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This list describes our first day in Kuching after arriving just after mid day. It was a great way to get to know the area and start our 2 week holiday with a bang!
We arrived in Kuching just after mid day and following the flight from Kuala Lumpur we were able to relax at the hotel for a minute before headin straight out. The flight included a lunch which meant that we did not have to spend time after arriving trying to find something to eat. We travelled with Page & Moy, a company I would certainly recommend, and their Borneo Longboats and Orangutans tour made up 2 of the best weeks of our lives!
The Hilton is a beautiful place and after arriving our tour manager had arranged for us to have some welcome drinks (papaya juice I believe) which was a welcome refreshment. We stayed in a 4th floor room facing the river, and we couldn't believe the gorgeous view from our room! We were able to see locals fishing with nets from tiny boats, families travelling back and forth between the 2 sides of the river and people going on with their daily business on the streets below us.
If you had not taken much cash with you, see the people on the reception desk who offered a fairly decent exchange rate allowing us to buy currency on debit card. We had before this tried to get out cash from an ATM in the Hills Mall, which is a 4 minute walk up the hill (turning right) from the Hilton. I would recommedn that you do not use an ATM at a mall (there are plenty of hotels and banks in the area which offer this service). Our card was in the machine for about 15 minutes, which even in the air conditioned foyer of the mall made us sweat! No money was taken but the whole machine turned off and re-booted with out card inside before finally spitting it back out.
After freshening up at the hotel for a little while and getting our cash sorted out we decided to go for a walk along the Kuching eslpanade which was visible from our hotel room. We walked up for around 10 minutes or so to the other end of the Main Bazaar (which is on the other side of the road from the esplanade. It was a nice sunny day so the river was grogeous to walk along. It is a very clean area and there are some very nice buildings to look at along this short stretch of water, along with a variety of statues and water features.
The main reason for our walk along here though was to have a look at some of the shops along the Main Bazaar. There are a LOT of shops along here and most of them are very narrow but go back a fair way. We did not have a huge ammount of time so did not have a chance to look throuhg all of the interesting shops here. Some advice about looking around the shops however is to not miss out on some of the hidden gems which they harbour. A good example is if you see stairs leading up to a room where you think there may be just furniature... Have a look anway. We managed to find a beautiful pencil drawing of a Proboscis Monkey upstairs in such a place. One of our biggest regrets in fact was not buying more of these drawings (which also included many other animals from Borneo including Hornbills, Orangutans and Clouded leopards etc.
One thing which struck us as we walked around was something which we would encounter at other places around Borneo, and that was the terrible smell! We thought there was a very bad sewage smell, which we later found out was the smell of Durian fruit. Durian fruit may not be purchased and braught back to your hotel, and we did not ever get a chance to try fresh Durian, but did eat Durian sweets and biscuits... its not a flavour which will ever grow on me! Do note though that the sweets don't just taste like Durian fruit, they also do smell a bit like it... Something which we found out in our hotel room!
On our way back to the hotel we stopped off at a small grocery store just up the road from the Hilton, which we had done on the recommendation of our tour guide. We went there to buy some bottled water which was much cheaper than at the hotel, and came in VERY handy the following day when we went to Bako National Park. There were also a number of savoury snacks and sweets for sale... We came to love the Malayan equivilent for peanut m&m's... VERY cheap and much sweet than m&ms which was perfect for us!
The trip to Semenggoh was a last minute decision and addition to our tour from Page & Moy, which a lot of people on the tour did not take advantage of. It was a real baptism of fire in terms of introducing us the natural living wonders of the island!
We went to Borneo to see animals and this place does not disapoint! When we arrived it was around half an hour before they were due to bring the feed out for the animals and I was told that they had a couple of Crocodiles there. I did not have a chance to see them (although this was one type of animal I came to see - luckily I managed to see 2 on the Kinabatangan river later on in our holiday).
Just before the feeding there was a health and safety talk, and all of a sudden there were a lot of people about. We managed to get to the front of the crowd which meant that we could get a great place to stand and watch them Orangutans from! We managed to watch them for around 30 minutes and saw just 2 animals (a very large male called Ritchie and a smaller female). You can get quite close to these guys and we actually missed out a little while we were sheltering in the gift shop, buying some of the post cards. While we were in there Ritchie walked from one of the feeding areas to the other along the public path and people were within feet of this gorgeous animal...
... We managed to get a LOT of very nice photos none the less.
The trip there and back was by taxi and sadly I cannot say whether there was anything interesting to see along the way or how long it took. The taxi had no air con so it was very stuffy and my body decided that these 2 trips were a perfect opportunity to catch up on sleep I didn't manage to get on our flight from the UK!
After we returned from Semenggoh we freshened up a the hotel for a little while and then made our way to the top spot food court at around 7:00pm. This is an unusual place and you would never expect it. You walk from the hilton for no more than 5 minutes to a multi-story car park and then make your way to the top floor. More people from our tour came as well and some waited for the lift almost 15 minutes! We went up the stairs... it is very hot downstairs for just waiting around!
As you get to the top floor it open up in to a huge seating area, bustling with people and with the smell of food filling the air. It takes a little getting used to but our tour guide explained how it works:
-> You walk around and have a look at the many vendors.
-> After finding a vendor either take a seat or pull aside one of the people who work there.
-> Choose your fish and how you want it cooked.
-> Choose your accompanying vegetables.
-> Order a drink.
-> Wait for your food.
We walked around all the vendors before making our choice, and I recommend you do the same. There is a lot to compare, as there are a lot of different types of fish available (some displayed ready to cook and some still living). Others have a variety of vegetable on display and then there is also te price to compare... Although they are all very well priced!
We ended up having rice and forest fern (which is delicious - we ate it numerous times and I would definately recommend it). The my partner ate large shrimp cooked in garlic and I had BBQ sting ray (which is a very tender and mild fish - very tasty).
To accompany the rice there are a number of condiments on each table... use these mixed to your taste and add a flavour sensation to your plate! I mixed all 3 ingredients (a base of soy and oyster sauce, curshed garlic and chilies), and drizzled it over the rice, to make it taste much better.... And it is something I still do now that I have returned home!
DO NOT MISS THIS PLACE... its not just somewhere to eat... its an experience!
I know that we already mentioned the Esplanade which we walked along during the day, but as we left the food court there is an ice cream stall on the right hand side just before the exit. The flavour here are a mixture of what you would expect from any ice cream vendor here right through to some more local flavours (try maize ice cream... it taste a little like pop corn).
The ice cream portions are to take away and fairly big. Due to our proximity to the water front we decided we would take the 3 minute walk back there in the cooler evening breeze. It is even more beautiful at night when it is lit up and bustling with people. Sales people are there with stalls selling a mixture of souvenirs and counterfeit designer wares and the food stalls are all up and running (on another night we had honey flavoured pop corn on a walk along the esplanade... a very tasty walk along snack).
We felt very safe walking along here at night which is something we can say about almost anywhere on Borneo and it is worth having a walk along if you have a spare few minutes... and an ice cream in your hands.
... After this it was back to the hotel for an extremely comfortable night sleep!