Friday, February 05, 2016

World of Wanderlust - Visiting Gaya Island in Malaysia

Throughout my travels in Malaysia I stopped at different points of interest for different reasons.

First there was Kuala Lumpur, I city I have heard so fondly spoken of thanks to its’ friendly locals and incredible food scene.

Oh, and the shopping is great! Then I visited Cameron Highlands to experience tea plantations and strawberry fields (and cater to my undying love for both of these).

Now for my third stop in Malaysia I find myself on an exotic island that could quite literally be anywhere in the world thanks to its feeling of remoteness.

Here’s how I spent my few days visiting Gaya Island in Malaysia (and a good little honeymoon idea for anyone searching for a spot off the grid!)

Gaya Island Resort

The flight to Palau Gaya is around 2.5 hours from Kuala Lumpur, however the local airport does cater to some international flights nearby.

Once here, I took a car for around ten minutes to Jesselton Point Jetty to catch a speedboat transfer to Gaya Island Resort, another property from the luxe collection of hotels throughout Malaysia owned by YTL Hotels.

My arrival felt like a dream with the sun slowly setting in the background and I was beyond excited to spend a few days here unwinding, taking in all the activities on offer and exploring beyond the hotel.

Although the hotel is well-appointed with a lap size swimming pool, 24 hour gym and a handful of restaurants, I mostly spent my time enjoying the outdoors and trying all the activities around the island and on the water.

The beach is nice but the pollution in the waters is quite off putting, though it sadly seems to be the case elsewhere in Malaysia, too.


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A River Cruise Through Borneo to Hang With Orangutans

A river trip through remote Borneo leads to endearing, if frightening, encounters with the island’s rapidly disappearing primates

THE MOTHER orangutan hung from a tree branch and pried her baby’s fingers off her chest. Her infant was just five months old, as big as a human baby of the same age, with wild tufts of red hair and a pursed bottom lip. I stood a few feet below while the mom moved her baby’s hand to a vine and supported his bottom as he stretched a leg toward the creeper and wrapped his toes around it.

The 29-year-old orangutan mother, named Uning by the researchers at Borneo’s Camp Leakey refuge, looked at me with her coffee-bean eyes, then turned back to her baby and let him go. I held my breath as the little one caught himself and hung tightly to the swinging vine.

“This is how orangutans learn to climb,” explained our park guide, Rini Mariani, a local who lives in the small Indonesian port town of Kumai. (Borneo, Asia’s largest island, is divided among three countries: Indonesia, Malaysia and Brunei.)

Camp Leakey is an orangutan-research station in Indonesia’s Tanjung Puting National Park, on the southern coast of Borneo. I had joined my friend Diane and her 13-year-old daughter, Maia, on a three-day riverboat trip through the Indonesian part of the island to Camp Leakey and a few other preserves where orangutans can be seen in the wild.

“They’re like our redheaded relatives,” Diane said to ginger-haired Maia.

It’s easy to feel a connection with orangutans. Sharing 96% of our DNA, they are our cousins from just the other side of Uncanny Valley. And they are in danger. Ms. Mariani said that Borneo’s jungles, their primary habitat, are being cleared at a reckless pace to accommodate mining and logging and to meet global demand for palm oil. According to the World Wildlife Fund, the animals’ habitat has shrunk by 50% in the past two decades. “Sometimes you can hear chain saws from inside the park,” Ms. Mariani said.

Two days before meeting Uning, we had boarded a riverboat in Kumai and motored up the Sekonyer River, which forms the boundary of Tanjung Puting National Park. Our boat looked like a bright green-and-yellow version of the African Queen, with no-frills living quarters on the upper deck, equipped with a dining table, lounge chairs and mattresses.

During the day, we’d watch the pale-pink water hyacinths float by and survey the jungle tree canopy, filled with macaques, gibbons and the rare, long-nosed proboscis monkey.

At night, our crew would string mosquito nets to form veiled bedrooms on deck, and we would fall asleep to a symphony of cicada and bullfrogs and awaken to the soprano call of gibbons.

We were chugging our way to Camp Leakey, a refuge created by Dr. Biruté Galdikas, a protégé of paleoanthropologist Louis Leakey, who also mentored Dian Fossey and Jane Goodall. Dr. Galdikas’s research laid the groundwork for understanding the life-cycle and behavior of these gentle, tree-dwelling animals. (Fun fact: The mothers have only one baby at a time and nurse their offspring for six to seven years.) Forty years later, her rescued orangutans are introduced to tourists by name and happily shake hands with their fans like well-mannered children.


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Diving in Borneo: the Derawan islands and a blissful life aquatic

The Derawan islands in Indonesia offer spectacular diving, golden beaches and tranquility, but with ambitious plans for tourism they may not stay sleepy for long

The steering wheel spins frantically, the engine graunches and the tiny speedboat slews side-on to the swell, centimetres from a mess of floating timber. Luckily our captain, a Bajo “sea gypsy” from the fishing people who first settled Borneo’s Derawan archipelago, is a master of the marine handbrake turn.

He grins and guns the engine; the white sands, tall palms and stilt houses of Derawan island come into focus.

My teenage son and I have travelled through the coal mine-scarred landscape beyond Berau, a riverside town in Kalimantan on mainland Indonesian Borneo (and reached via two flights from Singapore), to take a boat out to spend a week exploring a few of the archipelago’s scores of islands.

Only two are officially inhabited, though 30-odd others have names and some are home to scientists and sea-dwelling boat people. By the end of this year the islands will be better connected to the mainland, with the completion of a small airport on Maratua island, which will handle short-haul flights.

We’ll be spending the next couple of days at Derawan Dive Lodge, a cluster of elegant wooden cabanas reached by jetty over limpid waters, where green turtles graze on sea grass and algae. At least 15,000 female turtles return to the archipelago every year, often swimming many thousands of kilometres to lay their eggs on the beaches where they had hatched.

Now, so many turtles graze off Derawan island, many of them non-local breeders, that their food sources are becoming scarce.

The highest tides, around the full moon and the new moon, are the best time to watch the females drag their heavy bodies up the sand and wheeze and grunt through the ovulation process. “One laid her eggs under the restaurant a couple of weeks ago,” says the lodge’s Indonesian manager. We’ve missed their hatching, sadly.

Tranquil, tiny Derawan island has got busier since we first visited four years ago. A handful of souvenir stalls, some cafes and a sign reading “tourist village” enliven the brushed-sand village streets.

Two bungalow resorts clog what once was virgin beach – the last new accommodation on the island, if policy holds. But the spirit remains the same. It takes 40 minutes to walk around the island: fishermen greet us, schoolgirls line us up for photos, the odd turtle pops a scaly head up from the wate, and children play volleyball.


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Thursday, February 04, 2016

Road to London Borneo Hornbill Festival 2016 to hold auditions

Audition for ‘Road to London Borneo Hornbill Festival 2016’ will open with the first one to be held at Pustaka Miri at Jalan Kipas here tomorrow (Feb 5) from 3.30 to 8pm.

The next one will be at Bintulu Civic Centre at Tun Haji Ahmad Zaidi on Saturday (Feb 6) from 8.30 to 11.30am. The audition will then continue the same day at Sibu Civic Centre at Jalan Wong King Hou from 3 to 6pm.

On Feb 7, it will then proceed to Kuching at the Youth and Sports Complex at Jln Tun Ahmad Zaidi Adruce (1 to 6pm)

From Kuching, the organiser, Persatuan Warisan Sarawak, will proceed to Sabah to hold the audition on Feb 12 at Marudu Inn, Kota Marudu (4 to 7pm).

Then it is followed up the next day at the University Kolej Yayasan Sabah, Jalan Pej JKR in Kota Kinabalu (4 to 8pm).

And on Feb 14, the audition will take place at Kompleks Sukan Keningau from 11am to 2pm.

Lastly, the organiser will proceed to Malaysia Tourism Centre at Jalan Ampang in Kuala Lumpur to hold the audition on Feb 20 from 3 to 8pm.

According to the organiser in a press statement, those living overseas are invited to join and audition over viber.

Winners for Miss Sabah Open, Miss Kadazandusun, Miss Iban, Miss Bidayuh, Miss Orang Ulu, Mister Sabah and Mister Sarawak will be flown to London for the grand finale of Miss and Mister Borneo Hornbill Festival 2016.

The statement also revealed that total prizes worth RM100,000 await winners.

Grand title of ‘Miss Borneo Ethnic 2016’ and ‘Mr Borneo Ethnic 2016’ will each receive RM15,000 of Amanah Saham Bumiputera (ASB) investment scheme, plus a trophy and a shawl.

However, the final amount of RM15,000 is subject to maturity of investment throughout the specified duration, according to the statement.

For ‘Miss Sabah Open’ category, first prize winner will receive Harrods handbags, a trophy, a shawl and a trip to London.

Second and third place winners will receive Harrods handbags, a trophy and a shawl each. For ‘Miss Kadazandusun’, first prize winner will get Harrods handbags, a trophy, a shawl and a trip to London, while second and third place winners will each receive Harrods handbags, a trophy and a shawl.


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Local travel agents, entrepreneurs to promote Sabah in China

KOTA KINABALU: A group of 23 local travel agents and entrepreneurs will embark on a business and familiarisation tour to Chongqing, China on March 1 to promote Sabah’s inbound tourism market.

The entourage to be headed by Sabah Association of Tour & Travel Agents (SATTA) chairman, Dato’ Seri Winston Liaw has also invited Sabah Tourism, Culture and Environment Minister Datuk Seri Panglima Masidi Manjun to join the trip.

The invitation was accepted by Masidi when Winston and Kinsabina Group of Companies chief executive officer, Datuk Francis Goh paid him a courtesy call at his ministry’s office on Tuesday.

Masidi was invited to be the guest of honour to witness the signing of several memorandum of understandings between China charter flight agents and Winston as well as Francis under their partnership company, Borneo Airworld Sdn Bhd.

The signed agreement is expect to see 200 charter flights coming to Sabah from China, bringing in 10,000 passengers throughout the year.