Kuching the chill capital of Sarawak
SOMETIME IN AUGUST 2013 I went to Kuching on an unplanned 2-week vacation, or rather a getaway trip, not expecting much since the only thing I knew about it was that it was a “big” city in Sarawak. At that point in my life it had been a long time since I wasn’t home for more than a couple of days, so taking a trip from Kuala Lumpur to Kuching was a little atypical.
From the first night out, I fell in love with the city. I am not really a bar-going type of person and neither am I a clubbing person, but there was a perfect blend of chill loud music and a comfy place to hang out at a place called Ruai.
The music ranged between slow and calming to get-up-and-dance by the end of the night. The crowd was so used to the mood that the people and music blended so well, I felt like a regular. The drinks were cheap, everyone is dancing and on top of it all, closing time is up to the crowd! I felt alive for the first time in ages. Sure enough I missed my flight back a couple of times and ended up staying in Kuching for 6 months.
Finding a nice breakfast place in Kuching is a piece of cake since everywhere you go has a food corner and it’s always open before you even wake up. Foody Goody, a coffee shop famous for its laksa, was the first place I had Sarawak Laksa, and boy, was I in luck. The soup was amazing, hot and spicy as hell and the shrimp was really fresh. I had two and I didn’t feel even a bit bad about it.
Over the next week, I bounced between one food place to another trying out all the local food and once I ran out of new dishes to have, I’d have the same order in a different place. In Kuching, you never run out of new food to try since there is always a new place that’s just opened.
Another one of my favourite places to hang out and have a nice dinner is Jambu. Jambu gives you the fine-dining experience with a taste of Kuching: chill and relaxing. The food is pretty good, especially the steak, and the dining area is right next to a pool table and the bar. So whether you want to have a drink after dinner or have a nice couple of games of pool, Jambu is one of the places to hang out at night.
Geography-wise, you would feel like the whole city is a 10-minute drive, and the funny part is that I am only exaggerating a little bit. I stayed somewhere near MJC area and every time I wanted to go out, it was never more than a 15-minute drive, even with ‘traffic’. The only place that takes a while to go to (around 45 minutes) are the beaches around Santubong.
One of the essentials you need while living or visiting Kuching is your own transport, life cannot happen without a car in Kuching. If you have a car, everything is within reach and you can arrive at your destination in a short time, because in Kuching there is no obvious public transport and cabs are not extensive throughout. With minimal traffic and beautiful weather, just having a drive at night is always on the to-do list when there’s nothing much to do.
When it comes to clubs, bars, karaoke and any night activities, always follow the crowd and they will lead you to the new thing in town. One of the most delightful qualities of Kuching is that it is big enough that not everyone literally know everyone, but small enough that they kind of do.
If I met anyone in Kuala Lumpur who is from Kuching, I would not hesitate to ask them if they knew one of my friends just because they mentioned that they visited the same club. So when it comes to nightlife, the place with the crowd is always the new place happening and it won’t take long before the crowds shift to the next new one.
When I was in Kuching, the new to-go place was a club-bar hybrid called Utopia. It had live band over the weekends and an opened bar facing the main street. It is confusing just trying to classify the place other than the perfect hybrid for people who like both loud music and a chill place to hang out. Soon enough I got to know everyone to the point I was offered to work part-time there! God, I love Kuching.
Kuching in the eyes of a foreign beholder
There were a number of funny and unique observations I made as a foreigner living in Kuching. It all comes from the same inner chill nature of the city and the people.
1- Parking spaces: in Kuala Lumpur, if you parked 2 blocks away from your destination you are in luck since you parked so near. In Kuching, unless you are parked in front of the shop and maybe even a little in, you are too damn far.
2- Language: Regardless of ethnic groups, the local Malay and Chinese dialects sound different in Kuching than in any other place in terms of slang, accent and expressions.
3- Racial and religious tension: Anywhere on the planet has racial and religious tension. Kuching is no different but the percentage varies A LOT. Are you Muslim or Christian? Nobody cares, let’s have a drink. Are you Arab or Iranian? Nobody cares, let’s go eat. I have been to Sabah, Penang, Johor and a couple of other places including a few kampongs, and I would always get at least one stare reminding me I am not from around here. In Kuching, I would get that stare once, not because of how I look, but only because I am someone new and after that … NOBODY CARES LAH!
Kuching is imprinted in my memory because it is the place that kick-started my independence. I started my writing career there and by the time I moved back to Kuala Lumpur, I was the same person but with a completely different attitude towards my own life. Ever since I left Egypt 7 years ago, I never felt “homesick” for any other place I have been to except Kuching.
And why wouldn’t I?? Cheap living, easy to get around, tons of han outs and things to do and carefree chill people and lifestyle. Whenever I am sick of big city life and want to get away and just relax and be, Kuching will always be my first choice.
Featured Photo credits: Sarawak Tourism Board