Saturday, July 05, 2008

Fresh outlook on Kuching's new tourist attractions

Developing skyline: Panoramic view of Kuching City from the Civic Centre Tower.
Kuching is just over an hour's flight away from Bandar Seri Begawan.

FELINE GREETINGS: The mascot of Kuching City, a growing tourist attraction.

Photos courtesy of and Copyright to Achong Tanjong and
Brunei Press Sdn Bhd

By Achong Tanjong

I had a closer look at Sarawak recently, a city I had often frequented either by air or car. On this particular occasion, I was sent on a 'Mega Familiarisation' trip in conjunction with Malaysia's Gawai Dayak Open House in Kuching.

My boss gave me time to decide if I wanted to go; otherwise another reporter would be assigned for the event.

Though the sights of Kuching were not strange to me, after studying the six-day itinerary programme I discovered that there were places that I had never been to before.

Among them were Serikin in Bau and the Irrawaddy Dolphin Watch in Santubong. For some locals they were new tourism products that Kuching had to offer.

I found myself at Brunei International Airport on Friday evening as part of a seven-member delegation that was jointly organised by Tourism Malaysia and Sarawak Tourism Board (STB). Two of us were from the media, four were travel agents, and our leader was Tourism Malaysia (Brunei) Marketing Officer, Efarina Abang Haji Osman.

The flight to Kuching took just over an one hour and upon arriving at the Kuching International Airport we were driven to Hilton Kuching where we would stay until Wednesday, hosted by Tourism Malaysia while Sarawak Tourism Board hosted our tour. The hotel is a strategically located, which I soon discovered with a fellow reporter after we checked in.

Within walking distance of the hotel there are a variety of food, entertainment and shopping outlets. We headed towards the Kuching Waterfront, which is a popular hangout among local youths. Hungry, we were on the lookout for food but most of the food stalls were already closed since it was nearly midnight - the only open one was the Maggie Mee stall. So, without any other choice, we went for it and had our fill.

The next morning, before going down for breakfast, I decided to check out the view from my room on the sixth floor. During the night, all I saw were lights decorating nearby buildings and vehicles moving along the roads.

I drew the curtains back and behold, there was the Sarawak River and water taxis ferrying passengers from Kuching's main bazaar across to the nearby Malay villages. I also had a panoramic view of the mountain and Fort Margherita. I took out my camera for a snap shoot. I was impressed to see the river, sparkling in the morning sun and so clean with no discernible floating waste despite being well used for many activities.

After attending the Gawai Open House on Saturday night, our next journey was a long trip to Serikin in the Bau, home to the Bidayuh community. It was fine Sunday morning and the journey was smooth. This was our first time to Serikin.

We had an experienced tour guide, Koronikal Sua, who had also worked in Brunei as a tour guide for one of the local travel agents in the 90's.

According to him, Serikin is a Bidayuh village and it was actually not a town. It was previously not so popular because most of the visitors from Peninsular Malaysia had prefered to go to another border town in Serian, called Entikong , which had a proper exit and checkpoint from Kuching to the borders of Kalimantan and Pontianak.

There is no proper checkpoint in Serikin - only 'Jalan Tikus' (Mouse Road) and to protect the area from illegal immigrants there are Army and Police stations just right at the border, our guide said.

Koronikal who used to bring a lot of visitors from West Malaysia said that there is no proper documentation. We don't need passports and we don't need any papers whatsoever to enter, which is very risky because if anything happened across the border nobody would know about it because there were no records of crossing.

In Serikin, the border is about a 15-minute ride by motorcycle. So in Serikin the Sarawak government invited them to come in rather then visitors from Sarawak going to the other side. It is much suitable to bring them into Sarawak and we do the shopping here rather than on the other side, as it is safer and more secure.

The Sarawak government collects RM10 per day for rental fees, but the landlord at the village charged them RM30 for two days.

Many of the Bidayuh people also venture into business in Serikin, which is only open on weekends. This made Serikin popular for shopping sprees of Indonesian products. Koronikal explained that in the beginning prices in Serikin were very good but business has changed due to the currency rates but there are still a lot of things worth buying there.

The traders' booths stretched out for about one kilometre selling a wide range of products from rattan mats, ladies bags, clothing and sandals, fruits, handicrafts and much more value-for-money bargains to be found.

On the way, we saw the Bidayuh village, beautiful mountains and passed Tasik Biru, or Blue Lake, where gold is still mined today.

It is quite easy to find halal food in Kuching as there are many Malay restaurants serving excellent food and beverages. Returning from Serikin we stopped at Satok Market, which is famous for its salted fish, the 'Ikan Terubuk Masin'.

Perhaps this is arguably the best place to meet with the locals as indigenous people travel here to sell all sorts of jungle fruits and vegetables to city folk. At night the market transforms into a massive food centre.

Our final stop was to a pottery factory where we had the opportunity to see how people mould and produce creative designs from clay into flowerpots, which are then sold to visitors and the public.

Courtesy of Borneo Bulletin Weekend

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