Saturday, March 17, 2012

Hidden Gems: Kuching

Today, Thursday, March 15, 2012, Page T20, Travel
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By Today, 04:45 AM Mar 15, 2012

PHOTO: Caving in Sarawak
Copyright © MediaCorp Press Ltd

Still waters run deep as a visit to languid Kuching proves

While there are various explanations as to how Kuching got its name - whether it's named after the fruit tree Buah Mata Kuching or a cat - one thing that's clear about the capital of Sarawak is its unmistakable leisurely backwater feel. And that's what makes the city so appealing - an oasis of calm against the lush backdrop of the Borneo forest.

1 Sarawak Orchid Garden

Unknown to many travellers, there's an orchid garden in Kuching City North. Opened just two years ago, the 15-acre garden located next to the Governor's Astana building may not be huge, but it's a pretty compact sanctuary to take in some fresh air and admire the different exquisite Borneo orchid species, especially Sarawak's state flower, the green and purple Orchid Normah. Even better is the fact that the garden is free to the public.

PHOTO: Sarawak Orchid Garden

2 Serikin Market

For shopping with a difference, take a trip out to Serikin Market. The small town is near the border between Malaysia and Indonesia. As such, you'll find many vendors hawking Indonesian goods at this weekend market.

Colourful silk batik, rattan furniture, handmade homeware, knick-knacks, curios and antiques ... there's plenty for the picking.

PHOTO: Serikin Border Market
Serikin is a tiny little village near the border of Sarawak with the Indonesia. It is takes about 1 ½ hours drive from Kuching City. During the weekends traders from across the border and nearby areas come to offer their wares and produce. They hawk authentic Indonesia sarongs, household items and food ranging from farm produce such as vegetables and fruits to seafood and meats. Along the way are also makeshift roadside markets selling anything from antiques to wild ornamental plants, exotic orchids to equally exotic fruits, local kueh to all types of pulut and fragrant locally grown rice sometimes recently harvested.

PHOTO: Walk along Carpenter Street and Bishopsgate

3 Sin Min Joo

Now this dingy hole in the wall coffeeshop (at the corner of Carpenter Street and Jalan Bishopgate) may not seem promising, but wait till you see the crowds. This is where you have to be prepared to wait, swelter and jostle with the locals for kolo mee that's reputed to be the best in Kuching. The noodles come with a lip-smackingly satisfying bowl of mixed pork soup. Some say it's divine, others claim it's not worth the long wait ... you be the judge.

PHOTO: Kolo Mee at the Carpenter Street and Jalan Bishopgate junction, it’s at a restaurant called Sin Min Joo

PHOTO: Carpenter Street, Kuching's Chinatown

PHOTO: Rafflesia Flower found in Sarawak
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PHOTO: Sarawak Fairy & Wind Cave
Fairy Cave and Wind Cave are about 50 min drives from Kuching City. The Fairy Cave is about 3-storey high. After a quick climb through the cave with torchlight, the cave opens up into a main chamber. Sunlight streams into the chamber, enabling you to view the limestone formation of several types.

4 Fairy Caves

Just 50km away from Kuching, it's worth making a trip out to the Fairy Caves just to get in touch with nature. You can easily book a cab (about US$20) to bring you there. While the caves are not as huge as the renowned Mulu Caves in northern Sarawak, they're still an awe-inspiring sight and a real workout once you're done climbing all the stairs. But hey, how many times in your life will you get to see nature at its finest the moment you see the light streaming through the mouth of the caves? Be sure to wear good shoes and pack along a torchlight.

PHOTO: Sarawak Fairy & Wind Cave
The beautiful and some eerie shape of nature creations, the stalactites and stalagmites. There is a formation that has been likened to the Goddess of Mercy which at about 3 meters in height resembles a woman dressed in classical Chinese robes, complete with hat, look down benignly upon worshippers.

PHOTO: Taman Negara Mulu (Indonesian) - Mulu National Park
Known for 'The Pinnacles' (Mount Mulu) and a set of 'Sarawak Chamber' of the cellar in the world that can accommodate 40 Boeing 747 airplanes.

PHOTO: Sarawak Longhouse
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5 Longhouse visit

A trip to Sarawak isn't complete without visiting a longhouse to learn about the way of life for Sarawak's indigenous tribes. The ones in Anah Rais are among the most popular and convenient to visit as they're just an hour away by coach. If you have time, an overnight stay is a must. Check out Borneo Adventure (, a company committed to sustainable tourism and helping local communities, which organises day tours as well as overnight stays.

PHOTO: Sarawak Ethnic Tribes
Copyright © MediaCorp Press Ltd

PHOTO: Sarawak Ethnic Tribes
Copyright © MediaCorp Press Ltd

AirAsia flies to Kuching twice daily from Changi Terminal 1. Fares start from S$49 one way.

PHOTO: Air Asia
Copyright © MediaCorp Press Ltd

PHOTO: AirAsia Kuching ad
Copyright © MediaCorp Press Ltd

Danum Valley
PHOTO: Danum Valley

PHOTO: Sukau