Kuching, Malaysian Borneo
A sleepy town with a cat obsession
Certainly one of the most interesting parts of travelling is finding places which have unique traits different to home. Some places have unique festivals, others with ancient traditions, and every now and then, you’ll stumble upon a place that has a bizarre obsession. The sleepy city of Kuching, nestled close to the coastline of the Malaysian part of Borneo just happens to be one of these cities. It’s obsession is one with our feline friends: cats.
Now when I say obsession, I’m not referring to something as crazy as that girl on youtube who just ‘loves cats‘ to the point of absurdity. No, no. It’s a more innocent type of obsession. One filled with statues in the city centre, plaques around town, and even a Cat Museum dedicated to the history of cats (conveniently found in City Hall). There are an assortment of other museums in the city, consisting of historical, textile, timber museums, and more.
Now Kuching’s not just all about cats (though it’s certainly a funny highlight). It happens to be a city located in the middle of somewhere many would only be able to describe as paradise. With lush jungle, limestone cliffs, and nearby dive-able ocean, it’s a hub for activity. There’s some interesting attractions around town, including old defence towers along the river, Fort Margherita which is an old fort built in 1879, and The Astana which is the palace of the old Raja (ruler) of Sarawak. The Kuching Waterfront is an approximately 1 kilometre long riverside esplanade, which is home to numerous food vending stalls, restaurants and a small amphitheatre which occasionally hosts live performances. Amongst my favourite areas are Carpenter Street, Padungan Street (Kuching’s China town) and India Street (Kuching’s little India). These streets are each incredibly rich in history, and have been excellently preserved over time.
In addition to it’s great inner attractions, I should certainly make mention of the locals. Without a question of a doubt, Kuching is home to some of the most friendly, welcoming locals you will ever meet! Just upon arriving, my friend Anthony and I were walking down the riverside esplanade in search of a district which may home some good guest-houses. We were stopped several times, backpacks in tow, not to be sold anything, which is a common practice often for tourists passing by, but instead to see if we needed any help or directions! This happened at least 3 times in the short 15 mins walk along the waterfront… and it didn’t stop there! I was explaining to Anthony later on how I had only experienced that kind of hospitality once before, in Bukittinggi, in Northern Sumatra, Indonesia. I had explained how at one point, while walking down the street, locals actually stopped what they were doing to wave hello! “Hey mister!! Welcome!!”. This was being done while balancing high up in the air on some bamboo scaffolding of a construction site. No sooner had I said that, then we heard the familiar echoing greetings from a nearby construction site in central Kuching… at 10 pm! Kuching is a sleepy town, home to some incredibly friendly people.
SEE – Photos & Videos
GO – Getting There
Kuching is quite accessible as a city, mainly in part to it’s airport. There are regular daily flights arriving from Kuala Lumpur. It’s also quite easy to take public transit from the airport into the city. There are no other major cities nearby, so any other transport would likely be by speedboat down the Borneo coastline, or by bus, transiting from some of the other nearest towns. Buses coming in and out of the city come in both ‘local’ and ‘first class’ varieties. You will definitely get what you pay for, though, and it may be worth the little extra for the first class buses, if heading a decent distance out of town.
Do – Activities & Attractions
Bako National Park – home to the unfortunately long nosed primate, the proboscis monkey, Bako National Park is easily accessible from Kuching, with roughly a 1.5 hour commute from the city centre, by bus and boat.
Semmengoh Oran-utan Rehabilitation Centre – an incredible, up-close experience with some of our closest primates, Semenggoh Wildlife Centre is only an hour away by public transport, and you can get right in the middle of the action, seeing some of our ginger relatives.
Rock Climbing – there are several gorgeous limestone cliffs surrounding Kuching, within an hour’s drive. Some of them have already been scaled and have hooks already mounted for those interested in doing a climb. A special thanks to Amélie of Bornéo à la Carte for organizing my climb (amongst many other awesome activities), and Chien and Vanessa for cheering me on while I was terrifyingly glued to the wall.
Caving (spelunking) – there are countless cave systems scattered all throughout the region. Some have guides, others you would have to do solo. I suggest going with friends, possibly paying a familiar local to accompany you, and bringing headlamps, especially if you’re not accustomed to doing spelunking solo. We don’t want you to get lost after-all.
Scuba Diving – There is some great diving around Borneo. Some of the best in the world, arguably. Though Kota Kinabalu is more known for its diving, Kuching has a few WW11 Japanese warships sunk right off shore. If you can, I’d suggest contacting Ting Suk Eng, a very experienced local dive master in the area, who may be able to show you the ropes.
Dayak Long-house Tribes – There are a number of local tribes still living in the traditonal way, in very close proximity to Kuching, in some of the lush jungle. It is possible to organize tours to visit some, mind you most of the tours are quite touristic, but that is intentional to prevent too much exposure to the majority of the other tribes who don’t necessarily want the visitors coming through. There is one Dayak Tribe home stay I was fortunate enough to come across, and that was Saloma’s Village Stay, where you can stay in the home of some local tribe’s people, and have a fully immersive experience. I’d highly recommend this to anyone interested.
Stay – Accommodation
Eat – Restaurants
The food here is generally standard Malaysian fare, and with a China Town and Little India in the centre, it offers several options to keep your tastebuds entertained. One Malaysian dish which varies from one city/region to another is the spicy dish known as Laksa. I have to say, Kuching’s Laksa Sarawak is by far my favourite in Malaysia! They just seem to have the balance of spices down to a science. You will not go hungry during your visit.
Time – Seasonality & Schedules
Safety – Possible risks
Please Note: Travel inherently comes with an element of risk (just like crossing the road does). You are putting yourself in elements that are unfamiliar and foreign to your usual lifestyle and with that, become more susceptible to fall victim those who try to play off those unfamiliar to their local scams. There are also Please Note: Travel inherently comes with an element of risk (just like crossing the road does). You are putting yourself in elements that are unfamiliar and foreign to your usual lifestyle and with that, become more susceptible to fall victim those who try to play off those unfamiliar to their local scams. There are also potential dangers in the environments to which you may not be accustomed to.
Please take extra care in travelling, ensure that you have adequate medical insurance (accidents seem to happen when you least expect them), and have let a trusted colleague, family member or friend know your whereabouts and activities.
Where Sidewalks End travel advises you to travel at your own risk, and to be extra aware of your surroundings (without letting it spoiling your time).
Pay – How much does it cost?
Responsible Travel – Best Practices
Reality Check – Be Aware
Kuching is one of those places that it’s really hard to think of anything negative to say. Some people may find it a little ‘too’ sleepy of a town. There’s really not too much happening at any one time. However, after visiting busy cities in the region such as Bangkok, Kuala Lumpur or Singapore, it’s a very refreshing change of pace. Oddly enough, I didn’t see that many cats wandering the streets during my stay there, either. Perhaps they were all being pampered in some kitty spa, and fed premium cuts of meat while being fanned and massaged by their masters… or maybe it’s just an old taboo, and no one really cares about them anymore? You be the judge!
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Have you ever been to a city that had an interesting fetish? What was it, and did you find that it was still relevant, or just a faded taboo?
Please feel free to share your stories and thoughts in the comment section below!