A few weeks ago, I spoke on the ABC about Sarawak, on the island of Borneo, and some of the tragic and heroic wartime history that connects Australia to Sarawak. Now, we’re going back to Sarawak to explore the streets of Kuching and discover the jungles, islands, wildlife and hopefully some food as well.
Enjoy listening to the audio file below, and maybe reading the words as well:
This is a part of the world that is adventurous and has that sought for wow factor of being remote and rugged but is also really easy to get to and get around once you’re there.
The story of Sarawak, just like the story of Australia, is about Indigenous tribes and culture going back thousands of years and learning to survive in their environment.
But we’re going to start in Singapore! It’s the 1840’s and let’s find out the connection to Sarawak, a land of blowpiping headhunters and pirates, to high collared and well-heeled English adventurers in the Raffles Hotel in Singapore.
Imagine the Raffles Hotel at this time. With stiff upper lips and trousers pulled too high, Englishmen drank too much and rallied each other with outrageous stories while surrounded by an odour of self-entitlement.
James Brooke was tiring of this game when he had a grand idea and bold plan all at once. He would sail his ship, the Royalist, up the Sarawak River at Kuching and fight the pirates that had taken control of the South China Sea and threatening the Straits of Singapore and Malacca.
He fought the pirates, was asked by local tribes to become their leader and so he became the White Raj, Rajah Brooke, and his family took the mantle when he died and until World War II the Brookes ran Sarawak as their own kingdom. Sarawak prospered under the Brookes but the relationship was also fractured due to the colonial style rule that we are familiar with.
The best things to discover:
- Bako National Park: Take a boat up a long winding river, dodging crocodiles and traditional fish traps, coming up against soaring cliffs and entering a jungle filled with pit vipers, pitcher plants, proboscis monkeys and scuttling through the mangroves are the horseshoe crabs.
- Santubong Wildlife Cruise & Satang Island: Spot Irrawaddy dolphins, more crocodiles, turtles, hornbills and enjoy snorkelling over pristine corals extending from remote tropical islands.
- Kuching waterfront: My favourite city waterfront in the world! Water displays, wild characters, steaming laksas and grilling satays. Maybe a cool glass of Cendol as well!
- Kuching Sunset Cruise: Nothing in this world, apart from my children’s love, is better than a Borneo sunset and add to that the joy of chugging along onboard the MV Equatorial. I’m only sad because while they let me in the wheelhouse, they wouldn’t let me take the wheel.
- Cultural Village, brand new Sarawak Museum, Annah Rais Longhouse and Songket: Explore the history and diversity of tribal life in Sarawak. Different tribes, including the Dayaks, Ibans, Orangan Ulu and also the influence of Chinese and Malay culture. Be mesmerised by traditional Songket silk weaving.
- Orangutans surrounded by jungle without a fence in site!
- Murals and Cat Statues: The best reason to walk the streets of Kuching day or night.
- Secret Bars! Actually, the real best reason to walk the streets at night! What are the tell-tale signs of a secret bar?
- Food! Rooftop open air restaurants full of heaving baskets of fresh seafood, street level markets with steaming cauldrons of laksa and fresh vegetables, including my favourite the Midin, which is a tangled mess of exotic green fern tops found in the jungle and steamed with wild garlic!
- Rainforest Music Festival: Held each year and featuring music from Indigenous groups all over the world. More than gigs and concerts, there are workshops in creating music and traditional instruments.
Sarawak is a hidden treasure because it’s far enough off the beaten track that you’ll get the thrill of lots of people saying, ‘Where’s that?’
You’ll enjoy exploring rugged and remote wilderness without getting malaria and exploring old laneways for murals, music, laksas and secret bars while surrounded by a community that is interested in who you are and just like you, enjoys staying up late.