Kuching, Borneo


Our last stop before we joined the QM2 was a side trip to Kuching, Borneo (or Sarawak, to be accurate) to visit an old friend of Paul's, Gill Raja or Gill Butcher as Paul knew her in the UK in the 1970's.

We travelled to Kuching via Kuala Lumpur as Kuching is actually part of Malaysia, but Sarawak maintains a degree of independence, so we had to go through Immigration twice - once when we entered Malaysia and then again when we entered Sarawak. A bit like having to go through Florida Immigration after entering the country through Atlanta. (Not such a bad idea, actually !)

Anyway, Gill was waiting to meet us outside Customs and whisked us to to our hotel, The Harbour View Hotel. Later, she picked us up and took us to her home for dinner, where we also met her husband Isai and their daughter, Emma. It was raining that evening and very dark, so no pictures, I'm afraid.

The view next morning from our hotel room showing the new Sarawak Parliament Building on the right

Next day, which was a Sunday, Gill picked us up again and took us for a tour of the area, pointing out places of interest like City Hall (there are two - don't ask), the Museum, the Parliament House and so on. It was a good opportunity for Gill to show us her adopted city (she's lived here about twenty five years and for us to get reacquainted with her after even longer.

Views of Kuching

Kris and I were fascinated by signs we saw which seemed to be either a little odd or misplaced. For example :

Do they really mean what this sign says or could it be backwards ? This was a very posh golf club (with a swimming pool !) so we guessed the sign was backwards, but who knows ?

OK - we get what you mean - guys please sit down while using the toilet but did it have to be QUITE so graphic ! (Look again - especially at the sign on the right and remember - this is a Muslim country.)

Oh well !

The highlight of the day was a visit to the Semenggoh Nature Reserve just outside Kuching, where young orang utans which are orphaned or rescued from captivity are taught how to survive in the wild. However, twice a day, the wardens (rangers) offer the semi-wild orang utans a free meal of fruit. Sometimes they come, sometimes they don't. We were lucky and we saw several animals, first in the trees and then on the feeding platform.

Feeding time for the Orang Utans

Mother & baby and one of the older members of the group hanging out in the parking lot

That night, we all went to dinner in a very nice restaurant just up the street from our hotel. Gill asked that she not be shown, so here is the rest of her family.

Dinner with Emma, Isai and Gill

Next day, Kris and I were on our own and spent the day exploring Kuching. It was raining off and on and no city looks it's best in the rain, but we persevered. We started with the Sarawak Museum, opened in 1891.

The Sarawak Museum opened in 1891 by the so-called White Rajah, Charles Brooke

I'm afraid some of the displays looked as though they hadn't changed since the museum opened. The only modern display was an exhibition about the wonders and benefits of oil exploration sponsored by (you get one guess) Shell Oil - which apparently was started in Sarawak buy an  Englishman (Marcus Samuels) who imported shells as part of his import-export business. Photographs weren't allowed inside the museum but I took one or two anyway.

Kris examines some local carvings

The same carvings in close-up and a mock-up of room of one the rooms in a traditional longhouse

It kept raining and photos seemed rather pointless. At the end of the day, the rain eased off for a while and we took a sunset river cruise, although when we left, the sun was invisible !

A gloomy start to our sunset cruise

But fisherman don't mind a little rain

The sun did come out for a few minutes :

Fishing boats waiting to go night fishing and a local sampan, which acts as a ferry across the river

The sunlight reveals all the trash floating on the river

But we did our get our sunset, even though the sun remained hidden behind the clouds.

And racing out of the sunset towards us came several canoes in what we assume was a practice for a race.

The spray was flying as the canoes raced past our boat

Next day, we headed out to Bako National Park, which is about an hour by bus from Kuching. After taking the bus, we had to take a small boat to the park. The tide was VERY low, so the boat could not get near the shore and we had to walk in through mud and sand.

Our boatman raises his outboard as we enter the shallows near the shore

The first wild life we saw was a wild boar strolling along the sea shore

Once we had registered, we only had time for a short hike - 800 metres the sign said - should be a piece of cake, we thought,  but it turned out to be a lot more rugged than we had expected ! It was also VERY humid and we were both sweating profusely.

Can you hear Kris thinking "Trail ? What trail ?"

We finally made it to our destination, Paku Beach, a small beach and in the trees at the side of the beach were a small troop of monkeys, although not the Proboscis Monkeys for which the Park is noted.

The rather messy Paku Beach which was our destination and a small monkey in the trees

The same monkey and one last monkey on the ground as we returned to our boat.

After photographing the monkeys, we headed back the way we had come. Somehow, it was easier going back than we had expected, or perhaps we were too exhausted to notice. 

That night, we decided to stay in the hotel and ordered fish and chips from room service !

On our last day, we took a shuttle to the Sarawak Cultural Village. We had hoped to spend some time along the "Headhunters Trail" and to see a real Longhouse, but we just didn't have enough time and we hoped this might be one way to get an idea about life outside the town.

The Village consists of a series of replica buildings representing all the major ethnic groups in Sarawak, but the tour starts with a dance performance - easy to watch but hard to photograph.

Images from the "Multi-Cultural Dance" performance

The buildings are grouped around a lake and the setting was very pretty.

The setting for the Cultural Village

The houses were all shapes and sizes, depending on the group which had built them

And of course the interiors were equally different

Some of the buildings had displays of different crafts:

Winnowing rice and weaving using a traditional loom

That evening, Gill and her family picked us up one last time for dinner.

And a last photo of Emma, their daughter.

And with another pleasant evening behind us, our stay in Kuching came to an end. Next day we caught an early flight to Singapore and the QM2.

A couple of Thanks - to Gill and her family for being such good hosts while we were in Kuching. We know Gill had to rearrange her schedule on at least one occasion to accommodate us and I'm sure Isai and Emma probably did the same. Many thanks to all of you and Gill - sorry about the pictures, but I COULDN'T leave them out !

Also "Thanks" to the Best Western Jayleen Hotel in Singapore for having really FAST internet service, which has allowed us to get this part of the blog completed before we join the QM2, in about one hour !