s location smack in the middle of Malaysian Borneo, Lawas is also a prime distribution center for durians moving from Kuching to Kota Kinabalu or vice versa.
This means you can often find durian in the Lawas Markets even when it’s not actually durian season in Lawas.
Lun Bawang: Lapun
Durian putih is the local Malay name for all Durio zibethinus type durians. Mostly these are grown in backyards and small orchards and are just seedling or kampung trees, not a specific variety.
Some Kampung trees are known to be particularly delicious and these will be sold separately by the piece or sometimes by the kg.
The rest are sold in pyramids tied together called ikats. Ikat literally means “tied.” You can choose the ikat, but you don’t get to choose the durians tied up in the ikat.
That means you have to buy the good and the bad together, and most vendors tend to spread out the goods evenly between the ikats to make sure everyone gets an equal number of good and bad durians.
I don’t buy ikats very often 😁
The quality of Tekkah in Lawas is amazing, and if you get the chance you should seek this out.
Tekkah is a durian variety originally from Peninsular Malaysia, but while farmers over there complain it has a low yield, the tree seems to *love* the environment in Lawas and gives high-yielding, deliciously bitter, fatty, creamy morsels of durian.
A not to be missed Lawas Durian experience.
D93 originates in Miri, and is not actually registered as a Malaysian variety. The number 93 was Mr. Henry Liaw’s lucky number. The “D” got added later.
The Liaw family owns a famous plant nursery, Khai Nguong. Each of the Liaw children started a new branch in a new city — Kota Kinabalu, Kuching, Sibu — until most farmers everywhere in Sabah and Sarawak have, at one time or another, purchased durian from Khai Nguong.
That’s where Alfred got his D93 trees. The fruit is similar to a D24 in taste and texture — super sticky, cookie-dough burnt sugar sweet — and is a variety you won’t find in Peninsular Malaysia.
Suluk King is a huge, fleshy, nutty-alcohol Hybrid between Durian putih and Dalit Oren (see below ↓↓).
There are many of these natural hybrids floating around, but there are 4 that have been given names and grafted — Suluk King among them. Suluk King came to Lawas from Limbang, and you can read the whole story in the blog post about Mr. Lo’s Lawas Durian Farm.
Where to find it: Lo’s Lawas Durian Farm
Lun Bawang: Dalit Isi Birar
The bright orange Durio graveolens, known locally as Dalit, is the most common durian you can find in Lawas.
The fruit can be found almost everywhere — at stalls along the roadsides, at both Mr. Lo’s and Joseph’s farms, at the Tamu, at the barbershop, etc.
It’s also often sold in ikats, which is usually a better buy than the Durian putih ikats.
So don’t worry about going hungry on Dalit Oren when you visit Lawas.
Lun Bawang: Lapun Isi Mesia
Red-fleshed Durio graveolens is not as common as the orange one. They don’t like the flat swamp-lands that much, so normally you’ll find them in Lawas’s higher elevation areas or being brought to the Lawas Market from Sipitang or Tenom.
In flavor, this one has a really big range. It can be almost tasteless, with just a fatty, creamy texture, to spring onion savory like some kind of waxy guacamole, to actually sweet and flavorful.
The most famous sweet one is a grafted variety called Otak Udang Galah.
Where to find it: Lawas Tamu, Menanggang Place, Trusan Market
Other Fruits Common in Lawas
The word for “Fruit” in Malay is Buah. Try it out while you’re in Lawas.
Rambutans & Pulasan (Nephelium lappaceum & mutabile)
These two relatives are easy to find in Lawas. Rambutan is the hairy one, while Pulasan is covered in short, elastic nubbies that feel strangely like stress-balls if you squeeze them gently.
They do taste pretty different. Pulasans are dangerous grape-juice-bombs, threatening to splatter when you twist them open. Rambutans can also be juicy, but tend to be a little drier and have firmer flesh, and a have a less musky flavor. The yellow rambutans are often juicier and sweeter than the Red.
Terap (Artocarpus odoratissimus)
Terap (Artocarpus odorattisimus) is so sweet it tastes more like a confection than a fruit.
It’s a relative of both jackfruit and cempedak, but its flavor and texture is very different. It’s softer, slurpier, with a sweetness like vanilla caramel.
The soft white interior is encased in velcro-like spines. When it’s fully ripe, you can rip these spines apart with your fingers, no knife needed!
Unfortunately it’s not TSA-approved, and most airlines will not allow you to take one on board because it’s considered “smelly.”
Bambangan (Mangifera pajang)
Lun Bawang: Mangan
The biggest mango of them all (I think), this mango species does not taste like mango. It is sweet and savory at the same time, like mango blended with basil into a fibrous gelato. If that makes any sense.
(It doesn’t. But neither does this mango).
It happens to be one of my favorite fruits, but do be careful as the thick skin has a latex that can make your skin and eager lips burn and blister. Eat with zen-like consciousness to maximize enjoyment.
Belenu (Mangifera caesia)
The creamy white custard of the mango family, Belenu is an oddball.
It’s a stinky fruit I have never yet learned to enjoy, with a strong perfume hinting at strawberries and dead raccoons.
Once you suck off the juicy cream, you’re left with tough fibers that cannot be chewed off the seed. Fun. Weird. Enjoy if you want to.
Dabai (Canarium odontophyllum)
Maybe the most addicting fruit in Lawas is Dabai. I swear, some people get so obsessed it’s weird.
Because Dabai obsessions is weird. Durian obsessions? Totally normal.
Dabai is also called the Tropical Olive. Trusan Market seems to offer the best Dabai selection.
Lawas Tamu or Outdoor Weekend Market
The Tamu has changed location. It is no longer at the roundabout, but in town. See the map below.
The easiest place to find a mass quantity of durian is at the Lawas Weekend Tamu on Friday and Saturday.
The market is there every day during the fruiting season, but on the weekends, it expands.
Beware that the Tamu can get crazy with traffic. Durian Lovers and Durian Sellers from Brunei make the trip every weekend because the prices are much cheaper.
A hearty spread of durian can get snapped up in minutes and sent off on their merry way to the Gadong Night Market in Brunei.
So be prepared to be fast. By 9AM, the durian bounty may be gone.
But the tamu is also a great place to find all sorts of exotic and rare jungle produce.
Locals come to sell whatever they have in their backyards and nearby their houses — herbs and spices, funky mushrooms, lots of ferns, flowers, and sometimes fruits that are very difficult to find on the normal commercial market.
Keep your eyes peeled and walk slowly through every aisle to find all sorts of treasures.
Just 20 minutes south of Lawas, before you get to the border of Brunei- Temburong, is a small roadside fruit market worth a pitstop.
The daily market is a single row of stalls offering some really good quality Dabai, red-fleshed Dalit durians, Bambangan mangoes, and all kinds of pickles and tempoyak.
They normally sell the Dabai both fresh and pre-cooked with salt, so you can easily pick up a snack to get you through the next Border Crossing.
So far in our experience, the quality of the fruit here tends to be better than at the Lawas Tamu, and the Dabai are especially big.
Lawas Durian Farms
You are unlikely to find Suluk King or Tekkah anywhere but on the farm, fresh, zingy, and exciting.
So make sure to plan some farm visits during your time in Lawas.
You can use our new Durian Season App to check when each of the farms will be fruiting.
Sebatang Durian Farm
This 30-acre farm has been passed down through the generations. Mostly, it has Dalit Oren trees that are close to 100 years old.
The farm is just 15 minutes from Lawas Town and you can book an all-you-can-eat Durian Package with Joseph.
Mr. Lo’s Durian Farms
Like most people in Lawas, Mr. Lo inherited his first durian farm from his grandfather.
Unlike most people, Mr. Lo decided to plant more durian, and different kinds of durian from the Department of Agriculture, Peninsular Malaysia, and just his own favorites.
His personal favorites are Tekka and Suluk King.
Tommy’s Farm in Merarap Hot Springs
The story of this farm, all by itself in pretty much the middle of nowhere, begins in 1995 when Alfred Padan, a member of the Lun Bawang tribe, decided to develop a property he owned with a natural outlet of hot spring water.
He decided to buy some durian trees from the Khai Nguong Nursery in Miri and plant them around his family’s house.
The farm is almost abandoned now, too remote to bother selling the durians in Lawas Town, or treat with chemicals like a commercial farm. Now the trees are are 24 years old and making numbing, tasty, organic durians.
Lawas Adventures And Things To Do
Punang Proboscis Monkey Spotting Boat Ride
The small fishing village Kampung Punang *can* organize a Proboscis Monkey Spotting Boat Tour for you, but it’s really best you book ahead with a guide for this one and don’t just show up on your own.
The best time for spotting Proboscis Monkeys is around 5PM, when it begins to cool down. Since this is a Muslim community, everyone will be gone for evening prayers. So you need to make sure someone is aware that you are coming and can be ready.
It’s a beautiful way to see the sunset, and we have spotted Proboscis Monkeys twice at Kampung Punang, just not at close range. We’ve had closer-range Proboscis Monkey experiences in Kuala Penyu, Kinabatangan, and the Brunei Water Village Tour.
If you want help setting up a Proboscis Monkey experience, feel free to send me an email at [email protected]
Penawan Waterfall Trek
The Penawan Waterfall Park is new, founded in just 2015 in an effort to save the area from logging.
There are 3 waterfalls, all equally gorgeous and majestic tumbling down the moist jungle cliff sides. The water is clean but clarity depends on how recently it’s been raining.
To visit all 3 waterfalls takes around 2 hours and requires some serious scrambling, muddy, leechy effort. This is not your casual “let’s go for an afternoon dip.”
Merarap Hot Springs Lodge
Extremely remote but worth it, this small lodge sits on Lun Bawang tribal land and is a natural hot spring bubbling out of the side of a wide and turbulent river.
Alfred and his son Tommy developed the hot spring into a well-maintained lodge and series of pools with varying heat levels. All the water is untreated and natural.
It takes around 2.5 hours on an extremely rough gravel road to reach the Merarap Hot Springs, so don’t plan on doing this as a day trip.
Where To Stay in Lawas
We now usually stay at Hotel Seri Malaysia, a no-fuss, really comfortable western-style room with views over the town or river. The Wi-Fi consistently works well and I have had exactly zero complaints. There is a swimming pool as well, which I’ve never used.
*Definitely* book online, as the walk-in price is like double what you’ll find online. Explain that one 🤔
Despite its somewhat worn appearance from the outside, this budget hotel above a popular Chinese restaurant might offer the best value. However, most rooms don’t have windows, which I personally think sucks.
The rooms are fairly new and clean, although some have obviously been smoked in by someone who didn’t quite get their cigarette out the window. Or the bathroom.
As of writing, the costs are like this:
- Queen Bed (no window) = Rm70
- King Bed (window) = Rm100
- King Bed + Twin (window) = Rm100
You can book the Borneo Hotel on Facebook.
Because of it’s large windows, I would personally chose Perdana Hotel over the Borneo Hotel.
Rooms are spacious but a bit worn out, and at Rm120 for a double room, the price is comparable to online booking with Hotel Seri Malaysia.
If you’ve decided to head for the hills, Menanggang Place on the way to Merarap Hot Springs or Bakelalan is a wonderful choice.
Leslie and his father, Daniel, run a beautiful homestay program surrounded by Daniel’s durian trees and other fruits. They also have a small hotel further up the hill.
There is no WiFi or cell reception here.
Check their website, www.menanggangplace.com, for details.
Merarap Hot Spring Lodge
The lodge at Merarap Hot Springs has basic but clean accommodations just steps away from the pools.
There are no other restaurants for maybe 50km, so staying here comes with a food package. You can order durian from Tommy’s Farm when you book in advance.
They do have WiFi, although it’s scanty so don’t expect to book airplane tickets or work online. You can use it for WhatsApp chat or Messenger and that’s about it.
Getting to Lawas
Sarawak operates as a semi-autonomous state, meaning that you have to get your passport stamped when you leave Sabah and enter Sarawak even though both are Malaysia.
You will also need to get your passport stamped if you enter from the south, or if you fly from anywhere except other places in Sarawak (like Miri).
So keep them passport pages empty in preparation for this trip.
Lawas has a very small airport with flights several times per week (not daily) to Kota Kinabalu, Miri, Limbang and Bakelalan in the hills.
This is a great option if you want to avoid extra passport stamps from overland crossing, are short on time, or want to experience something pretty amazing.
MASwings operates 9-seater Twin Otters fly low over the jungles of Borneo, making for a scenic entry into Lawas.
Check the MASwings website for flight schedules.
The roads in Lawas are paved and smooth and it’s easy to drive here even in a teeny tiny low-powered Kancil. You can take a bus, or you can drive yourself.
By Bus: You can book the Sipitang Express on Easybook.com or Busonlineticket. Buses do depart more often than listed online, but you’ll need to visit a local bus station to check prices and schedule.
Driving yourself: There are no cars for rent in Lawas or nearby Limbang, meaning you need to drive from Kota Kinabalu (3.5 hours driving) or Miri (7+ hours driving).
Driving from KK has been a painless border entry experience. The kiosks for exiting Sabah and entering Sarawak are literally right next to each other (see photo above ↑↑). They pass my passport to each other behind the window. We didn’t even have to get out of our car. And no one asked for any papers or checked the car registration. Easy.
Driving from Miri, on the other hand, involves 4 border entries and a whopping 8 stamps. In a car it’s not that bad, unless it’s a Sunday afternoon and you have to wait through loooooooong queues 8 times. By bus it’s a huge waste of time.
I hope this guide has helped you feel confident in planning your Most Ever Epic Durian Trip to Lawas!
There is so much to see, discover, and Eat!
But to help you even more, I’ve created a Sample Itinerary that you will find for free in our New App. Click the image below to learn more.
Malaysian Durian Hunting Map
Use this map to navigate to other durian hotspots around Borneo or Peninsular Malaysia!
Boom. Awesome Durian Vacation!