Sunday, June 29, 2014

Sabah Film Academy push filmmakers to next level


Ten Sabah filmmakers was given a golden opportunity to hone their filmmaking skills under the tutelage of international mentors through Sabah Film Academy in Kota Kinabalu, recently.

Sabah Film Academy is an intensive film production programme to train young filmmakers on various skillsets and knowledge in filmmaking by producing a short documentary within 8 days, with workshops, pre-production meetings, principal shooting and post production support led by a team of established Malaysian and international mentors

The international mentors for the Sabah Film Academy sessions are their Dean and Director Marcus Vetter from Germany, Film Editor Jacques Comets from France, Emmy nominated composer Miriam Cutler, and Malaysian Director of Photography Filus Ghazali.

World Class Mentors

Sabah Film Academy Dean and Director Marcus Vetter is an acclaimed filmmaker, and his films have received attention at national and international film festivals as well as winning numerous prizes, among which are 3 Adolf Grimme Awards, the German Oscar. His films and documentations are feature length films such as The Tunnel (1999), My Father The Turk (2006), Heart of Jenin (2008), Hunger (2009), Cinema of Jenin (2011) and The International Criminal Court (2012).

Film Editing mentor Jacques Comets has edited or produced 41 films since 1986, working with directors such as Bernard Stora, Raoul Peck, Christine Pascal, Djamshed Usmonov, Ramadan Suleiman, Pablo Aguero, Tsai Ming-liang, Tonie Marshall, Massoud Bakshi, and Dima El-Horr. He has been involved in editing several feature films in Morocco, Palestine, Colombia, Lebanon and Vietnam. He is currently head of the Editing Department at French National Film School.

Meanwhile, Emmy nominated composer, Miriam Cutler has an extensive background scoring for independent film and TV projects. Her passion for documentary film has led to a focus on non-fiction, which includes Oscar nominated Kingspoint and Poster Girl, Emmy nominated Ethel, Vito, Thin and Desert of Forbidden Arts as well as Emmy winning Ghost of Abu Grahib. She is also a member of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences

Continue reading (Incl. Pics) at: Sabah Film Academy push filmmakers to next level
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Saturday, June 28, 2014

Borneo: Orangutans


Orangutans in the wild are a sight to behold. These marvelous apes, the closest living relatives to humans have safe havens in Borneo that belong on everyone’s must-visit list.

Borneo’s rare animals, virgin rainforest and coral reefs deserve the number one spot on your must-see list. On this Southeast Asian island, you glimpse a world that is all but lost.

Begin in the south in Indonesian Borneo with a visit to Tanjung Puting National Park—home to numerous species of birds and monkeys, and its most famous residents: the endangered orangutans.

Tanjung Puting National Park

In 1971 Biruté Mary Galdikas arrived to a park decimated by loggers, rhinoceros hunted into extinction and wildlife protection laws unheard of. Through her research work, Galdikas, a protégé of paleontologist Louis Leakey, safeguarded—despite tremendous pressure from illegal logging and mining interests—one of the orangutans’ last havens in Borneo.

The Borneo rainforest is one of the few remaining natural habitats for the orangutan. Local boatmen take you on full-day river cruises through the forest where feeding stations bring orangutans into close range. You also see hornbills, crocodiles, and the proboscis monkey while gliding on narrow channels. Guides also lead hike through the forest in search of barking deer, rhinoceros hornbills, and Bornean wild pigs.

Headhunter’s Trail

In western Borneo in the Malaysian state of Sarawak, the Iban, formerly headhunters, now reside in longhouses along the Rejang and Baram rivers. Their longboats and dugout canoes pass through the jungle on large river systems. You learn about the indigenous culture by hiking the headhunters trail and staying overnight in an Iban longhouse where tales of headhunting are heard.

Continue reading (Incl. Pics) at: Borneo: Orangutans
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Gaya Island Resort rehabilitates, releases turtle


KOTA KINABALU: Gaya Island Resort has released the young turtle it rescued in April this year.

The Green Sea Turtle was discovered malnourished and covered in barnacles, and was nursed back to health by the resort’s Marine Centre. She was returned to sea after being verified fit and healthy, after three months in their care. She is the fourth turtle to be taken in by the resort.

Ninja, as she was later to be named, was first discovered by Gaya Island Resort Marine Centre on April 4, after the resort’s Turtle Hotline received a call from Dr Nathan Sen, Assistant Director of Sabah Wildlife Department.

He and his team had discovered a farmer who had a turtle in his possession. In Sabah, turtles are a protected species carrying a RM50,000 fine and five years’ imprisonment for capturing them.

Dr. Sen rescued her and transferred her to Gaya Island Resort Marine Centre. Here, emaciated and suffering from septicemia, Ninja was put under the care of Marine Biologist Scott Mayback. She was kept under constant surveillance and given various medications including antibiotics and topical medication to remove barnacles.

Within three months, her weight improved from 7.7kg to 8.6kg and her appetite and colour returned.

On June 27, after being deemed fit and able to survive back in the sea by Marine Research Foundation’s Dr Nick Pilcher, Ninja was released by Gaya Island Resort Marine Centre.

The event started with Dr Sen sharing a few words on how the young turtle came into their care, and with Mr. Mayback explaining the work gone into rescuing and rehabilitating Ninja.

“Saving a single turtle requires team effort,” said Mayback. “For rescuing and rehabilitating Ninja, I need to thank Dr. Sen, Sabah Wildlife Rescue Unit’s Dr Diana Ramirez who helped with the medical treatments, and Dr Pilcher, without whom the turtle rescue centre would not have been founded.

I hope that we can continue to not only help turtles and other sea life in need of care, but also motivate and inspire the public so they can also support and value our rich marine eco-system.”

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Friday, June 27, 2014

Walk Above A Rainforest - Travel To Borneo Island


Travel to Borneo Island

Borneo always seems to conjure mystical images of an unknown world. Its very name suggests jungle wilderness and a world teeming with wild animals. Borneo is the third-largest island in the world and the largest island of Asia. It’s the home of the sea turtle and the orangutan, ancient indigenous tribes and one of the world’s oldest rain-forests.

So what’s it like to travel to Borneo island?

Redolent landscapes set the scene. Lush tropical jungle extends as far as the eye can see, the undulating mountains covered in competing shades of green. Immense rivers meander through the trees, creeping towards the mangroves and filtering into thick swamps. Rich blue waters surround the world’s third largest island, but there is much more here than just beautiful beaches and resorts.

Why travel to Borneo Island?

People come to Borneo for the bounty of its unique landscapes. Endemic wildlife lurks in the trees and it’s much sought after by both tourists and poachers. The Bornean orangutan can fetch big money on the black market, and the Sepilok Orangutan Centre was set up to rehabilitate orphaned babies and then reintegrate them into the wild. You don’t need a pair of binoculars to spot them. Swinging through the trees, often just meters away from tourists, is a whole gang of playful orangutans.

The centre has a hands off approach to their care, yet the primates crave personal attention. Confident and inquisitive, they jump towards people, puckering up for sloppy kisses and sending mischievous hands into open backpacks.Be careful, because once an orangutan has stolen your sunglasses they’re unlikely to give them back.

They’re genetically 97.4% identical to humans, and they march along the walkways holding hands with visitors. None of this is allowed of course, but trying to stop an orangutan from having fun is pretty difficult.

More Incredible Wildlife When you Travel to Borneo Island

Borneo is split into two. The southern Indonesian part is almost impenetrable, offering little but challenging expeditions into the rainforest. The Malaysian part is more visitor friendly, particularly the north eastern province of Sabah. It’s where you’ll find the orangutans, comically jumping around and using their furry hands to liberate biscuits and caps.

Also living in the trees here is the Sumatran rhino, a critically endangered species that also captivates both poachers and visitors. On a three day canoe trip tourists try and get a glimpse of them in the wild, a furtive glance at the majestic mammal plodding through the trees. Imperial horns symbolize their power and fierce protection of territory. But evocative eyes and graceful movements suggest that these are gentle giants.

Continue reading (Incl. Pics) at: Walk Above A Rainforest - Travel To Borneo Island
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Thursday, June 26, 2014

10 Reasons you have to visit Borneo


For me, Borneo has always conjured up all kinds of wild and mysterious imaginings-Fascinating wildlife living in the deep rainforests, native tribes with intriguing old habits and truly spectacular natural beauty.

Turns out my imagination and David Attenborough Borneo specials painted a pretty accurate picture, but there is a lot more to Borneo than most people know about it. Our 8 days of river cruising and jungle meandering was a truly eye-opening journey and here’s why I think everyone should visit Borneo at least once in a lifetime.

1. The Wildlife endemic to Borneo.

There is a reason Wildlife experts, film makers and conservationists travel all the way to investigate the unexplored rainforests of Borneo. Both states of Sarawak and Sabah boast some of the world’s most fascinating wildlife, found here only.

Seeing Pygmy elephants beside the river, Proboscis monkeys with their long noses and big bellies high up in the trees and Orang Utans (jungle people) in their natural habitat was mind-blowing. As the days drew to a close we saw crocodiles, Rhinoceros Hornbills and Longtail Macaques going about their day in the humid jungle.

The best place to spot wildlife in the rainforest, is to stay along the Kinabatangan River in Sabah (longest river in Borneo) as each lodge and backpackers offer river cruises in the morning, afternoon and night time with a guide.

To see animals that have been rescued from hunters or families holding them illegally as pets visit the Matang Wildlife Centre in Sarawak or the Sepilok Rehabilitation Centre in Sabah. Due to some animals, especially Orang Utans, being captured and kept illegally as pets for so long, many are not able to be released and will sadly spend their lives in enclosures.

2. Witnessing young, rescued orangutans learn survival skills.

At the Matang Wildlife Centre in Kubah National Park, we were able to watch two young Orang Utans, Buyee (1 years old) and Dr. Kok ( 5 years old) undergoing their primary school training in the forest. I have seen lion cubs, young rhino babies, tiny zebras and giraffe but there is nothing more adorable than a baby Orang Utan. Sharing 96.4 percent of our DNA, it’s no surprise these little guys appeared so human and very much like mischievous toddlers.

Visitors are not allowed to touch them as the park believes that in order to be released into the wild one day, they need minimum human interaction. Usually Orang Utans have to stay with their moms for their first 6-8 years but when separated from their moms and rescued, one human handler begins to play the role of their mother and teaches them how to build nests and climb up trees.

3. River Cruising.

Even though the birds and animals are the purpose and appeal of the river cruises, I found myself delighting in the pure enchantment of the rainforest on either side of the Kinabatangan banks. Our guide, Jamil, took us down narrow estuaries each displaying their own unique flora. Ancient trees with giant trunks stood tall beside the river, whilst other mangroves extended their branches down into the water flow.

Lime green willows swayed just above the surface and sometimes our boat glided right into a lake of lilies and ferns. Purple and yellow blooms sprouted on certain trees and tiny green and purple apples on others. It is a wonderland for photographers and botanists and with the chirping of insects, birds and call of the wild; it was the most beautiful backdrop for a boat ride.

Continue reading (Incl. Pics) at: 10 Reasons you have to visit Borneo
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Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Gawai celebration can contribute to tourism industry


KUCHING: The Gawai celebration is a significant festival in Sarawak which can contribute to the country’s tourism industry, Deputy Prime Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin said.

He said the celebration, which falls in June every year, could become a major tourist attraction due to its uniqueness.

Speaking at the 9th Gawai Dayak Carnival at Redeems Centre here, Muhyiddin said Sarawak was already well-known for its strong unity and harmonious multiracial society.

"I am confident with what Sarawak has to offer, it can continue to attract more tourists and help pull tourists to Malaysia,” he said, adding the unity of people in Sarawak was something everyone should be proud of and must be preserved.

He said a united people were the backbone of the county, pointing out that without unity the country would not be able to move forward and become a high income and developed nation by 2020.

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Sunday, June 22, 2014

Borneo Arts Festival to hold recognition awards


LABUAN: The second Borneo Arts Festival (BAF) 2014 kicked off on Friday with several performing arts taking part at Dataran Labuan.

Director of Labuan Corporation Tourism, Culture and Art Department, Mahathir Abdul Hamid yesterday said that several other additional performances were also held to spice up the burgeoning festival.

“One of the new peformances held on the first night of the festival is the fashion show by Cosmopoint College in Kota Kinabalu where its students show their fashion design based on the ethnic groups in Sabah,” he said, adding that a few other new performance categories were featured while retaining the other categories during the first edition of BAF.

He explained that the participation in this year’s BAF was slightly affected due to the clash of events of the Rainforest World Music Festival and school dance competition in Kuching and other events in Sabah and Putrajaya.

“After getting the feedback, we probably will organise the third edition of BAF in September next year,” he said.

Mahathir added that they were still consistent with their objective of BAF, as a platform to gather all the performing artists around Borneo, while giving chances to the local especailly the non-elite schools to show their talents.

“Next year, we are planning to hold Award Giving Programme in BAF to appreciate the performing artists in Borneo,” he said.

Mahathir said that the difference between BAF and Labuan Arts Festival (Lafest) is that BAF focuses on performing arts, while Lafest focuses on contemporary art organised by Labuan Tourism Ministry Office.

Continue reading (Incl. Pic) at: Borneo Arts Festival to hold recognition awards
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Friday, June 20, 2014

Borneo beckons


It’s inescapable.

In the nucleus of Pantai Dalit Beach in Tuaran, hidden amidst the nature reserve, half an hour north of Sabah’s capital, Kota Kinabalu; lies a slice of paradise that sets the scene for one of the world’s greatest tourist destinations.

“Be careful!” warned the Kadazan gardener, firmly gripping a long wooden stick that he thought could save us all. His hands beckoning as he tried to keep us at bay from where he was standing. Resembling a spear, he pierced and plunged his mighty rod into the hedge in a sequential rhythm, as we all watched in confusion.

Before I realized what was happening, a cobra emerged from the beaten bush, swiftly heading in our direction. Like all men belonging to the Kadazan ethnic tribe of Borneo – bold and brave; this 32 year old gardener is on par with his ancestors. With bursting adrenaline and speed, he quickly caught the fleeing creature. Sealed it in a container and just as I made my first sigh of relief, there was peace.

It was not hard to imagine that like the Garden of Eden (minus the talking serpent but rather one of its predecessors) - Pantai Dalit Beach is home to the Shangri-la Rasa Ria Resort and serves as the bucolic backdrop of that pristine place in Genesis.

Its landscape cradles the verdant mountains humpbacked by the imposing physique of Mount Kinabalu, Southeast Asia’s tallest peak. Jungles that drop down to long windswept powdery beaches and the sea that spreads out for all to behold - in a moody canvas of turquoise and pale shades of blue.

To many locals they describe it as rasa ria meaning “the taste of happiness”. To us, my travel partner and I, we call it our Malaysian Eden. He was Adam and I was Eve.

In this 400 acre - tropical forest, we were joined by tourists who wanted to get away from the urban chaos. Most of them were families celebrating reunions, business travelers needing a break, couples catching up with romance and newlyweds retreating after the bedlam of their weddings.

Under the spell of the sea and the mountain, everybody succumbs. It’s easy to become a little aimless here when walking along the three kilometer stretch of sand with no particular destination and even hop on a horse if one is too tired to walk.

Continue reading (Incl. Pics) at: Borneo beckons
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Thursday, June 19, 2014

World Rainforest Music Festival won’t affect Redeems Gawai Dayak Carnival


The staging of the World Rainforest Music Festival from June 20-22 in Damai is not likely to affect the upcoming five-day Redeems Gawai Dayak Carnival which will begin tomorrow (June 20) at the Redeems Centre, Kampung Opar, Bau, said Redeems chairman Datuk Peter Nansian Ngusie.

Nansian who is Sarawak’s assistant minister for community and industrial development said Redeems Gawai has its own followers and the organisers of the event are confident that the carnival will receive bigger response this time around.

“Those following the World Rainforest Music Festival is a different type of crowd while Redeems Gawai has its own crowd. Moreover it is two different types of events and is being held at two different places,” said Nansian who is also the working chairman of the Redeems Gawai Dayak Carnival, at a press conference today.

Another crowd pulling factor to the Redeems Gawai Dayak Carnival is that entry to the event is free while the World Rainforest Music Festival is ticketed, he added.

He said visitors to the Redeems Gawai Dayak Carnival, especially the young generation would have a chance to see and experience how the Gawai rituals were performed during the olden days as well as the Bidayuh culture in the longhouse.

“Visitors will also have an opportunity to taste authentic Bidayuh cuisine while being entertained with music, cultural shows and beauty pageants,” he said.

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Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Sabah's Crocker Range approved as biosphere reserve under Unesco


KOTA KINABALU: Sabah’s 350,854ha Crocker Range has been approved as a Biosphere Reserve by the International Coordinating Council for Biosphere Reserve (CRBR), a programme under Unesco.

“The 26th meeting of the coordinating council at Jonkoping University in Sweden gave its unanimous approval for Crocker Range,” said state Tourism, Culture and Environment Minister Datuk Masidi Manjun in a statement.

He said the Malaysian delegation was headed by Natural Resource and Environment Ministry secretary-general Datuk Seri Zoal Azha Yusoff, while the state government was represented by Sabah Parks director Jamili Nais and Sabah Biodiversity Centre director Dr Abdul Fatah Amir.

He said the Crocker Range Biosphere Reserve covers 350,584ha of terrestrial ecosystems and natural landscapes, making it the largest protected area in Malaysia.

“I am proud to say that this is the third international recognition for Sabah and reflects our strong commitment to protect and conserve nature for future generations,” said Masidi.

Kinabalu Park was made a World Heritage site in 2000 and Ulu Segama-Kinabatangan a Ramsar Site in 2009.

“The CRBR is not only crucial for the conservation of biodiversity and ecosystems, but also in providing water resources for the more than one million population within the west coast and interior parts of Sabah,” he said.

More importantly, CRBR is a platform for sustainable development, where interaction and involvement of people in the decision-making process is compulsory, and development is based on continuous scientific research and monitoring.

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Monday, June 16, 2014

Cluster of islands in Sabah presents itself as an eco-tourism paradise


The string of five islands which constitute the 50 sq km Tunku Abdul Rahman Marine Park is only a 15-minute boat ride from Kota Kinabalu’s downtown area.

For years, the islands with their pristine beaches and waters teeming with marine life, have been a convenient getaway for city residents.

Those wanting to experience an untouched tropical forest, a trek through the hilly terrain of the biggest island of Pulau Gaya and nearby Pulau Manukan would be just the thing.

Pangolins, monkeys and even wild boar have been spotted along the 20km of trails on Gaya while hornbills can occasionally be seen flying overhead.

The highest point of the island is about 300m and the hills gradually slope towards a secluded and sandy beach, among the more popular being Police Beach that faces the South China Sea.

The second largest island in the park is Manukan, which like Gaya, is forested and surrounded by coral reefs that are ideal for snorkelling and diving.

 The other islands that make up the marine park are Mamutik, which is closest to the mainland, Sulug noted for an extensive coral reef and Sapi just adjacent to Gaya and featuring 5km of nature trails.

At low tide, it is possible to wade between Sapi and Gaya.

Indeed, the marine park is a microcosm of some of the best Sabah has to offer its visitors.

Over the years, the islands have become a major revenue earner and receives hundreds of visitors daily.

During school and public holidays, the beaches on the more popular islands such as Manukan and Sapi can become downright crowded.

Infrastructure at these islands have grown, too.

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8th Sunset Music Fest will feature the Tip of Borneo as a backdrop


KOTA KINABALU: The eighth Sunset Music Fest featuring the Tip of Borneo as a backdrop, is back this Friday and Saturday.

This time, Sabah's biggest open air concert held 190 kilometres from here at Simpang Mengayau, Kudat will feature a Philippine orchestra group, Philpops, besides local acts.

The one-of-a-kind outdoor musical experience which starts from 5pm to 8.30pm, will also have well-known Malaysian songstress Syafinaz Selamat as the closing act on Saturday.

Sabah Tourism, Culture and Environment Minister Datuk Masidi Manjun is expected to attend on the second night.

Based on the capacity of the place, up to a thousand audience are expected to throng the event which will also showcase Den Bisa, Francis Landong, Gee Mojina and six-piece ensemble Rhythm of Borneo.

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Sunday, June 15, 2014

Kota Kinabalu Jazz Festival - Jazz greats mesmerize fans in KK


KOTA KINABALU: The platform for a melting pot of musical talents from around the world cum annual fund-raising event, the Kota Kinabalu Jazz Festival, is back for its eighth edition.

And while annual events normally have the tendency to unfold in predictable patterns, the KK Jazz Festival continues to be an anticipated event as it brings diverse repertoire of live music to the Nature Resort City, year after year.

This year, the event is bringing over talents from as far as Cuba, Italy, the Philippines, Indonesia, Kuala Lumpur, as well as local talents, seasoned and budding alike, to play music in the name of passion as well as charity, at the Covered Tennis Court, Sutera Harbour Marina Golf & Country Club, on June 13 and 14, from 7pm to 11pm.

Jointly organised by the Rotary Club of Kota Kinabalu (RCKK) and the Society of Performing Arts Kota Kinabalu (SPArKS), it has now become a signature event in Sabah’s annual calendar of events, recording a crowd of over 4,000 people during the two-night’s performance.

Emceeing the event this year is renowned national personality and Sabah’s very own pride, Daphne Iking, who joins a list of other famous Sabahan personalities who have hosted the KK Jazz Festival, incliding television and radio host, Serena C.

Kicking off the event on the night of June 13 was a list of talented local bands and artistes, including the Kian Kok School Big Band and Fingerstyle, and two bands discovered through the KK Jazz Festival – Jazz Stars 2014, SIA Goofy and Rozella Marie Mahjirin.

Seasoned national quartet, The Seasons 4 from Kuala Lumpur is proof that music defies age and time. They took over the stage last night, wowing the crowd as they belted out golden voices performing a blend of evergreens, contemporary songs and jazz, with a presentation that was a complete surprise to many.

Jerome Rico and Mara Viola from the Philippines are a duo who got together for the KK Jazz Festival, but had long achieved professional musician and performer status, with award-winning Jerome having performed in various notable shows and Mara, with her own list of professional performances to name, in the Philippines, Japan, and China.

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Just back from Borneo and Japan - Part 1: Borneo


Our wonderful trip to Borneo and Japan was successful in large part to what I learned from you. Because Borneo and Japan are such different destinations, I am going to break the report into two separate posts. I’ll include the general background in this first one on Borneo and make reference to it in the introductory section on Japan.

We have traveled quite a lot in Asia and have learned to slow down in the last few years, as we are now 65 and 70. Three weeks of travel meant we would be able to include some days to relax. Planning began about 10 months ago when I redeemed miles on United for two business class tickets from DC to Singapore for our preferred travel dates in May, 2014, for three weeks altogether. The flights were on ANA from Dulles to Narita, United (first class) Narita to Singapore on the way to Borneo, on the return we were on the ANA Dreamliner from Singapore to Narita. We did a 6 day stopover in Japan, then flew back to Dulles on ANA. I won’t go into the ins and outs of the changes I made on these tickets before I finalized the itinerary. Essentially, I extended the layover in Japan from 2 days to 6 days as I read more about Tokyo from your trip reports and Japan guide. I had initially planned to go to the Cameron Highlands and leave from Kuala Lumpur, so that was the major change. Because we have an AMEX Platinum card, I was able to get credit for the change fees and so there was no “cost” to us.

Originally, I wanted to go to Kuching (Sarawak) first because I thought it would be easier to recover there from jet lag. But it turned out that the Borneo Rainforest Lodge was booked for the days that we would want so I changed the order of travel and we went to Sabah first. We landed in Singapore after midnight and spent the night in the Ambassador transit hotel, flew (Silk Air) to Kota Kinabalu in the morning for 2 nights at Le Meridien, flew to Sandakan on an early morning flight and went to Turtle Island, from there we were driven to Bilit for 2 nights at the Bilit Rainforest Lodge, then driven to the Danum Valley for 3 nights at the Borneo Rainforest Lodge, then flew to Kuching (Lahad Datu to Kota Kinabalu, the Kota Kinabalu to Kuching) for 4 nights (all flights on Malaysia Airlines). Jimmy at Tropical Gateway booked everything for us in Sabah - - accommodations and transit between places. I would highly recommend him - - very easy to communicate with and the service was excellent. I booked all the internal flights myself.

My concerns were about what and how much to pack, especially for our 8 nights in Sabah. The Travelex and Under Armour clothes were the right way to go - - even those took a while to dry. We had to change clothes and underwear two or three times a day. Brought a combination of long and short sleeve tops - - washed everything in permetherin before we left. I agonized over footwear and eventually decided to waterproof our running/walking shoes and that worked just fine. We definitely needed the ankle support and I think even light hiking books would have been too heavy. We also brought Ecco sandals and I had a pair of Reefs. One article of clothing I wore quite a lot but haven’t seen anyone write about: a sleeveless cotton knee length T shirt (originally a swimsuit coverup), which I changed into immediately after the boat trips and treks. It was great for when we rested in our rooms in between activities. Here goes:

May 21: At the ANA counter check in, we checked our bag through to Kota Kinabalu. Left Dulles on ANA on time, arrived in SIN a bit late because of delay on the United flight. We brought one small carryon with clothes for Japan, which we knew we would not use in Borneo. We took it to the Left Luggage counter in Chiangi airport, which was near the Ambassador Transit hotel, where we arrived at 1am on May 23. Solid 6 hours sleep, checked out and walked to our gate for the 9am flight to Kota Kinabalu. So we stayed within the security side of the airport the entire time.

May 23 and May 24: Uneventful flight to KK but our bag did not arrive with us. Filled out forms, pretty nervous about it because we only had one day of clothes in a small bag. Fortunately, we got a call that afternoon that our bag had been located in Singapore and would be delivered the next day.

Kota Kinabalu is one of the gateway cities in Borneo and there are a few international flights that arrive in its very modern airport terminal. Like many secondary cities in Southeast Asia, it is a mix of old and new, modern and traditional. Directly on the South China Sea, there are many lovely views from modern hotels and waterfront esplanades. Mount Kinabalu is to the east and many people come here to ascent the mountain. There are many shopping malls and small stores and markets.

We stayed at Le Meridien in the city center, a great choice for us. It was directly across the street from the central wet market and vegetable market so we were able to easily wander through the stalls. Our room on the 8th floor had large windows with a great view of the market and sea and nearby islands. Diagonally across the street is one of the main restaurant/bar areas right on the waterfront. We walked over there at around 6pm on Friday and had drinks and watched the sunset, it was really lovely. Later that evening we went back for dinner at an Indian restaurant (Kohinoor) a couple of doors away from the Irish bar where we had our sundowners.

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Thursday, June 12, 2014

Things to do in Kuching (Borneo, Malaysia), and ideal for kids


So, where exactly is Kuching?

Kuching is the capital of the Malaysian state of Sarawak, which is located on the north west of the island of Borneo.

This part of the world is severely underrated in my opinion. Everyone includes Peninsular (mainland) Malaysia in their whistle stop tour of South East Asia, and of course, Thailand and Singapore are well visited by both holiday makers and Backpackers. But what about the Malaysian portion of Borneo?

Sarawak is known for the indigenous tribes who live in long houses, as well as it's British colonial heritage. The Chinese and Indian migrants have also made quite an impact in this area, and particularly in Kuching.

The city of Kuching is quiet and calm in comparison to places on Peninsular Malaysia, and somewhere I found myself feeling at ease. In fact we ended up staying 2 weeks here exploring the area, and would have stayed longer.

I highly recommend Kuching as a destination when travelling with kids, as although the heat can be difficult at times, children will find something to enjoy at almost every one of my recommended activities.

If you want to see Orangutans without the crowds, Kuching is a good base to visit Semmengoh National Park and I've heard that it's much less touristy than the famous Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation centre in Sabah.

The river setting of Kuching, where people say hello and smile for reasons other than to sell you stuff, is also renowned for its cat statues and the rather quirky cat museum (Kuching means cat in Malay)

There is a reasonably good bus network, just don't try and travel after 5pm as it shuts down early. If you're brave, the unlicensed buses will save you even more, and give you an experience of local life.

So what else is there to do and see whilst in Kuching? Here's my recommendations:

1. Semenggoh wildlife centre - this is one for the kids and the rest of the family, but head there early to catch the orangutans feeding time, as it's a short walk from the entrance. Read all about my visit here: Orangutans of Borneo: Semenggoh nature reserve, Kuching.

2. The city itself - offers a picturesque riverside, bustling Chinatown, shopping centres and museums. Drop by the very informative information office to get info on everything and anything and you will not be disappointed. This is one of the best information centres we have ever been to!

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Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Sabah International Folklore Festival a bridge of friendship


KOTA KINABALU: Sabah Tourism, Culture and Environment Minister Datuk Seri Panglima Masidi Manjun has described the annual Sabah International Folklore Festival (SIFF) as a bridge of friendship and goodwill between the participating nations.

Speaking at the welcoming dinner for the 9th SIFF 2014 participants here last night, Masidi said while the dance showcase may be minor in terms of importance compared to what is happening in the rest of the world, he believed it sent a message of peace and love to the world.

“We are sending a powerful message to the rest of the world that we are peace-loving countries.

And that is the reason some of the participants took the trouble to fly thousands of kilometres to show the world that we want peace and all the people in the world are brothers and sisters,” said Masidi.

He added that Sabah which has the most diverse cultures in Malaysia wanted to showcase its peace and harmony to the participating countries.

“Sabah has a population of over 3.2 million but there are 32 ethnic groups speaking more than 50 languages.

Race and religion have never been a problem and practically every Sabahan has relatives from the other side of the religious divide.

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Sunday, June 08, 2014

Santubong - Ideal hideaway from hectic city life


For a quiet getaway from the hustle and bustle of the city, staying the night at tranquil Santubong might be a good idea for a change of scene.

Santubong is well known for untouched natural jungle and sandy beaches, making it a popular tourist spot.

With plenty of attractions and activities such as hiking, mountain climbing, touring the Sarawak Cultural Village, sightseeing and enjoying the beach, Santubong offers a variety of choices to explore.

The legend of Mount Santubong is the tragic tale of two sisters – Santubong and Sejinjang, princesses believed to have descended from heaven.

Santubong was the expert weaver while Sejinjang an excellent rice thresher. When both princesses fell in love with a handsome prince, they began to quarrel over him and exchange blows.

To put an end to the quarrel, the King turned both princesses into mountains. It is said both mountains resemble women lying horizontally and the crack on Mount Santubong is said to be the scar on Santubong’s cheek left by Sejinjang’s fury.

Although only 810 metres high, the mountain is rather intimidating due to its steep slope towards the summit. Climbing to the top takes about three to four hours while descending is quicker.

So, it is advisable to start very early as the jungle can get dark as early as between 3pm and 4 pm.

Scaling the summit, you can enjoy the amazing view of the jungle and listen to the sound of Nature. Along the way, you might get cuts and bruises, a few encounters with insects and bugs and come across slippery and muddy pathways but once at the summit, it’s all worth it, knowing you have made it to the top on your own perseverance.

Dolphin sighting

If you live near the water, you might want the chance to at least swim in the sea or go for a boat ride.

Ask any villagers with a boat and they would be happy to take you out on a cruise to catch a glimpse of the rare Irrawaddy dolphins, especially between April and September.

Irrawaddy dolphins or snubfin dolphins are mostly found in rivers, estuaries and shallow coastal waters such as at Burman, India, Southern Thailand, Mahakam River in Kalimantan, the Philippines and North-eas-tern Australia.

Santubong also happens to be one of the best places to spot them. Due to increased human activities that threaten their existence, the population of these dolphins is slowing declining.

In 2004, WWF and TRAFFIC, the world’s largest wildlife trade monitoring network, supported a ban on international live trade of Irrawaddy dolphins by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES).

However, visitors may have to keep a keen eye on these gentle creatures as dolphin sightings are not guaranteed on every boat trip. When you do see them, however, they can be seen swimming and diving around small fishing boats.

Continue reading (Incl. Pics) at: Santubong - Ideal hideaway from hectic city life
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Friday, June 06, 2014

World's longest zip line is now in Sabah


KOTA KINABALU: Sabah now has the world’s longest zip line – the bigger-scale version of the flying fox that enables users to traverse from the top to the bottom of a cable attached to a moving pulley – that will give the thrill of literally sailing from the air from one island to another at the Tunku Abdul Rahman Marine Park.

Sabah Parks chairman Tengku Zainal Adlin Tengku Mahamood is scheduled to open the 250m-long zip line, linking Pulau Gaya and Pulau Sapi, today.

Set up by local firm Ropeskills Rigging Sdn Bhd, the zip line enables visitors to cross the narrow straits between both islands in about 30 to 40 seconds.

Ropeskills Rigging director Simon Amos said the starting point of the line was atop a hill at Pulau Gaya, about 45m above sea level, and riders gradually descend to a 8m-high platform at Pulau Sapi.

“The ride is an adrenaline rush. You’re seeing the sea and having the experience of flying,” he said, adding that it took his company about six months to build the zip line.

The zip line operates between 10am and 4pm daily but the company could operate after these hours upon request.

“The views from a ride at sunset is absolutely fantastic,” said Simon.

Continue reading (Incl. Pic) at: World's longest zip line is now in Sabah
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Thursday, June 05, 2014

Beasts of Borneo


Our first proper destination in Borneo was Danum Valley, a rainforest in Sabah (Malaysia, North-East Borneo). We had hikes organised for us in the jungle, which we wore special ‘gaiters’ (leech socks) for.

A leech did get me once, but it didn’t hurt, just left a big mark after I wrenched it off. It was very hot, but bearable because the huge trees provided shade. In the evenings the eerie sound of cicadas throbbed round our ears, echoing far around the forest.

Fish under water, Danum Valley. We had climbed high up a steep hill in the rainforest to an ancestral place of burial for the local people, panting and sweating all the way. We were rewarded on the journey down by stopping to swim in a pool beneath a waterfall inhabited by these fish.

As soon as you stuck any part of your body in the water, the fish were upon you nibbling away with rather sharp teeth. They were a lot bigger than the fish used for foot massages in spas!

On the final day we left the rainforest, we were excited to spot a small herd of pygmy elephants. As we watched from the car this mother and calf quickly headed into the dense trees.

Our next destination was the village of Bilit, along the Kinabatangan river. Our hotel ran a morning and evening boat trip to see the wildlife along the river – here we saw orang-utans, long-tailed macaque monkeys, pig tailed macaques, proboscis monkeys and silver languor monkeys.

Lots of birds too – rhinoceros hornbill, pied hornbill, oriental garter, blue-eared kingfisher, fish eagle, crested serpent eagle, storm stork and purple heron.

The monkeys in particular were hard to photograph as they were shy and high up in the trees. I like this photo of a sleeping monitor lizard – it looks so comfy, doesn’t it?

Hotels in Borneo tend to have open air restaurants, so that you can eat and watch the wildlife around you. The night time revealed huge beetles, moths and butterflies drawn to the lights. In turn predators were attracted to the flapping insects – bats whooshed past, lizards darted and this huge spider cast a wide net.

Very successfully, judging by the size of it! Although its underside is white, its front had dramatic yellow and black markings.

Continue reading (Incl. Pics) at: Beasts of Borneo
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Tuesday, June 03, 2014

A Jewel in Rural Borneo


Blue skies stretched out as far as our eyes could see, decorated by clusters of clouds floating around nonchalantly. The extremely bumpy ride at the back of a pickup was giving us sore bottoms but for the nature around us and the refreshingly cool breezes, it was worth it.

It was Labour’s Day afternoon in the gateway to Kelabit HighlandsBario. Sitting at around 3,500 feet above sea level in Northern Sarawak near Kalimantan, the Kelabit Highlands consist of quite some rural villages, all well-preserved and isolated from modern day civilisation.

The best way to get to Bario is by plane, either from Miri or Marudi. Not on a Boeing, mind you, but a Twin Otter so tiny you can’t stand straight in the plane.

The flight to Bario from Miri proved amazing as the little plane propelled over changing landscape below – from the seaside city to the oil palm plantations to the tropical rainforests and rugged mountains including Mulu National Park.

If you’re sitting on the left side of the plane and the weather is clear, you might catch a lucky glimpse of the Pinnacles. Keep a lookout for Batu Lawi as the plane approaches Bario – a set of twin peaks with cultural myths in the ancient days.

Tourists are picked up by their respective homestay owners from the airport. Homestay is the only accommodation option in this village, normally with full meal provision during your stay. As most of my colleagues in our travel party are Muslims, we settled for the only homestay with halal food – Pak Mus’.

The rooms are much nicer than I thought and we even had the living room to ourselves as no one else was there. We spent the afternoon touring the village on a Proton-converted pickup, walking around a bit in search of viewpoints.

Dinner, like lunch, was served with the infamous Bario rice, fish, curry, plenty of vege and delicious sambal. Sometimes, you never know how hungry you are until you start digging in. That night we turned in to bed early as we needed energy the next day…

…and the next morning I realized seems like I was the only one who slept peacefully XD. Praise God for my super sleeping-ability! After breakfast, we hopped on the pickup again – heypresto! Guide Halim made us benches out of planks and bricks..so touched! A 15 mins drive took us near to Pa’Ukat where it was time to get on our feet and start our trek to Pa’Lungan, a small village roughly 4 hrs away on foot.

Continue reading (Incl. Pics) at: A Jewel in Rural Borneo
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Monday, June 02, 2014

Beyond the beaches: 4 of the best things to do in Borneo


Borneo is the world’s third largest island, divided among Malaysia, Indonesia and Brunei. It's a heavenly retreat for people looking to get away from the city life; packed with cultures, beaches, rainforests and mountains. The best part of a trip Borneo can't be found in your hotel room, but outside where nature's at its finest.

Here are four things to do in Borneo that will get the heart pumping and show you the best of Borneo.

1. Climb Mount Kinabalu

Although climbing a mountain might not appeal to everyone, you should make an exception for Kinabalu. At 4095 metres it is relatively easy to climb. At the top you'll be rewarded with incredible views, a magnificent sunrise and at night - a starry sky you could almost reach out and touch.

It is the tallest mountain in Malaysia and the 20th tallest in the world. Many people climb Mount Kinabalu to see its miraculous biodiversity and unique and exotic species, especially orchids and pitcher plants.

The mountain is the central piece of the Kinabalu National Park, a World Heritage Site located about an hour’s drive from Kota Kinabalu.

The park's most famous attraction is the Rafflesia plant, which grows the world’s largest flowers. These fleshy, smelly, bright red flowers sprout on the ground and only last facouple of days before wilting. And then they smell even worse than the rotting flesh scent normally attributed to them. Although they sound hard to miss, they're actually quite rare and you'll only stumble across one if you're very lucky.

2. Dive in Sipadan Island

Sipadan Island is one of the best diving spots in the world with sightings of turtles, sharks, rays and other big marine creatures almost guaranteed. There are over 500 species of coral and 3000 species of fish identified to date.

From the air, Sipadan is a circle of green forest surrounded by an apron of reef about six times the size of the island itself. Anemones grow thick on the sunny sides of the reef so there is plenty of colour.

Mention the name Sipadan in front of any scuba diver and their eyes will instantly glass over. The snorkelling and diving opportunities here are simply unmatched anywhere in the world, thanks to rich marine habitat. It's also one of the best places in the world to swim with turtles.

Barracudas gather in hoards at Barracuda Point, like a sand storm of fish. Trevelly, snapper and reef shark are well represented and the bumphead parrotfish are more than just a funny name!

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Sunday, June 01, 2014

Traditional Kadazandusun music: Keeping it authentic


THERE has been a great deal of thought on traditional musical instruments, especially on whether they should be allowed to evolve into something more modern with finer tunes as opposed to the past. There have been arguments on the instruments construction and it’s playing techniques.

The Sompoton is one such instrument that has caught on the evolution of music.

This instrument is actually a mouth organ and can be found simply anywhere if one wished to look. It has a gourd wind chamber from which eight bamboo reed-pipes extend from.

The sompoton has been modified by some innovative individuals who are more interested in the sounds and tunes rather than the make.

A Sompotonist from Bundu Tuhan Ranau, Donius Bulangou, 49, is adamant that the old ways of playing the tune is best.

“In the olden days, it only had eight reeds on it. It was fine looking and treasured among the people. It gave out that perfect sound that reminds us of nature and life,” he shared.

Living among traditionalists, he insists that they used the Sompoton all the time, especially during celebrations.

“They would play the sompoton during events like engagements or weddings. They would also play it during social gatherings,” said Donius.

“In those times the youth, because of lack of entertainment, pride themselves in knowing how to play this instrument, but it seemed the interest is now fading away,” he laments.

He also expressed his disgust at the way players are playing songs that do not adhere to the old tunes. The old tunes are usually repetitive harmony that can indeed remind one of nature in its every aspect.

“I learned to play from my elders, by listening to them and emulating their moves. I love this instrument as it has given me so much pleasure artistically,” he shared.

Donius is now in the process of writing about his experiences in life and his opinions on the evolution of life as he knows it. He is also compiling Dusun Poems and riddles.

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Sarawak Tourism Ministry mulls turning part of state capital into heritage site


KUCHING: The Ministry of Tourism will set up a panel of heritage experts to turn a corridor in the old Kuching quarters into a Unesco World Heritage Site.

Minister of Sarawak Tourism Datuk Amar Abang Johari Tun Openg said his ministry had identified a stretch starting from Padungan to the Sarawak Museum as the potential corridor.

“Listing these areas as a Unesco World Heritage site will take a considerable amount of time.

We are however fortunate that these areas comply with all the criteria set by Unesco,” said Abang Johari at a press conference during a welfare visit at Kampung Masjid yesterday.

He also said the ministry would be looking at two heritage sites in Vietnam and Pulau Pinang as models for the Kuching heritage corridor.

Once listed as a Unesco World Heritage site, the maintenance of the old shophouses and other sites of interests would be borne by Unesco.

Abang Johari who is also Satok state assemblyman added that the volume of tourists arrival in Sarawak from Jan to March this year increased by six per cent compared to the same period in 2013.

“We have recorded 1.13 million tourists from Jan to March this year.

Forty per cent are domestic tourists while the remaining 60 per cent are international tourists,” he added.

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Local theatre opens KK Arts Fest


KOTA KINABALU: The opening night of PITaPAT Theatre’s drama production of MERAH kicked off the month-long Kota Kinabalu Arts Festival (KK Arts Festival) 2014 last evening at Tun Hamdan Theatre in the Tun Mustapha Tower (formerly known as Yayasan Sabah building).

Attending the local theatre company’s opening night production were the Society of Performing Arts, Kota Kinabalu, Sabah (SPArKS) president Roger Wang; SPArKS’ advisor Susan Bansin and Kota Kinabalu International Film Festival’s festival director Jude Day.

MERAH’s opening night is the first of the 22 events planned for the month of June, said Wang. “This year, the KK Arts Festival starts on May 30 – taking advantage of the Harvest Festival holiday – and ends on June 29.”

According to Wang, the KK Arts Festival is made up of seven festivals and events that are put together by seven local organisations who are passionately committed to the advancement of arts for the people of Kota Kinabalu.

Continue reading at: Local theatre opens KK Arts Fest
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