Catching the Charm: Exploring Kuching, East Malaysia

Hey there, welcome to Head for Kuching! We’re a Japanese family of three, gearing up to relocate to the vibrant city of Kuching nestled in the heart of Sarawak, East Malaysia. We’ve compiled information gathered during our exploratory trips, so we’re excited to share our initial takeaways and firsthand experiences with you.

What’s Kuching Like?

East Malaysia’s Sarawak state is known for its richly diverse and multicultural society, surpassing even West Malaysia in its ethnic and cultural variety. With a population of approximately 2.74 million, it is home to not only Malays, Chinese, and Indians but also 26 other distinct ethnic groups, including the Iban and Bidayuh. Kuching, the capital of Sarawak, boasts a population of around 710,000, making it the largest city on the island of Borneo and the fourth largest in Malaysia overall.
The name “Kuching” itself means “cat” in Malay, and the city is adorned with cat statues throughout, serving as its symbol.

Flight Tickets: Haneda to Kuching

There are no direct flights from Japan to Kuching; instead, one must transit through Kuala Lumpur, Kota Kinabalu, or Singapore. We opted for the Kuala Lumpur route to reach Kuching. The total travel time was just under 8 hours, slightly shorter on the return journey. During this trip, we stayed in Kuching for 5 nights and concluded our travels with a visit to Penang Island, where our son’s childhood friend lives. Below are the flight details for this journey.

<International Flights>

Booked through 2 months in advance.

Departure: 3/25 Haneda ー Kuala Lumpur (Air Asia)

  • Flight Duration: 7 hours and 55 minutes

Return: 4/2 Kuala Lumpur ー Haneda (Air Asia)

  • Flight Duration: 7 hours and 10 minutes

Round-trip Fare:

2 Adults: ¥152,320 (Including taxes and fees: ¥8,100 + baggage fee: ¥13,540)

1 Child (7 years old): ¥71,590 (Including taxes and fees: ¥6,240)

<Domestic Flights>

Booked through 2 months in advance.

Departure: 3/26 Kuala Lumpur ー Kuching (MYAirline)

  • Flight duration: 1 hour and 55 minutes
  • One-way fare: ¥3,541 (Same fare for adults and children)

Visiting friend: 3/31 Kuching ー Penang (Firefly)

  • Flight duration: 2 hours and 15 minutes
  • One-way fare: ¥2,891 (Same fare for adults and children)

Return: 4/2 Penang ー Kuala Lumpur (Malaysia Airlines)

  • Flight duration: 1 hour and 5 minutes
  • One-way fare: ¥3,639 (Same fare for adults and children)

Renting a Car in Kuching: Your Guide to Getting Around

Now that Grab has become a dominant mode of transportation in Southeast Asia, we decided to take a different approach. Considering our desire to explore as many malls and supermarkets as possible during our stay in Kuching from the perspective of actually living there, we opted to rent a car and drive ourselves around.

The total cost for the car rental came to ¥19,493 for six days, which amounted to around ¥3,000 per day, a very reasonable rate. At Kuching International Airport, we used WhatsApp, an app unfamiliar to us in Japan, to communicate with the rental car company, and successfully met up with them to pick up the car. We received a Perodua Myvi, a Malaysian-made car similar to Daihatsu Boon and Toyota Passo. With everything checked, we were ready to hit the road!

Upon departing from Kuching International Airport, we were immediately struck by the breathtaking scenery. Truly, it’s Borneo! Even within the city, the abundance of greenery from the trees was incredibly soothing.


While the right-hand driving was familiar like in Japan, we encountered roundabouts at various points which is unfamilier to us. These circular intersections always flow clockwise, but timing the lane changes can be tricky for the unaccustomed, especially amidst traffic jams, where motorcyclists weave through the gaps… which gave us quite a few close calls.

As expected, we encountered traffic jams multiple times.

Reasonably Priced Gasoline Fees

The gasoline prices were significantly cheaper compared to Japan. Malaysia ranks among the top 10 countries with the lowest gasoline prices, thanks to its status as an oil-producing nation and government regulation ensuring a stable oil supply at affordable prices.

  • RON97:RM3.37/L (approximately ¥101)
  • RON95:RM2.05/L (approximately ¥60)
  • Diesel: RM2.15/L (approximately ¥65)

(Reference: *calculated at 1 Ringgit = ¥30 as of April 2023)

Above the Shopping Mall: Condominium Living

To better envision our life after relocation, we opted to search for condominiums on Airbnb instead of hotels. We found a condominium with a layout perfect for our family of three, situated directly above a large shopping mall called ‘VIVACITY.’ The living spaces were on floors 5 and above, with shopping areas, food courts, and cinemas spanning from the basement to the 4th floor. It was truly the ideal location where everything could be found without needing to drive.

<Airbnb Accommodation Cost>

3 Bedrooms + 2 Bathrooms: Approximately ¥5,000 per night × 5 nights + Service Fee = Approximately ¥32,000

The View from the Condominium

There are also elevators that directly connect to the residential area from Vivacity, but the rooftop of Vivacity serves as a parking lot for residents, with another entrances leading to the residential area from there. There’s a pool and gym exclusively for residents here as well. The room we stayed was very cozy, and my son was relaxing as if it were our own home.

According to Malaysia’s rental property site (iProperty), this condominium offers 2-3 bedroom units ranging from RM2,500 to RM3,800 per month (approximately ¥77,000 to ¥118,000).

Furthermore, the Vivacity Mega Mall located beneath the condominium ranks second in Kuching’s top 10 shopping malls listed on Trip Advisor.

  1. The Spring Shopping Mall
  2. Vivacity Mega Mall
  3. City One Mega Mall
  4. Boulevard Shopping Mall
  5. Summer Mall
  6. Emart
  7. Riverside Shopping Complex
  8. Aeroville Mall
  9. Plaza Merdeka
  10. Plaza Merdeca Shopping Mall

Tripadvisor THE 10 BEST Kuching Shopping Malls (Updated 2023)より

Vivacity Mega Mall

Jalan Wan Alwi 93350, 
Kuching, Sarawak.

Opening Hour: 10am- 10pm

Upon entering, you’ll find spacious areas that seem to serve as event spaces, with high ceilings and open layouts. Spanning across five floors—Lower Ground, Ground, 1st, 2nd, and 3rd—there are nearly 300 stores housed within.

⏬ You can get a glimpse of the stores and events in this official video. ⏬

Japanese companies like Uniqlo and Daiso have also opened stores.

Daiso Japan

At Daiso, everything is priced at RM 5.90 (approximately ¥177). *Calculated at an exchange rate of 1RM = ¥30. (as of April 2023)

You’ll find a variety of essential household items such as containers and tableware. Additionally, there are products like curry roux in the ‘NON HALAL’ section, as well as stick-type Japanese tea that you can simply add to mineral water for use.

Moreover, there is also a supermarket chain called Everrise that is widely used by local people.


The supermarket chain ‘EVERRISE,’ which operates mainly in East Malaysia, is a large chain with 18 stores currently located in Sarawak and Sabah states. It’s noted that 14 of these stores are concentrated in the city of Kuching.

Fresh and Affordable Chicken Meat!

With fresh and inexpensive chicken meat readily available, I guess dishes featuring poultry will be making more frequent appearances after we move in Kuching. From packaged options like those shown in the photo (priced at just under 300 yen per pack) to unpackaged pieces sold by weight, there’s a variety to choose from. Unlike in Japan, where chicken is often categorized into breast and thigh meat, here it’s boldly packed with bones, giving a sense of rustic authenticity. As for beef prices, a 200g pack costs around RM20 (approximately 600 yen), slightly cheaper than in Japan. Pork is kept in a separate section due to being non-halal, with chunks of meat tightly frozen and sold.”

Mushrooms, familiar to those in Japan, are also abundantly available, with enoki mushrooms priced at RM1.29 (approximately 40 yen) and shimeji mushrooms at RM3.99 (approximately 120 yen), similar to prices in Japanese supermarkets. Additionally, there were items such as tonkatsu sauce, tempura flour, and bonito flakes available. However, I noticed that there was a limited selection of seasoning ingredients used in Japanese cuisine, such as cooking sake and mirin.

Seeing Southeast Asian ingredients like lime, chili peppers, and lemongrass, I’m intrigued to someday challenge myself to cook local dishes, which I currently find quite daunting.

Lastly, regarding alcohol, I initially thought it might be difficult to obtain due to the prevalence of Islam, but to my surprise, there were regular alcohol sections available. Prices were roughly double compared to Japan.

Beer (24 bottles): RM165 to RM200 (approximately ¥5,000 to ¥6,000) Wine: RM49 (approximately ¥1,470)


Living information about East Malaysia is not easily obtained through the internet while in Japan, so actually seeing the city of Kuching has provided a more realistic perspective for our planned move in a year. It was reassuring to find Japanese ingredients even in local supermarkets. Besides Vivacity, which was introduced in this article, we visited many other shopping malls, so I hope to share information about them in the future.

Verified by MonsterInsights