Five days in Kuching (Sarawak, East Malaysia - Borneo)
Posted on Jul 02, 2013 by
Although always fascinated as a child by dreams of visiting Borneo I would have been hard-pressed to find Kuching on the map until a few months ago - maybe others have the same problem and that`s why it`s not swamped with tourists. That doesn`t mean there aren`t any - tourism is a thriving industry in Sarawak and Sabah, but compared to many other places in Asia it`s by no means crowded. Go now, before the rest of the world discovers East Malaysia.
Thanks to Air Asia, the rapidly expanding Malaysian budget airline, access is easy and cheap. There are several services a day to Kuching from Kuala Lumpur and Johor Bahru (a short bus trip from Singapore).
If you think that the Borneo climate is like a sauna you`re quite right, but it won`t spoil your visit. You`ll just have a lot of washing to do. There`s a range of
accommodation availble from five star hotels (Hilton, Crown Plaza etc) to basic (and not so basic) backpackers hostels. my where I stayed for 60 Ringit (about $18 US)a night - this was for a double room with bathroom, fan and a/c for wimps. Breakfast - eggs,fruit, toast and good locally grown coffee for $3 US.
Most of tourist Kuching is within easy walking distance of the main hotels and guest houses. If you don`t want to walk taxis are not expensive (about $2.50 to most places
around town). The Sarawak River really makes the town and the waterfront has been renovated, landscaped etc and is a good place to stroll. Although there are modern high-rise buildings in the city the old Chinese shop-houses along the waterfront and in adjoining streets have been preserved and there are also quite a lot of early to mid 20th Century British Colonial buildings.
The racial mix is very noticeable (approx 50% indigenous- Iban, Melanau, Bidayuh etc and the remainder Chinese and Malay - more Chinese than Malay). To a casual tourist it seems a tolerant society. The Malays are Moslem, Chinese Bhudist or Christian and Indigenous either Christian or I think various Animist beliefs.
This cultural mix is of course reflected in language and food, Bahasa Malaysia might be the official language but you`ll find a lot of English, especially amongst older
peole who learned it at school. Sarawak was the private fifedom of the Brooke family (the famous "white Rajahs") for over 100 yrs. It`s an interesting history.
Attractive though Kuching may be (and don`t miss at least some of its numerous museums) you have to get out into the surrounding area and see at least one national park. Most people who have little time opt for Bako NP as I did. It`s a relatively small park about 1 hr by local bus to Bako village(about $1- hourly service) and then 1/2 hr by boat (about $40 US one way per boat which you share with 2 or 3 other people, organised for you by the Nat Parks office when you reach Bako village. The Park is right on the coast, with sandstone cliffs, attractive beaches and abundant rainforest as well as a higher plateau with more open vegetation. There are various grades of accommodation available as per info on above website.
Not only is Bako NP easily accessible, so are some of its best-known inhabitants, the most sought after by tourists being the Proboscis Monkey, a rare species found only in Borneo. The male has an enormous red nose, hence the name and the Bako group are relatively easy to photograph. There are also Silver Leaf monkeys and Macacaques, the latter being too tame so that all windows and doors have to be kept shut as otherwise they raid backpacks etc. There are also large monitor lizards and at night it`s fun to take a torch and watch the hermit crabs on the beach, each living in the shell of their choice.
There are lots of well-marked trails of various lengths and degrees of difficulty in the park, all of them promise a rewarding and very sweaty experience!
There are plenty of other NP`s around Kuching, I only wish I`d had time to visit them. I also went to the nearby Damai Peninsula to visit the Sarawak Cultural Village
This does represent a real effort to preserve and educate people about the various indigenous cultures and crafts. Of course it`s a very
tourist-oriented operation but if you don`t have much time it`s well worth a visit.
If you have a couple of weeks you can leave Kuching and go upriver from another large town, Sibu (1/2 hr flight or 4 hrs by boat along the coast) and then by express boat up the Rajang River to Kapit and Belaga and visit longhouses, trek forest trails etc. I just didn`t have time to do this. There is also the whole of East Malaysia`s other
province, Sabah, to explore with attraction ranging from climbing Mt Kinabalu (4,000 m /13,500 ft) to diving from offshore islands.
In short East Malaysia is a fascinating destination and I`ll be trying hard to return soon, having had only a small taste around Kuching.