An island as diverse as its make-up, and Asia’s biggest, Borneo is divided between three countries – Malaysia, Brunei and Indonesia. Malaysian Borneo’s largest state Sarawak is situated in the northwest of the island, and home to all sorts of natural beauty. Base yourself from its capital Kuching – which boasts
the title of largest city in Borneo at only 431sqm – and venture out to discover some truly spectacular sights and awesome animal magic.
What to do
You don’t go to Borneo without paying a visit to its most famous residents, the orangutans. Borneo is one of only two places in the world you can still see orangutans – literally translated as 'people of the forest' – in their natural environment (the other is Sumatra). Only a 45-minute bus-ride away from Kuching city centre, one of the easiest places to get a good close-up is Semenggoh Nature Reserve (sarawakforestry.com; 15RMB entry). Home to orangutans that have been injured, orphaned or kept as illegal pets, Semenggoh rehabilitates them ready for re-release. Open twice a day for visitors during feeding times (9-10am and 3-3.30pm), here you can watch our fuzzy brothers of the forest swinging through the trees.
Another animal-centric day trip from Kuching is Bako National Park (sarawakforestry.com; 30RMB entry). The oldest national park in Sarawak, Bako is famous for its proboscis monkeys, who in turn are famous for their huge noses. The park’s 15-odd walking trails, of varying length and difficulties, lead to mangroves, beaches and stunning view points, with plenty of other wildlife to spot on the way, like silver leaf monkeys, wild boar, hermit crabs, green viper snakes and more. The easiest way to get to Bako is take the public bus Number 1 (5RMB one way) from the waterfront, which takes an hour to arrive at Bako Village. From there, it’s a 30-minute boat ride (62RMB return ticket) to a beach that is the park headquarters.
Kuching itself also offers more than just a base. Allegedly named after a local fruit called 'cat’s eye', Kuching is fondly known as 'Cat City'. It lives up to its name with giant cat statues dotted through the town centre, all sorts of kitty fodder for sale and a whole Cat Museum paying homage to furry creatures, making it a prime destination for all feline fanatics. Indefinably charming, the riverside town has a very relaxed vibe making it a good spot to wind down, with its open-air markets, a small Chinatown and some striking temples and mosques – and then there’s the food.
For breakfast in Kuching, there’s only one spot you want to be seen and that’s Chong Choon Cafe (Jalan Abell; open 6.30am-1pm daily), a small food court with a mix of Malay, Indian, Chinese and Muslim hawker stalls lining its edge. Go for the poh lam laksa (11RMB) – a spicy-sour noodle soup, with vermicelli noodles in a mild chilli broth of coconut milk, sour tamarind, lemongrass and garlic, and topped with chicken, egg, prawns, coriander and squeeze of lime. Try to arrive before 9am, or expect to wait a bit for a table.
In the evening, follow the crowds towards the neon lights of Top Spot Food Court (Jalan Padungan; open midday-11pm daily). Despite its unlikely location on the sixth floor of a multi-storey car park, this open food court is famous for its seafood and always busy, with around ten stalls catering hundreds of tables at any one time. Try the Ling Loong Seafood stall, the offerings are reasonably priced and you can have ’em cooked any which way you fancy – fried in chilli and garlic or with soy sauce and ginger, deep-fried in batter and more.
How to get there
Return flights from Beijing to Kuching (with a stopover in Kuala Lumpur) start from around 2,000RMB on airasia.com.
Where to stay
The Lime Tree Hotel (317 Jalan Abell; limetreehotel.com) isn’t anything fancy to look at, but the rooms are comfortable, clean and reasonably priced from 200RMB a night. The Radioman Heritage Hostel (1 Jalan Wayang; 082 238 801) is a classic backpacker hostel, with bunks from 30RMB per night and a few private rooms. You can also book stays in traditional longhouses. Contact Sarawak Tourism Board (sarawaktourism.com) for tour
and booking information.