Thursday, November 21, 2013

Kuching: Beware of Extreme Weather

Kuching is the largest city in East Malaysia, the capital of Sarawak state and is on the island of Borneo, a large island that Malaysia shares with Indonesia and Brunei.  Sometimes parachuting into a foreign city clicks and sometimes it clunks.  Kuching has been partly clunk.

For one thing I picked the wrong hotel.  We stayed at the Citadines, they're a Singaporean chain that I've had good luck with in the past in Bangkok and Tokyo.  But the Citadines Upland Kuching is in a terrible location for anything downtown, one that I should have noticed from a map.  The Citadines Upland Kuching is located on a 4 lane divided boulevard halfway between the airport and downtown and is central to nearly nothing except an under rented mall across the boulevard.  There are no sidewalks.  Although on the 10th floor we awake daily to the sounds of chickens and especially roosters.  The hotel staff told us that there was no bus to town.  "Taxi only, we call for you!" said the check-in clerk.

But there is a bus.  From our 10th floor window I saw a beat up green bus taking on passengers at a covered bus stop right outside the hotel.  We gave it a try and it worked, sort of.  The K-8 bus meandered through the city and took us to a downtown street that doubles as the local bus station.

Last stop, everybody out!
From there we jumped into the city to be exposed to the weather, which seems to alternate between a searing, punishing, will sapping equatorial sun and steamy humidity and the tropical downpours and violent thunder and lightening storms that roll in from the interior jungles.  The buses stop running at 6PM, or sometimes 5:30 PM or whenever they want to pack it in for the day.  We were marooned at a bus stop in the afternoon watching others wander away after they had given up any hope of the bus.

The next morning we were waiting for the bus to take us into Kuching when a small beaten up beige Toyota van stopped and the others waiting with us at the bus stop scampered aboard so we did too.  It took us downtown to the same street as the bus, we paid our fare of 1.50RM and scampered out for our morning broiling.

There were 9 of us in this tiny van.  The driver is the one wearing the Islamic headgear
We got a one hour respite from the searing sun by taking a river cruise. The boatman seated us in the boat, prepared for the journey by taking a leak against a wall before we headed down river.  The boat was so tiny that shifting my body for a comfortable position or a better camera angle caused the boat to list.

But the shade and the breeze as the boat headed up and then down river was so refreshing in the stifling afternoon heat that we took the river cruise twice.  The second time we had run into a semi retired tour guide while we waited for one of those city buses that never come.  Richard Yeo gave us a river tour seemingly just out of personal pleasure.  He seemed to be an all round great guy who answered all of our questions about Kuching and helped to turn our trip here around.  That's him with Eleanor below.

Hi Richard!
Questionable hotel location in a city with great food but weather extremes. Our next destination will still be tropical but I've already secured a reputable hotel in the best part of town.  Stay tuned.

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