Tuesday, February 17, 2009

On a Simple Guide to the Cat City

Was browsing through the loads of photos and reminiscing about the past when the good old fun times of being a local guide for the brotherhood back at the hometown flashed back. Totally missed the fun.

See, the Cat city is probably not as old as Penang or Malacca, else how else would it not have been suggested for the UNESCO Herritage site right? But then again, it is still one of the oldest city in the country, being the capital where the Brooke started his administration eons ago. Form Five history would've reminded me more about the timeline of the cat city in comparison to KL or ports in the straits, but rest assured, historical buildings in Kuching are pretty well preserved. Therefore, it makes a good touristy place for those who enjoy architecture. Perhaps for those who likes to cam-whore as well.

Downtown Kuching is basically like what downtown Malacca or downtown Georgetown is like, where all the trade started. So, when the White Rajahs, a.k.a. the Brookes, started governing the state, after some long interesting story of acquiring the land from the Sultan of Brunei, buildings of what might seem normal back then were built alongside the river. Decades later today, some of the buildings are pretty much run down, but apparently, they were still standing. As for whether the forts and government buildings were of the original built, I don't really know. But rest assured, the architechture and the designs were still there.

So here goes, assuming you have 2 short days in the city, with no local guide to bring you around, with a map in hand...

The riverside is a must visit. After all, what is downtown Kuching if it's not the Riverside where it all started? History had it that the name itself originated from this spot in front of the oldest temple in the state. Tua Pek Kong temple sat proudly at the junction of 3 roads overlooking the river. (Though you might not want to expect a clean nice river). A nice place to camwhore indeed. Singgahsana lodging house is just located opposite the temple. Across the road, you shall be seeing the Chinese Museum, what used to be the office for the Chinese traders back in history. It's just a small building. Nothing interesting unless you want to get away from the hot sun. HAHAHA.

Make your way down the part of the riverside where the row of old shop-houses are, for the other side would only lead you to the modern shopping malls instead of the historical colonial buildings. Along the riverbank, there will be small plates on the pavement. No, not the STARs for the rich and famous, but historical timeline of what Kuching and Sarawak was of. By the time you reach the end, there will be a square with some fountains and a white fort sitting in the middle. The white fort isn't open to public, can't remeber what it was called, but it used to be a watch tower in the past. Just around the square, you could also see a yellowish building which has now been turned into what seemed like Pasar Seni. It was the Steamship Company back then, nothing fanciful, but a good place to pant after long walk under the sun. LOL. Further down the walk after the riverside will only lead you to the old wet market as well as more old shophouses and of course, the Electra House and the Open Air market. But that aside, let's take the water cab before crossing the road.

There were a few jettys around the square as well as along the riverside before you arrive at the square. Normally the driver charges about 5 bucks per head, ferrying you across the river to the other side, mainly to the jetty that could lead you to the Fort Magharita. What used to be the Police Museum has now been abandoned, leaving the Fort Magharita built by Charles Brooke standing in bushes and unattended. Reason for crossing the river earlier in the day would be to keep yourself away from the spook of this old prison. It is still prettier seen from far so to speak. The Astana is the official residence of the Sultan-equivalance of Sarawak, therefore is of no admittence to the public. Take a stroll in the boat if you wish. Or you could always hop onto the River Cruise service that also provides dinner at night for what could seem like Hong Kong (without all those high rise. LOL).

So, you're now back on land, back at the square. As you cross the road, you will see a monument being erected in the square of what looks like a government building back in the colonial days. It used to be the old courthouse, after independance, but it was too run down that the government closed it down for years renovating and preserving it, before opening it to the public again. It has since the reopening became the Tourist Information Centre. People who loves architecture could spend quite some time around the building, for the pillars and the bims and the big doors make perfect artistic pictures, if not perfect background for cam-whoring. LOL.

Further up pass the Tourism Board building, you shall see another colonial building with tall pillars across the road, resembling the library of those Ivy Leagues. It serves the purpose of a General Post Office in this modern day, but it still serves as the awe for what architecture back in the past was like. On the same side of the Tourism Board, there's another building of what seemed like wooden instead of bricks. It's the textile museum, displaying different types of costumes and pua kumbu as well as accessories of the different ethnics in the states. Just be careful not to be shocked by the 'models' inside.

Cross the road into "Atap Kai", literally translated into "Roof Road", what odd name! It's basically all the old shophouses built since the Brookes' era. A perfect place to appreciate cultures and practices that seemed to have been gone as time goes by. Mirror makers. Frame makers. Barbers... At the end of the road, you shall come out to what seemed to be the most lavish Chinese temple, delicate carvings make the temple one of the prettiest in the state. Short distance away, you shall go back to the Tua Pek Kong temple, where you started the day-hike. And that should have end a one day hike downtown.

But the thing about one day hike in Kuching downtown... It's not enough.

Therefore, you will need a second day. Second day could start at the same place, but you shall walk towards the other side away from the river. You shall pass through some old shop houses, as well as a few schools. Saint Mary and Saint Thomas are single-sex schools set up during the Brooke's era. As you approached what seemed to be a field, then you've come to a point where you shall turn left towards one of the most celebrated museum in South East Asia. The Sarawak Museum houses one of the most complete display in the region, not to forget the amazing architecture and design that made one of the common postcards picture. Explore around the museum, you shall come across a small aquariom as well as a small park behind the museum. You can cross the road via the overhead bridge towards the extension of the museum, housing MORE museums, a.k.a. the Islamic Museum and what not. Or, you can hike further up crossing the cemetery next to the park, up toward the cooling road heading towards the Reservoir Park. With that alone, you'd be exhausted enough by the time you made the big turn back to the starting point.

Or, you can turn back and head to the river, and walk over to the other side of riverside that shall lead you to the modern malls... And you may find yourself walking along Padungan Street, deemed as the Chinatown of the cat city. Take some rest if you wish, there are lots of coffee shops with relaxing ambience along the historical shophouses.

Of course, a visit to Kuching will never be complete if you do not go to the Sarawak Cultural Village. The village is located some 1 hour drive from downtown. But visiting the village would pretty much expose you to what you can find in the state already. So yeah, you need one full day at the village. The village displays life size houses of the different ethnics in Sarawak. Chinese, Malay, Melanau, Bidayuh, Iban, Orang Ulu, Penan to name a few. It is also a must to go for the cultural show.

Learn about the cultures of the natives.

And then join in the fun at the game house. Try out the blow pipe. Put on the traditional costume and cam-whore. It shall be a memory not to be forgotten.

By the end of the day, what seemed to be quite a price to pay for the entrance fee, you will still be grateful for the visit. Yes, there's a special price for Malaysian. But I forgot how much it is. Students go in even cheaper.

Oh well... if there's local guide, *ahem ahem*, there's always the places further from downtown or the outskirt to explore. The wildlife. The temple. The new state library. The Cat Museum. The main campus of the University is also a nice place if you're looking for architecture eye-candy... Or, take a flight and head over to the UNESCO heritage in Sarawak, the Mulu National Park up North. Highly recommended (but quite expensive).

It is afterall, more than a paradise. :D

correction: Atap Kai is actually Carpenter Street. haha.

12 Jujus:

TZ said...

Dude... it's just the right time to have this post ... I'm planning my trip to Kuching next March...

So much to see in Kuching itself... don't know whether enough time for 6 days in Kuching and its surrounding :p

Perky said...

you've just made me miss home!!! Kuching is what I call paradise on earth, land of where-the-liquor-is-dirt-cheap and land of fresh seafood :)

Let's not forget that the Sarawak Cultural Village is the happening place to be for the Rainforest Music Fest in July :)

Oh btw, my late datuk was the chief resident of the Astana until his death in 2000 ;)

Medie007 said...

TZ, 6 days is enough la. :P even planed 2 full days for downtown kuching dy. :P

Perky, cucu Yang Di-Pertua yea? coolness... yea yea! THE RAINFOREST MUSIC FEST! I never went. :(

Sam said...

I love love love Kuching. Went there once, never forgot what it was like - and definitely want to plan a return trip!

Maybe should go with you the next time, you can be my tour guide! :P

JD Cole said...

are there a lot of stray cats on the streets~ ;)

*Anton* said...

Simply miss the laksa and kolok mee and hanging out at the esplanade.

+Ant+

Jaded_Jeremy said...

Goodness, I thought it's going to be a short write up since it covers only two days. I was duped! ;-)

foongpc said...

Thanks for this mini documentary. Will use it as a guide when I plan to go there next time : )

Medie007 said...

sam, sure. haha. its different frm kl isnt it? :P

jd cole, nop... amazingly nope... :P
anton, it's nice isnt it? laksa shack's swk laksa can nvr be compared. :P

Medie007 said...

jaded_jeremy, it's still relatively short... :P

twilight zone, am proud tat u use it a a guide. hehehe

jase said...

oh.. kuching.. did you visit any of the "special locations"? Like red light district shops?? :p

Nicholas Rashidee said...

i miss kuching d liao~ tsk tsk.. LOL