Monday, 14 July 2014

Strolling In Sarawak (Kuching For Families)

I'm going to have to be honest here for a moment.  When I asked Mister Four what his abiding memory of our weekend break to Kuching was, it wasn't the incredible organ utans that walked right across our path in the jungle.  Nor was it the majestic long houses we visited one morning.  It wasn't even the boats cruising up and down the pretty river running through the city.  It was the cats.

Kuching means 'cat' in Bahasa Malay and Sarawak's capital city hasn't shied away from the association.  Turn your head one way and you'll see a fountain featuring the feline creatures preening in the water.  Turn the other way and another furry friend is posing in cemented glory atop a stately plinth.  If you're a cat person you'll be a Kuching person.

Of course, Kuching has much, much more to boast than its feline affinity.  We spent just two nights uncovering a few of the highlights of the city and its surrounds:

The waterfront

Kuching is a small city situated on the Sarawak River and the kilometre-long esplanade that runs along it is well worth a stroll.  Our late afternoon meanders wound us through the city with food stalls, markets and some (questionable) busking setting the scene. We ended our walks at the beautiful Old Court House, a stunning colonial building that now houses the Visitor Information Centre.  Those with small children take note - your children will quickly hone in on the surprising number of vendors selling noisy battery-operated pigs and rotating airplanes at the end of the esplanade...and if you can manage to walk past without making a purchase of such a classy souvenir, well, you did better than me!

The shophouses

Set back from the waterfront is a row of 19th century Chinese shophouses along the Main Bazaar.  Antique and homewares buffs will have a field day here.  Small children will be harder to satisfy but you can play 'spot the cat' to try to keep energy levels high while you potter.

Semenggoh Orang Utan Rehabilitation Centre

 It's one thing visiting Malaysia's 'man of the jungle' in a zoo.  It's another thing entirely to see an orang utan family roaming freely in a natural habitat.  We took a half hour mini bus ride to this beautiful sanctuary and joined the scheduled morning feeding session.  During a session, participants are invited to walk with guides into the jungle as the graceful giants emerge for feeding time.  All of the orang utans in the centre have been rescued and rehabilitated and are now living semi-wild in the jungle.  We were extremely lucky - on the day we visited the alpha male guided his young family right across our path and settled on a wooden platform just metres away from us.  I held my own fuzzy-haired baby against my chest whilst the four of us breathed out a big 'aaaah'.

Visits to the centre are structured to ensure that the protection of both the animals and visitors.  You can read more about this fantastic project, including feeding times and rules and regulations here.  Highly recommended.

Sarawak Cultural Village

Way back in the day I studied 'Asian Cultures And Societies' as an elective at university.  At the time, I chose the subject as a 'filler' - something to make up my quota of 'cultural' studies to pad out my linguistics degree.  Within minutes, though, I was hooked.  While my classmates doodled across their foolscap (in the good old days, when boredom involved creativity and Candy Crush was just the name of a dessert), I listened in awe to our lecturer's tales of remote villages and little-known tribes.  For one happy semester I dreamed of a glittering career in ethnology.

Now it has to be said that whilst a visit to the Sarawak Cultural Village won't exactly take you to the frontier of cultural anthropology, it is an excellent introduction to Sarawak's ethnic diversity.  A half day is time enough to visit the different tribal houses on show here.  Children will love climbing the steep ladders up into the Melanau Tall House or taking a breather on a straw mat in the Iban Longhouse.  Each of the dozen or so houses has guides on hand to answer questions and there are cooking, musical and spear-throwing demonstrations to watch.  It's also great fun to stop in at the top-spinning hut, where you can perfect (or not) the ancient art.  Make sure you take the time to watch the daily show - it's a child-friendly 45 minute presentation of various dance forms from Sarawak.  Mister Four and Little Miss sat riveted throughout the whole thing, as did the hubby and I.  Click here to find out more about the village.

We stayed at The Lime Tree Hotel, a boutique hotel with a penchant for limes and a friendly, welcoming atmosphere.  Although not plush, the family suite was very comfortable and featured a little (and rather bare) kitchenette and lots of space for spreading out toys.  Best of all was the almost panoramic view from the curved windows.  It's located close to the esplanade and a good base for arranging tours further afield.

We left Kuching with a sense that we had just scraped the surface of a fascinating part of this beautiful country.  I hope that we'll be back again soon to uncover more - there is, after all, an entire museum dedicated to cats that Mister Four has yet to discover.

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