The street food of Kuching, the capital of Sarawak, Malaysia, is an attraction in itself and scrumptious enough to pull in the tourists. But there is more to the city than just Sarawak laksa and kon lo mee.
The Eastern Malaysian state is a land of colourful cultures, boasting 27 ethnic groups which speak 45 languages and dialects. It is also a paradise of nature, housing the world's most exotic species of flora and fauna, and it is home to 11 national parks and two wildlife centres.
Sarawak Cultural Village
The cat city
My Sarawak holiday began in Kuching, which was nicknamed the "cat city" because of its once large population of cats.
According to the locals, Kuching today is better known as a garden city. It is situated on the banks of the Sarawak River and a walk through the city is like a trip back in time.
Well-preserved with historical buildings, the city is a charming landscape of vibrantly painted temples, noisy street markets and traditional Chinese shophouses.
To catch a glimpse of the city's historical past, a visit to its numerous museums is a must. Even if you are pressed for time, go for a short tour of at least The Sarawak Museum and The Chinese History Museum.
The Sarawak Museum displays a collection of local arts and crafts and exhibits of animals native to the land. The Chinese History Museum tracks the history of the Sarawak Chinese and traces the progress that the community has made through the years.
Both museums are open daily from 9am to 6pm. Admission is free.
The native people
For a more in-depth look into the heart of Sarawak, visit native Borneo. Just about an hour's ride by coach from Kuching is Annah Rais, the largest Bidayuh longhouse in Sarawak.
Home to the Bidayuh natives, who were once ferocious headhunters, the house was built 200 years ago with bamboo, timber and Nipah palm leaves.
The Bidayuh are a warm and gentle people who have chosen to live in their traditional way. The villagers go about their daily activities with minimal modern amenities and conveniences.
Electricity and piped water are still rare conveniences. Most of the inhabitants carry out chores, such as rice pounding and mat weaving, by hand.
The highlight of the trip was the visit to the village baruk. Situated in the middle of the longhouse, this room has human skulls hanging by the fireplace.
In the old days, the room was regarded as a fort and the exhibit of human skulls that were collected through many fierce battles with warring tribes were believed to help protect the village from an enemy attack.
Semenggoh Nature Reserve
Get close to nature
Exotic flora and fauna feature prominently in any holiday in Sarawak, and a 30-minute drive away from Kuching will take you close to nature.
The Semenggoh Nature Reserve is a 740ha forest sanctuary for orang utans. Here, orphaned or captive primates are rehabilitated and trained to survive in the wild. Don't be surprised to see dozens of orang utans swinging from tree to tree, posing and preening for the cameras.
If you have time to spare, the Sarawak Cultural Village is another attraction.
Situated 32km from Kuching, the village is on the foothills of Mount Santubong. Here, through a cultural performance in the village theatre, get a comprehensive introduction to the local culture and lifestyles of the ethnic Sarawak people.
July is a good time to make a special trip to this village. The second weekend of the month is when the Rainforest World Music Festival, featuring musical artistes from as far away as South Africa, will be held.
Soak in the atmosphere and enjoy the shopping and food delights of Kuching. But try also to venture off the beaten track for an immersion in nature and culture. This will be rewarding too.
MAY 25 TO 27
Johor International Orchid Show (Johor Bahru):
Various species of orchids from all parts of the world are on display at the show.
Colours of Malaysia (Kuala Lumpur):
This event showcases the best of Malaysian culture, craft and cuisine. Get a fascinating glimpse of the Malaysian culture. Highlights include parades, cultural performances, exhibitions and festivals.
MAY 26 TO JUNE 2
World Harvest Festival 2007 and Gawai Dayak (Sarawak):
The Dayak communities in Sarawak celebrate Hari Gawai to mark the end of a successful harvest season. This unique festival is shared with rice producing counterparts in Malaysia and around the region.
MAY 30 TO 31
Tadau Kaamatan (Sabah):
Join this celebration by the largest ethnic group in Sabah, comprising the Kadazan Dusun and Murut communities. It is an annual thanksgiving celebration for the bountiful rice harvest. The event culminates in the district of Penampang.