Kuching is one of the most charming cites in Southeast Asia and serves as the main gateway to Sarawak. The city’s architectural heritage of Brooke era buildings and 19th Century Chinese shophouses is well preserved.
This historic heart of Kuching is compact with key attractions within walking distance of hotels and guest houses.
Here are our recommendations for the top 10 things to do in Kuching. These must-see Kuching attractions are all located within an hour of the city centre.
1. Go For A Walk Along The Kuching Waterfront
The focal point of Kuching is the Sarawak River, which winds its way through the historic heart of the city. The Kuching Waterfront is a 900 m esplanade incorporating a number of historic buildings. These include the Square Tower, Chinese History Museum and Sarawak Steamship Building. Amongst the walkways and landscaped gardens are foods stalls and rest areas. On the opposite bank is the State Legislative Assembly building and the Astana, the Rajah’s palace built in 1870.
Make sure you cross the Darul Hana Bridge, Kuching’s very own Wobbly Bridge. From the bridge you will have great views of the Astana and the State Legislative Assembly building. At night you can watch the Darul Hana musical fountain and light show which takes place at 8.30 pm and 9.30 pm daily. On Fridays and Saturdays there is an extra show at 10.30 pm. This controversial water fountain cost tax payers a cool RM 31 million!
2. Watch Wildlife At Bako National Park
Without a doubt Bako offers the best the national park experience in Sarawak. Mulu and its world famous caves often get the glory but Bako is real special. It offers an excellent introduction to the Borneo rainforest and its wildlife. No protected area in Sarawak offers so much in such a small area.
Bako National Park includes almost every habitat found in Borneo and has an extensive jungle trail system. You can opt for short walks through the forest or extended jungle hikes.
The park also offers the best wildlife watching in Sarawak. The great thing about Bako is that you do not have to go far to see wildlife. You can see a wide range of animals near the park HQ.
There is a significant population of proboscis monkeys at Bako and these funny creatures are relatively easy to spot.
This gem of a national park is highly accessible from Kuching. It takes about an hour to reach the park by road and boat.
3. Meet Orangutans At Semenggoh Nature Reserve
Seeing an orangutan is one of the highlights of visiting Sarawak so its no surprise that Semenggoh Nature Reserve is on our list of the best things to do in Kuching. Semenggoh is only 45 minutes from Kuching. This orangutan rehabilitation centre teaches rescued orangutans how to survive in the wild. Semenggoh offers a good opportunity to see semi-wild orangutans in a natural setting. Over 20 orangutans live within the Semenggoh Nature Reserve. They often come down to the feeding platforms for a free meal. Feeding times take place daily at 9 am and 3 pm.
4. Learn About Sarawak’s Fascinating History And The White Rajahs
Kuching has some excellent museums and galleries where you can learn more about Sarawak’s fascinating history. The Sarawak Museum is currently undergoing upgrading and renovation works. It is due to re-open in late 2020.
The Brooke Gallery at Fort Margherita is a must see attraction. The Gallery is a joint project of the Brooke Trust and the Sarawak Museum. The Brooke Gallery tells the remarkable story of the White Rajahs of Sarawak.
The smaller Ranee Museum in the Court House complex is also worth a visit. Managed by the Brooke Trust, the museum features a collection of artefacts. It showcases the extraordinary life of Margaret de Windt, who married the Second White Rajah, Charles Brooke in 1869.
In addition to the Sarawak Museum and the Brooke Gallery, Kuching has a number of smaller museums and galleries. These include the Islamic Museum on Jalan P. Ramlee; the Textile Museum located in the Pavilion building; the Chinese Museum on the Kuching Waterfront; and the Cat Museum across river in Petra Jaya. If you have time it is worth visiting these museums to find out more about the peoples and cultures of Sarawak.
5. Stroll Around Main Bazaar And Carpenter Street
Main Bazaar and the streets and lanes behind it such as Carpenter Street and Ewe Hai Street form Kuching’s old Chinatown. This is a fascinating part of town. Whilst the shops on Main Bazaar sell handicrafts and souvenirs, amongst the back lanes the shops are more diverse. Here you will find traditional businesses such as tinsmiths, carpenters, coffin sellers, Chinese Medicine counters, food stalls and more. There are also a number of temples in this area including the Tua Pek Kong and Hong San Si temples
6. Enjoy The Food Of Kuching
Kuching has some great places to eat. There is wide choice of food and prices are reasonable. There are plenty of food stalls and coffee shops where you can get a meal and drink for less than RM 10.
Two dishes the city is famous for are Kolo Mee and Sarawak Laksa. The late Anthony Bourdain once described Sarawak Laksa as “breakfast of the gods”. It is must try dish when in Kuching. Head to Choon Hui Café on Ban Hock Rock or Chong Choon Cafe at 275 Jalan Chan Chin Ann. Choon Hui also has a decent Kolo Mee.
To sample Sarawak grown coffee visit Black Bean Coffee on Ewe Hai Street. See Good Food Centre on Ban Hock Road (near the Telang Usan Hotel) has some of the best seafood found in Kuching. Here you can also try local delicacies such as jungle fern (midin). For Kek Lapis (Sarawak Layer Cake) head to Main Bazaar where there are a number of stalls and shops selling these colourful cakes.
7. Explore The Kuching Wetlands On A Santubong Wildlife Cruise
The Kuching Wetlands National Park is just 15 km from Kuching and only 5 km from Damai Beach. The park protects 6,610 hectares of mangrove forest and small patches of heath forest. Kuching Wetlands is a mosaic of small rivers, creeks and streams.
The park is best explored by boat on a Santubong Wildlife Cruise. This late afternoon mangrove cruise takes you along the major rivers of the park.
Frequently seen animals include proboscis monkeys, Irrawaddy dolphins, silver leaf monkeys, long-tailed macaques, monitor lizards, estuarine crocodiles and a wide variety of birds.
8. Learn About The Tribes Of Borneo At The Sarawak Cultural Village
The Sarawak Cultural Village offers a good introduction to the various peoples and cultures of Sarawak. The village is located at Damai Beach, a 45-minute drive from Kuching.
This ‘living museum’ comprises a series of replica traditional buildings set in 17 acres of gardens. There are Iban, Bidayuh and Orang Ulu longhouses, a Melanau Tall House, a Malay house, a Penan hut and a Chinese farmhouse and pagoda. The village puts on twice daily cultural shows at 1130 am and 4 pm.
9. Visit A Bidayuh Village Or Longhouse
Visiting a longhouse is often a highlight of a trip to Sarawak. Many visitors to Sarawak head to the Iban heartland of Batang Ai. However, if you are short of time this might not be possible. Luckily there are a few longhouse options closer to Kuching.
The Bidayuh are one of the many tribes of Sarawak. Most Bidayuh live in the wider Kuching area. There are countless Bidayuh villages located within an hour or so of the Kuching. However, there are only a handful of longhouses remaining. Annah Rais longhouse is located quite close to Semenggoh. Mongkos Longhouse is located a bit further away, around 2 hours drive from Kuching. You can do a daytrip to Mongkos or stay overnight in a homestay programme.
Another option for immersing yourself in Bidayuh culture is the Peraya Homestay. Whilst there is no longhouse at Peraya, you can explore the village, visit a waterfall and try your hand at traditional bamboo rafting.
10. Listen To The Sounds Of The Sape At The Rainforest World Music Festival
The Rainforest World Music Festival is a 3-day event that takes place in Kuching in July or August each year. The event includes daytime music workshops, cultural performances, craft displays, local food and the main stage evening concerts.
The festival features traditional music and contemporary world music. It brings together musicians from around the world with indigenous musicians from Sarawak. The haunting music of the Sape (a lute-like instrument from the Orang Ulu people) has been a feature of the festival since its inception in 1998.
The venue for the Rainforest World Music Festival is the Sarawak Cultural Village. The village is located in Damai Beach, 40-minutes drive from Kuching.
The 2020 festival takes place from 10-12th July.