Where to stay
Wedged between the Old Court House and the Textile Museum, the rooms at the Kuching Waterfront Hotel have views across Padang Merdeka to the Sarawak State Museum or across the river to the iconic State Legislative Assembly Building. Its prime location has the added convenience of being attached to the Plaza Merdeka mall, and is opposite Carpenter Street where cheap and cheerful Sarawakian dishes like Kolo Mee and Sarawak Laksa - an Anthony Bourdain favourite – is served.
Kuching Waterfront Hotel 68 Jalan Tun Abang Haji Openg, Kuching, Sarawak Tel: 082 227 227 www.thewaterfrontkuching.com
Where to eat Dulit Coffee House located on the ground floor of Telang Usang Hotel may look trapped in the past but its local fare is transcendent. Run by Mina Trang Witte and Geoffrey Telip, here is where you try typical local fare featuring jungle edibles like Midin Kerabu (fiddle-head jungle ferns marinated in lime and ginger) and Jantung Pisang Kerabu (banana flower salad). Nip across the road to The Lamin for the only home-made boozy ice cream in town - Tuak and Raisin anyone?
Dulit Coffee House & The Lamin 340-345 Jalan Ban Hock, Kuching, Sarawak Tel: 082 415 588 www.telangusang.com
Zinc & Pincho Loco Chef Jordi from Barcelona runs this stylish wine and restaurant serving up European cuisine and craft cocktails with flair and great Sarawakian hospitality. If you can’t wait, pop into sister establishment Pincho Loco, serving Spanish tapas for lunch and dinner in a casual colonial shophouse.
Zinc Restaurant and Bar 38 Jalan Tabuan, Kuching, Sarawak Tel: 016 576 6647 www.facebook.com/zinckuching
Pincho Loco 94 Ewe Hai Street, Kuching, Sarawak Tel: 011 3690 6675 www.facebook.com/pincholocobyzinc
We’d be hard pressed to pick Malaysia’s most beautiful state, but Sabah is a strong contender. A land of contrast located at the northern tip of Borneo; its confluence of mountain, sea, and forest has turned it into a top eco-tourism destination.
Enter the rainforest
Championed by Sir David Attenborough, who has repeatedly filmed here for his wildlife documentaries, Sabah is home to the Kinabatangan Wildlife Sanctuary, a narrow corridor of forest that snakes alongside the mighty Kinabatangan River. Home to unique and endangered species like the proboscis monkey, pygmy elephant and orang utan, a river safari is ideal for spotting these animals in the wild.
The Borneo Sunbear Conservation Centre (BSBCC) located opposite the Orang Utan Rehabilitation Centre in Sepilok, near the seaside town of Sandakan, is dedicated to rescuing and rehabilitating the elusive Malayan Sun Bear, many of whom are orphaned or kept as illegal pets. Visitors can catch a glimpse of these nimble creatures climbing trees and hunting for insects in their forest enclosures. Alternately, volunteer at the centre where you’ll get feed, look after and design enrichment for them over a two week period. bsbcc.org.my
Surrounded by calm warm waters, Sabah offers the country’s best diving despite stiff competition from Kelantan and Terengganu. Frequently listed in the world’s top 10 diving sites, Sipadan is a magnet for wall divers and underwater photographers who come for barracuda tornadoes and schools of hammerhead sharks. Semporna provides access to the fabulous islands of Mabul, Mataking and Kapalai. Volunteer and dive with TRACC who are based on Pom Pom, and is the brainchild of Professor Steve Oakley, a marine biologist and conservationist who sadly died in 2016. His work continues and you can contribute by helping to repair coral reefs where turtles nest and are sighted daily.
Climb a mountain (or two)
At 4095 meters, climbing Aki Nabalu, as Malaysia’s tallest mountain, Mount Kinabalu, is known colloquially as, is quite a challenge. There are two routes to the top via Timpohon and Ranau with a third (Kota Belud) being developed. Booking ahead is essential, and you can also experience the world’s highest Via Ferrata. Not for the faint-hearted, you’ll climb down vertical rock faces, dangle over verges and navigate narrow bridges clipped to a steel cable at 3776 meters above sea level. And yes, kids (above ten) can do it too. The less popular Gunung Trus Madi is Sabah and Malaysia’s second tallest peak and is reputed to be even harder as you make your way over tough terrain through dense jungle and must camp overnight. mountaintorq.com
Walk the landscape
A stone’s throw from Kota Kinabalu Park, Kundasang War Memorial’s Contemplation Garden is a simple but powerful tribute to the 2345 allied POWS and locals that died during the Borneo Death March and Japanese Occupation. You can recreate the final steps of these brave men by trekking the Sandakan Death March trail. Australian-based company Wild Spirit Adventures runs a ten day trek on average twice a month, while local outfit TYK Treks offers a nine and 12-day trek option and includes a visit to Labuan’s Commonwealth War Cemetery. wildspiritadventures.com EL sandakandeathmarch.com/tours/challenge-highlights-challenge-tour
Catch a glimpse of these nimble creatures climbing trees and hunting for insects in their forest enclosures”