Sarawak attracts tourists for jungle-related activities, cities with a small-town feel and its rich and diverse ethnic culture and traditions. Kuching, the state capital, is often the first port of call. Here are Culture Trip’s must-visit attractions in Kuching for first-time visitors.
Admire The Astana: Residence of Sarawak’s White Rajahs
The Astana, or ‘Palace’ in English, always features on lists of the must-visit attractions in Kuching. Sitting elegantly on the banks of the River Sarawak, the 1870 colonial palace exudes grandeur. Formerly the residence of Sarawak’s White Rajahs, it’s now the Governor of Sarawak’s seat and isn’t open to the public. Manicured lawns and a fence surround the palace with ‘Astana’ spelled out in giant white letters. Stand on the opposite side of the river for the best photographs. Return after dark when the palace lights up.
Kuching Waterfront hugs the southern banks of the Kuching River which divides the capital. The walkway provides views of the river, access to hotels and restaurants as well as vendors hawking snacks and street food. Stretching for almost one kilometre (0.6 miles), visitors can watch the sunset, snap a photograph next to the First White Rajah of Sarawak and visit Kuching’s oldest Taoist temple at Tua Pek Kong.
Dating back to 1843, Tua Pek Kong holds the title as Kuching’s oldest Chinese temple. Located in the heart of the city centre near the Waterfront and Chinese Museum, the colourful façade welcomes curious visitors. While the Taoist temple might not be an obvious entry into the list of the must-visit attractions in Kuching, it does provide cultural insights into the city’s past and hosts several annual festivals.
The prominent Fort Margherita stands on the northern banks of the Sarawak River. The Second White Rajah Charles Brooks built the fort in 1879 to defend the city against pirate attacks and named it after his wife, Margaret. Today, it houses the recently opened Brooke Gallery with relics, artefacts and historical documents detailing Sarawak’s early Statehood under the White Rajahs. Fort Margarita sits inside the police barracks and tourists might need to show ID before entering.
Embrace Local Culture at Sarawak Cultural Village, 35 kilometres (21.7 miles) north of Kuching in Damai, it offers visitors the chance to immerse themselves in Sarawakian tradition. The open-air museum features a collection of longhouse replicas such as ones the infamous former headhunting Iban tribes lived in, Malay kampung-style dwellings and Chinese farmhouses. Stroll through the village and see traditional instruments inside the Rainforest Music House or follow jungle trails to the foot of Mount Santubong. Families and tourists interested in Sarawak’s rich cultural and ethnic heritage rate this as one of the must-visit attractions in Kuching.
Sarawak’s name translates as ‘Cat’ in English, giving the nickname ‘City of Cats’. The world’s first cat museum covers four galleries inside the City Hall buildings. With over 4,000 items covering everything related to felines, this is a must-visit attraction in Kuching for cat lovers. Since opening in 1988, the Cat Museum gets thousands of annual visitors. Expect to find figurines, photographs, posters and a rare Egyptian mummified cat.
Approximately 21 kilometres (13 miles) south of Kuching sits the Semenggoh Wildlife Rehabilitation Centre. The Orangutan rehabilitation centre takes care of baby and orphaned orangutans since opening its doors in 1975. Orange-haired primates roam semi-wild inside the protected area. Visit during either the morning feeding time between 9 a.m. and 10 p.m. or in the afternoon at 3 p.m.
Borneo’s oldest museum first opened in 1891. The White Rajah at the time, Charles Brookes, had a passion for natural history and commissioned the Sarawak State Museum. Several displays cover all aspects of Sarawak from ethnographic exhibits and traditional longhouses to Neolithic artefacts, natural specimens and both Chinese and Islamic art. The grand three-storied colonial building housing the museum is a masterpiece in itself.
Holding the title as Sarawak’s oldest and one of the state’s smallest, Bako National Park can be reached within an hour to the northeast of Kuching. After taking a boat to the park entrance, visitors can hike along colour-coded trails, visit beaches and go wildlife-spotting in the many habitats. Highlights include its resident population of endemic proboscis monkeys, slow loris and pangolins, as well as 190 species of birds, lizards and other mammals. Bako National Park is an ideal place to go wildlife-spotting and experience Sarawak’s rainforests.
Given the city’s name, it’s quite fitting Kuching has several cat statues decorating public spaces. Kuching South City Council Cat Statue, a white feline posing in front of Little Chinatown, became the first of many sculptures in the city. A favourite activity for visitors is to stroll along the streets in search of the statues and pose next to the giant felines.