September 23, 2022

Savour authentic Sarawak laksa and cosy up to orangutans: Here's how to make the most of your first trip to Kuching – The Straits Times

When it comes to taking a short break that satisfies on all fronts, neighbouring Malaysia has so much to offer, and we are not just speaking of Johor Bahru or Kuala Lumpur. 
Situated northwest on the wild island of Borneo is Sarawak, a hidden gem just waiting to be explored.
Kuching, the state capital, provides the ideal stepping stone into visiting this region while also having plenty to offer in its own right.
Earning a spot as one of the 49 new cities under UNESCO’s Creative Cities Network (UCCN) for gastronomy, Kuching is the place to feast the day away at unassuming eateries, then work off your calories with plenty of sightseeing. Another bonus point: It is only a one-and-a-half hour flight from Singapore.
Ideal for a spontaneous couple’s jaunt, or a laid-back trip with the family, there is something for everyone at Kuching. Even better, we take the hassle out of planning your trip with this detailed 4D/3N itinerary filled with exciting activities. 
Kuching may be known for its rustic charm, but this town also has a thriving cafe culture. Tuck into a hearty meal at Commons at The Old Court House, situated in the The Old Court House heritage building and right across from the iconic Kuching Waterfront. This chic cafe serves Asian and Western fare, as well as a wide selection of cakes, including buttermilk earl grey chocolate and pistachio lemon syrup.
Stretching almost 1km, the Kuching Waterfront, dotted with food stalls and repurposed colonial-era buildings, makes for a lovely afternoon walk. Head to the S-shaped Darul Hana pedestrian suspension bridge over the Sarawak River where you can see the iconic Middle Eastern-inspired Floating Mosque from the viewing decks. There’s also an Instagram-worthy spot to take a selfie with the grand Sarawak state legislative building.
Another great way to enjoy the waterfront while taking in panoramic views of the city is onboard the Sarawak River Cruise. Together with live commentary, the signature sunset cruise will take you past famous landmarks such as the Kuching State Mosque, Main Bazaar and Fort Margherita as you tuck into traditional Sarawakian layered cakes (kek lapis), sip on free flow orange juice and enjoy a cultural performance.
About 1.5km away from the Kuching Waterfront you will find Lepau, a well-known restaurant that serves food from the indigenous Orang Ulu and Dayak people. Here you must try the umai – thinly sliced pieces of seafood such as prawn and squid, similar to sashimi, lightly seasoned with lime juice, onions and chillies. Also order the ayam pansuh, a chicken dish cooked in rich seasoning and edible tapioca leaves.
Coined as “The Breakfast of the Gods” by the late celebrity food chef Anthony Bourdain, Sarawak laksa is a must-try signature breakfast dish. Chong Choon Café or Lau Ya Keng Food Court do it well, so head over early to make sure you don’t miss out. Every bowl of vermicelli rice noodles is soaked in a spicy-sour shrimp-based broth and topped with crunchy bean sprouts, boiled prawns, shredded chicken and thin slices of omelette. Pair it with spicy sambal (chilli paste) and a squeeze of lime. Then wash it down with an ice-cold teh c peng special – red or black tea mixed with palm sugar and evaporated milk.
Approximately 30 minutes away, start your cultural experience at the Borneo Cultures Museum, the city’s brand-new landmark which offers five levels of galleries showcasing over a thousand artefacts that represent Sarawak’s diverse culture, traditional crafts, and connection with nature. Occupying 6,726 square metres, it’s the second-largest museum in South-east Asia. Travelling with little ones? Take them to the second floor where there’s a children’s gallery and an arts and crafts section.
Recharge after your art immersion with some Sarawakian snacks at Song Kheng Hai, a local food court which is about 2.4km away. Must-tries on the menu include gong pia (also known as the Foochow bagel) – a biscuit stuffed with meat slices, cheese or sweet sauce and baked in a charcoal oven until it’s deliciously crisp. Also worth a taste, the tomato crispy mee: Deep-fried kolok mee (springy noodles) served with meat, vegetables and generous amounts of tomato ketchup soup.
Head 2.1km towards the Brooke Museums at the Old Court House to understand Sarawak’s rich history in its early days. Speak to the friendly staff at the Visitor Information Centre  who can assist you with crafting a leisurely walking trail to explore historic buildings and monuments from the colonial era, such as the Square Tower, Sarawak Steamship Building and the General Post Office. Don’t forget to drop by the Astana, the palatial residence of the white rajahs (rulers), including the first rajah James Brooke, a British adventurer who forged a unique bond with the locals and together built Sarawak into the state it is today.
After a long day, unwind with a sumptuous dinner at Kantin at The Granary,  a six to 10 minutes walk from the Brooke Heritage Trails. Situated in a former grain warehouse, this hip two-storey restaurant celebrates food, art, and culture within a rustic interior complete with fairy lights. The menu offers a variety of Asian fare such as Rainforest fried rice and superdry laksa, plus Western fare prepared with locally sourced honey and sauces.
Tick the next signature breakfast off your list as you tuck into a hearty bowl of kolok mee – fresh noodles cooked al dente, coated with vinegar sauce and topped with lard, slices of char siew (barbecued pork) and minced pork. Some versions come with fish balls, wontons and choy sum leaves. Try them at any of these stalls: Joo Seng Café, Hon Hin Café and Noodle Descendants.
Travel an hour out of the city and you will find yourself at Bako National Park, the oldest national park in Sarawak that is also home to long-tailed macaques, monitor lizards, bearded pigs, a variety of birdlife and the big nosed and pot-bellied Proboscis monkey which is endemic to Borneo. The park gives you a perfect introduction to Sarawak’s forests and wildlife experience and it’s made up of 16-colour coded jungle trails which offer a range of walking and hiking options, from full-day treks to short strolls.
Famished after your day out? Head to Top Spot Food Court (also known as Taman Kereta Food Court), located at the rooftop of a six-storey carpark at Jalan Bukit Mata, for a seafood feast. Order the butter crab with salted egg yolk sauce, barbecued king prawns with spicy sambal, bamboo clams in curry, Sarawak’s famous wild fern served with belacan (shrimp paste), and stir-fried mani chai (a type of sweet leaf) with egg.
After all that feasting, the only thing left to do is to work it off with a leisurely stroll along the Kuching Waterfront which is a 12 to 15 minute walk from the food court. Make some room for dessert, as you will find gula apong ice cream, a famous local dessert, being sold along the waterfront. This tasty and refreshing treat is made from a type of palm sugar from the nipah palm which is native to Sarawak. It has a subtly different, nuttier flavour compared to the gula melaka (palm sugar) in West Malaysia.
No trip to Kuching is complete without trying some traditional kueh chap – silky flat noodles in soup served with an assortment of pork cuts including the innards and the pig’s ears. It also comes with side dishes such as beancurd, preserved salted vegetables, and braised hard-boiled eggs. Lau Ya Keng foodcourt is well-known for serving some of the tastiest kueh chap in Kuching, so get there early to beat the crowd.
After breakfast, head on over to Semenggoh Wildlife Rehabilitation Centre, located 20km south of Kuching, and about an hour’s drive away from town depending on traffic. This centre has been a conservation place for orangutans that have been orphaned or rescued from captivity. These gentle creatures spend most of their time roaming the forest but frequently come back to the centre for their meals. During feeding time, 9am-10am and 3pm-4pm, you can get a closer view of these gentle apes as they swing down from the trees for a handful of fruits.
If you have time before your flight, make a pit stop at the Trevi Cafe at Saradise, a mere 15 minutes away from the airport. Boasting an interior that is inspired by European architecture, this eatery is modelled after French and Italian cafes and even has a fountain similar to Rome’s famous Trevi fountain. Order their signature banana cheesecake or chicken pie, and an iced caramel affogato latte to end off your trip on a sweet note.
Ready for your Sarawakian adventure? For more information or to  plan your own itinerary, visit https://sarawaktourism.com
Celebrate Kuching’s local arts scene at this exciting festival 
Plan your trip around the What About Kuching Festival to see another side to the city
Now in its fourth year, the What About Kuching Festival celebrates the local arts community. Look forward to a slew of interesting events including, music, theatre, dance, arts and crafts, gastronomy, literary and sports, plus take part in eco-based adventure activities. The festival will take place throughout October 2022. Visit https://aboutkuching.com for more information.
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MCI (P) 031/10/2021, MCI (P) 032/10/2021. Published by SPH Media Limited, Co. Regn. No. 202120748H. Copyright © 2021 SPH Media Limited. All rights reserved.

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