Summary: There are so many things to do in this peaceful city that it is really difficult to do them all, especially if you don’t have much time. We stayed 40 days in Kuching (we could have stayed even longer), enjoying the Sarawak River, the city and its dense ethnical diversity background, as well as the surrounding parks. Here is how we experienced Kuching:
$1=RM (MYR) 3.21
When we first arrived in Malaysia we had planned to stay on the peninsula without visiting Borneo Island, but when we found out that the flights were that cheap (there were flights on Air Asia starting at $10!), we didn’t hesitate much. We had already been deprived of the Perhentian Islands because we were in Malaysia during the wet season (November to February) and they close everything over there. So, as it looked like Borneo was different than anything in the peninsula and maybe more preserved in terms of wildlife, we jumped on the first plane we saw!
We arrived in Kuching in the middle of a Tuesday afternoon and we were first located in Chinatown (again!). We started our discovering tour right away (as usual), and felt the very laid-back feel of the city. Kuching is the capital of Sarawak, but it doesn’t look like a big city at all. We discovered later that Kuching is in fact a big city, but very extended so that you never feel it is busy or crowded.
Here Are the Highlights of Kuching and How You Can Enjoy Your Time in the City
We could spend hours sitting or walking along the waterfront. It is located near the beautiful Sarawak River, with a lot of benches where you can rest, drink your coffee or eat fresh fruits. The waterfront is a little bit crowded during weekends and evenings, but this does not take anything away from its peacefulness at all. There are small coffee booths and restaurants all along the quay, but they don’t open in the morning. Instead, they open in the late afternoon so you can have dinner.
During the weekends there are more activities, such as musicians and small handicraft markets. You can take a cruise on the river for around RM 15 pp/hour. You can also go to the other side (though there is not much to see there) for RM 1.
We went there one time only when we discovered that it was not too far from our hotel. This is quite a big park where people go jogging in the early morning. Of course, we didn’t see that as we are not morning people. When we went there the park was almost empty. There is nothing much to do, but it is quiet and relaxing with some squirrels running here and there.
Some good news: All museums in Kuching are free! We didn’t visit them all, we just went to the Sarawak Ethnology Museum, which we enjoyed very much as it explains many things about Sarawak history, the natural environment and ethnicities.
This is what they call the shops located on the opposite side of the waterfront. They all sell handicrafts and Sarawak specialties. You will find there the very famous Sarawak layer cake that you have to taste for yourself! This is a good place to buy souvenirs. They sell very beautiful wood furniture as well.
A nice pedestrian street where are many small shops sell mainly clothes.
This is one of the oldest streets in Kuching and, as its name suggests, it is the street where carpenters work. This is a very quiet street and we liked it very much. This is also the street where the popular guesthouses are located.
There are many places to see around Kuching that only require a day or a half-day trip. We didn’t do everything, but we enjoyed all the things we did.
Sarawak is definitely a good place to spot wildlife, and there are near Kuching several national parks.
One hour and a half from Kuching. RM 20 entrance fees.
We spent two days in Bako National Park, which was well worth it. We would have stayed longer if we would have known we’d like it that much. The park is quite easy to reach and is home to a large variety of animals that you have the opportunity to see in their natural habitats. The local animals include long tailed macaque monkeys, proboscis monkeys, birds, snakes, turtles, and wild boars. Even if you don’t see the animals all the time, being in the rainforest makes you really connect with nature. The park and beach landscapes are gorgeous and the staff is very friendly (Bako Travel Guide).
One hour from Kuching. RM 20 entrance fee.
Orangutans are not totally wild there because they were rescued and fed, but they are still free and in the trees, not in cages! So this was a really good opportunity to see them because it is (as they told us) very difficult to spot totally wild orangutans. It takes half a day to do this visit. We arrived too late (at 10:20 am), as they close the park from 11 am to 2 pm. People were bitten by the monkeys in years past, and they don’t let anyone inside anymore without the monitoring of the park rangers. So we spent three and a half hours in a small town near to the park, where we found a refreshing shopping mall that we really appreciated because of the hot weather outside! We came back at 2 pm and saw the orangutans. Depending on your luck, you could see any number of orangutans, but I suppose you’ll see at least one. You have to be there during feeding time for your best chance.
The downside to the park is the caged alligators, but we will assume that they were caged as part of the rescue mission.
Located one hour from Kuching, this tour is around six hours and 11 KM long with RM 188 pp tour fees.
We didn’t know what to do next, and it was difficult to pick an activity as they all looked great. Because we like nature, we decided to take the kayaking day tour. This was a great choice. Kayaking in the river they take you to is very easy, even for beginners and children. Despite that, we found our way (I don’t know how) to the trees on the side of the river and flipped the boat, spreading all our stuff in the water (thank God we had a drybag for the camera). It wasn’t very deep, and we were rescued easily. Despite this incident (which we laughed at a lot!), this day remains one of our bests in Kuching.
Two hours from Kuching. RM 20 pp entrance fee.
This is where you can find the Rafflesia, the flower that everyone comes to see in Sarawak, as it’s the largest flower in the world. The Rafflesia is actually closer to a big mushroom than a flower, but is still beautiful and very amazing to see. However, it really smells stinky. We went there by ourselves without taking a tour and it was not too complicated: a taxi to the “Sentral Station” then a bus for two hours to Lundu town, then another five-minute taxi ride to the national park and we were in front of the famous flower, taking photos of the park’s celebrity!
We took a guide, as the employee at the tourism desk in Kuching advised us to “not step on the flower.” At that moment I was thinking, “Could I be that blind to step on the biggest flower in the world?!” but it turned out that we would have met some difficulties in finding the only two blooming flowers in the whole forest. Our guide was very nice, and gave us loads of information. After she showed us the flower, she left and we continued trekking up to waterfall number 7. The waterfall was very nice and very crowded because of a school being there. The trekking was also very tiring (for us, but for normal people this is a piece of cake!). Finally the 30 or so young people left and we had the whole waterfall to ourselves. We refreshed ourselves in the water and returned back. When we arrived at the headquarters we discovered that there was a very nice natural pool where we could have stayed the whole time instead of playing Indiana Jones in the jungle (which we really did!).
There are many other activities that you can do in Kuching. The one I regret missing the most is visiting the longhouses. We just saw a replica of a longhouse in the museum and I liked it very much. We’d been told that the best longhouse stays are in the Iban community, and that it would require quite a long trip, but this was beyond our budget.
There are plenty of options in Kuching for eating. Malaysian food is a mix of different cuisines such as Chinese, Indian, Singaporean, and Filipino.
We appreciate shopping mall food courts because they are a good place to taste different things at the same time. They also offer a larger choice of drinks than normal restaurants.
On the waterfront there are several restaurants and coffee shops ranging from the very cheap to the more expensive and fancy restaurants. The place is very pleasant and the food very tasty. They offer many kinds of rice and noodles (mee, nasi… ). Another local specialty that is very cheap and delicious: fried vegetables dumplings. There is also a booth that offers local hamburgers. We loved to have fresh fruit, which they sell on the waterfront, but we usually bought them at the Riverside Majestic shopping mall where they have more choices and where they also sell pretzels and waffles to complete the snack.
KFC, McDonald’s, and Pizza Hut are all in Kuching but they are not very cheap. There are local chains of restaurants as well, such as Secret Recipe (that we don’t recommend by the way for being expensive compared to what they offer) and SCR Xpress, where they offer local food.
This is our favorite option, not only because it was just down from our hotel, Grand Supreme Hotel (we are so lazy), but also because they have really good Malay and Bidayu (one of the numerous ethnicities of Sarawak) food cooked in a traditional way. The place is built in the traditional Bidayu style and plays Bidayu music. We were there almost every day and had the opportunity to taste several dishes that were all delicious.
The staff even played traditional music and performed Bidayu dance for us on several occasions.
Around RM 75 for a double aircon room.
As usual, before we arrived we had booked online for two days in order to check the other options later on. We first stayed at the new “Traveler Home stay” guest house, which was the best option for this type of hostel: very clean, very stylish, and the owner was very nice and helpful. We checked the other guesthouses in town, but none of them was of the same quality. We were often offered rooms without windows (which is ok for one night but definitely not for one month). However, we wanted a room with a private bathroom, which wasn’t available at Traveler Home stay.
Around RM 80 for a double room.
So we continued our research and ended up at the best hotel ever! When we first saw the Grand Supreme Hotel from the street, it seemed to me not very nice and expensive, and I thought, “We shouldn’t even bother to ask.” We were trying to find a good deal, as we planned to stay one month in Kuching. When we came in, our first impression was washed away by the staff’s professionalism. They took our email and told us they would ask if there could be a discount for us in case of a long stay. We received an answer a few hours later and moved in the day after. We definitely recommend this hotel. The rooms are big, the hotel is clean, Wi-Fi is included (although the Wi-Fi performance is average and appropriate only for common use, we had a 3G modem for our work), all the staff is very helpful, and the “icing on the cake”–as we would say in France–was that the owner Mr. Wong is an amazingly nice person. He definitely made our stay in Kuching one of the best in all of our travels.
There are several decent shopping malls in Kuching. Malaysia is a very good place to shop. To list a few malls:
This is the best one downtown. It is located next to the tourism information desk, the Jalan India and Carpenter Street.
We were there almost every day to get our daily dose of fresh fruits. There is a cinema on the last floor.
This is the newest and biggest mall in Kuching. The mall is located a little far from downtown. You can take a bus to go there. I don’t remember the number, but it is on the way to
the airport and the “Sentral bus station,” so it is easy to go there.