By Cycling Malaysia Magazine May 15, 2018
One pedal stroke and we were off in search of great people, of grand experience and of green adventure. We needed not to look beyond the country’s borders to uncover the extraordinary. Flying 600km from Peninsular Malaysia, we landed on the country’s largest state, Sarawak, a familiar territory, to cycle through unfamiliar stories.
In the capital, Kuching, where cats speak a good volume of history about the city in their carved stone versions, Cycling Malaysia found places where adventure lives wild and free.
A mixed bag of accents and identities is the charm that is truly Sarawak. Throw Iban, Bidayuh, Melanau, Malay, Penan, Chinese and Orang Ulu, among other 20 tribes, and 24 distinct dialects into the mix, and you get a kaleidoscope of culture, wherein each tribe is a distinct color that makes a good companion to another, both in difference and harmony.
We got a taste of this intimate blend when the team of Paradesa Borneo, an energetic bunch of Sarawakians, took us for a curious ride around the city, in and out of roads well traveled and not.
After getting playfully lost in translations during ingress—a hearty exchange of similarities and differences—we began spinning our wheels with the full sunset goal in mind.
Taking liberties with our bicycles also meant, of course, following the rules of the road. Hand signals guided the pack as we negotiated our way through city traffic.
Around 2 kilometers of flat and easy scenic road, with panoramic views of Sungai Sarawak (‘river’ in Malay), helped us gather momentum early on, just before we stopped by a kampung (‘village’ in Malay) house built of wood and on stilts. While this was not the first among clusters of them frequenting our view—some run-down, some redone—it was one of the oldest, living through generations, for over 100 years now, with the solid ironwood posts and strong wires holding its fragile antiquity together against time and, even worse, flooding.
We moved ahead and let the road fill our sight with the vibrancy of the old and new look of the other kampung houses intensely hued under the still harsh sun.
From wide to narrow two-lane roads, we cruised along quiet and noisy households, peaceful altogether, with what seemed like an endless exchange of hellos and warm smiles here and there.
It came as no surprise when we saw kids pedaling to and from, around and about their high-spirited community.
O’er 3 kilometers after, we cycled in single file across a wooden bridge, our wheels thumping over planks, bump-bump-bump, down narrower roads with more houses raised on stilts on both sides.
Not long after, our wheels were rattling over wooden planks again, crossing a wider bridge to Sungai Maong village, to locate the Sand Factory by the river. The rusting vessel, old and reticent in its own tract, was telling its own tale over generations of sanding activities. The villagers working here are among the Chinese, Malay and Iban tribes. Like the ironwood log bridge connecting the extraction vessel from the quayside, Kuching’s infrastructure development will stand the test of time.
From the gravelly road by the factory, we kept our easy pace on our way to a nearby traditional local farm. Mixed crop- livestock farming, a practice passed down from great grandparents to grandparents to parents to present generation, continues to become a ready source of income for a few of the villagers. It was rare to see one in the city, the capital for one, almost hidden from the bustle on concrete pavements. The authentic smell of the countryside, without having to travel to remote or rural areas, was refreshing amidst scenery of bananas, lemongrass and jackfruit, among other stocks including chickens, ducks and goats. It was a quiet, green rapture waiting to be discovered in the business center of Sarawak.
The journey to the other side of Kuching continued to surprise us, when after less than a kilometer, we turned into a short narrow road, only to be saluted by a sunset jetty, overlooking Mount Serapi. A few longboats (20-30 paddlers capacity) turned upside down lined up the walkway, only to find more, surrounding the edge of the walkway. Around this time, villagers would train for Sarawak Regatta, an annual rowing event in September that features a race between longboats. We were lucky to witness paddlers train, but this time for the upcoming Tidal Bore Festival (Pesta Benak) in Sri Aman, which would include longboat paddling competition, tidal bore surfing and other water sports. Who would miss riding the waves at their highest?
Bathing in the view of the skies about to burn into sunset, we hit the roads again, cycling a relaxed 4km distance, to chase after its full beauty from the wide concrete Tun Datuk Patinggi Haji Abdul Rahman Yakub Bridge, crossing over Sungai Sarawak. Sure, there’s nothing like a lovely sundown to end the day, but there was one more left for us to find — the Blue House.
Down the bridge, we cycled another 4km along kampung houses to search for the one that stands out among the rest, and finally making a turn from Jalan Merdeka. We knew it when we saw it. True blue in color, in an earthy background, the house towered over us and our parked bicycles, showing off its 30-year-old heritage in modern coating. It is the epitome of Sarawakian homes today, evolving and staying true to its roots—an enduring image to end our kampung journey with.
From here, we hopped back on our bicycles for the last kilometer of our ride to get our wheels on board the water taxi or ‘bot tambang’, a small wooden boat, for some quiet river cruising back to the main bazaar.
The boat served as our cradle, with the river gently rocking us. Kuching was a nocturnal live art, growing and pulsating in city lights, as we inched closer to its heart. Whoever said that all architecture is great after sunset must have seen the Cat City of Sarawak.
There’s more to Kuching than meets the eye; you just have to pedal further through roads tried and untried. Take your friends and family with you on an easy 21km ride, and prepare to see the other side that tells you another story that is absolutely Sarawak.
Find out more about Paradesa Borneo’s Local Bike Discovery day tour.