Kuching in Borneo is the cat's whiskers

By Finn McCarthy, a Travel Enthusiast

Read more on Kuching.

Overall rating:4.1 out of 5 (based on 7 votes)
Recommended for:
Cultural, Eco, Budget, Mid-range, Expensive

Find out about Kuching in Borneo, Malaysia. It has cultural diversity; a rich historical background; nearby tropical forests; orang-utans and proboscis monkeys in their natural surroundings

Kuching appears to be the Shangri-La for cat lovers. Around the city, whose name possibly derives from the Malay name for cat, giant feline sculptures compete in styles from the extremes of kitsch to Henry Moore-like creations. But this is an illusion. It is really a gateway to experiencing close contact with Borneo’s most famous animals: the orang-utan and the proboscis monkey.

Semenggoh Wildlife Centre

The Semenggoh Wildlife Centre (082-442-180; entrance fee RM 10; £1=RM 4.7), a reserve noted for its successful programme of breeding and rehabilitating orang-utans, is the best place to see these animals. Located 32 kms outside the city, it was reached by a shuttle minibus (RM 35) each, easily booked through hotels. There were two main feeding sessions at 9 a.m.and 3pm, but the morning session gave the best opportunity of seeing a number of these charming animals in natural conditions.

Bako National Park

The proboscis monkey is a more elusive creature but frequently seen in Bako National Park (Telok Assam; 011-225-049). We set off on the No 6 bus and reached Bako village forty minutes later. It was easy to charter a boat with two other travellers (RM 45 for four) and the twenty minute ride took us to the Park Headquarters (entrance fee RM 10). Greeted by a family of long-tailed macaques, we set off on one of the extensive network of colour-coded trails. There was a wonderful combination of rainforest, mangrove swamps, beaches, waterfalls, which provided the backdrop to sightings of other marvellous animals. Bearded pigs, triangular-headed pit vipers and silver leaf monkeys were all exciting discoveries on our hike. Nothing though could prepare us for the proboscis monkey. A swish of foliage and we were facing this creature. Its pendulous nose and piercing eyes created one of our most unforgettable images of the holiday.

Sarawak Cultural Village

Borneo is an island with a rich cultural diversity and this is reflected in the Sarawak Cultural Village (082-846-411; www.scv.com.my ). A shuttle bus (RM 20 return) provides convenient transport and the entrance fee (RM 60 with concessions available) is excellent value for the attractions available. Seven authentic ethnic houses are sited in tropical parkland and we were invited to discover at first hand some of the tribal secrets. We took a stab at using the blowpipe, the most traditional of hunting weapons and helped to bake some sago cakes in a traditional kiln. Our afternoon’s visit culminated in a cultural performance, with high performance values, featuring dances indigenous to Sarawak. I normally think that there should be a public health warning placed on these enterprises but this experience completely swept away my preconceptions.

The City

Kuching, the cosmopolitan capital of Sarawak, also has impressive attractions within the city. It has a stylish riverfront with a long esplanade which at night comes alive with stalls for drinks and food. Colonial buildings like the Old Court House and the Post Office with its Corinthian columns sit alongside ornate Chinese temples. The Tua Pek Kong Temple surrounded by a semi-circle of carved dragons is complemented by a nearby museum which traces the settlement of the Chinese in Sarawak. Further historical nuggets are contained in the Sarawak Museum complex (Jln.Tun Abang Haji Openg; www.museum.sarawak.gov.my 082-244-232) which has one of the best collections in South East Asia. The signage is antiquated but there are some compelling exhibits, including a watch found in the stomach of a man-eating crocodile. The Official Tourist Office based in the Old Court House (www.sarawaktourism.com; 082-410-944) was very efficient and friendly. One of their recommendations was the Sunday market, but open all weekend, at Jalan Satok. On a Saturday afternoon we discovered a conglomerate of hundreds of little stalls with a bewildering variety of clothes, fish, fruit and hot food. Vendors were keen to get into conversation and local shoppers were intrigued by our presence. This was typical of Kuching and the surrounding area. Everyone was welcoming and it was a pleasure to feel that you could stroll confidently and safely through the city streets.

Where to stay and eat

We stayed at the Harbour View Hotel (Lorong Temple) which is ideally suited in the hub of Kuching’s Golden Triangle, an area dedicated to tourist facilities. It is popular with business clients so we were fortunate to get a deluxe double room with a river view (RM 175). The reception staff were very helpful and managed to shuffle bookings in order to secure us a room for five days.

There was a variety of restaurants to choose from with many hawker centres and food courts offering appetizing dishes. At the Top Spot Seafood rooftop plaza (Jalan Padungan) we had delicious black pepper prawns, okra, barbecued squid, and pineapple juices (RM 45 for two). An award-winning Chinese restaurant, Hoi Tin Lau (Panovel Commercial Centre, Jalan Mendu 93300; 082-256-328), which had been recommended to us by some local people, proved to be a real discovery. Here we dined on pork with ginger and chicken in an orange sauce accompanied with fried bidin, a variety of jungle ferns. Back in the heart of things, overlooking the river, Khatulistiwa (Jalan Tunku Abdul Rahman) tempted us with lemon grass lamb, beef pepper with rice and pineapple juices (RM36).

A Footnote

Kuching is easily accessible by air, from Kuala Lumpur in Western Malaysia or from Kota Kinabalu in Borneo’s Sabah state. Air Malaysia flies the routes (www.malaysiaairlines.com), but Air Asia (www.airasia.com) has the most competitive prices. We opted instead for a thrilling four hour journey in a speedboat from Sibu, along the coast to the northeast of Kuching (RM 90 for two). If you have limited time and wish to capture the essence of Borneo then this city is the best destination. To come full circle, Kuching is the cat’s whiskers.

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More information on Kuching in Borneo is the cat's whiskers:

Finn McCarthy
Traveller type:
Travel Enthusiast
Guide rating:
Average: 4.1 (7 votes)
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First uploaded:
4 June 2010
Last updated:
5 years 11 weeks 6 days 20 hours 57 min 43 sec ago
Destinations featured:
Budget level:
Budget, Mid-range, Expensive

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Community comments (10)

0 of 0 people found the following comment helpful.

We plan to do our first trip to the Far East next year, and this guide puts Kuching near the top of our list!

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0 of 0 people found the following comment helpful.

Hi Finn

A fascinating insight into a part of the world I have yet to visit. The wildlife photography is simply stunning.

One thing I would suggest though is that you look at the length of some of the longer paragraphs and then think about breaking them into smaller chunks.



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0 of 0 people found the following comment helpful.

Hi Finn - brought back memories of my visit to Sabah a few years ago. I was interested that there seems to be a fair bit to see within spitting distance of Kuching. This, as you say, makes the city a good place to visit if you don't have too much time on the island.


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1 of 1 people found the following comment helpful.

You have again come up with an excellant guide Finn. The guide is packed with lots of practical information and i am sure this would inspire others to plan a trip to the culturally rich city of Kuching.
You have clicked some nice pictures of animals in their natural habitat, the cover image of the proboscis monkey is simply outstanding.
You have mentioned in your guide that "Borneo is a country". I think you need to correct this as Borneo is an island shared by three countries i.e. Brunei, Malaysia and Indonesia.
Apart from that minor issue, i really enjoyed reading the guide

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Many thanks for your comments, Arif. Mea culpa. Borneo just seems like a country in its own right. I will change it.

1 of 1 people found the following comment helpful.

This is a very practical guide complemented by some fantastic photos. You’ve managed quite a thorough rundown of the area’s key attractions and have conjured up some vivid images along the way too.

Having lived in Brunei for several years, I’m very interested in your Borneo odyssey – should we expect more guides about this remarkable outpost?

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Thanks for your comments Jon. We were inspired by your articles before we went. I have a piece on Brunei already on the website and am planning one on Sandakan.
Best wishes

I enjoyed your Brunei guide and intended to write a comment - must put that on my to-do list! I'm glad you were inspired by my Borneo guides and look forward to reading about your experiences in Sandakan.

0 of 0 people found the following comment helpful.

Hi Finn, I really enjoyed this guide.

Kuching is somewhere I have always wanted to visit and obviously one of the main reasons people visit Borneo is to see the orangutans however I didnt know about all the other animals and creatures I could see so it was great to read about these.

I was also unaware of the cultural village which definately sounds like a good visit, especially at night.

Ive check airasia and the airfares are very cheap so Im hoping to add Borneo in on my next visit to Malaysia.

One final point it would be good if you added other hotels you may have seen whilst in Kuching, the fact that the one you stayed at was popular with business guests would put me off a little.


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0 of 0 people found the following comment helpful.

I enjoyed this guide, Finn. Your writing style is descriptive and interesting, and contains some nice turns of phrase. It was also rich on practical information.

However, I would be careful not to let the practical info break the flow of the text. For instance, in the Bako and Sarawak sections, prices and travel information are given before you really describe the places. I would consider doing this the other way around, as I found myself switching off slightly.

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