Discovering Kuching on a shoestring
By Jovin Wong
It’s hard, yes. Travelling for one and travelling for four is very different but not impossible. With the right kind of help and proper planning, I successfully took my parents and my sister to the ‘Land of the Hornbills’–Sarawak in East Malaysia.
And it all started with the greatest saving one can enjoy in a travel–flight tickets!
Ticket price for four from Penang to Kuching, inclusive of luggage was only RM242. That’s about RM60 per person. I can barely make it to Kuala Lumpur and back with this price. The key is to book early! So when 30 June 2011 came, the entire family packed up and flew to Kuching!
The first thing we did upon landing and settling down was naturally to hunt for food.
It’s cheap, good and a totally different culinary experience from those back home. Kuching is famous for its ‘Kolok Mee’, a plate of dry noodles that tastes pretty good in my opinion. The ‘Kolok Mee Special’ (photo on the left) that we ordered was filled with extra fish fillets and other ingredients. It was so good that we actually had a few servings of ‘Kolok Mee’ throughout our holiday in Kuching.
So what can you do on a shoestring trip in Kuching?
Easy. Like everywhere else in the world, you head out to town. In this case, the old town and make your way towards the Kuching Waterfront.
Here you will find stalls selling all kinds of things, from the famous ‘Sarawak Layer Cake’ to unique handicrafts and souvenirs, such as bracelets, necklaces and ornaments made from beads and wood.
Walking along the waterfront, we found many signs of ‘cruise’ rides and many boatmen offered to take us on a ‘cruise’ along the river. My advice, skip it! It is nothing a cheap ‘sampan’ ride can’t offer. There are numerous sampans along the river and for less than a ringgit, you get to experience the real way of commuting along the river!
Right by the waterfront is the Chinese Heritage Museum that is funded independently by the Chinese community here in Kuching. It is a small and humble museum with just enough exhibits to make it a short yet enjoyable visit. What’s more, entrance is… yup! Free!
What’s interesting here was the short audio commentary available under each description board which plays the dialects of each Chinese community. Apart from Cantonese and Hokkien, the other dialects were almost foreign to me.
There was a set-up of an old coffee shop inside the museum. That’s me sneaking a shot right there, posing as if I’m in deep thought for my next move in the Chinese Chess J As a visitor, you can also help out the museum by offering a little contribution…
…that is if you can find the donation box! Yup, it’s that finely carved pagoda right next to the Chinese drum. That’s the donation box right there! Who would have thought right?
We spent the entire afternoon museum-hopping throughout town. I probably visited more museums that afternoon than I did in my past 26 years.
If museums are not your kind of thing, I would suggest to at least visit the Natural History Museum. It’s educational yet spooky at the same time! Yes, spooky…in a good way of course, with all kinds of preserved animals at every corner to even the full skeleton of a whale. Sorry, no pictures though as cameras are not allowed in here.
Right behind the museum grounds was a beautiful garden with water fountains and shady walkways. Don’t give this a miss because hidden in the middle of the garden is the ‘museum cafeteria’.
But if you’re expecting yucky cafeteria food, boy, are you wrong!
Because what we discovered were the eccentric ‘Sarawak Laksa’ (which is an acquired taste in my opinion) and a very yummy plate of ‘Sambal Bihun’. Obviously, I love the latter more. It tasted very similar to the cuttlefish with ‘kangkong’ dish, except in this case, you enjoy it with ‘bihun’ (rice vermicelli). It might sound weird but I stand by my words–yummy to the last drop! Suffice to say that these Sarawakian hawker delights make a delicious yet very affordable meal.
Of course, how can we come all the way to Sarawak and not see the great Orang Utans, right?
So the next day, we headed out to Semenggoh Wildlife Rehabilitation Centre which is just 45 minutes from Kuching and charges a very modest price of RM3.00 per entry. Students and senior citizens enjoy an additional 50% discount.
Twenty-six Orang Utans are registered in the centre with the oldest Seduku a.k.a ‘the grandmother’ is still going strong and healthy at 40 years old. However, the big boss of the jungle is Richie, the dominant male here in Semenggoh.
There are two feeding sessions in a day–9am and 3pm. We were there for the afternoon session and a word of advice is to arrive early because sometimes you may get a surprise early visit from the apes. There is no promise as to whether the Orang Utans will show up and a no-show is actually a good sign, meaning they could be doing well on their own in the wild.
While some of us early birds were hanging around at the waiting area, a mama and child appeared at the car park area and came walking down towards us. The young adult put on quite a show for us!
Finally, it was time to proceed to the feeding area.
That’s the feeding platform right there! We were told to remain quiet throughout the entire time because we do not want to startle the apes; seriously, no one wants to mess with Richie, not even the park rangers.
Because that, my friends, is Richie the mighty! And when Richie eats, everyone else waits. Yes everyone, both ape and men.
Only after Richie was done with his meals did the others come forward to have their share. I guess there’s hierarchy in the Orang Utan kingdom too. We soon bid farewell to Semenggoh and dozed off in the car.
Our next attraction is the Kuching Civic Centre… a place many would skip because it loses its charm over the years due to lack of offerings. But sometimes it’s not how much a place has to offer but just that one good enough reason to go there. In this case, a panoramic view of Kuching and its surroundings.
I can even see Mount Santubong from up here. On a bright sunny day, the view stretches out to even the sea. Sure, the place might not be as exciting as seeing Orang Utans or as fun as shopping at the mall but sometimes we tend to forget simple things in life that well, make life awesome just the way it is. Simple things like a breathtaking view… the refreshing breeze when you are up high…resting your head on the railings and a good old family portrait that has everyone beaming
Last but not least is the Sarawak Cultural Village!
How can we make a trip to Kuching without visiting the home of the Rainforest World Music Festival!
Sarawak Cultural Village is about 45-min drive from Kuching. The mesmerising view of Mount Santubong as we we the bumpy ride exudes a sense of myth and mystery with clouds hovering above it. There are many tales revolving the place, one being about the famous Puteri Santubong where the mount got its name.
It costs RM60 per visitor to enter the Cultural Village. Not exactly ‘shoestring’ material but after that entire savings, we decided to splurge on this.
But here are few tips if you still want to save a bit! We did our research earlier to see where we can save up and my sister being a university student can enjoy a student rate of just RM15. That’s like 75% off the full price! Also, try to get a local to help you purchase the tickets because they too have cheaper local rates! Alternatively, there are tour agencies back in Kuching selling tickets at a discounted price of RM45. Finally, during special events like Harvest Festival and Hari Raya, the entrance fee is only RM10! So, it’s all about planning and timing your trip wisely
There are a total seven ‘rumah’ or longhouses in the Cultural Village, each representing the different tribes and ethnic groups in Sarawak. From the very modest Penan Hut with only bare necessities to the tall and grand Melanau Tall House that is big enough for a few families, every house showcases its distinctive characteristic of each tribe.
These longhouses are not just empty display houses. There are actual people working and demonstrating the daily activities of each tribe. There are also Makciks (elderly ladies) frying local delicacies in these houses which you can buy and savour on the spot.
At the end of the visit, we made our way to the performance hall where a cultural show awaits us. There are two show sessions per day–11:30am and 4:00pm. The show, like any Malaysian parade, was filled with vibrant colours, costumes and smiles.
At one point of the show, two warriors with blow darts easily burst some balloons at the far end of the hall. They then invited a lady audience to give it a try. She tried and tried, alas, did not have the ‘lung power’ to blow the darts that far. No words are needed in such a cultural exchange. In the end, she was ushered right up to the balloon and asked to blow again. Naturally, she popped the balloon and the crowd cheered!
It was certainly a great experience. One that we didn’t regret spending that extra bit of money on. Of course, for adventurous travellers there is always the option of experiencing real live-in longhouses in Sarawak. There are not many left these days and I most certainly don’t mind coming back and exploring them with friends in the future. But for now, I’m having a good time with the family here at the Cultural Village.
Oh, and there’s of course one last thing to do in our shoestring family trip to Kuching!
How can we go home without a picture with the cats!
Indeed, there’s so much more of Kuching to explore with my family and low fares at www.airasia.com made my family holiday a reality!
This blog entry is part of AirAsia Bloggers Programme.