Kuching ~ Sarawak Borneo


It's amazing how few of us from Peninsula Malaysia ever make it a point to visit Sarawak. It used to be the cost. Before Air Asia began its low fare/ no frills operations to Borneo, it was indeed a price to pay for flights. Now that there are cheaper flights, then what's stopping us from a short hop away? Really? The cost. yet again. Yup. With the low fares, it's occasionally more enticing to visit neighbouring Indonesian islands than Borneo. Ahh... you see, there's Bali, Batam and Bintan but then there's Borneo. There really isn't a comparison. Not for those wanting to journey into the wild wonders of the exotic - those who have proudly graduated from a holidaymaker to a traveller. Am I babbling?

waterfront in the evening

Indeed I am. Then there are those in Sarawak who lament that they don't receive as many visitors per annum as Sabah does because the former lacks many of the must-haves in selling this exotic island ~ Beautiful diving, the Sepilok Orang Utan Centre and one plus point - Mount Kinabalu. Yes there are dive sites in Miri, yes there are hills and mountains to climb like Mount Santubong and Mount Api and the Semengoh Wildlife Rehabilitation Centre (Orang Utan) but there are also places unique to Sarawak. There's the Mulu and Niah caves, the limestone Pinnacles, there are the peoples of the land and the many festivals, the national parks like Bako and Batang Ai National Park, the Bario highlands. But all having said. you have to love what nature has to offer and have the time to travel. And if you have only a week. that's okay too as there's Kuching and its surroundings.

Kuching

waterfront in the evening

Kuching is the entry point into Sarawak for most. But of course, those flying in from Kuala Lumpur, there are other entry points such as Miri and Sibu. Life in Kuching is of a good pace. It's South East Asia minus the rush and the traffic. Organised too. And clean. And lots of museums scattered about. There's the Cat Museum, Fort Margherita which now houses the Brooke Gallery, the Timber Museum (??!!), the Islamic Museum which is located across the bridge from the Sarawak Museum and a rather new venue included in this ever expanding list is the Textile Museum.

Listed are a few must see places in Kuching:

Sarawak Museum

The Sarawak Museum has fine display of a variety stuffed and mounted animals in huge glass casings, some specimens dating back as far as during Wallace's expedition to the Malay Archipelago in 1850's. In fact, it was Edgar Wallace who persuaded Charles Brooke to construct a building to house the species and artefacts found in Sarawak. The Sarawak Museum was regarded as one of the best in South East Asia, housed in a building which Charles Brooke commissioned in the style of a Normandy town hall. On the ground floor are displays of fauna and flora found in Sarawak. A number of crocodile skulls of great proportions can be found stuffed at the bottom of the display casings. During the reign of the White Rajahs, bounty was put up for "nuisance" crocs and rewards were high.

On the second floor, is an impressive mural painted by the Long Nawang Kenyahs who were invited by anthropologist Tom Harrison (the curator of the museum from 1947 - 1966). Artefacts and even a life-sized model of the interior of a longhouse has been added into the exhibition. The black and white photographs of the many tribes in Borneo are fascinating. The most intriguing items on display are the weapons and body piercing instruments.

The annexe as featured in the photo on the right here, has a more comprehensive exhibit on the natives and history of Sarawak. It's free and has interactive educational displays which the children enjoyed.

Opening times: 9.00am - 5.30pm (Opening days: open daily. Closed on 1 st day of Major festival)

Located: Jalan Tun Abang Haji Openg

Entrance fee: free

Textile and Costume Museum

textile musuem in 2010

This new museum is housed in the Pavilion, just opposite the General Post Office. The 3-storey rectangular building was built in 1907 as a medical centre and was later allocated to the Education Department as headquarters in1947. The architecture is a mix of late English Renaissance and English Colonial design. This is an interesting museum for those wanting to know a bit more on the textiles of the indigenous people from bark cloth to the Pua Kumbu.

Opening times: 9.00am - 5.30pm

Opening days: Daily

Located: Next to the old courthouse in town centre, opposite the General Post Office

Entrance fee: free

The Textile museum today.

For those of you who would like to watch craftsmen and craftswomen at work, then head to :

1. The Round Tower

This is right next to the Textile Museum and has craftsmen working on various crafts such as beading work, woodwork, weaving etc. this strange looking, fortified tower looks a little out of place; wedged between the old court house and the Pavilion which is distinctively colonial. What was Charles Brooke thinking when he commissioned this structure in 1886? I mean, why build a safe just to house the medical dispensary? That was what the Tower was used for..

This beautiful building is now out of bounds. It's located within the Waterfront Hotel grounds .. an abomination and an abuse of power to be allowed to build such a large complex sacrilegious to the heritage of kuching.

The round tower today is marred by an abomination called the Merdeka Plaza and the Waterfront Hotel. http://www.theborneopost.com/2015/12/02/society-cr... . It just feels like someone's blatant need to lay a mark of their legacy.

2. Sarakraf Pavilion

The craftwork showcased here includes woodcarving, ceramics, Sarawak Malay embroidery work known as 'keringkam', Sarawak Malay kain songket, Iban pua kumbu, pua sungkit, basketry, Orang Ulu and Iban beadwork.

The aim of the centre is to revive interest in local crafts amongst the people and in turn preserve this culture.

Those interested in the Orang Ulu musical intrument, the Sape. this is the place to visit just to witness how the beautiful instrument is made. Workshops are also conducted here for those interested to know more about the individual crafts.

Opening times: 9.00am - 5.00pm

Opening days: daily

Located: 78 Tabuan Road, Kuching. It's a little out of the way if you intend to walk, so catch a taxi.

Entrance fee: free

The Islamic museum

The much-revelled museum is housed in a building just behind the Sarawak Museum which was initially built as a school, fondly named James Brooke Malay College. In 1930, it was renamed Madrasah Melayu Sarawak - a college set up to train teachers in higher Malay studies. Missionary schools at the time were making good grounds in expanding the English language to the locals and with the establishment of this college, it was hoped that the Malay Language would also be sewn into the educational framework of the people. All that you'd want to know about Islam in Sarawak, the architecture, weaponry, decorative arts and such. make a few hours here.

Opening times: 9.00am - 6.00pm

Opening days: Everyday except Friday

Located: Jln P Ramlee, Kuching

Entrance fee: free

The Chinese History Museum

Good place to visit if you have an interest in the Chinese migration. It's amazing how different Chinese communities (normally segregated by the provinces and dialects) would arrive at the same place and eventually find a speciality; an industry; a craft that they would all aspire to make a fortune from.

Old sepia prints cover the walls accompanied by good, concise historical notes. Interesting Chinese musical instruments with some drum skins made from python, which according to old records and data - were abundant and fearless in the early days. 15ft pythons were not uncommon then and they'd add any moving target in their dinner menu, including pet dogs, chickens and wild pigs and some brave enough to admit - even men.

Opening hours: 9.00am - 6.00pm

Opening days: Everyday

Located: Kuching waterfront

Entrance fee: free

Courthouse & Brooke Memorial

old courts

The Courthouse used to be the seat of government during the days of the Rajahs. The current courthouse is the 3 rd to be built on this spot and was opened in 1874. Charles Brooke's daily routine was like clockwork. He would arise from bed to the boom of the cannon at 5.00am . Having dressed and breakfasted, he'd stroll down the Astana grounds and hop into his royal boat for a short trip across to the courthouse and there will start his workday.

brooke dockyard located near the courts

Today, the state magistrate council, which was housed in this square, has been relocated to Petrajaya. The Courthouse's new lease of life was to be turned into a retail and information centre. To date, Kopi-C of Chinahouse' Penang fame has set up their cafe serving their signature cakes and beverages at the old courts. https://www.facebook.com/ChinaHouseK/


The Tourism Visitors information centre has also been relocated to the UTC building where TopSpot Seafood is located

UTC Sarawak
Jalan Padungan, 93100 Kuching Sarawak
Tel : 082 410944 Fax : 082 256301
Email: vic-kuching@sarawaktourism.com

Operating Hours:
8.30am – 9.00pm Daily
Closed on Public Holidays

In front of the courthouse facing the Kuching waterfront is a memorial to Charles Brooke, erected by his son, Vyner in 1924.

The Brooke Dockyard is currently still in use but is in a state of dilapidation . However, we've heard that the Sarawak Museum together with a descendant of the Brooke family, Jason Brooke who helped curate the Brooke Gallery at Fort Margherita are in the midst of discussion. The maritime museum may be housed at the Dockyards in the near future. And if its anything to go by looking at the Brooke Gallery at Fort Margherita and the annex to the building where a more comprehensive exhibit about the natives and history of Sarawak is now based. It's free and has interactive educational displays which the children enjoyed.

The State Mosque

The mosque sited just next to the Brooke Dockyard (as seen in pic above) has changed its hue recently but stands just as stately. The original mosque built from timber in 1847 by the family of a Malay leader, Datuk Patinggi Ali. As the frequented mosque began deteriorating, a mosque made from brick and mortar replaced it in 1880. By 1965, a new mosque was built and still stands today. The ground's cemetary is the resting place for many nobles of the old era as can be seen by the draping of different coloured cloth on the headstones. The older headstones made of cengal wood date back 300+ years.

Fort Margherita

Fort Margherita was left in its state of disuse for a long, long time being the people that be had no vision for this historic building. Until recently. The Brooke Gallery is now located at the Fort and rightly as it should. The Brooke Gallery opened its door to the public in 2015 and is truly a worthwhile visit. A collaboration between the Museum Department and the Brooke Trust and Friends of Sarawak Museum to develop the gallery at Fort Margherita.

The Fort was built of timber in its early years and later in 1879 , Charles Brooke rebuilt it in brick and mortar fashioned after an English castle at the cost of 8,200 Spanish Dollars. http://sarawakheritagesociety.com

A letter to from the swashbuckling hollywood actor , Errol Flynn to the Ranee Sylvia Brooke. http://www.telegraph.co.uk/

Opening hours: Mondays to Fridays, 9.00am - 4.45pm , Saturday & Sunday, 10.00am - 4.00pm

Located: Petra Jaya, across the river from waterfront.

Entrance fee: RM20 (Non Malaysians) , RM5 (Malaysians)

Sunday Market

The Sunday morning market at Jln Sadok is a good place for a stroll around. The market is situated in a square and snakes along the alleyways. All kinds of produce from live sago grubs to fleshy young coconut trunks are sold. Villagers from afar bring their produce for sale here and can be heard at least a dozen dialects from different languages; sellers hawking their wares and buyers negotiating for a better price. The famous Sarawak terubok salted fish is available here for RM7 onwards. If you're already hooked on midin (fern) usually served fried with belacan, here's the place to pack some for home.

Ths Sadok market however has been moved into a complex about 3km from Kuching town at an area called Kubah Ria.

It is roughly a 30 minutes walk and 5 minutes by taxi from Waterfront Kuching.

Buses K5, K7, and K71 operated by City Public Link Bus, in front of the oldest mosque in Kuching.

  • Buses no. 5,7,9,11,12 operated by Matang Transport Co. on Jalan P. Ramlee. It is a 5 minute bus ride.



  • Boat Cruise down the river

    Evening is a good time to hop onto one of the many boat cruises operating at the Kuching waterfront.

    The fancy Harbour Cruises boat runs daily and sunset cruises. City Sightseeing Cruise 2.30-3.30 (inclusive of free flow orange drink, and 1 hour cruising) RM 45 for Adults and RM 25 for Children and Signature Sightseeing Sunset Cruise (inclusive of orange drink, traditional sarawakian kuih lapis (layered cake), live commentary and cultural performance 5.30 PM to 7.00PM RM60 for Adults and RM30 for children. This cruise boat also caters to functions, parties etc which includes buffet meals.

    A traditional Kotak Boat which looks like a converted fishing boat runs at a cheaper rate.

    Tambang

    Somewhat looking like a floating billboard for fair & lovely and nestle ads, these are the boats that are seen crossing the river, bringing passengers from one bank to the other for as cheap as 40 - 60sen per trip. For those wanting to visit the Police Museum ( Fort Margherita ) and the Astana, just hop onto one of these tambangs and do what the locals do.

    Charles Brooke as a gift for his wife, Margaret de Windt, built the Astana, in 1870. Margaret had just turned 20 when she married and moved out to Sarawak . Charles proposed to her while she was playing the piano. The proposal was hastily written on a piece of paper with a message,' With a humble demean If the King were to pray That you'd be his Queen, would not you say Nay?' . Margaret arrived and fell in love with Kuching. She loved the land and its entire people. She quickly learned the Malay language and discarded her cumbersome clothes of cool climate for the practical clothes of the tropics.The Astana is now Governor of Sarawak's residence and is closed to the public.

    Main Bazaar

    Down the street from the Tua Pek Kong temple is the main bazaar. This is the place to pick up some native artefacts, bamboo mats, souvenirs, furniture, packs of Sarawak pepper, gambier; you name it, down to kitsch ornaments. A few tour agents are located here too and makes a good place to shop around for day trips or even jungle trekking trips like the headhunter trail.

    Just behind the main bazaar is Carpenter Street. The old street has many little coffee shops and food stalls.



    Kuching - best time to go

    A good time to visit Kuching would be during the festivals like the Kaul festival in April/May. The Rainforest Music Festival in July is a good time to visit especially for World Music lovers. For those interested in ethnic textile weaving , kuching hosts an annual conference with attendance from experts all over the world ~ World Eco-Fiber & Textile Forum

    Kuching - getting there

    By Air

    Daily flights are available from Kuala Lumpur International Airport (KLIA) and Kota Kinabalu (Sabah). For more on schedules; refer to Air Asia or Malaysia Airlines

    Transportation from Airport to the city is only by:

    Taxi which will cost about RM 26 per taxi to the city centre. Passengers can buy the taxi coupon from the taxi counter.

    By Bus

    The main intercity bus terminal is at the Penrissen Bus Terminal , at Mile 3, Jln Penrissen; about 5km southeast of the city . For an idea of the bus schedules and fares, have a look at a local bus company called biaramas bas express. http://busasia.my/busasia/

    For buses going to the outskirts of the city like to Bako , buses leave from Bus Stop no. 1 at Jln Market, opposite Elektra House . For those going to Semengoh, take the STC(Sarawak Transport Company) bus No 6, 6A, 6B, or 6C from opposite the Public Bank in town, on Jalan Tun Abang Haji Openg

    Taken from http://sarawaktourism.com :

    Express intercity coaches ~ Borneo Highway Express (tickets also available at Borneo Interland, 63 Main Bazaar, Tel: 413595), Kirata & Sapphire Pacific Express and Sri Merah Express bus services; Syarikat Bus Baram (Tel: 576700); MTC Express (Tel: 463161); Sungei Merah (Tel: 571888); Borneo Express Bus (Tel: 452717); Eva Express (Tel: 577333); TransBorneo Resources (Tel: 452271) and ATS (Tel: 457773). Buses to Sibu, Bintulu and Miri often involve a change of bus in Sarikei. Phone the bus companies for the latest timetables. The Visitor Information Centre has a display board with the latest bus schedules and prices.

    Bus Asia (Tel: 1 300 888 287 Hotline: 411111) www.busasia.net

    Kuching Airport. ~ No public bus service to and from the airport.

    Bako ~ Rapid Kuching, 1 hour. First bus (from Kuching) 7.00am, last bus 6.00pm. Last regular bus back from Bako 5.00 pm. White minibuses (bas sewa) also go to Kampung Bako). They operate from 6 am to 5 pm and depart from the open air market. There is no fixed schedule – minibuses leave when they are full.

    Bau ~ STC bus No. 2 or Bau Transport Co. bus No. 2, approx. 1 hour. Every 20 mins. First bus (from Kuching) 6 am, last bus 6 pm. Buses depart from near the Saujana car park

    Betong ~ STC Bus No. EP10. Buses at 8 am and 1 pm.

    Buntal ~. Petra Jaya bus No. 2D. 35 mins. First bus (from Kuching) 6 am. Last bus back from Buntal 6.40 pm.

    Damai / Sarawak Cultural Village (SCV) ~ A Kuching-Damai shuttle bus service departs regularly from outside the Hotel Grand Margherita with drop offs at the resort hotels and Sarawak Cultural Village. One way fare is RM 12 (adults), RM 6 (children), takes approx. 40 mins. First bus (from Kuching) 7.30 am, last bus 10 pm. Last bus back from Damai 9 pm. For the full timetable check with the bell counter at the Hotel Grand Margherita.

    Fairy and Wind Caves (from Bau Bus Station) ~ Bau Transport Co. Bus No. 3, every 1/2 hour from 6.20 am to 6 pm.

    Kota Samarahan ~ Petra Jaya Bus No. 10A. First bus (from Kuching) 6.30 am, last bus 5.15 pm. Last bus back Kota Samarahan 5.30 pm.

    Kubah/Matang Wildlife Centre. ~ No bus service from Kuching. Take a white local minibus. These white mini buses wait at the alleyway next to the shops in the Saujana car park complex. There is no fixed timetable, mini buses leave when there are enough passengers.

    Lundu (for Gunung Gading) ~ STC bus No. EP07. approx. 2 hrs. Buses depart from the regional express bus terminal.

    Mukah ~ TransBorneo Resources and Biaramas.

    Penrissen Rd. Bus Terminal (for long-distance services). ~ STC bus Nos. 3A, 4B, 6, 9, and many more (at STC counter, Jalan Masjid). First bus (from Kuching) 6.15 am, last bus 7 pm. If you are catching an early bus you may have to take a taxi to the terminal.

    Pontianak (Indonesia).~ approx. 8 hrs. Buses depart from Penrissen Rd. Terminal. Biaramas/Tebakang Express (Tel: 456999) Kirata Express, Sapphire Pacific and Sri Merah Express – book through Vital Focus Transportation (Tel: 453190 or 461277) or Borneo Interland (63 Main Bazaar, Tel: 413595). ATS (Tel: 457773), Eva Express (Tel: 577333) and Damri (Tel: 572098)

    Sarikei. ~ 5-6 hrs. Biaramas Express, Borneo Highway, PB, Suria Express, Syarikat Bus Baram,. MTC Express, Borneo Express ,TransBorneo, Sungei Merah , Eva Express.

    Sematan (via Lundu). ~ STC bus No. EP07.

    Semenggoh ~ STC bus Nos. 6.

    Serian ~ City Public Link – K3. STC Express bus. No 3A. approx. 1 hr. Every hour. First bus (from Kuching) 6.15 am, last bus 7 pm. Vital Focus Transportation, approx. every hour. First bus from Kuching 6.30 am, last bus 10 pm.

    Sibu ~ 7 hrs.

    Sri Aman ~ STC Express bus No. EP09. RM 19, approx 3 hrs. Departs from regional express bus terminal.

    Taxi

    Taxis in Kuching and the rest of Sarawak do not run on meters although all taxis have been installed with meters . So, before you get into a taxi, negotiate with them. taxi fare in borneo is not cheap. If you insist on having a metered ride, the drivers will normally not feel happy about it but if you feel strongly, do enforce your rights.

    Minivans

    There are minivans that ply the routes in and around kuching. The fares are generally a little more expensive than the buses and for those plying the outskirts, passengers may have to wait until the vans fill up before leaving.

    Boats

    Those wanting to take the fastboats upriver to Sibu, Express Bahagia and Express Sejahtera express boats run daily. The boat ride takes about 4hours.

    Express Bahagia (Tel: 082-410076)

    Schedule 8.30am

    Fare RM40.00 per way

    Sejahtera Pertama (Tel: 082-256736 / 257637 / 413595)

    Schedule 9.15am, 12.45pm

    Fare RM40.00 per way

    Please call the respective boat operators for the latest price and schedule