The mood of Kuching in Sarawak, Malaysian Borneo must have known what makes my heart beat. Relaxing days of nomming all the laksa I can handle alternated with sweat-drenched days of mid-level hiking through creature-filled jungle.
Around Kuching’s Town Center
Using my nifty HostelWorld app to look for a place to stay, I booked a room at Singgahsana Lodge before landing at the local airport from Kuala Lumpur. Lots of books and nooks in which to cozy up, plus a rooftop bar that was very casual during the off month of September.
Taking things slow after 2 months of travel, I lazied my way along the river, chilling at a coffee shop, and dipping into knick knack shops for last-stop souvenir gifts.
Budget shopping tip: purchase things you want from stores that don’t specifically cater to tourists! For example, Sarawak textiles from a legit fabric store and ear weights (you’ll see) from a curio shop. Feel free to bargain.
Treat Yourself in Kuching!
Since Kuching is surrounded by amazing national forests (and fantastic trails), I would also make sure you know about Mirage Spa. Fairly reasonably priced and just up the hill from Singgahsana Lodge. Even vacation needs a vacation!
What to Eat when Visiting Kuching
The best part about Malaysia is the food. Be sure you visit the famous Top Spot Food Court for all the best seafood and cross the river for the famous kek lapis at Mira’s Cake House. Otherwise, try hunting down as many laksa places as you can!
For real though, I have searched everywhere and cannot find a way to get my laksa fix outside of Malaysia. While visiting Kuching, my favorite place was Uncle Bean Cafe. Though it looks a bit like a daycare, the food is out of this world. Keep in mind that the owners are Muslim, so don’t be a dick and whine about the lack of alcohol! *coughterribletravelerscough*
If you are looking for a good night out while visiting Kuching, try MonkeeBar. Not only can you get sauced with a diverse crowd of both locals and travellers, but your drinking money goes towards the Orangutan Project!
So Many Activities…
Semenggoh Wildlife Rehabilitation Centre
Orangutans, you say? Why yes, indeed! Do your budget a favor and ride the bus to Semenggoh Wildlife Rehabilitation Centre. A travel friend and I frankly stole all our travel ideas from tour companies, then looked up the public transit options. The price magically goes from RM90 to RM14. Orangutans are awesome. Remember to be a polite guest in their home
Bako National Forest
Another great place for primate viewing, though on the pricier side for a cheapskate, is the peninsular park of Bako National Forest. You’ll virtually be on an island and therefore subject to whatever the park chooses to charge for transit, food, and lodging.
Still, it has great hikes at many comfort levels. Head inland for unique terrain, pitcher plants, and lush swimming holes. Heading towards water, there’s a good chance to spot proboscis primates, hermit crabs galore, and definitely beachside rock formations. Personally, I would have enjoyed more time at the park, if only to keep seeing macaques scare tourists into throwing food!
Head to Damai on the Santubong Peninsula for a stay at the BB Bunkers hostel. Besides the fact that it’s the only dormitory in the area, I relished its proximity to a fantastic food court and beautiful beach. Across the street, the Sarawak Cultural Village is open year round, though I’d recommend coming some other time or significantly lowering expectations. In it’s peak season, there are lots of demonstrations and activities. In September, you can still see the show and the impressive longhouses (perhaps in a less invasive manner than going to gawk at someone’s actual home). The “village” is just across the street from the Damai food court and hostel.
Kuching-Area Hiking is Fantastic!!
Next to my obsession with laksa, the crown jewel of visiting Kuching was hiking up nearby Gunung Santubong. This hike is just plain fun. Ropes to shimmy, boulders to scramble, waterfalls for splashing. Definitely made lugging my Keens through countless cities all worthwhile. We took the longer, less steep route through the forest and stopped when it converged with the steep trail towards the summit.
Learn a lesson from our trip: know that it’s a trail worth getting up early for; I’d have loved to see the peak. Post-hike, grab some char kway teow and veg out to your favorite ’90s flicks at the dorms or chill with a drink facing the sea.
There’s Yet More to Explore Around Kuching!
If the travel itch demands you, too, cut short your time visiting Kuching, know that there’s so much more to experience than described in this post alone—Kubah National Park, Matang Wildlife Center, Anna Rais Longhouse are the other big hits. On a short schedule, take the beaten path to the Malaysian city closest to Brunei. Never fear, the vendors of Miri still sell excellent laksa!