KUCHING: The city is a good start to familiarise oneself with Sarawak and the rich culture and history the state boasts.
The city is filled with interesting nuggets of information, from the origins of Kuching’s name and heritage left behind from Brooke era until today.
For a start, the name Kuching (in Malay, kucing means cat) does not have anything to do with felines.
There are a few stories as to how the city got its name, but one of it is that it comes from a hill called Bukit Mata Kuching, named after the local fruit.
“Some say the name was derived from a stream of the same name – Sungai Kuching or Cat River, ” said native tour guide Seth Peli.
Another theory is that in the 19th century, Kuching was known as Sarawak but that changed when Sir James Brooke, the first White Rajah of Sarawak, arrived in 1841.
James’ nephew Charles Brooke, the second White Rajah, was said to have renamed the city to Kuching in 1872.
With Sarawak Tourism Board’s (STB) tagline “More to Discover” campaign under the Visit Sarawak 2019 and 2020 initiative, a recent media junket to Kuching had us exploring, to name a few, nooks and crannies along the Kuching Heritage Trail, not far away from the famed Kuching Waterfront.
But first, a lunch treat at Lepau Restaurant in Jalan Ban Hock was a pleasant introduction to the local cuisine.
After a refreshing chilled lemongrass pandan drink to quench our thirst from the hot weather, we were told the family-run restaurant has been operating for five years and serves delicacies like brown bario rice wrapped in itun sip (wild ginger leaves), tilapia fish with Dayak sour eggplant, dried chilli calamari and stir-fried cangkuk (cekur) manis with egg.
Lepau is managed by Livan Lah who is originally from Baram in Miri, and mostly serves dishes from Sarawak, especially those from the Dayak community.
With our bellies full, we proceeded on the heritage trail which took us through India Street, Jalan Gambier and Jalan Main Bazaar.
India Street houses shops selling various goods, but mostly textiles. In the late 1980s, it was converted into a pedestrian-only street.
Halfway down this street is a narrow passageway that leads to Jalan Gambier. Continue further and you will pass a small Indian mosque hidden away.
The mosque’s structure underwent many changes since it was originally built by Kuching’s Indian Muslim community in the mid-19th century.
Seth said the mosque became so overcrowded that another one was built along the Sarawak River.
Nearby, you will stumble upon Jalan Power where colourful murals fill the back alley walls depicting old Kuching town and heritage scenes of Sarawak.
Among the notable places we passed were Brooke’s Dockyard incepted in 1912 by Charles Vyner Brooke and declared open by Ranee Muda Sylvia the same year.
Seth said it was the first maritime steel structure building in Kuching. Since the Brooke era, it has functioned as a dry dock for boat repairs.
Along the waterfront is the historical Square Tower, a white square building that looks like a small castle.
From the top, you can see vistas of Mount Santubong and Mount Serapi. The tower was originally built as a prison in 1879 but later became a fortress.
“It was built next to the first prison in Sarawak that was demolished in 1930. Later on, the Square Tower was used by Brooke’s officers and servants as a dancing hall, ” said Seth.
As the afternoon drew to a close, we sailed into the sunset while enjoying the Sarawak River Cruise that welcomes passengers onboard daily at the waterfront from 5.30pm.
It is RM65 for adults (from ages 13 and above) and RM32 for children from ages four to 12
A fun activity in Kuching is learning how to make some of the local cuisine, and so we joined the Bumbu Cooking Class along the quaint Carpenter Street.
Before class starts, proprietor Joseph Daniel takes participants on a grocery shopping spree at the Satok wet market to buy the ingredients for the dishes they will cook.
We had the chance to cook Sarawak Chicken Curry, Midin Sambal and for dessert, the Tako kuih.
Our itinerary of different activities was a reflection of STB’s push on experiential tourism.
The state also has a deluge of exciting things to do.
“This is our main focus and one of our approaches to bring in more tourists, ” said STB chief executive officer Sharzede Salleh Askor
“We want people to immerse themselves (in the experience) and make them understand what Sarawak culture has to offer, including the adventure and nature part of it, and enjoy the food and festivals.
“When they visit Sarawak, we want them to experience it, not just touch and go, look and see and take Instagram photos without feeling anything.
“It is about understanding the culture so that they can appreciate the people and Sarawak better, ” she said.