Off to Kuching for regatta week

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KUCHING, 13 September 2018:  Sarawak hosts some incredibly entertaining festivals in its annual calendar and the Sarawak Regatta – Kuching Waterfront Festival is one of them.

It presents enormous added value for a Kuching holiday if you can plan a trip around the regatta dates 26 October to 4 November.

The regatta itself takes place along a 1.3 km stretch of the Sarawak River in the heart of Kuching’s downtown waterfront, a colourful spot at any time of the year, but more so during the regatta week.

It’s a great time to enjoy Kuching’s waterfront district and watch a colourful regatta with links to the town’s vibrant maritime history. The entire town centre is a hive of activity as spectators crowd the riverside boulevard to watch longboat races during the 10-day festival.

Adding a spectacular element to a family holiday, the festival showcases longboat races with boats lined up for the starter’s pistol from villages and longhouses across Sarawak state as well as boaters from neighbouring Indonesia and Brunei.

The coveted grand prize is the “Raja Sungai” or King of the River title, with teams of 30 paddlers cutting through the Sarawak River at breakneck speeds to vie for the victor’s crown.

It has a long history dating back to James Brooke, the founding White Rajah, who is credited with introducing the Sarawak Regatta in 1872. The British Brooke family ruled as monarchs of the Kingdom of Sarawak from 1841 to 1946.

At the time, the Brooke family rulers saw the river regatta as an essential distraction to steer tribes away from wars and headhunting through a spectacular competitive sport.

Kuching’s inner town that lines the riverbank is packed with heritage buildings, small markets, hawker centres and quaint streets reminiscent of Singapore in a previous century.

Unlike so many Asian cities, Kuching has done a credible job of protecting and restoring its historical buildings, which has given rise to popular half-day city cycle tours through old-world riverside districts with stops at ancient forts, museums, traditional Malay timber houses and terrace shop-house streets that today host boutique guesthouses, restaurants and bars.

The challenge has always been how to get there at a cost that leaves you some pocket money for a hotel stay, sightseeing and a good feed.

But that is changing mainly due to AirAsia’s strong commitment to adding both domestic and international services to Kuching the state capital.

A check of TripAdvisor flags 57 hotels that are no more than 2 km from the river,  but that was in theory. TripAdvisor threw in a few that were further afield

Hilton Kuching with 1868 reviews was lauded for its great views of the river with spectacular sunsets and the recommendation was clearly always book a room facing the river, to get the most out of this property.  Booking.Com and Agoda quote daily rates of USD52 during the regatta week.

Pullman Kuching outdoes the Hilton logging 2,250 reviews and booking sites quote a daily rate of USD53, but it is not by the river and a prevalent comment is “not the best view in town.”  It’s a 10-minute walk to the riverside according to reviews.

Located in the town’s heritage district close to Chinatown and India Street, the Waterfront Hotel tots up 297 reviews on TripAdvisor and booking sites quoted a rate of USD52.  Just a short walk to the river, the hotel is right next to street food hawker stalls and a shopping mall sporting branded stores and a supermarket.

There’s a big gap in reviews between the top three and Imperial Riverbank with 87 reviews, but it is close to the river and guests can admire the Cat Statue, a great landmark to find the property. Rates in the regatta week start at USD27.

Ariiva Gateway Kuching Residences clocked 286 reviews and has a rate of USD40. It is recognised for being close to the popular Seafood Kuching restaurant and the river.

To secure more leisure bookings from Asia’s major cities, Kuching needs to increase direct flights especially to boost travel to festivals and sporting events.

AirAsia earlier this year said it would expand international flights. It has already launched Bintulu-Singapore, Kuching-Shenzhen, Kuching-Langkawi and Kuching-Pontianak.

There are now plans to launch a Kuching-Bangkok service, the first direct flight after Thai Smile aborted its nonstop service in 2016.

But for this year’s regatta there are no direct flights between Bangkok and Kuching.

Bangkok
The best roundtrip deal on AirAsia is USD202 for a five-hour 40-minute trip departing Bangkok at 0925 and arriving in Kuching at 1605 with a change of plane in Kuala Lumpur. The return trip departs Kuching at 1350 and arrives in Bangkok at 1825.

The cheapest roundtrip fare departing Bangkok, 31 October and returning from Kuching 5 November starts at USD300 on Malaysia Airlines. The flight departs Bangkok at 1415 and gets you in Kuching at 2005 with a change of plane in Kuala Lumpur. Actual flight time is four hours and 50 minutes.

Singapore
It’s a doddle to fly to Kuching from Singapore as there are plenty of competitive direct flights. AirAsia has the cheapest roundtrip offer at USD79 for the one-hour, 25-minute flight. It departs Singapore at 1145 and gets you to Kuching by 1310. The return trip departs Kuching at 0950 and arrives in Singapore at 1120.

Malaysia Airlines best offer is USD178 roundtrip, same flight time, with a departure from Singapore at 1250 and touchdown in Kuching at 1415. The return flight departs Kuching at 1040 arrives back in Singapore at 1205.

Hong Kong
From Hong Kong the cheapest roundtrip deal starts at USD235. The eight-hour and 40- minute outbound trip on AirAsia has a change of plane in Kuala Lumpur. If you think that flight is too long, the return journey is worse at 12 hours and 25 minutes on Scoot with a stop in Singapore.

The roundtrip fare is USD239 even when you travel both ways on AirAsia with a change or plane in Kuala Lumpur. The downside is the end-to-end flight time of 13 hours and five minutes, about the same as a flight to Europe. AirAsia departs Hong Kong at 2020 and gets you to Kuching at 0925 on the following morning with a change of plane in Kuala Lumpur. The return flight departs at 2155 from Kuching and gets you in Hong Kong on the following morning at 0935 (11 hours and 40 minutes).

The better option is to pay USD384 and fly Singapore Airlines departing Hong Kong at 0800, with a change of plane to Silk Air in Singapore arriving in Kuching at 1415. Flight time is six hours and 45 minutes. The return flight on Silk Air departs Kuching at 1040 and connects with Singapore Airlines in Changi to get you back in Hong Kong at 1705.

There are 28 daily direct domestic flights from Kuala Lumpur to Kuching on AirAsia, Malindo Air and Malaysia Airlines  that passengers can connect with from international flights from Asia-Pacific, China, India and Europe.

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