Previously called Simanggang, Sri Aman was renamed in 1974 to commemorate the signing of the peace treaty signifying the end of the communist insurgency in Sarawak. It is a quiet town on the bank of the Batang Lupar, about 3-4 hours drive from Kuching. It is the administrative centre of the Second Division of Sarawak.
The town’s main claim to fame is the benak, a tidal wave that sweeps upstream all the way to Engkilili several times a year, scattering river crafts in its path. It almost took the life of author Somerset Maugham, an incident which he wrote about in his short story called “The Yellow Streak”. Pesta Benak is an annual festival aimed at promoting Sri Aman as a tourist destination. Fort Alice, a large wooden fortress overlooking the river, was built in 1864 during the Brooke era and is a prominent but sadly rundown landmark. It has small turrets, a courtyard, a medieval-looking drawbridge and is surrounded by a fence of iron spikes.
The Skrang, Lemanak and Ai rivers flow in to Batang Lupar, and a lot of tour operators in Kuching organize trips to the longhouses along these tributaries. Most longhouses are built on stilts, high on the riverbank. The average longhouse has about 25 doors though there are some which have as many as 60. Each door houses one family.
The Batang Ai River, a tributary of the Batang Lupar, was dammed to set up Sarawak’s first hydroelectric plant. The dam created a vast and picturesque man-made lake covering an area of about 90 sq km. The Batang Ai National Park, covering an area of more than 24,040 hectares, is home to the endangered orangutan and a wide variety of wildlife such as hornbills and gibbons. This is one of the few places where you can spot orangutans and hornbills in the wild. The Hilton Batang Ai Longhouse Resort is an indigenous-timber “longhouse” resort, made up of 11 longhouses built of the belian or ironwood. The 100 rooms come with air-conditioner, television, fan, mini-bar, furniture and shower rooms. Facilities at the resort include a restaurant, a pool and paddling pool and 18-km jogging track.