Y’orchidding me Sarawakaday

This is episode 4 of me and Helen’s trip to Borneo in October 2019. You can read the other episodes by visiting the trip’s homepage, until the URL changes in early 2020 because to this day I still don’t have a decent way of keeping all this stuff organised quite how I want it. Perhaps I’ll write something specific to my personal requirements one day; more likely I’ll never get round to it...

Anyway yes, episode 4. Having flown from London to Kuala Lumpur, set an alarm for 0630, visited the KL bird park then flown to Kuching, set an alarm for 0630, and spent Friday watching orangutans eat and then cruising a river gawping at other wildlife, we were finally allowing ourselves a lie-in. Well, sort of. I woke up hungry, and nudged Helen out of her dream: listen, if I go to breakfast alone then that’s your chance gone, since they’ll tick off our room number. She told me in no uncertain terms to go eat by myself, and that’s what I did.

Back up the room I thought I’d have a bit more sleep myself before getting on with writing up Thursday and Friday. I’m getting steadily worse at keeping up to date with my holiday diaries, having kicked the habit of composing each entry the evening of or morning following the day in question, as regular readers know I sometimes take days or a week to get anything written, or even miss out entries at all. According to Owen, I’m still in Helsinki.

Of course, I fell asleep until gone 1pm. D’oh. Guess I’ll stay behind, then. We got up and showered and requested that housekeeping come back half hour after they rang our doorbell. Come just after 2.30pm or so and we’re out of the room, walking down to the riverfront.

For the first time, we’re going to walk across the big S shaped bridge. It’s named after Darul Hana, not to be confused with Daryl Hannah. Joining the northern and southern halves of Kuching, it’s meant to symbolise unity and some other stuff. Plus, like, be a way for people to get from one part of the city to another without needing a river taxi or go miles to the nearest road bridge.

As we cross, music is blaring out loudly from some unseen location on the other side. Music and vocals. Bad vocals. It’s dreadful, dreadful karaoke, louder than the Muslim call to prayer that would accompany us on the walk back a couple of hours later.

Over the other side we go up the road past the parliament building and along a path leading to the Orchid Park. Just as we step into the entrance building, a man stops us to excitedly show the live stream of Eliud Kipchoge’s (latest) attempt at running a sub-2hr marathon.

Also, it starts to rain. And rain around these parts of Southeast Asia means a LOT of rain. We are pretty much trapped under the cover of the entrance, next to the little kiosk selling ice creams ‘n that, courtesy of a massive thunderstorm with accompanying lightning show. It takes about an hour to pass, which we mostly spend chatting to the Kipchoge fan and watching the insane amount of live comments scroll past on his phone’s YouTube app. At one point he tells us how much 55” TVs cost around these parts. Can’t remember why he brought that up.

I stepped out in the rain a couple of times, just to experience a Southeast Asian thunderstorm. There was a lot of rain, but the raindrops themselves were soft and warm. I had kinda hoped they’d be cold like European rain, since I was so warm myself, but no luck.

Eventually the storm passed and we ventured into the gardens. I can’t really say much about them except “here’s some orchid or other” repeat ad nauseum. My lack of orchid knowledge might have been tempered somewhat had there been any labels, but there weren’t. So you’ll just have to make do with some pictures.

OK so these were labelled, but I didn’t read them.

Helen, who in the new year will be taking a planting design course, is moderately scathing about the planting design throughout. Still, it’s a bunch of nice plants in a free garden with virtually no other visitors. On our way out, the guy watching Kipchoge is still watching Kipchoge and we check on his status. Still unfeasibly fast.

Having had enough of this side of the river (the only other thing we want to see is 2.6km away, which is too far to walk) we go back to the city centre, accompanied by the aforementioned call to prayer – mixed with the happy hardcore still being played by some of the juice sellers.

Our next stop is a statue, all the way along the waterfront and then inland. En route we pass the ticket counter for the sunset cruise which Helen’s keen for us to do, but I am somewhat cynical about. After some discussion we resolve to try it, but not tonight, since time’s already a-ticking after our late start.

The statue is next to a roundabout near a shopping mall and McDonalds and KFC and a hotel whose name starts with the word “grand”, but which looks anything but. It’s the statue you saw in the cover photo for this piece, of a big bunch o’cats.


Kuching, see, means (or sounds a bit like a word which means) “cat”. This is by far the most popular of the three theories which abound about the origin of the city’s name, and one which the whole place has taken and run with. There’s “cat city <x>” shops, loads of “Cat City Kuching” t-shirts, a cat museum, and several cat statues of which this is the biggest.

We’re not the only people taking selfies and stuff there. As we leave to find some relief from the sweltering heat – the weather around here is constantly 30-31ºc, with a “feels like” rating 4 or 5 degrees hotter again – one half of another couple seemingly tries to surreptitiously take a photo of me. Much like the ladies at one of the food stalls earlier in the day, who’d gestured and giggled, I think my beard is of particular interest in this part of the world.

Downstairs in a shopping mall, the air-conditioning is beautifully cold. I get some cash out, and we hang around for a few minutes standing behind the 50 or so people who are watching some fellas play some traditional Iban music on a variety of similar instruments. Iban people are a tribe who live inland from here, you can go visit their longhouses or even stay. If I remember rightly, they used to be actual headhunters. Not recruitment, but they’d chop your bloody head off.

Anyway, back to cats. Meet this little fella.

He startled me by being on the chair I was about to sit down on, as we chose a table with a nice view at the James Brooke bistro. Actually, that might have been a different cat, perhaps this one.

Point being, there were two cats sat on the two chairs we weren’t occupying. In fact there were 5 cats in the bistro in total, and we very much enjoyed interacting with them while we drank sprite and Tiger and ate laksa. This Sarawak Laksa I had was utterly delicious, and only cost about £2 or something silly like that.

When a cat with two different coloured eyes (is he blind in one?) jumped on the table wanting to eat a bit of a leftover prawn, we were happy to let it happen – but the waitress came and scooped the scrawny scamp up. Soon she’d taken all the cats away, despite our protestations that we loved them. She wasn’t shooing them, it was all very affectionate, we just weren’t allowed to have them near us. Boo :-(

With darkness falling we went back to the hotel to change into less sweaty clothes before going out for beer. We knew about this place called Bear Garden, 50% of whose profits go to an orangutan rescue centre. Mixing beer with conservation makes me feel so incredibly righteous. Our route took us past a few fellas sat at a small table on the side of the road which was covered in empty Tiger bottles, at least 25 or so I estimate. Looks like they’d had a good Saturday.

It was a crap beer at Bear Garden. The blackboard outside proclaimed that they serve “craft beer”, but as with anywhere else that’s made that claim it seems to mean “hey, we do Guinness and Tiger and stuff”. I had a can of a mainland Chinese lager which was very poor, very poor indeed. Helen appreciated her bottle of Chang for sentimental reasons though.

In need of something sugary, we revisited the James Brooke from just 2 or 3 hours previous. As we’d left they were putting out more chairs on the pavement, so we’d expected it might be about to start getting busy. On the contrary, this time we were the only customers. Ah well. The cake was nice.

Having still not found anywhere to buy takeaway beer for the hotel room, we opted for a night cap back at the Walk-Star bistro of grunge’n’wrestling success the previous night. On this Saturday evening it was much less busy than it had been on Friday, with only one other customer, a loud western woman who I didn’t earwig but Helen did. Once we left, she told me she was glad we hadn’t had to interact, because the woman was full of opinions.

Returning to the hotel, we were greeted by another of Cat City’s cats – the sleepy ginger one which had been lying on various baggage trolleys or other perches many times since we first arrived.

With it only 11pm, and with every previous beer only being 330ml at the most, we thought WHAT THE HELL and went for a nightcap at Zapatos, the bar on the hotel’s 4th floor with the pool ‘n that. Didn’t have it to ourselves this time, but still it was very private and a good way to finish our lazy Saturday.

Couldn’t stay up too late though, since our alarm was set for 0630 on Sunday. Oh FFHS NOT AGAIN.

Created By
Darren Foreman