As I recover from my KL-created cheese coma, my friend and fellow traveler from England agreed to do a guest post about Kuching. Commonly referred to as Cat City, it is in Borneo, Malaysia and one of my must-see cities due to its ORANGUTAN(!) sanctuaries. Enjoy her brief time in the city and the orangutans! -Maria
As my husband and I stepped off the plane in Kuching, Borneo, our first plan of action was to find a rental car for a bargain price. Unfortunately, there were no rental car touts to be seen, so we soon found ourselves standing disappointedly in front of a small row of over-priced booths. ‘We only paid 16€ per day in Langkawi’ we cried, ‘but this is Kuching’ replied the sales lady in a manner informing us that we were now in the land of civilisation. My husband and I looked at each other in wonder – were we in for a surprise? Well, maybe, as the car we received was clean!
Off we drove to The Pullman Hotel, where the Lobby was huge and contained a cosy looking bar – great, a positive start to our stay – cocktails in the hotel bar are always a treat. The room was on a high floor and contained the usual mouldy bathroom, but had amazing views over the city and distant mountains which made us pull back the curtains and breathe in the views – they were a sight to behold.
The following morning, we rose early in order to visit the Semenggoh Wildlife Centre to see the Orangutans; feeding time was at 9am and we did not want to miss a minute of it. It took us about 20 minutes to drive to the Centre and on arrival we bought our tickets at the main entrance building for a mere 10MYR, less than 2.50€ each. We drove into the forest area along the gravelled track past the poor sweltering tourists who had been dropped off by their, no doubt, ridiculously expensive tour operators at the main entrance – oh boy, would I have complained!
With Borneo being the third biggest island in the world (larger than Germany and the UK combined), words cannot describe the expanse of the Rain Forest. It was vast, the heat was extreme and the humidity was that of a sauna. There were many other tourists of all nationalities, so our dreams of having the Orangutans to ourselves dissipated on route to the viewing area where we waited in relative silence (it is Asia!) for the arrival of the orange apes.
A few arrived, young and old; they swang through the canopy of trees and ropes to the forest platform where a Keeper stood handing out bananas. They appeared to enjoy entertaining their audience, swinging effortlessly from tree to tree and showing off their ‘hanging by one arm’ skills. Their characters were intriguing and reminiscent of the occasional child I have taught over the years; one Orangutan took as many bananas as he could possibly carry, and another looked with disdain at the banana the Keeper had just placed a vitamin in, although she had no problems drinking the milk she had been given to feed her youngster with. They were wonderous to observe and it was amazing to see the rescued Orangutans living in their natural habitat whilst still being cared for. There was no guarantee that we would see any during our visit, as they can choose to come and go as they please; they are free, which to me, is just as breathtaking as the scenery.
After such an early start – well, it was for us, we were hungry and in need of breakfast, so we dropped into Big C supermarket on our way past to see what Kuching’s Big C had to offer. Green (pandana) teacakes, hot coffee, wasabi chips and a while later (as the sales lady had gone for breakfast!) some Seri Kaya, which are like little warm cakes filled with Kaya jam, mmm…
Our next stop was the Matang Wildlife Centre where Orangutans are rehabilitated after being rescued from forest areas which are being/have been destroyed due to the increased production of Palm Oil and uncontrolled, unsustainable Logging, before being released back into the wild.
We found this place to be less attractive as the Orangutans were kept in enclosures and appeared to have little or no stimulation. There was a small information centre explaining the rehabilitation process which interestingly is similar to the life of a child, starting with Kindergarten and ending with release and monitoring during their teens. It is possible to volunteer here, although at a price to you; just check out their website.
The Rain Forest was as impressive as ever, trees the size of sky scrapers, leaves as big as your body, and vines and tree roots to trip you if you don’t look where you are going – Ingo!!, not to mention a noise level probably matching the city’s if it were measured in decibels. The biodiversity in the Rain Forest is so huge, that even the Malaysian authorities are unaware of just how much there is to offer here, however as it is estimated to be more than 13 million years old, I can’t imagine it being possible to over estimate.
We wandered alone along the deserted walkways and saw a couple of small turtles, the ever present alligator, and a couple of small leopards in their inadequate enclosures. I am not a fan of animals in cages, so this experience was not positive for me, but Ingo, my husband, enjoyed the opportunity to interact with what appeared to be a lonely Orangutan who enjoyed making eye contact with him and mimicking his actions from her much larger enclosure. She was accompanied by another Orangutan and although there was plenty of green grass, shade and wooden platforms for them to sit in and on, I just could not help feeling sorry for them, although I know that Ingo was eager to jump over the wall and distract them from their boredom for a few hours. In fact, I probably could have left him there for days – now there is a thought!
Kuching offers a lot more than Orangutans, which we barely touched upon in our two day visit, a snippet being the Parliament building which is quite a marvel in such a city; the strange, yet amusing Cat Museum high on a hill sharing beautiful views, along with the many cat statues/models scattered around the city; nearby National Parks embracing the beauty of the Rain Forest mountains and offering hiking trails to those who like a challenge in such a climate (not me!), and most importantly, the best multi-coloured cakes you will probably ever see anywhere, ready to take back to your hotel and enjoy with a delicious cup of tea coffee – no, it is not a misprint – it is indeed tea and coffee in a cup – certainly worth a try, much like Kuching.