Lovely young maidens, dancing fluidly to the beat of ethnic music; war-like cries of a warrior, moving fiercely with shield and spear in hand; and cheerful dancers in colourful traditional costumes, expressing the myriad blend of cultures and customs... these and more could be experienced first hand on the commendable Sarawak River Cruises at the Kuching Waterfront in the city of Kuching, Sarawak.
My friend was visiting from overseas and we decided to go on the Sarawak River Cruise. The fares for the nearly 2 hours sunset cruise, from 5.00pm to 7.00pm, were RM60 for an adult and RM30 for a child. "My Equatorial" was the name of the 120 feet by 20 feet double-decker cruise-ship we were getting on. Upon entering the gleaming white cruise-ship with its newly renovated interiors, we were soothed by piped-in sape music, a guitar-like traditional instrument of the Orang Ulu ethnic group. There were stairs leading up to the upper deck and we headed towards that direction.
Able to accommodate up to 200 people throughout, the lower-deck of the cruise-ship was entirely covered and air-conditioned with a dining lounge, a mini bar, karaoke entertainment and washrooms. The upper deck on the other hand was an open-air concept with a performance stage and a sheltered sightseeing deck, in case it rained I suppose. We were warmly greeted by the friendly staff on board, and later given welcoming cordial drinks and snacks of local kuehs (cakes) to munch on. I would agree that these were all the style, comfort and amenities you would need for a relaxing and enjoyable Sarawak River Cruise.
As the cruise-ship set off on its journey on the Sarawak River from the Kuching Waterfront, we chose to stay at the upper deck to appreciate the cool breeze and wonderful river views. Lively commentaries were intermittently made by the staff as we came upon the series of historical sites situated along the river. I must say that taking the Sarawak River Cruise was like taking a cruise into the history of Kuching, Sarawak, which was then juxtaposed with the modern development of the city.
We were in fact following the river path of the first White Rajah of Sarawak, Sir James Brooke, when he sailed up the Sarawak River, 173 years ago, in August 1838. Today, we could visually experience the contemporary and vibrant Kuching Waterfront, the new State Legislative Assembly building, hotels, condominiums amongst the skyline of Kuching City, the capital of Sarawak.
Then the past slowly emerged as we journeyed onwards, with the churning of the river waters on the Sarawak River Cruise. We began to observe with quiet wonder these historical landmarks: the Kuching State Mosque (1847), Malay villages of Kampung Boyan and Kampung Surabaya (1860), Main Bazaar (1864), Astana (1870), Old Court House (1874), Square Tower (1879), Fort Margherita (1879), Brooke Dockyard (1912), and Chinese Museum (1912).
Other interesting sights, which captured our attention, were Mount Santubong outlined by the glowing sunset, the Satok Bridge, the residence of the Chief Minister of Sarawak, an assortment of fishermen's boats tied leisurely near the river banks, and the numerous tambangs or water-taxis plying the waters of the Sarawak River.
In between the river sight-seeing, at times wandering from lower deck to upper deck, and checking out the karaoke songs, we were also entertained by vivacious multi-cultural dance performances on the stage. The cultural performances certainly enlivened the serene ambience of the cruise-ship, and added an additional dimension to the Sarawak River Cruise. Our feet were tapping and bodies moving to the rhythms of the pulsating music.
Surprisingly, I also found out that these daily sunset cruises could cater for private or corporate functions, educational tours, and special occasions such as birthday parties and weddings! One ship fits all, I guess; and "My Equatorial" was a good example of a luxury river cruise-ship in the making offering a range of services to individuals or groups.
Now, how was the Sarawak River Cruise? I would say that it had been an informative and engaging sunset cruise for us and a must-try for visitors.