Eastern Malaysia’s Kuching, capital of the state of Sarawak on the island of Borneo, is worth a visit if you’re in search of a slower pace of life than you find in the nation’s other sprawling metropolises like Kuala Lumpur. Lying alongside the Sarawak River, it was originally known as Sarawak before becoming the City of Kuching in 1872.
During World War II Kuching was defended for its airfield and access to an important Dutch airfield nearby. While it was ultimately surrendered to the Japanese for the last four years of the war, the city and its buildings escaped widespread damage and have done better out of renovation over the years than other parts of Malaysia. Today Kuching is famed for its heritage and well worth a visit to discover its impressive architecture as much as anything else.
On the heritage trail, the Sarawak Museum is a must visit for its exhibitions of the state’s history, and other places to hit on the museum circuit include the Sarawak Islamic Museum, the Chinese History Museum, the Kuching Cat Museum (Kuching means ‘cat’ in the Malay language) and the local timber and textile museums
Don’t leave Kuching without stopping by the Astana, the former palace of the White Rajahs who founded the Kingdom of Sarawak which existed from 1841 to 1946. Today the palace serves as the office of the governor of Sarawak and is not normally open to the public, though access to its landscaped gardens is possible.
The 1879 Fort Margherita, built in the style of an English castle and intended to protect the city from pirate attacks, is also an example of one of Kuching’s important historical monuments and ought to figure on your itinerary – its shining white colour all lit up, it is also particularly stunning viewed from Kuching’s waterfront at night.
Kuching is small enough to walk around but has enough to keep you busy for a few days. It is a short flight away from Kuala Lumpur with low-cost airline AirAsia. Note that Sarawak controls its own immigration procedures separately from mainland Malaysia, so an entry permit may be needed in addition to a regular Malaysian visa; however, for UK nationals this can generally be stamped into your passport at the airport in the same way as a regular Malaysian ninety-day entry stamp.
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