Kuching was the first stop in the Malaysian Borneo portion of our trip. Spoiler alert – the two weeks we spent in Malaysian Borneo are solid contenders for the ‘greatest vacation I’ve ever had’. Sound like hyperbole? Stay tuned.
But let’s not get too far ahead of ourselves. We are talking about Kuching here. If I had to summarize Kuching in three words those words would be:
Cats. Kuching is the cat city. Seriously. When I first read that I immediately placed it into the ‘useless facts’ bin in my memory. “This means nothing to me, disregard.” And then we arrived. We are driving along and…hmmm…is that a cat statue in the middle of the roundabout? Can’t be. Nope, that is definitely a cat statue. Ok, I think I remember something about cats…. (5 minutes later) Another roundabout and another cat statue. “Danielle. Look, more cats! Those look like Precious Moments cat figurines!” (They did.) To summarize, Kuching takes it kitties very seriously. Cat statues, cat trinkets, cat museum. The works. If you’re a feline aficionado, you’ll love it.
Quiet. Kuching is the largest city in Sarawak, Malaysia (one of the two states making up Malaysian Borneo), but it doesn’t feel big. It has a nice riverfront area which attracts a mix of locals and tourists every night. Also, compared with the other cities in our travels thus far, Kuching was not very touristy (we arrived in the low season which was probably a contributing factor). There were several times where we felt like the only tourists in town. Nice change of pace.
Do-Over. There are a lot of attractions located close to Kuching (day-trip material). Due to poor planning on our part and some less than ideal weather (#thatraintho), we ended up missing out on most of them, including:
- Bako National Park. This is a park on the coast an hour drive from Kuching known for its population of Proboscis Monkeys. We took the bus to the park HQ one day, but due to weather restrictions, we weren’t able to go there and back on the same day. Our recommendation – plan on spending at least one night in Bako National Park.
- Satubong National Park. An hour in the other direction than Bako. This park is not as popular, but it has a mountain that is supposed to be fun to hike. We attempted to find the bus to get here, but failed.
- Orangutan Reserve. Since we were only spending two days in Kuching we didn’t have the Orangutan reserve high on our list, but if we were to go back we would definitely add it. There were several folks we spoke with who highly recommended it. Plus, Orangutans are only located (in the wild) in two regions in the world – Borneo and Sumatra (Indonesia).
High level. We flew.
Flight from Johor Bahru to Kuching on AirAsia. Originally we were looking at flights from Singapore to Kuching, but flying from Johor Bahru was much cheaper (Johor Bahru is just across the border from Singapore). Getting there from Singapore requires two passport stamps and a near 2 hour commute, but it only costs around $6.00 USD per person. We saved way more than that by switching our flight (and not flying out of Singapore).
Taxi from Kuching airport to town center. Public transit in Kuching is quite poor. There are taxis at the airport for a flat fee of 26 RM ($6.50 USD) or you could walk the 1KM to Kuching Sentral bus station and try to figure out a bus to take to the town center. We opted for the taxi.
Bori Ottok Guesthouse. During our three nights here we met one other guest (see: feeling like we were the only other tourists). Rooms are cheap ($14 USD for a private with AC) and comfortable. The staff is eclectic, but enjoyable. The main guy even bought us ABC one day (the Malaysian dessert we have grown to love), which was not necessary but so nice.
Laksa Sarawak. In Penang, Asam Laksa is one of the dishes you are supposed to eat. As we mentioned in our Penang post, we weren’t big fans. So when we arrived in Kuching and were immediately told by the staff at the guesthouse that we needed to try to Laksa Sarawak, we were a bit hesitant. Fear not, it was wonderful. Standard Laksa Sarawak has a few prawns, chicken, and veggies in a delicious coconut curry based sauce. Not fishy! We ate two bowls/day.
Black Bean Coffee. I’ve lamented several times on the dearth of quality coffee I’ve encountered in Southeast Asia. Then Kuching happened. Or, more accurately, then Black Bean Coffee in Kuching happened. The coffee shop was half a block away from our lodging. It was a small shop (only three tables), but they served locally sourced and locally roasted Liberica beans. Oh, and an espresso cost $1.25 USD and a latte was $1.50 USD. It was so good. The only negative is the fact that the shop opens at 9:30 AM, meaning I wasn’t able to grab one last espresso on the morning we left. Worst day ever.
Explored the city. Walked along the river front. Ate. Walked around other portions of town. Got coffee. Decided we wanted dessert. Walked to dessert shop. Repeat.
Bako fail. This was fun way to spend 2 hours. Bus to Bako National Park. Learn the late boats were cancelled. Bus back to Kuching.
Read. It rained quite a bit of the time we were in town. We also didn’t plan out our days very well (see previous) so we spent a good deal of time reading.
One run. We ran to the Budaya park and along the riverfront. Neither provided a sustained path (i.e. you couldn’t get in a very long run) but we had fun. Strava file HERE.
Espresso at Black Bean Coffee. Over a month later and I’m still obsessing over it.
Transit. Transit in Kuching is lacking. We found the buses to be confusing and the townsfolk we spoke with freely admit it. If you are heading here for several days (which I recommend) definitely spend some time mapping out your transit schedule. Or better yet, rent a motorbike.
- Our ATM card works in Malaysia! Remember that one time our debit card didn’t work in Malaysia? We sure do. We used our brand new Capital One debit card for the first time and it worked like a champ. Take that TCF.
- Barber shop. I had my first haircut of our trip. Gave the ears a little breathing space.
- Pandan ice cream. Pandan is a big thing here. It is a plant which has leaves used as a flavoring agent in many cakes, drinks, and other dessert-y items in SE Asia.I I haven’t been able to pinpoint the flavor as of yet, but I’m up to the task.
- Pizza. After our failed Bako National Park soiree, we were in the mood for some Western style food (a case of homesickness, if you will). So we found a restaurant serving pizza and had at it. Verdict: beggers can’t be choosers. Dough, sauce, and cheese. Pizza enough for me.
Overall, despite rain and poor planning I absolutely loved Kuching. The city had a great vibe and amazing food. I only wish we had more time here. We are already planning our itinerary for our next visit.