The large round moon hung above us on the 16th day of the Chinese New Year, bringing joy to the neon-lit night as the water fountain danced happily.
We were on the riverside promenade in the old town of Kuching, Sarawak, which was buzzing with activity. As my fellow travelers from Peninsular Malaysia and I wandered around the middle of the promenade, happily chatting and having fun, I suddenly realized how much I had missed such a cheerful atmosphere.
Most of us have been confined to our small social circle for two years now and somehow seeing all the happy faces that were partly hidden under face masks was a pleasant surprise for we. I found myself wanting to say hello to everyone I passed: “How are you? It’s still OK ? »
The recent easing of travel restrictions there has breathed new life into the city of Kuching and Sarawak’s economy in general.
We were the first group of travelers from the peninsula to enter Kuching since the interstate travel ban was lifted, and we were lucky to have travel blogger Chai Kit Siang as our local guide. Chai, originally from Kuching, knew his hometown very well.
We visited a restored granary located in an unassuming alley in the old town. “Through the painstaking restoration efforts of an award-winning designer, this dilapidated granary has been given new life as Kantin, a food paradise serving Sarawak hawker food,” he told us.
We enjoyed Kantin’s food and dining atmosphere as we got a whole new perspective on Sarawakian cuisine.
Chai is a man who can turn any simple place or object into something equally intriguing and fascinating. His stories are intriguing and his storytelling style is very engaging. I believe it’s young people like him, those who are willing to dedicate their time and expertise to safeguarding our heritage, who can help revive and sustain the industry. In Chai’s case, it helps breathe new life into Kuching and promote the city to tourists.
Kuching Old Town is the place to be if you are looking for a slow and steady visit rather than a quick visit. Give yourself some time to fully soak up the beauty of the place.
After a rewarding afternoon stroll – albeit in the scorching sun – through the old town, we took refuge in the colonial clubhouse cafe by the river and refreshed ourselves with a coconut drink. coco, imagining what the busy streets of old Kuching would look like.
We wondered why this city was called Kuching, or “Cat City”. Chai gave a few versions of stories about how the name came about – we were surprised to find none had anything to do with felines!
According to a travel brochure, the name may have been derived from the Chinese word for port, kochin, or from an indigenous fruit called mata kucing which resembles the longan.
Statues of cats and cat-like animals have been erected all over Kuching, at street junctions, riverside parks and even at roundabouts. This is similar to Sibu’s swan statues and figurines and Miri’s seahorses. It seems that the authorities really know how to market these towns to tourists.
In Carpenter Street we saw rustic old shophouses decorated with lanterns. The hawker stalls conducted their business under strict SOPs, with only two diners allowed at each table. At the recommendation of local residents, we tried some Sarawak laksa from the stalls there, and we were so glad we did!
There are many different varieties of Sarawak laksa, and each has its own group of devotees. The Sarawak laksa and popiah at Choon Hui Cafe were our favorites.
Apart from the appetizing local food, I also enjoyed immersing myself in the verdant forests of Sarawak in the famous Bako National Park, which is a mere 30 minutes from the city center. I quickly changed into a pair of good hiking boots and was ready to be happily drenched in sweat.
To our pleasant surprise, we found many peculiar rock formations in Bako, which faces the majestic South China Sea.
Even though global warming, as well as natural and man-made disasters, have led to some environmental degradation here, the place is still worth visiting. Bako boatmen faithfully guard the forest and they have learned to coexist and live in peace with each other.
Perhaps the orangutans at the Semenggoh Wildlife Center can feel the strong affinity with their birthplace far better than any of us. Here we had the rare opportunity to meet the orangutan “grandmother” Seduku, born in 1971, who had three offspring. It is said that Seduku returned to her native forest at some point in 1995, but emerged from the forest after more than a decade to return to the human family that had nurtured her for 17 years!
This is a largely unknown heartwarming story of an orangutan who shares 98% resemblance to humans in genetic buildup.
Indeed, an orangutan is a matriarchal species that will care for its family throughout its life, a valuable lesson we learned during our visit to the rehabilitation center.
While traveling in Sarawak, you will not only experience its abundant green offerings, but also its highly inclusive multicultural vibe where people of different ethnic backgrounds live together in perfect harmony.
In Kuching, we seemed to have experienced the long-missed 1970s muhibbah spirit that we once enjoyed on the peninsula.
Yes, we love Kuching!
The opinions expressed are entirely those of the author.
Leesan, the founder of Apple Vacations, has traveled to 132 countries, six continents and enjoys sharing his travel stories and insights. He is also the author of five books.