Inner Circle

Go with the Flow

Siew Hoon Yeoh wiles away the days drinking coffee and sampling local delights in Kuching.

Go with the Flow
It’s a charming little place with a handful of tables and chairs. The coffee is strong, nothing like the watered-down globalised versions, and the cookies delicious.

The immigration officer smiled apologetically. “Sorry for the wait, we have two planes landing at the same time.” There were only three people in the queue and I had waited no more than five minutes. And it was really only two small planes – both A320s operated by AirAsia.

But then this was no ordinary place. I had just arrived in Kuching, a small town with a big heart. I hadn’t visited for a few years and it was nice to instantly unwind as I inhaled the refreshing tropical Borneo air.

“No problem,” I said to the officer. “I have all the time in the world.” This wasn’t strictly true – I had three days – but in Kuching, time seems to move at a different pace. I travelled with a friend from Zhongdian in China’s Shangrila region who was also at home in tranquil locations where time seems to slow down.

A recent study indicated that most people are happier planning their getaways than when they are actually on holiday, as the pre-holiday phase is filled with anticipation and excitement, while the reality can often be filled with stressful situations. So in my book, travel is best without too many plans and my plan for Kuching was to go with the flow.

The first day we wandered around the old city, admiring the shophouses that still house family businesses-cum-homes. We stopped at a café called Black Bean where a Taiwanese woman and long-time resident of Kuching serves local coffee and tea. It’s a charming little place with a handful of tables and chairs. Though it was packed, she found room on the counter for both of us. The coffee is strong, nothing like the watered-down globalised versions, and the cookies delicious. We talked for a while and learnt about local coffee.

That night, we went for a fabulous dinner at See Good Seafood Restaurant. I like the name because you eat everything you see – it’s that good. My favourites were the Sarawak jungle fern and a crab dish fried with curry leaves.

We found a charming little hotel named Batik. I liked the fabric theme of the property and the owner, a young banker, also opened an art gallery called Tanoti where young girls are trained in local songket weaving. Meeting them in the gallery made me realize the important role local entrepreneurs play in creating jobs and keeping traditions alive.

Kuching’s full of these entrepreneurs who are proud of their heritage. I dined at the Dyak restaurant which serves authentic cuisine of the main tribe in Sarawak – the food was simply delicious and unlike anything I’d ever tasted. Vernon Kedit opened the place in honour of his late great grandmother whose picture adorns the walls.

The décor is one of the main draws of the cosy eatery with an array of paintings and decorative items like vases, swords and Dayak tribe musical instruments, each with its own fascinating story. The restaurant serves as a veritable museum where staff are happy to share descriptions and history on each of the items. The memorable meal is another reason I can’t wait to return to Kuching where I plan not to plan, but simply wander and enjoy. 

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