SIGHTSEEING IN KUCHING: OUR 3 WEEKS IN SARAWAK

HELLO BORNEO!

We have reached Borneo!

This is a significant milestone in our trip. We leave peninsular Malaysia to see the forest and animals of Borneo over 3 weeks, then it’s 9 days in Singapore then home. We’ve got a decent amount of time to spend here but it’s our penultimate stop so feels significant.

We arrive in Kuching and use this as our base. It’s the capital of this region, and the main city on Bornean Malaysia. The main reason to come to Borneo for us was to see animals and forest, but that did not go at all to plan, unfortunately.

things to note when planning sightseeing in kuching

NATIONAL PARKS: book ahead

The main advice we would give to anyone coming here to see the national parks is the plan ahead and book accommodation well in advance. If you plan to do day trips to national parks, you’re fine, but that’s not the best way to get the most out of some of the parks, and some are tricky to get to, so staying at least one night is the most advisable option. Accommodation at the national parks is not hotels and resorts; it is cabins and dorms which can ONLY be booked through the parks website. We tried to book for two different parks up to 10 days in advance and couldn’t get anywhere to stay; these parks are super popular and fill up quickly so work out where you want to go and don’t miss out. Like we did. Lesson learned.

CAR SEATS, CAR HIRE

We attempted to hire a car to get to the national parks for day trips or to stay in nearby towns, but despite 2 days of trying, we were unable to get a hire car with car seats. Child car seats are just not a thing in Malaysia. We have seen barely any car seats (we saw one rear facing right at the end our Kuching stay). Parents just hold them in their laps or in seats with no car seat. We chased company after company but the seat for our 5 year old wasn’t forthcoming so we had to bail out of that plan. If you plan to hire a car, get everything set up early on.

SIGHTSEEING IN KUCHING

Kuching is the capital of Sarawak and the most populous city. It sits on the Sarawak river on the southwest tip of Sarawak on Borneo and has a population of around 350,000 people. Kuching is a compact and reasonably busy city but has a fairly laid-back atmosphere. The history of this vibrant place is old shop houses in the older parts of town and old and new Chinatown, while the lively riverfront walk, brand new pedestrian bridge over the river, and the ubiquitous street art point to a forward-looking ambition.

DOWN BY THE RIVER

Kuching waterfront is the heart of the city. A lovely pedestrianised walk runs along the riverside, where, in the evening, stalls set up selling food, drinks, and souvenirs, and the river boats set off on their cruises.

There are regularly musicians and events taking place.

Our kids certainly loved having a place to run around and soak up the atmosphere.

If you’re lucky, you might bump into the young man who wanders the streets searching for a quiet place to practice his clarinet (and he’s very good!). We got chatting to him a few times and he embodies the friendly vibe of Kuching.

Any visitor needs to take a trip across the river on one of the taxis which depart from various points on the riverfront, and which leave when there’s enough passengers to depart (you won’t wait long). It will cost 1RM per person per crossing and only takes a few minutes. There’s not a great deal to do at the other side but it’s fun to get the boat and wander along the river on the north side, and what’s not to love about getting on a little boat and crossing a river?

The Darul Hana footbridge (opened in late 2017) dominates the riverscape, and any visitor must cross over at least once. We crossed the pedestrian bridge several times, and marvelled at the design; this s-shaped bridge (S for Sarawak?) is a wonderfully-modern compliment to the unique, golden-crown building of the Sarawak State Assembly on the other side. It features two hornbill heads atop steel pillars in recognition of the significance of the bird to Sarawak, and is a great place to watch the boats go by and the sun set (or rise!).

Any visitor needs to take a trip across the river on one of the taxis which depart from various points on the riverfront, and which leave when there’s enough passengers to depart (you won’t wait long). It will cost 1RM per person per crossing and only takes a few minutes.

There’s not a great deal to do at the other side but it’s fun to get the boat and wander along the river on the north side, and what’s not to love about getting on a little boat and crossing a river?

ORCHID garden, KUCHING

Walk across the bridge, take a left, then another left at the cross roads and a few minutes further up on your right is the Kuching Orchid garden (closed Mondays).

We visited this free attraction and had a lovely couple of hours enjoying all the varieties of beautiful flowers on show.

STREET ART

We had heard about the street art scene in Georgetown, but we have been pleasantly surprised by the amount in other cities in Malaysia. The children have loved finding these gems, posing for pictures with them, and finding inspiration for their own creations. This is an underrated pleasure in Kuching so take the time to seek them out.

MUSEUMS

The Natural History Museum, Sarawak Museum, and Art Museum are all located together, just beyond Padang Merdeka (Merdeka Park, which is out the back/front of the large Merdeka mall) and they are all totally free.

Padang Merdeka is just a large patch of grass but it’s definitely worth visiting if only to visit the Cotton Silk tree. This is a 100-year-old beauty of a tree which blossoms only once every two or three years, dropping white flowers and cotton when it does (hence the nickname, ‘the Snow Tree’). Watch out for the sharp thorns on parts of it’s trunk though!

Unfortunately for us, the Sarawak museum was closed after flooding when we visited, but the Natural History Museum was really good. Lots of stuff for all ages, fairly modern inside, and gives a nice insight into the history of the region. We were museum-d out after it so skipped the Art Museum.

While you’re in the area (or at another point in your trip) pop by the Museum Gardens, just beyond the museums.

They are free to enter, landscaped gardens which provide a peaceful oasis for running around, contemplating, or just stopping to eat a snack.

SEMENGGOH RESERVE (URANGUATANS!)

An absolute highlight of our time on Borneo was our trip to the Semenggoh urangutan reserve.

We caught the number 6 bus from the bus station at Jalan Masjid at 7.15am and it took an hour and drops you off right at the entrance. From there it’s a 15 minute walk to the start of the trail and you should be there in plenty time to have a look around the museum, hear the safety briefing, then head up the trail with the guide at 9am. Don’t bother with a private taxi, the bus is perfectly fine and bus times coincide perfectly with feeding times. There’s a return bus at 11.15am from where you got off.

You walk up the trail (watch out for pit vipers!) a short way to the viewing area, where food is presented for the urangutans on a platform 20 metres or so into the forest. A guide then calls the animals and you wait. Hopefully someone shows up but during fruiting season, when there is plenty to eat in the forest, you may have a fruitless (ha!) trip. Knowing this made our experience that bit more amazing because within 5 minutes of arriving there was a large female and her baby present, feeding and mooching about the platform. It was truly incredible. Yes, there’s a large crowd in each group, but it was a sensational thing to see and we all loved it. The urangutans stayed for 15 minutes or so then left and nobody else came but still, well worth the trip.

CAT STATUES

Cats cats cats! Kuching means ‘cat’ in Malay, and signs of this attribution are everywhere. Around the city are various large cat statues and cat fountains. Our two love cats so loved visiting them, playing around the statues, and pretending to be cats. The statues are quirky and fun and actually not as tacky as you’d imagine.

CAT MUSEUM

If you have a half day to spare and want to see the curiosity that is the Kuching Cat Museum, then absolutely do. It’s a 20 minute or so ride on the bus from Jalan Masjid (check bus times for your return before you set off though because they are not frequent). Alight from the bus and you will see the shiny dome of the building atop a steep hill and in the foreground an impressive fountain surrounded by cat-shaped topiary.

Inside, it’s a lot better than we expected. We thought it would be a bit odd, a bit of a curiosity but disappointing. It’s actually a full on proper museum and is very well set up. Yes it’s odd. Yes it’s got some rather whimsical cat features (like a poster of the musical ‘cats’ and pictures of albums that have ‘cat’ in the title) but it’s good fun and FREE! You just need to pay 3-4RM for your camera or smartphone.

Beyond the cat stuff, there’s a modern little room with displays about historical Kuching, information about the vision for Kuching’s future as a safe and forward-looking city, and some lovely interactive games based around recycling. We spent a good half hour in this room alone. The supermarket-cum-mall at the base of the hill near the bus stop has a foodhall and a good-sized playground inside if you need food and/or AC.

TEXTILE MUSEUM

The Textile Museum on Jalan Tun Abang Haji Openg (FREE!) is a beautiful, rectangular building in a colonial style, and is an interesting insight into local cultures through textiles, manufacturing processes, and lifestyles. The shop is good for crafty people with lots of hand-made items, and overall the museum is a 1-2 hour job, so easy to just pop in and visit.

KUCHING RESERVOIR PARK

We found this place on a bit of an explore and were so glad we did; it’s a real jewel of an attraction. Found on Taman Budaya but also accessible from the back of Museum Gardens, this large, well-kept park is a quiet spot built around a pretty reservoir which is full of fish and terrapins. The grounds around the reservoir are well-paved and there’s plenty of shade. Stepping stones, a playpark, hills to climb and benches to sit on mean you can spend hours here, like we did, exploring, playing, and drawing.

DAMAI

With the disappointment of missing out on a trip to a national park, we decide to have a mini holiday-within-a-holiday and book a few days in Damai at the Damai Beach Resort. A 45 minute minibus ride from central Kuching, this is a beautiful resort with a tremendous pool area, private beach, and terrific sand. The food in the resort is very good and the buffet lunch and breakfast were a real treat after so many porridge breakfasts and noodle lunches. It was great to enjoy some great facilities, even if our room (huge though it was) needed a bit of a touch up. The children had a great time on the beach and PY Jr continued her swimming practice.

The highlight of our stay, though, and undoubtedly a highlight of the whole trip, though, was our trek up through the forest. A short ride or 20 minute walk from the resort is the entrance to the trails around Mount Santubong. A ranger office is staffed with a helpful person to explain the different routes you can take up to and around the climb. We opted for the 2.5km loop walk up through the forest to a waterfall. The trek was fun and not too challenging. Our 5 year old was fine our 3 year old was in the sling. Part of the walk involves walking on boulders UP a river, but it’s all fun as long as you watch your step.

Our reward was found below the mini suspension bridge across the valley; a spectacular waterfall and plunge pool. We swam and splashed and put our heads under the waterfall and had a thoroughly amazing time. It was totally deserted and we had it all to ourselves.

A couple we met told us that you can speak to the bellboys and they can arrange a river cruise for you, but we didn’t find this out until it was too late, sadly.

A super time was had by all and it was a great change of scenery before heading back to Kuching for our final few days before flying to SINGAPORE!