By Nasriah Hj Darus
KUALA LUMPUR -- "Breath-taking, awe inspiring" are apt words to describe the feeling when one stands on the majestic cliffs at Tanjung Simpang Mengayau, dubbed the "land's end of Borneo".
As the sun sets over the horizon at this northwestern tip of the world's third largest island, visitors are enchanted by the glittering turquoise sea and the sky's tinges of red and gold.
"When one stands on the cliff and looks out to the open sea, it is like standing on the edge of a world, looking at mother nature's greatness and the scene is simply awesome", an adventure seeker once wrote in a travel magazine.
Visitors to Tanjung Simpang Mengayau, located some 170km from the Sabah state capital of Kota Kinabalu, would agree with the writer's comments.
Boredom and exhaustion from the three-hour car ride from Kota Kinabalu easily dissipate after hearing the cacophony of waves splashing against the rocks at the bottom of the cliffs and enjoying the view of miles and miles of the blue-green sea.
MEETING OF TWO SEAS
For visitors to Sabah, Tanjung Simpang Mengayau is among the must see spots that exude breath-taking panoramic vistas.
Described by Sabah's Tourism, Culture and Environment Minister Datuk Chong Kah Kiat as among the state's "jewels in the crown", this headland is 30 minutes drive from Kudat town.
The meeting point of Laut Sulu and South China Sea, it is called Tanjung Sampang Magazo in Rungus dialect, meaning "a junction where a battle took place".
Rungus folklore tells of a story where warriors made a stand against invading pirates, hence the name of this headland.
According to historians, Spanish seafarer Ferdinand Magellan, on his way to circum-navigate the globe, had stopped there for 42 days for repairs to his ships. Tanjung Simpang Mengayau is indeed among Sabah's many world-renowned natural wonders.
With its crystal-clear seas, magnificent beaches, islands, coral reefs as well as its lush forests, wetlands and majestic mountains, Sabah showcases an outstanding array of biodiversity.
A group of journalists recently had the chance to experience some of Sabah's bountiful treasures and what an interesting trip it was.
Organised by Malaysia Airlines and Sabah Tourism Board, the trip brought journalists, albeit briefly, to several towns and villages along Sabah's west coast.
From Kota Kinabalu, Kudat is the first stop followed by a brief sojourn to Tanjung Simpang Mengayau. Kudat district has some of Sabah's finest beaches, offering holiday-goers peace and tranquillity.
While in Kudat the journalists visited three villages, each renowned for its speciality.
Kampung Bavanggazo is known for its Rungus longhouses. Kampung Sumangkap, on the other hand, is a gong-making village while honey bees are synonymous with Kampung Gombizau.
Kudat is home of the Rungus, where many still live in longhouses and observe age-old customs and traditions.
Visitors out to experience a stay in a traditional Rungus longhouse, without sacrificing modern comforts like showers and toilets, would find what they are looking for at Kampung Bavanggazo, located in a valley not far from the main road to Kudat, near Tinangol.
Sabah offered a whirlwind of exciting events throughout 2005.
Among them were the Rolls-Royce Enthusiasts Club Tour of Borneo. Participants came from 13 countries, bringing along 67 Rolls-Royces and Bentleys.
Other events are the International CEO Conference, Sunset Symphony Orchestra and Mount Kinabalu International Climbathon.
As Sabah Tourism Board Chairman Tengku Datuk Zainal Adlin told journalists in Kota Kinabalu -- "2005 proved to be an exciting year. There were a few hiccups along the way but the state was able to face challenges such as the Tsunami and adverse travel advisories due to acts of terrorism".
He said Sabah managed to pull through despite all these glitches, recording 1.8 million tourists including 1.0 million Malaysians last year.
Despite some glitches and distractions, Sabah generated an astounding RM2.5 billion from its tourism industry in 2005!
Kudat is also a seafood paradise as most of its village folks are fishermen.
"You can buy fresh crabs, prawns, fish and shellfish here," said one government official, adding that it is cheap and visitors can savour the delights at Kudat's beachfront stalls and restaurants.
Kudat is Sabah's first state capital and fast turning into a tourism spot.
The town attracts many travellers from China, Taiwan and Australia with some coming back to acquire properties along its beachfront under the "Malaysia, My Second Home" programme.
"When I first came here 10 years ago, there were only a few shops and they were closed at night.
"There was not much activity at that time, but things have now changed. Many shops and restaurants open till midnight to cater for tourists, there are more hotels now," said the official.
Kudat also hosted an open air concert -- the Sunset Symphony Orchestra at Tanjung Simpang Mengayau in May last year.
Sabah's other leading tourism destinations include its underwater realm at Pulau Tiga, Tunku Abdul Rahman Marine Park as well as the islands of Mantani, Lankayan, Mabul Island and Sipadan Island which draw many snorkelling and scuba-diving enthusiasts.
Mount Kinabalu, at 4,095 metres above sea level is the highest peak in Borneo. It is Malaysia's First World Heritage site while Kota Belud is famous for its weekly "tamu" or bazaar.
Meanwhile Danum Valley is a prime example of lowland rainforest that has an array of flora and fauna. In fact, there are many more attractions in the state which are yet to be explored.
VISIT MALAYSIA YEAR
Tengku Zainal said tourism is a sunrise industry, strong and vibrant. "The market is big with huge potential for growth with Sabah expected to be among the destinations of choice".
The highest number of foreigners who visited Sabah last year were from Taiwan followed by Brunei, China, Japan, Australia, South Korea, United Kingdom, Ireland, Hong Kong, Singapore and Canada.
With this encouraging scenario, Tourism Malaysia targets Sabah to receive 24.6 million travellers by 2010, yielding RM59.4 billion in receipts.
"Sabah targets 2.7 million arrivals in 2007, generating RM4 billion," said Tengku Zainal.