Kuching is the capital city of Sarawak which is part of East Malaysia and is located on the wider island of Borneo. Anyone who has been to Peninsular Malaysia will find that Sarawak has a very different feel, and Kuching in particular, thanks to its strategic location on the snake-like Sarawak River, is one of the prettiest spots in the region.
The city is known for being the home of a number of indigenous groups such as the Iban and the Dayaks, and people flock here to learn more about the unique culture found in this part of Malaysia. For many visitors, the highlight of a visit to Borneo is the chance to visit a traditional longhouse and see how people would have lived here in the days of old. History buffs can also spend time checking out the wide range of museums in town as well as the elegant buildings, many of which date from the colonial period.
You may also be surprised to find that Kuching is covered in statues of cats, and the reason for this is said to come from a miscommunication during the colonial period when the local people were asked the name of the city and thought that James Brooke, the first British Rajah of Sarawak, was pointing to a cat. As such they replied ‘kucing’, the Malay word for cat, and the rest is history. Whether or not the story is true, anyone who loves felines should make sure not to miss a trip to all the cat statues that adorn the city as well as the peerless Cat Museum.
Here are the 25 best things to do in Kuching:
1. Visit the Sarawak Cultural Village
Just a 35 minute drive outside of Kuching will take you to the Sarawak Cultural Village where you can learn all about the different indigenous groups that live in this part of Malaysia, as well as take in a range of local crafts and buildings.
There are live demonstrations which will teach you ancient techniques such as weaving, bamboo carving, and bead making and you can also tour this model village and check out all the architecture.
Just some of the sights on offer include a traditional Chinese farmhouse as well as a Penan hut, Iban longhouses, and a Malanau Tall House and the site sprawls over 17 acres so there is a huge amount to see and do here if you fancy an easy day trip out of the center of Kuching.
2. Stroll along the Kuching Waterfront
The most iconic part of Kuching, without a doubt, is its scenic waterfront which is where all the main action happens.
This part of town would have been used by warehouses in the days of old, but now you will find a pretty walking path that flanks the water and offers you amazing views over the main sights in town such as the Astana and the majestic Fort Margherita.
At night this is the place to see and be seen, and many young couples from Kuching choose this spot for a leisurely romantic stroll.
You will also find a selection of small cafes here and although the prices are a little higher than in other spots, the views more than make up for it.
3. Explore the Astana
Astana is the Malay word for Palace and this iconic building dates from 1870 during the time of Charles Brooke who was also known as the Second White Rajah of Sarawak.
The Astana is now the official home of the Governor of Sarawak but it was originally built as a wedding gift for Ranee Margaret, the wife of Charles Brooke.
The complex is made up of three different bungalow areas which are joined by walkways and the Astana enjoys panoramic views over the waterfront of Kuching.
As this is an official state residence however, visitors are not permitted to enter the Astana grounds and you will have to make do with admiring this historical gem from afar.
4. Check out the Cat Museum
Kuching means cat in Malay, and as you will soon discover on a trip here, this is a city obsessed with cats.
To that end, make your way to the Cat Museum where you will learn all about the historical and cultural significance of these felines with over 2,000 cat-related exhibits on show.
Some of the highlights include a cat in mummified form that hails from Egypt and is said to date back 5,000 years as well as a mounted example of a Bay Cat which is a kind of wild feline that is indigenous to the island of Borneo.
As if all of that wasn’t enough, there are even sections dedicated to the story of Hello Kitty as well as the Broadway show Cats.
Certainly if you are looking for a quirky attraction to visit on a rainy day in Kuching then this is hard to beat.
5. Visit Kuching Mosque
Kuching Mosque used to be known as the State Mosque of Sarawak so you may still hear it referred to by this name occasionally.
The original building would have been constructed as far back as 1847 and was made of wood, although it has since been upgraded and the building that stands now was completed in 1965. The mosque is decorated in pretty pink and white designs and is topped with a large gold dome that glints under the fierce Malaysian sun.
6. Learn some history at the Sarawak Museum
If you only have time to visit one museum in Kuching then the Sarawak Museum is an excellent pick.
The museum also has the claim to fame of being the oldest in Borneo and was founded in 1891 under Charles Brooke.
The museum is housed in a huge building that dates from the Victorian period and is, somewhat surprisingly, modeled on a traditional Normandy townhouse.
If you are interested in the culture of Sarawak, then the museum is a treasure trove of antiquities that include tribal weapons, models of longhouses, and a plethora of stuffed animals.
Another highlight is a model of the Niah Caves which are thought to be the source of the first human settlement in Borneo.
7. Shop at the Main Bazaar
The Main Bazaar is actually something of a misleading name as this actually refers to a row of traditional shop houses that line the main street in Kuching.
The shop houses face the water and this is the place to come if you are looking for souvenirs or traditional arts and crafts.
Some of the items you are likely to find here include beautiful beads and jewelry as well as textiles that show off the intricate weaving techniques of the indigenous groups here.
8. Visit Tua Pek Kong Chinese Temple
In additional to the many tribal communities here, Kuching also has a sizeable Chinese population and to that end you will find a number of Chinese buildings in the city including the Tau Pek Kong Chinese Temple which is an important place of worship for the Chinese community.
The temple is said to date from 1770 which makes it the oldest of its kind in Kuching and you can expect to find a riot of color here as well as intricate carvings that tell the stories of the various Chinese deities.
9. Travel to Bako National Park
Bako National Park has the claim to fame of being the oldest national park in Sarawak and sprawls across almost 3,000 hectares of land.
This however actually makes it one of the smallest parks in Borneo in terms of its area which means that it is easy to visit as part of a day trip from Kuching and you can still manage to see a lot of the park in a short space of time.
The park lies on the Sarawak and Bako rivers and has an impressive seven different eco-systems within its boundaries including towering cliff sides and mangrove swamps.
You will also find scrubby grasslands here and animals abound including proboscis monkeys, macaques, and bearded pigs.
10. Visit the Old Courthouse
The Old Courthouse is now actually the building that houses the official Sarawak Tourism Complex and dates from 1871. The complex is a great spot for history buffs to visit as it includes a wealth of interesting buildings such as a clock tower built during the colonial period in the Baroque style as well as a Renaissance Pavilion which is now used as the Textile Museum.
You can also explore the Round Tower which was constructed in 1886 and would have been a fort before becoming a dispensary as well as a memorial in honor of Charles Brooke.
The complex is conveniently located next to the main promenade in Kuching so it makes a good place to go for a stroll and take in the views over the water at the same time.
11. Admire the flowers at Gunung Gading National Park
Many people on a visit to Kuching travel to the nature reserves in the hope of seeing orang utans and other forms of indigenous wildlife.
At Gunung Gading National Park however, the big draw is the flora rather than the fauna as this is one of the spots where the famous and rare rafflesia flower grows.
Rafflesia are known for being the largest flowers in the world and they bloom at the park throughout the year, so there is a good chance that you will be able to spot some no matter which time of year you visit.
As well as admiring the flowers you can also spend time in the park checking out the lush jungle trails and taking in the pretty waterfalls and tinkling streams.
If you are feeling energetic then you can even scale the peak of Gunung Gading Mountain.
The park is around 2 hours away from Kuching so it is possible to visit it as part of a day trip.
12. Shop at the Sunday Market
The Sunday Market in Kuching is also often called Satok Market as it is located at Medan Niaga Satok and actually begins on Saturday and lasts until Sunday.
The market sprawls for several blocks and you will find a huge array of produce here including local delicacies such as salted fish and exotic fruits and vegetables.
There are also other treats on offer such as local honey and you can pick up other items like clothes, textiles, and toys.
13. Visit the Cat Statue
Kuching is covered in references to cats, but perhaps the most famous is the Cat Statue that sits at the entrance of the city.
The statue was built in the 1990s and soars to a height of 5 meters and resembles a large white feline with its paw raised.
If you happen to be here during holiday periods such as Christmas, the cat can also be found wearing a range of seasonal outfits.
14. Meet the turtles at Satang Turtle Island National Park
Satang Turtle Island National Park is made up of two islands in the form of Pulau Satang Besar and Pulau Satang Kecil which lie off the west coast of Sarawak.
You can visit the national park as part of a day trip from Kuching and the big draw here is the turtle conservation area and hatchery which is dedicated to the preservation of turtle eggs and their eventual release into the sea when they hatch.
You can also swim or snorkel off the islands and you will find a gorgeous underwater world here which is filled with pretty coral and an abundance of colorful fish.
15. Explore Fort Margherita
Fort Margherita was built in 1879 and is one of the most iconic structures in Kuching.
It would have been constructed in order to protect the city from an imminent attack and nowadays you will find the Police Museum housed here which has an fascinating collection of ancient weaponry that includes cannons, swords, pistols, and cannon balls.
The fort and museum are located across the river from the main Kuching Promenade and you will need to take a scenic boat ride to get to it which is half the fun.
16. Have something to eat at Kubah Ria Complex
Kubah Ria Complex is one of the newest shopping areas in Kuching and lies on the Sarawak River close to Satok Bridge.
The main reason to come here is to check out the food scene, as you will find some 45 different cafes and eateries dotted around the building where you can try a feast of local delicacies.
Some of these to look out for include Sarawak Laksa which is a kind of delicious soothing soup as well as Mee Sapi or noodles with beef.
If you are looking for a quick way to try a range of local dishes under one roof then this is an excellent pick.
17. Get out on the river
Kuching is bisected by the Sarawak River and one of the best things about this city is the river views.
With that in mind, you can hire a traditional wooden boat and driver and go for a leisurely trip along the river that will let you enjoy the views over Kuching from the water.
Trips are negotiable and can range from a quick 10 minute jaunt to a longer journey that will take you to the outskirts of the city.
18. Discover Semenggoh Nature Reserve
Semenggoh Nature Reserve is around 40 minutes outside of Kuching so it is easy enough to visit as part of a day trip.
The reason that visitors flock here is to see the orang utans and the center had a rehabilitation program that lasted for some 30 years.
The center sits of 2.6 square miles of land and as well as the graceful orang utans you will also find birds, mammals, and reptiles roaming all over the forests.
The orang utans in the center have been released and are considered to be wild, but there are several feeding sessions a day when the animals may come to one of the main feeding platforms and this is your best chance of seeing them on a trip here.
19. Visit St. Thomas’ Cathedral
You might not imagine that you would find a cathedral in Kuching but there is a sizeable Christian population here, hence the presence of St. Thomas’ Cathedral.
The building looks out over Padang Merdeka which means Independence Square and is easily spotted than to the ancient kapok tree than stands in front of it.
This is an Anglican cathedral which was built in 1954 and notable parts of the building to look out for include the barrel-vaulted ceiling which is painted bright crimson.
If you continue up the hill from the cathedral you will find the Bishop’s House that would have been the home of the first Anglican bishop in Kuching and is also one of the oldest buildings in town having been built in 1849.
20. Eat at the Open Air Market
Conveniently located on Jalan Market or Market Street is the Open Air Market which is something of a misnomer as it is actually made up of a covered area.
This is the place to come if you want to try traditional Malay and Chinese food and most of the market is made up of little stalls that focus on serving only one dish.
Some of the highlights here include traditional beef noodles and sio bi which are juicy pork dumplings.
21. Go kayaking on the Sarawak River
The Sarawak River runs through Kuching and if you are looking for an adventure then one of the best ways to explore it is to take to a kayak.
There are several companies such as Kuching Kayaking that will rent you a kayak and you can either paddle along the river or choose to go out into the open sea where you may even find pods of dolphins
22. Visit Annah Rais
Annah Rais is some 100 kilometers outside of Kuching and is made up of a traditional Bidayuh longhouse which lies at the base of the majestic Borneo Highlands.
There are 500 local residents that live here and you can visit the longhouse and see how people have lived and worked here for centuries.
There are actually three different longhouses that you can explore here called Kupo Terekan, Kupo Saba, and Kupo Sijo and you can go on a tour where you will learn about some of the history and traditions of these ancient buildings.
23. Enjoy the Sarawak Timber Museum
The Sarawak Timber Museum is an unusual venue that tells the story of the timber industry in this part of Borneo.
To this end you will find displays dedicated to explaining the history of the timber business as well as displays of traditional wooden objects and an explanation of forestry across the region.
If you want to know more about one of the economic backbones of Sarawak then this makes a fascinating visit.
24. Visit the Sarawak Islamic Museum
The Sarawak Islamic Museum lies close to the Tun Abdul Razak Hall and has some seven different galleries that are dedicated to different periods of Islamic art.
All the galleries face a leafy courtyard and you will find a huge range of artifacts such as a replica of the sword that is said to have belonged to the Prophet Muhammad.
If you like religious history then this is not to be missed on a visit to Kuching.
25. Explore the Indian Mosque
Some people may be surprised to know that there is a sizeable Tamil community in Kuching and the Indian Mosque is certainly one of the most unusual attractions here.
The building is located on the aptly named India Street (Jalan India) and you will find small emporiums here selling a wealth of heady spices.
On the same road lies the mosque which was built out of ironwood in 1836 by Tamil traders who settled in Kuching.