12th October 2017 – 15th October 2017
Our plan for Sarawak was simple, base ourselves in Kuching for a week and do trips from there. There would be far less logistical planning than Sabah, but also gave us plenty of time to sample the culinary delights of a city that is talked about in the same breath as Penang. A bold claim indeed and one that I would enjoy putting to the test!
On our first day, once we had eventually surfaced after the long day of travelling before, nourishment was our primary concern. This was no time for googling specific dishes and where best to try them, this was a time for eating as close to the hostel as possible. Little did we know, but the restaurant opposite is one of “the” places to try Kolo Mee, one of the most famous dishes of Kuching.
Noodle Descendents is as famous for its queue as it is for its noodles, but thankfully we didn’t have to wait to be seated. I opted for the Mee Kosong/Soup combo. The soup was subtly flavoured and contained a few different cuts of pork, fish balls and preserved vegetables. It was tasty, but didn’t even come close to the noodles, which were stunning. Mee Kosong means plain noodles, but I would say that this name does them a considerable disservice. Perfectly textured noodles were tossed with a light dressing from a mystery couple of ingredients, then topped with crispy onions and green veg. It doesn’t sound like much, but I loved it and it set the bar very high for our time in Kuching.
After our late breakfast, we had some chores to do. The most important of which was definitely laundry, our stuff absolutely hummed after getting so wet in Danum Valley! We also sketched out a bit of plan for our time in Sarawak. We settled on Semenggoh Nature Reserve, Kuching Wetlands, the Wind Caves and Bako National Park as the places we wanted to visit.
Having had a late breakfast, we weren’t all that hungry around lunchtime. However, we did find it in ourselves to try out a little bakery pretty much next door to Noodle Descendents, Abee Traditional Buns. We weren’t really sure what to have, so we opted for steamed buns as a tried and tested option, then got a garlic bun to try something a bit different. The steamed buns were fairly unextraordinary, but the garlic bun was incredible. It would go on to be a staple snack for our time in Kuching (on days when they weren’t already sold out when we got there!).
On our second day in Kuching, chores done, we ventured out on a morning trip to Semenggoh Nature Reserve. It was a similar setup to Sepilok, an Orangutan sighting was all but guaranteed, but the Orangutans that you see are only semi-wild. They live out in the rainforest, but return to the sanctuary for feeding twice day, if they are so inclined. The major difference was a chance to see the large male orangutans with the face plates, but sadly one of these didn’t turn up on the day that we we visited. On the plus side, we did get to see another six orangutans, including two babies. We also saw a whole host of different species of squirrel. The experience lacked the magic of the wild orangutan that we had seen in Danum Valley, but it was still a pleasure to see them up close and for so long.
Our next trip out wasn’t until the following evening, so we had plenty of time to explore the city of Kuching (and its food scene!) before then. Food wise, in that time, I managed to sample Sarawak Laksa, Kuching’s iconic Laksa variation. I tried this at Chong Choon Café, as it was supposed to be “the” place to have it. I didn’t have the dish anywhere else to compare, but I can confirm that it was a stunning breakfast. A rich broth, deep crimson in colour and sour from tamarind, covered rice vermicelli noodles, some large prawns and tender chicken. It was the perfect breakfast.
After breakfast, we visited the Sarawak museum, shortly before it closed for refurbishment for a fascinating glimpse into Sarawak’s infamous head hunting past.
In the evening, we went on a tour of the Kuching Wetlands, a national park that is mostly made up of mangrove forest. As such, the tour was by boat. Our wildlife hit-list on this tour was proboscis monkeys, crocodiles, Irrawaddy dolphins and fireflies.
We saw a crocodile very early on in the tour, our attention drawn to it by another boat that had stopped by the shore, always a tell tale sign that they have spotted something. It was only a small one, but it could seriously move. When it decided that it had had enough of being ogled at, it sprinted into the water in a flash (and a splash!).
Our search for the rare Irrawaddy dolphin was fruitless, largely as expected as their numbers dwindle rapidly outside of Bangladesh and India. Our search for the bizarre proboscis monkey was much more successful. I spotted one pretty much as soon as we returned to the mangroves from the open ocean, my eyes honed for primate spotting after Sabah. One soon turned into a dozen, as we realised that whole bank was teeming with monkeys. We watched them and they watched us, while mudskippers and fiddler crabs crawled the muddy banks between us.
We proceeded up to a fishing village to learn a bit about the history of the area and to wait for nightfall. As night fell, we began our journey back to the jetty and the banks were soon twinkling as fireflies flashed in the trees. On the way back, our guide somehow spotted a crocodile near the bank, with his torch. The rest of us on board could barely see it even after the boat had got closer and it had been pointed out to us!
The third of our day trips from Kuching, ahead of our longer trip to Bako National Park (which I will cover in a separate post), was to the cave systems to the South West of Kuching at Fairy Caves and Wind Caves. The buses out to Bau, the nearest town to the caves were far more rustic than the ones that we had taken to Semenggoh and the route was less straight forward. We would need to work out the lay of the land when we arrived in Bau to see how we could get to the caves themselves. As it turned out, we had just missed a bus to the fairy caves when we arrived and the next one wasn’t for two hours. We stopped for a spot of lunch in the hawker centre next to Bau bus station and tried to work out a plan.
Given that the last bus back to Kuching was around 3pm, we had to cancel our planned visit to the fairy caves. Instead, we decided just to walk the 40 minute journey to the Wind Caves, past both a temple and a lake en route.
The caves are almost entirely surrounded by rainforest, with trees creaking with squirrels and all manner of bird life. There are three walking routes through the caves, along boardwalks, but there is no lighting inside the cave. Luckily, we had been forewarned of this, so had torches with us. The lack of lighting (and other visitors) made for a fairly spectacular experience inside the cave. As we walked through the huge main chamber of the cave system we could hear (and feel!) bats swooshing past our heads. A flick of the torch to the ceiling of the cave exposed just how many bats were inside the cave. The ceiling was absolutely crawling with them! Every so often, we would turn off our torches and just stand alone in the cave. It was completely pitch black and the only noises were the squeaks from the bats and the constant dripping of water that had formed the caves in the first place. As with so much of what we had done in Borneo, it was humbling to experience first hand and well worth the journey.
That evening, in Kuching, I had one of the most surreal experiences of the trip. As a Brighton fan, I am all to used being looked at like a lunatic when walking into pubs in London and asking for our game on the TV. In Kuching, so many miles from home, I walked into a tiny local restaurant and our game against Everton was on before we even arrived! What a difference it makes being in the Premier League! The locals seemed to enjoy watching my reaction to the game, particularly when I sent a chair flying across the room when Knockaert scored! We didn’t manage to hold on for the win, after Rooney converted a late penalty for Everton, but it had been an unforgettable day nonetheless.