Friday, June 09, 2017

Alvinology: Cats, Orangutans and Kolo Mee: 8 things to see, do and eat in Kuching, Sarawak in Malaysia

Old colonial buildings and modern towers line the diverse and laidback city streets of Kuching, the riverside capital of Sarawak in East Malaysia, just one and a half hour direct flight from Singapore.

Some folks said the name of the city was derived from a tropical fruit called “Mata Kuching” (cat’s eye fruit), widely available in Malaysia and Indonesia.

But much has also been said as to how the city got its name – Kuching means “cat” in Malay language and the city is littered with dozens of cat statues at every corner. Like the cat statue (pictured below) seen at the entrance of Chinatown in Kuching.

But the city began its roots as a trading post that was built by a British man called Sir James Brooke, the first white rajah (king) who ruled Sarawak from 1842 until he died in 1868, at the age of 65.

Visiting Kuching tells me of a time that’s quieter and calmer as the city is not congested with traffic and high rise buildings.

From glorious street foods to long walks along Sarawak River taking in the views of fishing boats, old houses and 19th century landmarks, Kuching is a laidback city with small town rustic vibes and friendly locals who love to tell a story or two to travellers who have arrived in their home.

What to see: Ethnology Museum, orangutans, crocodiles

Located at the top of the hill along Jalan Tun Abang Haji Openg, the Ethnology Museum was built in 1891 and renovated in 1911, and is regarded as among the oldest museums in Southeast Asia. Here, the spotlight is on Borneo’s incredibly rich indigenous cultures. On the upper floor, the exhibits include a full-sized Iban (an ethnic of Sarawak) longhouse, masks and spears. On the ground floor, which I toured, is an old-fashioned display of a small collection of natural history. On display were stuffed animals from the local area such as birds, snakes, orangutans, cows, tortoises, and more.

When in Sarawak, visiting our red head friends at Semenggoh Wildlife Centre is a must where you will find Borneo orangutans (“man of the forest” in Malay language) spotting red hair. The sanctuary is half an hour’s drive from Kuching city and another 10 minutes on foot.

Here, the orangutans are semi-wild which have been rescued from captivity and trained to survive in the surrounding forest reserve. The rehabilitated animals roam freely in the rainforest and often return to the centre at feeding time. It’s advisable to know there’s no guarantee the orangutans will come out to say hello. Note that the best months to visit are between March and August when food is scarce and they leave inner forest to hunt for food.

However at feeding time, there’s a good chance some may venture out for food. There are about 104,700 Bornean orangutans left in the world, according to World Wildlife Fund.

At Semenggoh, there are 28 of them. I was lucky to spot four Bornean red heads up close in their natural environment and element – swinging from branch to branch, feasting on bananas and even spotted a mother feeding her baby.