Thanks to the recently-concluded ASEAN Tourism Forum 2014 (ATF 2014), I got to meet one of Malaysia’s most alluring destinations—Kuching, an above-ordinary travel destination with more than enough to offer the above-ordinary tourist. As a destination, Kuching’s travel and tourism strengths were showcased behind the backdrop of ATF 2014, which is Southeast Asia’s foremost travel and tourism annual event.
As a frequent traveler, the airport experience form part of my first impression of the city I am visiting. The answer to a very simple question, How did I get off the plane?, speaks volume not only for the airport but ultimately for the destination. It has been my experience that a clear indication of a world-class airport is one that welcomes its tourists via a jet-bridge, as opposed to less-developed airports that more often than not require deplaning the old-fashion way—via stairs.
On that count, Kuching International Airport has in place an infrastructure that is topnotch, indicative of the city’s capabilities in travel and tourism and readiness as the gateway to the entire state of Sarawak in receiving tourists in droves. This includes a building that has the manpower and utilizes technology to bring modern-day conveniences that is to be expected from a world-class airport.
What sets Kuching apart from my recent experiences in Bangkok, Tokyo and Seoul? In Kuching, everyone speaks English. Fluently. Nothing surprising there, as Malaysia is a Commonwealth nation that was once under British rule. Nonetheless, this little factoid is a major variable that can either make or break a trip.
In my case, the ease of communication made it possible to go beyond the common tourist trails, ultimately making it possible for me to spend the days I was in Kuching as if I were a local. This turned out to be an easy task, as Kuching is a melting pot of a multitude of cultures and ethnicities. All of my exchanges with the staff at Merdeka Hotel and all the instances when I had to take a taxi were conducted as if I were a local. In short, no lost in translation episodes to report.
The ease of communication gave way to ease of transportation which ultimately gives Kuching a compelling case as an ideal place for exploration. While the word exploration is subject to various interpretations, Kuching offers so much in terms of attractions, beauty and culture (In short, ABC), there’s no denying its place as one of the world’s most welcoming destinations today.
Whether you are an urban dweller or a rural explorer, Kuching offers a plethora of choices that will keep you occupied and, more importantly, ever curious. Central Kuching is friendly to both low-budget and high-end tourists with its malls and retail shops alongside cafes, clubs and restaurants that bear familiar names like Starbucks and McDonalds to local shops that help complete the city’s retail make-up.
Dining in Kuching, as an example, has a flair that is indicative of the city’s cultural landscape, which boasts several different ethnicities, making it a truly unique experience. So, the layers of dining in Kuching is an adventure in itself, given that the so-called local cuisine has several versions. Malay, Chinese, Islamic, Christian are some of the influences that give dining in Kuching enough variety for the gastronomy inclined tourists to come back to Kuching on multiple trips to try all that the city has to offer.
Kuching is distinctly a green city. Urban Kuching life is nestled in a setting that has one glaring attribute—it is kind to the environment. There are no traffic jams, no noise or any kind of pollution to report; just a very green environment.
Therein lies the beauty of Kuching—nature that offers the best of all worlds. If I wanted to explore the city, I needed only to step outside of my hotel to do so. On the other hand, if nature exploration is the day’s calling, there are two places that everyone who goes to Kuching must visit—Sarawak Cultural Center and Semenggoh Nature Reserve.
A visit to Sarawak Cultural Center is about 45 minutes by car from the city center. The reward for a visit is quite immeasurable. Sarawak Cultural Center is essentially a village that showcases several ethnic groups that have comprised the population of Sarawak at some point in history. Each of these ethnic groups is represented by a house that depicts their distinct characteristics and lifestyle.
Bidayuh Longhouse, Iban Longhouse, Orang Ulu Longhouse, Melanau Tall House, Malay Town House and Chinese Farm House are all alike, but at the same time distinct to the particular group they represent. For the most part, each house offers some hints of a tale that tells of an adventurous past. The longhouses tell stories of battles and conquests (remains, skulls and other evidences are aplenty) of headhunters of years past in Sarawak. There’s the ubiquitous display of weaponry, silverware, coins as well as arts and crafts in every house, which punctuate the lineage each longhouse represents.
The Melanau, for instance, were very much influenced by magic in their day-to-day lives. A section called “healing hall” located inside the Melanau Tall House shows various leaves and instruments for “each sickness” was believed by the Melanau to be “peculiar to itself.” The Melanau Tall House offers a glimpse of this “healing” process.
Each house in the Sarawak Cultural Center has a definite story to tell that is contingent upon whose house it represents. This much is evident from the eyes of someone who was just passing through, brief as it may seemed. Watch eTN 2.0’s iheartSarawak presentation for a look at my visit:
A traveler who finds nature fascinating will certainly find enough superlatives to describe a visit to the jungles of Borneo, as I did via the Semenggoh Nature Reserve, whereby orangutans at feeding time (9:00am and 3:00pm daily) took the center stage at do exactly that—eat. Evidently, these orangutans are Sarawak’s most attractive feature given the hordes of tourists that flock to them on the daily, come rain or shine. As is to be expected, these tourist attractions are more playful and are more inclined to pose for pictures on a sunny day. On a rainy day, just like my visit, not so much. Even so, plenty (okay, four out of the 28 inhabitants/orangutans) showed up to flex their muscle as they swung and clung from rope to rope, eating bananas and cracking coconuts for a juicy treat. Check out part two of eTN2.0’s iheartSarawak presentation for a glimpse of Semenggoh Nature Reserve:
Semenggoh Nature Reserve, managed by the Sarawak Forestry Corporation, currently has under its watch “almost 1,000 endangered mammals, birds and reptiles from dozens of different species.” It is located approximately 15 miles away from the city center, making a visit a malleable trip for small or big groups of spectators.
All in all, my trip to Kuching and its surrounding environs made good on the Sarawak Convention Bureau’s promise of delivering as a destination where “business and adventure meet.” Indeed, the business of hosting ATF2014 in Kuching resulted in varying degrees of adventures that were more or less brilliantly executed. From the exhibition floor of the Borneo Convention Center to the jungles of Borneo in Sarawak, my trip to Kuching was a breeze. It was truly as easy as ABC.