My time in Borneo was short, but sweet and my time in Sarawak was the shortest. Although I have limited experiences of Sarawak, I will account and advise all the places I visited and aimed to visit.
Kuching is more commonly known as: “The City of Cats”, and it grows on you over time. At first you might be taken aback by the jumble of business’s and houses packed tightly next to one another as if sardines in a tin can, selling precisely the same thing but arranged very differently. Streets are shaped along the waterfront promenade and all seem to head to the same direction, to the emptiness that surrounds the city. After exploring, you soon realise that Kuching is tiny and there is no need to look further afield, but rather closely, along the streets and alleyways. Being a hotspot for Chinese immigrants many years ago for work, means that welcoming those you pass with “Ni Hao”, and munching on fried chicken and fried fish is more common than you expect. Wander through town passing Chinese embellished and well decorated temples and shopkeepers with rows and rows of glittering gold in front of them- only stopping for a meal at a restaurant with no name- where the owner greets you energetically with: “this is the best meal you can get for four ringgitt!”
From here, learn more about the Chinese influx on Kuching and what it means to their culture in the Chinese Museum. I was energetically welcomed with “the only Chinese Museum in Malaysia- the only one!” Its interesting to learn about the various ethnic groups and what their trade is and how that has influenced and affected the growth of Kuching. Walk along the waterfront promenade with the vast ugly building of the Hilton Hotel on one side, and on the other: the pointy Sarawak State Assembly which looks like it is made out of origami, as well as Fort Margherita– a medieval European fort that looks out of place and odd in comparison to the sights that surround you. Walk past Padang Merdeka, marvel at the enormous ancient tree before heading to the Sarawak Museum. There are glass boxes of stuffed animals which are missable, however on the top floor, there is an exhibition based on the local tribes of Sarawak and their traditions. Here you can learn about traditional long houses and the art of mask making. Just on the other side of Padang Merdeka is Merdeka Plaza, an air conditioned shoppers paradise, which reminds me of the modern world and Asia that we are in. If your really into cats, walk to the cats column on the other side of town, and catch a cab to the cat museum- I was tempted, until a taxi driver told me in lengthy detail that the city is actually named after an old well, although everyone thinks its about cats- despite this, he tells me he has a cat.
I stayed in Borneo Seahare Hostel, an ideal base for a backpacker whom wants to stay in Kuching or use Kuching as camp whilst exploring Sarawak. Dorm beds are 20 ringitt and the hostel is owned by a British Expat who knows the needs of travellers. Opposite the Chinese Museum, the hostel is a cosy shelter to travellers who need it.
Restaurants are aplenty in Kuching, walk along the promenade when lit up at night and pick whatever takes your fancy. I stuck to small local eateries, where food was made in open kitchens cooked to feed a mass audience, apart from Kim’s Cafe– which serves local grub at a reasonable price- check out the owner Kim and her partner’s fully body tattoos. Memorizing.
Don’t let a visit to Sarawak be restricted with solely a stay in Kuching. Take advantage of the nature that’s right on your doorstep, and really venture to see what Borneo is all about. I headed to Bako National Park by a bright red tourist bus from town. When arriving at the park, after paying a 20 ringitt entry free, hop on to a boat for 20 ringitt to take you to the park. Speeding past sleepy fisherman, you catch your breath at the approaching beauty of the park. As if a scene from Jurassic Park, a beach with jagged rocks points you to the jetty where dead naked trees jut out a spiky and bent welcome. The national park offers a vast amount of trails all at different levels of difficulty, although even the easiest trail can be a little steep and dangerous at times (not one for my parents- I’m not sure about yours!) I took the trail of T.Paku, which is the most popular trail to spot Proboscis Monkeys and leads to a beach. I saw no monkeys but a incredible ant trail which was a marvel to watch- such minute insects with little impact on the global vastness of the world and the very trail I was on, working together creating a powerful force.
Not satisfied and wanting to quench my thirst for nature and wildlife even further, I headed on to the T.Pandan Kecil route, which takes you through deeper into the rainforest, up to a clearing and down the other side to see the “sea stack”. I recommend taking the Demali track and then splitting before the track to see the view titled: World’s End. Although a tough ascent with only ropes to support your weight and dangerous steps at times, the view is worth it. Returning to camp and passing the accommodation, I spotted what I had been searching for, the monkeys, jumping from branch to branch above me. A wonderful and amusing sight to see (those noses are ridiculous). I was told by others that staying a night there, you are able to see a much larger amount of wildlife, and 15 ringitt a night is a reasonable price to stay there. This means you have more time to do the trails, rest on empty beaches and you can even go on a night trail spotting flying lemars- although I was told one night stay is enough.
I really wanted to take a trip on the Batang Rejang from Sibu to Bintulu– which if you have the time, is an interesting way of travelling the country. However, time restrictions failed me. Instead of passing the traditional long houses and tribal life that I’m sure all tourists want to catch a glimpse of, I’m afraid the present day has influenced all, with modernised long houses’s made out of bricks with four wheel cars in the driveway, rather than made out of sticks and boats out front. If wanting to see authentic long houses, a trip to Annah Rais Long houses is advised, as here you can see and explore what a traditional long house looks like, I have also heard you are able to stay at one as well.