Cats Under The Stars (Jerry Garcia)

We covered Sabah, or at least tried, by venturing to the popular parts of Kota Kinabalu within a short span of a few days about a year ago. So it was high time we tried to do the same for its neighbour, Sarawak. I had little knowledge of this part of Borneo, apart from the headhunters of the past; not to lead some big corporations but to ‘decorate’ the beams of the house, purely for rubbing some souls the wrong way.

A major disadvantage of being married to a teacher is that I need to plan our holidays to coincide with the school and public holidays, when rates are not really that favourable. We flew Air Asia when it would have cost the same on a different date to take a full-fledged airline to a more exotic destination.

Anyway, I booked Pullman Kuching for the first night and Damai Beach Resort for the second. Both overshadowed the originally intended Hilton Kuching and Damai Puri Resort respectively, simply because the former’s 80’s decor was too much for me to stomach and the latter came with deplorable reviews from past guests. The third night was left open prior to our departure, depending on the outcome of the second night.

We started our first day in Kuching by chartering and traversing the Sarawak River on a rickety small boat for about 20 minutes that cost MYR 20. The typical fare to cross from one side to another cost 50 cents per passenger. Something that needed to be experienced by any tourist in Kuching. Just be wary of the fact that there are seldom any lifejackets on board and it can be quite nerve-wrecking when the boatman lets in too many passengers. The brown water of the Sarawak River is only about 10 cm from the rim of the boat when that happens.

It was also planned for us to arrive in Kuching on a Saturday, with the Jalan Satok Sunday Market getting into full swing from around 3 pm on Saturday till the following morning. Hardly differs much from the longer Sunday Market venue in Kota Kinabalu, with the exception of ikan terubuk masin being available; a delicacy it seems with the older generation. We bought a few, including the pricier fish eggs, to bring back home.

We also tasted local fares like Laksa Sarawak and Kolo Mee, the halal version. I don’t get the hype over them. The first one tasted like normal laksa infused with traditional jamu and the second hardly worth eating at all. Perhaps the missing minced pork was the reason?

And to be in Sarawak without tasting and buying their famous Kek Lapis is unthinkable. We had already bought a few from some vendors in town and the market on Saturday, before being informed that we needed to cross the Sarawak River to where the best ones originate from. So back to the river we went the following morning. A short boat ride and we were in Kek Lapis Mecca. A long stretch of road flanked by many Kek Lapis specialists but we made a beeline for Kek Lapis Dayang Salhah, supposedly the best one (not exactly so compared to the ones we bought from another shop across the road from them) and frequented by many Malaysian artistes. They even have a wall where many pictures of these celebrity patrons are pasted and as luck would have it, someone came in together with his family shortly after we arrived, who made Fadelinah hyperventilate. Some Tony Eusoff guy who acted in some Malaysian dramas and movies I think. So this guy who just happened to have a DSLR hung around his neck was made to do some paparazzi shots surrounded by hundreds of Kek Lapis.

Upon checking out,  the van driver I engaged to transport us throughout the trip, brought us to Damai Beach Resort, about 45 minutes from the main town. I simply love the pictures of their hilltop suite when I was browsing for resorts online, and they’re really true to form. There’s a kitchen on the lower level where barbecues can be had, while the upper level contains the sleeping and living areas. The view from the balcony in front of our beds was breathtaking. Ooyah had lots of fun in the swimming pool near our suite, the second one provided by the resort; more private compared to the one on the beach level which was just too crowded.

Later in the evening, we took the resort’s free shuttle to Beach Seafood Restaurant, where they serve decent seafood. Nothing impressive unlike the one we had at Kota Kinabalu’s Port View Seafood Village. We had thought earlier that we were being brought to the better ones at Kampong Buntal. Miscommunication I reckon.

Having to miss visiting the Sarawak Cultural Village due to an early morning rain and our suite already booked by another guest, we decided to head back to town. Somerset Gateway was our stay for the third night. I had always held in high esteem The Ascott group, with Somerset and Citadines being under their wings. However, things didn’t really go right during our stay. Not so in terms of service which was impeccable, but maintenance of the property. A loose part of the baby cot actually fell on Ooyah while she was sleeping, resulting in a slight bump on her forehead, not that she’s not used to the accidental bumps now and then. The property manager has been in contact with us since the incident and we’ll probably settle things eventually.

On a personal note, I find Sarawak to be the cleanest of all the Malaysian states and the people to be very friendly and helpful. Not once but twice, that they went out of their way to help us. Ordinary folks who guided us through the crowded market to find the items we were looking for and look for a taxi when we ran out of ideas where to look for one. Taxis don’t come by often in Sarawak and rather expensive when you do get one. Trips less than 5 minutes about town usually cost MYR 10 and those further out to Damai and Santubong would be around MYR 50. The meters in the taxis are merely accessories. Nobody uses them.

That being said, I’m not sure if we’ll return to Sarawak but there’s a niggling feeling that quite a bit of things were left undone during this trip.

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~ by blackcadillac73 on March 20, 2010.

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