We decided to take it easy the next day. I was feeling quite washed out from the day before, especially the amount of running I did in the rain. So we just had a very very lazy breakfast, then I took my camera down to the town centre to explore.
One of the first things I saw when I came into town on the first day was a nicely done-up shoplot called the Red bookshop. I made my way down there, just to see what’s what. There was a write-up on the book store in the newspaper, and I was keen to see what kind of books they were offering there. The shop, as with all the others, was done up really nicely inside and out (pic above). The selection of books were quite good, especially for the size of the store. The prices were not any different from Kuala Lumpur’s prices, unfortunately.
After browsing inside awhile, I walked along outside. I found that the body decoration culture was a bit more sophisticated than that in KL. Many young guys (and some old ones) were sporting massive and ornate tattoos, and there were quite a number of tattoo parlours concentrated in the shopping area around Lebuh Wayang and Lebuh Temple.
I went into a grocery store along Lebuh Wayang to get a cold canned drink, and ended up speaking to the shop owner, a friendly elderly Chinese gentleman. I expressed my admiration of how beautifully the shops were refurbished, and how much character Kuching had. He said he had his grocery store open for more than 60 years. He added that most of the shops were owned by the Anglican church nearby, and he pointed me to the right direction to the cathedral.
After walking for slightly more than 500m, pass the girls’ school and around the corner, I came across the cathedral. Sitting on top of hill, it was one of those structures now called “retro”, with typically clean lines and uncluttered look (pics above). It was surrounded by lots of green, and looked quite lush at certain angles. The church faced Kuching’s Central Padang (or field), and the whole area has been maintained beautifully. Right opposite Merdeka Palaca & Hotel Suites is a phenomenally large tree (left pic above) on the field. It’s just huge. The hotel has an interesting boat next to its swimming pool (pic, or see here).
I decided to keep the other sights for later, and went into the church, which had quite an awesome entrance (pic above), with a large grand staircase leading up to the building. Although an obviously recent building, the church has maintained many architectural traditions of the church. There was a representation of Christ on the cross on the left of the entrance of the building (pic below). I have never seen this in an Anglican church, although St. Thomas is likely to be high anglican (much like my own church in Kuala Lumpur).
I went inside the church, and was in wonder of the beauty of it. It had beautiful clean lines, symmetrical and tidy, which made me a little sad since it was such an obvious contrast to the state of the Anglican church worldwide. The sanctuary had statues of Jesus on the cross, with Mary and St. John on his sides (pic below). If I’m not mistaken (and I could well be), the church was not built in the traditional cross-shaped, but with a rounded sanctuary (but I stress, I could be mistaken!). The windows and the stain glass had traditional elements, but less ornate, displaying that less can sometimes be more. I prayed for awhile, and took a few more pictures, before heading out to the Central Padang.
Around the padang are quite a number of landmarks as well, like the police station, built in 1931 (left pic below), and the mosque built in 1962 over the original wooden structure (built in 1852 – right pic below). I walked around the field, still marvelling at the giant tree, and headed towards the museum.
I went into the new wing first, which had an photo exhibition on Sarawak and Kuching, with which I was quite impressed. I crossed the bridge over the busy road to the original museum structure, originally built in 1891 in the style of a Normandy town-house. This museum apparently has the most comprehensive collection of Borneon artefacts, although I personally found the structure small. There were bones of whales on display, but the highlight of the museum for me was the breathtakingly beautiful designs on the ceiling on the upper floor (pics below).
From the museum, I made my way down to Little India and the main market area of Kuching. Being a Sunday, everyone was out and about, and the shopping complexes and market place was bustling (pics above). Little India was a pedestrain mall between two rows of preserved shoplots, most of which sold fabric and clothes. At the market end of the bazaar is a little arch (left pic below), and likewise halfway through the bazaar is a little ornate arch in front of one of the shops (right pic below). I didn’t get to see much else because it began to rain again. Fearing my health (and lack of vitamin C), I grabbed a cab back to the hotel to have some rest before RFD and I went on the Sunset River Cruise that evening.
At around 5pm, we headed out to the river bank to catch the cruise down the river. We made it on time, paid the RM45 and headed upstairs (we were told that there was a “private function” on the lower deck). The upper deck was already quite full, apparently a bunch of French tourists had come on board as part of their tour package. However, it was breezy on the upper deck, and we found two good seats further back from the stage, and close to the tour guides.
The commentary was conducted in French and English, and was pretty insightful. We passed Fort Margherita and the Astana (pic above) on the other side. We probably would not have time to visit those landmarks, and I was glad to get a closer look at them. The Astana (or palace) was built as a bridal gift from Charles Brooke (the second white rajah) for his second bride. Completed in 1870, it is now the residence of the state’s governer. Fort Margherita was built as a defensive structure on a vantage point of the river. Named after Brooke’s second wife, the building now houses the police museum. The side on which the Astana and Fort Margherita are is called Kuching North, and the side on which the older part of the city is on is called Kuching South. From what I can tell, Kuching South is the older section, with the new commercial and administrative hub in Kuching north.
Peppered around both banks of the river are little malay villages (pics above). If I heard correctly, there is an island in the middle of the river called “Petra Jaya”, which confused RFD, who asked “Shouldn’t it be Putra Jaya?”. We saw lots of fishermen, some boys just fishing for fun. Some fishermen were pulling in their nets for the day. There were many jetties along the way, including the old James Brooke port, which looked abandoned to me, but apparently is still being used to train seamen.
View of Khatulistiwa Cafe from the cruise boat
Halfway through the river cruise, we were treated to an ethnic dance (left pic). I wasn’t paying much attention, but I knew the first dance wasn’t really done that well (or rather, I had seen better). It was good though, catering more to the foreign tourist, rather than to me. The cruise dragged a bit after this, although the weather is fine, breezy and slightly warm. Cruising along the river in the twilight was really exceptionally relaxing.
Twilight on the cruise boat
After the cruise, we walked around the older parts of Kuching, and ended up in the James Brooke cafe for a drink. It really was an elegent place, with actually very fair prices. We sat, and mulled, and laughed, and basically enjoyed the cool airy atmosphere of the open structure set among the trees.
James Brooke Cafe
We sauntered back along the river bank, had a good dinner, and I retired with my book (and he his laptop) for the day. The next day, our last, was a bit of a disappointment. We had planned to take it even easier than the day before, but we had little choice but to do absolutely nothing since it was pouring the whole day. We sat back in Coffee Bean (adjacent to the hotel) with our book and laptop (respectively) and waited for our plane out.
By the time we had to leave for the airport, we were actually quite bored, a bit damp, and a little antsy to leave. Traffic to the airport was bad, and the airport itself was surprisingly congested outside, and packed inside (there is some construction going on in front of the airport). Although I would love to go back to Kuching some day, the last day was just so long and wet and tedious, I know I, for one, was grateful when I was finally seated and buckled in my Air Asia seat, heading for home.