Kuching: how to see Sarawak’s capital city like a local

This city offers everything from music festivals to museums. To experience it like a local, be sure to navigate the city centre streets by foot, and the river by sampan boat.

Published 21 Mar 2020, 22:00 GMT
The Sarawak River runs through Kuching's centre and is an important source of water, as well ...
The Sarawak River runs through Kuching's centre and is an important source of water, as well as a method of transportation for the city's inhabitants.
Photograph by Getty

With the coast on one side and the country's densely forested interior to the other, Sarawak's capital, Kuching, is not only a gateway to the country’s tropical interior but a standout stop in its own right. Its busy streets are full of markets, museums and restaurants, as well as exquisitely carved temples painted in a riot of colours.

On the culture trail: what not to miss in Kuching

Kuching means ‘cat’ in Malay and while it may have been a miscommunication – the name is more likely to have come from the Chinese word for ‘harbour’ or the ‘cat’s eye’ fruit – the locals have taken it literally. Start by exploring the Cat Museum, a quirky homage to all things feline, with over 4,000 items including a mummified Egyptian cat and a cat cave. Later, look out for cat statues in the city centre.

Next, head towards the river to visit the Sarawak Museum, the oldest on the island of Borneo and a real insight into local history, with one of the best collections in Southeast Asia. The ethnology section in the Old Building has undergone extensive renovations and returns in 2020 with state-of-the-art facilities.

Nearby, visit Kuching’s oldest temple, the ornate and colourful Tua Pek Kong. Dating back to 1843, this Buddhist temple boasts a vibrant red and blue colour scheme and is an important place of worship for the local Chinese community.

Finally, on the north side of the river, visit Fort Margherita to learn about the ‘White Rajahs’, a dynastic monarchy of the British Brooke family who founded the Raj of Sarawak. The site is also home to the Brooke Gallery, which tells the story of adventurer James Brooke and the history of Sarawak.

The ornately decorated Tua Pek Kong Temple is said to have the best Feng Shui location in the city.
Photograph by Alamy

Exotic eats: how to explore the city's food scene

To truly experience Kuching culture is to taste its cuisine, and there is no better way to begin than with a Sarawak laksa. Chong Choon Café is a regular on every visitor’s culinary itinerary and serves the best version of this prawn-based noodle soup. Arrive by noon before it sells out. Abell Road, 93100

Stomach satisfied, it’s time to quench the thirst with a bright green, antioxidant-packed tropical kedondong juice. Try it at Lau Ya Keng food court near Kuching waterfront while gazing at the food stalls. 19 Carpenter St, 93000

Time for dessert? To satisfy the sweet tooth, head for kek lapis, the brightly coloured Sarawak layer cakes that make an appearance on special occasions. Try it fresh from the oven with a coffee at Dayang Salhah. 40, Kampung Gersik

Now to absorb a little market culture. On Saturdays and Sundays, Satok Market is an essential stop for its colourful fruit and veg stalls and snacks of all descriptions. Kuching North City Hall

Spend a good while meandering through the well-preserved narrow streets of the city centre before working up the appetite for kolo mee, a local favourite of boiled egg noodles and barbecued char siew pork. Try it at the ever-popular Noodle Descendents, but be prepared to wait. 188 Padungan Road

Or, for an evening of street food fun, head outside of Kuching to Siniawan Night Market from Friday to Sunday for pitcher plant rice, and other traditional Chinese, Malay and Dayak treats. With Chinese lanterns and streets lined with old wooden townhouses, it’s a lively and beautiful place to while the night away. Siniawan, 94000 Bau

Don't miss

Global music lovers descend on Sarawak Cultural Village for the Rainforest World Music Festival from July 10-12. In the lead-up to the three-day programme, get involved in an evening of culture, Sarawak delicacies, eclectic music and jungle vibes at the RWMF City Stage at the Kuching Amphitheatre on July 4, or taste the local deck-spinning talent at DJ in the City at Junk on July 9.


Getting there & around
Malaysia Airlines flies from Heathrow to Kuala Lumpur and then on to Kuching.
Average flight time: 16h

When to go
April to September are drier with temperatures around 27-30C, though showers can occur at any time and humidity can reach 90%.

The Rainforest World Music Festival takes place from 10-12 July 2020. It’s held in the grounds of Sarawak Cultural Village, a living museum less than an hour’s drive north of Kuching. For tickets go to rwmf.net

Follow National Geographic Traveller (UK) on social media 

Twitter | Facebook | Instagram 

Read More

You might also like

How to spend 72 hours in Miri, Sarawak’s second city
A guide to the city of Zagreb, Croatia's intriguing capital
The inside guide to San Antonio, the Texan city famed for cuisine and culture
The inside guide to Newcastle, the North East's cultural powerhouse
The inside guide to Rabat, Morocco's underrated capital

Explore Nat Geo

  • Animals
  • Environment
  • History & Culture
  • Science
  • Travel
  • Photography
  • Space
  • Adventure
  • Video

About us


  • Magazines
  • Newsletter
  • Disney+

Follow us

Copyright © 1996-2015 National Geographic Society. Copyright © 2015-2021 National Geographic Partners, LLC. All rights reserved