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Planning Your Kuching, Malaysia Itinerary: Top Things to Do

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2 weeks ago

I often describe Kuching as the ideal starting point for all Borneo adventures. It’s accessible, easy-to-navigate, extremely affordable, full of great food and one of Malaysia’s truly excellent urban centers. Whether you’re looking for orang-utans or heading towards the clear blue waters of Borneo’s coast, you’ll want to spend a few days in Kuching before you get started.

If you’re still unsure whether Kuching is worth visiting, let me make convince you to start planning your Kuching itinerary.

Firstly, in my opinion, Kuching is the prettiest and most pleasant of Borneo’s cities (on both the Malaysian and Indonesian sides). As this article will make clear, Kuching is worth visiting in its own right – orang-utans and the jungle are simply a bonus add-on.

Secondly, Kuching is well set up for a short escape, with sufficient tourism infrastructure to get deeper into Borneo without spending weeks on end. From Kuching you have countless day trip options to see orang-utans, learn about the indigenous cultures of Sarawak and more.

Finally, like every great Malaysian city, Kuching is a food-lovers’ paradise. In this article, we’ll be sharing our favorite places to eat including, the best places to find Kuching’s unique desserts.

Getting to Kuching

As the capital of Malaysian Sarawak, and one of the largest cities in Borneo, Kuching is a regional transit hub. As you plan your Kuching itinerary, keep in mind the best ways to reach the city.

By plane

Kuching (Airport code: KCH) has a medium-sized airport which is well connected to Malaysia’s extremely cheap domestic flight network, with regular flights to Kuala Lumpur, Penang, Johor Bahru and Kota Kinabalu.

Kuching also enjoys limited international connectivity to regional hubs, including Singapore, Jakarta and Bandar Seri Begawan (Brunei). Generally speaking, if you are coming from outside of Asia, you will usually be required to transit in Kuala Lumpur or Singapore to reach Kuching.

If you are arriving from Kuala Lumpur or Peninsular Malaysia

If you’re arriving on one of those almost-too-cheap-to-be-true flights from Kuala Lumpur, Penang or anywhere else on Peninsular Malaysia, you will need to pass through immigration when going in and out of East Malaysia (including Kuching, Sarawak). This means you must carry your passport in order to get your passport stamps upon arrival in Kuching.

By road

From Kuching Sentral Bus Station you can usually find regular daily public transport across major cities in Sabah and Sarawak. Many travelers often cross into Indonesia, taking the land border to the city of Pontiniak in Indonesian Kalimatan. If you are traveling onwards to Indonesia, don’t miss our guide to everything you need to know before visiting Indonesia.

Where to stay in Kuching

If you want to be in the heart of the action, I recommend staying within walking distance of Carpenter Street.

If you are traveling on a budget, Hornbill’s Nest and the Upspot Kuching Premium Hostel are well-priced and centrally located. Although, I think Kuching is one of the best value-for-money places in Malaysia and I’d recommend splurging for a nicer hotel before heading deeper into Sarawak or Sabah.

Many of the fancier hotels in town are located towards the new centre of Kuching. If you do choose to stay around here, you’ll still have an excellent Kuching itinerary. Much of the central area of Kuching is walkable. The Waterfront Hotel sits in the heart of the Old Chinatown, while the Riverside Majestic Hotel and Grand Margherita Hotel both have solid, standard package 4-star offerings.

Top things to do in Kuching

Unlike other cities in Borneo (I’m looking at you, Kota Kinabalu), Kuching offers a lovely and tranquil place to simply explore. Whether you’re here on the way to the jungle, or looking up what to do for 3 days in Kuching, you simply won’t run out of things to do in peaceful Kuching.

1. Explore Chinatown and Carpenter Street

Between Tua Pek Kong Temple and the Kuching City Mosque sits the atmospheric heart of old Kuching. This area, commonly known as Chinatown (or even just Carpenter Street), is full of iconic terraced buildings, vibrant murals and some of Kuching’s best coffee shops.

You’ll want to allocate a few hours to looking in the souvenir shops of Carpenter Street. Particularly, around the Old Court House you can best soak up the colonial atmosphere of the area. Once you’re done here, make your way toward India Street Pedestrian Mall. This vibrant area is full of fabric stores, small eateries and even more souvenir shops.

If you’re keen to learn more about the White Rajahs who ruled Kuching and the region’s unique history, we recommend joining a city tour.

2. Eat in a food court

It’s no secret that Malaysia is a foodie heaven. Singapore may have made hawker halls famous, and Kuala Lumpur arguably perfected them; however, it’s here, in the regional hubs of Malaysia where food court culture retains its true soul. Slowly winding fans, sticky heat, lazy cats – it’s here that you are guaranteed the best meals in Malaysia.

With a strong indigenous influence, Sarawak’s culinary history has developed almost independently from the rest of Malaysia. As you explore the food courts of Kuching, make sure you try dishes made famous (or at least perfected) by Kuching: Kolo Mee, Sarawak Laksa and Daun Ubi Goreng.

Some of our favorite spots to eat include:

Food CourtBest for
Lau Ya Keng Food CourtSarawak Laksa at Mui Xin Laksa
Song Khen Hai Hawker CentreSugarcane and coconut drink at Seng Lee Drinks
and vegetarian spicy noodle at Happiness Vegetarian
Topspot Food CourtAll things seafood
Lorong MarketKolo Mee at Oriental Park Kolo Mee

Beyond Kuching’s food courts, you’ll want to make sure you have roti canai at Restoran Mahashafi.

3. Find the cats

Kucing (pronounced Kuching) is the Bahasa Malaya word for ‘cat’. Today, it remains a mystery why Kuching is named after a cat, but regardless, the city is often referred to as the ‘city of cats’.

Everywhere you go in Kuching you’ll find cat motifs, from prominent roundabout statues to the city’s decorative potholes. We aren’t going to share details of where they all are, because stumbling upon them is half the joy! But don’t worry, you won’t be able to miss them.

If you are extra keen on getting into the cat spirit, you’ll find the quirky Cat Museum in Petra Jaya, full of hundreds of exhibits focusing on all things cats.

4. Try Kuching’s unique desserts

We love a city which has its own desserts. And we love Kuching. As you plan your Kuching itinerary, you’ll want to carve out time to try Kuching’s two most famous desserts: kek lapis Sarawak and gula apong ice cream.

Kek lapis Sarawak

Kek lapis Sarawak has been called the ‘world’s most beautiful cake‘. This layered, rainbow cake is famous for its buttery layers of different flavors, with everything from strawberry to chocolate and cheese. If you’re after a professional bakery, Mira Cake House is the local powerhouse. Otherwise, you’ll find small streetside sellers with trays for sale throughout Chinatown. Don’t be afraid to ask for a taste test.

For those looking for a unique souvenir and are unsure what to buy in Kuching, most kek lapis shops will wrap up your cake as the ideal gift for those back home.

Gula apong ice cream

The local Kuching ice cream speciality is gula apong, or Sarawak palm sugar. Deep in an almost brown, sugar-like flavor, gula apong may well be my favorite thing to eat in the intense Kuching heat.

If you’re thinking what to do in Kuching at night, there’s really only one answer: make your way down to the waterfront, pick up a gula apong ice cream (preferably with boba on top) and admire the night lights of Kuching. You’ll quickly realize that the waterfront at night is the best place to hang out in Kuching.

Two places regularly take the crown for the best gula apong ice cream in Kuching. I can’t decide which is better, so you’ll need to be the judge: IG Ais Krem @ Waterfront and R.G. Ais Krim Bergula Apong in Tower Market.

5. Visit Kuching’s mosques

Malaysia is a Muslim-majority country, with over 60% of the population adhering to Islam. Therefore it’s no surprise that the country is full of beautiful and uniquely Southeast Asian mosques.

Kuching is no exception, and you’ll want to spend some time visiting and photographing the city’s beautiful mosques. Budget travelers will be happy to know most mosques are free to visit. If you’re wearing shorts or sleeveless tops, the mosque will ask you to put on a shawl or cover up (most mosques have something you can borrow).

Our favorites in Kuching include:

  • Kuching City Mosque (Masjid Bandaraya), the oldest in the city, right at the edge of the Open Air Market.
  • India Mosque, otherwise known as the ‘floating mosque‘, a defining feature of the Kuching broadwalk.
  • India Mosque Lane Mosque, a tiny and extremely atmospheric mosque hidden in the laneway connecting India Street and India Mosque.

Beyond Kuching

Kuching is the gateway to Sarawak and a popular starting point for day trips to indigenous villages, the Semonggoh orang-utan centre and Bako National Park. If you have more time, I recommend taking a longer trip into the Sarawak hinterlands, including staying in an Iban longhouses and more.

For more information, don’t miss our ultimate guide for the best Kuching day trips – including the best place to see orangutans in Borneo.

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