Borneo - Getting to know Kuching
'Cultural capital of Borneo’ is how many think of Kuching, but don’t expect another Luang Prabang! Kuching is sophisticated compared to the rest of the island, but modern and pragmatic alongside its Colonial heritage. It could equally be called ‘gateway to Borneo’, with several nature spots close by and direct flights from Kuching International Airport to most places of interest on the island. Nonetheless, the Kuching is an enjoyable city to pause in before your onward journey.
Kuching’s history is a snapshot of Borneo’s wider story - tribal headhunter territory rich in natural resources, annexed by Colonial adventurers, thrown into turmoil by World War 2, and now fantastically diverse. The city became capital of Sarawak in the 1800s, and is split in two by the Sarawak River, with each side distinct in character - the north is Malay, with traditional kampong houses along the riverbank, while the south is Chinatown writ large. Both are excellent for food, and dining here is one of our favourite activities.
It’s a friendly city, rightly proud of itself, and keen to show visitors why. Historic buildings like the Astana palace and Fort Margherita mingle with impressive modern constructions such as Bangunan Dewan Undangan Negeri Sarawak Baru, the state assembly building. Interesting museums and exhibits pepper the cultural landscape - newcomers to Borneo will get a lot of insight from a couple of hours in the influential (and free to visit) Sarawak State Museum, which is 150 years old and houses diverse exhibits of Sarawak’s natural history and ethnic culture.
What to do in Kuching
- Visit Kuching Cat Museum! This quirky place celebrates Kuching’s long-held affection for all things kitty (‘kucing’ is the Malay word for cat), and showcases an extraordinary array of cat artefacts, including work by iconic Japanese cat photographer Satoru Tsuda.
- Taste (or at least feast your eyes on) Kek Lapis Sarawak - the lovely jewel-coloured cakes that you can find in Main Bazaar.
- Dine out - Kuching is home to about 30 ethnic groups, each with their own cuisine. Pandungan Street and Carpenter Street are good places to start sniffing out the local favourites.
- Nearby, you can visit the Semenggok Wildlife Rehabilitation Centre to see rescued orang-utans in 653 hectares of tropical rainforest. The centre undertakes essential work to rehabilitate orangs that were orphaned or injured by the rapid deforestation of Borneo. There are plenty of options to make donations towards the orang-utans’ welfare – why not join Selective Asia in adopting an orphan? Visit www.orangutan-appeal.org.uk for more details.
- Kuching Wetlands National Park is very close to the city, and offers potential sightings of sea eagles, Irrawaddy dolphins and otters in the water, with primates and hornbills on the banks.
- If you’re keen to get out on the water yourself, we can arrange kayak excursions along the Sarawak River, starting at a village about an hour outside Kuching and dropping into a riverside tribal village for a traditional tribal lunch.
- Bako, the oldest National Park in Sarawak, protects 10.5 square miles of coastal landscape about half an hour’s drive from Kuching. The park has excellent well-marked walking trails that wind through a variety of habitats, which are home to proboscis monkeys, macaques, langurs, monitor lizards and bearded pigs.
- Also 30 minutes drive from Kuching is the beautiful Damai Beach. This quiet section of coastline boasts great beaches and is perfect unwinding at the beginning or end of a stay in Borneo.
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Popular local meals include Ayam Pansoh (chicken cooked in bamboo), Sarawak laksa, and umai (a salad made with raw fish or raw seafood) but perhaps the most famous is kolo mee, a tasty dry noodle dish with roast pork or shredded chicken.