A sly combination of persistent pressure, threats and bribes have coerced friends and family to come visit me in my exile. Unfortunately once they are duped into coming, there's honestly nothing much to do here tourist-wise. Even the guidebook's woefully thin with barely enough items of interest to fill a handful of pages. With all the natural attractions sights out-of-reach hundreds of kilometres away, the city environs itself might as well be a deserted ghost town.
At the moment, cash spillover from the numerous oil and gas multinationals here still gushes out constantly - along with money printed from the timber felled in the lush tropical jungles. But natural resources like these don't last forever - in the blink of a couple of decades, they would be exhausted and this litle city would naturally fade into obscurity as many of our forgotten tin mining towns have. Even now the city's young professionals are leaving in droves.
Foreseeing such a calamitous event, the city's forefathers have been touting Miri as a resort city and the gateway to the wild hoping to lure the almighty tourism dollar. Oddly enough, the attractions offered - the world-renowned Mulu Caves, the spectacular Niah Caves, beautiful beaches, exciting game fishing, colorful coral reefs, exotic tropical rainforests - all lie miles away from the city itself. For a resort city, there's really nothing much to do here. No wonder most tourists think of the city as an overnight stopover before jetting off some place more interesting. Even the locals from hereabouts go somewhere else for recreation and you're selling the town as a tourist mecca?
O brave new world that has such people in it.
Which is a pity since Miri should be the main event rather than the sideshow.
1) Be nice to the Travellers
Seriously. Don't fail at this as the peninsula has. Nothing quite as important as having perfect sign posts and ready information. Tourist maps should be readily available with pertinent information included ( e.g. bus routes ). Unless you're clandestinely peddling marijuana, hiding the obscure tourist information booth in the backyard of a seedy inner-city bus station isn't the way to go.
And can I request that some of the surly, incompetent waitstaff / salespersons be sent to a gulag for formal retraining? I simply can't spend my days giving them public dressing-downs for lousy customer service!
2) Arts & Crafts
Don't even mention the apathetic handicraft centre left to languish in the sweltering summer haze!
Concerted efforts should be made to revitalize the centre. Monthly fairs on the weekends? Offering free booths to the locals ( and even the expats ) to showcase their own works of art? Have classes to teach those willing to learn? The arts & crafts of the indigenous people here are simply unique - and worthy of acknowledgement. Beautiful batik handicraft abound in the city yet there are hardly any art galleries around to showcase their hard work. Even the little tamu market selling local produce needs a serious makeover.
And let's face it, cultural villages with indigenous tribes grouped into separate houses might be kitschy but it works to keep the shutterbug tourists happy.
3) Places of Interest
Unfortunately Miri isn't all that old a town. Perhaps a century or so? Apart from the first oil-well here named the Grand Old Lady, there are hardly any other places of historical significance - even the older shophouses by the river have been refurbished to look almost brand-new. There is a tiny clocktower but it has been whitewashed over so that's passe. And unless it's Tsukiji Fish Market, there's nothing much to boast about the market here.
So, sorry guys but you gotta start building some sights. You already have a crocodile farm and marina built which is great. But you do need more than that. Really. Theme parks. Entertainment venues. Hell, even a leaning tower would do.
4) Enough with the Parks & Seaside
Really... parks? Perfectly good recreational activity for the sedentary locals but unless you have an extraodinarily unique concept for a park, don't even bother putting it in the guidebook. No sane tourists will flying in here to gaze at potted plants. And the water's here are coloured an awful murky brown. Touting the dubious beaches here for a swim would be seriously counter-productive.
For the adventuresome few, introducing hiking trails through the hills surrounding the city would be good.
5) All that Jazz
Evidently having the jazz festival here every month of May does draw the crowds.
But rather than growing complacent with the plaudits, the festival should expand and improve by involving the city itself. Emulate the eminently successful Edinburgh Festival. Rather than confine itself to the country club exclusivity of one venue, they should paint the town! Have the artistes showcase their talents in the clubs and pubs around town. Get the nearby city schools to participate with choirs and glee clubs. Promote special offers for jazz artistes that month - books / CDs / DVDs. Instead of relying heavily on outside talent, invest in our local jazz acts as well. Sheila Majid. Sean Ghazi. Shanon Shah. Atilia.
Even the petite Zee Avi who originated from here!
Seriously, Mirians, why settle for the opening act to the wild outdoors when you can be the diva of the north instead?