Malaysia is one of the most popular travel destinations in the world, and it’s safe to say that’s mostly thanks to Borneo. Located east of the mainland, it features incredible wildlife (monkeys galore!), lush rainforests, stunning beaches and some of the best snorkeling around. One of the biggest cities on the island is Kuching, which is the capital of Sarawak. Home to about one million people, it’s a vibrant, colourful spot that houses some incredible architecture, serene gardens and a giant dose of Malay culture. Here’s how to spend your time, if you find yourself in the ‘Cat City.’
New Sarawak State Legislative Assembly Building
Only completed in 2009, Dewan Undangan Negeri is truly one of a kind. The assembly building is meant for conducting state business, but is quickly becoming the highlight of any visit to Kuching thanks to its incredible and unique architectural stylings. At only nine stories high it may not seem like much, but when you see it in person it’s incredible how grand it seems, making the people standing below look like tiny ants. Unfortunately the site is not currently open for tours, but visitors are free to walk around the grounds. Truth be told, you don’t have to get that close to it for a good look: instead, head down to the waterfront, and snap away!
A top spot in Kuching is the Taman Sahabat, aka the Malaysia-China friendship park. The large space hosts beautiful pavilions, a koi pond, gardens and statues—including a couple of kitty cats (remember, Cat City?!). Visitors can relax among the bright tropical flowers or check out the huge monument to China’s Admiral Zheng Ho. Taman Sahabat is also a popular spot for wedding pictures, so if you time it right you might get to see a bride and groom!
Kuching is home to Malays, Indians, Ibans and Chinese. Not only does that make the city a cultural melting pot, but it’s also resulted in some incredible gastronomical offerings. Kuching is a fantastic spot for foodies, especially if you’re a fan of food stalls. Whether you head into one of the tiny restaurants or hit up the open air markets, you’ll be sure to find an incredible fusion meal—for only about $3 including a beer! Vegetarian, meat, spicy, not spicy, Indian, Chinese…whatever you’re in the mood for, you’re sure to find it in Kuching.
This is also a great place to go for dim sum, which is basically Cantonese food prepared in bite-sized proportions, like appetizers. Go for brunch and prepare to be dazzled—even if you don’t exactly know what you’re eating!
Sarawak Cultural Village
Looking for a cultural hit? Then this is your place. The Sarawak Cultural Village is like taking a walk back in time, through a living museum. Granted, it’s not actually in Kuching (it’s a 45 minute drive) but it’s worth it for being able to get a glimpse of what Malaysian life used to be like.
The complex is tucked into the base of Mount Santubong, which makes for some great scenery, and is a showcase of Malay customs and heritage. A number of traditional homes have been constructed on the property, including the Orang Ulu longhouse, a Melanau (tall house) and even one on stilts! Visitors are free to walk through them, and inside you can find the staff in traditional dress, doing things like making cakes, spinning tops, even shooting a blow dart.
There is also a cultural show twice a day which features a number of traditional dances, including the Iban- Ngajat Lesong where a warrior demonstrates the strength of his teeth by clenching down on, then lifting, a 20 kg mortar! In another, one man balances on his stomach atop a colourful pole about 9 feet up, held up by three men below.
As if that weren’t enough excitement, there’s also a blow dart demonstration. A mean looking warrior with a long blow dart walks up and down through the audience, eyeing everyone down. Being a bit concerned I pretended to be busy with my camera—so of course, he picked me. I went to the front of the stage and was pretty sure he was going to make me put something on my head and shoot at it—in which case I would have ran! Instead, he handed over the blow dart, helping me aim at some balloons that were set up about 50 feet away. I ended up popping one on the first try! Clearly, I do well under pressure, and from then on the joke was that I should return home to roam the streets with my lethal blow dart.
Admission to Sarawak Cultural Village is RM 60 for adults (about $20) or RM 30 for children. Those aged 6 and under are free. The village is open every day from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., and the cultural shows happen from 11:30 a.m.-12:15 p.m. and 4 p.m.- 4:45 p.m.
Currency: The Malaysian Ringgit (MYR)
How to get there: Kuching International Airport has flights that will connect you with Brunei and Kota Kinabalu in Borneo, as well as around Kuala Lumpur on the mainland. There are also international flights available from places such as Hong Kong and Singapore.
Alternatively, you could get to Kuching by bus, as there is service between Kuching and Pontianak, Indonesia which takes about 10 hours. Buses also travel to Bandar Sri Begawan, Brunei daily.
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