Derived from the Malay word for “cat”, Kuching is an interesting city with a subtle, no-frills type attitude. Save for the various cat monuments erected throughout the city, the majority of ‘attractions’ for visitors to Kuching centre around the waterfront. Here you can witness the ebb and flow of daily life and how the river has played an important role in forming the city. Kuching has been well preserved and is best explored on foot, so grab a pair of comfortable shoes and check out the 5 things to do in the city below.
1. Learn About Sarawak’s History at the Sarawak Museum
Housed in a stunning white Normandy style town house that dates back to 1891, the Sarawak Museum has one of the best ethnographic collections in Southeast Asia. The main floor of the Old Building comprises of natural history displays, which really aren’t much to write home about. The real goods are found up on the second floor. Here you’ll find a collection of local native arts and crafts and a historical timeline and detailed descriptions of the longhouse ethnic groups. It’s definitely worth a visit to the Museum in combination with a visit to a traditional longhouse still in operation.
More Information: The museum is open from Monday to Friday from 9am – 4:45pm and on the weekends and public holidays from 10am – 4pm. Admission is free.
2. Cruise the Kuching River
The waterways have played an important role in the development of Kuching for centuries. A sunset cruise of the Kuching River is a great way to take in the city from a different perspective and to get a sense of the significant role water transportation plays in the city. Everyday at 5:30pm, the Equatorial departs from Kuching Esplanade and travels up and down the river for about 90 minutes. Along the way you’ll see colourful wooden boats docked for the evening, some notable buildings like the New State Assembly Building and the Indian Mosque, and small rustic homes built right up against the shoreline. Complementary cake and juice is served on board and a cultural performance takes over the back of the boat on the ride back.
More Information: The Equitorial costs 60RM per person.
3. Shop in the Main Bazaar
Just across the street from where the Equitorial is docked lies the Main Bazaar. It’s the oldest street in the city and is considered the heart of old Kuching. It’s become a bit touristy over the years with many of the shops selling your typical souvenir items like key chains, sarongs, and wooden carvings. But make a point to venture down the side streets that veer off from the Main Bazaar for a real feel of old Kuching. Here you’ll see examples of Chinese shop-house architecture where some families still continue the long-standing traditions of tin-smithing and carpentry. You’ll also find food stalls, coffee shops, and small traders tucked in amongst charming buildings.
4. Visit the World’s First Cat Museum
Random? Check. Quirky? Double Check. For a city named in honour of cats, it seems only fitting that there should be a museum dedicated to all things feline, right? Located in Kuching North City Hall, the kitsch factor starts the moment you walk through the giant cathead entrance. The ‘museum’ itself is rather small, at slightly larger than 1000 square feet, but what small space it occupies is made up for in the number of cat artifacts on display. Exhibits feature cats in literature, movie posters ceramics, and woodcarvings. There are also displays dedicated to the importance cats have had throughout history, including the superstitions and beliefs associated with them. Perhaps the most disturbing of them all are the display cases filled with taxidermy cats that were donated by an organization that gives new life to cats who lost their battle with automobiles, so to speak.
More information: Entry is free though there is a camera fee; 3RM for a handphone camera, 4RM for a digital camera, and 5RM for a video camera. The museum is open Monday to Sunday from 9am – 5pm.
5. Eat the Local Cuisine
Malaysia has some of the best food in the region all thanks to its melting pot of Malay, Chinese and Indian cuisine. One of the most common dishes you’ll find throughout the country is laksa. It’s a spicy, noodle-based soup dish usually made with vermicelli noodles, bean sprouts, strips of omelette, shrimp, fresh coriander and lime. Each region has a different spin on the dish, and Sarawak laksa is one of my favourite varieties. The locals eat this at any time of day, particularly in the morning for breakfast. Not only does it taste incredible but it’s extremely light on your wallet (between 5-7RM a bowl).
More Information: Grab a bowl of Sarawak laksa from Choon Hui café (34 Ban Hock Road), one of the most popular stalls in Kuching. 7am-noon, closed Mondays. Early bird gets the worm!
Have you been to Kuching before? What are some other things you’d recommend doing in the city?
My trip was made possible by the Malaysian Tourism Board and the Sarawak Tourism Board.