First days in Kuching

Trip Start Sep 19, 2002
Trip End Sep 22, 2003

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Tuesday, March 4, 2003

4th March - Arrived safe and sound in Borneo despite our cheap flight. We found some digs in Kuching and grabbed a taxi voucher from the airport (to stop taxis ripping people off) and headed for the Mandarin Hotel in Green Hill. Run by a Chinese family, this hotel was clean and tidy and had air con and en-suite for 45RM per night. The old man of the establishment keeps trying to speak to us in Chinese and when we look blankly at him he says it louder and slower - and we thought it was just us English that did that!

Kuching itself is very pretty and we were instantly struck on the way there at how different it was to KL. Cleaner, greener and slower which suited us just fine. There are very few high rises and not a great deal of building works and there was a certain lack of tatty shops and an abundance of palatial houses on the way in to the city. Once we had checked in we went for our "getting our bearings" walk and realised we were only 3 minutes from the waterfront. Expecting a KL like concrete creek we were pleasantly surprised by the English style promenade we found. We strolled along and had an ice-cream and felt like tourists on a package holiday in a mediterranean resort. That is until we looked across the river at the Malay Kampungs (villages) on stilts framed by the wild jungles and mountains of Borneo and the little gondala type taxi's that run people from the villages to the city. Across the river also is the collonial ex-residence of James Brooke - first white raja of Sarawak and there are similar buildings on our side of the water, all of which are lit up at night along with the trees and fountains etc. All in all a very nice place to relax and unwind. Then we walked to the Main Bazaar. Back to the frenetic hustle and bustle that is oh so Asian and we tried a couple of different fruits and ended up buying bananas. We headed for the info centre to get our national park permits as you cannot travel without them and you have to book your beds there or they won't take you in the boats. We spent the evening watching the fantastic sunset turning the sky magenta pink behind the mountains while we sipped our drinks at a waterfront bar. There is no alcohol served on the waterfront and there are lots of familys which gives the place a really nice atmosphere. We splashed out a bit on dinner and I had soft shell crab, deep fried with salad. Pip had fish and chips and with our drinks it was less than 5 pounds. I think I could live here!!

5th March - Took our washing to Mr Dobi as he did it by weight rather than by item. The launderette next door to our hotel charges by the item - at more than we can buy the items for in the first place!!

We caught a mini bus to the Sarawak Cultural Village out near Damai which is the beach area of Kuching. 120MR for the bus both ways and the entry to the village so it wasn't cheap but it was really enjoyable. You get a passport which each of the 7-8 demonstration houses stamps for you on the way around the lake. The houses were from the various types of community, mainly indigenous, throughout Sarawak and they ranged from the temporary bamboo shelters of the Penan tribe to the elaborately carved Malay houses. We saw examples of crafts, hunting, clothing and cooking, even trying a deep fried sago nuggett and then Pip had a go on the blowdarts which they use to wound animals. The demonstrator had a short bowl cut with a long pony tail and only wore a small black loin cloth. He still managed to find somewhere for his mobile phone though! Most intriguing was the fireplace with the blackened skulls (real!) hanging above. These were collected by the headhunters of the tribes where they would behead their enemy, hold the head under water until all the flesh came off and then suspend them over the fireplace which is never allowed to be moved. They were keen to point out that they don't do this anymore as they are all Christians! Walking around we also saw a man with unfeasibly large earlobes where they had been stretched over his many years with weights as a form of adornment. Part way through the day we watched the cultural show which Pip always dreads as he doesn't much care for dancing but I loved it. Lots of colourful and spangly costumes and graceful slight movements and some wonderful displays of strength and agility from the lead male who at one stage danced with a 20kg weight in his mouth!

That night we tried our first nasi campu which is basically where you point out the dishes you want from the stuff already cooked in the food stall. Being a muslim stall there was no pork, or snake, and it was all very nice until 3 bites from the end when I found a small stone!
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