Kuching is more than just the capital city of Malaysia’s state of Sarawak. Located near the state’s southwestern edge along the banks of the Sarawak River, it’s a fascinating city with a rich history. Among other things, it’s known as the former seat of power during the time of the White Rajahs of Sarawak who ruled over the territory from 1841 to 1941.
Over the centuries, Kuching has gone on to have one of the most diverse populations in Malaysia. This has helped it develop its own unique culture, tasty dishes, as well as a collection of wonderful sights. And given its reputation as one of the cleanest cities in Asia, getting around will be a breeze—especially if your Kuching tour package includes a hotel near the heart of the city. But if you’re a first-time visitor, you should make sure that your final itinerary includes the following must-see sites:
This beautiful palace presides gracefully over the banks of the Sarawak River. It stands as a grandiose example of colonial architecture that befits the royal status of its former residents, the White Rajahs of Sarawak. Their dynasty started when Kuching was ceded in 1841 to a British adventurer named James Brooke by Pengiran Raja Muda Hashimit, who gave it to the Briton in exchange for his help in crushing a rebellion.
During the rule of the Brooke family, the city saw massive, life-changing improvements, including the construction of a sanitation system, a hospital, a well-functioning prison, and a fort built in the style of a proper English castle called Fort Margherita. The Astana’s history is also rather romantic. Indeed, it was built as a wedding gift by the second White Rajah Charles, for his wife, Ranee Margaret. Today, it is the official residence of the Governor of Sarawak and is not open to guests. Still, the building is a marvellous sight even from afar, especially when viewed from the river while riding a boat.
Tua Pek Kong Temple
Positioned near the Kuching waterfront, this magnificent temple is the oldest Chinese temple in Kuching, bar none. Believed to have been built in 1770, this is one of the few buildings in the city that survived the Great Fire of Kuching that occurred in 1884. It even survived the Japanese invasion during the Second World War—perhaps proof of its location’s auspicious feng shui. It is a major religious site for the city’s sizable Chinese community, and several traditional festivals are still celebrated here annually. These include the Hungry Ghost Festival, Tua Pek Kong’s birthday, and the renowned Wang Kang Festival.
Satok Weekend Market
Conveniently adjacent to Kubah Ria, one of the most popular eateries fronting the river, the Satok Weekend Market is a haven for foodies. It opens every Friday and closes by Sunday afternoon, showcasing a positively dizzying variety of food items and other wares. Its market stalls sell fresh fish and seafood, fruits and vegetables, potted plants, different orchids, as well as produce from the surrounding mountainous areas, including delectable wild honey.
The Satok Weekend Market also has a good number of food stalls hawking local delicacies and small, portable bites. Some of the food you can try here include satay skewers, lemang Betawi, glutinous rice cakes served with a sumptuous peanut sauce, and apam balik, flour pancakes filled with sugar and peanuts that are cooked in a griddle over hot coals. And if you’re looking to shop for souvenirs, you can also find clothes, toys, accessories, and other sundries in their dry goods section. Locals say that the best time to come is on Saturday afternoons when the market is in full swing.
Sarawak Cultural Village
This award-winning living museum is dedicated to showcasing local Sarawakian culture in the most authentic way possible. Each of the state’s nine major ethnic groups are represented by its own building and are intended as true-to-life replicas of each group’s traditional houses and structures. As a result, the complex has longhouses by the Bidayuh, Iban and Orang Ulu people, a Melanau tall-house, a jungle settlement used by the Penan, a typical Malay townhouse, as well as a Chinese farmhouse complete with its own pagoda. Each house is attended to by a “storyteller” who weaves fascinating tales about their assigned culture and way of life to enthral and educate guests. However, the centrepiece of the village is the theatre, where musical and dance performances are held, accompanied by traditional instruments. There’s also an excellent restaurant on the premises that serves a selection of fine Sarawakian dishes. And lastly, there’s a great gift shop where you can buy traditional goods and crafts as souvenirs.
Kuching’s international gateway is Kuching International Airport. There are direct flights to and from Kuala Lumpur almost every hour, as well as to other major Malaysian cities. Within the city, the most convenient way of getting around is by bus or by using ride-sharing apps and services such as Grab. One of the healthiest ways to explore the city is by renting a bicycle, available from many purveyors in the area. It is also a very pedestrian-friendly city, and many of the tourist attractions at the heart of Kuching are within easy walking distance of each other. Enjoy your visit!