The Waterfront area of Kuching serves as the heart and soul of this city. A visit to Kuching is never complete without a stop to the waterfront. The “per auk tambang” or “water taxi” on the Sarawak River is an icon of Kuching. These traditional boats have been around since before the days of Rajah Brooke, before Malaysia was formed and they are certain to stay in the years to come.
The small wooden boats, which can carry about 25 passengers each, bring ferry kampung folk living across the Sarawak River to the main bazaar and back. It is a cheap convenient way of transport. Though there is a good road and a bridge built to cross the river, it is still widely used by the kampong folks to come down to the town on the other side of the river bank It is a convenient means of transport that saves time and cost as compare for having to own a car and to drive a long way that may take around 20 minutes. The Bot Tambang need less than 5 minutes.
These days, people from all walks of life, even tourists, can be seen on these boats. They usually berth at many landing points along the Kuching Waterfront. There is no schedule or timetable. The boatmen will set sail when the boats are reasonably filled up.
As you hop onto the boat, you may unwittingly step on a cluster of coins. Don’t worry, they are dropped there on purpose. Passengers normally pay by throwing the fare, usually 50 sen, onto the Floor of the boat. It’s not ill-mannered, just the way it’s done. If you have dropped a ringgit note, you may help yourself to some change. Most passengers now hand the money to the boatman along with a gracious “thank you”. The boatman earns a meagre RM 50 a day by transporting locals and tourists in his small wooden sampan.
Nowadays the bot tambang are usually motorised. The boatman is at the front throttling the outboard engine and it usually takes less than five minutes to cross the River. It is best to take a ride in the evening for a spectacular view of the sunset.
In addition to the usual routes across the river at various pick up and drop off points, a tour company operates a leisurely one hour boat ride along the river at the cost of RM19.
As the boat heads further downstream it’s as though you are travelling back in time as the less well developed northern riverbank gets less and less modern the further you go.
This is the best way to catch a glimpse of the daily life of villagers living along the bank of the river.
And then on the return journey you get to enjoy the stunning view of modern Kuching from the middle of river.