As the sun sets on the SARAWAK RIVER, wooden longboats putter across the water. Rickety hawker-stalls proffer food from five continents. And the golden, umbrella-shaped facade of the NEW SARAWAK STATE LEGISLATIVE ASSEMBLY BUILDING looms large on the horizon. Everywhere, tropical plants and bougainvillea bushes fill the air with exotic scents. Any trip to Kuching, capital of Sarawak, should start here, with strolls along its RIVERFRONT ESPLANADE, watching as the lights flicker at dusk, and the cooler breezes of the Bornean night settle in. The so-called land of the White Rajahs is as intoxicating today as it must have been during James Brooke’s day. The British soldier-turned explorer arrived in Sarawak in 1839 on the Royalist, the schooner he’d bought with his inheritance, and was installed as ruler of the state 1941 by the Sultan of Brunei in an effort to quell a rebellion.
It worked, and Brooke’s success secured Kuching’s prosperity and position fora century, with power handed first to his nephew, Charles, and then to Charles’ son, Vyner, until events connected with the Second World War lead Sarawak to be ultimately returned to the British crown. Today, you can explore the Brookes’ legacy at the SARAWAK MUSEUM. Meanwhile, THE BROOKE GALLERY is also marking this year’s 175th anniversary of the founding of Sarawak with a collection of artefacts at a new site in the restored FORT MARCHERITA. It’s outdoors, however, that this laid-back city really comes to life. Highlights include CHINATOWN, whose sprawling streets brim with coffee shops and canteens that whisper the romance of the orient. Then there are the street-food style restaurants of the OPEN-AIR MARKET, on the site of the city’s first shopping mall.
If you’re feeling adventurous, MEDAN NIAGASATOK, the city’s largest market, has new facilities on the fringes of town at Kubah Ria, where traders ply everything from spices to fresh fish and exotic fruits. Indeed, food is one of the real draws of Kuching. Malay, Chinese, Indian and indigenous people all bring distinctive flavours to the city’s table. So whether you choose street-side bowls of Malaysian laksa soup or Chinese dim sum, the land of the White Rajahs is sure to leave you hungry for more.