State Legislative Assembly
On Saturday we left Sibu on the 11.30 a.m. ferry bound for Kuching. It was a gloriously sunny morning, not too humid and the ferry left on time. It was so nice to be on a boat where one could stand on deck to enjoy the passing scenery as we made our way downriver, rather than being confined to quarters inside a cabin full of passengers. O! and what an interesting and varied journey it was! Shipyards, coal yards, timber yards, old rusting hulks of barges abandoned mid-stream or beside small islands (one had trees growing through it) juxtaposed with lush verdant rainforest, wooden longhouses on Penan and Iban tribal settlements and rickety jetties with longboats tied to them, all higgledy-piggledy, providing splashes of colour bobbing on the coffee-coloured surface of the Batang Rejang. So exotic!
Further downstream the river widened and split in to several smaller waterways as we approached the delta wetlands and mangrove swamps; our Captain knowing which waterways to navigate through to the sea. We did notice several very long wooden poles on deck, stashed near to where our rucksacks were roped together with other passenger’s luggage, just in case we
ran aground in the delta. Very soon we were aware that the shoreline was receding rapidly on both sides of the little ferry. At the same time, we became aware that the coffee-coloured water had become green and blue and was a little bit choppy as we headed for the open sea. It was most surprising (and a little disconcerting) to find that after about another half an hour we could not see any land at all. It was a very clear day! There we were, in a very small river ferry, chugging across a busy shipping lane on the South China Sea! So, we thought “Come on!” Dunkirk spirit and all that!” and decided that there was nought to fret about because there was nought we could do about it! We were the only tourists on board, and our fellow passengers were either peacefully sleeping or happily watching a Jackie Chan video in the comfy air-conditioned cabin, so we did the same and watched the Kung Fu film.
Eventually, we saw forested little islands, and higher mainland behind them, small inlets through mangroves and then the estuary of the Sarawak river. After a long five hours on the
ferry, we finally reached Kuching: probably the most beautiful little city in South East Asia.
Kuching was settled in 1827 by the Sultanate of Brunei, when most of the island of Borneo belonged to the Bruneian Empire. However, after helping the Sultan crush a rebellion in 1841, an Englishman, one James Brooke, soldier and adventurer, was given Kuching, along with sovereignty of the whole of Sarawak. Thus, James Brooke became the first White Rajah. He lived in Kuching and ruled as Rajah until his death in 1868. The stamp of a century-long rule by the Brooke White Rajahs is seen throughout Kuching, in place names, monuments and buildings such as Fort Margherita and the Astana Palace, built by Charles Brooke the second Rajah and now the official residence of the Governor of Sarawak. Close by, the State Legislative Council Assembly building, on the site of the old court house, is the most iconic structure along the North bank of the river, reached by a beautiful new footbridge, opened on 12th
November 2017. The 35mIllion ringgit bridge, named the Darul Hana Bridge, which means “a place of peace and tranquillity”, is s-shaped and is supported by cables from two steel
towers topped with stylised Hornbill birds, the symbol of Sarawak. At night it is lit with a changing colour light display and is spectacular.
Equally influential, the immigration of thousands of Chinese families since the mid nineteenth century, has significantly shaped this city to become the fascinating mix of culture, colour and cuisine that explodes all around the visitor in a heady display, especially along the waterfront, lined with old nineteenth century “shop houses”. We stayed in an old “shop house” for two nights along the waterfront. Dating back to the days of the White Rajahs, when Chinese entrepreneurs set up their business along the river banks, this old building, full of dusty antique furniture was a fascinating place to stay. It was perhaps a tad creepy and dingy at night, only one or two other guests staying in a very large building (these houses look small from the street but they are very deep, the length of the narrow side alleys and the back entrances are often in the parallel road behind). A very historic place to lay one’s head however, even although as a hostel today, it merely suggests a hint of its former glory (under the
We have spent two glorious evenings and one full day so far, just strolling around the waterfront, sampling the food, the buskers, the little fairy lights twinkling away, the stunning sunsets downriver and seeing the little boats gliding up and down with their lanterns lit, giving tourists the chance to enjoy a cheap night cruise. Added to all of this, there are handicraft stalls and shops selling beautifully crafted rattan woven baskets, carved wooden bowls, trays and dishes and local families promenading along the pretty paved waterfront parks, lush with bougainvillea and hibiscus, palms and ferns. It really is a little Paradise and we absolutely love the amazing atmosphere of it all. Wonderful!
We still have so much to see in Kuching and we shall do so when we return on Friday for the weekend. Right now, however, we are off to the Santubong Peninsular, just 40 km north of the city. We have decided to splash out on a four-night chill out in a luxury beach resort, swimming pools and a private beach. Next week we shall either be off to the jungle again, or the islands, but right now we are going for a little
bit of pampering. We need to absorb some of the paint and let it dry a bit, before splashing some more on the canvas!
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