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The little-known story of floating dead bodies off Buntal Bay

What would you do if you came across a scene of floating dead bodies? It is an unimaginable sight for today’s Sarawakians but that was what happened during the early part of World War II.

Before we get into the floating dead bodies, let’s talk about the Japanese attack on Kuching during World War II.

On Dec 16, 1941, the Japanese forces managed to secure Miri and Seria with only very little resistance from British forces.

About a week later on Dec 22, a Japanese convoy left Miri for Kuching but was spotted by a Dutch flying boat (otherwise known as a seaplane). It radioed in a warning to a Dutch submarine, HNLMS K XIV which was under the command of Lieutenant Commander Carel A. J. van Groenevald.

Since HNLMS K XIV saw the Japanese coming, it managed to break the Japanese convoy on Dec 23. It attacked two Japanese troopships Hiyoshi Maru and Katori Maru off the coast of Santubong.

Both of these army transports sunk together with hundreds of Japanese troops. Another troopship Hokkao Maru was beached to prevent it from sinking while Nichiran Maru was less seriously damaged.

The rest of the troops were able to land and they were met by the 15th Punjab Regiment which resisted the attack. But the British Indian Army was soon outnumbered and retreated up the river. By Christmas eve, Kuching was already in Japanese hands.

What happened to the dead bodies?
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Kampung Buntal.

According to George Jamuh in an article published The Sarawak Gazette on Dec 7, 1949, one of the troopships was bombed at Tanjung Sipang on Santubong Peninsular.

After the bombing, hundreds of dead bodies floated into Buntal Bay with many of them washed ashore and some even wedged between the roots of mangrove trees.

“For weeks Buntal villagers did not dare to eat fish, particularly crabs, and some ikan badukang that were sent to the Kuching fish market contained fingers and toes of Japanese soldiers,” George wrote.

Soon enough, the area was full of flies, maggots and foul odours. Then, it came to a point that the villagers near Buntal bay, without waiting for orders, buried these dead bodies.

The villagers buried them where they found them, leaving some mark above each grave.

After some weeks, perhaps after the Japanese started to settle in Kuching, some of the Japanese officers came down and forced all the local men to exhume the bodies.

George was doubtful if all were the dead bodies were dug up because there were reports of more remains found after the war.

He wrote, “It was understood that only the skulls were taken to be cremated and the villagers were told that individual ashes were to be sent to relatives in Japan. This tale the villagers swallowed; but, in the absence of identity discs or dented numbers on the skulls, how could this be done? Unless, of course, it was done in the way APC powders were mixed and distributed by the Japanese.”

Now comes the question; is it possible that some of Japanese soldiers’ remains are still buried at Buntal bay?

KajoPicks: Check out these four coffee places in Bintulu

Apart from shopping complex, Bintulu is currently witnessing the rising number of different kind of eateries.

These include coffee places offering good coffee from dirty coffee to nitrogen-infused java and relaxing ambience for patrons to just hang out.

Here are four coffee places in Bintulu, Sarawak you need to check out:
1.Coffee Dream

Located at Parkcity Commerce Square, this coffee place has been operating since 2014.

Besides coffee, Coffee Dream is famous among the locals for its western food.

Omelette sandwich, spaghetti bolognese, mushroom soup, cheesy beef balls, mushroom cheese omelette, eggs Benedict, chicken Caesar salad are just the tip of their wide range of menu items.

For rice eaters out there, don’t worry because Coffee Dream has a selection of Asian favourites to choose from such as the typical nasi lemak.

While you are at it, might as well end your meal with one of their freshly baked cakes for dessert.

2.The Coffee Code Bintulu
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Do you like it dirty? Dirty Code from The Coffee Code.

The Coffee Code is Sarawak’s very own cafe chains. The first one was opened in Sibu, then Bintulu at Ibraco Town Square and the latest was in Kuching at Saradise, BDC.

When you’re at Coffee Code, how about giving the Dirty Code a try? It is their in-house version of dirty coffee. It is one of the best coffee places in town to spend your tea time because it serves wide range desserts.

Their specialty is perhaps waffles which come with different kind of toppings.

Coffee places Bintulu
Waffles at The Coffee Code Bintulu.
3.Escape Coffee


You can’t satisfy your coffee craving early in the morning at Escape Coffee. But you can satisfy your coffee craving late at night here because it opens from 12pm till 12am.

It is perfect for the late night work hustle since it provides free wifi.

Feeling hungry? They have good options of food on their menu such as beef sirloin steak, mixed grill, lamb chop, butter chicken waffle and chicken macaroni fruit salad.

4.Melt Cafe

The current star of Melt Cafe Bintulu, no, not its famed grilled cheese sandwich but its Nitro Coffee.

If you have not tried Nitro Coffee before, just imagine Guinness draft beer, only it’s coffee! Since the drink is infused with nitrogen, it has this rich, creamy head similar to Guinness.

So if you are a big fan of coffee, this beverage is definitely worth a try.

Longing for dessert? Give Melt Cafe’s Burnt Cheesecake a try. Some described Burnt Cheesecake as the alter ego to the classic New York cheesecake. The differences are this cake is burnt outside with toasty edges and without the usual pressed cookie base.

Of course you cannot leave Melt Cafe without trying its signature grilled cheese sandwich.

Melt Cafe Bintulu
Nitro Brew Coffee at Melt Cafe. Look at its creamy head on top of the glass!
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How the Nitro Brew Coffee looks like after few minutes.

3 trails in Similajau National Park you must visit

The nearest national park to the energy town of Sarawak, Bintulu, is Similajau National Park.

Widely known by its official name, ‘Similajau’ in the early days of the park’s establishment, locals preferred to call it ‘Likau’ after the biggest river flowing through the area.

The national park is more than just unperturbed coastlines. It has jungle trails for visitors to explore and enjoy the park’s diverse biodiversity.

According to Sarawak Forestry website, the park is home to 185 species of birds as well as 24 species of mammals including Borneo bearded pigs and macaques.

There is only one main trail at the park where one has to cross Sungai Likau via suspension bridge to start.

From there, the trail eventually breaks into eight different routes.

With eight trails to choose from, first-time visitors might not know which trail to take.

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Are you wondering which trail to take?
Here are KajoMag’s top 3 trails in Similajau National Park you must take at least once:
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Sungai Likau.
1.View Point trail

Imagine looking over South China Sea at the mouth of Sungai Likau. The View Point trail is about 1.3km long and takes about 40 minutes one-way.

A shelter sitting on top of a small rocky headland at the mouth of Sungai Likau will greet you at the end of this trail.

It is a fairly easy hike passing though few small streams.

2.Turtle Beach trails I and II
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The orange-coloured Turtle Beach II.

There are two turtle beaches and they are only about one kilometer apart. It takes about 3 hours and 15 minutes to reach Turtle Beach I and another 25 minutes to reach Turtle Beach II.

The whole stretch of Turtle Beaches I and II are about 3km long. So if you have extra time, you can slowly explore both beaches.

Speaking of time, after reaching Turtle Beach II, if you still have the time and stamina, continue to hike another 1 hour and 20 minutes to reach Golden Beach.

It is a very long walk but you can make the trip in a day as a long as you start early. Those who have visited the Golden Beach have raved about its beauty as the coastline is lined with scenic cliffs.

Both Golden and Turtle Beaches have similar golden-coloured sand. The sand consists mainly of large, well-rounded quartz grains that have an orange tint due to their high iron content.

Hans P. Hazebroek and Abang Kashim Abang Morshidi wrote in National Parks of Sarawak that the sand is derived from the Nyalau Formation sandstone that forms the coastal cliffs and inland river beds.

“Erosion by breaking waves and flowing breaks the sandstone down into its constituent mineral grains. Sea currents, which flow parallel to the coast, continuously distribute and redistribute the ebach sands.”

That explain why the sand at these beaches stays golden in color.

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Countinue ahead to Turtle Beaches I and II as well Golden Beach.

3.Batu Anchau
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The trail leads to Batu Anchau.

While the rest of the trails at Similajau National Park can be finished without any climbing, the Batu Anchau trail requires a little bit of climbing.

Hence, the trail is for those who are fit as the trail has several fairly steep sections. According to Hazebroek and Abang Kashim, this is a good route for those interested in watching forest birds. And you may see long-tailed macaques and gibbons along the way as well.

Tips and tricks

No matter which trail you are planing to take, the best is to start early. Wear light clothing to protect you against the tropical heat.

All these trails can be muddy after rain so wear shoes which come with strong grip. Additionally, do not forget your sunscreen and insect repellents.

Take part in a gastronomic adventure at Pasar Malam Bintulu

One of the many things you should never miss during a trip to the ‘energy town’ of Sarawak is a visit to Pasar Malam Bintulu.

Pasar Malam Bintulu, or the Bintulu Night Market, operates daily from 5pm to 10pm near the town’s old airport.

Pasar Malam Bintulu
A signage leading you to Pasar Malam Bintulu.
Vegetables and fruits at Pasar Malam Bintulu

For the locals, Pasar Malam Bintulu is a place to buy local produce both seasonal and unseasonal.

If you are unfamiliar with Sarawak’s local fruits, you can start by giving engkala (Litsea garciae) a try.

It is a pink-coloured fruit with a green-cap on top. Do you know engkala and avocado shared the same family? With that in mind, you can imagine that it has that creamy, buttery taste like an avocado.

When it is the fruit season, the market turns into the place to be to buy your durian or dabai (Sarawak’s black olive).

Other fruit include mangosteen, sour sop, rambutan, langsat and many more.

As for vegetables, you can even watch the traders pounding cassava leaves right there at the market to sell.

Visitors can also pick different kind of shoots, spinach, brinjal and green vegetables.

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Local black fungus typically used in clear soups and broths.
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The market offers both unseasonal and seasonal fruits like durian.
Local delicacies from the Malay to the Chinese

Another reason why Pasar Malam Bintulu is a local and visitor’s favourite is the wide variety of local delicacies.

Here you can find both Malay and Chinese delicacies under one roof.

The Malay stalls offer various kuih such as ketayap, apam balik, doughnuts, pudding and many more.

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Choose any of these delicacies to satisfy your sugar cravings.

Meanwhile at the Chinese stalls, kompia, fried stuffed tofu, five spice meat roll are the highlights.

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Can you spot the fried stuffed tofu and the Chinese meat roll?

Even if you are not looking for snacks, you can find one whole meal for your dinner at the night market.

Meat lovers would absolutely enjoy their trips to Pasar Malam Bintulu because here you can find chicken, fish and even pork grilled or fried.

And for carbs, you have the choices of rice or noodle cooked in Malay or Chinese style.

So it doesn’t matter if you are a local looking for groceries or if you are a visitor looking for a gastronomic adventure, Pasar Malam Bintulu is definitely worth a visit.

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Visit the market during the evening when the food were freshly cooked.
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Fresh soya for sale.

Toshinari Maeda, the Japanese nobleman who died off the coast of Bintulu during WWII

Bintulu, once a sleepy fishing village on the island of Borneo is largely known today for its booming oil and gas industry.

What lies deep down in the seabed off its coast is not just large reserves of natural gas, however, but a silent witness to one of the most mysterious air crashes during World War II.

A tragedy, mostly forgotten by many.

Toshinari Maeda – a samurai lord in Borneo

Toshinari Maeda was a Japanese marquis and a military general. Born to the former daimyo of Nanokaichi Domain* in Kozuke province (modern Tomioka city) in 1885, he was later adopted as the heir to the main branch of the Maeda clan in 1900.

The Maeda clan ruled the Kaga Domain from 1583 until 1868 and was one of the most powerful samurai families in Japan. The clan became daimyo (feudal lords)  during the Edo period.

He became the 16th head of the Maeda clan on June 13, 1900.

*Domain or han is the Japanese historical term for the estate of a warrior after the 12th century of a daimyo in the Edo period (1603-1868) and early Meiji period (1868-1912).

Toshinari Maeda’s military career and death

Maeda had served as a battalion commander in the 4th Regiment of the Imperial Guard of Japan. He had also served as military attache to Great Britain from 1927 till 1930 and had actually retired from active military duty in 1939.

He was later called out of retirement to command operations in Borneo on April 1942 after the Pacific War broke out. By then, Sarawak had already been under Japanese occupation since Christmas Eve of 1941.

During World War II, the lieutenant-general became the first commander of the Borneo Defence Army which encompassed Japanese forces in northern Borneo (Sarawak, Brunei, Labuan and North Borneo).

His office of the Borneo Head of Military Defence Army,  at first headquartered in Miri, was then moved to Kuching according to his orders.

On Sept 5, 1942, after witnessing the execution of five men at Padungan, Kuching for allegedly stealing petrol,  he boarded a plane with two other officers to Labuan to officiate an airport named after him.

They never arrived.

A month later, the plane he was on was found to have crashed off the coast of Tanjung Batu in Bintulu.

Maeda was 57 years old.

The island of Labuan itself had been renamed Maeda Island or Pulau Maeda during the Japanese occupation in remembrance of the marquis. Maeda had also been promoted to ‘General’ posthumously.

A sunset view of Tanjung Batu*.
A sunset view of Tanjung Batu where Toshinari Maeda was believed to have crashed.

Was it a curse?

The Japanese suspected the cause of the crash to be sabotage or suicide; but the Sarawak people attributed it to a curse brought on by Maeda himself.

In his post as commander of the Borneo Defence Force (which later became the 37th army), Maeda took up residence at the Astana.

J.B Archer, a Batu Lintang camp internee and the last chief secretary to Rajah Vyner Brooke, in a June 1, 1948 issue of the Sarawak Gazette details how Maeda may have brought this curse down upon himself:

The main entrance of the Astana is the imposing and rather ancient tower overlooking the chief door to the palace.

Now there is a Brooke tradition that the exterior of this tower must not be whitewashed or renovated.

If this should occur, so runs the legend, some disaster will take place.

The tower had therefore became covered by an ivy-like creeper, and parts of the original building were crumbling in venerable decay.

The Japanese, vainglorious and victorious, saw fit to put this ruin into apple-pie order.

The creeper was torn down, masons, plasterers and white washers got busy.

Shortly afterwards Field Marshal Prince Maeda, cousin of the Emperor Sun god and Generalissimo, fell miserably to earth in a crashed plane somewhere round about Miri.

To this day, no one knows the cause of the crash and Maeda’s body was never found.

Toshinari Maeda’s legacy

After Borneo was liberated from Japanese occupation, Labuan assumed its former name. It became part of the North Borneo Crown Colony on 15 July 1946.

The Japanese had set up a Belian post at the beach of Tanjung Batu not far from the crash site in honor of Maeda, which was later taken back to Japan by the Maeda family after the Japanese occupation ended.

So now, there is no trace or anything in Sarawak to remember that the air crash ever happened.

But back in Japan, his former home built in Meguro, Tokyo in 1929 still survives to this day and part of the estate is now host to the Japan Museum on Modern Literature.

His former summer home in Kamakura is now used as the Kamakura Museum of Literature.

Photo courtesy of AJ Creations Photography.