Top 30 Places To Visit in Kuching, Sarawak (Borneo)
Sarawak is the largest state in Malaysia. It is one of two states which is situated on the island of Borneo which is famous for its orangutan habitat rainforests. 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 became an independent nation.
The population of Sarawak comprises of Malays, Chinese, Indians, Eurasians and a number of native tribes like Iban, Dayak, Bidayuh, Melanau, Penan, Kedayan and Orang Ulu. The presence of these tribal people makes Sarawak a very unique state. 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, which is the largest city in Borneo. The locals here fondly called their city 'Cat City' because 'Kuching' means 'cat' in Malay language. The climate here is tropical rainforest, hot and very humid most of the time. The city is small but it is a main holiday destination in Sarawak because there are many interesting places to see and visit here.
These are the best places to see and interesting things to do in Kuching, East Malaysia:
The Kuching Waterfront was where the first white Rajah, James Brooke first landed in Sarawak. The Sarawak government spent a huge sum of money in reconstructing the waterfront and reclaiming parts of the riverside that used to be a docking area for the 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 some historical buildings, an observation tower and other sculptures in the area.
Old Sarawak Museum
The Old Sarawak Museum is the oldest museum in Borneo that was sponsored by the second Rajah Charles Brooke and it was opened in 1891 for displaying native arts and crafts. It has been renovated with some additions to its present structure. It houses a comprehensive collection of tribal artefacts and historical information of Borneo.
The museum is temporary closed for refurbishments until 2020.
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 an 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 maybe pick up a few souvenirs from the gift shop.
Taman Budaya is a public garden that was previously a reservoir for storing water. It is not far from the Old Sarawak Museum. The place is also known as Kuching Reservoir to the locals. The area is popularly used by the public for jogging and walking. The hilly landscape of Taman Budaya adds to the attraction of the garden.
Dewan Tun Abdul Razak
Opposite the Old Sarawak Museum is the Dewan Tun Abdul Razak, which was named after the second Prime Minister of Malaysia. This large two-storey building has been used for many events and legislative assemblies. It is now used by the Sarawak Museum for various exhibitions. There is a souvenir shop on the ground floor.
(Update: This iconic building has been demolished to make way for new buildings)
Sarawak Islamic Museum
Situated behind the Dewan Tun Razak is the 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.
Tua Pek Kong Temple
Built in 1843, this red coloured 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 festivities and other religious celebrations.
Kuching City Mosque
In 1852, a wooden mosque was built at this site. The mosque was later demolished and the Kuching Mosque was built on the site in 1968. The mosque has a combination of mid western and Italian architecture, and is another major landmark in Kuching
Fort Margherita was built in 1879 during the British colonisation 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, prisoner's cell and other structures still remain. The old fort has been converted to a Police Museum which has a display of weapons, opium dens and different forms of criminal punishment.
Also on the other side of the river is the Astana which is a palace and residence of the Head of State of Sarawak. It was built by the second Rajah of Sarawak, Charles Brooke in 1870 and was used as his residence during the British rule. There are three buildings connected to each other by passageways.
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 thousands of POWs and the living conditions were harsh. Several hundred prisoners died of malnutrition and disease, while the rest of them were on death orders for execution by the Japanese. The Japanese surrendered before the death orders could be carried out. A memorial of the camp can be seen in the existing area.
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. There is also a function hall, gym and some food stalls at the Civic Centre.
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 which await the public to feed them despite the signs that warned people not to feed the fish. There are 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.
The 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 from Saturday afternoon until Sunday afternoon. The market stalls offer a huge variety of local produce from snacks, local delicacies, fruits, vegetables, meat, fish, eggs, plants, pets, jungle produce to clothings, accessories, newspapers, toys, fashion items, local handicraft items and souvenirs.
Some of the sellers are natives from the rural areas of Sarawak. They travel from their villages in the rainforest jungles to the city every weekend to sell their jungle 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. The urban sellers have tables to display the items they are selling.
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 double 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, from necklaces, bags, wood sculptures to 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, there are shops and restaurants along the main road. Meow! There are collections of cat statues found at various locations and on roundabouts of the Padungan Road leading to the waterfront area.
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 furnitures. Other illegal activities like gambling, prostitution and opium usage were also present in the area during the olden days.
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 can be parked outside the shops. Now, India Street is closed to traffic and is a pedestrian mall with many shophouses selling textiles, clothings, jewellery, food and kitchen items.
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. Only the front of the post office building is decorated with carvings, arches and huge tall columns. The back of the building is just plain walls.
The Old Court House
The Old Court House was built by the second Rajah, Charles Brooke in 1871. This impressive looking complex was used as government offices, for council meetings and state ceremonies. The Old Court House is now a heritage building and used as a tourist information centre.
In front of the Old Court House complex are the Clock Tower and Charles Brooke Memorial.
Just opposite the Kuching General Post Office is another heritage site, the Round Tower which was constructed in 1886. It is believed the building was built to serve as a fort but it was used as a dispensary instead. It is now used by the Sarawak Craft Council.
The Pavilion is next to the Round Tower. This building was used as a medical centre after it was built in 1907. The Japanese used the place as 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 is a collection of local textiles and traditional costumes of the people of Sarawak. Interesting information on the making of textiles, accessories and costumes are displayed in the galleries.
The Square Tower on the waterfront was used to house prisoners after it was built in 1879. 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 used as an information centre for visitors.
A large population of the Malay people live in Petra Jaya, in fact, majority of the Malays in Sarawak live here. At Petra Jaya, one can find the Malay villages and low cost houses provided by the Sarawak government.
Masjid Jamek is also known as the Petra Jaya State Mosque. It was opened in 1990 and is said to be the most crowded mosque in Sarawak because the majority of the Malay population live in the area. The mosque is air-conditioned and has accommodation for their religious teachers.
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 the natives still practise this tradition. Some of the older tribal folks can still be seen with stretched earlobes.
Sarawak Cultural Village
The Sarawak Cultural Village is 45 minutes' drive from the city. This attraction is the best place for tribal experience. There are many traditional tribal buildings found at the cultural village, from a simple nomadic shelter to native longhouses. Visitors will get to meet the indigenous people from different tribes including the Ibans who are known to be headhunters over a century ago, enter their dwellings and have hands-on experience on native crafts, primitive hunting weapons and other activities.
This is the only big mountain that looms in the distance on the way to the Cultural Village. Visitors can explore the Santubong Village for local delicacies. Not far away is the fishing village of Kampung Buntal. Even the locals are attracted to Kampung Buntal for seafood cuisines.
Damai Beach Resort
One kilometre away from the Sarawak Cultural Village is the Damai Beach Resort. Some tourists prefer to stay at the Damai Beach Resort instead of in the city. The locals come here 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.
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 existing plant life of Borneo can be found in the national park. A number of interesting wildlife animals like the endangered proboscis monkey, giant lizards, silvered langur, long-tailed macaques and Bornean bearded pigs, are seen in this national park. The park is only accessible by boat from the village of Kampung Bako.
Semenggok Wildlife Rehabilitation Centre
For animal lovers who want to see the orangutans, the Semenggok Wildlife Rehabilitation Centre is a sanctuary for wildlife and rehabilitation centre for indigenous animals before they are released back to their natural rainforest habitat. This includes the conservation of endangered orangutans that are found in the wild. The population of orangutans and other endangered species of animals in the jungles of Borneo are deceasing due to poaching, captivity and illegal logging activities that are destroying the natural habitats of these animals.
Fairy Cave and Wind Cave
In the small nearby country town of Bau about 45 minutes from Kuching, there are two caves worth visiting. Bau used to be a goldmine town a century ago. The Fairy Cave has amazing formations of stalactites and stalagmites resembling animals and other structures. Not too far away is the Wind Cave with spectacular views.
Another small town outside the city is Matang. More orang utans and other wildlife can be seen at the Matang Wildlife Centre and Kubah National Park in Matang. Some interesting species of wildlife are the hornbills, mousedeers and squirrels.
Padawan is situated on the outskirts of Kuching. There are multiracial communities living in this area which are made up of different ethnic groups and natives. There are some pepper and rice farms in the area and some native longhouses nearby the farms.
Have you been to Sarawak or Borneo?
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