Hi there Planeters and Journalists,
Welcome back to another edition of Travel Journal. This may be a long time coming, but as they say, better late than never. The Planet’s Journal had the opportunity to pay a visit to the wonderful city of Kuching – the capital city of Sarawak.
Historically, Sarawak was once part of the Bruneian Empire, and Kuching served as the third capital of Sarawak. When James Brooke gain control of Sarawak after helping the Bruneian empire, Kuching was established as the administration center of the what would later become the Brooke Dynasty.
In the local Malay language, the term “Kuching” is literally translated as “Cat”, as such the city is also widely known as “Cat City”. There are many theories on how Kuching got its name, i.e. translated from the Malay word namesake; inspired by the Indian Port “Cochin”; named from a fruit called “Mata Kuching”; the Chinese word “古井“ (Gu Jing) that literally means “Old Well”. Regardless of how Kuching got its name, it is the most populous in Sarawak, serving not only as its administration capital, it is also a business center, food destination, as well as tourist destination.
Kuching, or Sarawak for that matter, is home to various ethics groups consisting of the Ibans, Dayaks o Dyaks, Malays, Chinese, Indian, Bidayuh, Melanau, Orang Ulu etc. It’s a melting pot of cultural diversity where everyone lives in harmony.
There are several places of interests that are definitely a must-go in Kuching. Fort Margherita — built in 1879 by the second White Rajah Charles Brooke, and named after his young bride Ranee Margaret. Situated on top of a hill near the Sarawak River, it serves as a lookout point, as well as the capital’s first line of defense. The fort was later converted into a Police Museum.
Apart from the Fort Margherita, the Astana and the Dewan Undangan Negeri buildings also serves as major landmarks in the area.
Another favorite tourist spot is the Waterfront, which houses some of the most historical spots in Kuching, as well as home to the Main Bazaar. The Square Tower once served as a sentry point to complement the Fort Margherita on the opposite site of the Sarawak River. The Square Tower is distinct for its shape. Despite its defensive purposes historically, the building now serves as a cafe.
Not far from the Square Tower is the Old Courthouse. The building stands on the ground of what was once a Christian mission. Constructed in 1874, the courthouse served as the main administration complex for the White Rajah government. Currently, the building serves as a Sarawak Tourism Board Complex, as well as a small museum to honor famous women of Sarawak, restaurants and cafe.
The Clock Tower and the Charles Brooke Monument were also constructed within the vicinity in 1883 and 1924 respectively.
The Old Chinese Court building, or also known as the Chinese Chamber of Commerce Building, was built in 1912 to serve as a center for the local Chinese community to manage their own affairs. Currently, the building serves as the Chinese History Museum.
Not far from the Old Chinese Court building stands the oldest Chinese temple in Kuching — the Tua Pek Kong temple or Siew San Teng. The temple has been around since 1770. It is believed that the temple ensures good feng shui to its devotees.
The Kueh Seng Onn Temple is also another iconic temple along the Waterfront, and is only a stone’s throw away from the Tua Pek Kong temple. Legend has it that during the Great Fire of 1884, the local Chinese had visions of a child waving a black flag to put out the fire. There were also sightings of a child that fitted the same descriptions bathing and playing with water at a local well reported. As a response, the local Hokkien community built the temple in 1895, complete with an “Entertainment” stage on the opposite site of the road, normally used to celebrate the deity’s birthday on the second day of the second lunar month annually.
The stage serves as a cafe on normal days, also known as the Temple Cafe.
The Waterfront, apart historical and religious sites, also a place to go to to shop for souvenirs, as well as local products. The Kuching Waterfront Bazaar and the Borneo Magic are only 2 of the many shops here that offers a variety of souvenirs to chose from.
The Waterfront is also a lively place at night, graced with various street performances and food stalls.
As you may have noticed from above, Kuching also houses a variety of museums. Other museums include Sarawak Museum, the Cat Museum and many more. The Sarawak Museum, built by Charles Vyner Brooke in 1891 and designed by his French aide based on the Normandy Town Hall in France, exhibit a variety of handicrafts, made by the indigenous people of Sarawak, as to introduce the various wildlife of Sarawak.
The Cat Museum, situated at the Kuching North City Hall in Petra Jaya, is the World’s first museum devoted to all things feline. It consists of 4 galleries, which showcases feline statues, preserved specimens, photos, souvenirs, replicas and many more.
You name them, they got them. The best part is entrance is free, but you’d need to pay a small fee to bring in either a camera and video-cam.
Since we’re on the subject of museums, there is yet another location that is a must-visit place nearby. It’s not exactly in Kuching — Damai Central, Satubong to be exact, which an approximately 45 minutes to 1 hour drive from Kuching city center.
Officially opened in 1991, it is an internationally-recognized tourist attraction, which boast more than 70,000 visitors annually! Often called “The Living Museum”, the SCV exhibits actual traditional houses and longhouses, accurately recreated, and is also where the staffs and performers actually live, marry and raise their family.
It boasts houses and longhouses of all the ethnic groups — all of 7 of them, with each of them are manned by members of their respective communities, and are always ready to explain to you anything concerning their traditional cultures, should you ask.
Apart from exhibitions, there are also cultural performances to enjoy, and delicious local cuisines to savor.
They also offer packages that allows you to stay overnight in those house, and actually experience how it was like living traditionally. (Be sure to stay tuned to The Planet’s Journal, as we will have an article solely for the Sarawak Cultural Village coming soon).
The SCV is also home to the Rainforest World Music Festival exhibit, to commemorate SCV’s active participation in the aforementioned festival, as well as the many international recognition that it has amassed.
Remember, you will need at least 1 whole day to really enjoy the visit here.
Another significant landmark here in Kuching is the Medan Niaga Satok, or the Satok Market. It is basically a day wet and dry market, apart from offering conventional products and produces, also offers many villages produces and jungle products, to which natives from deep forest or villages would come and sell their stuffs.
Apart from the earlier mentioned temples, there is also another significant temple — the Kuching Lim Fah San Guanyin Tang (古晋林华山观音堂). The temple houses one of the largest Goddess of Mercy statues, if not the largest in Sarawak. Legend has it that some time in the 70s or 80s, during a prayers dedicated to the Goddess of Mercy during Her birthday, the Goddess Herself actually appeared in the form of a glimmering light, right in front of the altar dedicated to Her, in the middle of the hall, and witnessed by the many praying devotees there. Since then, the temple has been regarded as one of the most sacred temples in Kuching.
A vacation to Kuching (or anywhere for that matter), is never complete if you don’t try out some of the many delicious traditional foods and cuisines there. One of the best place to start off is a traditional ethnic restaurant called “The Dyak”.
As the name suggest, it is a restaurant that serves most Dayak’s cuisine. It is absolutely delicious, and my dinner there was one of the most pleasant ones in recent memories.
Remember, no traditional dinner is complete without a good serving of “Tuak” or palm wine — a traditional drink made from sap of a palm tree.
For breakfast or lunch, you could also pay a visit to some of of the many traditional cafes there such as The Old Rex Cafe and Jit Yang Cafe. There’s nothing like a good serving of either Mee Kampua, Mee Kolok, Kueh Chap or the Sarawak Laksa to start off your day.
For tea breaks, there is nothing like a good serving of layer cakes — a signature product of Sarawak — to pamper your sweet tooth. Granted, there are so many shops and stalls selling layer cakes all over town, but the key is to find a shop that has a wide variety, value for money, and most importantly, actually allows buyers to actually taste the products before you actually buy it! The Mira Cake House, situated in Petra Jaya, by the Sarawak River riverbanks, offers just that.
The variety of layer cakes offered would probably your mind! From tradional layer cakes, to unconventional ones such as chocolate, oreo and Michael Jackson (Yeah, you heard me right, I ain’t kidding). You want to buy layer cakes to bring back home? This is the place that you go to, period.
Your sweet tooth still craves for more? You can try out the Gula Apong Ice-cream. Gula Apong (literally means Float Sugar) is the traditional name for palm sugar, and the best place to enjoy this dessert — RG Aiskrim Bergula Apong. There are two flavors to choose from, i.e. corn flakes and peanuts.
Kuching is really a wonderful place to visit. The people are friendly; the food is wonderful; so many things to see; and generally a really nice place to stay. Even when compared with the rest of Malaysia, Sarawak in general truly embodies the true meaning of religious and racial tolerance. Where else in Malaysia, where you can see stalls selling both halal and non-halal food, side-by-side to each other, under one roof! If fact, where else in Malaysia, where you can have both halal and non-halal food, served on the same table where both Muslims and non-Muslims are seated together, and no one’s complaining!!! I am very, very impressed.
Coming soon to The Planet’s Journal, there will be some upcoming articles dedicated to some of the sites mentioned above, which will contained more detailed information. So stay tuned and thanks for reading.
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