Sunday, January 12, 2014

Kuching is the Chiang Mai of Borneo


The biggest surprise of my recent trip to Southeast Asia was how beautiful and pleasant Kuching in Sarawak, Borneo is. I came to Borneo for the jungles and the wildlife; I did not think I would find a city that I connected to in such a positive way.

In fact, Kuching reminded me of the Thai travel Mecca of Chiang Mai without the hordes of foreign tourists. I had not even heard of this town before I started researching for Borneo. Now, I can’t wait to return and explore Sarawak even more.

For those unfamiliar with Borneo, the island consists of two Malaysian states: Sarawak and Sabah, the Kingdom of Brunei, which is its own country, and the rest of the island is Indonesia. Kuching is the capital and largest city in Sarawak. The population of Kuching is roughly 600,000 people.

Chiang Mai is possibly the capital of backpacking adventure travelers in Southeast Asia. The reason for its appeal is its pleasant vibe, friendly people, and gateway to many interesting trekking and tours. Chiang Mai is famous for its hilltribe tours where you can ride elephants, hike, ride bamboo rafts, see waterfalls, and then stay in remote hilltribe villages at night.

The characteristics that make Chiang Mai so awesome can also be found in Kuching. In fact, I think Kuching has more to offer in this realm. Kuching is also a smaller city like Chiang Mai with an equally laid back ambiance and just as safe as Chiang Mai. In my limited time in Kuching, I found the people just as friendly and welcoming as Chiang Mai.

The trekking opportunities in Chiang Mai are a little overblown in my opinion. They are fun, and I would do them again, but they do not compare to other world class outdoor adventure locations. The scenery outside Chiang Mai is hilly and more like Missouri or Arkansas in the U.S. Doi Inthanon, located a little farther outside Chiang Mai is a different story as it is more forested with the highest mountain in Thailand.

Kuching is also a gateway to incredible trekking opportunities. You can see semi-wild orangutans in Semiggoh Wildlife Reserve, you can see the giant rafflesia flower in Gunung Gading National Park, and you can see wild proboscis monkeys in Bako National Park. For those that like the hilltribe experience, you can have a similar tour by visiting a Borneo longhouse.

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