A few days in Kuching Sarawak
Nestled on the banks of the Sarawak River, Kuching is an ideal gateway to Borneo. Here, you can immerse yourself in the rich heritage of Sarawak's indigenous communities, witness the wonders of the Bornean rainforest, and explore an easy to navigate city that beautifully melds tradition and modernity.
In the post to follow, I will be your virtual tour guides, walking you through things you should see and do in Kuching. From the lively streets of the Old Town to the wild beauty of Bako National Park, Kuching is the perfect place to start your Borneo adventure.
Starting Your Borneo Adventure In Kuching
I flew to Kuching direct from Manila which is an easy 3 hour flight. Kuching itself is a really nice city and while its pretty big it feels very small and has managed to maintain its cultural feel.
Deciding to start my Malaysian Borneo experience in Kuching wasn't just a spur of the moment decision. Kuching is a nice safe city that embraces the river lifestyle, has quite a few things to see and is an easy place to start.
About Kuching as a city
Malaysia is a true mix of race, religion and beliefs however I don't think I've ever seen it work as well as it does in Kuching. Borneo has been ruled by various different nationalities over the years however unlike a lot of other cities, Kuching apparantly bears no ill feelings to any of its past or current rulers.
Chinese is spoken widely here, English is common place, you can hear a smattering of Tagalog (Philippino) and along with Bahsa (the Malay language) you will also hear a few different local dialects.
Kuching is (or was) based around trade up and down the river and while the word Kuching in Malay means cat there is much conjecture that it in fact comes from a very similar sounding Chinese word that means port. Despite that probably being correct, Kuching has embraced its cat status and everywhere you go there are statues of cats.
OMG – EVERYWHERE!! Every round about, every city monument – you can't escape the damn cats!
Kuching is a great jump off point for a few adventure places so its pretty popular on the backpacker trail, however in saying that, apart from Chin who was staying at my hostel, I didn't see too many western tourists at all.
Things To Do and See In Kuching
1. Embrace the riverside food stalls and ALL their flavours
After the Philippines which was surprisingly western food wise, I was beyond delighted to be back in tasty Asia. I landed, checked in to the hostel and then headed straight to the waterfront for Mee Goring. OMG – food with noodles and flavour. I was in heaven and I have to admit, this was the start of me eating fried noodles my entire way around Borneo.
The food in Kuching is plentiful and affordable and Oliver our hostel manager suggested a few local places to me which I took him up on and was glad I did.
I don't know why but often as Westerners we don't always listen to suggestions or recommendations. Maybe its because info is so readily available that we don't offer any real credit to a local recommendation, but I was determined to follow some local advice this trip so I took Oliver up on all his suggestions.
A couple he suggested were divine – cheap, amazing quality and superb flavour, however the one that everyone suggested I wasn't super fussed on, but I did figure out why later on.
The stretch of river that runs from the Grand Margherita hotel through to the Square Prison tower is a great place to eat at night. There area a few places open during the day but it seems that most nights it becomes a market with food and souvenirs.
I plate of REALLY good seafood noodles was about $8 AUD. You won't have trouble finding good food though. It is Malaysia after all.
Funnily I walked past Skynet one day. I moved pretty quickly in case they were still planning world domination.
2. Eat Laksa At Chun Choon Cafe
Chun Choon Cafe is “the” laksa place in Kuching. Apparently its been on TV shows, is in Lonely Planet and is well known globally for the best laksa in the region. You have to get there early though as they sell out of produce around 11, so Chin and I headed off at around 7am.
Laksa for breakfast – why not hey?
I wasn't fussed at all. It was nice, but I think the reason I didn't love it was that in Australia our Laksa is very strong. Its spicy sure, but mostly it's a very strong flavour. The Laksa in Kuching is much milder so while I was initially a bit hesitant about having laksa for breaky, it was fine as it was very mild and easy to eat.
So while it is good food – for Australians (weirdly) maybe not quite what you are used to. It's location is central and easy to find and others I have mentioned Chun Choon too were enamoured with their food so I think it was just not quite what I expected.
3. Do a Half Day Cycle Tour around the sights of Kuching
This cycle tour was very diverse and it was everything from eating at a local café, to cycling along the river and out to some homes built on stilts on the edge of town. Riding across the timber boardwalks is a little hairy because you have to go quite slow but its really fun to see how the locals live.
We also got to visit a local market and had some VERY nice noodles for lunch as well as visiting Fort Margherita which was erected by Rajah Charles and named after his wife, Renae Margaret.
They were known as the White Rajahs and the story is pretty interesting. Read more about her on Wikipedia. She wrote a book about her life in Sarawak which I read and really enjoyed, however I can't seem to find it anywhere now. It's call My Life In Sarawak if you want to try to find a copy.
After you have done the fort, you put your pushbike on a boat and cross the river back to the starting point which is really fun.
Aside from the sore bum (which has nothing to do with the cycle company), it was excellent and I would thoroughly recommend it. If you would prefer to keep your arse firmly away from a push bike seat, a city tour by car is probably more suited to you.
4. Visit the local Cultural Centre for a great overview of the local customs and housing styles
I headed out to the local Cultural Centre, Kampung Budaya Sarawak, just on the edge of the city one day and was really impressed actually. They have a really great show which covers local customs via dance. They also have the longhouses on site and you can learn about how families live in the homes.
I did manage to work out how to get there via public transport but it was going to take so long that in the end I just did a tour. I would thoroughly recommend the tours as its so much quicker to get there and back and you do get free time to spend how you would like inside the complex.
Tours to the Kuching Cultural Center
5. Visit Bako National Park
Chin and I also got the bus out to Bako (say baakoo) national park which was an adventure in itself. I found it easy enough to get there and back but you should know that you get the bus to the boat dock and then you pay for your National Park entrance which includes the boat transfer to the park.
My post on Bako has all the info you need to get there and back and what to see and do once you are in the park. WATCH OUT FOR THE MONKEYS WITH FOOD!!
Bako National Park and Sea Stack Tours From Kuching
6. Do a Sunset Cruise On the Sarawak River in Kuching
Sunset cruises are hard not to do in Kuching. They are very popular and I have to say way better than I imagined. I don't have heaps of faith in cruises usually as they can be very hit and miss but I really enjoyed the experience.
As the boat sets off from the bustling waterfront of Kuching, you'll immediately notice the contrast between the city's energy and the tranquillity of the river. The sunset colours are quite extraordinary especially as you aren't close to the coast. I was very surprised at just how beautiful the sunset was.
Sunset River Cruises on the Sarawak River In Kuching
7. Do A Day Trip To Gunung Gading National Park to see the Rafflesia flowers
One of the few parks in Borneo that have the giant Rafflesia flowers is Gunung Gading. It is a 2 hour drive from Kuching but this is also the easiest way to get to the park unless you have a car.
The flowers are only available to see at certain times so be sure to check that they are actually flowering if that is your main focus. The park is home to some great hiking trails so if you are happy to do that as well, it might not matter so much if the flowers aren't in bloom.
Beware: they smell really bad!
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8. Visit Sarawak Orangutan Semenggoh Wildlife Centre Tour
This Orangutan Wildlife Centre isn't the one that most people go to in Sepilok. This is smaller but in my personal opinion, comparable to the Sepilok one.
They are also focused on rehabilitation so the Orangutans are supplied with food twicer per day but aren't forced to come and eat it. I loved that, but it does mean that you might go and not see too many Orangutans if there is a lot of food available in the surrounding forests.
You will definitely see some, but the number and size of the Orangutans you see can't be guaranteed. They are so cool though and this would be high on my list to add to your Kuching Itinerary.
Tours that visit the Orangutan Centre in Kuching
9. See The Irrawaddy River Dolphins
These dolphins are SO CUTE! They don't have the pointy nose we are used to with bottle nose dolphins and because of this they are just adorable to see.
Of course like any wild animal seeing them isn't guaranteed but the operators are very good at knowing where they are and finding them. I also felt that there wasn't any stress to the dolphins which was a concern of mine.
The company operates ethically and I found the few hours I spent checking out the mangrove creatures and the dolphins some of the most relaxed time I spent in Kuching. It's not an early start either which is nice!
Kuching Irrawaddy Dolphin and Mangrove Tour
10. Embrace the Kitsch of the Cat Museum
The Cat Museum is around 7km from the centre of Kuching so it's a taxi ride to get there. The Museum is very naff but it is fun and I would visit just for some really weird selfie opportunities.
11. Feast on the colors that abound in China Town
I was in Kuching shortly before Chinese New Year so I've never found out if the Chinatown area always looks like this or if it was decorated for the Chinese New Year. Regardless, its a great area with of course wonderful food and the chance to purchase a rice paper fan that stayed with me for the entirety of my stay in Borneo.
12. Get A Selfie With The Cat Statue
The famous Cat Statue is in the middle of an intersection of 3 roads in the city. There are pedestrian crossings to the statue so its safe to get over there and take your photo with the weird looking cats. I wasn't super fussed and I was on my own so my cat selfie isn't great, but I did it!
How To Get To Kuching
Kuching is a direct flight from multiple destinations and very easy to get to. If you can get yourself to Kuala Lumpur you can fly direct with Malindo Air, AirAsia or Malaysian Airlines.
AirAsia, Scoot and Malaysian airlines fly direct to Kuching from Singapore.
Getting Around Kuching
One of the easiest and cheapest ways to get around Kuching (and all of Borneo) is the Grab app. It's kind of like uber for Asia and its used by everyone. It is primarily a Taxi App but if you can't communicate well its so handy to just put in where you want to go and not have to try and explain in your very bad Australian accent!
Grab won't work outside of Asia, so download it before you arrive but know it won't work until you land.
Communicating in Borneo
eSims are my favourite thing at the moment. Sure you need a dual sim phone to make the most of them, but they are just wonderful inventions. My phone isn't eSim rated but I purchased a sim that converts it to one. You can order the eSim cards from eSim.me and then once that is in your phone you can assign eSims to that card.
It is either easier with a dual sim phone because it doesn't work well if you keep taking the eSim card out. Alternatively you might consider just getting a cheaper phone only for data and putting the eSim.me card in that.
I have found that usually it works better if you turn your phone off after your turn on the current eSim and then after a few minutes turn it back on again. It just seems to register the network quicker.
eSims for your Phone for Borneo
Conclusion: Visiting Kuching Borneo's Cat City
Kuching is a great place to start as far as visiting Borneo is concerned. There is quite a bit to see and do, its a small easy to get around city, there are national parks close and its a direct flight from Kuala Lumpur or Singapore.
I would recommend starting in Kuching and then heading north east finishing in Sandakan in Sabah. This is an easy path to follow and by the time you leave Kuching you are pretty settled in Malaysian Borneo.