A September 2005 trip
to Kuching by seethesun
Quote: Kuching is blessed with a rich cultural heritage, thanks to its diverse ethnic groups. Though Sarawak is more well-known for its long houses, caves, and national parks, Kuching has its fair share of charms too.
Hotel | "Crowne Plaza Hotel"
We took a corner room which came with an excellent view of the river and Fort Margherita across the river. It was spacious and tastefully done although it had the feel of a business hotel more than a tourist hotel. The standard business hotel facilities are available - mini bar, coffee/tea facilities, phone, writing table, iron and Internet access. It has a clever little nook behind the wardrobe for its writing table, away from the distraction of TV. Actually, what we liked most about this hotel was its convenience of being right next to a 5-story shopping mall, complete with Cineplex and bowling alley!
The hotel comes equipped with a mid-size swimming pool and gym on the 4th floor. There are three restaurants in the hotel, although we did not have the chance to eat in either of it. There is also a lady wellness centre where a one-hour facial starts from RM100. All rooms come with a complementary buffet breakfast which offers a wide spread of continental and Asian variety. I'll recommend you to have breakfast in one of the many coffee shops next to the hotel. Just walk to your right from the main entrance of the hotel; there are at least 4 coffee shops around within 500m radius. Have a bowl of the famous Sarawak Laksa as opposed to the halfheartedly cooked omelette offered by the hotel.
From RM 250 a night (prices vary depending on seasonality and standards) I think Crowne Plaza is worth it. At least it's newer, compared to Hilton or Holiday Inn.
Member Rating 4 out of 5 on October 11, 2005
Crowne Plaza Riverside Kuching
JALAN TUNKU ABDUL RAHMAN
Kuching, Malaysia 93756
Restaurant | "TopSpot Seafood Centre"
As part of a packaged tour, our dinner was organized at Stall No. 23. Honestly, the dinner was a big disappointment. Our first dish was mixed vegetable soup which was lame, salty and bland. The sweet sour fish tasted too fishy and muddy despite being cloaked by a thick layer of ketchup and chilli sauce. The stir fried garlic prawns were not fresh and neither was the cuttlefish. The only saving grace was the "midin" dish, a local leafy green vegetable stir-fried in sambal belacan (dried chilli and fermented prawns).
To pacify our growing hunger and disappointment, we immediately set off to other stalls for our "supper". Kuching is well known for seafood but we believe the poor show at Stall No.23 could be due to the large volume it had to prepare. There were more than a hundred of us in the tour group.
Sitting down just few tables away from our original table, we tucked ourselves to steamed king prawns which we ordered from Stall No. 10. Steamed in eggs and rice wine, its flesh was sweet and succulent and that’s what we call the true standard of Kuching seafood. Feeling more encouraged, we ordered soft shell crabs from a different stall (No. 20). Deep fried in batter, the soft shell crabs tasted heavenly and beer completed the meal.
The entire "supper" bill of 2kg of king prawns; soft-shell crabs and 8 bottles of beer came up to about RM 160 (USD 45).
Here are some ideas of what to order:
- Steamed crabs or if you prefer it spicy, order the sweet & sour crab to be eaten with fried mantou. Most locals know that only the freshest crabs can be steamed and 'not-so-fresh' ones will be used to cook other styles. Another popular way of cooking your crabs will be the "5 spice crabs" which can be quite salty at times
- Mantis prawns stir-fried 'kung po" style
- Fish - Thai-style deep-fried, Teochew steam or steamed in ginger/garlic
- Stir-fry bamboo clams
- Steamed king prawns in rice wine
- Deep fried softshell crabs
Member Rating 3 out of 5 on October 11, 2005
Top Spot Food Court
Above Pelita Car Park
Stepping into the café, we had the feeling that we were somewhere exotic, quite forgetting that we’re in our own homeland. The décor is ethnic influenced and natural sunlight beam through the stained glasses above the door. Sarawak indigenous artifacts adorn the walls, creating a more interesting ambience. There is a big pond with koi’s and live mangrove tree right in the middle of the restaurant.
The specialty of D’Alif is its soft shell crab burger. That’s right. Soft-shell crab burgers! It claims to be the first restaurant in the world to introduce this creation. I just had to try it. My husband had the "Sarawak Nasi Goreng" and another friend tried the "Soft-shell Crab Nasi Lemak".
The soft shell crab burger was simply delicious! The crab is deep fried in whole and placed between two soft buns, topped up with cucumber, tomato and mayonnaise. The burger is served with fries and coleslaw. This is truly special and a must-try. The Sarawak Nasi Goreng was another hit. Fried with chunks of chicken meat and mixed vege, the rice was fluffy and friend to perfection (not too oily, not too dry). Word of warning, it’s very spicy even for the accustomed tongue!
Of course, the menu is more than just soft shell crabs and fried rice. D’Alif Café has an extensive menu, covering both western and local fares. Prices start from RM 4.00 for main meals and drinks are priced from RM 2.00 up.
We strongly recommend you drop by this café for lunch/tea during your visit to Kuching.
The Sarawak Laksa (and in fact, every variation of laksa) is a doctor’s nightmare. Essentially, the gravy for Sarawak Laksa is made of coconut milk mixed with blended combination of spices such as lemon grass, galangal, chilli paste, tamarind, candle nut and garlic. Many people find it pungent but a laksa stall is judged by how the cook cleverly combines the various spices for the right balance of spiciness and aroma.
Slightly different from the curry you find in Peninsula Malaysia, the Sarawak Laksa is thick and has more garnishing than noodle. The type of noodle used is usually the thicker bihun (rice vermicelli) and each bowl of Laksa comes top with sliced omelette, prawns and slices of chicken breast with a few decorative coriander leaves. Eat your Laksa with some lime juice and sambal belacan (fermented shrimp paste), which is usually served separately in a small dish. This is for added aroma and spiciness.
The Sarawak Laksa is essentially a coffee-shop dish. One doesn’t eat this kind of dishes at fancy restaurants but more at five foot ways or local coffee shops in the older part of town. However, I personally found Rajah Brooke Café’s Sarawak Laksa very delicious and commendable. Priced at RM 8.90, it’s definitely more expensive than most stalls (normal serving at any coffee shop probably set you back RM 3.50-RM 4.00), but it’s worth every extra sen. The serving is bigger than the normal portion and comes with a generous amount of prawns and chicken.
Rajah Brooke café is located at the Kuching Waterfront, just 20 steps away from the Sarawak Chinese Museum and 150m to the left of Crowne Plaza Hotel.
However, if you find that you prefer to eat where the locals do, try the stall at Ban Hock Road, near Continental Hotel. According to my friend, this is the spiciest Laksa stall in Kuching.
Rajah Brooke Cafe and Bistro
Each visitor will be given a passport to be stamped upon visiting each longhouse. This proved tremendously popular amongst children as they raced each other to complete all 10 houses in the village. Cross the bamboo bridge to get to the Bidayuh headhouse, where they use to store skulls. After, walk over to visit the Iban longhouse, where you can witness Iban beauties weaving the songket. Iban is the largest ethnic group in Sarawak (30%) and are reputed to be headhunters on the island of Borneo.
Next, we visited the Melanau tallhouse, where I tried to race to the top with some of our friends' children. Bad idea. By the time I reached the top, I could hardly breathe. Melanau tallhouses are built high on stilts because, traditionally, Melanau's were fishermen and lived by the sea. Today, most Melanau's are settled in kampungs (Malay villages), adopting Malay customs and make their living as boat builders and craftsmen.
Right next to the Melanau tallhouse was the Penan hut, which was small and shabby compared to the rest of the longhouses. This is because Penan's have always been a nomad in Borneo and do not settle in any area permanently. They live in makeshift huts, made of atap and dried leaves, and move on to a new place once the current area is no longer fertile for crops. Despite efforts from the government to settle them, many still roam the virgin rain forest of Sarawak to hunt with their blowpipes. Try your luck with the blowpipe at the Penan hut for merely RM 1. Other than the blowpipe, you will also get to see the making of sago, dance the bamboo dance, and spin a top at the various other houses.
There are also special dance performances at the village's ampitheatre. Colourful, vibrant, and energetic, these performances are delights to the eye. At the end of the dance performance, visitors are invited to dance on the stage together with the troupe. Watch out for the finale. You'll get to see "Malaysia, Truly Asia" TV commercial "live!"
The village is situated approximately 40 minutes away from Kuching, and the best way to get there is to either hire your own transport or join a local day tour. We hired a van, which took us from the hotel to Satok Market, Damai Beach for lunch, and onward to Sarawak Cultural Village for RM 150 (with return). The entrance fee for adults is RM 45 and RM 25 for children.
Member Rating 4 out of 5 on October 12, 2005
Sarawak Cultural Village
Damai Beach, Sarawak
Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia