Cat City, Borneo

The Kuching experience began with one of the most fantastic sunsets I’ve seen in a long time. The town, one of the largest on Borneo at nearly 1 million people, actually feels quite small in the core area. It was not a long walk from our hotel at the edge of downtown to the riverfront boardwalk. As the sun set, vibrant colours spilled across the sky, painting the clouds and the deep blue air everything from pink to violet and beyond. It was magical, the Borneo sky. Kuching is the capital of Sarawak state, one of the largest parts of Malaysia and one of the historically richest parts of Borneo. The island itself is the 3rd largest in the world, but for the most part is primeval jungle, extensive mangrove and unfortunately vast expanses of palm oil plantations as well. Kuching in Malay means ‘cat’, hence the nickname Cat City, something the locals play up with cat statues and a benevolent attitude towards stray cats. Actually, the Prophet Mohammed sang the praises of cats for their role in pest control, which is why cats are treated well in most Muslim countries. Kuching has a lot to offer. There is the Rainforest Music Festival, a three day world music fest in a jungle park. We came here for Sunshine’s birthday, specifically because it coincided with the music fest. World music festival + exotic island + monkeys + food = birthday awesomeness. There are ecotours galore, everything from native Dayak longhouses to monkey-spotting in the mangroves to trekking in a number of different jungle climates. There is also food, although this wasn’t the primary focus of our visit. Sarawak laksa is the local variant on the Malaysian classic, and our hotel featured a build-your-own-laksa at its breakfast buffet. We had midin, a local river fern, sautéed with belacan, which is a fermented shrimp paste. There was kolo mee, something like a dry wonton mee (simple dish with both wontons and noodles). We even found some Filipino food, which is not common in Malaysia. It provided a special birthday meal: bicol express served from a pumpkin, adobo pork and for a local touch some midin belacan. We spent a week in Kuching, operating at a leisurely pace. The last night of the music festival, we found out why they call it a rainforest. The skies threatened for the two-hour buildup to the start of the music. No sooner did the first band take the stage when the clouds opened and a three-hour deluge ensued. This actually took the edge off the crowd, with everybody very happy and nobody too worried about the wet. We had ponchos set up at our camp, protecting both us and our possessions (seats, cameras, etc). The rain gave the whole show an exceptional energy, despite the grounds becoming one giant mud pit. As nature goes, we actually did not see very much. We tried, but did not have our nature luck. We saw a few different troops of endangered proboscis monkeys, but mainly from a distance. There was a tiny snake, some bugs, fireflies but little else. Sunshine got attacked by a macaque, the little bastard wanting to steal her lunch. That was not cool, not at all. Borneo is a place to return to. There are no big name attractions, but that is part of the attraction. It is still, by and large and despite some sprawling urban developments, the back end of nowhere. It feels remote. The skies look like remote island skies. You are a hop, skip and a jump from New Guinea, the Solomons and right into the Pacific, yet at the same time you’re a stone’s throw from the Philippines and from Singapore’s modernity. There is something unique about being there that makes you want to return. Travel Notes Lime Tree Hotel. We stayed 7 nights in the executive deluxe room. Loved the hotel and the room. The rooftop bar is a real highlight, with a stunning sunset view over the river and Mount Santubong. The Rainforest World Music Festival was great, highly recommended if you are in the area. We flew Air Asia. For more detailed info on food and excursions, check Sunshine’s Trip Advisor trip report.

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