Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Travel Wire Asia: Is Brunei the most misunderstood destination in Southeast Asia?

BRUNEI, a tiny country tucked in a corner of Borneo, may well be one of the most misunderstood places in Southeast Asia.

It starts with its full title, which is actually the “Nation of Brunei, the Abode of Peace”, but a misunderstood moniker is the least of this country’s PR problems.

Statistics regarding tourist arrivals in Brunei, particularly recent ones, differ widely, although those that exist place it as the least visited country in Southeast Asia.

Figures show around 250,000 visitors to Brunei per year, which is dwarfed by Malaysia, which borders the country and sees a whopping 27 million visitors annually.

It’s strange therefore while millions of tourists make it as far as Malaysia, this doesn’t translate to a brief detour into Brunei, which also has some of the most relaxed tourist visa regulations in Southeast Asia, with many nationalities qualifying for a fee visa on arrival.

One of the first hurdles in selling Brunei to visitors is that it is often thought of as being comparatively expensive.

With that in mind, many travelers to Southeast Asia go for the cheapest picks that offer more bang for their buck, usually Cambodia, Indonesia and Thailand.

A quick search on the merits of travelling to Brunei will come up with myriad sites calling Brunei, among other things, a “budget buster”, which is undoubtedly a tourism turn-off for many.

This is, however, both true and untrue, as although some years ago, backpacker accommodation was thin on the ground, more and more budget choices are springing up that allow visitors to stay in Brunei for around US$35 a night.

Local food is also cheap, as is public transport, and many attractions like museums and mosques are either free or cheap to visit.


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iToddIsland: Borneo - Mari Mari Village

I flew in to Kota Kinabalu which is the capital of the Malaysian state of Sabah on the island of Borneo.

Borneo is occupied by three different countries, Malaysia to the North, Indonesia to the South, and Brunei which is situated right smack in the middle of Sabah on the coast. 

If you look at Borneo, KK (as it's called by the locals) is on the northwest side, right on the South China Sea.

The city itself is quite modern in comparison, with many American fast food options, as well as British pubs to go along with colossal malls and local food markets. 

With so many modern conveniences and city selections I decided to make my first day a step back before the sprawling city was built. 

After scouring the internet and forums I found that a tour of the historic Mari Mari Cultural Village was my best bet.

You can book a tour (which is highly recommended) and you will be picked up right at your hotel or home stay and driven to the entrance.

Once you get to the entrance you will be lead to "registration" which has fresh water, some pet lizards to meet, and a brief waiting period while they assign certain groups to guides.

I was able to secure a discount and tour through the shop I will be working with, but there are numerous tour companies in the city or you can go directly to them at Marimariculturalvillage.com and book a tour which is 180RM ($42 US) per person. It is well worth the price. 

You will be exploring an ancient village that used to house five different tribes and the tour guides are all descendants of these same villagers.

Our guide came here to visit his grandmother as a young child who was still living in their old long house and living off the land.

Continue reading (Incl. Pics) at: iToddIsland: Borneo - Mari Mari Village

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Monday, July 10, 2017

Pen's Travels: Respecting Mount Kinabalu

“If you disrespect the mountain, nature will disrespect you” warns our worried-looking guide, Felix.

The earthquake on Mount Kinabalu that killed 19 people two-years ago, was attributed to the disrespectful actions of hikers two weeks before.

Deeply superstitious, the local people blamed the tourists, who stripped naked for photos at the summit for the subsequent seismic movement.

So, following a lengthy briefing on respecting the mountain, what to do in an earthquake, danger zones (after which I couldn’t get the soundtrack from Top Gun out of my head), slippy rocks and AMS (really?), we set off to climb Mt. Kinabalu.

The trail is just 8km long from the mountain park gate but has 2,000m ascent to the 4095m summit.

We weave our way up through the rainforest passing waterfalls, trees dripping with moss and ferns, clambering over rocks and climbing up steps.

Thousands of steps. It is humid. Really humid. By 1km we are dripping with sweat.

I look at the porters quietly carrying their loads up the mountain. Apparently the regulation weight for porter loads is 10kg and they must be at least 16. They look too young to me.

The Bornean porters bear similar massive loads to the porters on Kilimanjaro but they are much better equipped.

I ask a group of porters if I can try to lift a load. I don’t get it off the ground. It is definitely heavier than 10kg! The porters laugh at my feebleness. I am in awe of them.

We pass a couple of giggling Korean girls on the trail and then spot their bight yellow suitcases on the back of a young lad.

Each member of our team carries everything we need for the two days ourselves. It’s only two days – you don’t need that suitcase!!

Continue reading (Incl. Pics) at: Pen's Travels: Respecting Mount Kinabalu


Tambunan – the Switzerland in our midst

TAMBUNAN: Tambunan these days is synonymous with deputy chief Minister Tan Sri Joseph Pairin Kitingan and the stop-over for motorists plying the old Kota Kinabalu-Keningau Road.

To some, Tambunan is associated with the tales of Mat Salleh, the man who fought the British colonialists. Photographers can never get enough of the rustic panoramic view of paddy fields when viewed from a vantage point as one approaches Tambunan from Kota Kinabalu.

But there are actually 15 good reasons why visitors should make Tambunan their next getaway, according to the Tambunan District Office which has been promoting Visit Tambunan Year 2017. It even dubbed the land-locked district 80 km from Kota Kinabalu as ‘Switzerland of the East’.

In1985, Tambunan was thrust into the political limelight when its famous son and now deputy chief minister Joseph Pairin Kitingan was sacked from the then ruling Berjaya party and the district was ostracized, abrogated and isolated. What happened next has been described as the emergence of Kadazandusun nationalism driven by the so-called ‘Tambunan Spirit’, concluding with the shocking defeat of Berjaya. The rest, as they say, is history.

It’s more than three decades since Tambunan became famous but the district of about 25,000 people retains its easy, rustic village ambience with no major industry to speak of. There have been some attempts at developing industries using the bamboo found widely in Tambunan. But with no commercial planting, an ambitious chopsticks factory quickly ran out of supply. There was also an attempt at producing tapai (a homemade alcoholic brew made from rice) but that too fizzled out though Tambunan remains an important paddy growing district.

It is no surprise therefore that when it comes to attracting visitors, the district covering 134,540 hectares (almost twice the size of Singapore at 71,910 ha) is counting on most things natural.

Under the Visit Tambunan 2017 initiative launched by Chief Minister Datuk Musa Haji Aman in November 2016, the Tambunan District’s tourism action council identified 15 attractions.

Located in a valley west of the Crocker Range and with most economic activities being agricultural, words such as ‘emerald’, ‘green haven’, and ‘sanctuary’ have been used to describe Tambunan. A 90-minute drive from Kota Kinabalu on the old winding road with numerous severe bends is a daunting challenge to faint-hearted drivers, what with the many heavy duty trucks that once plied the route. Many trucks have since chosen the straighter though no less hilly Kimanis Road to transport goods to and from Keningau.

Continue reading (Incl. Pic) at: Tambunan – the Switzerland in our midst

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Lower air fares to Sabah destinations on MASwing

KOTA KINABALU: The MASwings mid-year sale is back, offering customers a range of great bargain fares from as low as RM103 all-in each way.

This deal is available on all MASwings ATR services routes until July 31, with travel periods starting from July 9 to Aug 31.

MASwings Corporate Communication and Branding Commercial executive Ashilla Sabin urged those who wanted to take some time off their busy work schedule to explore the wonders of Sabah and Sarawak.

“Parents can also take this opportunity to bring their children for a short trip during the coming school holidays,” she said in a statement.

As part of the promotion, passengers travelling from Kota Kinabalu will enjoy a one-way all-in fare to Labuan from RM103 onwards, and from RM113 to Lahad Datu, Miri, Sandakan, Tawau and Mulu respectively.

The offer starts at RM133 to Bintulu and Sibu as well as RM153 to Kuching from Kota Kinabalu.

Those travelling from Kuching are able to enjoy fares from as low as RM103 to Sibu and RM113 to Bintulu.

MASwings is also giving a promotion of airfares starting RM133 to popular destinations such as to Miri and Mulu respectively and to Kota Kinabalu from as low as RM153 one-way from Kuching.

Continue reading (Incl. Pic) at: Lower air fares to Sabah destinations on MASwing