As the old saying goes, ‘When one door closes, another door opens’. I had no intention of travelling to Borneo, one part of which belongs to Malaysia, and the rest to Indonesia. My intent was to travel in a straight line from Penang, up through Thailand, with the end destination being Chiang Mai in Thailand. Why would a woman travelling alone want to go to Borneo? After all, to my teenage knowledge, it was full of cannibals, wild animals, and jungle right? Wrong-ish.
If train travel in SE Asia is anything, it’s consistent in it’s lateness or the fact that the trains may not run at all. I was super excited to get my first overnight sleeper from Butterworth to Thailand. Hungover (smart girls get drunk the day they are before to travel) I picked up my ticket, ferry across from Penang to Butterworth, dragged my 25kg suitcase (yes, 32 now, no backpack for me) to the train station, and it was locked up. I had some poor older Aussie guy running up and down steps with my suitcase, and without, trying to find out what was going on. After an hour, we figured out the train had been cancelled. Back to Penang, checking into my old hotel, Chulia Mansion – www.chuliamansion.com, I was greeted by the hotel manager Fred, who asked me what I was going to do next “You should go to Borneo!”, he exclaimed. Fred is from Kuching, Borneo and had sent a few people that way from the hotel after speaking so gloriously about his home place. After a cup of coffee and a thinking cigarette, I booked my flights and was off to the jungle to be head hunted.
Kuching is the capital of the Sarawak state in Malaysian Borneo. Rich in history, this state and it’s people have a lot of culture and a lot to be proud of. The first thing that struck me was that I didn’t feel like I was in Malaysia. I later found out from my guide that Sarawak only entered with Malaysia for economic purposes in the mid 20th century, everyone still has to go through immigration to get into the country, another stamp – yay! It really has it’s own culture, own people, own laws and own vibe.
Sarawak State Legislative Building, Kuching
I stayed at a fantastic hotel just outside the city, Basaga Residences – http://www.basaga.com/, which acts like a little oasis from the hustle and bustle of the city (not that it is too bustling in Kuching). There are heaps of food courts all around Kuching, but Top Spot Seafood Centre, a huge food court which takes up the top level (6) of a few storey car park was the best place I have eaten on my travels so far. What I liked even more about it, was there was a mix of Muslim and non-Muslim food all cooking and eating together under the one roof (not the literal sense, as not sure there was a roof?!). This is not something you would find so openly in Western Malaysia.
From Kuching, trips can be organised to many attractions in the surrounding area. As I was on a whim with only two days, I chose the Cultural Village (touristy, give it a miss), Bako National Park (cancelled, story of my travels so far) and Semengoh Orangu-tan rehabilitation center (deserves a whole post of it’s own) for my tours.
Taxi, Waterfront, Kuching
Borneo, I will be back! For a much longer stay, including a 4 WD rental and a drive into that jungle to meet those head hunters!