One-time home of the White Rajahs, Kuching has evolved from an obscure backwater of the British Empire into a cosmopolitan modern city that blends Malay, Chinese, Indian, and Dayak cultures. Set along the sinuous Sarawak River on the island of Borneo, the city is a great jumping-off point for nearby rain forest attractions.
What We Love
Semenggoh Wildlife Centre: The nearest place to see orangutans in the wild, this animal rehabilitation center half an hour south of the city center safeguards orphaned and injured mammals, birds, and reptiles.
Laksa: This spicy noodle soup is Sarawak State's unofficial regional dish. Flavored with coconut milk, lemongrass, shrimp paste, and tamarind, the satisfying soup also contains chicken, shrimp, and bean sprouts.
Best Known For
Sarawak Museum: One of Asia's oldest museums was founded by White Rajah Charles Brooke in 1888. Though somewhat dowdy, the museum showcases priceless artifacts and provides a great introduction to the native flora, fauna, and people of Sarawak.
Cats: Kuching supposedly takes its name from the Malay word for "cat" and the city long ago adopted the feline as its mascot. Snap selfies with the oddball cat monuments at either end of the Jalan Padungan (a commercial thoroughfare) or visit the city's Cat Museum in the Kuching North City Hall.
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Who It's Best For
Animal Lovers: Whether you're into domestic cats or wild orangutans, a visit to Kuching can include several memorable close encounters of the creature kind.
Margaret Mead Wannabes: The hinterland around Kuching is home to Dayak tribes that preserve their ancient ways and means. If you don't have time to visit an authentic jungle kampong, spend a few hours at the city's Sarawak Cultural Village.
Don't Say We Didn't Warn You
Air Quality Can Be Awful: During the dry season (May through September), Kuching and much of Malaysia is plagued by haze from illegal burning to clear forest land for farming.
Smoking in Public Areas Can Be Annoying: Although cigarette smoking is officially banned in air-conditioned restaurants, cafés, and shopping malls, the rule is often ignored.
Joe Yogerst is a California-based contributor to ShermansCruise who has also written for Travel + Leisure.