Guide: Must-Eat, Must-See, Must-Do in Kuching, Malaysia
Mar 24, 2020

Guide: Must-Eat, Must-See, Must-Do in Kuching, Malaysia

Slurp up a piping hot bowl of Sarawak laksa noodles in the delicious city of Kuching

It’s a lively city here in Kuching, the capital of Malaysia's biggest state of Sarawak. You can sit in quiet longboat rides through ancient rivers, score best bargains at Satok, the city’s biggest weekend market and slurp up a piping hot bowl of spicy-sour Sarawak laksa noodles, one that celebrity chef Anthony Bourdain hailed as “Breakfast for Gods”. 

So, where shall we start? 

Must-Eats

Slurp up spicy-sour vermicelli broth in an addictive bowl of Sarawak Laksa 

 

Laksa, a coconut-based sambal noodle soup tastes different in many parts of Southeast Asia. In Sarawak, the northwestern state of Malaysia's Borneo, laksa is a national treasure, a warming red spicy-sour rice noodle bowl with a coconut broth that is at once spicy, sour, bright, and full of flavour. And you know who's a fan too? Celebrity chef Anthony Bourdain. He even called it “Breakfast of Champions”. 

Find it at hawker centres and roadside stalls throughout the island.  

Eat buttery sweet Kek Lapis, or brown layered cake at a historic Malay village

Photo: Sarawak Tourism

Connected by boat to downtown Kuching, the peaceful untouched Malay village of Kampung Boyan is the place to go to check out elaborate old and new heritage architecture. But the thing not to miss is the food. Try more than a slice of buttery moist kek lapis, or sweet layered cake

Foodies say Kek Lapis, or Kueh Lapis (the layered cake) is a must-eat snack in Indonesia, though it's also eaten in Singapore and Malaysia as a dessert. It commonly has 18 layers, made with butter, sugar and flour and is an irresistible treat. 

And for a truly local experience, take the Penambang, or river taxi to the village. Once there, walk around and stop for a colourful spread of traditional Malay snacks and seafood. You might want to get dinner instead of lunch. Eat slowly and enjoy the sunset, and at night, the twinkling views of Kuching's skyline. 

Sip on local rice wine, or Tuak, that goes from sweet to bitter

The gentle Bidayuh of Sarawak are famous for their hospitality and tuak or rice wine. Photo: TEH ENG KOON/AFP via Getty Images

They say that no two Tuaks are the same.

Just like how wine is more than juice of a grape, Tuak is much more than the juice of rice. It’s sweet if you add sugar, but and dry without it. 

The key ingredient is ragi, a ball-shaped mixture of enzymes and yeast, which is responsible for different Tuak. Honey is sometimes added to create a mead-like taste. If you like it bitter, your Tuak will likely contain ingredients like ginger and galangal (more citrusy and peppery than ginger).

How to best drink it? Cold, where it becomes sweeter and less bitter. If you like it dry though, have it at room temperature.

It’s said that the best Tuak can be tried at longhouses belonging to the Iban, where some village elders age it for 20 years! It's also their drink of choice. In the past, glutinous rice used in Tuak will be first cooked in bamboo, giving it an earthy, mellow fragrance. 

Must-See

Be wowed by Instagrammable temple architecture in Chinatown

 

The Hong San Si Temple is said to date back to nearly 1840, almost 200 years ago. In 2004 though, the Hokkien Chinese temple was fully restored with intricate and colourful rooftop dragons. 

If you go in April, join in the massive crowds in a big celebration of Kong Teck Choon Ong, the temple's deity. Get immersed in a grand and lively procession of big floats, elaborate and loud lion dances and a whole lot of picture-worthy snaps to keep. 

Hunt for best bargains in the city's biggest bustling weekend market

Photo: Malaysia.Travel

First up, know that the best time to go is Saturday night or early Sunday morning.

Medan Niaga Satok, or the Satok Weekend Market is Kuching's biggest and most bustling market, 3km from the city's downtown. It's most fun in the weekend, when local sellers set up shop displaying fruit, vegetables all sorts of hynoptic herbs and spices. 

You know you're in the right place if it smells of fresh ginger, grassy coriander and sweet bananas, mangoes and custard apples. If you're game, you can even try the infamous durian, a pungent bitter-sweet thorny fruit that everyone either loves or hates. Usually, you can get a good portion of groceries for RM1 or 2 at the wet and dry market.

If you need to sit down though, the market also houses a plaza, cafeteria, and food court where you can tuck in to lovely local Malay food. 

Get there in 15 minutes by taxi from Waterfront Kuching, or various buses. More details here. Your landmark is the front of the oldest mosque in Kuching, where when you see it, keep on walking and follow the scent of herbs and spices. 

Must-Do

Stroll past city lights along the breezy waterfront

 

What's a city without a skyline? The best place to take in the views is at the city's centrepiece, the Waterfront Promenade. Go towards the evening to enjoy great views of the setting sun and the breeze that comes along. 

It's a good idea to go in the day too. For it's then where the sea-fronting space gets lively. Food stalls spring up, and you won't be able to miss rows of arts and crafts up for sale, sometimes at bargain prices. You might even find a good deal of eye-catching and skillfully woven textiles and handicraft, made straight from the highlands of Borneo's Kalimantan.

The tree-shaded walkways are spacious too, giving you space to walk, shop, eat and simply be still.

Enjoy quiet longboat rides through ancient rivers

 

You probably won't be able to miss this one. The longboat is the hallmark of Kuching, and indeed of Sarawak. Take a slow ride down ancient rivers, and if you're keen-eyed, spot wildlife in the surrounding jungles.

Normally, longboat rides are also accompanied by visits to the Iban, Sarawak's tribal settlements which you can only get to by the river. 

The best period to go is in May and August when the chance of rain is lowest. Otherwise, Borneo is a very rainy island prone to monsoon. And if the river is choppy, you might be in for another kind of adventure. 

Dress up and mingle in a Sarawak tribal welcome with Borneo's Iban

A dancer wearing an Iban warrior traditional costume. Photo: MOHD RASFAN/AFP via Getty Images

Dress in beautiful bold primary colours and hand-woven fabrics of the Iban, and get ready to jiggle and mingle. 

In longhouse gatherings, the most popular dances are the Ngajat Ngelalu Pengabang, or Welcoming Dance, and Ngajat Bujang Berani, or Warrior Dance. Don't be intimidated by the full tribal garb of the Iban, you get to wear them too.

Another commonly performed ceremony is Miring, or the Offering Ceremony, led by elders. 

The Iban’s people, the largest tribe in Sarawak, are known as the headhunters of Borneo, with skulls to show. Their homes are called a longhouse, and it's a thing to marvel at- a number of rooms put together with a common ruai, or living room area with totem carvings and other ethnic styles. 

This guide is based on one of seven international cities explored in TLC’s ongoing blind-date adventure series, Travel for Love, which premiered 14 Feb 2020. It sees five singles travel Southeast Asia seeking love, meeting locals, and tasting the food of each city.

  • Catch a new episode each Friday, 9.25pm on TLC 
  • See interviews of the cast and behind-the-scenes features here 
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