Lawas is a small town and the capital of the Lawas District in Limbang Division of northern Sarawak, eastern Malaysia on the island of Borneo. This district area is 3,811.9 square kilometres, and population (year 2000 census) was 35,300. It is 1200 km from the state capital, Kuching and 200 km from the capital city of Sabah, Kota Kinabalu.
From the 1970s up until the early 1990s, Lawas and nearby Limbang were notorious for being the sin capitals of Sarawak. Prostitution, massage parlours, sleazy pubs and rundown motels were common in both towns.
Both towns have since undergone a complete transformation following major urban redevelopment in the last decade. New residential areas, shops, shopping centres, agriculture projects and roads have been constructed with the investment of millions of ringgit (Malaysian currency).
Rundown motels have been refurbished into tourist level hotels with adequate facilities.
As with Limbang, the town is a busy transit point between Sarawak, Sabah, and Brunei. Timber and agriculture are the mainstays of the economy. The highland area known as Ba'Kelalan has been experimenting with the cultivation of apples. In addition, the tourism industry is being developed in Ba'Kelalan. However, these plans have been met with controversy due to the probable effects on several traditional tribal villages. Plans to develop small and middle scale industries in Lawas have been proposed by the state government. At this time much of the land in Lawas, Sundar and Trusan has been transformed from padi fields into oil palm plantations. Lawas is also known as the producer of smoked fish called 'Tahai' in local dialect. One of the villages that produces 'Tahai' commercially is Kampung Awat-Awat in the Sundar sub-district.
Lawas, by virtue of its geographical location, is cut off from the rest of Sarawak's road network. It is however linked by main road to Sabah and Brunei's Temburong district. There is a good local road network around Lawas district which is relatively free of traffic jams.
Travelling to or from Lawas by road requires undergoing immigration checks. Travelling to the rest of Sarawak requires a passport. Two road border crossings are located in Lawas district.
- Mengkalap: Located to the west of Lawas town is the Mengkalap border checkpoint for traffic headed to or from Brunei. The new immigration complex at the border has been completed recently. Previously it was operating temporarily from a shoplot in Trusan Bazaar, 8 km from the actual Brunei-Malaysia border. The name of the Brunei checkpoint is Labu in Temburong district located at the border.
- Merapok: To the east of Lawas town, this checkpoint is for traffic headed to or from Sabah (both Sarawak and Sabah have autonomy over immigration matters). The Sabah checkpoint across the state border is Sindumin.
Another mode of transport is via the Lawas River. The cleaned river serves as an important link to neighbouring towns and deep interior settlements. Besides that, Lawas is also served by an airport. There has also been a plan to build a new airport. Commonly, four wheel drive would be the main transport for most of the highlanders.
Brunei, Labuan and Limbang can be reached by boat. The journey will take around two hours to get to the destination. Boats to Brunei, Labuan and Limbang are available at Lawas Wharf every morning. The boats can accommodate around 150 passengers.
Places of interest
One of the most popular tourist attractions in Lawas is its Tamu Lawas (or Lawas Produce Market), which is held every Saturday. Local products such as vegetables, fruits and sea products are sold by locals in this market which is frequented by locals and people from the neighbouring Temburong district of Brunei.
Besides Tamu Lawas, other interesting places in Lawas are Punang Beach, Sungai Bangat Beach, Pa' Lelau in Merarap, Mount Murud, Kampung air Terjun (along Jalan Trusan). Kuala Lawas, Punang and Awat Awat are famous with its Kampung Air. It is similar to Kampung Ayer in Brunei but smaller. The main mode of transportation is perahu (boat) to cross the river.