Kuching means cat in Malay, you can buy anything and everything with a cat on it....guess what everyone is getting for Christmas?
July 8 Kuching
Our bus arrived in Kuching about 9 am and we went looking for the local bus to take us into town. I was in a foul mood and just wanted a bed. Period! The bus driver lied to us and we ended up having to walk about 15 minutes to our guest house, usually not a bad thing at all but I thought I was going to fall over. We found our place and walked up the flight of stairs, bags and all to be told they’d over booked (very common in Malaysia) but they knew of a place around the corner (also very common, but it usually turns out to be a brother’s, uncle’s, friends…at double the price) that had space. I kept quiet figuring I might be nasty if I spoke. We insisted on leaving our bags, we were very suspicious, and the guy offered to drive us. Around the corner we went to a brand new hotel, Backpackers Stay, where the price wasn’t quite double. We (James) said no way….and for some reason we still can’t figure out the guy from the original hotel said no problem, I’ll pay the difference. Hmmmm…maybe he owns both and this was a show? Who knows, I really didn’t care. We were paying the same, got a room a week old and it was clean and quiet. Night night everyone!
I did manage to shower first then crawled into bed with the ipod full of tv. James went out to pay the last invoice, or that was the excuse he gave me - I think he was afraid I’d literally bite his head off. Poor guy. A few hours later I actually felt better and we went out to take a peek at Kuching.
What an adorable city. It’s the biggest city in Malaysian Borneo with 600,000 people, clearly has a bit of money in it and tourism seems to have been good but not quite destructive. The city centre is a mix of old shops (still doing business as they did years ago), souvenir shops, antiques shops, quest houses, cafes and those food stalls with the plastic chairs and tables that block the sidewalks. The waterfront has been completely redone and you can walk from one end of the city to the other past food and drink stands while you admire the view of the old buildings on the other bank….along with the rest of the residents of Kuching. Kuching is very social and strolling the water front with friends and family seems to be the thing to do here. I can’t help but be reminded of Blockhouse Island, I might have to get myself some ice cream and grab a seat for some people watching. It started to rain, really hard, and we gave up on finding the grocery store and ducked into a restaurant for chicken and rice.
After dinner, although I was feeling better, I headed back to our hotel and bed. As curious as I was about what else Kuching had to offer me sleep won over.
July 9 Kuching
I finally felt a bit better and was excited to take a tour of Kuching. James has had tons of time to plan a walk so with a coffee in hand I was happy to follow. It started at the tourist information centre where we picked up some information and asked questions about day trips. Like I mentioned earlier, our lack of planning meant if we really wanted to do Mulu park properly we’d have to rearrange and ended up with extra time in Kuching. Not being ones to waste time we hoped to find fun stuff to do. As it turns out Kuching has more than enough to do, you could spend a week or more here and in the surrounding area and never got bored. Ah well…we only had 3 more days. We grabbed an information booklet and I have to laugh at its description “….at the beginning of the 19th century…..apart from the occasional piracy on the coast and headhunting in the interior, Sarawak was peaceful.” Well the “Cat” city (Kuching is cat in Malay) is very peaceful today, I just hope they’ve given up the headhunting part.
Mosque and grave yard
We walked towards the river front and were more than a bit surprised. It was beautiful! Unfortunately for the locals who were there first with their warehouses and business’, but lucky for everyone else. Today was a market day and tents were set up and locals and tourists wandered through. We walked as far as we could along the stone walk then turned up a side street heading towards the Mosque. In front was a huge and interesting grave yard.
We zig zagged through the side streets, stopping to look at interesting sights, check out gift shops (we’d read that Kuching is the best place to do any kind of gift shopping in Borneo and so far it looked to be true, there was amazing handicrafts and artifacts) price laundromats (it was almost that time again) and enjoy the pretty city. It has tons of old buildings and is cleaner than any other Malaysian city I’ve seen with tons of green space. I love old buildings and a big part of that is their history. In Kuching a few that stood out were the Astana, a castle built by Charles Brooke (who helped put down a rebellion and build Kuching up) as a gift for his wife, the main Post Office built in 1931 with neo-classical style and Fort Margherita which was built in 1879 to guard the river.
Our loop took us to the small mall where we found a better grocery store and of course a McDonalds. After an early dinner I was feeling tired, better, but very tired so we strolled hand and hand down the river front watching the lights pop on and it get busier with more families and young people. It was a wonderful day.
July 10 Kuching
After oatmeal and coffee/tea we caught a 7:15 am local bus to the Semenggoh Nature Reserve to see orang utans. We have already seen them in Sumatra and in Sabah but they are just so cute and apparently in different areas they are a bit different. It was also silly cheap. After paying your park fee you walk about 10 minutes into the jungle (or take a mini van if you’ve paid for a tour) and eventually come to a snack stand/souvenir shop that has pictures of legs, arms and other body parts with huge bloody bite marks. We asked if that was from the orang utans and were told yes. Oh! Why? The young girl explained that usually if you have food they will go after it. Oh! We have peanut butter and crackers in our pack (lunch). No problem she said. Huh?
We walked a few more minutes and were hopeful; we were only about 2 of 15 there. We waited around a few minutes and a huge, and I mean huge, male slowly moved through the trees towards us. He sat for quite some time in the tree above me eating the fruit and throwing the pits at the tin roof. One bounced off and missed my head by about an inch. A one point a hyper park ranger came and yelled for us all to move back saying the male was angry and might attack. So we all jumped back. The male never really moved. So we crept back. He finally just moved back into the forest never coming in for a feeding.
By now I’d taken a peek around, there were other feeding areas, and the park was packed with forty or more watchers. There were about twenty orang utans, mostly moms and babies in the area. They are adorable and fun to watch but sometimes I felt like they thought the same of us.
A couple of videos of the orang utans (Click on picture for link to videos, appx. 20 MB each)
When most of the orang utans had gone back into the forest we walked back the the bus stop. Sometimes, we were told, there was a 10:15 bus and we tried to catch it. When it didn’t come we had our lunch that the orang utans didn’t get. While sitting at the bus stop a few mini vans and cars stopped to offer us rides but we weren’t all that pressed for time and they were all asking about 4 times what the bus cost. A few minutes after lunch I curled up on the bench (about 8 inches wide) and fell into a deep sleep instantly. Maybe I wasn’t quite 100% yet. James woke me from a deep sleep when a couple stopped and offered us a free ride in their clean and new air conditioned SUV. I stumbled in rubbing my eyes trying to wake up. They were a very friendly couple who chatted about Kuching and the area until they dropped us off at the bus station where we were going to buy tickets for the next week to Indonesia. Once out of the car I had started to wake up and realized I didn’t have my purse or camera…I thought I’d left it at the bus stop. James laughed at me, I had really been in a deep sleep, he had them.
Picnic on the waterfront
For dinner we had a picnic by the water front, and then headed to the hotel where I showered and crawled into bed and watched tv. I was thankful we had the extra time in Kuching so I could get healthy again.
July 11 Kuching
James was up early today and dropped off pretty much everything we owned to the cleaners and then had breakfast with me. We were going out today to pick up a few things for our Mulu Park trip, buy a very cool wedding gift and get ourselves a memento from Borneo and ship it all. I was excited because it meant digging through back rooms of tacky souvenir shops that in Kuching had shelves and shelves and piles and piles of wonderfully creepy statues, ear weights, charms, masks and other traditional Borneo ritual pieces. I could fill a shipping container full of this stuff. The good stuff, the stuff we loved, unfortunately always seemed to be the genuine thing and very expensive so we agreed on one amazing piece. I don’t usually get so excited about trinkets or write about it in such detail but if you have to chance to visit Kuching plan to do a bit of it yourself. We also forgot to add the details into the box so I am adding it here for future reference. We bought a 40 or 50 year old Iban mask made out of iron wood from a man that grew up in a long house not far from Kuching. He moved to Kuching in 1978 and opened a souvenir shop of real artifacts that people in and around his village no longer used, but could use the money they sold for, and a cooking school. He, and his young daughter, took us on a tour of the shop and explained what the pieces were used for. Our mask was originally hung on the wall outside a front door to scare off evil spirits and also as a scare tactic for children. Something along the lines that if you were bad he would know and let the evil spirits get you, or he wouldn’t be able to stop the evil spirits if you were bad and they would come get you. Sound a bit familiar? Anyways, once Christianity came the customs died away and they no longer need such pieces. That’s a shame. I commented that some were very scary and he explained that his father used to make and decorate them and seeing as though they were pretty much decorations on the houses they had fun with them, making them scary or silly or sad….so early head-hunter Borneo tribes people had a sense of humour?
Today I also had time to sit and blog a bit. James offered to do non souvenir related errands while I sat at the river front with a coffee. I didn’t get as much done as I should have because there was so much going on but it was pretty amazing.
James came along eventually with our picnic lunch of cheese, crackers, olives and juice. Could life get any better?
We finished the day by picking up our laundry, getting caught in a torrential downpour (is there any other kind of rain here?), a decent meal and a walk home along the water again. I could happily spend a few more days in Kuching and am glad we’ve booked onward tickets or I might stay regardless of what I might miss.