The Top 40 Places to Visit in Kuching, Sarawak (Borneo)
Sarawak, the largest state in Malaysia, is one of two states situated on the island of Borneo, which is famous for its orangutans. Sarawak was ruled by the British from 1842 until its independence in 1963 when it joined Malaya, Sabah and Singapore to form Malaysia. In 1965, Singapore separated from Malaysia to become an independent nation.
The population of Sarawak is comprised of Malays, Chinese, Indians, Eurasians and a number of native Dayak tribes like the Iban, Bidayuh, Melanau, Penan, Kedayan and Orang Ulu. The presence of these tribal people makes Sarawak a unique state, as each tribe has its own culture, language, food and traditions that are not found in other parts of Malaysia.
The capital city of Sarawak is Kuching, the largest city in Borneo. The locals here fondly called their city Cat City because 'Kuching' means 'cat' in Malay. The climate here is that of a tropical rainforest—hot and very humid most of the time. Though the city is small, it is the main holiday destination in Sarawak because it has many interesting places to see and visit.
Keep scrolling to discover the best things to see and do in Kuching, East Malaysia.
1. Kuching Waterfront
The Kuching Waterfront was where the first white rajah, James Brooke, landed in Sarawak. The Sarawak government spent a huge sum of money reconstructing the waterfront and reclaiming parts of the riverside that used to be a docking area for villagers crossing the river by small boats. It is now a beautifully landscaped esplanade along the Sarawak River with some eateries and entertainment areas. There are also some historical buildings, an observation tower and other sculptures in the area.
2. Old Sarawak Museum
The Old Sarawak Museum, which focuses on native arts and crafts, is the oldest museum in Borneo. It was sponsored by the second rajah, Charles Brooke, and opened in 1891. It has been renovated with some additions to its present structure. It houses a comprehensive collection of tribal artefacts and historical information about Borneo.
Note: The museum will be closed for refurbishments until 2020.
Have you been to Sarawak or Borneo?
3. Cat Museum
Meow! This Cat City lives up to its name. It has a cat museum situated on Bukit Siol at Petra Jaya across the river. For feline lovers, this is the ultimate collection of cat memorabilia, from Hello Kitty and Garfield to Matthew Flinder's cat and other famous felines. Visitors will enjoy looking at the exhibits and photos of all the cats, and the gift shop is well-stocked with kitty souvenirs.
4. Taman Budaya
Taman Budaya is a public garden that was previously a reservoir. It is not far from the Old Sarawak Museum. This place is also known as Kuching Reservoir to the locals. The area is popular for jogging and walking. The hilly landscape of Taman Budaya adds to the attraction of the garden.
5. Sarawak Islamic Museum
This building was formerly a school named James Brooke Malay College. It was later used as a teachers' training college for Malay studies. There are seven galleries in this museum featuring artefacts and items relating to Islamic civilisation, including weapons, coins, jewellery and costumes.
6. Tua Pek Kong Temple
Built in 1843, this red building is the oldest Chinese temple in Sarawak. It is a major landmark located in the heart of Kuching near the Sarawak River. Chinese worshippers flock to this temple to pray during festivals and other religious celebrations.
7. Kuching City Mosque
In 1852, a wooden mosque was built at this site. It was later demolished, and the Kuching Mosque was built on the site in 1968. The mosque has a combination of Midwestern and Italian architecture and is another major landmark in Kuching.
8. Fort Margherita
Fort Margherita was built in 1879, while the island was under British rule, in order to protect the city from attacks. It was named after Charles Brooke's wife, Ranee Margaret. It stands on the other side of the Sarawak River and can be seen from the Kuching Waterfront. The original structure—together with its cannons, cannon balls, guns, prisoners' cells and more—still remains. The old fort has been converted to a Police Museum that has a display of weapons, opium dens and different forms of criminal punishment.
9. The Astana
Also on the other side of the river is the Astana, a palace and the residence of Sarawak's Head of State. It was built by Charles Brooke in 1870 and was used as his residence. It is comprised of three buildings connected to each other by passageways.
10. Orchid Garden
Next to the Astana is the Orchid Garden. There is a large collection of over 75,000 orchids plants from 65 orchid species! Perhaps the most famous orchid plant here is the Normah Orchid, which is the national state flower of Sarawak.
The quickest and coolest way to get to this Orchid Garden, Astana and Fort Marguerita is to cross the Sarawak River by river taxi from the Kuching Waterfront.
11. Batu Lintang Teacher's College
The old site was called Batu Lintang Camp, and it was used by the Japanese to house prisoners of war during World War II. During that time, the place was cramped with several thousand POWs, and the living conditions were harsh. Several hundred prisoners died of malnutrition and disease, while the rest of them were scheduled for execution by the Japanese. Luckily, the Japanese surrendered before the death orders could be carried out. A memorial of the camp can be seen in the area.
12. Kuching Civic Centre
This tall structure has a roof that looks like a shiny umbrella. Visitors can get a nice aerial view of the city from the viewing platform on the top floor of the building. The Sultan Iskandar Planetarium, which was also Malaysia's first planetarium (now closed), was on the ground floor. The Civic Centre also has a function hall, gym and some food stalls.
13. Friendship Garden
The Friendship Garden in Tabuan Heights was constructed as a symbol of friendship between Malaysia and China. This landscaped garden has several ponds, wishing wells and Chinese buildings. Most of the ponds are populated with koi fishes who eagerly await being fed by the public—a frequent occurrence in spite of signs warning not to feed the fish. The garden also houses many interesting structures and a giant statue of Admiral Cheng Ho, who was a Chinese eunuch of high military power. He was sent to Malaya as an ambassador in the fifteenth century.
14. Sunday Market
The Satok Sunday Market that used to be on Satok Road (Jalan Satok) has been relocated to Medan Niaga Satok. This weekly open-air market operates on Saturday and Sunday afternoon. The stalls provide a huge variety of local offerings, from snacks, regional delicacies, produce, meat, fish, eggs, plants, and pets to clothing, accessories, newspapers, toys, fashion items, local handicraft items and souvenirs.
Some of the sellers are natives from rural areas of Sarawak. They travel from their villages in the rainforest to the city every Saturday to sell their produce at the weekend market. Most of them camp overnight at the market on Saturday and continue selling the following day. The tribal sellers can be easily identified because they usually have a variety of interesting jungle produce spread out on the ground, whereas the urban sellers have tables to display their items.
15. Main Bazaar
A few minutes' walk from the Tua Pek Kong Temple and Kuching Waterfront is the Main Bazaar, which is one of the oldest streets in Kuching. The Main Bazaar area has a row of two-storey shophouses that runs parallel to the main road and the waterfront. These old shophouses were built before World War II. Here, visitors can find a variety of native handicraft items including necklaces, bags, wood sculptures, rattan mats, baskets, ceramics, pottery items and native hunting weapons.
Padungan is the oldest shopping area in Kuching. Most of the hotels are located here, and there are shops and restaurants along the main road. Meow! There are collections of cat statues found at various locations in the area and on roundabouts of the Padungan Road leading to the waterfront.
17. Meow Meow Cat Cafe
While on the subject of cats, there is a cat cafe for cat lovers to cuddle up and play with some real cats while having a cuppa, breakfast or lunch. Lots of play areas for the cats, kids and adults at the cafe.
18. Carpenter Street
Carpenter Street is behind the Main Bazaar. It is also known to the locals as "Attap Street" because "attap" means "thatched roof". In the nineteenth century, the houses on both sides of the street were covered mainly with palm leaves. The houses were occupied by carpenters who earned their living making furniture. Other illegal activities like gambling, prostitution and opium usage were also present in the area during the olden days.
19. India Street
During the colonisation period, India Street was occupied by Indian traders. More than two decades ago, vehicles were allowed to use the street, and cars could be parked outside the shops. Now, India Street is closed to traffic and is a pedestrian mall with many shophouses selling textiles, clothing, jewellery, food and kitchen items.
Name your favorite place in Kuching.
20. Kuching General Post Office
This building is another major landmark in the heart of the city. It was completed in 1932 during the rule of the third (and last) rajah, Charles Vyner Brooke. The front of the post office building is decorated with carvings, arches and huge columns, but the back walls remain plain.
21. The Old Court House
The Old Court House was built by the second rajah, Charles Brooke, in 1871. This impressive complex was used as government offices, and for council meetings and state ceremonies. The Old Court House is now a heritage building and is used as a tourist information centre.
In front of the Old Court House complex are the Clock Tower and the Charles Brooke Memorial.
22. Round Tower
Just opposite the Kuching General Post Office is another heritage site, the Round Tower, which was constructed in 1886. It is believed that the building was constructed to serve as a fort, but it was used as a dispensary instead. It is now used by the Sarawak Craft Council.
23. The Pavilion
The Pavilion is next to the Round Tower. This building was used as a medical centre after it was built in 1907, and the Japanese made it their headquarters during World War II. After the war, the building was used by various government departments.
The Textile Museum is located in the Pavilion building. There, you will find a collection of local textiles and traditional costumes of the people of Sarawak. Interesting information on the making of textiles, accessories and costumes is displayed in the galleries.
24. Square Tower
The Square Tower on the waterfront, built in 1879, was initially used to house prisoners. It was later converted into a fortress and then used as a dance hall. Now, this building is one of the tourist attractions in Kuching and is used as an information centre for visitors.
25. Upside Down House
There are a number of upside down galleries in Malaysia, and Kuching is the latest city to have an upside down attraction. Located in the heart of the city, this upside down gallery is where you can have a fun afternoon with your friends. All the props in this house are more or less fixed on the ceiling and walls upside down. All you have to do is take lots of pictures of yourself climbing, jumping or crawling the walls like Spiderman!
26. Petra Jaya
A large population of Malay people lives in Petra Jaya. In fact, the majority of Malays in Sarawak live here. At Petra Jaya, one can find Malay villages and low-cost houses provided by the Sarawak government.
27. Masjid Jamek
Masjid Jamek is also known as the Petra Jaya State Mosque. It opened in 1990 and is said to be the most crowded mosque in Sarawak because the majority of the Malay population lives in the area. The mosque is air-conditioned and provides accommodation for its religious teachers.
28. Sarawak Cultural Village
The Sarawak Cultural Village is a 45-minute drive from the city. This attraction is the best place for a tribal experience, and there are many traditional tribal buildings found at the cultural village, from simple nomadic shelters to native longhouses. Visitors will get to meet indigenous people from different tribes, including the Ibans, who were known to be headhunters over a century ago. Enter their dwellings for a hands-on experience with native crafts, primitive hunting weapons and other activities.
29. Damai Beach Resort
One kilometre away from the Sarawak Cultural Village is the Damai Beach Resort. Some tourists prefer to stay here instead of in the city and locals visit for weekend getaways. The beaches are popular places for relaxing, swimming and strolling. For golf enthusiasts, there is a golf course and country club up the road.
Cultural Sidenote: Earlobe Stretching
Earlobe stretching is practised amongst both tribal men and women in Sarawak. Metal rings are used to stretch the earlobes of babies, and heavier rings are added as they grow older so that the earlobes eventually extend down to the shoulders. This tradition is slowly dying, and only a minority of natives still practise this tradition. Some of the older tribal folks can still be seen with stretched earlobes.
30. Mount Santubong
This is the only big mountain that looms in the distance on the way to the Cultural Village. Visitors can explore the Santubong Village in search of local delicacies. Not far away is the fishing village of Kampung Buntal. Even the locals are attracted to Kampung Buntal for its seafood.
31. Satang Islands
While you are at Santubong, why not make a trip to the Satang Islands that are located just off the coast? The journey by boat to the islands is about 45 minutes. The surrounding waters are protected sanctuary areas as they are the nesting ground for the green turtles. There are two islands called Satang Besar and Satang Kecil. Satang Besar is the bigger island where you can go diving, snorkelling and exploring the coral reefs.
32. Bako National Park
About 37 km from Kuching is the Bako National Park, Sarawak's oldest national park, established in 1957. This location was the final pit stop in The Amazing Race Asia 2007. All the different types of plant life in Borneo can be found in this national park. A number of interesting wildlife animals like giant lizards, silvered langurs, long-tailed macaques, Bornean bearded pigs and the endangered proboscis monkey can also be seen here. The park is only accessible by boat from the village of Kampung Bako.
Teams on the Amazing Race Asia Season 1 visited these places in Kuching:
- Cat statues in Padungan
- Old Courthouse
- Sarawak Cultural Village
- Bako National Park
33. Semenggok Wildlife Rehabilitation Centre
For animal lovers who want to see orangutans, the Semenggok Wildlife Rehabilitation Centre is a sanctuary for wildlife as well as a rehabilitation centre for indigenous animals before they are released back to their natural rainforest habitat. This includes the conservation of endangered orangutans found in the wild. The populations of orangutans and other endangered species of animals in the jungles of Borneo are decreasing due to poaching, captivity and illegal logging activities that are destroying the natural habitats of these animals.
The rainforests of Borneo and Sumatra are the only places on earth where orangutans can be found in the wild.
34. Fairy Cave and Wind Cave
In the small country town of Bau, about 45 minutes from Kuching, there are two caves worth visiting. The Fairy Cave has amazing formations of stalactites and stalagmites resembling animals and other structures. Not too far away is the Wind Cave, which has spectacular views. Bau itself is interesting in that it used to be a goldmine town a century ago.
35. Matang Wildlife Centre
Another small town outside the city is Matang. More orangutans and other wildlife can be seen at the Matang Wildlife Centre. Some interesting species of wildlife are the hornbills, mousedeer and squirrels.
36. Kubah National Park
The humid rainforest here is home to over 60 species of Borneon frogs. The world's smallest frog also live in this national park. The rainforest comes alive at night when species of frogs venture out in cooler temperatures. Other creatures found in the Kubah National Park include the spot freshwater crabs, shrimps and forest catfish.
Padawan is situated on the outskirts of Kuching. There are communities made up of different ethnic groups and natives living in this area. There are also some pepper and rice farms in the area as well as some native longhouses near the farms.
38. Pitcher Plant Garden
There is a Pitcher Plant Garden in Kota Padawan that is worth a visit. Here you can find a big collection of exotic lowland pitcher plants (nepenthes) from all over the island of Borneo. All pitcher plants are protected species in Sarawak. There are also collections of wild orchids, rare wild plants and recycled projects on display at the garden.
39. Jong's Crocodile Farm & Zoo
Fancy meeting up with some biggest alligators? Pay a visit to Jong's Crocodile Farm that is just 20 minutes' drive from Kuching. This 10-hectare attraction is the largest crocodile breeding farm in Malaysia. There is a demonstration on crocodile feeding that is not to be missed!
There is also a museum onsite and a zoo that houses other local wildlife. Visitors will get to see some barking deers, porcupines, wild boars, monitor lizards and other rare species of animals and birds.
40. Gunung Gading Rafflesia Centre
Take a day trip to Gunung Gading National Park. There is a series of waterfalls in the national park. In this tropical jungle, there grows the world's largest parasitic flower called the Rafflesia. This unique flower grows up to one metre in width and smells of dead rotting meat to attract the insects for pollination.
The Rafflesia generally blooms throughout the year but hikers will have to trek through rugged mountains to find the flower. The blooms usually last 4-5 days only, so it is best to check with the local tour guide if there is a rafflesia bloom before going for the jungle trek.
Map of Kuching
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