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el2995 Kuching - A travel report by USC
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Kuching,  Malaysia - flag Malaysia
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el2995's travel reports

Kuching, Sarawak (Malaysian Borneo)

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The Malaysian states of Sarawak and Sabah, together with Brunei Darussalam, comprise the northern region of the island of Borneo. Kuching, Sarawak’s capitol, offers the traveler a chance to experience the diverse cultures, flora and fauna of Borneo.

Sungai Sarawak (River), Kuching, Sarawak
Sungai Sarawak (River), Kuching, Sarawak
Sarawak’s path to becoming the most multicultural state in Malaysia is rich in history: from evidence of early man 40,000 years ago, to the arrival of Eastern traders in the 7th century, then coming under control of Indonesian factions from the 11th century and the sultanate of Brunei from the 15th to the early 19th century, to governance under the first of the three ‘White Rajas’ (Sir James Brooke) in 1842, followed by Japanese occupation in WWII, to being made a British Crown colony in 1946, and finally becoming part of the Federation of Malaysia in 1963. Situated in western Sarawak on the banks of the Sungai Sarawak (River), with most of the city residing along the southern bank, historic Kuching is predominantly the tourist’s gateway to the natural and cultural richness that is Sarawak. Kuching International (KCH) is serviced by regular flights from Malaysia (Kuala Lumpur and Johor Bharu) and Singapore (note that as Sarawak is semiautonomous, you will have to clear Immigration at KCH even if flying in from Peninsular Malaysia); the set cab fare from the airport to the hotels downtown is about 18 Ringgit. ‘Kuching’ means ‘cat’ in the Bahasa Melayu language, hence is known as the ‘Cat City’ (as the numerous cat statues around the city will no doubt remind you). Given its demographic distribution, Kuching’s personality is more Chinese south of the Sungai Sarawak, with riverfront high-rise hotels and shopping centers exuding a vibrant cosmopolitan feeling, and more Malaysian north of the river, where the Malay-styled houses, some of which perched on low stilts, convey a laid back ‘kampung’ (village) feeling. Kuching was lucky in that it escaped the damaged incurred by other cities in Malaysian Borneo during WWII, thus allowing the visitor to enjoy its numerous renovated historic buildings. In as little as a 30-minute drive from your downtown hotel, you can take in the natural beauty of Sarawak’s scenic countryside of picturesque limestone hills & secondary jungle.

Favourite spots:
Bako National Park, Sarawak
Bako National Park, Sarawak
Much of Sarawak can be sampled in and around Kuching, even if you only plan to spend a few days there. We opted for a few packaged tours that were recommended to us by a friend through Matahari Tours SND. BHD. (their branch office is inside the Holiday Inn). Bako National Park, northeast of Kuching, requires most of a day (and some travel by boat down the Sungai Bako and on open coastal waters…and can be choppy in the afternoon) and allows you to view native wildlife and natural beauty, with some moderate jungle trekking involved. Our combined ½-day trips to the Semenggoh Wildlife Rehabilitation Center and tour of Annah Rais Bidayuh (ethnic tribal) Longhouse were enjoyable (the Semenggoh experience especially so). The ½-day city tour, which includes a visit to the Sarawak ‘Ethnology’ Museum containing a fascinating mix of taxidermied regional wildlife and exhibits on natural history and the ethnic peoples of Borneo, is very helpful in planning your self-guided exploration of the city.

What's really great:
'Alpha Male' Ritchie, Semenggoh Wildlife Rehabilitation Center
'Alpha Male' Ritchie, Semenggoh Wildlife Rehabilitation Center
The highlight of our 3-1/2 days in Sarawak was visiting the Semenggoh Wildlife Rehabilitation Center’s Forest Reserve for the orang-utan 9 am morning feeding session (a second 3 pm afternoon session is also open to the public). The center rehabilitates confiscated orang-utans that suffer the effects of prolonged human captivity. Once nursed back to health, they are released into the protected Forest Reserve, where they forage naturally for food until ready to leave for the wild, but are also offered fruit at the feeding station, which can be seen at a distance by the public from the observation deck, a 200-meter hike from the Visitor’s Center. The best time to see the orang-utans is during the non-fruiting season (March – September), though it is not guaranteed that you will see any orang-utans during the 1-hour viewing session; given the viewing distance, a camera optical zoom greater than 3x is best. We were lucky to see perhaps 9 orang-utans, including the big ‘Alpha Male’ Ritchie.

Kuching Waterfront Around Sunset
Kuching Waterfront Around Sunset
Walking the landscaped waterfront promenade in the late afternoon before sunset and on into the evening is particularly enjoyable, with its numerous food, drink and trinket vendor stalls coming to life for another night’s business, and the locals fishing for prawns with hook and line near the water’s edge and off small jetties as red arch-roofed river ferries (sampans, or ‘tambangs’) motor endlessly back and forth, making the 5-minute bank-to-bank trip (0.30 Ringgit per person), and the reflection of the string of small lights that line the promenade shimmers against the twilight sky mirrored on the surface of the river as the enticing aroma of grilled satay perfumes the balmy night air. Check out the interesting General Wet Market, on the waterfront west of the Square Tower; unlike most Asian wet markets, it’s open daily from 7 am until 10 pm, though by the early evening the challenging scent in the vicinity of the fish monger stalls could definitely benefit from ‘satay perfume’.

Cat Statue In Front of Holiday Inn Hotel
Cat Statue In Front of Holiday Inn Hotel
We stayed at the Holiday Inn Kuching, which is conveniently located near the east end of the Sarawak River waterfront promenade on Jalan Tunku Abdul Rahman (Road), in front of one of the city’s cat statues. One drawback was that less-than-stellar breakfast buffet was not included in the RM 205 (Malaysian Ringgit; approx. US $62) cost of the double occupancy room (setting you back nearly an additional RM 28 per head), and did not offer the turkey rendition of hickory-smoked bacon (unlike the Hotel Equatorial in Malacca), though you do have the option of eating your breakfast on the patio at the river’s edge (weather permitting). There is a 7-11 market by the adjacent Riverbank Suites and Sarawak Plaza (with a Coffee Bean café…perhaps a better choice for breakfast after 10 am) next door, and across the street is a 24-hour McDonalds, with the Tun Jugah shopping mall behind it, and the nearby Crowne Plaza Riverside & Cineplex opposite of the cat statue (movie tickets are RM 9 per person).

Lounging Lizard, Annah Rais Bidayuh Longhouse
Lounging Lizard, Annah Rais Bidayuh Longhouse
We didn’t get a chance to check out any of the local clubs during our three nights in Kuching. Khatulistiwa Café (see below under ‘Restaurants’) does have a bar and dance floor upstairs, and the adjacent Riverside Suites is said to have some similar venues (as will most other hotels). We did notice some bars and Karaoke lounges along Jalan Borneo on the east side of the Hilton Hotel.

Fort Margherita as Viewed From the Waterfront Promenade
Fort Margherita as Viewed From the Waterfront Promenade
Between the Hilton Hotel and the historic Tua Pek Kong Chinese Temple (built in 1843, it’s the oldest in the city) on the waterfront side of Jalan Tunku Abdul Rahman, the James Brooke Bistro Café offers good food in a stylish setting, owing to the owner, Rahanah Jais, not only being a restaurateur, but also an interior designer. Housed in a building shaped like a traditional Bidayuh skull house and situated on the waterfront next to the Riverbank Suites, Khatulistiwa Café combines good food with a nice view of the river to make for an enjoyable meal, particularly at dinner. Tun Jugah shopping mall has a decent food court on the fourth floor; Sarawak Plaza also has a food court in the basement, though we never sampled any of the stalls there beyond one that sells waffle sandwiches with a variety of interesting filling spreads that can be paired (i.e., chocolate & blueberry, pandan & kaya). We didn’t get to try Tamen Kereta Top Spot Food Court, which is said to have very good seafood.

Other recommendations:
Melanau Tall House, Sarawak Cultural Village
Melanau Tall House, Sarawak Cultural Village
About a 45-minute drive north of Kuching, the award-winning Sarawak Cultural Village is a must for visitors interested in the cultures of the various ethnic groups that make up Sarawak. Situated on 15 acres amid natural jungle in the foothills of scenic Mount Santubong, and not far from the premiere Damai beach resort on the South China Sea, the park is a ‘living museum’ that showcases the longhouse dwellings of the various ethnic tribes of the state, in addition to examples of a tradition Malaysian house and Chinese farm house, all of which are laid out around a picturesque man-made lake. The 7 authentic houses are assembled using tradition materials and techniques and contain the traditional accoutrements specific to each culture, with handcraft-making demonstrations by skilled crafts people, and traditional chores, games, rituals and ceremonies performed both inside and outside of the ethnic houses, with an impressive multicultural music and dance performance in a modern theater.

Published on Monday January 7th, 2008

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Thu, Feb 14 2008 - 12:47 PM rating by krisek

Wonderful report! I have not considered going to Malaysia, but you might have made me reconsider, particularly for the orangutans. Thanks.

Thu, Jan 17 2008 - 11:54 AM rating by bineba

Very interesting report with lots of detail and great photos. Always a pleasure to read!

Wed, Jan 09 2008 - 07:06 AM rating by akhila

Absolute 5* - excellent report with detailed information.

Mon, Jan 07 2008 - 07:44 PM rating by rangutan

Another fantastic report on a place "I" could really adapt to too :-) In that region of the world, biologists are still finding new undiscovered plant and animal spieces never discovered before.

Mon, Jan 07 2008 - 11:53 AM rating by davidx

Fine report and pics. When I was a boy in Plymouth, I frequently saw the tomb of the 'First White Rajah at Sheepstor chuchyard in Devon.

Mon, Jan 07 2008 - 10:47 AM rating by mistybleu

I loved this report, the pictures are really awesome as well.

Mon, Jan 07 2008 - 10:30 AM rating by marianne

I loved to read this because it gives all info needed for a successful visit.

Mon, Jan 07 2008 - 09:16 AM rating by jorgesanchez

Very well written report about the Cat City. Very few travellers go to that exotic part of Borneo.

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