Things to Do in Kuching
Sarawak’s capital, Kuching, is one of the few cities in Malaysian Borneo that escaped a hammering during WWII. Its historic buildings, multi-racial society, excellent climate and position along the banks of the Sungai Sarawak river all contribute to the city’s laid-back charms.
Kuching has an interesting history: the city was once ruled as a kingdom by British-Adventurer-come-Rajah, James Brooke, whose son, Charles, was responsible for building many of the structures that, along with its Chinese temples, mosques and waterfront, make Kuching such an appealing city to explore.
Kuching can be divided into two areas, which are more or less distinct. The Chinese dominated south is a commercial residential area, while the north shore is predominantly Malay in character, with old kampong houses lining the river.
There are many places of interest in and around the city, and while Kuching as a whole is spread out, its main center is compact and easily explored on foot. A popular base for travelers exploring Sarawak, the city also tempts travelers with its nightlife, wide-ranging accommodations and delicious Chinese-Malay cuisine.
Bako National Park is Sarawak’s oldest national park and, at 2,728 hectares (6,738 acres), is also one of its smallest. It packs a lot in for its size, however, containing almost every type of vegetation found in Borneo.
Sitting on a promontory at the mouths of the Sarawak and Bako rivers, Bako National Park contains no less than seven eco-systems – from cliff and coastal vegetation to mangrove, peat swamp and dipterocarp forest and grasslands.
But it is the wildlife most people come for - the rare proboscis monkey, macaques, monitor lizards and bearded pigs – that, and the amazing number of pitcher and canivorous plants that call the National Park home.
A curious activity for a rainy day: if you have ever owned a cat or have been interested in the historical role cats have played in music, theater, advertising, mythology and ancient societies around the globe, then the Kuching Cat Museum might be of interest to you.
Located in the modern looking North City Hall building only ten minutes outside of the city center, you won’t find a museum quite like the Kuching Cat Museum anywhere else in the world, an appropriate reality seeing as “kucing” is actually the Malay word for cat. With over 2,000 exhibits on display, artifacts range from a mummified cat from Egypt that is believed to be over 5,000 years old, to the world’s only mounted specimen of the Bay Cat, a highly endangered wild cat that is endemic to the island of Borneo.
A separate exhibit is devoted to the five wild cats of Sarawak and Borneo, whereas other corners of the 1,035 square meter facility discuss various types of global cat food.
Situated 62 miles (100 kilometers) south of Kuching, Annah Rais is a Bidayuh longhouse settlement in the foothills of the Borneo Highlands. While the 500 or so residents of Annah Rais make a living from tourism and the settlement has long been on the tourist map, they’ve done well to preserve the traditional longhouse architecture, and visitors get a sense of what life in such communal settlements is like.
Annah Rais comprises three separate longhouses, Kupo Terekan, Kupo Saba and Kupo Sijo, which travelers can visit solo or with a guide. Each longhouse has a covered bamboo verandah, called an awah, used for communal activities. Doorways spaced along the longhouse lead to each family’s private quarters. While some visit Annah Rais just for the day, some of the residents open their homes to visitors as part of a cultural homestay program. Visitors are paired with a local family who provide a traditional dinner and breakfast in addition to the enriching cultural exchange.
More Things to Do in Kuching
One of the finest museums on the island of Borneo, the Sarawak Museum is also the oldest, opened in 1891 by Charles Burke, the second Rajah of Sarawak. Set inside a massive, rectangular, Victorian-period edifice designed to resemble a Normandy townhouse, the inside still has the feel of a museum constructed in the late 20th century as punctuated by the wood and bamboo flooring.
The need for interior renovations aside, however, the Sarawak Museum is home to a fascinating array of ethnographic and ecological artifacts relating to traditional tribal and environmental life in the state of Sarawak. In addition to small scale replicas of Iban longhouses, original tribal weapons, and mounted exhibits of exotic mammals and reptiles, of particular interest to many visitors are the displays of shrunken heads and human skulls which adorn various parts of the museum interior.
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