Fondly known as ‘Cat City’, Kuching, the capital of Sarawak, Malaysia’s largest state, is simply unique. There is no any other city in Malaysia displays its charms with such an easy grace. The residents of Kuching enjoy their living and take great pride in their fascinating city, a pride that is reflected in their attitude towards visitors.
Similar to all towns and cities in Borneo, the focal point of Kuching and the reason for its existence is the river. Kuching is located on the Sarawak River. The best way to get your first impression of Kuching is by hiring a “sampan” to meander slowly up and down the Sarawak River. It will be very enjoyable during the day, bliss at sunset and a truly one-off experience at night. Along the river, you can see picturesque Malay villages (kampongs), a golden-domed mosque, a Victorian fort, a whole street of 19th century Chinese shop houses and an imposing wooden-roofed palace, all set against a background of distant mountains.
The city centre of Kuching is well preserved and very compact. Virtually everything that is worth seeing can be reached either on foot or by sampan. All bustling streets in Kuching are crammed with shops selling all manner of goods, from the mundane to the exotic. In Kuching, there are ornate Chinese temples, many fine examples of colonial-style architecture, a beautiful waterfront and a number of interesting museums, including the historic Sarawak Museum.
Kuching, an unusual name, in Malay means “cat”. There are different stories as to how this name came about, but it is unlikely that it has anything to do with cats. Two more possible explanations are that it derives from the Chinese word kochin, meaning “harbour” or that it is named after a kind of fruit that grows widely there, namely “Mata Kuching” (cat’s eye), a close relative of the lychee.
Kuching city can be divided into few areas likes Padawan (a small town at the outskirt of Kuching city popular with its traditional Bidayuh kampungs and longhouses), Kota Sentosa, BDC, Tabuan Jaya (Kuching satellite city), Pending (an industrial area), Batu Kawa, Matang, 3rd Mile, Padungan (the oldest commercial hub in Kuching and the Chinatown is located here. It is a popular nightlife spot and also a shopping hub.), Simpang Tiga, Satok, Petra Jaya and Santubong which is located 30km away from Kuching, a tourist spot for beach and annual international events such as the World Rainforest Music Festival.
Why Not Go
Kuching is indeed a good place for holiday. Therefore you have no reason for not going there unless you really don’t like to see cat statues (or you are afraid of cats!), which scattered around the city.
Kuching is a paradise for tourists. There are various sightseeing activities you can do in Kuching likes visiting museums, sightseeing of Kuching city and sightseeing for nature lovers.
The greatest lure of Kuching is the opportunity to take a brisk walk at the RM1 milion per 10m strip of Kuching Waterfront. A major restoration and land reclamation project has made it the most popular meeting place in Kuching. A line of old warehouses have been replaced with an almost 900 m long esplanade, beautifully landscaped and dotted with wooden benches, food stalls, restaurants and entertainment facilities. Many older buildings have been preserved and incorporated into the design, including the Chinese History Museum, the Sarawak Steamship Building, an open-air theatre and the Square Tower. Others than that, modern additions to the Waterfront likes a restored Chinese pavilion, colourful musical fountains, and a number of modern sculptures. During the daytime, the Waterfront offers excellent views of the Astana, Fort Margherita and the Malay kampungs or even the newly constructed DUN complex. During the night, the Waterfront is the best place to see nightlife of lovers, youngsters and love-makers. It is really alive at night and plenty of food kiosks present there but the food there might be very expensive.
On the other hand, Kuching’s major sights are its museums. There are many museums situated in Kuching. Among them are Sarawak Museum, the oldest museum in Borneo, The Sarawak Islamic Museum which consists of seven galleries set around a central courtyard garden with different theme, Chinese History Museum, The Cat Museum, Sarawak Timber Museum, Sarawak Textile Museum and Pua Kumbu Museum which requires early booking. The most special museum is the Cat Museum. It is the world’s first museum devoted to cats. The Cat Museum is located at Kuching North City Hall at Petra Jaya, on top of Bukit Siol (Siol Hill). Cat lovers can find a large range of exhibits, photos, feline art and cat souvenirs. Interesting cat characters like Felix The Cat, Garfield and Sonic The Cat can be found at there too.
Besides that, Kuching is also famous with its Tua Pek Kong Temple, the oldest Chinese temple in Sarawak. It is believed to have been around since 1843 although official records only recognised its existence in year 1876. As one of the city’s prominent landmarks, the Chinese pay homage to the Tua Pek Kong deity there for peace and prosperity.
Generally, Sarawak is a unique and enjoyable tourism destination, and Kuching is the ideal base from which to go exploring.
Best Time to Visit
Kuching is a medium-sized town on Eastern Island of Borneo. It is warm all-year round with tropical climate temperatures of about 25 to 30 degrees Celsius. There will be some days with rain (and haze) from October to February, but it will only rain for an hour or so a day, refreshing the air. And it is definitely worth a visit if you have never been there. Besides that, it is also recommended to visit Kuching during the festivals like the Kaul festival in April or May.
For World Music lovers, the best time to visit Kuching is July. The Rainforest Music Festival will be organized in July. Kuching also hosts an annual conference with attendance of experts from all over the world (World Eco-Fiber & Textile Forum).
Where to Stay
In Kuching, there is an excellent range of accommodation, from luxury to budget and good restaurants, to suit every taste and pocket. For the budget backpackers, it is recommended to stay at Pinnacles Kuching. It is located right smack in the middle of Kuching’s golden triangle which comprises Hilton, Holiday Inn and Crowne Plaza Hotels. Rest assures that Pinnacles Kuching can offer you accommodation with reasonable price and clean environment. If you are going to Damai Beach, you may choose Damai Puri Resort & Spa. Fronting Damai Beach, this resort has many beautiful guestrooms and a Spa Village, which boasts secluded massage villas, a yoga pavilion, hair spa, and a tea house that serves organic gourmet. It also offers 2 outdoor pools, tennis courts, a 600-cap ballroom, and meeting rooms, and organizes jungle treks and water sports. Wi-Fi Internet is available too.
Where & What to Eat
When come to food, Kuching has never been short of places to eat. There is plenty of restaurants offer delicious food with unique taste. Here are just a few :
Top Spot Food Court, Jalan Bukit Mata offers a wide range of food stalls ranging from the budget to the pricey. Most locals and tourists go there for the fresh seafood stalls which are on the pricey side. Most of the stalls always serve good food, but remember always ask to see a menu with prices to avoid ‘accidentally over-charge’ case occur. Try the Fried Ferns (“Bidin”) with Spicy Sambal Belacan there. It is delicious and only available in Sarawak (not available in West Malaysia). And don’t forget to have satay there!
You also shouldn’t miss out Khatulistiwa at Jalan Tunku Abdul Rahman (next to Holiday Inn). This distinctive circular hut modeled on a Bidayuh skull house is very popular with tourists. It is a nice, breezy open-air restaurant downstairs, serving up local and Western favorites including a decent Sarawak laksa and open 24 hours to boot. At night, the upper floors of the hut open up as a bar and club, with DJs spinning the night away.
Another must visit restaurant is Bishopsgate Coffeeshop at the Carpenter Street. It has been famous for decades already. The Vinegar ‘Kolo Mee’ and Pork ‘Spare-part’ soup is what people queue up for everyday. It is only opens for breakfast and lunch. Remember to try their excellent ‘Teh-C Peng Special’ also.
Places to visit at night are plenty which include Amigos, Monsoon (with bartender Kandau), the Goal Café, Soho, Grappa, and Tribe. If you can afford more expensive night trip, you may go to the Merdeka Palace, go to its Victoria Arms (Friday Night is Ladies Night). At there, almost every day is with Disco and Live-band.
My to do List
– Try local delicacies such as deer meat and jungle fern
– Drink a glass of tuak (local rice wine)
– Have seafood dishes
– Kuching Kayaking
– Scuba Diving
– Fish Feeding
– Bidayuh Spa and Massage
– Jogging and Brisk Walking
Stay Away From
At Kuching, you should beware of snatch theft all the time, especially during the night. Avoid taking short cuts through dark or deserted areas. Plan your route properly. You should always carry your handbag in front of you or clasp it firmly under your arm. Walk facing oncoming traffic if possible and always hold the handbag on the side away from motorists. If unfortunately you are confronted, surrender your valuable on demand one at a time and try to remember any distinct features of the culprit.
Besides that, you should also stay away from pickpockets. Normally, they work in teams; one creates a distraction by bumping or showing, dropping something, or asking a question while others lift wallets from pockets or handbags. They always look out for ladies with handbags, especially handbags carried with clasp facing outwards. Others than that, men who keep wallets in the rear trousers or chest pockets might also be their target.
The best way to get there is by plane. As Sarawak’s main gateway, Kuching International Airport (IATA: KCH) has near-hourly connections to Kuala Lumpur as well as frequent flights to Singapore, Johor Bahru, Labuan, Kota Kinabalu and other cities in Sarawak like Sibu, Bintulu and Miri. MASwings links Kuching with Mukah and International connections are available, although there are a few weekly services to Guangzhou, Hong Kong, Jakarta, Macau and Pontianak. Others international airlines operating in Kuching includes SilkAir, Royal Brunei, Tiger Airways, Jetstar Airways and Batavia Air.