Our local friend Ronnie tells us about gay Kuching, Malaysia
“It’s just more relaxed here compared to mainland Malaysia” explained one of our many gay friends we met travelling around Malaysia Borneo.
Here is Sarawak Malaysia on Borneo island where we stayed for half a month in August 2015 after travelling in Peninsular Malaysia.
We based ourselves in the main city of Kuching, a very cool city, relaxed and smiles aplenty from everyone. Sebastien felt more at home here to waltz around in his latest sun hat purchase.
We wanted to do a gay story for the Malaysian section of our blog, but unfortunately being a Muslim country, gay is illegal and being ‘out’ can have severe implications on your life, particularly your career.
One of our local metrosexual friends Ronnie was nonetheless open enough to guide us through the ins and outs of this part of Borneo island in our guide to gay Kuching.
1. Bonjour and kalimera Ronnie! Welcome to our little online rainbow world…
Selamat detang to Kuching my Nomadic Baes! I am Ronnie, journalist and fellow blogger of Man in the Face Mask.
2. So what’s the perception of gays in Malaysia and do you think it’s more relaxed in Kuching compared to peninsular Malaysia?
I personally think people in Kuching are more accepting towards gays because we’re more accepting generally. It’s part of our culture to be welcoming and open as you boys found out.
Malaysia is such a hodgepodge of races and religions and that’s exacerbated here in Sarawak with indigenous races like the Dayak, which can further be broken down to more than 200 ethnic subgroups!
So, there are many criteria that differentiates all of us anyway. Somewhere along the way, sexual orientation becomes one of those “check-boxes”. People around here have gotten to know about gays and lesbians, but that does not necessarily translate into acceptance.
Nevertheless, people rarely resort to hatred or violence on the topic. I guess it comes as no surprise why Kuching was pegged as the City of Unity a couple of months ago.
And I think tourists who come here feel it too. Smiles and greetings of welcome come easily for us.
3. Do you have any gay friends who’ve experienced any open homophobia by their friends, family or in the workplace?
Luckily boys I don’t. Many people here practice the ideology of an “open secret”: it’s not really talked about in public discussions. Along this line, not many are really open about their sexuality.
Nevertheless, sexuality isn’t the only factor that makes up a person, and that’s why homophobia is not prevalent here. We’re so much more than just a straight/gay/bi label.
4. Do you know any gay friendly hang outs in Kuching?
Generally pubs and bars welcome anyone so long as you don’t cause trouble for them. These are some popular hangouts, which aren’t officially gay but attract a gay/mixed crowd:
- RJ Ayam Penyet cafe at Lot 166 & 167 Jln Nagor
- Junk Restaurant and Backstage on Wayang Street is great for karaoke and Saturday evening parties
- Zinc Bar at 38 Tabuan Road is a popular high end French / Malay fusion hang out.
If you love your food, then you will do very well in Kuching. Everyone here is excited to show off our local specialties and we particularly love travelling foodies for this very reason.
5. Any good gay friendly places to stay in Kuching?
There are several for all budgets, which wouldn’t bat an eyelid if you boys ordered a double bed, like:
MARCO POLO GUESTHOUSE Book online
- Good budget option with extremely friendly owners devoted to their guests.
- 60 Ringgits (£10/$14) a night includes a basic breakfast.
PADUNGAN HOTEL Book online
- Recently opened and located near excellent eateries where you can try Kuching staples like Sarawak Laksa or Mee Kolok.
- Rooms from 115 Ringgits (£20/$28) a night.
HILTON HOTEL Book online
- Located on the river, perfect for walks and evening market.
- Excellent breakfast (you must try their Laksa Sarawak).
- Rooms from 230 Ringgits (£36/$54) a night.
BATIK BOUTIQUE HOTEL Book online
- Cute little boutique hotel with clean and comfortable rooms.
- Very friendly staff and excellent breakfast.
- Rooms start from 300 Ringgits (£46/$70) a night.
6. What are fun activities you recommend to LGBT tourists in Kuching?
Great question boys. Kuching has a lot to offer and keep you busy both in the city and around.
We have a plethora of festivals, such as the Rainforest World Music Festival every summer, attracting a mixed crowd from all over the world.
In August, we have the Kuching Food Festival for the entire month and I know you greedy boys had a great time here!
Kuching means “cat” in Malay and is a theme taken to heart. A large cat statue welcomes you into the city, but you also found them dotted all around Kuching.
There’s also a fun Cat Museum where you can learn everything you ever wanted to know about cats! You can reach it via a 10 minutes taxi ride from the centre and it’s open every day from 9am to 5pm.
THE FABULOUS ORCHID GARDEN
The Orchid Garden is worth visiting simply to take in the relaxing serene atmosphere and dream about unicorns.
It’s open everyday except Mondays from 9:30am to 6pm and located near the Cat Museum, so the two tie in nicely for a day trip.
KEEPING THE PECS FIRM
A good gym I recommend for fitness bunnies is Level Up Fitness located at Wisma Everrise (behind HSBC). As well as an excellent gym with brand new equipment, they have a variety of classes like body pump, yoga, core and spinning:
7. We want to meet the proboscis monkeys, orang-utans and play in the rainforest. Any tips?
There’s several National Parks near Kuching, each makes for an excellent day trip:
BAKO NATIONAL PARK TO MEET THE PROBOSCIS MONKEY
Bako National Park is located on an island, which you reach via a car ride and boat transfer. I recommend using a well reputed and gay friendly tour company like Borneo Adventures.
The National Park is a jungle environment with wild boars, snakes and of course the place to come and see the distinctive proboscis monkeys.
Bako National Park is also famous for the limestone rock formations, particularly the one shaped like the head of a cobra:
SEMENGGOH WILDLIFE CENTRE TO MEET ORANG-UTANS
Semenggoh is the largest orang-utan rehabilitation centre established in 1975 as a sanctuary for injured and orphaned orang-utans. It is easily accessible from the city via a taxi or bus ride.
The Semenggoh Wildlife Centre has a family of orang-utans like 44 years old Sakara and her 5 years old son.
You can visit as a day trip by yourself or arrange a tour with a gay friendly company like Rainforest Kayaking, which will also include some awesome kayaking in the Borneo jungle.
MULU NATIONAL PARK FOR CAVE ENTHUSIASTS
Mulu National Park is a flight away from Kuching and is the place to go to experience the true Borneo rainforest experience and lots of caving. It is also where you can watch the incredible mass bat exodus at the famous Deer Cave. I believe you boys wrote about it in more detail on Expedia’s travel blog.
8. Finally, Sebastien would like to invest in a new outfit for next year’s Rainforest World Music Festival, any suggestions?
Oh Sebastien would look just awesome in one of our batik outfits: colourful and a great way to bring out his very dramatic French personality:
For more about our adventures through Malaysia, please check out our Malaysia travel video: