There are few places in the world with a better balance of culture, city and history than Kuching. A brief introduction: it’s named after the Malay word for cat and is the capital of Sarawak, one of the two states on Borneo island that make up East Malaysia, the other being Sabah. It’s sectioned by the Sarawak River which runs through it, and despite being surrounded by lush tropical rainforests and national parks, has plenty of vibrant city at its core. Kuching’s just the kind of tourist destination that promises an interesting destination for everyone. It can be overwhelming planning a vacation at such a place, where one is simply spoiled for choice, so here’s our guide to Kuching’s must-visit attractions to help you whittle down a shortlist.
Delight in the Beauty of the Fairy and Wind Caves
Nature-lovers rejoice: Kuching has an abundance of caves, nature reserves and national parks in its vicinity. Plan your journeys shrewdly and you might just get to experience all that Borneo’s enchanting wilderness has to offer! Tree-hugger or not, however, you cannot miss out on a visit to the famous Fairy Cave (Gua Pari-Pari) near the former gold-mining settlement of Bau. Approximately an hour’s drive south-west of Kuching, we promise it’s absolutely worth the trip. Named for a stalagmite formation within that resembles Guan Yin, a Chinese deity, the Fairy Cave is a beautiful combination of open spaces and narrow passageways, so photographers with a good eye can look to take advantage of the contrasting light and shadow they’ll find aplenty. Back outside, avid rock climbers might be interested in the eight separate rock surfaces to be climbed. The rock walls rank from five to eight (by French numerical grading), guaranteeing a challenge to even the most seasoned of rock climbers.
While you’re in Bau, you might as well drop by the Wind Cave (Gua Angin), which is much closer to town. This cave was given its name for the light breeze that constantly blows throughout it, but it’s likely not an experience you’ll fancy if you’re squeamish, as the Wind Cave’s ceilings are relatively low, and it houses 14 different species of bat. As long as you don’t bother them too much with your flashlight—which you will need, as the cave is dark—they should leave you in peace. Once you’ve done your fair share of exploring, you can take a refreshing dip in the river right by Sungai Sarawak Kanan, one of the Sarawak River’s two major tributaries.
Bersibuk in Siburan
Siburan is another town an hour away from Kuching and home to some of Sarawak’s best attractions for nature enthusiasts. Seize the opportunity to pay a visit to Jong’s Crocodile Farm, a world-class crocodile park and breeding centre together with a variety of other native wildlife as well, including monitor lizards, sambar deer, and barking deer. Plan your visits to coincide with their crocodile feeding sessions at 1100 and 1500 (local time) daily to make the most of your time there. Witnessing those majestic creatures leap several feet out of the murky water to snatch at their feed is not an experience you’ll soon forget. The zoo also conducts freshwater fish feedings at their colossal Freshwater Pond, resident to various species, such as the humongous arapaima, one of the largest freshwater fish in the world.
If you’d rather not stare down the fearsome maw of a crocodile, perhaps a relaxing retreat to the tranquil Kampung Panchor Hot Springs will do you some good. Hot springs are pools of geothermally-heated water that sometimes emerge from the Earth’s crust. Their water is said to have therapeutic properties, since the heated water is often mineral-rich due to its higher capacity for dissolved solids than cold water. But medical uses aside, there are few more blissful ways to unwind than soaking in the warm water of a hot spring. Just be sure to practise caution, and test each pool of water to prevent scalding yourself.
Learn All About Sarawak’s White Rajahs
Had enough of Mother Nature for the day? Retreat to the city and take a closer look at Sarawak’s rich culture and history via its landmarks, one of the most prominent being the Astana Negeri Sarawak, a grand palace on the north bank of the Sarawak River, and a fine example of English architecture directly opposite the Kuching Waterfront. It was constructed in 1870 by Charles Brooke, the second White Rajah of Sarawak, as a gift to his wife, Margaret Alice Lili de Windt, and is still used today as the official residence of the Governer of Sarawak. Therefore, the building is not open to the public and can only be admired from afar, but its grounds are still accessible to all.
A little farther upstream is Fort Margherita, another well-preserved specimen of English construction from that era that took its name from Margaret. It was built in 1879 as defence against the numerous pirate raids that once ravaged Kuching. Fort Margherita now houses the Brooke Gallery, a museum that tells the story of James Brooke—the first White Rajah of Sarawak—celebrating the life of a great leader who worked hand-in-hand with the region’s indigenous peoples to establish the foundation of Sarawak as we know it today. Learn more about Sarawak’s rich history through the priceless historical exhibits on display.
If you’re interested to know more about the Brooke dynasty, other landmarks of notable historical significance to their reign include the Square Tower on the south riverbank and the Ranee Museum, located within the Kuching Old Courthouse that’s right across the street from the Square Tower.
More Museums for History Buffs
Speaking of museums, Kuching has a number of well-curated museums. We recommend beginning with the Sarawak State Museum, home to an immense collection that’ll give patrons a glimpse into Sarawak’s vivid history. Constructed in 1891 in the distinctive Queen Anne style, it was originally built to house various arts and crafts of the native peoples, as well as specimens of local flora and fauna. That old building still serves its purpose as the Ethnology Museum, where one can find not just the aforementioned art-and-craft collections, but artefacts from the different indigenous peoples that inhabit Sarawak, such as musical instruments, model boats, and more. Admission is free, and the interactive museum has been renovated to include sections on natural history and Sarawak’s oil industry. If a succinct walkthrough of Sarawak’s history is what you’re looking for, the Sarawak State Museum is a must-visit.
If that isn’t enough, stop by the Islamic Heritage Museum and the Chinese History Museum. They provide insight into and culture and history of Kuching’s Muslim and Chinese communities respectively, through the use of unique exhibits detailing Muslim and Chinese influence on Sarawakian society as a whole, besides the usual displays of contributions to fields like science and technology, and other religious and cultural artefacts.
For a different kind of museum, however, head to the famous Cat Museum, the world’s first museum devoted entirely to our felines. With more than 4000 artefacts to look at across four galleries, cat- and animal-lovers alike will surely enjoy a trip to the whimsical Cat Museum. There’s a little bit on the history of Kuching and Sarawak, but the focal point is exclusively and very clearly on cats. Once you’ve made your way through, don’t forget to take home a souvenir or two from the museum’s gift shop to commemorate your visit to the wonderful city of Kuching.
The Picturesque Kuching Waterfront
End your day on a high with a leisurely stroll along Kuching’s vibrant Waterfront. Beautiful as it is in the daytime, the Waterfront truly comes alive at night, so don’t miss out on those scenic views from bank to bank of historical monuments and modern constructions alike—after all, the juxtaposition of old and new is part of what makes Kuching such a special city. To truly soak up those views, one can hire a penambang boat and hop from jetty to jetty. They’re also a decent mode of transport from the Waterfront to the north bank of the Sarawak River. Alternatively, you may walk across on the Darul Hana Bridge, which we recommend either way for the numerous angles it’ll give you from which to photograph the breathtaking city of Kuching.
Another advantage of visiting the Waterfront at night is the lights show at the Darul Hana Musical Fountain, a truly magnificent display that can’t be missed! If bright city lights aren’t your thing, go for a walk around the Kuching Waterfront Bazaar along Jalan Main Bazaar, a thriving marketplace right in the heart of the city with eclectic shops selling almost everything, from clothes to antiques to handicrafts to street food. The bazaar’s shophouses are also a fantastic example of old-school Chinese architecture. Farther up the waterfront is the Upside Down House, another of Kuching’s quirky tourist attractions and a fun venue for some photo ops.
Looking for a place to stay? The Upside Down House happens to be conveniently located right next to Tune Hotel Waterfront Kuching, an affordable and highly accessible hotel with modern facilities, strategically located within the heart of Kuching, in close proximity to the best that Kuching has to offer. Book your stay in Sarawak now at the Tune Hotel Waterfront Kuching for a vacation you surely won’t forget!