Kuching is described as "without a doubt the most pleasant and interesting city in Borneo and one of the most attractive cities in South East Asia" by the Lonely Planet. This I can attest to. The river cruise is one of the many day attractions available.
The South Bank is now a destination on its own with a Chinese pagoda, towering palm trees, playgrounds for children, green spaces and ornate light posts along the harbour. The walk along the harbour has been paved and landscaped to provide a lively promenade at the water edge right in the center of the city. We stroll over to the pier from our hotel where we will be staying overnight.
The river boat sets off in the early evening from the south bank of the Sungai Sarawak River. We have the whole lower deck to ourselves where we are provided with a sumptuous buffet dinner of crab, prawn, fish and chicken accompanied by spicy fiddleheads, okra and bitter gourd. There seems to be plenty of variety to satisfy the children as well as the gourmets in our group. The dinner is followed by huge platters of fresh pineapple, musk melon, winter melon, mangoapples and rambutan.
Speeches are given, departmental roles passed on, gifts bestowed and farewells are made to those leaving. A beloved professor, who has been instrumental in setting up the medical school as well as the department and in establishing the Master's program in Public Health is leaving so there is a mood of appreciation as well as of loss. After the meal we join others on the upper deck of the cruise ship to watch the river sights as we move slowly downstream and then up.
The original government house of James Brooke, called the Istana, on the north shore can be seen etched against the sky. The single remaining building of Fort Marguerita sits straight and proud on the south bank. Further downriver the magestic golden tops of the green and white minarets of the riverside mosque towers above the bank.
Tampangs, local river taxis ply back and forth on the river. You can take one of the regular commuter tampangs across, in fact many people commute that way, for 30 sens (about 0.10 USD). It is undoubtedly among the cheapest water transport in the world. We have done it just for the boat ride. It costs slighty more to make a short tour of the harbour but again is well worth it.
Boats of different sizes, shapes and purposes are tied up along the river. There is activity at the Brooke Dockworks.
As we head upriver we reach the Prime Ministers home almost at the mouth. This is where we turn around.
Later as darkness falls we are treated to a cultural display with Iban, Malay and Bidayuh dances. The dancers are very good at getting audience participation and have most of the group up and moving at some time in the night.
We return to the dock late but with the South bank so well lighted we feel secure walking home. Most of our group spend the rest of the night shopping.
Malaysians hold some kind of record for recreational shopping even in South East Asia and my friends are no exceptions. Amazingly according to polsters, 15% of Malaysians spend time in recreational shopping or maybe it is that Malaysians spend 15% of their time recreational shopping? Recreational shopping is shopping without intent to buy. The malls of course have responded to this and are full of things to do and see.
When I ask my colleagues what they did at the shopping mall, they say they contributed to the recreational shopping statistic as they met up with all the others in the group. Of course shopping malls are air conditioned so that may account for part of the attraction. But whether you want to shop recreationally or not, Kuching has one fine river cruise waiting for you.
Photos: Promenade on South Bank; tampangs; mosque; cultural show and sunset over PM's house.