From riverside longhouses to ornate Chinese temples and interesting cultural spaces – including Borneo’s oldest museum – Kuching is worth visiting for its rich history and culture alone
Sarawak’s capital of Kuching has a rich and colourful history that is still reflected in the architecture that lingers in the cityspace today. Most of its best sights can be easily covered on foot or by boat. For the best way to see the city, take a self-guided tour via its Heritage Walking Trail, or cruise onboard a sampan along the scenic Sarawak River to admire the picturesque kampungs (Malay villages), 19th-century Chinese shophouses, traditional longhouses, a Victorian fort and more. Pack your bags and get ready to discover the best places in Kuching to soak up its fascinating culture and history.
1. The Brooke Gallery at Fort Margherita
This 1800s English-style fort features insightful exhibits on Sarawak’s history under the ruling of its White Rajahs, the dynastic monarchy of the British Brooke family who ruled Sarawak for a century. It chronicles the people, places and events that shaped Kuching through its kingdom rule from 1841 to 1941.
2. Kuching Cat Museum
You’d be remiss to skip the Kuching Cat Museum on your trip to Sarawak; after all, kuching means cat in the Malay language. This quirky gallery – the first of its kind in the world – houses over 4,000 exhibits related to all things cats, ranging from posters and taxidermy to souvenirs and historical artefacts. Highlights include a 5,000-year-old Egyptian mummified cat, as well as stories of cats owned by famous feline lovers like Winston Churchill, Albert Einstein and Margaret Thatcher.
Kuching North City Hall; +60 82 446688
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3. Sarawak Cultural Village
One of Malaysia’s most iconic cultural attractions, the Sarawak Cultural Village is the perfect place to discover the state’s indigenous cultures. This sprawling 17-acre site dives into Sarawak’s local indigenous ethnic groups via its longhouse replicas, cultural programmes and dance performances. Tour the nine authentic replica buildings representing its major ethnic groups, such as the Bidayuh, Iban and Orang Ulu longhouses; a Penan jungle settlement; a Malay townhouse and Chinese farmhouse, as well as a Melanau tall-house.
4. Visit an authentic Iban or Bidayuh longhouse
If museum replicas are not your thing, you can also visit actual longhouses in Kuching. To arrange for a visit or stay, contact the Sarawak Tourism Board, who will be happy to assist in making arrangements with the respective village heads. Local travel agents also offer a variety of tours ranging from half-day trips to Bidayuh longhouses within Kuching itself to week-long homestays and immersions to Iban longhouses along the Skrang, Lemanak and Batang Ai rivers that allow visitors a rare glimpse into their daily lives.
5. Sarawak Museum Complex
Sarawak Museum is Borneo’s oldest museum, with its old wing dating back to 1891. It’s recently undergone a revamp and is to reopen in April 2021, under the rebranded Sarawak Museum Complex that also includes the Natural History Museum and Art Museum. A striking new 30,000 square metre museum space will occupy the site of the former Dewan Tun Abdul Razak and feature auditoriums and exciting galleries that boast a curated selection of artefacts, taking visitors through Sarawak’s rich history. The new campus also marks the first Green Building Index (GB) certified museum in Malaysia.
6. Tua Pek Kong Temple
Nestled on the foothill near Kuching’s picturesque Sarawak River, the Tua Pek Kong Temple is the oldest in the city, believed to have existed before 1839, before the rule of the White Rajahs. Besides being a place of worship, this ornate Chinese temple has plenty of stories to tell. It is one of the few buildings in the city that survived both the 1884 Great Fire of Kuching and the Japanese invasion, and is also the home to the unique and famous Wang Kang Festival to commemorate the dead. Fun fact: low on luck? The Tua Pek Kong temple is also believed to have the best feng shui location in the city. Along Jalan Tunku Abdul Rahman
7. The Astana
Built in the 1860s by Charles Brooke, the Astana (local word for ‘palace’) still serves as home to the governor of Sarawak. This elegant and imposing mansion is located on the north bank across the Sarawak River and is designed in the style of a traditional English manor, boasting manicured gardens. While it’s not open to visitors, you can enjoy views of the complex from the south bank of the river.
8. The Old Courthouse
Kuching boasts many heritage treasures – and the Old Courthouse certainly counts as one of them. Dating to 1871, it was formerly the city’s administrative center. Today, it houses the official Sarawak Tourism Complex and a choice spot for culture and history buffs. Spy the Baroque-style clock tower or visit the Ranee Museum, dedicated to the life and legacy of Margaret de Windt, the former queen of Sarawak and wife of Sarawak’s second Rajah Brooke. There’s also a cafe and bar here for you to wind down in after a day of sightseeing.
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