I am in a city with more statues of cats than most American cities have of famous men on horseback. Everywhere I look, I’m reminded of how much I miss my own orange tabby at home: there are brushed bronze Siamese playing in the park, painted granite tabbies and calicos pawing at each other around a fountain in the roundabout, two proud parent cats—one snow white and one with a striped orange coat—looking after their babies in another roundabout, and lucky Chinese felines raising their arms up and down from nearly every restaurant’s front window we pass by. For a girl who adores cats, I’m not only comforted by the fact that I’m on one of the world’s largest islands, but I’m in the world’s one and only Cat City—I am looking out of my window from the Grand Margherita hotel examining the statue of three baby kittens toying with each other beneath me, and I am totally overjoyed.
Cat City, as it’s affectionately known by the locals and travelers who pilgrimage here to worship their favorite felines, is the city of Kuching, the largest city in the Eastern Malaysia state of Sarawak and, with a population of nearly 600,000, the largest city on the island of Borneo. Now, whether or not the city was actually founded on a mutual love for felines is still debated by history buffs and locals alike: While most popular imaginings of the term’s etymology stem from the Malay word kucing, which literally means “cat,” a quick Google search will offer other alternatives: some locals claim that the name comes from the Chinese word for “port,” (kochin), or the Malay word for the lychee, mata kucing, or cat’s eye fruit. Still others believe that the name comes from a small tributary on the Sarawak River called Sungei Kuching that, while once a popular fishing spot, has since been filled in and built over. Of course, as most people probably wouldn’t want to see visual representations of built-over tributaries or sweet round ivory-colored fruits all over town, cats seemed to have won this mythological battle: since the first cat was erected in the early 1990s (it’s the 1.5 meter tall one of the lucky Chinese cat located at the entrance of Chinatown in Jalan Padungan), statues of all shapes, sizes, and materials have popped up all over the city. And the most famous one happens to be right below me, directly in front of the Grand Margherita hotel.
The Grand Margherita has a great view from the back rooms, too—cats in the front, riverfront views and water taxis in the back (oh wait, and yes, that bronze cat statue in the park over there). Of the 228 rooms here, I can’t imagine anyone gazing out their window onto a disappointing vista. Nothing seems to be far from the hotel, either, as its location on the riverfront is excellent for a quick walk to downtown Kuching, Chinatown, the riverwalk and all its cafés, restaurants, boutiques, and souvenir shops (which, yes, carry all the cat-themed gifts you could ever imagine), and the city’s historical sector and main shopping bazaar. And not only that, but in addition to Kuching’s delightful cat paraphernalia, there are a host of other fascinating objects to catch the eye here in Kuching: from the rare proboscis monkey in the national parks less than an hour from the city to the bizarre stemless, leafless, and rootless rafflesia (the largest flower in the world), to the rare palms and orchids rising out of the natural wetlands, to the traditional Bidayuh longhouses and the colorful river taxis bargaining with passengers for trips up and down the orchid-covered riverfront, the island of Borneo is one funky place—and the Grand Margherita on the riverfront is just the beginning.
While the rooms are relatively standard for a hotel of its caliber, they are definitely warm and comfortable: with an in-room color scheme of ivory, light green, and soft grey, the rooms are contemporary (most have been recently renovated) without feeling stuffy or sparse. On our trip here, I had the lucky opportunity to stay in one of the Margherita’s Superior King rooms, a room with a firm king-sized bed, oversized decorative pillows, work desk and lounge chair, flatscreen tv, mini bar, and fully-stocked bathroom. (Tip: If you’re here and you can’t find the hair dryer, go out of the bathroom and fish around underneath the desk next to the tv—that’s where my hair dryer was!). If you’re not one to book a king-sized room, though, the hotel offers a number of room options at plenty of different price points: they have everything from twin bed rooms to executive deluxe suites specially designed for business travelers to junior studios. All rooms include complimentary hi-speed wireless internet, tea, coffee, and water, and access to a mini bar and safe. And while this detail would probably pass by most Malaysian travelers, I happened to notice the inclusion of a fringed prayer rug tucked away next to the robe in the closet and a little sticker on the ceiling pointing to Mecca for those who wish to pray throughout their stay.
And, since a review wouldn’t be complete without a nod to food, another excellent perk of the Grand Margherita is their Rajang Lobby Lounge, a cosmopolitan-style bar overlooking the outdoor pool that serves everything from international brews to peach-flavored tequila margaritas. In a country where drinking isn’t quite so common, I have to admit: after a long, sweaty day walking down the riverwalk, my margarita was just as delicious here as it would have been had I ordered it back home in Tucson, Arizona. Salt-rimmed, tangy, slushy—just the way a frozen margarita should be. The buffet breakfast, too, is delicious—like many of the upscale hotels in Malaysia, the Grand Margherita’s full buffet is filled with chefs concocting a sampling of tasty Malaysian cuisine, cooks slinging Western-style omelets and Indian-inspired roti canai, and servers delivering fresh coffee to the tables. Whether you’re off to jungle-trek through Bako National Park, hit the shopping mall next door, visit the world’s first Cat Museum, or just take a morning walk down the riverfront, waking up at the Grand Margherita Hotel is a lovely first step.
The Grand Margherita Hotel sits on Kuching’s gorgeous riverfront and is just 20 minutes away from Kuching International Airport. The hotel is offering spectacular deals for Ramadan at the moment, with prices RM285 per night (which, at the time of this article’s publication, is $89 USD).
Grand Margherita Hotel
Jalan Tunku Abdul Rahman
P.O. Box 2362, 93100
Kuching, Sarawak, Malaysia
Article and photographs by Kristin Winet.
A special thanks to Tourism Malaysia for graciously hosting me on this trip.