We finally said farewell to Sabah and took a short flight to Malaysian Borneo‘s other state, Sarawak and arrived in Kuching, the state capital and largest city. As the AirAsia plane approached the airport, we got some excellent views of Kuching from the air, and we knew immediately that this was going to be our kind of town. Kuching is located on the important Sarawak River, and one is immediately impressed with the lush greenery of the city.
We based ourselves in a comfortable but excellent value hotel in the center of the city; upon arrival a quick grumble resulted in a free-of-charge upgrade to a suite, with a spectacular view of the Sarawak River and a stunning view of the very impressive Sarawak State Assembly that resembles the Sydney Opera House in style and stands on the North side of the river.
As a city, from an architectural and natural beauty perspective, Kuching impressed us immediately. Kuching is a well-organized modern city, with its lovely early Chinese quarter and is very different to Sabah’s cities, like Kula Kinabalu (KK) and Sandakan.
The first afternoon, we set out exploring on foot. We crossed the main road between our hotel and the Sarawak River, and joined many local people strolling along the Kuching Waterfront. We returned via Chinatown and the famous India Street. It was really hot and humid and time for a beer.
The second morning, we took a taxi and visited the popular Jalan Satok Sunday Market. This is a huge covered and uncovered market, selling fresh and cooked produce, plus lots of other household items. We amused ourselves trying to identify just a fraction of the local fruits and vegetables – with shapes, colors and sizes which we had never seen before; one example was bananas the size of a child’s arm! We inspected the fresh fish counters which had everything perfectly displayed. What really fascinated us was watching the butchers cutting up chickens; far more of the chicken seemed edible than back home – in other words, all parts are used including the feet; that is considered a delicacy ( we are entertained by some bizzarre things).
In order to get our bearings, we took an excellent Kuching city tour, with a charming, third generation, Chinese guide. We saw all the important sites, including Chinatown, the Chinese History Museum, the Sarawak Museum, and the world-famous Cat Museum; why Cat Museum you may ask – Kuching apparently means “Cat” in Malay and all over the city monuments and statues of cats can be seen. The Cat Museum has artifacts about famous cat proverbs, such as “cat-nap”, “cat-lick” and where they think these derived from, one solution was ancient Egypt; they also have thousands of cat cartoons and, of course, porcelain and wooden cats, both antique and modern, some five thousand years old from Ancient Egypt. It was a fun museum and the only one of its kind in the world and we can understand why that is! We learned of Kuching’s multi-racial community, with its large Chinese, Malay and aboriginal groups, the largest being the Iban tribe. The population of Chinese and Malays are approximately equal in Borneo but the Iban hold the majority. The Iban were formerly “headhunters” until it was banned by law in 1924 (thank goodness!).
That evening we were recommended to a very unusual fish food court. There were about ten or twelve restaurants all selling fresh fish, in fact it was so fresh that it was still alive! You choose your fish from the tanks and request the style of cooking to your taste, needless to say it was delicious. The other unusual thing about it was the venue, they had taken the top floor of a multi-storey car park and turned it into a huge eatery of excellent quality!
The South of Kuching is largely Chinese and the North Malay, divided by the Sarawak River; interestingly, there are two mayors and two city halls, one Chinese and one Malay. We were surprised to learn that Kuching has a large Christian population too. We were informed about Kuching’s history, including the British rule from 1841 to 1941, especially the influence of the colorful Brooke family, the “white rajahs”. Of course, in 1953, Malaysia became independent but Sarawak still has quite a lot of autonomy.
Perhaps the highlight of our trip to Sarawak was our visit to the Baco National Park and its amazing wildlife; that’s the subject of our next blog!