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:
Like much of Malaysia, Kuching has a strong Chinese presence, made all the more apparent by the approaching Chinese New Year.
The streets of the old town are lined on either side with long, often colorful, arcades that enclose the sidewalks.
Shady and cool, these arcades often give shelter to those wishing to escape the relentless midday sun.
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.
Near the mosque ancient waterfront buildings crowd the shoreline. Could this pink building be an homage to the famous mosque?
Walking back along the shore we see the innumerable water-taxis that carry Kuching’s citizens across the river.
Across from the waterfront, the Sarawak State Legislative building looms large, visible from nearly anywhere in the city.
The eponymous mascot of Kuching hangs out in a group of four in a traffic circle downtown as we veer away from the river.
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.
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.
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.
Tell us: What’s your favorite sleepy city to get lost in? Share it (& your favorite terrible cat pun) in the comments below!