©Copyright Kelley Mether, 2016
Despite its name (kuching means ‘cat’ in Malaysian) and the prominent cat statue along the waterfront, Kuching is less about felines than it is about orang-utans, proboscis monkeys and huge, stinky flowers. A compact, easily navigable town rich in history, it is a perfect base for a family holiday. Five full days is plenty for day trips full of hiking and visiting orang-utan rehabilitation centres, as well as a day to explore the museums and old colonial buildings of Kuching town itself. Following is a suggested itinerary and some tips on where to stay and eat.
Day 1: Spend the day taking in Kuching’s ample sights. Most of it can be seen on foot, especially if you’re staying in the central Chinatown area, which in itself is a pretty cool and ‘happening place’. Walk from here to the Sarawak Museum, situated in a very well preserved building from the White Raja era of British colonial history, then head towards the Waterfront Promenade, detouring to explore the Indian mosque, Jalan India and Jalan Carpenter as you go. It is possible to make a short trip in a tambang (longboat) from the waterfront across the river to the imposing Fort Margherita, and if you do, it is worth the trouble to walk the extra five minutes on to the dazzling orchid displays at the Sarawak Orchid Garden. If you are lucky enough to be in Kuching on a weekend, check out the Satok Weekend Market, about ten minutes walk from the Sarawak Museum.
Day 2: Now the serious fun starts with a visit to Bako National Park. Your guide will pick you up from your hotel (see note below regarding guides) and drive you the short 30-odd kilometres to Bako Bazaar, where you will don a life jacket and board a longboat to the Headquarters of the national park. From HQ there are well-signed hiking trails of varying length and difficulty, taking visitors along the beaches and through the rainforests. On our half-day walk we encountered bearded pigs, proboscis and macaque monkeys, and an astounding variety of birdlife. It is possible (and very worth it) to stay overnight at the basic but well-appointed huts at Headquarters, if you wish to extend your time there.
Day 3: After another early morning pick up, head out to Gunung Gading National Park to (hopefully) view the world’s largest, smelliest, flower. The Rafflesia only blooms around forty times per year, so it is worth checking with your guide or with the National Parks Booking Office in Kuching before you head out there. The park itself has several excellent walking trails, most of them encompassing some sort of natural water feature where it is possible to swim. On our seven kilometre walk we saw three Rafflesia flowers and had a much-welcomed swim in the clear water at the base of a small waterfall.
Day 4: Semengoh Nature Reserve is everybody’s favourite. This is the orang-utan rehabilitation centre, and probably the only day trip for which you don’t need a guide. The park is only 24 kilometres from Kuching and easily accessible via bus or taxi. There are only two feeding times, at nine in the morning and three in the afternoon, but it is worth leaving some extra time to do one or both of the short hiking trails in the Reserve.
Day 5: Organise your guide again and get going early to Matang Wildlife Centre and Kubah National Park. Only forty minutes’ drive from Kuching, Matang Wildlife Centre is Sarawak’s major animal rehabilitation centre, and houses orang-utans, civets, sun bears and even crocodiles, amongst others. The Centre is located inside the national park, which boasts an abundance of trekking trails, some of which lead to breathtaking waterfalls and swimming holes. Again, it is possible to stay here overnight, with a variety of accommodation options on offer.
Where to Stay: Even though Kuching is a very compact, orderly town, it is probably a good idea to stay central, simply because of the humidity. While staying on the outskirts of town might prove cheaper for accommodation, the additional costs you will almost certainly incur for air-con cabs to escape the heat while out sight-seeing will far outweigh the savings. Besides, central is where it’s all at. There are many well-priced Airbnb options and mid-range, family friendly hotels in the Jalan Carpentar and Jalan Temple areas, both of which put you in easy walking range of Kuching’s most famous tourist destinations, as well as some great dining places.
Where and What to Eat: Kuching is a very clean city, and hawker centres are cheap and abundant. Most mornings we headed to Jalan Bishopsgate for roti canai (Malaysian pancakes with curry sauce) and teh tarik (the very famous milky “pulled tea”, poured from jug to cup, jug to cup, repeatedly, to create a light, frothy, texture), and for dinner, Jalan Temple was just around the corner, with a mouth-watering mix of Malaysian, Chinese, and Nyonya food stalls. It’s a good idea to stock up on water and snacks in Kuching before heading out to the national parks, as food prices are at a premium at the parks themselves.
A Note On Guides: If you have young children or are time-poor, I do recommend that you find a guide, for a couple of salient reasons. Firstly, there is safety: by law, guides must be registered and insured, and will usually display this information readily to you. Find another guide if they are unable or unwilling to do so. Secondly, the guides simply know where the animals are and where the mature Rafflesia flowers are. We would never have seen the proboscis monkeys at Bako without our guide; he recognized their calls and led us to them. To find a guide, just ask at the reception desk of your accommodation; all hotels, hostels and even Airbnbs will be able to recommend one to you.
Semmongoh Nature Reserve: https://sarawaktourism.com/attraction/semenggoh-nature-reserve/
Matang Wildlife Centre: https://sarawaktourism.com/attraction/matang-wildlife-centre/
Kubah National Park: https://sarawaktourism.com/attraction/kubah-national-park/
Gunung Gading National Park: https://sarawaktourism.com/attraction/gunung-gading-national-park/
Bako National Park: https://sarawaktourism.com/attraction/bako-national-park/
For general info about Kuching: http://www.wonderfulmalaysia.com/kuching-city-malaysia.htm