Our final stop in Borneo was Kuching, a sleepy riverside city masquerading as the capital of Sarawak province. In Malay, kuching means “cats”; even though the city is named for the Kuching River rather than any actual population (or governing body) of cats, the name still seems apt: like its namesake, Kuching slumbers during the hottest part of the day, only rousing itself as dusk approaches. The city generally seems to move with a slow grace — full of mysterious purpose but generally without haste — only to burst into life during a surprise thunderstorm or during the rush hour snarls of traffic in the morning and evening.

We spent a few days wandering the city’s historic district and riverfront quarter, admiring various cat sculptures, colonial architecture and enjoying the generally laid-back atmosphere of the city. On our second-to-last day we took a walk from one end of the old quarter to the other—here’s what we saw:

A shop in Kuching, Malaysia

Like much of Malaysia, Kuching has a strong Chinese presence, made all the more apparent by the approaching Chinese New Year.

Men in Kuching, Malaysia
A colorful arcade in Kuching, Malaysia

The streets of the old town are lined on either side with long, often colorful, arcades that enclose the sidewalks.

A woman sleeps in Kuching, Malaysia

Shady and cool, these arcades often give shelter to those wishing to escape the relentless midday sun.

A man reads the news in Kuching, Malaysia
A woman shops in Kuching, Malaysia

Like so much of Asia, a large part of daily life occurs on the stoop or just in front of people’s homes.

Many of the arcades cover colorful markets selling nearly anything you could want, but, this being Malaysia, most have a strong emphasis on food.

Kuching’s famous pink mosque, encircled by a Muslim graveyard, dominates the western end of the waterfront, past the market district.

Kuching riverfront warehouse

Near the mosque ancient waterfront buildings crowd the shoreline. Could this pink building be an homage to the famous mosque?

A water taxi in Kuching

Walking back along the shore we see the innumerable water-taxis that carry Kuching’s citizens across the river.

The Sarawak State Legislative building
The Sarawak State Legislative building

The Sarawak State Legislative building

Across from the waterfront, the Sarawak State Legislative building looms large, visible from nearly anywhere in the city.

A cat statue in Kuching, Malaysia

The eponymous mascot of Kuching hangs out in a group of four in a traffic circle downtown as we veer away from the river.

A cat statue in Kuching, Malaysia
A statue in Kuching, Malaysia

The traffic circle cats are not the only piece of art in downtown Kuching, nor are they the only cat-themed piece of art. Near Kuching’s oldest Chinese temple a small park holds more sculptures.

Architecture in Kuching, Malaysia
A street in Kuching, Malaysia

Our walk has shown us a quiet little city chock-a-block with interesting architecture that’s a blend of old and new, eastern and colonial. But most of all, we find a city full of friendly and fascinating people.

People in Kuching, Malaysia
People in Kuching, Malaysia

People in Kuching, Malaysia
People in Kuching, Malaysia

As far as capital cities in Asia go (never mind Borneo), Kuching is a good one. It’s got some of the best food in Borneo, beautiful buildings, a lovely laid-back vibe, and incredibly hospitable locals. It’s the epitome of a sleepy riverside town. We were happy to lose a few days there, wandering the streets, watching the locals and the world go by. In fact, it was purrrfect.

(Apologies.)

Tell us: What’s your favorite sleepy city to get lost in? Share it (& your favorite terrible cat pun) in the comments below!

Written by: Tony


As a designer by trade and a former professional photographer, there isn't much in the world of visual communication that I haven't worked on. From web projects, to museum interiors, to weddings and portraits, my career to this point has run the gamut of visual media. Born and raised in a sleepy town in southeast Minnesota, I moved to Nashville to pursue my education. I ended up meeting the love of my life and adopting the two best dogs this side of the Mason-Dixon line. I love two-wheeled transport, trying new food and am a bit of a gadget freak. I love a good book, and have music playing almost constantly. After over a decade in the same city, I'm quickly getting used to the idea of having no fixed address, and hope all of you enjoy my ramblings about our ramblings.

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Read comments (27)

  1. January 29, 2014 at 9:43 am
    Jan. 29, '14

    Gorgeous photos! Borneo sounds so fascinating, especially divided into three countries. 🙂
    Amanda recently posted..Scribbler’s Journal: 1/29/14

    • January 31, 2014 at 12:25 am
      Jan. 31, '14

      It’s an interesting place for sure. We would have spent more time, but it was expensive, especially compared to the rest of Malaysia!

  2. January 29, 2014 at 6:24 pm
    Jan. 29, '14

    These photos are incredible…okay, who am I kidding – each and every blog post you put out has incredible photos. Ewan and I crowd around our laptop to drink them in, constantly commenting ‘wow!’, ‘I wish I could shoot like that!’, etc, etc.

    Thank you for the amazing tour of Kuching!!
    Emily recently posted..Hablo un Poco Español

    • January 31, 2014 at 12:32 am
      Jan. 31, '14

      Thanks so much! Makes all the work well worth to hear such lofty praise! I’m just glad you like what you see!

  3. Maureen and Paul Kuehn
    January 29, 2014 at 6:25 pm
    Jan. 29, '14

    I suppose sleepy is due to the heat . . . but I like the sound of it anyway, gimme sleepy everytime.

    • January 31, 2014 at 12:35 am
      Jan. 31, '14

      Could be the heat, but I think it’s just the vibe of the city. Sleepy is a nice break from the rest of this part of the world sometimes, though we really enjoy the energy of a good SE Asian city.

  4. January 29, 2014 at 6:50 pm
    Jan. 29, '14

    This looks like a really cute town, it reminds me a little of the Muslim quarter in Singapore. Except for the legislative building – that looks like a giant carousel at a state fair! I’m disappointed it doesn’t actually have any real cats to speak of, though. I was always delighted by the furry felines in Shanghai that kept the rat population at bay.
    Heather recently posted..The Best Meals We Ate in NYC: Northern and Eastern Europe Edition

    • January 31, 2014 at 3:43 am
      Jan. 31, '14

      Yeah, we saw very few cats during our time there. I feel like they would cultivate a cat population or something, but I guess not. The old town definitely has that same colonial feeling, the influence is felt all over this part of the world!

  5. January 29, 2014 at 8:57 pm
    Jan. 29, '14

    Just a superb feast for the eyes. A delight. I love all the textures and colours and contrasts you’ve captured. Plus some excellent portraits!
    Colleen Brynn recently posted..The Ripple Effect (continued)

    • January 31, 2014 at 3:54 am
      Jan. 31, '14

      Thanks so much! It was a very photogenic city, so it made my job easy!

  6. January 29, 2014 at 9:16 pm
    Jan. 29, '14

    Hmmm mosques, markets and colonial architecture… Sounds right up my alley! Kuching looks lovely, thanks for sharing 🙂
    Tim | UrbanDuniya recently posted..Flora meets fashion at Melbourne’s Royal Botanic Runway

    • January 31, 2014 at 3:59 am
      Jan. 31, '14

      It is great! If you’re in Malaysian Borneo it would be a mistake to miss Kuching!

  7. January 29, 2014 at 10:03 pm
    Jan. 29, '14

    Absolutely gorgeous pictures. I’m fascinated by the mix of colors, textures, styles!
    kay recently posted..Wordless Wednesday – Shakespeare in the Day

    • January 31, 2014 at 4:11 am
      Jan. 31, '14

      Thanks! That’s Malaysia for you, a huge blend of so many different cultures and styles!

  8. January 30, 2014 at 2:43 am
    Jan. 30, '14

    Now all I can think of is “purr-fect” Argh. I’m so mad at myself for not being ready with a pun!
    Carmel recently posted..PAK OU CAVES

    • January 31, 2014 at 4:40 am
      Jan. 31, '14

      Haha! We were saying we couldn’t believe we didn’t think of that one right away!

  9. January 30, 2014 at 6:57 am
    Jan. 30, '14

    Wow, your photos are amazing! Love the ones of the market, looks so colourful.

    • January 31, 2014 at 4:41 am
      Jan. 31, '14

      Thank you! it was beautiful!

  10. January 30, 2014 at 12:04 pm
    Jan. 30, '14

    Wonderful photos as always, especially the portraits. And any place named after cats can’t be too bad. I love the sculptures in the park.

    Where will you guys be for the New Year celebrations? I’m going to a big event here in my city this Saturday, it’s supposed to be the biggest Vietnamese lunar new year in the US.

    Also, I never before noticed Steph spells her name with an “E”!

    • January 31, 2014 at 4:43 am
      Jan. 31, '14

      Thanks so much! The statues were fun, it’s nice that the city took an interest. We are in HCMC for Tet/CNY, there was a dragon parade through our tiny hem (alley) this morning, it was a riot.

      She is one of the few who spells her name that way. She always gets the username she wants, that’s for sure!

  11. Maureen and Paul Kuehn
    January 30, 2014 at 1:31 pm
    Jan. 30, '14

    what do you think the cats did to become famous?Those sculptures are good,thats just what a group of cats would be doing!!!as always,love your pics and writings.love mom

    • January 31, 2014 at 4:45 am
      Jan. 31, '14

      Well, sadly it’s less exciting than famous cats… The river is named Kuching because it comes from the Cat’s-eye mountain. Don’t know if there are any cats there though…

  12. January 30, 2014 at 7:28 pm
    Jan. 30, '14

    Wonderful photos! The night shots are especially magical. If you hadn’t explained about Kuching’s name, the cat statuary would have made no sense. Interesting post.
    Lesley Peterson recently posted..An auld tale of Scotland on Robert Burns Night

    • January 31, 2014 at 4:46 am
      Jan. 31, '14

      Thanks! It’s a very colorful city, even at night! It’s funny to think about names of things having meaning. For us something like “Chicago” is just a word, but so many things in Asia have specific meanings, it’s interesting!

  13. January 31, 2014 at 4:08 am
    Jan. 31, '14

    I love the fact that Kuching has such a strong Chinese presence. It must look so colorful and charming during Chinese New Year! Wish I could see that!
    Agness recently posted..How We Packed For A Month Of Travel

    • January 31, 2014 at 4:48 am
      Jan. 31, '14

      There were lanterns and red bunting everywhere! Apparently they have a huge fireworks display too, but we left one day early and missed it 🙁 They did dress one of their giant cat statues up like an olde tyme chinaman, though I’m not sure if it was racist or just funny, or what…

  14. February 1, 2014 at 1:25 am
    Feb. 1, '14

    We just got back from Borneo ourselves, but didn’t make it to Kuching. These are gorgeous photos!
    Corinne recently posted..Golden Temple of Dambulla – UNESCO World Heritage Site

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