There are just enough things to do in Kuching, the capital of Sarawak in Borneo, without feeling rushed or overwhelmed.
Although most travelers arrive interested in Borneo's many natural attractions, all inevitably end up spending some days in the "big" city (the population is only around 330,000) before going farther afield. Fortunately, Kuching is pleasant, there are a few things to do, and it was once boasted as the "cleanest city in Asia" — bonus!
Walking around between sights in Kuching, you slowly become aware that something is missing: the hassle! Unlike some other places in Asia where travelers get plenty of sales pressure, the vibe in Kuching is friendly. Those smiling "good mornings" are actually genuine.
A handful of interesting museums in Kuching, along with a few small malls, are enough to keep you occupied on rainy or recovery days before heading back to the rainforest.
Note: The Sarawak Cultural Village is a top attraction 22 miles outside of Kuching but isn't included on this list. Kuching gets busy during the annual Rainforest World Music Festival held there each summer.
01 of 07
First and foremost, Bako National Park is the quickest and most accessible way to enjoy a taste of Borneo's rainforest. If you want to get a taste of the rainforest without going too far, Bako is the place to do so.
Located about 30 minutes from Kuching, Bako is Sarawak's smallest and oldest national park. It is also the most accessible.
Even travelers who aren't up for any serious trekking will enjoy the abundance of flora and fauna in Bako, including the endangered, strange-looking proboscis monkeys, famous for their big noses. Just by traversing the boardwalk trails around the park headquarters, you'll be treated to lots of wildlife.
Bako can be visited with or without a guide on a day trip and is definitely one of the recommended things to do while in Kuching. You'll take a small boat to get there.
02 of 07
Located only 45 minutes outside of Kuching, the Semenggoh Wildlife Rehabilitation Centre is the easiest way to see Borneo's endangered orangutans.
Feeding times at 9 a.m. and 3 p.m. provide visitors with two chances to photograph semi-wild orangutans that come out of the forest for offerings of fruit. There aren't any guarantees the orangutans will show up, but some almost always do.
The rangers at Semenggoh are highly trained, and signboards explaining the plight of the orangutans will make you leave with a burden for the future of these highly intelligent creatures.
03 of 07
See Free Museums
Once you've enjoyed some of Sarawak's rainforest, consider checking out some of the small museums — many are free. You can easily visit two or three of the museums in a single day along with the fort.
Many interesting museums are located within walking distance of Chinatown and the waterfront; all are free or request a small donation. Museums usually close at 4:30 p.m.
The Sarawak State (Ethnology) Museum is an excellent place to start for learning about the former headhunting indigenous tribes and local culture.
Kuching hosts museums for Islam, Chinese culture, art, natural history/science, textiles, women, and other subjects. And since you're visiting the "Cat City" (Kuching means "cat" in the Malaysian language) don't forget about the Cat Museum.
Find out about all of Kuching's museums on their site: http://www.museum.sarawak.gov.my.
04 of 07
Enjoy the Kuching Waterfront
Kuching's waterfront is extremely pleasant — and safe — to stroll at night, particularly around sunset as the call to prayer reverberates across the river.
The well-maintained walkway has a few carts selling snacks and sweet drinks, plus benches for sitting to take in the view. Local buskers and street musicians sometimes perform along the way.
You can cross the river by boat for a small fee to explore the new walkway on the other side. Sunset river cruises are available at stations along the waterfront.Continue to 5 of 7 below.
05 of 07
Book Future Adventures
Arrangements for adventures ranging from visits to nearby caves and river kayaking to Iban longhouse stays can be made while in Kuching. Visit the forestry office located on the waterfront for advice from friendly rangers and courtesy national park bookings.
Get into touch with the helpful Sarawak Tourism Board (http://www.sarawaktourism.com) for finding certified guides and some good ideas for adventurous activities.
06 of 07
Enjoy Sarawak Food
Top of the list of things to do in Kuching should be to try a few local dishes to try before leaving Sarawak. Some of the offerings won't be available anywhere else.
Begin by treating yourself to the famous Top Spot seafood located on a hill at the end of the waterfront. The large, open-air food court has every type of seafood imaginable, cooked to order, for reasonable prices. The seafood is so fresh it's literally still squirming!
Along with local seafood, sample some of these specialties while in Kuching:
- Laksa Sarawak: Spicy, slightly fishy, and certainly filling, Sarawak's version of laksa noodles is different than that found in other parts of Southeast Asia.
- Midin: A local fern that grows wild in the rainforest, midin is healthy, delicious, and remains crunchy even after being cooked! You can order midin as a side dish at the Top Spot Seafood restaurant. Try it cooked in garlic.
- Kolo Mee: Kolo Mee is the default noodle soup for many locals. Made from egg noodles, the dish is cheap and best enjoyed in Chinatown.
- Kek Lapis: The colorful, multi-layer cakes seen around town are a local treat known as kek lapis. Beware: they are as heavy as they look.
Empurau, a type of carp from Sarawak that eats only fruit, is the most expensive fish in Malaysia, perhaps all of Asia. A prepared fish can cost up to US $500 or more in a restaurant!
07 of 07
Visit the Civic Centre
Last on the list of things to do in Kuching is to check out the prominent Civic Centre easily seen from the waterfront.
Along with an educational film, you'll get a 360-degree panorama of the area. On a clear day, even the mountains in Kalamantan are visible!
Look for the unique building on Jalan Taman Budaya with the umbrella-shaped roof. Films about Kuching are shown three times daily. If you have time for a show, Sarawak's planetarium is near.