sunset-homestay-2-kuching

The ultimate digital nomad guide to Kuching

Move over Chiang Mai. There’s a new girl in town and her name is Kuching. She’s warm and beautiful, loves digital nomads and knows how to cook amazing (and cheap!) food.

Where the hell is Kuching?

It’s the capital of Sarawak which is in Malaysia on a bigass island called Borneo. It’s north of Indonesian Borneo and south-west of Brunei.

kuching-map

The 600,000 people living in Kuching call it the Cat City, because the Malay word kucing means cat. And it’s shows. There’s cat references all over the place.

There’s even a cat museum (not recommended, although I guess it would be awesome if you’re on shrooms).

Some cool facts about Kuching, Sarawak

Before we dig in, let me sum up some fun trivia.

  • The native Iban tribe practiced headhunting in Sarawak
  • Sarawak is the only Malaysian state where the largest religion is Christianity
  • First coworking space opened in August 2017
  • 4G signal is strong everywhere
  • Majority of the people in Kuching are more family-minded than money-minded
  • You can find cheap beer and booze here (if you know where to look)

How do I get to Kuching?

Kuching has an airport (KCH) about 11 KM south of the city center. A new terminal at Kuching International Airport opened in 2006. The airport is a secondary hub for Malaysia Airlines and AirAsia, which operate a number of domestic and international flights.

kuching-airport

Singapore to Kuching

Flights from Singapore (SIN) to Kuching Utara (KCH) take about 1 hour and 25 minutes hours and one way tickets can be found for as cheap as $20.

Kuala Lumpur to Kuching

Flights from Kuala Lumpur (KUL) to Kuching Utara (KCH) take about 1 hour and 50 minutes and one way tickets can be found for as cheap as $25.

Getting to Kuching by bus

Daily buses run between Kuching and all major cities in Sarawak. There is also a bus to Pontianak in West Kalimantan.

Regular buses arrive and depart via Kuching Sentral. It’s located about 2 km past the airport. Busses are very comfortable and most roads are in great condition.

Kuching-Sentral

You can easily book tickets online through busonlineticket.com.

Visas needed for Sarawak/Kuching

If you enter Sarawak from a foreign country it’s easy to get a single entry visa which is issued to foreign nationals, for social visit. It is valid for single entry only and for a period of 3 months (eat that Thailand!) from the date of issue. You can check here if you need visa to enter Sarawak and how you could apply for one.

If you you enter from Malaysia mainland and you already got your visa, you just get a cool, extra stamp in your passport.

kuching-passport-stamp

Getting Indonesian (Bali) Visa in Kuching

If you’re heading for Bali you can pick up a 60-day tourist visa for Indonesia from the Consulate. You need to apply at the Indonesian Consulate between in the morning preferably before 11.

Things you need for your 60 day Indonesian visa:

  • Passport photo
  • Tickets in and out of Indonesia (proof that you’ll be leaving the country before you visa expires)
  • Proof you have money (bank statement or copy of credit card)
  • $50 to pay for visa

You can pick up your Indonesian visa in the afternoon or the next day.

Best time to visit Kuching

I was there for a month just after Chinese New Year and the weather was great. A little rain in the morning or evening and nice and sunny during the day. But it can get bloody hot.

Pro tip: Adjust your daily routine to the weather. Don’t go out in the middle of the day. Get up early to run errands or make trips. Take a nap or work when it’s hot and go out to eat or party at night. Do as the locals do. Don’t be that sweaty tourist that goes out to see the orchid garden at 12 noon.

If you go in June you’ll be there for Gawai Dayak (1st & 2nd June) which is celebrated by the Dayak tribe in the state of Sarawak, and is considered a major celebration in Kuching.

June until August is when Sarawak has the least rainfall while December to March is when it is most wet due to monsoon season.

Finding a place to live

I recommend staying in or around the Waterfront area. Sure this is where most of the tourist are, but is also where the action is. There is no real expat neighborhood. I looked at a couple of Airbnb places, before deciding on staying at Sunset Homestay 2.

This place had everything I needed:

  • Nice double room with private bathroom
  • Fast and reliable internet
  • Big common area
  • Kitchen and fridge
  • Free coffee, tea and water filter
  • Multiple desks and good chairs for work
  • Warm and friendly staff
  • Car and scooter rental
  • Awesome location, 10 minute walk to Waterfront
  • Cheap restaurant downstairs with great food

sunset-homestay-2-kuching

Other housing options for digital nomads in Kuching

Expect to pay upwards of $25 a night for a good hotel room, but personally I’m not much of a hotel guy. Other options are Airbnb or renting an apartment long term. This is where Thailand beats Malaysia. Renting a place here is generally more expensive and more difficult.

It’s possible to rent an apartment long term, but from what I’ve heard they usually work with a one year lease. I haven’t tried this myself, but talked to people who managed to rent cheaply and month to month by extreme haggling.

Some resources for long term rental in Kuching:

Remember that there aren’t a lot of decent apartments blocks near the Waterfront, so you’ll be further from the city center.

Coworking spaces in Kuching

I didn’t visit any of the coworking spaces in Kuching, so I can’t give you my review on them. Personally I’m not a fan of coworking spaces. My privacy is important to me and my online hustle does not require networking with other people.

I only work a couple of hours a day and the place where stayed had a couple of good spots where I could set up shop.

But there are certainly options in Kuching if you’re looking for a coworking space:

Working from coffee shops

As mentioned earlier, I did most of my work the place I was staying. But when I wanted a change of scenery I went to Bing! on Jalan Padungan. Nice chairs, great wifi and they make a mean lasagna!

Want more? Check out the top 5 cafes to work from in kuching.

Where to stuff your face

First off I absolutely love the food in Malaysia and Kuching is no different. And it’s also dirt cheap. I was lucky to have a great little cafe just downstairs from the place I was staying. Nice selection of Malay dishes and some western food. I paid an average of $3 for a meal including a drink.

Some of my other favorites:

Where to find cheap beer and booze in Kuching

The majority of people in Malaysia are Muslim and according to them God doesn’t want you to drink alcohol. But that doesn’t seem to hold them back.

Malaysia has the third highest tax on alcohol worldwide at 15%, behind Norway and Singapore. But the country has the 10th largest population of alcohol users worldwide, with an annual spending of RM2 billion on alcoholic drinks.

Buckets of beer

When the locals go out drinking they order beer by the buckets. The bucket is filled with ice and usually 5 or 6 bottles/cans of beer. Prices of these buckets can vary heavily depending on the venue.

I’m from the Netherlands. I like beer and I like cheap. So I’ve put together a list of places where you can find cheap beer. Expect to pay between 20 to 40RM (about $8) for a bucket of beer at these places.

  1. Big Bottle – Crossover between a liquor store and a bar. Balcanico pizza is just outside 🙂
  2. Speak Eazy – Nice alternative bar. Great bar food as well. Als try their Tuak
  3. Monkeebar – Pay attention to their specials. Comes alive after 10 pm
  4. Borneo Rednecks – Can’t remember much about that night…
  5. Green Hill Corner also has cheap beer but not in buckets.

cheap-beer-kuching

Tuak

If you want to get drunk on some local liquor, you should try Tuak. Tuak is a Sarawakian term for rice wine. Some are more potent than others. You can get it in bars and in shops round Kuching (ask for Kedai Tuak). I was lucky to meet a local dude who brought me bottle of local moonshine.

tuak

Staying in shape

Personally I just work out at home. Prison style. But if you want to go out to get some exercise (you’ll need it with all that awesome food) here’s a list:

Things to do in and around Kuching

You’re in Borneo so you’re surrounded by spectacular nature and wildlife. This is why I spent my weekends making trips to the jungle and hiking. You can book expensive trips in Kuching, but I did everything easily by public transport or motorbike. Some of the highlights:

orang-utan-kuching

Internet, 4G and SIM card

Internet in Kuching was very good in areas I was staying. I had great WiFi at the homestay and used Maxis Hotlink as 4G backup.

I bought my SIM at their KLCC store in Kuala lumpur. Real interwebs junkies can also pick up a SIM straight out of they gate arriving at the airport in KL.

But they have shops and top up points in Kuching as well. The one I used was located inside the Plaza Merdeka shopping mall, near the waterfront.

plaza-merdeka-kuching

Hotlink has great coverage. The only place I was without 4G was in Baku National park.

Here are some of the plans they offer. I picked the RM45 8GB package.

hotlink-sim-malaysia

The kids working at the Hotlink stores are very capable and are fluent in English. Just hand them over your phone and the’ll set you up. Easy.

Transport in Kuching

I used local buses to go to the National Parks and Grab (like Uber but better) in and around Kuching. Grab is supercheap in Malaysia.

Taking the local bus to Baku

The bus ride from Kuching to Bako Market takes about 45-60 minutes (red public bus number 1, originating from the wet market beside the Electra building.

It costs RM3.50 each way and buses leave to/from Bako about once every hour starting from about 7AM from Kuching and finishing about 6PM from Bako.

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Renting a car, scooter or motorbike

The place where I was staying had one car and one scooter that they rented out. I didn’t rent the car, but took the scooter for a spin a couple of times.

Traffic can get pretty busy around the city center as everyone uses their car for everything. The roads are in great condition and there’s no crazy driving.

There is a motorcycle shop along the row of old shophouses next to Ting & Ting supermarket (which is a good landmark, everyone knows where this is)

I paid 40RM ($10) for my scooter. This was for single days. You should negotiate a discount for long term rental.

I didn’t rent a car myself, but I heard good things about Car Rental Kuching.

Cleaning your dirty undies

Doing laundry in Kuching is a breeze and a great opportunity to meet the locals. I’ve had some of my best conversations at the laundromat.

I only used LaundryBar and washing and drying should cost you around 8RM ($2) total including detergent.

laundry-kuching

Cost of living in Kuching

This is always a hard one. It totally depends on your comfort level and lifestyle. If you stay in cheap hostels, eat cheap food and don’t go out. You could probably survive on $500 a month.

If you want to live comfortably. In a nice apartment, do some co-working, go out to eat and drink, you should be looking at around $1500.

Check out some specifics on cost of living in Kuching.

Is Kuching for you?

If you’re looking for wild parties and crazy nights out, Kuching is probably not for you. However if you want to be productive, eat great (cheap) food and explore nature, then by all means come and check it out.

Let me sign off by thanking the lovely people of Kuching. You made me feel very welcome. Thank you for your smiles. I’ll be back.

Please let me know if you have any specific questions in the comments.