We left our accommodation in Miri late morning for the bus station to catch the city bus to the airport. We were gently touted a taxi for 50RM and a private car for 12RM (the bus is 2.60RM each). Just as a taxi driver was telling Marie the bus wouldn’t leave for a long time and was very slow the bus driver hopped in and started the engine. 15 minutes later we were at the airport.
Less than an hour after boarding the plane we were in Kuching. We were annoyed that we had to pay for a cab as there is no bus from the airport to the city. Our lonely mis-guidebook say there is one if you go out and turn left and cross the main road there is a shelter where you can get one on the nearest route. Well none of the locals knew where it was and there were 2 roads left and both were dual carriageways so you’d be dicing with death to cross them and there was no shelter in sight. We had to suck up the cab fare.
First impressions of Kuching are that we really quite like it. It has a mix of new and old, Western and Asian influences in the busting streets and personality. There’s a big river that runs right through and an obsession with cats (Kuching is the Malay word for Cat) shown by cat souvenirs and statues everywhere.
We got dropped at the tourist info centre and scored a good map with directions to 2 streets to head to for cheap accommodation. No sooner had we left and got to the first street just over the road than the rain started. Our first really heavy rain on our trip so far. We were in Chinatown and happened to find a really nice Chinese tea shop to wait it out, assisted by the shop owner who ushered us inside and served us up some drinks. During the brief recesses Emma took trips up and down the street to check out the sleeping options.
Eventually it stopped and we headed 5 minutes away to the second street. We knew that because of its location that we’d be spending quite a few nights in Kuching so we chose carefully. We must have looked at 10 or 12 places and there is a bit of variation in quality, space, cleanliness and facilities. In the end we favoured the first place we looked at in Chinatown because although the room is windowless the place is spotless, less then 1 year old, the staff are very helpful and we liked its location.
We spent the late afternoon walking along souvenir shops near the waterfront. The storm buzzed into the evening but we enjoyed the cooler air. We got back and chatted to Lee, one of the staff at our hostel. He has relatives at the Annah Rais Longhouse and offered to take us there via the Semenggoh Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre on the way there for a very cheap price. We decided to take him up on it as we were planing on going to see the orangutans anyway.
The next morning we arrived at the Rehabilitation Centre in time for the 9am feeding. No sooner had we parked than we spotted a female and baby up in a nest just above the carpark. We passed the first feeding area and headed down the jungle track to the second and with the temptation of pineapple and bananas for breakfast many came out for the feeding (we are under no illusion about just how much rehabilitation goes on at the centre).
It was a good opportunity to see a lot of orangutans, and up close. The big cocky ones came out first followed by the mediums sized ones with the odd little one dancing about the trees out of full view waiting until the chaos had died down a little. We got a great opportunity to see their agility and strength. There were around 15 in total, it was fantastic. As we left we saw the male crashing and thrashing about the trees – he’s a big boy not to be messed with. It was good, but but as good as seeing one in the wild.
We got to the longhouse mid morning and were greeted with rice wine. A longhouse is basically a collection of houses under one roof, Annah Rais is a Bidayuh tribe longhouse and the well known pictures of longhouses are the Iban tribe’s so it was different and not quite what we were expecting. It was still interesting to visit and probably the most impressive thing was the use of bamboo in so many ways: construction, weaving, cooking, eating, decoration, firewood. Bamboo is apparently the most sustainable wood in the world and we like seeing how it can be used in so many ways. The Head House also has a collection of skulls from the days of headhunting which in fact was not that long ago. We went inside another house where the traditional staircase was used – basically a fat plank with knobbles carved onto it and rice sifting baskets on the wall.
The afternoon was spent exploring Kuching. There is a lot to see with a network of small streets in Chinatown dotted with tin makers, teashops, handicrafts, reflexologists, gold sellers and Chinese temples, some larger streets with old white washed colonial buildings that are now museums, cafes and home to the tourist information centre and big city streets with numerous shopping malls further afield. We were also on a mission to suss out some of the options for exploring some of the area around Kuching of which there are many if you want to stick with what everyone else does, which of course we don’t. Nearly everyone goes on a Longhouse stay so all are extremely touristy.
We visited a number of museums, most of which look a little tired on the exhibition front with some shocking lighting but had a few gems of information and are mostly free. We went to the Natural History Museum, Art Museum, Sarawak Museum, Islamic Museum. Emma loved the fossilised wood exhibition at the Natural History Museum and all the adventuring inside gave us an appreciation of the warmth outside given the air con felt like it was turned to 10 degrees in most of them and it wasn’t about preservation of artifacts either. We went down to the ‘Sunday’ market which actually starts on a Saturday, and is a real mix of produce including some snail type things (live) to eat, some grubs that look like Huhu, some cramped caged ‘pets’ rabbits, kittens, dogs and so on, crappy souvenir t-shirts like you wouldn’t believe (not cheaper than in the souvenir shops on the waterfront and just as sparkly), fish and fish tanks, designer jeans, veggies, garden plants, tupperware. The market is actually quite small but definitely the highlight of a lot of people’s weekend starting on late Saturday afternoon and finishing on Sunday by lunchtime.
- Orangutans pee on each other (see if you can spot the photo)
- Toothpaste (particularly Colgate Total) is impossible to find unless you want a 260g tube
- Cats here have stubby short tails but whatever you do, don’t ask why they cut them off
- Internet cafes here are as rare as rocking horse shit
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