This is a 5 part series that showcases my experiences at the Rainforest World Music Festival (RWMF) and also what I did in the city of Kuching, Sarawak, Malaysia.
Kuching Part 2 – What I experienced in and around Kuching
As mentioned in the previous post, there are a plethora of options available for the tourist in Kuching city and Sarawak as a whole.
In the limited time that we had, which included visits on all 3 days to the Rainforest World Music Festival, we managed to cover a few of the nearby attractions.
Kuching City Tour –
My flight landed at noon and after being picked up at the airport and getting done with lunch (because we strictly do not miss meals 😀 ), we went directly for a tour of Kuching city. The city is the capital of Sarawak state and for the purpose of administration, it is segregated into the North and South division, separated by the Sarawak river in between.
The tour covers a few popular sights which of course included the various cat m(eoww)onuments. Kuching as I said, is called the cat city and the iconic cats are everywhere … in statues, in handicraft motifs, in paintings and posters and even the hedges that are manicured into feline forms.
Having done my research before leaving for Kuching, I had bought a cat shirt to match the ambience … so please do not miss the white cat, albeit with its tail a bit out of phase with the 2 sides of my shirt 😀 And of course, the husband had to caption this – Cool cats of Kuching !!!
The 2 hour tour also covered a few quick photo stops at –
1) The Kuching South City Council Hall which is shaped like an inverted Canna lily which is the official flower of South Kuching (Alamanda being the flower of North Kuching).
2) The Sarawak Museum (Orang Ulu museum) – The main museum is under renovation and the artefacts are temporarily exhibited in the adjacent building. Sarawak is a land of tribes and there are 6 major ethnic groups, the Chinese, Malay, Iban, Bidayuh, Orang Ulu and Melanau.
The Ibans were earlier head hunters and are known as Sea Dayaks (dayak = tribe) because they lived close to the sea.
The Bidayuh are Land Dayaks, living inland and being land owners.
The Orang Ulu are Upriver Dayaks, living near the rivers of interior Sarawak.
We viewed a short film on the history and ancient culture of the Sarawak tribes and gazed in wonder at the skull trophies of the head hunting tribes.
3) The Tua Pek Kong –
This is a Taoist temple and is one of the oldest in Kuching. Being very centrally located near the waterfront, this is a popular stop for tourists. Its brilliant colors and ornate frescoes are amazing to behold. Known for being a sacred space where prayers are answered, there is always a steady stream of the devout who make vows to light candles and incense sticks if their wishes are granted.
Well I certainly wished that I would return to Sarawak someday. My candle awaits 😀
4) The Waterfront – Being pretty much exhausted after our night flight and all the sightseeing, we just drove past the waterfront without stopping.
However, being walking distance from our hotel, we did visit it later on our way to Plaza Merdeka which is a nearby popular shopping mall.
Rows of stores run parallel to the waterfront and one can buy handicrafts, food items and ingredients, clothes, local cakes and many other goods.
Do not miss the waterfront at night too, for this is when the lights make the water and buildings dazzle like jewels and your brains are not being fried by the sun.
Semengohh Orang Utan Rehabilitation center –
One cannot visit Borneo and come away without saying hallo to the Orang Utans. Native to these regions of the world and with a DNA that is almost 97% similar to humans, these beautiful animals are supposed to be the closest match to humans. As my guide put it – The only difference is that they do not drive and we do not swing from trees 😀
They are an endangered species and there are various sanctuaries in Sarawak for their protection.
On our second day we were taken to the Semengohh Orang Utan sanctuary which is a rehabilitation center for displaced orang utans.
This is a popular tourist spot, being easily accessible from the city.
The chances of viewing them are good only during feeding times of 9-10 am and 3-4 pm. We were told that being fruiting season, the prospects were slim since the animals have enough to forage within the forest and are not enamored by the coconuts and papayas that are offered by the forest ranger. In fact there had been no sightings for the past week. However, we were very lucky to have not one but two of them grace us with their presence and as we stood on the viewing deck, they swung, jumped, clambered, cracked coconuts, ate and even scratched themselves, to our great delight 😀
We were exhorted to remember that these animals are wild and hence we had to respect the space between us and them.
Each orang utan here has a name and our hosts for the day were Edwin (the big male) and Seduka (an old grandmother).
The orang utans are nomadic and build nests high up on trees on a daily basis, moving from tree to tree at will. I was told that they also sleep in a sitting position (one more similarity with social media addicts like me 😀 )
There is also a crocodile enclosure and a viewing gallery where there is information about the orang utans. They also have a souvenir shop and very clean washroom facilities.
The park also has some unique flora that makes for great photography.
If one fails to spot Orang Utans here, there is the option of Matang Wildlife center at Kubah National Park, 33 km away from Kuching.
Anna Rais Bidayuh Longhouse –
From Semengohh, we we transported to the Anna Rais longhouse which is 55 km from Kuching and takes a little over an hour. However, this is popular because it is one of the nearest major tribal settlements to the city, the others being much further off. There is also a hot spring here which we did not visit.
There is a registration process at the entry after visitors are welcomed with shots of locally brewed rice wine called Tuak. Cheers is said by yelling Tara tara tara whooooo and the drink is gulped in one shot or many, depending on how enthusiastic you appear. We of course looked so thrilled, that we were offered seconds and thirds 😀
The Longhouse here, is where a section of the Bidayuh tribe lives and there are hundreds of dwellings with one common entrance.
The entrance is usually a narrow stair way hewn out of a single log of wood.
This is a completely traditional residential complex of sorts, made of wood, bamboo and thatched palm, where several families live together in harmony, bound by their common customs.
Their occupation is usually farming and they grow paddy, pepper, herbs and I even spotted what looked like Foxtail Millet !!! An exciting sight for a millet proponent like me. Well you can me take away from millets but you cannot take millets away from me … or some such thing 😀
Of course the tourists here do add to the economy by buying the food and produce that is showcased in front of the houses. The wines made from barley, sugarcane etc are also enticing. Chips made from tapioca starch lie drying in the sun on large mats and are a common deep fried snack.
We were taken to the Pangah house, meaning Head house where head here meant exactly that 😀 The skull trophies of the headhunter’s victims of (thankfully) yore lie peacefully suspended in large cages. The beliefs are yet very strong and the skulls have to kept pleased at all times with offerings of cigarettes and other such items that keep them from getting agitated.
After this sight it was time for some fresh air on the long wooden bridge, following which we went to one of the homes for a local tribal lunch. Tourists can opt to pre book their meals here and there are also home stay programs where visitors can spend the night and experience communal and traditional living.
Of course the kitchen and washroom facilities seem modern enough to make the visitor comfortable.
Our lunch consisted of both non veg and also veg dishes (for the vegetarians in the group). Do specify in case of dietary restrictions. The veg dishes are limited though and our vegetarians made up by drinking themselves silly with the Tuak 😀
More on the meal in the next section.
Bako National Park –
On our third day in Kuching, we visited the Bako National Park which occupies 27 sq km of the of the Muara Tebas Peninsula. It is around 23 km away from Kuching city and takes about 35 minutes to reach the boat jetty.
One can take a public bus or shared van or cab to get here.
The park can be accessed only across the water because in the interests of protecting the pristine environment, no roads have been built to get there.
We arrived at the Boat Terminal and bought tickets for the 20 min boat ride across the river to Bako National Park.
We wore our life jackets and were told not to trail our hands in the water unless we wanted to be fodder for the aggressive Estuarine crocodile that abounds in these waters.
The Bako National Park is literally Rock’ing !!! The Sandstone cliff facade looms large as one approaches the park across the water. Some of rocks also project out of the water bordering the land. Known as Sea Stacks, they rise up in various craggy shapes that one can use their imagination to identify. One could probably spot a toad or bear or lion or the features of a human face or a sea horse or even the Sphinx if you will !!! Or maybe just revel in the wonder of these rocks and click a selfie or several.
Or better still, have the guide shoot you with the large iconic cobra sea stack as the backdrop, for the portfolio that you are planning to send to Bollywood or Hollywood 😀
Tiny pristine beaches are indented along the coastline and tourists can disembark and begin their treks, depending on the route that they choose. The main landing beach is the one commonly used and it also provides photo opportunities where one can click pictures when one is still rosy cheeked after the sail, for after the trek, you are left with a sweaty visage and wet, clingy hair 😀
One can head straight to the visitors center (the Head Quarters) and skip all the hard work or one can opt to go one one of the 14 trekking trails. Of varying degrees of difficulty and distance, these trails are best embarked on with the accompaniment of a guide, for the jungle is treacherous and there are venomous snakes and other dangers.
Of course it goes without saying that we opted for the easiest trail 😀 easy being a relative term here, for this 750 meter trek took us nearly 1.5 hours over rocks, roots, ramps and other rough terrain. We even went on all fours at times, clinging to the network of roots that formed natural steps along the way. Steps and railings made of Iron wood, helped us along during steep patches and we did get to rest from time to time as we clicked pictures or watched Sapri our guide demonstrate the uses of some of the plants.
We were fascinated by his stories of the Sandpaper leaf, the tree that could cure fever, plants that had the potency of viagra, forest honey that was used to treat asthma, leaves used in chicken curry and many such plants.
There are several types of vegetation in this jungle and Sapri named them for us – beach vegetation, cliff vegetation, mangroves, Kerangas forest, mixed dipterocarp vegetation, grasslands and peat swamp forest.
Animal sighting in the jungle is best achieved in the early mornings or late afternoon and we were told that we had a better chance of spotting them when we reached the visitor’s center where we were headed. Of course no one informed the venomous Green Keeled Pit Viper of the venue :-D, so we had the pleasure of seeing it on our path, up close and barely a couple of feet away from us.
Emboldened by the presence of our guide, we managed to stop and click pictures of the creature that would normally have had us screaming and running for our lives 😀
We emerged out of the jungle trail into the peat swamps and mangroves which our feet were shielded from, by a long wooden bridge. We were lucky to spot the tiny blue crabs from high up on the bridge, running around in the swamp below.
The bridge led us to the Park HQ where we had lunch at the restaurant. The food is quite basic but they have cold beverages and water being sold which is what one sorely needs at the end of the trek. The porch area is also a very good place from where we can spot the Bornean bearded pig and the Long tailed Macaque that stroll around unafraid of the humans. On the contrary, one has to be wary of the monkey, for this tiny innocuous looking creature is known to snatch away food and drink in seconds !!!
The silver leaf monkey is shyer though and one has to be lucky to spot them on the branches where they tend to blend into the foliage. We were lucky to spot not one but two.
The Proboscis monkey which is endemic to Borneo, is the star attraction here and this comical looking cartoon like creature is sadly on the verge of extinction with barely 300 of them left in Bako National Park. Of course it does not help that they are eaten up by the estuarine crocodiles from time to time.
While there are times when these monkeys are easily seen, we had a bit of tension since we did not spot any until it was time to leave. We begged our guide to somehow find us one and the smart man managed to go hunting and fortunately find one really close to the HQ. After that it was a chase to get some good shots of the fella who sadistically kept climbing higher and hiding behind leaves and branches and giving us superior looks from there 😀
Finally satisfied with all that we had achieved, we clambered back into our boat and set sail back to the jetty.
Bako NP is a must visit place. For those who would like to spend more time or sight animals and birds there are options to stay in the forest lodges or campsites at the park and experience the night treks and wildlife too.
Cat Museum –
The cat museum is tucked away in the lobby of the Kuching North City Hall building. Not having much time to spend, we Paw’sed here for a few minutes on our way to the RWMF venue 😀
Cat lovers might probably want to spend a whole day here but otherwise a quick tour of 30 minutes should be able to cover the salient exhibits.
The Suruhanjaya Dewan Bandaraya Kuching Utara, (North City Council Hall) being high up on a hill, also offers panoramic views of the city.
Sarawak Cultural village –
This was the venue for the Rainforest World Music Festival 2018, so we were here for the 3 days of the festival. At other times this place showcases the culture of a few of Sarawak’s major tribes, complete with life sized models of community homes and experiences of food, art and craft and culture.
For more pictures see My Facebook – Kuching – Things to do – Part 1, 2
General information –
Getting to Kuching from Kuala Lumpur –
There are several flights in a day, that connect Kuala Lumpur to Kuching. One can choose between Air Asia, Malaysian Airlines, Malindo Air which operate direct flights. There are also connecting flights from other airports like Singapore etc.
My travel dates – July 11th-16th, 2018
RWMF dates – July 13th-15th (Fri-Sun), 2018
Please Note – I visited Kuching and attended the festival, on the invitation of the Sarawak Tourism Board and Tourism Malaysia, which sponsored my flights, stay and related activities and I thank them for the same. The narrative is based on the inputs that I received from various sources as well as my own experiences.