Kuching, the capital of Sarawak, is the most populous city in the state and is a popular foodie destination for tourists. Jackson Sim, who was born and raised in Kuching, lets us in on the less-known treasures of his hometown.
We were midway through lunch, talking about must-visit-or-you’ll-regret-it destinations, when Go Away editor Deborah dropped a bomb on me. “Jackson, you have to write about Kuching’s 10 most interesting things for Go Away!” I knew I couldn’t say no, so here we go.
Truth be told, I’d rather not write about my hometown because I don’t want it to be overcrowded. Not that it would be, as many have claimed there isn’t anything to do in Kuching. However, contrary to popular belief, there is actually plenty to do in Kuching. Here are 10 things that I, a proud Kuchingite, want you to know about Kuching:
1. There are many stories behind its name.
Kuching, spelled in old Malay, means cat in the language. While the city itself is dotted with many cat statues that have become perfect #selfie companions for tourists, it’s but only one of many reasons why it’s named as such. Many locals believe it’s named after the fruit, mata kucing, while others have said it could’ve been named after a hill in the city, Bukit Mata Kuching.
2. The city’s best seafood restaurants can be found atop a carpark complex.
If you’re craving for fresh seafood and delicious local grub, you don’t have to travel too far out. In fact, some of the best seafood restaurants can be found on the rooftop of a carpark complex right smack in the middle of the city’s golden triangle. Its name? Top Spot Food Court along Jalan Bukit Mata Kuching.
3. Everyone has their favourite Sarawak laksa stall.
Just like how one should never get into an argument with Singaporeans on which stall serves the best chicken rice, one should never do the same with Kuchingites when it comes to Sarawak laksa. Many stalls sell different renditions of this unofficial “official state dish”, and everyone has their favourite. So, I shall not start a fight and leave you with this piece of advice: try them all, have it for breakfast every day when you’re in Kuching, and then decide which one you like best.
4. Kuching does great fusion food with tomato noodles.
Aside from kolo mee and Sarawak laksa, the dish most Kuchingites miss most when they’re away from home is tomato noodles. A simple dish of fried noodles made fragrant with wok hei is topped with Westernised, gravy-like tomato sauce and served with chicken or pork slices, prawns, fish cake, and mustard greens.
5. We have too many roundabouts!
Ask any Kuchingite, especially those who drive, and they’ll tell you the same thing. We have way too many roundabouts in the city! However, the number has reduced drastically in recent years. Roundabouts are harder to navigate, and with the increase of vehicles on city roads, the powers that be have replaced many of the roundabouts with crossroads with traffic lights. This helps reduce the number of traffic jams and accidents.
6. It’s called Sunday Market but it’s open from Friday to Sunday.
Even though most households buy their groceries from air-conditioned supermarkets these days, many still prefer to shop at the Sunday Market.
Reason 1: You get fresher and cheaper produce. Most of the stall owners are farmers as well so all the vegetables (including the famed midin, a type of edible fern native to Sarawak) and fruits that you buy are grown organically. They’re cheaper too because you’re buying direct from the source.
Reason 2: You get to eat while you shop. Be it the local version of the min jiang kueh or chicken satay or vadai, you can have a walking dinner! You’ll be spoiled for choice by the wide variety of stalls selling cooked food.
Reason 3: You’ll get to truly immerse yourself in the local culture. The colours, the sights, the sounds, and the interaction of the locals – here’s where you see what truly makes Sarawak, Sarawak.
7. Sarawak is the land of superlatives.
I’m not kidding when I say Sarawak is the land of superlatives – we’re the largest state in Malaysia; the state is bigger in land size than all states in Peninsula Malaysia combined, we have the most diverse ethnic groups, we speak more than 45 languages and dialects, we have too many rivers, too many caves, the world’s largest flower, the world’s largest cave chamber, and we have way too many national parks too!
8. Yes, we have too many national parks!
At last count, we have 30 national parks scattered throughout the state, with another 10 wildlife reserves and four wildlife sanctuaries. Most of these national parks are for day visits but there are some where you can stay and camp overnight.
Bako National Park, about a 45-minute drive and 30-minute boat ride away from Kuching, is one of my favourites and coincidentally the oldest one. Those who wish to take a #selfie with the Rafflesia, you’d want to visit Gunung Gading National Park in the small town of Lundu, a two-hour drive from Kuching. The Sarawak Forestry’s website has more information. You can also learn how you can contribute to help protect the forests – the state’s natural environment is unfortunately the victim of illegal loggings.
9. Cross the Sarawak River for only 50 sen.
Almost everyone in Kuching drives because our public transport can be a little unreliable, but there are still some who prefer to take the river taxi (“perahu tambang” in Malay) along Kuching Waterfront to get across the Sarawak River.
And you can too! For only 50 sen (or less than SGD0.20) per way, you can hop onto one and get across the river in a mere five minutes. I recommend catching the boat at sunset as you’ll get to catch a brilliant view of the fading sun across the city skyline. However, if you’re planning to visit Fort Margherita (once a defence fort and today, a historical museum) located across the river, it’s best to save the sunset boat ride for another day as the museum closes at about 4pm daily.
10. Kuching will have its first #HeritageRace on 5 December
I recently competed in the second Heritage Race along Balestier Road, and found out that my hometown will have its first this December! There will be plenty of sights to conquer – the Tua Pek Kong temple, the various historical locations along Kuching Waterfront, the shophouses at Carpenter Street, the open air market opposite Electra House, and more! Time to go home (and win the race)! To learn more about this upcoming race, bookmark www.heritagerace.com now.
Ok, that’s all.