The Wilds of Borneo

Okay, we haven’t seen anything wild yet, but we are on vacation on the island of Borneo.  We are in Sarawak, to be precise, which is the Malaysian state on the northern part of the island (the bulk of Borneo is held by Indonesia, while the tiny nation of Brunei claims one little corner).  Prescott and I decided to come to the city of Kuching, the state capital (population roughly 325,000), as a base of operations for exploring the nature and culture of the region.

Kuching calls itself “The City of Cats,” and the city makes the most of their mascot.  There are cats all over the place — cat statues, cat murals, and even a cat museum (sorry, but we won’t be going there).  It’s unusual, to say the least.

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Our small hotel is right in the center of the main drag.  This is the view from our third-story balcony:

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The architecture of several of the large buildings here shares a similar temple/UFO feel.  That particular structure is the Sarawak parliament building.

We had a fairly relaxed afternoon and evening getting to know the town, wandering around and stopping in at different places here and there.  From the outside, Kuching looks like it’s seen better days — it’s moldy and tired in that way that seems to be the inevitable result of putting buildings in the middle of a rain forest.  And while the streets are cleaner than those of some other southeast Asian cities we’ve seen, there’s still a good bit of litter (and the river is worse).  But there are a surprising number of nice-looking cafes and restaurants and hotels once you step inside the shophouse doors.

We had lunch at the James Brooke Bistro, named after one of the self-styled Rajahs who ruled Sarawak for over a century between the 1830s and the 1940s.

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We had dinner at a slightly upscale (for Kuching — that term is relative here) restaurant with the bizarre name of “Bla Bla Bla”.  They served everything from Chinese noodles to ostrich steak to local dishes such as jungle fern salad.  I ordered a pandan, longan, and green tea drink.  It looked like something from a Star Trek episode:

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Our other big discovery of the day has been kek lapis, a layer cake that is a Sarawak specialty.  These short, dense cakes are particularly amazing because the layers are so tiny and fine. It’s not delicious, exactly, but it’s too beautiful not to buy.

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I’ll close with this rather odd sign that was taped to a column outside of a nightclub.  Stay classy!

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