“Perahu tambang” still the icons of the picturesque waterway
Despite the completion of the spectacular Golden Bridge, the new highlight of Kuching’s riverfront in 2017, Sarawak’s “perahu tambang” or river taxis, remain very much the icon of the Sarawak River; a relic of the past; still very much part of the city’s daily life.
Over two centuries, since the first White Rajah, Sir James Brooke, set up an early settlement combining two populated Malay Kampungs — Boyan and Surabaya — on the left bank of the river as his administrative centre, this part of the river figured prominently in the life of the city, contributing to the birth of downtown Kuching.
Today, the new 335m S-shaped bridge is a key tourist attraction, connecting the south bank’s highly popular waterfront walkway (main bazaar and golden triangle) to the north bank, where the State Legislative Assembly building, the historic Fort Margherita, and Astana residence are to be found.
“My job still keeps me busy”, said Pak cik Jeman (Jeman the boatman), who prefers to row his passengers across the river than to use the motor. Generally running a boat from the jetty at Jalan Gambir to Kampung Sungai Bedil Besar, it is still much quicker to take a boat – only two to three minutes, while pedestrians wishing to use the bridge will have to walk for 15-20 minutes. Some boatmen eat and sleep on their boats during the week… so don’t be surprised to see a blanket or two rucked under the stern. According to Jeman, most boat men work one week on and three weeks off – in rotation with others – while they work in on farms the remainder of the month.
To fully tap the river’s tourist potential, the Sarawak Rivers Board (SRB) recently endorsed a masterplan to further develop river transport along a 24km zone between Batu Kawa and the Borneo Convention Centre Kuching (BCCK).
CRUISING THE RIVER
For those wishing to visit Kuching at a leisurely pace – viewed from the river, cruising aboard the “Sarawak River Cruise” on the MV Equatorial gives a different perspective of the historic city.
The cruise takes visitors past historical landmarks such as the Kuching Waterfront, Square Tower (formerly a prison), a multi-purpose market, the old State Mosque with five onion-shaped domes, a Malay house on stilts and the Satok Suspension Bridge before heading the other side of the river to see the Astana (former palace of the White Rajahs), Fort Margherita (now a police museum) and a fishing village.
Photo: Taxi boat approaching the new Golden Bridge with State Assembly in background