KUCHING, Dec 26 — When the tourism sector was something new to Sarawak and most people did not even know what was tourism all about, there were several historical places being left unattended.
The Siniawan Bazaar, reminiscent of a typical Wild West cowboy town with a single street was one of these historical places, being abandoned by its residents who moved out to the new towns like Kuching and Bau, making the over 100-year-old bazaar, situated 26 km from here, a very quiet place.
It is actually a street flanked by a row of 24 wooden shophouses on each side. The buildings are all made of wood like most in the bygone era of the state. Their exterior cladding might have been replaced but the structural wood is original.
However, now it is a popular weekend night market, also known as Siniawan Food Street, offering a variety of local food and is definitely a must-visit food street for visitors to Kuching.
Siniawan in the old days was a thriving trading town and populated mostly by the Hakkas, but nearly slipped into oblivion at one time and dubbed a ghost town, but it rebounded following the Siniawan business community’s creativity to come up with a new business model in 2010.
The joint efforts of its Pemanca or local Chinese headman, Bong Jong Koh and its residents have transformed Siniawan into a vibrant place during weekend nights after they came up with the idea of having the food street.
The new concept became a hit with the locals and visitors including foreign tourists who made their way to the town every weekend. The Siniawan night market operates from 6pm to 11pm on Fridays and Saturdays, and Sundays from 5pm to 11pm.
“It’s worthwhile exploring the bazaar as there are plenty of choices of food and delicious too,” said Egberg Koh, 61, from Kuala Lumpur who revisited the bazaar before the Movement Control Order (MCO) enforcement in March this year.
He said when he first visited the bazaar in the early 1980’s, the bazaar was a very quiet place. “Siniawan was like a ghost town where only a few shops opened for business but during my last visit there, I was surprised with what I saw,” Koh told Bernama.
A visitor from Selangor, Carol Chong, 58, was also impressed with what she saw at the bazaar, saying that the environment was nice and there were plenty of food to choose from, while the prices were generally reasonable.
The stalls are lined along the whole stretch of the street with dining tables spread out on it when the weather is fine. Apart from Chinese cuisine, Malay and local traditional food such as snacks, cakes and savouries were also available.
After their visit to the bazaar, Koh and Chong immediately worked on another trip to Sarawak, and this time inviting friends from the peninsula to join them.
However, things did not work out as planned following the Control Movement Order (MCO) due to the COVID-19 pandemic, causing the trip to be postponed.
“The trip (to Sarawak) is only postponed and we will definitely come back with friends. Our friends were all very excited to come along after they saw our photos and being told about our visit,” said Chong.