Kuching – Sarawak, Malaysia (Borneo)
City of Kuching
Described as one of the most attractive cities in Southeast Asia, Kuching is the State capital. It is a city rich in history, and modern day Kuching is a delightful blend of modern structures and old-world charm. Kuching is divided by the Sarawak River; the south is a commercial residential area, dominated by Chinese, while the north shore is predominantly Malay in character, with old kampong houses lining the river. The two parts of the city are very different in character and even have separate mayors and separate town halls.
Kuching is known to be the highest populated city in the entire Sarawak in Malaysia. While the Bruneian Empire was in administration, Kuching was the third capital. Only after Kuching was handed over to James Brooke, it became the capital of Sarawak. While Charles Brooke was the ruler, the city kept flourishing. It saw some major development like construction of hospitals, schools, lavatories, prison and souks. World War II made Kuching a part of the Japanese province post Japanese invasion. However, the town was not damaged even after the war
Etymology of the Name “Kuching”:
Kuching means ‘cat’ in Malay and there are a number of suggestions as to how Sarawak’s capital acquired the name. Local legend has it that James Brooke (see section on ‘history’), pointing towards the settlement across the river, enquired what it was called. Whoever he asked, mistakenly thought he was pointing at a passing cat. However, there is also a contradiction regarding the common story of James Brooke whose indication was misinterpreted by the folks of this city. Malaysians who live in Sarawak usually refers to cats as “pusak” instead of Kuching. Therefore, there is a little doubt about how true the story was. If that seems a little far-fetched, the Sarawak Museum offers a few more plausible alternatives, the most likely of which is that the town may have originally have been known as Cochin – port – a word commonly used across India and Indochina. Before Brooke arrived, the city of Kuching was known as Sarawak.
Some folks also depict that the name of the city has been derived from a fruit called “Mata Kuching” which is widely available in Malaysia and Indonesia. There is a hill called Bukit Mata Kuching which is thought to be named after this fruit. Known from a letter of a British woman which was written to her son, Kuching is actually named after the Kuching River, a tidal stream that runs from Tua Pek kong Temple to Chinese History Museum and located at foot of the hill. At present the river does not exist due to the silt deposits.
History of Kuching:
Established in 1827 as the third capital city of Sarawak after Santubong and Lidah Tanah, Kuching has been a very important part of Borneo. Being ruled by the Sultanate of Brunei almost 200 years back, Sarawak or Kuching was evolved into a British province as soon as James Brooke began his reign as a form of reward. Brookes reigned in Kuching throughout three generations and made a lot of changes in the entire setting. He introduced the code of laws and established his home at the northern bank of the Sarawak River. The Astana Palace which is a famous tourist spot is established right beside the original Brooke house. During the reign of James Brooke, piracy was banned and the entire was forced to abide by certain laws. In 1868, when Charles brooke ascended the throne, he paid a great deal of attention in upgrading the town. New building were erected and the drainage system was renovated. Old shops were transformed into brick buildings. The incident of the great fire had damaged the entire city and it sprang up from the ashes during the kingdom of James Brooke. It can be said that only during the rule of James Brooke, Kuching developed from its ruinous conditions to a major city.
Until the Japanese occupied this place, Kuching was ruled by the Brooke family. Since December 1941, this large city was handed over to the Japanese forces. British Commonwealth invaded Kuching in 1946 and finally achieved independence in the year 1963.
The citizens and their language:
Kuching is a place with congenial folks and they also welcome the travellers with open arms. Their cooperative citizens help the tourists if they face any language barrier or directional trouble. Being a multi-cultural city in Malaysia, Kuching has all kinds of citizens. One can see a mixture of various religions and languages in this place. Just like chinese people speak in their own Hokkien or Hakka dialect, similarly the Malays speak the national language. The infusion of British people has also introduced English as one of the prominent languages now. Indians comprising Tamils, Punjabis and Sikhs can also be found in Kuching. Apart from that, races like Bidayuhs, Melanaus and Javenese are also to be found in Kuching. Altogether, Kuching offers its travellers a diverse cultural concoction that is rare in any other place.
One can find Kuching bright and sunny, except for the monsoon season that runs through November to February. Being tropical in nature Kuching gets a lot of rain almost all the year around. The heat is at its peak in the month of May, so for travellers it is best to avoid this month. In January, Kuching receives the maximum amount of rainfall and in July it remains comparatively dry. In the months of January, February and December, the temperature remains pleasant and perfect for travel. Although it is a peaceful place, hail storms occur at times. Tremors, thunderstorms and other calamities are rare in Kuching.
Few Areas in Kuching:
Just like the other cities, Kuching is also divided into several areas. Those are Padawan, Kota Sentosa, BDC, Tabuan Jaya, Pending, Batu Kawa, Matang, Satok etc. Padawan is a small town known for its Bidayuh villages and Longhouses. In Kota Sentosa, one will come across several shops and malls whereas in Batu Kawa, you will get to see the huge volcano crater called Ginung Serapi. Padungan is the oldest commercial area of Kuching. One can also enjoy the nightlife here. It is like the heart centre of Kuching with several five star hotels and spots like waterfront and cat museum.
Places of interest in Kuching:
Kuching is a great starting point to explore the state and there are many sights within its compact centre, including:
Waterfront: the Waterfront has been transformed into a landscaped esplanade through restoration and a land reclamation project. Earlier there was warehouses and looked like an ancient dock with many ships coming in. It has become a popular meeting place, with food stalls, restaurants and entertainment facilities including an open air theatre. There is also a restored Chinese pavilion, an observation tower, a tea terrace and musical fountains. Traditional architecture like the Square Tower is also a thing to take note of. The view of the Sarawak river from the dock is mesmerizing.
Chinatown: most of Kuching’s Chinese population live in the shop houses lining the narrow streets around the Main Bazaar. The street, opposite the waterfront, is the oldest in the city, dating from 1864. Kuching’s highest concentration of antique and handicraft shops is to be found here. The characteristically Chinese Red Archway welcomes the travellers with complete warmth. The best thing about the streets is that, they are devoid of garbage. The cleanliness of the city and the bright paints of the walls are just great to look at. Lined up book stores, coffee shops, hardware stores and antique furniture stores have enhanced the grandiose of the city. One can also choose to visit the myriad Chinese temples that are to be found in the Carpenter Street. Also around the Main Bazaar are some other important buildings dating from the Brooke era. The Supreme Court on Main Bazaar was built in 1874 and in front of the grand entrance is a memorial to Rajah Charles Brooke (1924). The clock tower was built in 1883, and Fort Margherita in 1879 (now the Police Museum). The General Post Office, with its majestic Corinthian columns, stands in the centre of town. It was built by Vyner Brooke, the last Rajah, in 1931.
Sarawak Museum: One of Kuching’s biggest attractions is an internationally renowned museum called Sarawak Museum. It is the oldest Museum in Kuching that holds many secrets of this country’s glorious past. Opened in 1891, the museum overlooks pleasant botanical gardens and the Heroes Memorial, built to commutate the dead of the Second World War. It was established by Charles Brooke upon the support of the naturalist Alfred Russel Wallace. This museum displayed the local arts and crafts in earlier years. During the second World War, this museum was protected by a Japanese officer who had a fondness for it. The specimens of Sarawa’s animals, reptiles, flora and fauna are displayed in the ground floor of the museum and in the first floor one can notice various artefacts, musical instruments and boats crafted by the local people.
The oldest Chinese temple in Kuching, Tua Pek Kong, in the shadow of the Hilton, was built in 1876, although it is now much modernised. The first structure was erected by a group of Chinese immigrants thankful for their safe journey across the hazardous South China Sea. New immigrants still come here to give thanks for their safe arrival.
The Astana, was built in 1870, two years after Charles Brooke took over from his uncle, and stands on the north bank of the river almost opposite the market on Jalan Gambier. Today it is the official residence of the governor of Sarawak. This stunning building stands tall across the Sarawak river and comprise 3 separate buildings altogether. The residence is not available for public entry. There is a library in the palace and some collected artefacts of the Brooke family.
The new State Mosque is also situated across the river at Petra Jaya and was completed in 1968. It stands on the site of the older mosque dating from the mid-19th century. This mosque is also known as “Masjid Jamek”. Those who enter this mosque are requested to dress modestly and open their shoes before stepping inside.
Sunday Market: Kuching’s best market, and also one of the best in Sarawak, is along Jl Satok. The market actually begins late on Saturday afternoon, when villagers bring in their produce and livestock and start trading. They sleep at their stalls and resume trading at around 5am on Sunday. The vendors here are quite congenial and bargaining is also accepted. People from the village gather here with their lots of fruits, vegetables, spices and various fish and sell them at the Sunday Market of Sarawak. Mainly, it is a perfect place for grocery shopping and not only tourists but the citizens also swarm at this market for buying their regular food.
Churches, mosques and temples: Kuching’s cosmopolitan make up is immediately evident from its religious architecture: Chinese, and Hindu and Sikh temples, the imposing state mosque and Roman Catholic and Protestant Churches.
Places of interest around Kuching
Within easy reach is the Semenggoh Orang-Utan Sanctuary and the national parks of Gunung Gading, Kubah and Tanjung Datu National Park, North of Kuching is the Damai Peninsula and Bako National Park on the Muara Tebas Peninsula.
20 km west of Kuching covering some 2230 hectares with three mountains: Gunung Serapi, Gunung Selang and Gunung Sendok. The Matang Wildlife Centre is part of the Kubah National Park and the key attraction is the orang-utans which are rehabilitated for release back into the wild.
32 km from Kuching, became the first forest reserve in Sarawak when 800 hectare of jungle were set aside by Rajah Vyner Brooke in 1920. Although Sepilok in Sabah has taken over as Borneo’s main orang-utan rehabilitation centre, and much of Semeggogh’s rehabilitation work has transferred to the Matang Wildlife Centre, orang-utans still visit the Semeggogh centre for food handouts.
Gunung Gading National Park was constituted in 1983 and covers 411,1060 hectares either side of Sungai Lundu, 65 km north of Kuching. The Rafflesia, the largest flower in the world, is found in the park.
Apart from this, The Kuching Reservoir Park (Taman Budaya), Friendship Garden, Sarawak State Library and Medan Raya Complex are some of the places that one must not miss in Kuching.
Getting Around Kuching:
There are various modes of transport via which one can trip around Kuching. Here is a list of their transport facilities
In Kuching, the roads are pretty much in a good condition and public buses are available at low costs. The government of Kuching has taken step to eliminate all the dilapidated buses and has brought new, bright coloured ones that are more comfortable and smooth. One might have to wait a little for the buses, but these are one of the best modes of transport in Kuching. Right opposite the Old Mosque, there lies the prime bus terminus wherefrom the travellers can catch their vehicle. Another bus terminal is located at 3rd Mile.
If buses seem too crowded or unavailable, then shuttle vans can be another available mode of transport. The fare of the shuttle vans depends on how much distance one is covering. Unlicensed vans must be avoided as they may charge high or can be in nexus with criminals. The yellow roofed cabs are very common in the streets of Kuching and they have their own routes too.
Before hiring a taxi one should check whether these are authorised or not. Unauthorized taxis might not be safe. True that, taxis are comparatively reasonable in Kuching.
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