Malaysian family enjoys Sarawak's nature, history, and delicious midin

Although the penambang is a passenger boat, tourists can also rent them to cruise along the Sarawak River. — Photos: CHAN CHEE CHOONG

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My family and I went on a holiday to Kuching, Sarawak recently. While we did not see any hornbill at the Land Of The Hornbills, we were certainly enthralled by the natural beauty of the places we visited, and the charm of the local people.

Upon arrival, we rented a car and drove straight to Fort Margherita and the Brooke Memorial site. The fort was built in 1879 by Charles Brooke, the second Rajah of Sarawak, and named after his wife, Margaret Alice. Its was built to protect attacks from pirates and other enemies.

At the entrance, we were greeted by the Brooke family crest engraved with “Dum Spiro Spero” (“While I breathe, I hope” in Latin). There were displays of artefacts and pictures detailing the establishment of the Brooke empire and the wars between the different tribes.

Getting to the top of the tower requires some steady climbing of the old narrow but sturdy spiral staircase. At the top, you will be rewarded with a panoramic view of the town overlooking the Sarawak River.

Before leaving, make sure you take note of the big heavy doors made of belian wood, also known as Borneo ironwood, with big locks and latches that are just as old as the fort.

The writer’s sons and wife at Fort Margherita in Kuching.The writer’s sons and wife at Fort Margherita in Kuching.

We then drove to Carpenter Street for Sarawak’s famous “kolok mee”. We were not disappointed as the springy egg noodle dish served with savoury minced meat and fragrant shallot oil was delicious.

We also tried the pork satay. The meat was pretty thin but well marinated and sweet. Although the sauce was peanut based, it wasn’t as thick as what we’re used to eating in the peninsular. It did pack a fiery punch, though!

Instead of drinking the normal varieties of coffee or tea, we tried some peppermint drinks as they seem to be sold in all the restaurants there. I prefer the hot peppermint drink as it cleared my sinus and left a soothing, minty-fresh feeling in my mouth.

Next on the list was Bako National Park. On our way there, we stopped at a factory selling the world-famous Sarawak pepper, both the white and black varieties. The peppers were sold in different forms: coarse, powder and mixed. There were even pepper candies and wild pepper roots for sale. The roots are used to make meat stews and soups.

Midin is a local wild fern that is popular in Sarawak.Midin is a local wild fern that is popular in Sarawak.

When we got to the jetty, we had to register at the rangers’ office for safety and security reasons. We hired a boatman who took us straight to the Bako National Park. We were informed by the rangers that there were proboscis monkeys and wild boars around, and we got excited.

Unfortunately, we didn’t encounter any of the animals during our two-hour trek. But it was fine because the stunning vertical rocks and crisp air along the trail which opened up to the beach, made up for the things we missed out.

We went to the Semenggoh Wildlife Centre to catch the orang utan during their feeding time. It is advisable to pay for the electric tram ride to the feeding area otherwise it may be an arduous climb up a hill for some folks.

Sarawak is also known for its crocodiles, so we made a trip to a crocodile farm. Here, you can find “all things crocodile” from stuffed toys to a large statue of a crocodile sitting on a bench welcoming you to the farm.

On an early morning, we took a cruise on a passenger boat called penambang along the Sarawak River passing the Astana, a palace once occupied by the Rajah, in all its glory and splendour. The penambang normally just ferries passengers from one side of the river to the other, but I requested the boatman to take us on a cruise instead for a fee of RM10 per person. The boatman gladly agreed to do so as there weren’t that many passengers that day.

Hop on the hydrogen bus in Kuching for a free tour of the city.Hop on the hydrogen bus in Kuching for a free tour of the city.

We also managed to catch a free ride on the hydrogen bus. It is a zero-emission vehicle using hydrogen fuel cells. It operates only on weekends and starts at 8.30am from the bus stop opposite Riverbank Suites and runs every hour till 5.30pm. It was a clean and smooth 40-minute journey around the city.

We visited the Borneo Cultures Museum and it truly lives up to its name as a living museum. There were live demonstrations of how to play the gasing and how to use blow pipes. If you’d like to try, there is a minimal fee to pay.

You can check out real longhouses that belong to some of the natives and tribes in Sarawak including the Penan, Bidayuh and Iban.

As Malaysians, food is never far from our minds anywhere we go to. We had local dishes like ayam pansuh which is chicken cooked in bamboo, midin which is a local fern, and cangkuk manis, a sweet vegetable. We enjoyed midin so much that we had it for every meal.

Kuching is a gem to be discovered and a trip here introduced us to the many natives and their customs and cultures, all of which form the rich tapestry of our nation.

The views expressed are entirely the reader’s own.

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