Saturday, October 31, 2015

CNN: Borneo is 'the best kind of adventure'


By Anthony Bourdain, CNN

I was brokenhearted and at a crossroads in my life when I first went up the Skrang River in Sarawak, Borneo.

The people who I met there, 10 years ago, hosted me and my crew in their longhouse, fed us, looked after us and treated me with great kindness.

When the chiefs invited me back for their yearly harvest festival, Gawai Dayak, I said I would come.

It took me a while, but in the end I did return.

I have to admit, I was wondering if all the bad shit running through my head the first time I went up that river was still lurking there -- if I'd managed to entirely put it away.

I was fulfilling a promise.

And I was curious to see how things had changed.

The Iban people are wonderful hosts.

It is true that once, not too long ago, they were headhunters -- a proud tradition reflected in the faded tattoos on the fingers of the elders and dusty bouquet of skulls that hung over my head in the longhouse the first time I was there.

The skulls are gone now. And there are more TV's and cell phones.

Continue reading (Incl. Pics & Vids) at: CNN: Borneo is 'the best kind of adventure'
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No change in age limit for Mount Kinabalu climbers


KOTA KINABALU: The Sabah Parks has decided to not revise the age limit for Mt Kinabalu climbers.

Sabah Tourism, Culture and Environment Minister, Datuk Seri Panglima Masidi Manjun told visitors at his office comprising AmBank Group chairman Tan Sri  Azman Hashim and members of the Rotary Club of Bukit Bintang and Rotary Club of  Bandar Utama  yesterday that the decision to not revise the age limit was made as they felt age was not the contributing  factor  for the  fatalities that involved primary school children when the 6.0 richter scale earthquake shook the mountain on June 5.

“They were just at the wrong place and at the wrong time,” he said.

The earthquake killed six schoolchildren from Tanjong Katong Primary School (Singapore) along with a teacher. Another student and a teacher from the school had remained missing.

Masidi added that members from the school had already made plans to come and climb the mountain next year.

Meanwhile, since the trail to Laban Rata was opened on Sept 1, only slightly over 1,000 people had made the climb.

“The climbers comprised mainly foreigners…Not many people were as keen to go to Laban Rata,” he said, explaining the small number of visitors thus far.

However, there seemed to be a keen interest to go to summit of the mountain on Dec 1, he said.

“People are even sending their inquiries to climb the mountain to me via my email,” he said.

But Masidi did not say if the maximum quota for climbers allowed to climb the mountain had already been reached on Dec 1.

Usually only 192 climbers were allowed to climb the mountain daily, he said.

However, he added that due to damage to the facilities at Laban Rata, only 125 climbers were allowed presently.

During the event, Masidi also recounted the Mt Kinabalu porters and malim gunung’s request for funding to construct a ‘club house’ for them and this request quickly received a positive reply from Azman who agreed to provide the funding.

Masidi said that they would be providing the site for the ‘club house’.

Sabah Parks director, Dr Jamili Nais, who was also present to provide updates on the rectification works carried out so far, said that a total of 930,669 climbers had climbed to the summit of Mt Kinabalu since 1993.

During the period only 22 deaths or 0.017 percent recorded, making the mountain one of the safest to climb.

Jamili also shared with those in attendance that two trails had been identified to replace the one damaged during the quake.

The trails were named the ‘Ranau Trail’ and ‘Kota Belud Trail’. The Ranau Trail will be opened this Dec 1, while work on the Kota Belud was ongoing, he said.

Continue reading (Incl. Pic) at: No change in age limit for Mount Kinabalu climbers
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Experience Sarawak Best Packages Dekat Je - Domestic tourism gets boost from Tourism Malaysia


KUCHING: Tourism Malaysia is going all out to promote domestic tourism, particularly Sarawak’s, by introducing travel packages leading to the year-end school holidays.

The tourism promotion agency launched its ‘Experience Sarawak Best Packages Dekat Je’ here yesterday to attract visitors from throughout the country.

This tourism campaign, in collaboration with the Sarawak Tourism Board (STB), features 50 packages by 16 travel agencies that are divided into several segments such as adventure and nature, city tour, culture and heritage, cycling and bike ride, sports tourism, ‘voluntourism’, edu-tourism, birding, golfing, angling and diving.

“According to the annual studies of domestic tourism by the Department of Statistics Malaysia, Sarawakians themselves are major suppliers and contributors to domestic tourism here. Other states that contribute to tourist arrivals in Sarawak are visitors from Kuala Lumpur, Sabah, Selangor, Kedah and Johor.

“Sarawak, being the largest state in Malaysia, is blessed with a rich diversity of tourism products that can lead to the development of many innovative and unique packages to suit every budget, interest, market and requirement,” said Tourism Malaysia Domestic Promotion director Iskandar Mirza Mohd Yusof when officiating at the launch of this tourism campaign.

Present to witness the launch were state Tourism Malaysia director Salahuddin Mohd Arrifin, Tourism Malaysia Corporate Communication director Azizah Aziz and STB Marketing director Benedict Jimbau.

Iskandar added that the 4.8 million visitor arrivals in the state last year comprised of 1.8 million domestic visitors and three million international visitors. Tourism receipt in 2014 came up to RM10.686 billion and the top three international source markets for Sarawak were Brunei, Indonesia and the Philippines.

As of August this year, the state received a total of 3.1 million visitors comprising of 57 per cent domestic and 43 per cent international visitors. Although this marked a decline of 0.7 per cent, he mentioned that domestic tourist arrivals here have increased due to the ‘Dekat Je’ campaign since its launch in June.

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Sabah food paradise - Nine food trial tourism packages


SANDAKAN: A new brochure to promote Sabah as a food paradise was launched yesterday by Tourism Malaysia Sabah.

Assistant Minister of Tourism, Culture and Environment Datuk Kamarlin Ombi who officiated at the launching at the Ibis Styles Hotel here, is confident that the “Sabah Food Trail” brochure is another effort that will give additional attraction to the tourism industry in the state.

The brochure contains nine interesting food trail packages, published in  collaboration with six travel agencies.

It is created to promote local food and natural attractions in Sabah. The tour packages, which range from two days one night to five days four nights, give foreign and domestic tourists a chance to explore their taste buds by trying local delicacies and mingle with the local community.

The nine trial packages are Food Lover in KK, Sabah Cooking Experience, KK Food Mania, Makan Makan Bah Kita, Food in Wonderland, Borneo Food Hunter, Sandakan Food Galore, Pusing-Pusing Cari Makan and Sandakan Seafood Channel.

Out of the nine packages, six packages are in Kota Kinabalu and three are in Sandakan.

“Sandakan is clearly the backbone of Sabah tourism industry. Sandakan Town is blessed with bountiful natural wealth, namely the Sepilok Orang Utan Rehabilitation Centre, Sukau-Kinabatangan, Selingan Island, heritage as well as its fabulous food.

“I appreciate the effort made by Tourism Malaysia and participating agents for their efforts, as this initiative marks another milestone in boosting tourist arrivals in Sabah, not only focusing on the capital city but also Sandakan,” said Kamarlin.

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Longboat races to feature in Simunjan Fest 2015


KUCHING: After a 20-year absence, longboat races will once again be featured in the coming Simunjan Festival this year.

This was revealed by Simunjan assemblyman and Assistant Minister in the Chief Minister’s Office (Bumiputera Entrepreneur Development) Datuk Mohd Naroden Majais during a press conference at his office yesterday.

Naroden said he was certain that the Simunjan locals are as excited as him in anticipating the water sports to be held along Batang Sadong once again after a long lapse.

“Although there are other water sports games and races constantly featured in this festival throughout the years, no longboat races were ever organised since 1995. I am glad the longboat races will finally return and be featured once again in the festival this year,” he added.

One of the reasons why the longboat race was not held over the last 20 years was because of the erosion along the river banks at the Simunjan Town waterfront.

Now that the races are back, Naroden hoped that it will attract many boat race enthusiasts apart from attracting more visitors to Simunjan during the festival.

The Simunjan Festival is scheduled to be held next week from Nov 6 to 8 and water sports will be the festival’s main feature.

A total of 185 participants have registered to compete in either one or more of the water sports scheduled during the festival including the longboat races.

“There will be many other activities apart from the water sports and I hope that everyone from all around will come to Simunjan during the Simunjan Festival as organisers have promised an exciting atomosphere for the public during the three-day event. It will be packed with entertaining activities,” he said.

Continue reading (Incl. Pic) at: Longboat races to feature in Simunjan Fest 2015
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Friday, October 30, 2015

CNN: On the trail of orangutans in Malaysia


Achong is struggling to push our longboat against the current of Borneo's Batang Ai River, so we jump into the water to help him.

"Stay in the boat," he pleads, but we ignore him.

It's dry season and every ounce of weight is a factor as the longboat's hull scrapes the bottom of the shallow waterway.

This is the only time we ignore Achong.

Like other tattoo-covered Iban tribesman, he's a master boatman and this is his territory.

The Iban, once fearsome headhunters, are also expert trackers who have turned their talents to trailing one of the world's most fascinating endangered creatures: orangutans.

The ape pursuit takes us to Sri Aman Division, a remote area of Sarawak that nudges the border of Kalimantan, the Indonesian portion of Borneo.

Borneo and neighboring Sumatra island are the only places the shaggy-haired red ape survives.

The chances of seeing them in the wild are increasingly slim.

"There's no guarantee," warns Borneo Adventure in its publicity blurb for the Red Ape Trail, the safari that has brought us deep into the Asian island's dense, steamy jungle.

"Ape numbers are about 20,000 and constantly declining due to forestry, palm oil crops and poaching."

Far more certain is searing heat, humidity of 80-100%, slippery conditions and the possibility of leeches.

"This walk demands a great deal of physical and mental exertion," says Philip Yong, Borneo Adventure's co-founder. "The region is totally isolated from the outside world."

Pampering base

Fortunately there's a soft option -- surprisingly, it involves a longhouse.

Longhouses are the large jungle huts that generations of Iban and other Dayak tribes have called home.

Usually built on stilts, they're dark, communal living spaces often shared by several families.

The Hilton Batang Ai Longhouse Resort in the Sarawak region of Malaysia's portion of Borneo island takes its inspiration from traditional local homes, and translates this into luxury accommodation.

Seen from its jetty on the Batang Ai, a massive man-made reservoir in the Sri Aman region, the Hilton-managed resort appears like any other longhouse in the area.

Continue reading (Incl. Pics & Vids) at: CNN: On the trail of orangutans in Malaysia
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Insignia2015: The Island of Borneo


We arrived into Kota Kinabalu, Sabah, Malaysia on Friday morning passing several small islands just off the coast.

Gaya Island had several upmarket resorts as well as a village built on stilts over the water. 

It was hot and extremely humid.

We were met at the wharf entrance by Melina, the daughter of Hajah Halimah who runs a cooking school from her restaurant called D'Soka in a village outside of Kota Kinabalu.

Melina first took us through the local market where we bought a selection of traditional ingredients including  wild fern (puck pakis) which grows in the forest and then onto the seafood market where we bought fresh blue swimmer crabs at the equivalent of $A3 per kilo, prawns and tuna.

Melina then drove us to her village to meet Hajah and begin the cooking class.

We helped prepare Chicken Liku and Kerabu Pakis, a warm salad made with the wild fern tips. 

We then sat down to enjoy a feast which also included a tuna and okra curry, eggplant sambal, prawns and the crab cooked in a butter/milk sauce and beef with dark sweet soy sauce.

This was followed by a coconut milk and ice cream dessert and coffee with traditional sweets. 

It was all delicious and we could have stayed for hours chatting but we had an appointment with the Orangutans.

Melina kindly drove us the 40 mins north to the beautiful Shangri-La Rasa Ria Resort where they have a nature reserve.

Continue reading (Incl. Pics) at: Insignia2015: The Island of Borneo
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New route to Mount Kinabalu summit ready


KOTA KINABALU: One of the two new trekking routes to reach the summit of Mount Kinabalu from Laban Rata is now ready for use, Sabah Tourism, Culture and Environment Minister Datuk Masidi Manjun announced yesterday.

He said alternative routes which would replace the old single trail leading to the peak, where several climbers and mountain guides were killed during an earthquake in June, would enable Sabah Parks to fully reopen the mountain to climbers by Dec 1 as planned.

“To meet our plan to reopen the mountain by December, we will use one of the two trails first, which is the Ranau Trail. I am very happy with the works that have been done on the trails, which were carried out professionally with the assistance from the American, Canadian and Japanese consultants.

“The construction of the trails was carried out by the mountain guides, porters and local villagers themselves. They are the most suitable candidates for the job as they are the ones who know best the needs and challenges faced by the climbers,” he told reporters after launching Google Maps Street View imagery of Sabah’s local attractions.

Masidi informed that the other trail, named “Kota Belud”, was still being constructed and would open to climbers once fully completed.

However, he said there was no confirmed completion date yet for the trail, which would offer climbers a more scenic view from the face of the mountain facing the Kota Belud district.

“I can describe both trails as ‘beautifully challenging’ and visitors who appreciate nature and its beauty will find the experience of trekking these trails very enjoyable.

“We avoid the old trail, which was badly damaged during the earthquake. So, now climbers will ascend to the peak from the two new trails, one is located east of the old trails and the other is to the west. Booth trails will meet at Sayat Sayat,” he said.

Asked if the new trails were more challenging, he said no special climbing skills were needed for the new routes as they were not that much different from the previous trail in terms of difficulties.

He added that anyone with reasonably good health and fitness could still climb all the way to the peak of Mount Kinabalu just like before.

He also informed that despite two news routes were now available from Laban Rata, compared to only one previously, Sabah Parks had decided to maintain the number of visitors allowed to ascend to the summit daily at 192.

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Sabah attractions now included in Google Maps


Kota Kinabalu: Masidi said the Google maps Street View Sabah attractions which is the fruit of cooperation between Google Malaysia and Sabah Tourism Board will showcase the State's many destinations to the world and is expected to increase tourism in the State by introducing the State's attractions to people worldwide.

Google Street View Operations Lead for Malaysia, Indonesia and Thailand Nhazlisham Hamdan, said that Google today introduced a major update to Google Maps in Malaysia by launching Street View imagery of Sabah's numerous local attractions for locals as well as people from around the world to use, search and enjoy.

Nhazlisham said after launching Street View imagery of public roads in East Malaysia in July and Peninsular Malaysia last year, a special collection of Sabah's world famous peak and renowned islands and natural attractions now join Google Street View on Google Maps.

The imagery was captured via the Street View Trekker, Google's wearable backpack-mounted camera system.

The main highlight of this Street View imagery collection is the country's tallest mountain, Mount Kinabalu located at Kinabalu Park which was collected with the assistance of the Sabah Tourism Board.

The world heritage site is well-known for its tremendous botanical and biological species biodiversity that includes plants of Himalayan, Australasian and Indo-Malayan origin, the gigantic Rafflesia plant and the orangutan.

The spectacular imageries of the "Land Below the Wind" now join other special Malaysian collections that showcase Mulu Caves, Taman Negara, Pangkor and Langkawi, among others. Other prominent locations on Sabah's list of attractions include Kapalai Island, Mabul Island and Mantanani Island.

Nhazlisham said the availability of Street View for Sabah's beautiful nature attractions for the very first time makes Google Maps more useful, comprehensive and enjoyable for Malaysians and everyone else interested in discovering more about Sabah's natural heritage sites.

"We are always keen to expand the locations covered by Street View an+d are particularly excited about bringing more of Malaysia into our service," he added. "We want to showcase the beauty of our own country and attract more visitors to visit and enjoy our beautiful country"

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Thursday, October 29, 2015

Clive Einstein Blog: Experience Sabah For Only $125


When I got the opportunity to experience Sabah, I grabbed it and planned my trip so I could at least cover most of the places I have seen before in the travel magazines and TV show. Some of the more common words to describe the place: beautiful, exotic, unique and adventure.

My traveling companions echoed these sentiments (there were six of us). A friend of mine, who’s from there, told me to try the food, go to the island and experience the foothill of Mount Kinabalu.

Creativity has no bounds when it comes to exploring Sabah. Based on your own level of comfort and curiosity you can walk, hike, cycle, kayak, climb, dance, rent a car, hire a guide, take a bus or swim and enjoy the beautiful corals at the beautiful islands.

Kota Kinabalu (KK) is a great place to begin. As the capital of Sabah, the city offers a whole range of unique food that you can only find them here, affordable places to stay (especially if you are on a budget) and a half-an-hour boat ride to the islands off the shore of the mainland such as the Manukan Island.

While KK remains a gateway for tourists to fly into Sabah, it is not really a walkable city. But that shouldn’t stop you. You can find cheap taxis and cars for rent quite easily around the city. I would recommend you to stay around the Jesselton Point harbor area as I believe, that is  one of the most strategic locations in the city.

BUT, WHY IS IT STRATEGIC?

You can take the boat to the islands, there are plenty of shopping malls near Jesselton and a lot of restaurants and bars if you want to enjoy cold beers and crispy fried prawns by the seaside at night and the hotels around the area are not too expensive either.

Oh, don’t forget that just a five minute taxi ride from the Jesselton point, you can go to the famous Filipino Market to buy fruits, fresh fish from the sea and lots of restaurants to try seafood at relatively affordable prices.

We spent a full-day on the island. It was not the best time of the year, unfortunately. While we were there to enjoy the beauty of the place, the haze caused by the forest fire from Indonesia obscured the view though, which is otherwise undoubtedly majestic.

However, let it not dampen our spirits. For our return trip from the mainland to the island and back, lunch and snorkeling, we spent less than $50 each.

Continue reading (Incl. Pics) at: Clive Einstein Blog: Experience Sabah For Only $125
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Borneo Birding Tours to Spend The Best Time in Natural Habitats And Endemic Birds


Borneo habitats ranging from mountain ranges to lush green forest ranges and from crystal clear water sources to amazing rare and endemic birds.

There are thousands of species of birds on the earth living in different bird sanctuaries.

Some of them are very big; while some of them are very small and cute.

Even, many of these species are rare to find.

Those people are really lucky who witness the influx of migrant birds in different weather conditions.

For new generations who have just seen these birds and animals in books or through video, it is important to let them come close to real one and in their natural habitat.

Let your kids notice their activities and learn to them something from these birds.

For this purpose, no other way can be better than birding tours that are offered for different countries.

Birding tours to Malaysia and Borneo birding tours are sure the right options for you to come close to hundreds of species of rare to commonly found birds in their natural habitats.

Borneo birding tours are sure to keep you enticed for the time to come and will persuade you to coming back to this destination again and again.

Some of the wonderful destinations covered here include Sabah route, Crocker Range, Mount Kinabalu and different others.

Birding Borneo tour will let you see birds that are seldom to seen elsewhere.

These birds include Mountain Barbet, Borneo Barbet, Bornean Bulbul, Blue-Winged Leafbird, Mountain leaf warbler and a number of others.

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Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Mount Kinabalu to remain top attraction


KOTA KINABALU: The State Government will continue to feature Mount Kinabalu as the main attraction in promoting Sabah’s eco-tourism destinations, said Tourism, Culture and Environment Minister Datuk Seri Panglima Masidi Manjun.

The success in reviving the soon-to-be reopened Mt Kinabalu to its formal glory however depends on the support of all stakeholders, which among others include travel agents, hotels and tour operators.

The whole eco-tourism industry could not be developed successfully without the involvement of a wide range of organizations, including non-governmental organizations, Masidi said when officiating the launching of Mountaineering and Ecotourism at Shangri-La Kota Kinabalu here yesterday.

He also stressed that the industry would not be successful without effective management strategies and policies, for without them it would be unlikely to develop a positive relationship between the people, resources and tourism activities being developed.

“Eco-tourism is neither a simple concept to define nor a straight forward phenomenon to implement and evaluate. It should be regarded as being more than tourism to the natural areas but viewed as a means of combining the goals of resources conservation and local development through tourism in a synergistic fashion.

“This means care should be taken to ensure that the goals of tourism development do not interfere with the goals of protecting natural areas and biodiversity. All stakeholders should safeguard the natural environment with a view to achieving sound, continuous and sustainable economic growth geared toward satisfying equitably the needs and aspirations of present and future generations,” he said.

Masidi’s text of his speech was delivered by Assistant Minister of Tourism, Culture and Environment Datuk Pang Yuk Ming who officiated at the launching on his behalf.

Mount Kinabalu, which attracts legions of tourists from across the globe every year, has been closed to visitors after a deadly earthquake claimed the lives of 18 climbers and mountain guides nearly five months ago.

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AirAsia expands reach into China with new direct route from KK to Wuhan


AirAsia, the world’s best low-cost airline for seven consecutive years, has launched a new daily route from Kota Kinabalu to Wuhan (BKI – WUH), which is expected to begin operations on 22nd January 2016.

Book seats for this new BKI – WUH route from RM88* one way, inclusive of taxes and fees on airasia.com from now until 1st November 2015. Guests are able to travel from 22nd January – 29th October 2016 through the introductory price promotion.

Spencer Lee, Head of Commercial for AirAsia Berhad said, “We want to continue putting Malaysia at the forefront of connecting Asean to other parts of Asia.

By introducing the BKI – WUH route, we are enabling our passengers to connect to the bustling Central Chinese capital from East Malaysia as well as other countries via our Fly-Thru service. 

We also believe that the direct flight between Kota Kinabalu and Wuhan will further spur tourism between the two cities, which brings great advantage to the East Malaysia hub, and strengthening both the Friendship Cities.”

Wuhan is the capital of the Hubei province in Central China and is the most populous city in the area.

Wuhan is a gateway to historical attractions like the Ancient Chibi Battlefield also known as the Red Cliffs, depicting the epic war during The Three Kingdoms dynasty; Enshi Grand Canyon, a natural site with unparalleled views; and the Yandi Shennong Mountain, one of the best preserved primeval forest zones in China.

In Wuhan itself, tourists can enjoy the Yellow Crane Tower, an ancient tower which has been destroyed and rebuilt multiple times but still maintains its old world charm; and the Wuchang lake, which is the largest lake within a city in China.

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Tuesday, October 27, 2015

BORNEO the Land of the Head Hunters


The island of Borneo is located on the southeast Asia. It is the third largest island in the world. Borneo is known for its  beaches, ancient rainforest, world class diving site and orangutans. But many people didn’t know that this island is the living place of headhunters.

Yes! A real headhunter. The Murut, Ilongot, Iban, Dayak, Berawan, Wana and Mappurondo tribes is famous for its headhunting history. Among this groups, headhunting was usually a ritual activity rather than and act of war or feuding and involved the taking of single head. Ideas of manhood and marriage were encompassed in practice, and the taken heads were highly prized.

In the past, the Dayak were feared for their ancient tradition of headhunting practices (the ritual is also known as Ngayau by the Dayaks) . Among the Iban Dayaks, the origin of headhunting was believed to be meeting one of the mourning rules given by a spirit which is as follows:
  • The sacred jar is not to be opened except by a warrior who has managed to obtain a head, or by a man who can present a human head, which he obtained in a fight; or by a man who has returned from a sojourn in enemy country.
Often, a war leader had at least three lieutenants (called manuk sabong) who in turn had some followers. The war (ngayau) rules among the Iban Dayaks are listed below:
  • If a warleader leads a party on an expedition, he must not allow his warriors to fight a guiltless tribe that has no quarrel with them.
  • If the enemy surrenders, he may not take their lives, lest his army be unsuccessful in future warfare and risk fighting empty-handed war raids (balang kayau).
  • The first time that a warrior takes a head or captures a prisoner, he must present the head or captive to the warleader in acknowledgement of the latter’s leadership.
  • If a warrior takes two heads or captives, or more, one of each must be given to the warleader; the remainder belongs to the killer or captor.
  • The warleader must be honest with his followers in order that in future wars he may not be defeated (alah bunoh).
The Dayaks are previously reputed to be headhunters by the Europeans. In the first half of the 19th century, the Dutch Colonial government in Eastern and Southern Borneo successfully curtailed the traditional headhunting culture by the Dayaks.

In reality not all Dayaks were Hunter-gatherers, most Dayaks in the 19th century are actually farmers, mainly engaging with shifting cultivation. They also gathered forest goods and animal hunting.

Continue reading (Incl. Pics) at: BORNEO the Land of the Head Hunters
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3.1 mln tourist arrivals in Sarawak from Jan-Aug this year


KUCHING: Tourist arrivals in the state reached 3.1 million as of August this year, disclosed Sarawak Tourism Minister Datuk Amar Abang Johari Tun Openg.

According to him, the figure was the same as recorded during the same period last year.

“Though there may be certain downside (that affected the state tourism), Sarawak’s tourist arrivals still maintained just like last year,” he said at the launch of the Borneo Talk Privilege Card held at a leading hotel here yesterday.

While acknowledging that he has yet to receive the latest statistics on tourist arrivals in the state, Abang Johari expressed optimism that the ministry would achieve its target of five million visitors this year similar to the number of arrivals last year.

“My ministry together with assistant ministers of tourism Datuk Talib Zulpilip and Datuk Gramong Juna as well as Ministry of Tourism permanent secretary Datu Ik Pahon Joyik are working very hard to promote Sarawak as a tourism destination.”

He also pointed out that Borneo Talk magazine and its newly launched privilege card, besides the support of the media, would serve as another incentive for his ministry to promote Sarawak.

“I will be in Buenos Aires, Argentina for the 54th International Congress and Convention Association (ICCA) Congress next week because we are going to be the next host of the congress after successfully bidding to be the host.

“In view of this, I will be bringing Borneo Talk with me there so that the Latin Americans and those attending the congress will know where Sarawak is and therefore more tourists will come over and visit the state,” he assured.

Meanwhile, Borneo Talk editor-in-chief Ivy Pan said the launch of the privilege card marked another milestone for the magazine which had always strived to showcase to the world what a “superb tourism destination Sarawak is.”

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Sarawak tourism players told to keep improving to meet needs of visitors


KUCHING: Tourism players are urged to keep on improving their services to fulfil the needs of visitors who come here as holiday, business or medical tourists.

Sarawak Tourism Minister Datuk Amar Abang Johari Tun Openg noted that there has been an increase in medical tourists especially from Potianak, Jakarta, and Brunei.

“In fact, Sarawak will play host for the International Congress and Convention Association (ICCA) 2016 which will highlight the State.

“This is why I want industry players from hotels, restaurants to tour guides to improve their services and skills,” he told a press conference yesterday.

The convention will be held at Borneo Convention Centre Kuching (BCCK) from Nov 12-16 next year.

In this connection, he said he will be going to the 54th ICCA Congress 2015 in Buenos Aires in Argentina which will be held from Oct 30 – Nov 4 for the handing over ceremony as the 2016 host.

Earlier, Abang Johari announced that the Sarawak Hornbill Tourism Awards 2015 will be held at BCCK on Nov 15 in which Chief Minister Datuk Patinggi Tan Sri Adenan Satem will be present to give out the awards.

He said that the awards are to recognise individuals and organisations for their great contribution to tourism development in the state.

The recognition is also to promote a culture of excellence, creativity, quality services, and best practices.

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Guangzhou, Shenzhen direct flight to boost Sarawak tourism


KUCHING: Direct flight connectivity between Kuching to Guangzhou and Shenzhen is the first step to increase the number of mainland Chinese tourists visiting Sarawak.

Consul-General of The People’s Republic of China in Kuching Liu Quan believed that direct flight connectivity between cities in China and Sarawak would boost the number of mainland Chinese tourists visiting the state in the long run.

To be pragmatic, he however, suggested that the effort might start with connecting Sarawak directly to the two main cities of Guangzhou and Shenzhen.

“Tourism is now very popular among the Chinese. There are so many cities in China. Out of the many cities, it is in my opinion that Sarawak should connect directly with Guangzhou and Shenzhen.

“This is because there are many rich, young entrepreneurs in these two metropolitan cities.

“And these entrepreneurs prefer to go on trips where they can do jungle trekking and other relaxing activities. And Sarawak which offers eco-tourism or CAN (culture, adventure and nature) tourism could appeal to them. Trekking in places like Santubong and Mulu would be the kind of activities that they like,” said Liu recently when making a working visit to The Borneo Post here.

Apart from direct flight connectivity, Liu said Sarawak could also start to promote tourism in the provinces which have already established relationships with Sarawak.

“Since I started as consul-general here, I have seen two Letters of Intent signed, one between Yunnan and Sarawak and the other between Fujian and Sarawak. There is friendship city status established between Kuching South City Council (MBKS) with Quanzhou and Kuching North City Council (DBKU) with Dali.

“Sarawak can start its tourism promotion in these two cities Quanzhou and Dali first since a good relationship has been built,” suggested Liu.

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Monday, October 26, 2015

Online visa application will boost tourist arrivals to Sabah and Malaysia


KOTA KINABALU: The Malaysian Association of Tour and Travel Agents (MATTA) welcomes the government’s decision to implement the e-Visa by mid-2016 to facilitate tourist arrivals into the country.

“The e-Visa system is certainly a preparation for 2020, in line with the objective of achieving developed-nation status to meet future demand and tourists expectations. It will encourage visa applications and reduce administrative burden while maintaining strict and effective immigration controls,” said Datuk Tan Kok Liang, Vice President Inbound of MATTA.

E-Visa application will begin with China, India, Myanmar, Nepal, Sri Lanka, the United States and Canada.

“For the time being, perhaps the e-Visa proposal is the best compromise. The earlier proposal of ‘Visa-Free’ status for Chinese tourists has been hotly debated over the last 12 months without clear resolution – such deadlock has resulted in our nation losing out to neighbouring countries which offer more relaxed entry policies” explained Tan.

Tan commented that the Immigration Director-General Datuk Mustafa had overridden a decision by the Cabinet twice to observe implementing visa-free entry for Chinese tourists to the disappointment of the industry.

Tan hopes the e-Visa implementation process will be expedited to boost tourist arrivals, thus allowing the entire tourism industry to recover.

In his 2016 Budget speech, the Prime Minister acknowledged that the tourism sector had the “highest potential” to generate economic activity in the current economic climate.

The government is targeting 30.5 million tourists for 2016 which is expected to generate RM103 billion for the national economy.

Tan also applauded the announcement that economy class passengers on Rural Air Services routes in Sabah, Sarawak and Labuan will be exempted from GST.

“For Sabah and Sarawak, flights are essential services. We are glad the government has lessened the people’s burden especially since air transportation is so crucial in East Malaysia. However, we hope that Sandakan and Tawau will also be included under this category of rural air service routes and enjoy GST exempt status” said Tan.

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Visitors to Sabah Parks will need to make declaration pledge


KOTA KINABALU: Sabah Parks could soon emulate Kinabalu Parks tourist declaration pledge requirements, which will be enforced once Mount Kinabalu is fully open on December 1, this year.

Speaking after the Borneo Safari launch here yesterday, Tourism, Culture and Environment Minister Datuk Seri Panglima Masidi Manjun said Sabah Parks should adopt the method to attain tourists acknowledgment of the rules and regulations before they are allowed to frequent its areas of jurisdiction.

He said this is especially appropriate after a controversial string of nude pictures, allegedly taken on Sempornas beach, have been circulated on social media.

It is incumbent upon them to comply with all rules and regulations so that nobody, no tourists can say that they didn’t know about it. We are mulling for Semporna and of course all those under the jurisdiction of Sabah Parks, said Masidi.

The minister also asked for tourism players to enforce the method on tourists utilizing their services and accommodations.

The declaration should be made at the point of entry into the particular resorts because we want the resort owners to be fully responsible, to make sure that their visitors behave, he said.

The duty not only lies on the police, on the Sabah Parks but I think it is equally the duty of resort owners, tour agents, tour guides to ensure that tourists behave, added Masidi.

The minister is also awaiting for the police investigation report to verify the time and location of the said nude social media pictures involving several Chinese tourists.

We believe that it was taken at different times. Some pictures in 2013 and some probably at the beginning of this month. According to the police, they have with them a Chinese national who is helping them in the investigations.

But whatever it is, Sabah Parks is meeting all tour operators and resort owners in Semporna tomorrow. They are going to emphasize the fact that tour operators, resort owners and guides should clearly inform all tourists the do’s and don’ts when they are in Sabah, also in Semporna, which is overwhelmingly a Muslim district, he said.

We like them to come but at the same time they must respect our culture, norms, customs, and our societal behaviour must be respected. We take what has happened seriously and we would like to believe you (tourists) can still enjoy yourself in Sabah and take pictures without getting nude, he added.

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25th Borneo Safari expedition biggest this year with 1198 participants, 320 vehicles


KOTA KINABALU: The 25th Borneo Safari expedition set another record as it attracted the biggest participation yet with 1198 participants in 320 vehicles.

It also registered the biggest international participation not only from neighbouring countries such as Brunei, Indonesia and Thailand, but also France, Australia, Japan, and Ireland.

The eight-day expedition will see the convoy exploring the villages in Keningau and Tenom where around 100 of them will enter into the Dalit and Pensiangan forest reserves.

Speaking to reporters after flagging off the convoy at the Sabah Tourism Board building here yesterday, Tourism, Culture, and Environment Minister, Datuk Seri Masidi Manjun said that the activity is not only a mere expedition but also a tourism product for the state.

He said that the activity does not only benefit the people in the city where the convoy starts but also the people in the villages where the convoy pass by.

“I hope there will be bigger participation next year, and I’d like to thank all the sponsors including the Youth and Sports Ministry, Isuzu Malaysia, UMW Grantt International Sdn Bhd and Borneo 4WD/ARB Australia,” he said.

This year also marks the ninth consecutive year that members of the media will be able to depend on the trusty Isuzu D-Max to get them close to the thick of action effectively and comfortably.

According to Isuzu Malaysia Executive Director, Hajime Machimura, the Izuzu D-Max vehicles have long risen beyond trying to prove their abilities in rough terrains.

“They have established themselves as a fixture of the Borneo Safari where they are depended upon to carry out their duties effectively and efficiently.

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Sunday, October 25, 2015

Permai Lake Garden secured as Sibu’s second green lung


SIBU: Permai Lake Garden has become the second green lung of Sibu, thanks to the joint efforts of Chief Minister Datuk Patinggi Tan Sri Adenan Satem, Minister of Local Government and Community Development Dato Sri Wong Soon Koh and Sibu Municipal Council.

Opened in 2002 through an initiative of Sibu BN Visionary Team led by Wong, the late Datuk Robert Lau and Sibu Municipal Council, the green park with a scenic lake was developed in three phases with National Landscape Department.

It is now the second green lung of Sibu after Bukit Lima Forest Reserve, and Sibu is the only town in Sarawak to have two such environment-friendly features incorporated in its town planning.

“The state government has endorsed this green concept by banning the surrounding areas from being developed. We want to conserve the green for the townsfolk. Adenan has seen the aspiration after we discussed and he agreed on the decision,” Wong told reporters yesterday.

Wong, who is also the Second Finance Minister, said with the decision, government agencies and the private sector could not apply to turn the surrounding areas into a mixed-zone for development.

He said the chief minister had indicated that if there was an application for development, they would not approve it, and if there was an application that had been approved, the state government would reverse the decision.

“Permai Lake Garden belongs to the people. It is the second green lung of Sibu. We want to keep it as a green recreational park to boosts natural health of our future generations.”

In the development plan mooted by Sibu Visionary Team, more than a dozen green parks have been built by the council with the NGOs. It is town planning geared towards building a garden city to elevate the green lifestyle.

The two parks – Bukit Lima Forest Park and Permai Lake Garden – are two major projects that boost Sibu as an environment-friendly town.

Sibu Lake Garden, built next to the housing estate of Permai, is also called Sibu Lakeside Garden. In the early stage the garden only consisted of a lake, fountain and a landscape.

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Saturday, October 24, 2015

Nick Ups Sticks: Danum Valley, Malaysian Borneo


Danum Valley is a conservation area inside a one million hectare logging concession in Sabah. It is one of Borneo’s most biodiverse and pristine primary rainforests, home to some very charismatic animals: Pygmy elephants, red leaf monkey and the all time favourite Bornean icon – the orangutan.

Danum Valley is reached via Lahad Datu, the sleepiest of all the towns we passed through. We travelled there by long distance bus from Sandakan, which takes 3.30 hrs at a cost of 20 RM. The bus stops all over the place and is a comfortable but slow ride. The scenery along the way is disheartening: endless oil palm monocultures stretching out into the haze.

You can also catch a 55 minute flight from Kota Kinabalu. We did this on our way back. The plane is a tiny propellor number and the airport is a two roomed hut in a field. You do not need to be there anymore than an hour before your flight leaves.

There are only two options for accommodation in Danum and they are at opposite ends of the spectrum:
  • The Danum Valley Field Centre hosts international researchers who don’t mind roughing it in the name of science. It is the cheaper of the two but you are left to your own devices (i.e. to guide yourself round the rainforest) and electricity is turned off after 23.00.
  • The much more expensive Borneo Rainforest Lodge is one of ecotourism’s top destinations and operates like an all inclusive resort. David Attenborough, Bear Grylls and even the most seasoned naturalists, The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, have been to stay.
No prizes for guessing which we chose. For the princely sum of £250 per person per night (a budget blowing total of almost a grand for the two of us), we were almost guaranteed not to accidentally kill ourselves in the forest. Money well spent, I think.

A driver collected us from bus station in a four wheel drive pick-up truck, took us for lunch at a near by Chinese restaurant (all included in the price) then drove us for two and a half brain-rattlingly bumpy hours on dirt roads into the forest. The roads are bad: winding, sloping, dusty. Take a travel sickness pill before you start. I didn’t take one in time on the drive back and threw my guts up.

On arrival we were greeted with a cold lemongrass drink and pandan wreath. A life long love affair with natural history meant what followed were three of the best days of my life.

Borneo Rainforest Lodge is set in the middle of the jungle. Our room was a fan-cooled wooden chalet with an outside bathtub (yes!) overlooking the Danum river. Surreal. We fell asleep listening to croaking creaking insects and awoke to gibbon song. Three delicious meals a day were eaten on the terrace while staring into the misty jungle, surrounded by butterflies and birds. Quite a contrast to hostel living, where shared bathroom blocks were reminiscent of prison shower scenes in Orange is the New Black.

Continue reading (Incl. Pics) at: Nick Ups Sticks: Danum Valley, Malaysian Borneo
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Amos-phere: Borneo Stories – Mulu National Park, Sarawak


Mulu National Park

Why visit... when you feel like taking the road less travelled, head to www.mulupark.com. 

A  UNESCO World Heritage site with lush, equatorial rainforest and mystical caves systems dating back more than 40 million years, the park is tucked into a hidden corner of North Sarawak on the island of Borneo.

Home to more than four million bats and swiftlets which make their way out of Deer Cave each evening at sunset, the park is at once eerie and awe-inspiring.

Why not... cruise along the Melinau River by long-tail boat to reach Clearwater Cave.

The river is fast moving, yet shallow and rocky, thus making getting stuck inevitable.

Be prepared to leap out at a moment’s notice to assist the boatman with a hearty push.

More than 200 steps lead to the entrance of the cave but you will be rewarded with a cool breeze and floating bridges, under which the underground river flows.

Get high... on the canopy tour.

Tip toe across the wood and rope walkways and keep an eye out for monkeys and birdlife.

Rise early for the sunrise tour.

The reward for those brave enough to try it, is the sounds of the rainforest bursting into life.

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MASwings introduces new rural routes servicing Sarawak, Sabah


KUCHING: Regional community airline MASwings is introducing new routes under its Rural Area Services (RAS), effective Oct 25, as part of its corporate social obligation in providing air connectivity across Sarawak and Sabah.

The six new RAS routes are Bario-Be Kalalan at the frequency of once weekly, Limbang-Lawas (twice weekly), Mukah-Bintulu (twice weekly), Mukah-Sibu (four times weekly), Mukah-Tanjung Manis (seven times weekly) and Kota Kinabalu-Limbang (thrice weekly).

According to MASwings head of commercial Shauqi Ahmad, it is hoped that with more direct flights, it would help provide convenience to travellers going in and out of these destinations and at the same time, boost the tourism industry of both states.

“The new services should help open up new avenues of economic development in our rural touch points,” he said in a press statement issued in Kota Kinabalu yesterday.

MASwings began operations in Sabah and Sarawak in October 2007 – this month marks it eighth anniversary. To date, it is the only carrier that provides the rural communities in Borneo with air connectivity, as part of its commitment to support the government’s aspiration for continuous economic growth and development in Sarawak and Sabah.

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Friday, October 23, 2015

Nick Ups Sticks: Sandakan and Sepilok, Malaysian Borneo


Sandakan

Another sleepy seaside gateway town with visitors who are passing through on their way to more interesting parts of Sabah. We reached Sandakan from Kota Kinabalu by taking a short 45 minute flight. The only way into town from the airport is by taxi, which will set you back 30 RM.

There isn’t a lot to do here, but as we had spent the last few days admiring wildlife, we decided to walk the Sandakan Heritage Trail which visits 11 sites, from Chinese temples to Australian war memorials, and takes a couple of hours to complete. Sandakan is Sabah’s most historical town.

Prepare to be underwhelmed. The sites include overgrown cemeteries, tiny concrete churches and a staircase. It is a great walk, however, and will take you to parts of town you would otherwise have no reason to visit.

We enjoyed bumping into to local school kids who wanted to practice their English with us. They repeatedly told Ed that they loved him. We sat down at a little cafe and learnt a few words of Malay while we waited for our banana (pisang) fritters to be cooked. The chef was more amused than impressed by our pronunciation.

We also went to the central wet market and bought two bunches of the world’s smallest bananas and a weird looking, strong smelling fruit called marang. It’s complex taste is hard to describe, like a phenolic mix of pears, bananas, durian, jackfruit and pineapple rolled into one slippery mouthful.

We ate mee goreng at My Harbour restaurant and roti canai at Buhari curry house. We only found one place to grab a drink: Best Brew at the Sheraton – where we rendezvoused with two of our bestfriends (who happened to stop in Sandakan for a night on their elaborate, envy-inducing honeymoon) and sang along with the band until late.

Sepilok

A short distance away from Sandakan, Sepilok is synonymous with its famous orangutan rehabilitation centre.  It is one of the best places to see these flame-haired primates. At the centre you are able to get up close without disturbing them too much. There is also a sun bear conservation centre next door, which, for the same price, offers a much less satisfying experience. This was probably the only place we visited in Borneo that fell slightly short of our expectations.

We took the 14 minibus from the bus terminal down by the seafront in Sandakan (6 RM one way). The first bus is at 9.00am and should get you there in time for the first feed at 10.00am. The journey is about 45 minutes, with stops to pick up other passengers on the way. Bear with it though as it is the only bus that will take you straight to the entrance.

Entry is 30 RM plus 10 RM camera fee. They will ask you to leave your belongings in a locker to stop inquisitive apes from nabbing them. Make sure you apply repellent and sunscreen before you go in, and drink as much water as you can manage as it is suffocatingly hot and humid once you are in the forest.

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Thursday, October 22, 2015

Alboppo: Wildlife Spotting in Bako National Park


Today I went to Bako National Park, which is the oldest national park in Sarawak, to go wildlife spotting.

We set off relatively early to board the boat for the 30 minute journey to the park.

After registering when we arrived, we went to the jetty ready to board the boat and there was an otter just next to the jetty with its head popping up out of the water, it then went over to the bank and got out and I saw it running into the trees - the wildlife spotting was off to a good start!

The boat ride was pretty choppy on the way there, luckily I don't suffer from sea sickness!

We arrived at the jetty and got off the boat, as I climbed the steps there was a macaque sat at the top.

The animals here are much more used to people than the more remote rainforest I was in a couple of days ago.

When we went down to the beach there was a proboscis monkey in the tree, he's known as the Lone Ranger and normally hangs out in the trees by the beach.

A couple of photos later, we went out on to the trail to see if we could spot anything else, given that we'd been quite lucky already I didn't hold out much hope to be honest, but I was wrong.

We stepped on to the wooden boardwalk ready to head into the trees and Eric spotted a small whipsnake right by our feet.

It was really quite small and I nearly didn't see it.

We walked round the back of the headquarters hunting for more animals, when we came to the opposite side of the building there were a couple of pretty big bearded pigs wandering around. 

They really didn't bother about people being around at all.

We went back on to the trail and found a small green viper in the trees and another proboscis monkey.

We continued on the trail and after about 10 minutes went off the path a little and found a small pond with terrapin and catfish.

Continue reading (Incl. Pics) at: Alboppo: Wildlife Spotting in Bako National Park
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RM8 million Bung Bratak heritage centre gets off ground


KUCHING: The RM8 million Bung Bratak Heritage Centre (BBHC) project will finally get off the ground with its launch on Saturday by Agriculture and Agro-based Industries Deputy Minister Anthony Nogeh Gumbek.

Bung Bratak Heritage Association (BBHA) chairman Datuk Peter Minos said the launch would be held at Kampung Tembawang Sauh off Bau-Lundu Road at 2 pm.

He said the centre, to be built 1,000 feet high up the top of Bung Bratak (Mount Bratak) is fully financed by the federal Ministry of Tourism and Culture and implemented by the Sarawak Public Works Department.

“The BBHA which represents 33 Jagoi-Bratak Bidayuh villages in Bau and Lundu District of over 30,000 people, has long wanted to set up the BBHC to honour and perpetuate the history and heritage of Bung Bratak, the original and ancient ancestral home of the Jagoi-Bratak Bidayuhs,” said Minos.

He said the project would transform the scenic 1,000 feet Bung Bratak’s two waterfalls, two spring water holes, forest, plants and faunas and other natural features into a tourist spot.

“It will also be a centre for research on Bidayuh culture, customs and traditions, arts and artifacts, traditional dances and music and on the natural things and environment found on Bung Bratak,” he said.

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Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Sarawak Tourism Board to promote tourism via ‘Adventure in Conservation’


KUCHING: Sarawak Tourism Board (STB) will feature ‘Adventure in Conservation’ as the key selling point of its tourism promotion at the eighth edition of ITB Asia 2015.

Called the ‘Trade Show for the Asian Travel Market’, ITB Asia will be held at the Marina Bay Sands Exhibition and Convention Centre in Singapore from tomorrow until Friday.

The conservation programmes to be highlighted at the trade show are designed to enhance the understanding of tropical ecosystems, wildlife and biodiversity.

Environmental awareness and conservation in Sarawak will also be raised to potential buyers at the industry business session.

The eco-tourism product promotion is a collaborative effort with Sarawak Forestry Corporation (SFC) and will introduce conservation packages and related product experiences.

The eco-tourism packages offered consists of unique and totally hands-on educational programmes, eco-tours and wildlife encounters.

In its bid to increase awareness of Sarawak’s niche products, STB will also highlight the Meetings, Incentives, Conventions and Exhibitions (MICE) sector alongside with the Sarawak Convention Bureau.

Joining STB to promote Sarawak at ITB Asia are the Sarawak Convention Bureau and 11 members of the travel industry including travel agents, product owners and hotels from Kuching, Sibu and Miri.

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Borneo Bird Festival to revive Kinabalu Park


KOTA KINABALU: One of the most anticipated bird festivals in this region, the Borneo Bird Festival, will be held from October 23 to 25 at the Kinabalu Park.

A host of exciting events are lining up for local and overseas participants.

The Kinabalu Park represents the perfect venue for the seventh edition of the Borneo Bird Festival. As Malaysia’s first UNESCO World Heritage Site, Kinabalu Park is known for its outstanding biological attributes, and home to more than 40 endemic birds of Borneo, such as Bornean Barbet, Bornean Frogmouth, Bornean Leafbird, Bornean Treepie, Bornean Green Magpie, Bornean Swiftlet, Bornean Leafbird, Bornean Whistler, Whitehead’s Trogon, Whitehead’s Broadbill, Whitehead’s Spiderhunter, Fruithunter and Kinabalu Serpent Eagle.

Further, with this year’s theme – ‘A Tribute To Akinabalu’, the Festival organisers also hope to create the awareness and revive Kinabalu Park as a premier birding destination in Borneo, despite the unfortunate earthquake that occurred at the Park in June this year.

Jointly organised by the Sabah Tourism Board, Sabah Parks and the Sandakan Borneo Bird Club, nature enthusiasts, birders, photographers, conservationists as well as school children are in for an exciting and fun-filled event over the three days.

This year’s highlights include the introduction of the inaugural Sabah Bird Race, the Kinabalu Bird Photo Race and the Bird Photography Contest. Other activities lined up for participants include Bird Sound Mimic Contest and a host of exhibitions and presentations by local and regional experts.

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Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Rainforest World Music Festival 2016 from Aug 5 to 7


KUCHING: The 19th edition of the Rainforest World Music Festival will be held on Aug 5 to 7 next year, Sarawak Tourism Board (STB) announced yesterday.

The venue will remain at the Sarawak Cultural Village in Damai.

The festival, one of its kind in the region with loyal followers from Malaysia and overseas, has been voted for five consecutive years as the top 25 World’s Best International Festival since 2011.

This year, the festival was attended by more than 18,000 music enthusiasts and based on initial profile, 69 per cent were Malaysians while the remaining 31 per cent were from outside the country.

The festival’s attractions include an interactive musical afternoon where audience and performers are able to come together to learn, understand and know about indigenous musical instruments and nightly shows staged amidst lush tropical rainforest.

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