No joke. Sarawak’s capital really is called “Cat” in Malaysian although quite why is a bit unclear. I suspect the kitsch cat statues dotted around the city centre may be to delight tourists rather than the reason behind the name.
Second fun fact about Kuching – it appears to have the worlds best PR department. A flick through our lonely planet on the plane had waxed lyrical about this charming town. I was expecting a Hoi An, or an Asian version of Prague perhaps. I was disappointed. Sure there are a few beautiful buildings, but these are apparently not open to the public.
I think “perfectly nice” would have been a better description for Kuching. Charming? I was not charmed.
Despite coming from the jungles of Sabah, Kuching’s heat and humidity was a damp slap around the head.
Attempting to acclimatise, we headed out for a stroll along the “charming” (not charming. Perfectly nice AT BEST) waterfront before grabbing some Thai noodles for dinner.
Unfortunately, our visit to Kuching fell over the Independence Day celebrations (less Will Smith, a few more fireworks) which mainly meant everything closed for a day and we ended up going to the cinema as it had the merits of both being open and being air conditioned. Desperation, thy name is Expendables 3.
In an attempt to see the charm we were so clearly missing, we walked around “charming, authentic” Chinatown (fine but not charming and possibly. I’m not Chinese so can’t really confirm) and took a boat trip on the river (again, it was fine. Nothing beyond that. Are you sensing a theme?). We gave up. We were not charmed by Kuching.
We did have a couple of successes though. The Sarawak museum, whilst smaller than expected, was an interesting hour or so spent learning about the longhouses of Sarawak, as well as some impressively terrifying 1900s taxidermy. Worth the visit for that alone.
On our third day in Kuching we headed to Bako National Park. Beautiful Bako is the nearest National Park to Kuching and incredibly easy to travel to independently; the bus there is even painted bright red to make it easy to spot!
We hit the sweltering trail through the jungle and headed across the headland until we reached the coast.
The park is beautiful, and has several different trails of varying distances depending on how energetic you are feeling. We shared a boat from the beach around the headland to another beach, where we met another trail back to the park HQ.
Sadly we were unable to get a guide due to overwhelming (and uncharacteristic) unhelpfulness from the Park HQ, but the guide of our boat companions showed us why we wanted one; as we sweated along the second trail, he pointed out some of the wildlife along the way – hoards of busy ants and a sleeping green viper, which we would have walked straight past.
One thing I did like about Kuching was the food. On our second night we visited the Top Spot Food Court – an open air food hall on the top of a multi storey car park. The stalls at the edge of the floor were stacked high with fresh fish, prawns and Asian vegetables. You grabbed a plate, grabbed a fish that took your fancy and a handful of Asian veg and went to sit in the throng of circular tables with a cold beer to await your delicious dinner. While we were there we made friends with a lovely Australian couple called Graham and Cherie who we then went out for drinks with.
We also took a cooking class with the lovely Joseph at Bambu Cookery school which was BRILLIANT. It started with a market trip where we got to don traditional shopping baskets, see some of the local produce and buy supplies.
We learned how to make a Sarawak chicken curry, stir fried jungle ferns with a sambal (a bit like asparagus, since you asked) and a traditional coconut milk dessert which is a bit like panacotta.
We worked so hard trying to “get” Kuching itself we didn’t have chance to make a visit to a longhouse, which was something I really wanted to do. I guess our five days in Kuching taught me a lesson – if you don’t click with a city, don’t waste time trying to force it. There will be something else to enjoy.
Oh, and that I’ll always be Team Dog.