Saturday, April 01, 2006

Delights in Sabah Tourism


MYSTICISM. Romanticism. Exoticism. Eco-tourism. That would be the very essence of Sabah. The longer you’re there, the more you want to discover, as our group of journalists found out recently.

But, what are your choices if you only had 48 hours to spare? Malaysia Airlines and Sabah Tourism Board (STB) had the answer as they whisked us from one place to another, giving us a glimpse of Sabah’s west coast.

STB chairman Tengku Datuk Zainal Adlin, who has been aggressively promoting the land beneath the wind, says: “In 2005, there were a few hiccups along the way but we were able to rise up and face the challenges in the region, for example the tsunami, acts of terrorism, adverse travel advisories and such. These did not deter us to forge ahead in the spirit of Malaysia Boleh.” Last year, Sabah raked in RM100 for every ringgit spent while Tourism Malaysia managed RM69 for the same amount spent.

Attractions are aplenty in Kota Kinabalu and in true Malaysian hospitality, what better way than to indulge in food to start the tour!

The latest pride of the capital city is its revolving restaurant called @mosphere. Opened in February, the fine dining eatery on the 18th floor of Tun Mustapha Tower (formerly Sabah Foundation) takes about an hour to orbit a full circle. On a clear day, you can see the regal Mount Kinabalu in the distance. The restaurant is modern-retro in design with its trademark hues of orange, green and purple. Despite the brightness, the place exudes warmth and is pleasing to the eye.

After a hearty lunch, we set off on a three-hour journey to Tanjung Simpang Mengayau (lingering or loitering crossroads), the tip of Borneo, which overlooks the meeting point of the South China Sea and Sulu Sea. The winds were strong and the view provided a calming effect. We caught the sunset in the nick of time.

The Kalampunian beach, located on the left, is glorious. Nature has carved a walking path into the rocks, making it an excellent picnic location. Swirling patterns have been etched onto the soft stones. For the first time last year, the area was transformed into an open-air concert venue as the state’s symphony orchestra performed its selection of concertos and opuses. Bomohs were brought in to ensure the rain was kept away! It was a roaring success and STB intends to repeat the event this year.

The next day, our first stop was the Kampung Bavanggazo Longhouse, inhabited by 11 Rungus families. Too early in the day perhaps (around nine-ish) as the Rungus community, which resides there, was fast asleep when our bus pulled up. Upon hearing our voices, the womenfolk clad in their sarongs and nodding in embarrassment, dashed out to open their souvenir shops. The Rungus men apparently work as agriculturists and head out early while the ladies take it easy.

“Just wait a few minutes. The women will get dressed in their traditional attire soon and we can go into the longhouses,” apologised Ankung Milaad, the longhouse manager.

A subgroup of the Kadazandusun, the Rungus are Sabah’s most traditional people and have distinctive costumes. Rungus women are renowned for their handicraft, particularly woven fabric, beadwork and basketware. Their dexterity in producing beaded sashes and necklaces were a delight to watch. They take pride in their craft and sell it to tourists at bargain prices – almost 50% less than in the bigger towns.

Visitors can also opt to stay at the Rungus longhouse for an authentic experience. The comfortable rooms are equipped with simple mattresses and mosquito nettings. For RM70 a night, one can enjoy all meals and a cultural performance at the breezy communal veranda.

Next stop – Kampung Sumangkap, a gong-making village. There are plenty of skilled craftsmen here who are happy to demonstrate their skill. Sheets of thick aluminium alloy are cut and beaten to form gongs.

These gongs are the most important Rungus musical instruments and are used for weddings, harvest festivals and funerals. Each musician plays these gongs in sets of three, and every gong is tuned to a different pitch.

Our guide Phil Chin explained, “There are no phones around here so the gongs are beaten if there is an occasion. If there is a wedding, no invitation cards are distributed either. People hear the gong and they gatecrash!” Depending on the finances of the family, the merriment continues up to a week.

About a kilometre down the road is Kampung Gombizau, the honey bee village. Honey is believed to have a high nutritional value. In the olden days, dry coconut branches were used to attract the bees into a container, and then the bees were transferred into hives placed in nearby softwood forest. But, technology has since improved.

Now, wooden boxes filled with burning coals (to emit smoke) are left for a month in the jungles, then collected and transferred into hives. The honey comb is then removed and pure honey is extracted. Indeed the bees can be a menace. The Rungus girls responsible for extracting the honey are often stung by the bees but it doesn’t deter them from continuing their business. They liken bee stings to ant bites and have become immune. Honey is packaged into bottles and sold at the village. Because there are no preservatives, it is recommended that the honey be used up within three months of bottling.

Clearly, we were pining for more highlights of the state but time ran out. Day two came to a close as we boarded our flight home. Sabah is indeed blessed with world-class wonders and is a destination with few equals.

As Tengku Zainal summed it up, “If Malaysia is truly Asia, then Sabah must be truly Malaysia.

The writer’s trip was sponsored by Malaysia Airlines and Sabah Tourism Board. MAS has a number of flights and holiday packages to Kota Kinabalu. For more information, check out

Source: The Star

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