Kuching, the capital of Sarawak, is small enough to cover on foot and is a good base for exploration of the mysterious island of Borneo. Set along the banks of the Sarawak River in the north-west of the island, until recently Kuching's appeal was limited to eco and adventure tourists eager to get away from it all in the rainforests and mangrove swamps of Borneo's back country.
Nowadays, Kuching is Sarawak's main visitor destination with a reputation as a haven for tourists, and with its international airport just a few miles away, this city has become an important gateway into East Malaysia. Tourist information about this unique, otherworldly island can be gathered at the visitors information centre within Chinatown's Sarawak Tourism Complex. This outlet is located in the Old Courthouse on the Jalan Tun Abang Haji Openg, next to the Brooke Memorial and close to the Square Tower.
During the day, the shophouses within the Chinatown district are a hive of activity, with shopkeepers hawking their goods to tourists looking for a souvenir with a difference. If sightseeing is firmly at the top of your agenda, then Chinatown is a good place to start, with its oriental temples – the Hong San Si, the Siang Ti Miao and the Tua Pek Kong temples. A stroll along India Street (Jalan India) is also in order, being home to plentiful restaurants and an adjoining produce market on the Jalan Gambier. Presiding over a large section of the riverside of the Sungai Sarawak is the Astana, a grand mansion encircled by landscaped gardens, where visitors are welcome to relax and enjoy the views.
Many of the most obvious landmarks and tourist attractions live on the southerly banks of the Sungai Sarawak river, while the westerly side of the city is dominated by the Kuching City Mosque, which is better known as the Divisional Mosque and features distinctive green and white architecture. This part of Kuching is where you will find a cluster of markets and museums, as well as some useful bus stations. Many places of interest fall between the Divisional Mosque and the famous Great Cat statue, which celebrates the city's long association with cats. Further smaller feline statues line the waterfront, close to the markets, earning Kuching its affectionate nickname of 'Cat City'. To get a good idea of the layout of the city, pay a visit to the observation deck at the Civic Centre, where the views are hard to improve upon. The elevated Fort Margherita provides an additional popular vantage point.
There are a few museums awaiting tourists in Kuching, including the obligatory Cat Museum. This particular attraction is located on the northerly riverbanks and within the contemporary Dewan Bandaraya Kuching Utara (DBKU) building, which functions as the North City Hall and is often compared to a giant shuttlecock. At the Sarawak Museum, information and artefacts illustrate the lives of indigenous communities and their unusual body piercings. Both the Islamic Museum and the Niah Cave Complex and Archaeology Museum warrant some time, as does the Sarawak Art Museum and its extensive collection of modern and primitive art works.
If you have left yourself with enough time to get out and about, then you will need to plan your day trips carefully, since there are lots of options to choose between. The beaches at the Bako National Park are always appealing to families on holiday in Sarawak, as is the Santubong Peninsula and its Damai Beach. At just over and hour and a half from Kuching, the seaside village of Sematan is an additional coastal delight, with its peaceful beaches and tropical palm trees. The offshore island of Pulau Lakei also offers an impressive beach front, which is accompanied by some very old rock paintings and coastal treks.