City Attraction: Kuching Waterfront
Located at Main Bazaar Road, along the south bank of Sarawak River, Kuching Waterfront is one of the Sarawak’s city attractions which is said to be the most happening place in Kuching. Its civil design, landscaping and multi-purpose usage are reasons why people willing to make it as a gathering site or meeting place. It is stretched approximately 1.3 km, with a riverside walk linking the hotel precinct with downtown Kuching and provide facilities for various use.
Since the 19th century, Kuching Waterfront has undergone several transformations. It was at first a small settlement, then to a busy port with mushroomed warehouses and wharves, until a landscape riverside walk it is today.
In 1839, when James Brooke first landed in Kuching, and granted by the Sultan the title of Rajah in 1841 – as a reward for the successfulness of sewing up a rebellion – he started to take over and administer Sarawak. This is the beginning of the Brooke era. At that time, Kuching waterfront was a place where the institutional buildings from the Brooke era was built. Along the river, the well-preserved Court House, Fort Margherita, Square Tower, Astana and a few other historic buildings was built.
In those day of 1960s, Kuching Waterfront was a busy maritime port where trading would take place. It is also a place where people sell sand for construction. During that time, all the loadings were done by labours, using rattan basket and carried by hand from the boat to the riverbank. These were probably the reasons for the establishment of Indian and Chinese shophouses along the riverbank – drab warehouses, wharves and old markets were built along the riverbank.
Kuching Waterfront is officially opened in 1993. A major restoration and land reclamation project were carried out. The drab warehouses and old markets have been replaced with kilometres long esplanade, beautifully landscaped and dotted with wooden benches, food stalls, restaurants and entertainment facilities. Modern additions include a restored Chinese pavilion, an observation tower, a tea terrace, the spectacular musical fountains and several modern sculptures.
Several buildings, originally built in the 19th and early 20th centuries to cater to Kuching’s earlier development as a port and administrative centre, have been restored to their former glory. These include the Astana, Fort Margherita, the Old Court House and so on.
North bank: Offer a breath-taking view of the Astana, the Sarawak State Assembly, Fort Margherita and the Malay Kampungs (i.e. Kampung Boyan) located at the north bank of the Sarawak River.
- Astana. Built by Charles Brooke in 1869. The name is a variation of ‘istana’, which means ‘palace’. It was constructed next to Brooke’s first residence. Charles Brooke built it as a wedding gift to his wife, Margaret Alice Lili de Windt. Today, it is served as the official residence of the Governor of Sarawak, and therefore not open to visitors. However, the gate will be open during Hari Raya to welcome visitors in the best tradition of Malaysia Open House practice.
- Sarawak State Assembly. Officially opened in 2009. It is located at the north bank of the Sarawak River, in between the Astana and Fort Margherita. The distinctive “payung” (umbrella) roof of the building is an iconic landmark of Sarawak. Not open to visitors.
- Fort Margherita. Built in 1879. It was named Margherita after Margaret, who was the wife of Charles Brooke. The building design was based on an English Renaissance fort and palace. Under the second Rajah, it was used as a defence fort, a prison and central control. It was once a Police Museum. Today, it houses the Brooke Gallery, an exhibition showcasing the history of Sarawak under the Brooke Dynasty. Tickets are required for the entrance. It is open on weekdays from 9:00am to 4:45pm, and weekends from 10:00am to 4:00pm.
- Malay Kampungs. Located along the riverside of the Sarawak River, next to Fort Margherita. One of the famous one is Kampung Boyan. The Malay villages along the riverside contain beautiful traditional and modern Malay architecture – the Malays originally migrated from Sumatra and have certain amount of cultural and historical affinities with the Brunei Malays. Besides the traditional wooden Malay houses, the people there are very warm and friendly. Explore the villages and savour the variety of traditional Malay snacks, dishes and seafood. Do try the famous Kuih Lapis (traditional Sarawak layered cake).
South bank: The structures and facilities represent a blend of existing historical buildings and additional modern facilities. The historical buildings and landmarks have been preserved and restored by the government and locals for years. These includes:
- The Square Tower. Built in 1879. Along with Fort Margherita, it is originally designed as a prison. Then it served as a former fortress to guard the river against marauders, then a jail and dance hall over the past centuries. Today, it hosts a dinner-only restaurant. From the top of the tower, it offers scenic view of Gunung Santubong and Gunung Serapi.
- The Sarawak Steamship (Waterfront Bazaar). Built in 1930. Previously served as the offices and warehouse of the Sarawak Steamship Company. Today, the company no longer owns ships. While the river was the artery of Sarawak’s commerce, the waterfront was lined with warehouses which have given way to the esplanade. Now housing the Kuching Waterfront Bazaar, with dozens of stalls selling handicrafts and souvenirs.
- The Godown Amphitheatre. The mini amphitheatre used to be a godown or warehouse by the dockside in the old days; hence its name – Godown Amphitheatre. An open space mini-amphitheatre with seating capacity for approximately 200 persons. Regularly used for cultural performances, concerts, talent shows, product launchings, singing competitions, colouring contests and many more activities.
- Old Court House Complex. Built in 1874. The Clock Tower is built in 1883. It served as the city’s administrative centre until 1973. In 2003, it was converted into the Sarawak Tourism Complex. It now houses a cafe and a bar, the Ranee Museum (RM10 for entrance required) and several venues for art and performance. Kuching’s main tourist information centre is also located here. Out front across the street from the Square Tower, stands the Brooke Memorial.
- Textiles Museum of Sarawak. Built in 1907. It is situated at The Pavilion Building in Kuching. Its architecture is a mixture of the English Renaissance and English Colonial. It is rectangular in design, three stories high with a flat concrete roof. The museum was originally constructed as a medical centre until 1947. It was then later housed the Education Department of Sarawak State Government. In 2000, it was then turned into the Textile Museum of Sarawak. The museum displays the textiles made by ethnic communities in Sarawak, as well as traditional costumes and accessories. It also showcases the stages of textile manufacturing processes. The museum opens daily, from 9:00am to 4:45pm on weekdays and from 10:00am to 4:00pm on weekends. Free entrance.
- The Round Tower. Built in 1886, the time when Kuching faced the threat of attack by pirates. It was believed to have been originally designed as a fort – depends on its structure – but somehow it was never completed. Instead it became the dispensary and served the adjacent European hospital until 1947. It was later used by the Labour Office and the Subordinate Courts Registry. Nowadays, it is the headquarters of the Sarawak Craft Council. The higher floor of the tower provides an excellent view of the town.
- General Post Office. Built in 1932. It is a majestic building located along Jalan Tun Abang Haji Openg, Kuching. Designed by Denis Santry of Swan & McClaren Architects in Singapore, this Neo-Classical facade were quite in contrast to the style of buildings favoured by James and Charles Brooke. The site used to be a police station and stables for the white rulers. Today the building continues to function as the main post office for the city of Kuching.
- Chinese Pavilion. Restored and transported from its original location – the western end of the Waterfront in front of the Old Court House.
- Chinese History Museum. Built in 1912. Located opposite the Tua Pek Kong Temple. It was first used as a court for the Chinese Community in Sarawak. In 1930, it was taken over by the Chinese Chamber of Commerce. In 1993, it was converted to the Chinese History Museum. Currently, it housed exhibits which traced the settlement of the Chinese in Sarawak. It included the migration from various regions in China and their traditional trading activities. Open daily from 9:00am to 5:30pm. Free entrance.
- Floating Pontoon. Bob along with the waves and watch the colourful perahu tambangs. As the sea level rises, the level of the floating pontoon rises.
- Brooke Memorial. Built in 1924 to honour Charles Brooke, the second Rajah. He died in England on May 17, 1917 and was buried in the country churchyard of Sheepstor, Devon.
- Tua Pek Kong Temple. The oldest Tua Pek Kong Temple in Sarawak. It has been in existence on this site since 1770. According to the record, it was first repaired in 1856. Another major repair was carried out in 1965. Meanwhile a master plan is being made to renovate and extend the temple building including the beautification of the land around the temple. The whole plan will be completed in about 5 years. The site was carefully chosen, in accordance with ‘feng shui’ principles, and it is believed that the temple will bring peace, harmony and eternal prosperity to Kuching’s Chinese community.
The additional modern facilities include:
- The Floating Mosque. Officially opened in 2019. Located on the banks of the Sarawak River. It is Sarawak’s first ever floating mosque, adding to the latest tourist attraction list after the Darul Hana Bridge. This new mosque is to replace the 186-year-old Masjid India which was built by Indian Muslim traders who operated their businesses at the present-day India Street. It is open to the public to give them an opportunity to admire the unique interior designs.
- Waterfront Square. An open space for martial arts training and demonstrations such as Silat, Tai Chi, Wushu, Taekwondo. Also, this facility is used for assembly and large group activities such as mass aerobics.
- Sarawak Tourism Federation. Open from 9:00am to 5:00pm daily, located next to the Waterfront Management Office and The Sarawak Steamship. Tourism information and extra assists provided for both locals and foreign tourists.
- Hornbill Fountain. Hornbill, the state bird of Sarawak, is translated into modern art in this water-cascading metallic sculpture.
- Darul Hana Musical Fountain. Runs daily at 8.30pm and 10pm, for a period of 15 minutes. It combines three elements namely music, water and light to create an amazing sight at night.
- Upside-Down House. Situated next to Tune Hotel in the main town area, along Kuching Waterfront. It is an interactive gallery where the interior set up are built upside down; hence suitable for all ages. This makes it an ideal tourist attraction for local and foreign tourists alike. For locals, the entrance fee is RM12 for adults and RM8 for children, elderly and disabled. For non-MyKad users, the entrance fee is RM20 for adults and RM 15 for children, elderly and disabled. Open daily, from 9:30am to 6:00pm on weekdays and from 9:30am to 7:00pm on weekends.
- Family of Cat Statues. An assemblage of polychrome cats who pose and preen amid the passing cars. They bring the meaning of harmony and unity. They also promote the concept of an entire family despite in different colours.
Connection of north and south bank: To link the northern and southern parts of Kuching, the Darul Hana Bridge – opened in late 2017 – is use as the city’s new pedestrian bridge (335m). The bridge is constructed to remind one about the letter ‘S’ (for Sarawak). The two towers are designed to look like the hornbill-inspired structures of traditional Bidayuh bamboo bridges. Two spacious viewing decks offer the best locations for taking in sprawling riverfront views.
- Sarawak Traditional Boat Cruise and Perahu Tambang
Besides the bridge, several small jetties for the perahu tambang (wooden water taxis) service and Sarawak traditional boat cruise (motorized boat) are provided along the riverside promenade. They are used to connect the north and south bank by waterway. It is quite popular and beloved among both tourists and local. It will be an extraordinary and memorable experience taking a perahu tambang to cross the Sarawak River in one’s lifetime.
- Sarawak River Cruise
Boat tours are available for those who want to have a further enjoyment and more complete view on the scenery of the river, as well as admire the surrounding nature and lifestyle. The Sarawak River Cruise vessel departs daily at around 5:30pm for a Sunset Cruise lasting for one and a half hour till 7:00pm. The Sightseeing Cruise, only available on Saturday and Sunday, starts around 3:00pm lasting for an hour. Tickets are inclusive of the traditional Sarawak layered cake and free flow orange drinks and live commentary.
a) Ferry Terminal Istana Jetty (the Astana)
b) Ferry Terminal Kubu Jetty (Sarawak State Assembly)
c) Ferry Terminal Batu Jetty (Kuching Waterfront)
d) Ferry Terminal Encik Omar Jetty (Kampung Boyan)