Against expectation, I enjoyed my visit to Kuching. I thought a city with modern roads and tall buildings would put me off. Kuching certainly has those, but the old waterfront has been modernised in a fairly inoffensive way and manages to generate the right sort of ‘seaside effect’ on visitors. They’ve kept the old town which retains its human scale and bustles with all sorts of commercial activity. After breakfast, I wandered through the Old Town again taking in the sights. Because of the Chinese immigrant population, there are various Taoist temples. I looked at the Hiang Thian Siang Ti temple, first built around one hundred and fifty years ago, subsequently relocated once and renovated a number of times.
I was picked up on time for the next stage of my journey and we headed for the airport along congested dual carriageways. Kuching Airport has a modern, airy terminal and check-in and security was carried out with the minimum of fuss. Most of the gates are numbered but, for some reason, my flight was from gate ‘R’. When we finally boarded, I was impressed that the airline employee just stood by the exit to the tarmac and said in a soft voice ‘Sibu'. It was a pleasant change from the usual loud but often unintelligible announcements over public address accompanied by ‘ding-dongs'.
For this leg, I was booked with the Malaysia Airlines subsidiary MASwings. They've re-equipped with modern turbo-prop aircraft and 9M-MWG was gleaming in the sun. No doubt there’s more information on the MASwings Website. We look off on time from the single runway 25/07 and in less than an hour were landing at Sibu. The cabin crew just had time to give us a small cake and a pot of guava juice. On arrival, my luggage arrived promptly and I was then faced with the problem that I was responsible for getting to the Pandaw jetty in Sibu. There were a number of Europeans on the flight who looked likely candidates for the Pandaw Cruise and one lady, actually from New York I discovered, asked if I was for 'Pandaw'. Because there were different packages, their little group were being collected and I was able to arrange to accompany them in their minibus to the boat.
Sibu is a fairly modern town with greying reinforced comcrete buildings of the utilitarian style we’re all too familiar with. The waterfront in the town has a series of scruffy looking jetties and building work is going on to build new quays or renovate old ones. I immediately recognised the distictive shape of my home for the next few days ‘Pandaw’ or, to accord her the full name the R.V. 'Orient Pandaw'. We were greeted by various members of the crew and before long I was reunited with my luggage in cabin 314 on the starboard side. My pictures of 'Pandaw'.
A number of the passengers had arrived earlier in the day and had been taken on a walking tour around the town. Some of my new friends who'd flown in on the same aircraft said they were going for a quick walk before we cast off, so I joined them. The grim-looking multi-storey car park was home, on the ground floor, to a large market which we toured. There was debate about whether to check-out the nearby Chinese temple but it was very overcast and starting to rain so my friends returned to the boat. However, as you would expect, I went to look at the temple before making my way back to 'Pandaw'. Pictures of Sibu. The rain was getting worse and one of the crew (I afterwards discovered it was the concerned Captain!) came running towards me with a spare umbrella. We were offered welcoming cocktails but I elected for an orange juice. Later, we had a briefing on the schedule for Sunday and then dinner as the boat made its way upstream to the mid-river overnight mooring - pictures are here. I joined a jolly group of six Americans for dinner (Mike was from Las Vegas, the others from Salt Lake City). The meal was over by 9.30 p.m. and, already exhausted, I retired early having turned off the air conditioning in my cabin.