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TUESDAY, FEBRUARY21, 2012

Kuching city from the eyes of the Historical buff

 

 

Kuching city for history buffs,  is one town that will tickle their fancy with its rich history as well as monuments and buildings that has survived and standing  since the colonial days.Established sometime in 1841, it has changed with time and declared a city in 1986.

For those who wish to travel and encounter the wonders of  historical Kuching, I would suggest to the budding traveller to take lessons of history one at a time by walking around town, the Heritage Walk would be a good tour. Besides, most of the interesting places are located nearby the Kuching waterfront, and it’s all within easy walking distances.

From the Kuching Waterfront, it’s highly recommended to get across the river with a small wooden sampan, called “penambang”and drop off at the jetty near the Astana, a regal splendor built in 1870 commended by the Second Rajah, Charles Brooke as a bridal gift for his wife, Ranee Margaret. Later it was known as the Government House  and it now serves as the official residence of the Yang di-PertuaNegeri Sarawak (Governor of Sarawak) and the New Sarawak State Legislative Assembly Building located on the north bank of the river.

Another building left by the legacy of the Second Rajah is Fort Margherita, named after his wifeRanee Margaret; it is located to overlook the long stretch of river approaching Kuching and houses many canons and artillery ammunitions.

First stop would best be the Old Court House, built in 1874 which used to house all government office and venue for state ceremonies. The building was made from iron wood and decorated with beautiful engravings. High court proceedings and numerous state council meetings have taken place there from the 19th century till September 2000. In 2003, the building was converted into Sarawak Tourism Complex.

Brooke Memorial Monument, standing at six metres high at the entrance of the Court was made from granite, built to honour the second Rajah, Charles Brooke and commissioned in 1924. The monument had a bronze panel to represent the various races in Sarawak. The colonial baroque Clock Tower behind the memorial was added in 1883.

The next stop in this charming Kuching city would be the Square Tower which was originally built as a prison butwas later converted into a dancing hall for the colonial masters and quarters for the servants. This Square Towerwas built in 1879which was a fortress but is now a multimedia information centre and video theatre.

Sitting next to Square Tower is the Sarawak Steamship Building that was built in 1930 which served as the office and warehouse of the Sarawak Steamship Company. Now, after extensive restoration it now houses a restaurant and convenience store.

Kuching Post Office is located right across the road, a white colossal building with imposing pillars,striking neo-classical style architecture built in 1931, initially built as a police station and a horse stable. It is said that the Post Office is the only building constructed using the Corinthian columns in this part of the world.

One of the many unique buildings in Kuching would be the Pavillion which was built in 1909. It has a rather odd shaped building regarded as a architectural enigma with a mix of late English Renaissance and colonial architecture. It used to be the general hospital but was later converted into a textile museum.

The Sarawak Museum in Kuching is located further up the street with symbolic canons of the White Rajahs of Sarawak placed on its compound. Built during the era of the White Rajah in 1891, the museum is reputed for having the most comprehensive collection of artifacts including arts and crafts of the indigenous people of Borneo.

Come to Kuching and visit these historical places, and if you find these entire information handful, this is just the tip of the ice berg as we have more to offer.

Tags: kuching city | kuching tours | kuching holiday | kuching hotel | sarawak museum | cat museum | rajah brooke | kek lapis sarawak | sarawak cultural village | rajah brooke | |

Gunung Mulu National Park

 

Gunung Mulu National Park is one of Nature’s most spectacular achievements and the ‘jewel in the crown’ of Sarawak’s expanding network of national parks. It is also the largest national park, covering 52,865 hectares of primary rainforest, which is criss-crossed by fast flowing rivers and clear jungle streams. Mulu is dominated by three mountains – Gunung Mulu (2,376 m), Gunung Api (1,750 m) and Gunung Benarat (1,585 m).

Yet many of Mulu’s greatest attractions lie deep below the surface. Hidden underneath the forested slopes of these mountains is one of the largest limestone cave systems in the world.

Mulu’s four Show Caves were selected for their uniqueness or sheer beauty. Besides the popularly visited Deer Caves, Lang Caves, Clearwater Caves and Lady’s Caves, a more strenuous trek leads to a weird landscape of razor-sharp rock pinnacles.

They can all be visited as day trips from the park HQ and are accessible by plankwalks and well-lit concrete paths. Strategically positioned spotlights highlight the unique features of the individual caves. A plank walk leads through the forest to Deer and Lang’s Cave whilst Clearwater Cave and Wind Cave are reached by taking a longboat up the Melinau River, or by following a 4 km nature trail. The more adventurous can do Adventure Caving.

Permits and a park guide are usually organized by tour operators. Access to Mulu was traditionally by boat, but Fockker Friendship and Twin Otter workhorse flights from Malaysia Airlines rural services are available and shorten daylong trips to 25 minutes and 40 minutes flights respectively.

The Canopy Skywalk, the world’s longest tree-based structure, in Mulu National Park allow visitors a glimpse of life in the treetops of the rainforest. 480 meters of walkway hang 20 meters above the forest floor, forming a circular route suspended between 15 trees with a separate exit tower. To keep human incursions at a sustainable level, visitor numbers to the Canopy Skywalk are carefully monitored. Tour operators need to book canopy walks well in advance, and stay within the stated hours. Up to ten hours per day is available.

At dusk, millions of bats will fly out of the caverns, a very spectacular sight.

Tags: mulu national park | UNESCO heritage site | mt mulu | sarawak | benarat lodge | royal mulu resort | |

Memorable Time Travel at Kuching Waterfront, Sarawak

 

A walk along the Kuching Waterfront was like taking a journey into time. The history and heritage of Kuching, Sarawak, were laid in full colour the whole 1 kilometre stretch. Also called “The People Place”, Kuching Waterfront was a kaleidoscope of the past, the present and the future, with a harmonious blend of the new and modern with the old and traditional. From being a small settlement and river port during the days of the English adventurer, James Brooke, in the 19th century, Kuching Waterfront had developed into a picturesque landscaped esplanade, and even powered with environmentally-friendly solar energy in the extension phase.

The Kuching Waterfront ran parallel to the Sarawak River, and was basically like a middle child sandwiched between the Sarawak River and Main Bazaar, a place packed with shops selling souvenirs, food, and arts and crafts. But unlike most middle child, Kuching Waterfront was full of charm and unique characteristics. Its wide and long walkway was tiled with eye-catching ethnic designs and motifs, perfect for abstract close-up shots of the contrasting swirls and whorls. Also spread along the pavement were numerous carts displaying local handicrafts and souvenir items and kiosks selling local food and beverages, in case you got hungry or thirsty from walking.

My walk on Kuching Watefront began from the Kathulistiwa Café, which meant “equator”, located opposite the Riverside Shopping Complex. Sauntering along, under the cooling shades provided by the cluster of trees and shrubs and welcoming the light breeze of the afternoon, I was letting any tension or stress fall away from my shoulders. There were locals and visitors enjoying the Waterfront: some loitering about, some sitting on benches, chatting or just people-watching. I could see more traders setting up their carts or stalls, preparing their food and wares for the growing crowds in the evening. They were friendly, a few bestowing warm smiles and calling out greetings of “hello” or “good afternoon”.

There were a couple of gazebos built on the edge of the Kuching Waterfront and the Sarawak River, where you could sit and gaze upon the line of speed boats bobbing up and down, berthed along the Waterfront side. Or you could look further out to watch with fascination the tambangs (small boats), gliding noiselessly as they ferry passengers across the river, for less than RM1.00 per person one way. Boarding the tambang took some dexterity due to the lightness of the small narrow boat, which would naturally sway and wobble according to the moving tides or waves. But being able to view the Sarawak River up close was worth the fleeting heart-thumping situation.

Another heart-thumping sensation would be watching multi-ethnic and traditional musical and cultural performances at the mini amphitheatre, which used to be a godown or warehouse by the dockside in the old days; hence its name – Godown Amphitheatre at the Kuching Waterfront. Capable of seating up to 200 people easily, the amphitheatre with its funnel-like membrane roofing exuded a cosy and vibrant atmosphere during night performances, while functioning as a sheltered area for rest and relaxation during the day or in between performances.

Nearing the last leg of the Kuching Waterfront, other historical buildings and structures of times gone by began emerging: the red Chinese Pavilion with its intricate designs of Chinese deities and floral motifs; the white Square Tower, small yet stately that had transformed from being a prison to a fortress, then a dance hall and now a multi-media information centre; the Sarawak Steamship Company Building, which used to be an office and warehouse but was presently the Waterfront Bazaar housing a food and beverage outlet, a convenience store and a variety of shops selling souvenirs and crafts; and the Chinese History Museum, steeped with historical facts and figures, images and exhibits about Chinese cultures, traditions, pioneers, leaders, languages and dialects in Sarawak. It was indeed a feast for the eyes.

Nonetheless, the feasting of Kuching Waterfront would not be complete without mentioning the musical fountains on the Waterfront Square, creating spectacular night views with fast streams and jets of splashing, tinkling water, dancing to the rhythms of piped music, and highlighted by a rainbow of colourful lights; and in the shadowy background, stood the Square Tower, modest yet regal in its stature.

A peek across the Kuching Waterfront revealed additional breathtaking sights, with bright lights illuminating their distinctive architectures, shining like beacons on the banks of the Sarawak River; they were Fort Margherita, built in 1879 on a knoll as a defence line against pirates; followed by the Astana (palace), the official residence of the Governor of Sarawak; and next to it was the latest addition to the spacious river landscape, the new State Legislative Assembly complex completed in 2009, arising with imposing majesty, and distinguished by its iconic payung (umbrella) roof design.

After the thoroughly pleasant walk, it was time to feed my growling stomach and what better place to sit back, have some snacks and chill out than the James Brooke Bistro on the Kuching Waterfront, where the ambience was great, service was good, food was okay, and drinks as well as beers were reasonably priced. What a fantastic way to end the evening and my memorable time travelling, spanning more than 130 years, on the Kuching Waterfront.

Tags: travel to Kuching | trips to Kuching | Sarawak river | waterfront Kuching | the waterfront lodge | lodge Kuching | Kuching hotels |

SUNDAY, FEBRUARY19, 2012

Semenggoh Orang Utans in Sarawak, our Distance Cousins

 

The orangutan or great ape and humans had held a close connection with each other since time immemorial.  We even shared 96.4% of our genetics make-up with the orangutans.  That was the reason why orangutans had held such strong fascination for us, at times to their detriment.  Young orangutans that were illegally kept as pets for a long time became “no-hopers” because it would be extremely difficult for them to live and survive in the wild on their own.

It was at sanctuaries such as the Semenggoh Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre in Kuching, Sarawak, that rescued and orphaned orangutans could find a safe haven and be rehabilitated to live in the wild once more.  Established in 1975, Semenggoh Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre is one of the must-see attractions in KuchingSemenggoh Orang Utan Rehabilitation Centre is located 20 kilometres away from Kuching City and situated within the lovely 740 hectares Semenggoh Nature Reserve, reaching the Centre just took a 30-minutes drive.

My friends and I arrived at the Semenggoh Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre in time for the afternoon feeding time between 3.00pm-3.30pm.  The morning feeding time was from 8.30am-9.00am.  These were the best times to visit the Centre as the semi-wild orangutans would come out of the forest reserve and descent from the trees to the feeding platform to get their food from the Rangers.  Visitors could watch the great apes in action from a safe distance, of course.

Before we headed off to the feeding area at the Semenggoh Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre, a briefing was given by the Rangers on what to do and not do when the orangutans appear.  The main idea was to keep still and stay quiet.  A 10-minute walk into the forest trail brought us to the feeding platform area.  The Rangers began placing bananas, bottles of milk, boiled beans and sunflower seeds on the platform, before calling out the names of the orangutans.  In a few minutes, soft rustlings in trees could be heard and we waited in anticipation and a quickening of our heartbeats.

We were delighted when a female orangutan cradling a baby on its side came into sight.  Due of their size, the orangutans do not swing from tree to tree but move with a steady but slow and graceful pace.  The female orangutan ignored us and went straight to the feeding platform and began to peel a banana to eat.  Not long after, a few more orangutans arrived and soon the food was slowly, but surely, consumed.  The Rangers at the Semenggoh Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre informed us that the fully rehabilitated orangutans would not return to the feeding platform until there was scarcity of fruits in the forest.  There were also several orangutans, especially kept as pets from young, that would not go back to the forest as they had become too used to human interactions.

the younger orangutans would linger around the area after their meals, playing with each other.  Sometimes, one or two more mischievous or curious orangutans would climb down to the ground and teasingly charge at visitors but their antics were usually harmless.  However, it is advisable not to go too close to, play with or touch the orangutans as they are semi-wild and have powerful arms, and if they should grab your camera or bag, you can basically say goodbye to your belongings.  Once they were full and finished with their playing, which lasted around an hour or so, the orangutans would head back into the forest.

The Semenggoh Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre also housed other species of endangered wildlife from hornbills to sun bears and gibbons besides orang utans.  Facilities at the Semenggoh Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre included a Visitor Information Centre, bird-breeding enclosure, small mammals breeding site, a large orangutan enclosure, two large bird enclosures, ten large mammal enclosures, and quarantine areas, which were closed to the public.   For us, it had been an interesting and eye-opening trip to the Semenggoh Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre.  We learnt about the wildlife in the Centre, particularly the orangutans and were very happy to be able to see and watch the orangutans live in action.  Check it out for yourselves!

Tags: orangutan | orang utans | orang utan Sarawak | orang utan Kuching | wildlife Kuching | Kuching forest | Semenggoh |

Double the Pleasure at Annah Rais Hot Springs

 

One incredible way to enjoy the contradicting twin elements of nature would be a visit to the new upgraded Annah Rais Hot Springs in Kuching, Sarawak. At this little spot in Sarawak, Borneo, I experienced the wonderful sensation of soaking myself in the hot spring pools with the coolness of clear rushing river water right next to these rock pools and set amidst beautiful natural flora and fauna. It was close to paradise on earth!

My friends and I had heard about the upgrading works that had been completed for the hot spring in early 2011 and decided to check the hot spot out. The Annah Rais Hot Spring was located about 70 kilometres from Kuching City, and the countryside drive took nearly two hours where we bypassed the quaint Annah Rais Longhouse, a small native Bidayuh village. Found by early Bidayuh settlers 250 years ago, the hot springs had been guarded and preserved by the villagers since then. It was their belief that the hot spring was a sacred place for them to seek blessings and cures for various illnesses.

Set along a narrow hilly road, the Annah Rais Hot Spring was another ten minutes drive from the Annah Rais Longhouse. Entrance fees to the hot springs were RM5 per adult; and RM3 per child aged 7 and below. The new upgraded facilities of the hot spring included a concrete walkway, steps to the river, and changing rooms and showers, which were important as these would make the hot spring area more comfortable and enjoyable for visitors, like me.

The other significant improvement was the nice circular rock or granite pools, one big and one smaller, which were built to contain the hot water and to provide proper sitting areas for the enjoyment of the hot springs and its lovely surrounding landscape of bamboo trees and tropical rainforest. We changed into our swimming attire and headed to the bigger rock pool. We had to be careful while navigating our way along the rock pool due to the slippery moss-strewn surface.

Dipping our feet into the water made us realize why it was called a hot spring. The water was hot! Even the sands and stones felt hot. It took a while for me to adjust and get used to the steaming hot water. Temperatures could get as high as 80 degrees Fahrenheit. This natural phenomenon was caused by underground water being heated by geothermal forces and then brought up to the surface to create hot springs. At times, we could also see hot water bubbling up from the bottom of the pool. And when the wind blows, we could smell the sulfur in the air.

Since we went on a weekday afternoon, there were not many people at the Annah Rais Hot Springs and most of them were local visitors, sitting around the rock pools and dangling their legs into the hot springs. The chirping of birds combined with the rippling sounds of the river, enveloped by a lush green forest canopy, created a peaceful and relaxing atmosphere as we infused ourselves with the heat of the hot springs. Watching the drifting white clouds in the crystal blue sky was calming and in that moment, the hectic city life ceased to exist.

As I had mentioned earlier, there were twin elements to the hot springs… the cool flowing river besides the steaming rock pools were an exciting and stimulating contrast. I have heard that alternating hot with cold temperatures could assist to dilate and constrict blood vessels, thereby improving blood circulation. Additionally, a good soak in hot or warm water would go a long way to help relax tense muscles, soothe the body and in turn reduce stress. Doctors had acknowledged that immersing in hot water could speed up the healing process or relieve pain caused by arthritis or minor injuries. It was believed to be therapeutic for insomnia and psoriasis too.

After about an hour of relaxation and fun at the rock pool and river, we decided to call it a day and headed to shower and change. It had been a great trip for us. Annah Rais Hot Springs was still relatively unknown as a tourism destination but this yet to be discovered gem has something simple to offer that to me was most desirable… a place to restore the tired body and rejuvenate the weary mind. So, take a trip to the Annah Rais Hot Springs and pamper yourself to the hilt.

Tags: annah rais | annah rais longhouse | annah rais homestay | hot springs Sarawak | hot springs Kuching | Kuching homestay |

Shake Your Booty at the Rainforest World Music Festival 2011

 

Shake it to the right, shake it to the left, shake it all around… shake them booties to the pulsating beats of the Rainforest World Music Festival in Kuching city of Sarawak! The madness was here again with an adrenalin rush that would grip you and leave you spent, yet wanting more. I am talking about the contagious fever of the Rainforest World Music Festival, a well-known and much anticipated 3-day international musical extravaganza organized by Sarawak Tourism Board annually in the month of July.

Held in the heartland of Borneo, specifically at the Sarawak Cultural Village in Santubong area, 35 kilometres from Kuching, Sarawak, the Rainforest World Music Festival is renowned for its diverse representation of world music. Tickets to the Rainforest World Music Festival were grabbed up so fast it would make anyone’s head spin. I was lucky to be allocated two tickets, valued at RM110 per ticket, sponsored by my company, and before you could say “Wonderful”, I had invited my best buddy to go with me. We did not attend the music workshops during the day due to work commitments, but we definitely went to the music performances that evening, a night you would not want to miss.

Driving from Kuching City to the Rainforest World Music Festival pick-up point in Santubong took about 40 minutes, a bit longer as there was more traffic on the road. No private vehicles were allowed to drive directly to Sarawak Cultural Village; the main venue of the Rainforest World Music Festival located another 10-15 minutes drive away. From the pick-up point, we took the transfer coach, costing RM5 per person one way to the Rainforest World Music Festival.

What a sight to behold… there were hundreds and thousands of people, milling and gathering around the entrances, surrounding compounds and stage areas of the Rainforest World Music Festival; and at a glance, more than half of the people there were overseas visitors. That was how popular and famous the Rainforest World Music Festival had become after its first inception in 1998, making this year 2011, its 14th year as the largest and most successful music festival event showcasing traditional, fusion and contemporary music from around the world.

I briefly browsed the local handicrafts on sale at the Rainforest World Craft Bazaar held in conjunction with the music festival, but was not interested enough to buy any. On the other hand, the colourful range of ceramic pottery and ethnic-designed costume jewellery appeared to be hot items, especially with foreign visitors who presumably bought them as souvenirs.

The Rainforest World Music Festival had evolved over the years to become a major social event, and that was part of its worldwide or international appeal, because where there were people of varied backgrounds, young and old, music, food and drinks, including beers and wine, all gathered in one place, there were bound to be plenty of merrymaking!

This year, the countries where the music bands participating in the Rainforest World Music Festival, came from Australia, Canada, Dominican Republic, Eastern Europe, Finland, France, Iran, Italy, Kenya, Latvia, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Poland, Senegal, USA and Vanuatu. Of the 21 bands represented, the favourites were Frigg from Finland, Joaquin Diaz Band from Dominican Republic, and Lisa Haley and the Zydecats from USA. Malaysia’s representatives included Agungbeat from Sabah and Masters of Sape from Sarawak.

All the bands were good but the fast exciting Afro-Caribbean merengue music by Joaquin Diaz of the Dominican Republic ruled the evening, as did the lively and energetic Louisana music by Lisa Haley and the Zydecats of USA. Lisa Haley is a grammy nominee who played progressive Louisana music in her own neo-traditional zydeco/Cajun style. The rhythmic beats combined with the intense atmosphere filled with diverse musical repertoire at the Rainforest World Music Festival were electrifying.

Surprisingly, in the midst of the huge boisterous crowds, standing room only, we met a couple of friends, ready to party long into the night and have a funky great time at the Rainforest World Music Festival. First came the beers and after five rounds of “one-go”, my buddy was dizzy and feeling the effects of the alcohol. Fortunately I was the designated driver and only had two beers, sipped slowly. Next on the list were red wines and by this point, we decided it was time to leave and head homeward.

We took the transfer coach back to the pick-up point and carefully drove back to Kuching. The ride back turned out to be longer than usual, as it was interspersed with abrupt stops for throw-up sessions by my buddy, about 4-5 times, I believe. I was considerably sober and looking forward to next year’s Rainforest World Music Festival and another unforgettable musical experience.

Tags: music festival events | music of the rainforest | rainforest music festival | Sarawak Borneo music | music Sarawak |

MONDAY, FEBRUARY6, 2012

Sarawak Laksa, Most Popular Food in Kuching City

If you love hot and spicy food, then on your next trip to Sarawak, especially to the capital city of Kuching, you must not miss the famous Sarawak Laksa. what food is it actually?

 

Well, it is actually rice vermicelli mixed with prawn or shrimp paste, topped with fried eggs that are cut into thin slices, blanched bean sprouts, steamed soft chicken slices and juicy tender prawns. Once all the ingredients are mixed together with thick Laksa gravy poured over it and ready to be served, you may want to squeeze a little lime over it and garnished with coriander leaves. You may also want to add in some “belachan” (spicy shrimp paste) before you consume it.

Belachan is a popular ingredient in South East Asia. It is commonly used in South East Asia and Southern Chinese cuisines as a shrimp paste or shrimp sauce. In Indonesia, belachan is known as terasi, ngapi in Burma, kapi in Thailand and mam tom in Vietnam.

A bowl of Sarawak laksa depending on whether it is a large bowl or a small bowl costs around rm4 to rm6 . (rm3.6=usd1). This Laksa is so delicious that after eating it, it may even send you licking the bowl too. You may even order a second bowl thereafter. This dish will definitely warms up your stomach for the whole day.

When you are in Kuching, you can easily find Laksa being sold in many coffee shops. However, the well known coffee shops that sent people waiting and queuing up for hours are the coffee shops at Tabuan Laru, another stall at Bormill third mile and in the city centre located beside Grand Continental hotel. My favourite Sarawak Laksa stall is at Foody Goody coffee shop at Tabuan Laru vicinity. I would patiently wait for at least half an hour on Sundays as there were just too many customers waiting for their bowl of Laksa.

The Sarawak Laksa is available only on mornings as they would be sold out by lunch time. The best and most delicious Sarawak Laksa in the whole region of Sarawak is still in Kuching city.

You should go check it out if you are in Kuching for work, business or leisure.

Tags: laksa Sarawak | laksa recipe | curry laksa | laksa soup | laksa Kuching | laksa Sarawak recipe | Sarawak food |