March 1, 2009. First day in Kuching, Sarawak. Media trip.
It was almost 11 am by the time we were done being welcomed and then taken to our hotel to check in.
There was a bit of a confusion at the hotel, though. The staff was unable to check us in for some reason, so we left all our luggages in a holding room and went out for breakfast.
Kenny Sia, being born and bred in Kuching, was our appointed guide for the day.
Our first stop: Chong Choon Cafe, Kenny’s favourite Sarawak laksa outlet.
You can get a bowl of Sarawak laksa there for RM3.50 (SGD1.45 or USD0.95). That’s freaking awesome, considering what you get:
Maybe what we had was the RM4.50 version (I’m not sure) but, still!!
Sarawak laksa is unlike any other laksa you know, so it’s best to eat it without any kind of expectation.
Without comparing it to anything, it is good. I can’t really describe the taste. (Mostly because I’m starting to forget, after almost three weeks.) I remember more clearly that I want to eat it again.
The soup is kinda sweet and salty at the same time (and mildly sour if you squeeze in lime juice, as Kenny recommends), with a hint of coconut fragrance.
Kenny actually performed a demo of squeezing in the lime and stirring the laksa up. I wish I had videotaped it. It was pretty funny.
To top that off, we had the Teh C Special, another Sarawak specialty.
The bottom layer is gula melaka (palm sugar), middle layer evaporated milk and top layer tea.
You have to stir it up before drinking it.
Note that the middle mug is a regular-size mug, which means that the left mug is a giant mug.
The drink rocks. It seems easy to make, so I don’t know why nobody’s selling this in Singapore.
Breakfast done, Kenny took us to the Kuching Courthouse.
Photo of Javad taking a photo of the Kuching Courthouse.
It was built ages ago by James Brooke, the first foreigner to rule Sarawak after inheriting it as a reward for quelling a rebellion.
This guy in the stone, Charles Brooke, is his nephew, who took over rule after him.
Okay, end of history lesson. It’s not a courthouse anymore. It’s just a heritage building now. More photos!
Actually, that’s all. I don’t really like to take touristy photos cos, like, it’s lame.
So we put a spin on the regular tourist snapshot.
At the Kuching Waterfront, we took a series of group photos striking different poses depending on whose camera it was taken with.
On my camera, cutesy poses:
From left: Juraida (High Comm of M’sia), Javad (Gadget3), Soh (SPH), Lili (Women’s Weekly), Me, Wai Kit (NTUC), Nicholas (Tourism M’sia).
On Kenny’s camera, we were supposed to do outlandish, crazy poses but I think everyone was tired of posing or out of ideas by then.
Here’s a picture of Kenny trying to flag down a boat to take us across the river:
A boat cometh:
There are tons of boats plying the Kuching River to take locals to and fro. There are villagers living across the river, as you will see in a while.
It’s a rather interesting blend. On one side of the river, you have city skysrapers. On the other side, kampong huts dot the landscape.
I think the eclectic mix contributes a lot to the overall charm of Kuching.
Anyway, we got on the boat and I started to camwhore while everyone was pre-occupied with taking postcard photos.
The Kuching Waterfront is one giant postcard. Even though the water is somewhat murky, there is a rather sublime peace about the place that makes you want to sit there all afternoon and gaze off into the horizon.
There’s the kampong I was talking about.
I wonder what it’s like living in one of those huts.
Inside the boat:
Another touristy photo:
On the other side of the river, we ran into a pair of newly-weds in pretty wedding threads! Awwwwww.
Kenny wanted to show us the Astana (the equivalent of our Istana) but we weren’t allowed to go in.
It’s also called Fort Margherita. Charles Brooke had built it for his wife, Margaret, as a bridal gift in 1870. Isn’t that sweet? I doubt anyone would build me so much as a tent, nevermind a whole mansion.
Maybe a Lego one.
We walked around a bit while Kenny gave us history lessons, and then we took the boat back to the city side of the river.
Within walking distance is Main Bazaar, the heart of Kuching. It houses a long row of Chinese-style shophouses, most of them touting souvenirs.
Outside the main shops, you can see many stalls hawking stuff that no one in our group dared or cared to buy.
The highlight: A product called Gambir Sarawak Asli.
It’s little pieces of tree bark from the gambir tree, traditionally used to sooth toothaches and today used as an aphrodisiac.
I don’t get how an anesthetic could become an aphrodisiac, though. Aren’t the two somewhat contradictory?
Other dodgy looking wares:
We were also introduced to the Kuching version of kueh lapis, called kek lapis there. It’s very colourful and comes in all sorts of flavours. I think they’re all home-made because no two stalls featured the exact same pattern-flavour combinations.
I will talk more about the cake in my later posts. What caught my eye then was the kueh lapis seller, a very young girl.
Kenny found a replica of a tribal weapon that I later learned was a blowpipe, and he made me pose with it.
Well, at least it wasn’t touristy.
One remarkable thing about Kuching city is that it’s really quiet. It was a Sunday afternoon and there were hardly any people around.
I think Kenny said something about the locals preferring to stay indoors or, if they have to go out, preferring to drive than walk, which also explains why the streets are pretty clean.
I like that. The lack of crowds adds to the appeal of the place.
We followed our bazaar tour with a quick visit to the oldest Chinese temple in Kuching.
And then it was lunch time. Barely two hours after breakfast!
We didn’t have a choice, though. Kenny was only given about four or five hours to take us around and we wanted to try as many local delicacies as possible.
Next up: Kuching kolo mee. Aaaaaaaah!!
But I’ll leave that for next time because this entry has gotten too long and I’m getting sleepy.
To be continued…