Thursday, 23 June 2011

Colourful Kuching: Malaysia

Accommodation: My Sarawak Travel Cafe Guesthouse was a bit of a life-saver during Chinese New Year, when Kuching was officially a ghost town. The dorms were clean and comfortable for an affordable price, the internet however was not. There was free brekkie consisting of bread, jam and hot drinks which was adequate; but information services were lacking. Wouldn't suggest it for couples, as the noise was unbelievable, and walls were incredibly thin. It was about 16 MYR (£4) for the dorm and a hefty 50 MYR (£12) for a double room. The dorm was worth the price, the double is the best you can get for the price. Berambih Lodge two doors down was quiter and comfortable, but again wasn't much for the same price. The laundry services were quite useful and the 'lobby' decor was really relaxed. Better for couples I think.

Places to See: Well, at first off I can say what NOT to recommend and that is the 'Women's Museum,' which might as well should have been called 'All the Minister's Wives' gallery. It had nothing of the splendour of Hanoi's Women's Museum that's for sure. But on the upside, there are plenty of relaxing spots to explore. Taking a local boat down Kuching's main river, the Sungai Sarawak is definitely worth the sunset view. There are also wonderful weekend markets on the southern edge of Jalan Satok, which provides a myriad of fresh, appetising food. There are also plenty of museums on offer, if you have the time to leisurely stroll. Kuching having an ethnically diverse population, the Sarawak Museum hosts a collection of cultural artefacts for the region's indigenous people. Similarly there are art and textiles museums all around. It generally is a lazy town, to enjoy a little bit of the finer things in life aka the marvellous food. But the main place to visit from Kuching is Bako National Park by far, which can be arranged at the Tourist Office in Kuching- remember to call in before to book accommodation.

Getting to and from Kuching: Okay, Kuching does not have many options in actually visiting the city, taking a plane from KL is the only choice for earlybird price of 80 MYR (AirAsia) otherwise it does double in price. Now depending if you want to head up to the province of Sabah, to visit Kota Kinabalu first or last, you can get a bus to and from with stop-off cities on the way. The express bus station on Jalan Penrissen, heads for longer distances, even to the Indonesian side of Borneo (Pontianak is the city) for 50 MYR, 9 hours though I would not recommend it at all- you will see why a few posts later. Bus 6 to Bako National Park leaves every hour from the open-air market.

Transport: There are taxis around, but if you have your sea legs at hand, then Kuching can be quite walkable. It isn't really designed for tourists, but there are taxis around that cost between 6 MYR to 10 MYR into town. From the airport, the taxi was 17 MYR. If you can figure out the bus system, then it is really cheap to get around. Again, boats are a great way to get around, for 15 MYR.

Arriving into Kuching in officially monsoon weather wasn't exactly the greatest welcome expected. And more so that it was Chinese New Year and so the town was deathly silent. Seeing the My Sarawak Travel Cafe, was like seeing water after weeks of dehydration. But seeing my dear friend from my travels in Cambodia was like seeing a fountain after walking through a desert. As a local Kuchinger, we were whisked away to Chinese New Year galore, aka meeting the extended family and being fed until we were obese. Just amazingly hospitable people, and the best way of experiencing a true New Year.

And after we were sufficiently stuffed, returning home (aka le dorm) to feel the full impact of the bloat was in order. But the night time was a whole other affair. With the expert in hand, the first monument we hailed was Kuching's slightly weird fascination with Cats. Yes, that's right- Cats. Probably because Kuching actually means 'Cat' and so all around town are rather peculiar giant statues of the feline creatures. (By the way there even is a Cat Museum which is just plain weird.) We were then reared into the first location of the night aka Chinese classy kareoke time. After a sing-song of Robbie Williams, Abba and Louis Armstrong later, we ended up in the Malaysian brassy kareoke next door.

It was like landing in the twilight zone only a few metres away from the origin of kareoke. Dancing go-go girls looking incredibly bored as they winded their hips in practically nothing but a handkerchief. All I kept thinking, my fem friends are going to kill me, as I attempted to flee for my life. Eventually the bored dancers jumped off stage, and it was time for us to make history and sing Bon Jovi in front of a bunch of gangster Malaysian people. Okay, so the singing was abysmal and the stares were frightening, especially as a man with sunglasses (it was dark, and night time) began to belt out 'Angels' by Robbie Williams a lot better than we did. It was definitely time to move especially as the police decided to swarm inside on some sort of raid.

And then the end of the night entailed clubbing to horrifically cheesy music, from 20 years ago and it was at that time I decided to bow out and sit with the older folk with a beer in hand. Problem was that by the time we reached our abode, the doors were locked tight. And with no one with an accessible mobile phone, chucking rocks and banging on the door became conventional for the next 20 minutes. Eventually, the poor, sleepy-eyed owners opened the door, and being especially English, we apologised profusely.

My friends headed off to Bako National Park in advance, whilst I wallowed in my headache and feeling generally exhausted- so this became my Sabbath day. Strolling around town was quite pleasant, except everything was still closed and trying find sustenance was impossible. Eventually, after being confronted by one of the giant Cat monuments, there resided a place to eat- phew. But today, we prepared to head to Bako National Park, aka the heart of the Borneo Jungle and I was excited beyond belief, despite weather warnings of being stranded on a boat to get there.

Skipping ahead after Bako, we returned to take that sunset boat ride downtown and take a glimpse into the Malaysian quarters which was like looking into a parallel world compared to the Chinese side. The houses were small and together, multi-coloured in a million hues and quite clearly economically less developed. But it was beautiful, and the people smiled and gestured kindly to us for visiting them.

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