The first time I ever set foot in Kuching, never mind Sarawak, was in 1989 and it was a trip I would never ever forget. Not ever and that’s no drama.
Not because of my brief stay in Kuching which I thoroughly enjoyed, being a new experience and all, at a place which you have heard so much about but have yet to set foot in. Very exciting and very memorable it was.
But what made that first trip to Kuching one that I would never ever forget was the heart-sinking memory of the plane that I was on literally ‘dropping’ in the middle of ‘somewhere’ over the South China Sea.
The official version for the ‘drop’ was attributed to an ‘air pocket’. But whatever the reason may be, it was not for a good few more years before I was ‘brave’ enough to board a flight for Kuching again. Talk about phobias.
Fast forward to 2018, and here I am, back in Kuching and not for the first time ever since that very eventful flight, I might add. The phobia had slowly runned its course, I guess, and I am back here on assignment, as it was the case back then so many years ago.
The thrill of setting foot in Kuching is still there, as it is with me whenever I set foot in a new place, and this time, I had arrived a day earlier for the assignment that I have been entrusted with.
The flight was, I am glad and thankful to say, uneventful. Getting from the airport to the hotel that I had booked for the duration of my stay was a breeze especially when transportation had already been arranged. All I had to do was to appear at the airport.
Checking in and making sure the room met my expectations was a non-event. After all, the hotel booking app that I have used all this while has not disappointed me.
Well, maybe once or twice but that’s the exception rather than the norm. The room looked exactly like I had imagined it to be and since everything was in order, it was time to get ready for the next item on my agenda for the day.
Changing into sneakers and jeans, I made my way to the Kuching waterfront which was rather easy as my hotel was already located on the waterfront. Or rather, the riverfront.
First impression : Kuching has developed by leaps and bounds ever since that first time I stepped foot in Kuching especially downtown Kuching. Of course, when I say downtown Kuching I mean the area near the Kuching waterfront.
Second : the waterfront is far different from what it used to be. Or rather what I think it used to be. But whatever it used to be, the what-it-is-now looks just as great, if not better.
As I made my way to join the crowd already milling about the Kuching waterfront, the first thing that grabs your attention is the wide expanse of water. I mean, you don’t call it the waterfront for nothing, now would you!?
Most texts I referred to named that expanse of water as the Sarawak river, but I was told by a few locals that its more of a tributary of the Sarawak river and not the actual Sarawak river. Semantics?
Yes and no, I guess. But tributary or actual, it still looked pretty impressive.
As you look that little bit longer, you’ll notice small boats complete with roof shades moving slowly across the waterway, from one bank to the other, ferrying fee-paying passengers who embarked and disembarked at designated locations on the river banks.
The sight of these river taxis brings back memories of the long gone days of my hometown JB’s ‘bot penambang’, as these river taxis in Kuching are also called locally, when my father had to board one of them everyday on his way to work as headmaster of a primary school.
The ‘bot penambang’ was then the fastest and easiest way to commute to the school and this was back in the 1980s. Of course, today in JB the ‘bot penambang’ service is no more but looking at the situation in Kuching, I’d think the ‘bot penambang’ may be around for a little bit longer.
It was a common mode of transportation back then and has been around for quite a while that even the legendary Tan Sri P Ramlee made reference to the ‘bot penambang’ in the hilarious fight scenes in his black and white movie ‘Pendekar Bujang Lapuk’, and his movie was shot in the 1960s. So imagine that.
It must have been when I was recalling Tan Sri P Ramlee’s movie scenes that I noticed people look kinda funny at me. O well. The fight scenes were that hilarious and I never did ever tire of it.
As you look further up river, you’ll see a bridge spanning across the waterway and one that you will later learn is named the Darul Hana Bridge. It was only declared opened recently, in 2015 to be exact. Well, you can consider that recently as Kuching, as you’ll later learn, has been around for quite a while now and does has a bit of history on its side. So whats a few years here and there?
As you make your way to the Darul Hana bridge, you’ll notice a large distinguished looking building on the other side of the river and next to it, a small (in comparison) building in white. The large distinguished looking building apparently is the spanking new (comparatively that is) Sarawak State Assembly Building, declared opened in 2009 whilst next to it is Fort Margherita.
Fort Margherita was completed in 1879 and was used by the White Rajah of Sarawak, Charles Brooke who named it after his wife, Margaret Alice Lili de Windt, whom he married in 1869.
Walking along the waterfront and taking in the sights, the smells and the sounds of the waterfront you won’t realise that you have already reached the Darul Hana Bridge. As soon as you stepped foot on the bridge, you will realise that this is no ordinary bridge.
For one, the bridge seems to vibrate with every step you make, the sensation getting more pronounced as you approach the middle of the bridge.
It does make you feel a bit hesitant but a thought does hit you : was the bridge designed and built purposely to deliver that sensation? One never knows.
In addition, the bridge is, by all means and purposes, ‘crooked’. It is not a straight bridge as are most bridges. It has viewing decks to allow people to stop and enjoy the view of the river and the scenes on both sides of the waterway. That, I must say, was an innovative idea.
So innovative that some even stop and have a little picnic at the viewing deck. May not happen often but it did when I was there. Maybe because it was a Sunday? Maybe.
The view from the centre of the bridge can be mesmerizing. The sight of the official residence of the TYT The Governor of Sarawak, The Astana, can be clearly seen from the middle of the bridge and in the horizon, the famed Gunung Santubong (Mount Santubong).
Built in 1870 by Charles Brooke, the Astana was a wedding gift to his wife Margaret Alice Lili de Windt, the same person whose name Charles Brooke named Fort Margherita after. He must have really loved her, Charles Brooke.
From the middle of the bridge, on the horizon at right angle to Mount Santubong (well, almost), is Gunung Serapi (Mount Serapi), it being no less impressive and with a view to match.
When you don’t realise the time, that’s when you know you are having fun. So much so that you don’t realize that it was getting late and the sun has started its final descent over the horizon.
As you make your way back to the hotel, you’ll find yourself greeted with more picturesque moments that you can’t help but snap away. And snap away until you reach the hotel and thinking, if only you had more time.
Next trip maybe?
But for now, if ever you find yourself in Kuching and you have no idea where to spend the afternoon, you would not go far wrong then to head for the Kuching Waterfront.
It’s safe to say the Kuching Waterfront won’t disappoint you.