The capital city of Sarawak, Kuching is the perfect gateway to explore Borneo. A charming city with historical buildings on both banks of Sarawak River, it inherits a rich legacy from the White Rajah’s rule and also from its multi-ethnic population. Unlike Malacca, Penang and other British colonies, Sarawak was ruled by an English family and it was during the White Rajahs era, economic and urban developments progressed steadily in Sarawak. Notably, the oldest legislative council in Malaysia is in Sarawak, established in 1867.
Most tourists find Kuching strikingly different from the rest of Malaysia and Southeast Asia. It is a place where history intersects with modern days and where multi-ethnic heritage is embraced with pride.
1. Tracing Brooke’s legacy in the heritage centre of the city
Stroll down the streets in the heritage centre of the city where old buildings still stand stately and enchantingly. The beauty and the stories of these buildings explains why the 100 years of Brooke’s rule is always looked back by many in a romantic way and with a great sense of nostalgia.
There are over 25 historically important buildings waiting to be explored! Of these, my favourites are Fort Margherita and the Court House.
Download this guide for detailed explanation of the landmarks and suggested trail.
Fort Margherita and Brooke Gallery
Fort Margherita sits on a small hill at the north bank of Sarawak River, has been recently restored and now hosts Brooke Gallery. The permanent exhibition brings you through the era ruled by 3 white rajahs and their legacies. The courtyard was previously used for executing criminals and also there are several old canons pointing towards the river.
The Old Court House
The Old Court House is where the civil servants worked. At the front stands a monument of Charles Brooke, the second rajah and surrounded by the four main ethnic groups. It is made up of three buildings that have been carefully restored and now housed a few cafes and restaurants. In the middle of the buildings is a quadrangle with a small garden and fountain.
2. River Cruise along Sarawak River
Set off in a stylish river cruise to explore the majestic Sarawak River and enjoy the breathtaking city skyline. It will bring you past some of the landmarks of Kuching, Malay villages and beautiful bridges that connect both banks. Enjoy the cultural dance that’s presented on board. The most popular time to start the river cruise is in the late afternoon where the sunset glow takes over the sky and unleashes the city’s charm unreservedly.
There are a few river cruise operators. The largest boat is MV Equatorial.
3. Siniawan Night Market – food haven in a rustic ambience
Siniawan (新尧湾) which was about 40 minutes drive from Kuching was once a thriving Chinese town famous for its bird nest production. Due to depopulation and occasional flooding, the town had its gloomiest days for decades. In the last few years, the town had been revived through grassroots initiatives.
Siniawan Old Street
The weekend night market turns Siniawan into a food haven drawing thousands of visitors. Come early to take pictures with the iconic wooden facade and rustic signboards. When the sun sets, the street is lighted up with little red lanterns and the locals start their karaoke session on a makeshift stage. The festive mood goes on every evening from Friday to Sunday, a place not to be missed if you are in Kuching.
Delicious local street food
There are more than 30 stalls offering delicious local street food. Special delicacies include chicken soup in bamboo trunk, sticky rice in pitcher plant, crunchy deep fried fish.
Scenic walk along the river bank
Adjacent to the two rows of old shops of Siniawan is a tributary that flows into Sarawak River. It has a notorious reputation for over-flooding the banks once in a while. The last great flood of 2009 devastated the entire town and had the entire ground level of the shophouses submerged in the water.
However, on normal days, it is rather tranquil and the river bank is perfect for a short stroll. Look out for a gaggle of geese. They are very cute and they can make a high pitch noise when strangers are near.
4. Find the cutest apes in the world in Semenggoh Nature Reserve
Befriend with orangutans, arguably the cutest apes in the world. The Semenggoh Nature Reserve is about half an hour drive from the city centre. Set in a lush jungle, it currently hosts about 30 orang utans. The orangutans are indigenous in Sumatra and Borneo and the one found in Semenggoh comes from the Bornean specie. Shy in nature yet if they are happy, they will put up a show moving from one rope to another. The bigger male orangutan is capable of mischievous acts such as putting 5 to 10 eggs in its mouth at one time. The best time to visit is during the feeding time in the morning and afternoon. Orangutans do not always appear at the feeding sites so it depends on lucks and the best chance to see them is during the dry season in the middle of the year. I was there in December which was fruiting season and was lucky enough to see 3 of them.
5. Experience authentic local hospitality in Sarawak Cultural Village
Spend a few hours in Sarawak Cultural Village, which is possibly the finest living museum in Southeast Asia. Seven unique houses spreads over 17 acre site, gives you an insight to the multi-ethnic heritage of Sarawak.
In July each year, the world famous Rainforest World Music Festival takes place here in the middle of the jungle where musicians from far and near take the stage and ensures a blasting night round the clock. There are many events hosted in the Village thorough the year.
Getting to Kuching
There are regular direct flights from Singapore, Kuala Lumpur, Kota Kinabalu and Shenzhen.
- Flight from Singapore takes 1hr 25mins, served by Airasia, Malaysian Airlines and Scoot Airline
- Flight from Kuala Lumpur takes 1hr 45 mins, served by Airasia, Malindo, Malaysian Airlines.
- Flight from Kota Kinabalu takes 1hr 25mins, served by Airasia, Firefly and Malaysian Airlines.
- Flight from Shenzhen takes 4hrx served by Airasia.
Getting around Kuching
Kuching city centre can be explored on foot. If transport is needed, Uber and Grab are readily available at very affordable price. Car rent is also available at the airport kiosk.
Public bus transport is available to get to city outskirt, however as bus schedule changes frequently, it is best to enquire at the hotel reception.
Kuching offers a wide range of accommodation from branded hotels such as Hilton, Pullman and Citadines to boutique hotels such as LimeTree Hotel and Roxy Hotel.
My small note
I think what makes Kuching stands out from the rest of the cities in Southeast Asia is it is very GREEN – see the map below. Also, the roads are very neat and city landscaping is beautifully done. The three hilly areas around Kuching – Santubong, Bako and Kubu have been gazetted as national parks to ensure the greenery is protected.
Google map resources
Lazy to plan your trip? Follow the links below for my favourite places.
Are you from Kuching and would like to suggest new places to go? Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org