Situated on the island of Borneo in the Malaysian state of Sarawak is the eclectic, vibrant city of Kuching (which means “cat” in Malay). The capital of Sarawak is an ideal spot to base yourself to take advantage of the many nearby national parks and wildlife centres, but Kuching is well worth a visit in its own right. The riverside city is best explored on foot since the downtown area is easily walkable, and there’s plenty to explore starting with the busy waterfront esplanade, where you’ll find shops, food stalls, landscaped areas, and wooden benches for taking it all in.
Kuching is also home to a variety of museums, markets, and temples waiting to be discovered along narrow, winding streets. Make your acquaintance with the city by exploring the waterfront on foot, or hire a sampan boat to see the sights from the river. Then, tackle our list for the best things to see and do in Kuching.
Explore Sarawak Museum
Borneo’s oldest museum is a great first stop in Kuching to get a better understanding of the culture and wildlife of Sarawak before you start exploring the rest of the region. The museum displays local indigenous arts and crafts, textiles, ceramics, and in one of the stranger museum exhibits, an extensive collection of local animals in the form of taxidermy. The museum is also home to a model longhouse that depicts the traditional home of the indigenous people of Borneo.
Eat your way along Carpenter Street
Located in the heart of the historical quarters of Kuching, Carpenter Street is one of the oldest streets in Kuching, which you’ll find in Chinatown. Here you’ll find a selection of traditional hawker style food courts (also called coffee shops). The most famous is Lau Ya Keng Temple, which is an old food court that serves famous Kuching delicacies such as kolo mee (noodles with minced pork), laksa (a spicy noodle soup), kueh chap (a stew made with meat, eggs, peanuts, and salted vegetables), and pork satay. Different stalls operate at different times, so even if you visit three times a day, you’ll be eating something different. If you need a perk up, Black Bean Coffee & Tea Company is a little shop that serves the best Borneo coffee in town.
Shop the Satok Weekend Market
Whether you’re looking to stock up on a few souvenirs, check out the local produce, or just get a feel for local life, you’ll want to make a stop at the Satok Weekend Market. The largest market in Kuching carries a colourful array of items including fresh fruit and vegetables, spices, local handicrafts, plants and flowers, and local snacks. You may even see some unfamiliar produce since the market sells a few things that can only be found in Borneo. There’s a food court here as well in case you get hungry while you shop.
Experience the Old Town of Siniawan
The sleepy town of Siniawan, located about 30 to 35 minutes from Kuching, comes alive from Friday to Sunday. During the evenings on the weekend, the street is pedestrianised for a night market filled with the best of Sarawak street food. The street is lined with wooden shop houses, giving it an historic feel, and on weekends, it comes alive with an array of food stalls where hungry patrons eat from outdoor tables on multi-coloured plastic stools. This is a great chance to sample your way through some local dishes.
Discover the other side of the Sarawak River
Kuching is divided in two by the Sarawak River. One side is more commercial, while the other is more traditional. A five-minute sampan boat crossing puts you in a different world among the traditional Malay kampong (village) houses, a sharp contrast to the modern buildings on the city side of Kuching. Wander among the old stilt Malay timber houses, some more than 150 years old, and encounter the hospitality of the locals. Don’t leave without trying the famous kek lapis (multi-layered cake).
Sophisticated Kuching is the major gateway to Borneo, surrounded by amazing natural wonders while also boasting plenty of culture and excellent cuisine. Take a city tour and explore the historical quarters by foot, the neighbouring kampongs by bike, or cross the river aboard a traditional boat to discover the sights, sounds, and tastes of the real Borneo.