Monday, February 29, 2016

Miri reverberates with country music courtesy of Miri Country Music Festival


MIRI: Country music reverberated in Miri City on Saturday night during the 3rd edition of the Miri Country Music Festival (MCMF) attracting the biggest number of people since the festival was first introduced in 2014.

Advisor of MCMF Gracie Geikie said 2,740 country music lovers including from overseas came for the festival – the only one in Malaysia and Asia.

“Although we fell short of our target of 3,000 visitors, the number was more than last year and was truly was a success, attracting many people including those of Oman, Australia, Brunei, Sabah and Peninsular Malaysia as well as local Sarawakians.

“We estimated that this festival generated some RM2.1 million to the local economy especially to those in the tourism related industry, hotels, food and services as well as handicraft,” said Gracie when met by the Borneo Post.

She added feedbacks from the performers too were very encouraging and some of them stayed or came earlier like the Ruby Boots visiting the world heritage site, the Mulu National Park while others toured the city.

Gracie said to meet popular demand, next year the festival would not only be a two-night affair but would have 14 country bands performing.

“Of course, the most popular band will be back and there will be many other side events where members of the public can participate,” she said.

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Three marine parks in Sabah to be shark sanctuaries


KOTA KINABALU: Sabah will declare three of its marine parks as shark sanctuaries by mid-2016 in a bid protect the endangered marine creatures, said Sabah Tourism, Culture and Environment minister Datuk Masidi Manjun.

They are the Tun Sakaran marine park in Semporna district, Tunku Abdul Rahman marine park here and the proposed Tun Mustapha marine park in Kudat.

These marine parks cover a total area of some two million hectares and are home to about 80 per cent of our shark population, said Masidi after launching the My Fin My Life campaign to reduce shark fin consumption and promote sustainable seafood at Suria Sabah shopping mall here yesterday.

Masidi said the move to ban shark fishing at the marine parks would hopefully increase the shark population.

Masidi said his ministrys officers were finalising documents to be tabled during the state cabinet meeting for the three marine parks to be gazetted as shark sanctuaries.

He said the announcement would coincide with the declaration of the Tun Mustapha marine park in the middle of the year.

He said the state had no choice but to use state laws to protect Sabahs shark population when a request to the federal government to amend the Fisheries Act to protect marine creature was rejected.

We only asked for shark hunting to be banned in Sabah, not in other states, said Masidi, adding he was not afraid of being politically incorrect in the name of protecting the states natural heritage.

Last September Agriculture and Agro-Based Industry Minister Datuk Seri Ahmad Shabery Cheek said that the Sabah governments request for a ban on shark hunting and finning in the state was unnecessary.

He said sharks, unlike tuna, were accidentally caught by fishermen in Malaysian waters. This indicated that shark hunting and the finning industry did not exist in Malaysia.

Masidi also said sharks are endangered and should be protected. Sharks are vital to Sabah’s diving industry and earned the state about RM364 million in 2014.

In line with this, the Sabah State Government is urging all parties to collaborate with the Sabah Shark Protection Association and partners to take urgent action to minimise the effects of seafood consumption to our marine biodiversity.

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Sabah tourism upbeat despite travel advisory


Reporting from Travel Revolution Fair 2016, Singapore, February 29, 2016

THE Sabah Tourism Board remains bullish about the year’s tourism outlook despite the recent travel advisory issued by the British Foreign and Commonwealth Office.

Speaking to TTG Asia e-Daily on the sidelines of the Travel Revolution Fair 2016, Alexander Yee, board member of the Sabah Tourism Board, said it is "unlikely for tourism to be severely adversely affected".

Yee explained: "The travellers that visit Sabah are mostly the adventure seekers and backpackers and they will not easily get deterred (by the advisory)."

The travel advisory warned "against all but essential travel to all islands off the coast of eastern Sabah from Kudat to Tawau, including (but not limited to) Lankayan, Mabul, Pom Pom, Kapalai, Ligitan, Sipadan and Mataking".

"We can understand from the government's perspective why they have to issue warnings but we regret that ground intelligence was not done properly because they did not consult us," said Yee, adding that it was unfair for Sabah as the ground situation is "completely safe".

Lawrence Chin, general manager of Tabin Wildlife Holidays in Sabah, said while at least 50 per cent of his bookings come from the UK, he has not observed any cancellations.

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Sunday, February 28, 2016

Kota Kinabalu Wetlands to be seventh Ramsar site


KOTA KINABALU: Natural Resources and Environment Minister Datuk Seri Wan Junaidi Tuanku Jaafar yesterday disclosed that the Kota Kinabalu Wetlands will be declared the seventh Ramsar site in the country.

“There are currently six Ramsar sites in the country namely Tasik Bera, Pahang; Tanjung Piai, Pulau Kukup and Sungai Pulai, Johor; Kuching Wetland National Park, Sarawak; and Lower Kinabatangan – Segama Wetlands, Sabah.

“There are also a few criteria which wetlands must fulfil, for example a diverse biodiversity as well as functional role the wetlands play as a breeding ground for waterbirds before they can be declared as a Ramsar site

“The Kota Kinabalu Wetlands have already fulfilled these criteria,” Wan Junaidi told reporters after launching the national level World Wetlands Day 2016 in conjunction with the anniversary of the Ramsar Convention of 1971 at the Kota Kinabalu Wetlands here.

He added that the Ramsar Convention was an inter-governmental treaty that provided an action plan at the international level for the conservation and use of wetlands.

Today, there are 169 member countries of the Ramsar Convention including Malaysia and a total of 2,227 wetland areas covering 214, 875, 598 hectares worldwide had been declared as Ramsar sites.

Wan Junaidi also said the Sabah Wetlands Conservation Society (SWCS) had asked the federal government to declare Kota Kinabalu Wetlands as a Ramsar site.

“All we need to do now is to nominate and declare it as a Ramsar site,” he explained.

He said unlike Kota Kinabalu Wetlands, most wetlands and Ramsar sites were outside the city.

And, he said that making Kota Kinabalu Wetlands a Ramsar site was important for flora and fauna conservation.

Continue reading (Incl. Pic) at: Kota Kinabalu Wetlands to be seventh Ramsar site
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Saturday, February 27, 2016

Ang and Leah - Borneo!


This blog entry details a girls trip I took to Borneo with some of my closest friends here in Seoul. We had an epic noraebang (karaoke) night for Emily's 30th last month and this month, we all went to Malaysia to celebrate Melissa's 30th. We chose Kota Kinabalu, which is in the state of Sabah, in the country of Malaysia, on the island of Borneo.

Very confusing. But very enlightening! The country is not secular and has a large Muslim concentration. It also is one of the biggest exporters of palm oil (second to Indonesia) and has one of the largest concentrations of orangutans, being one of only two places where they live in the wild.

In doing research for this trip, I discovered that there is a reputable orangutan sanctuary on the other side of the island from Kota Kinabalu (KK). Now, anyone who knows me knows that I'm not thrilled with this lineage of the animal kingdom, but I would have liked to have seen this sanctuary and learned more about the depletion of the rainforests.

Unfortunately, we were only on Borneo for a long weekend and given the state of the roads and geographical layout, to get to the other side of the island is a one day journey there and a one day journey back. We decided that we wanted to experience more of the culture and stick to KK. But maybe next time.... ;)

Our first day was a tour with Amazing Borneo. We could not recommend this tour company enough and were so impressed with not only everything we saw and experienced on the tour, but our absolutely incredible tour guide, Ryan. It was just the four of us, Ryan, and our driver ("Bus" :), so we had a day pretty much customized to us and what we wanted to do. Our first stop was at a suspension bridge that overlooked another smaller bridge.

Ryan explained to us the superstitious nature of the Malaysian people and how as recently as 60 years ago, a woman was sacrificed and buried under this bridge to appease the spirits and "bless" the bridge.

This was shocking to us, especially when Ryan explained that to this day, people will not walk by construction areas at night for fear of being taken as a sacrifice to "ensure" the construction is sturdy.

Moving on from the suspension bridge, we traveled deeper into the country and stopped at a local market, which also had a beautiful vista of Mt. Kinabalu. Emily tried some pineapple, we bought some souvenirs, and we got to see a converted longhouse.

Continue reading (Incl. Pics and Vids) at: Ang and Leah - Borneo!
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Miri reverberates with country music


MIRI: Country music remains popular among music lovers around the world despite stiff competition from other genre, especially rock music that appeals to youngsters.

Members of seven bands for the 3rd Miri Country Music Fest (MCMF) that begins today fully agree that country music, although many refers to it as old folks music, does appeal to the younger generation.

“In my early days, I struggled to sing country music but over time, I love it and now my wife Le Anne and I earn a living from country music.

“And our fans include family members and children as young as two years old and they dance while we perform,” said Jo-el Ulmer of 2Country4Nashville, USA yesterday during a joint press conference of the performers for the 3rd MCMF.

According to Tantowi Yahya of Indonesia there are also many die-hard fans of country music in the republic.

“The music has evolved over the years, but the style of the singing appeals to the fans including myself. It is almost similar to dangdut,” said Tantowi who is dubbed ‘The most popular country singer in Indonesia’.

Advisor of MCMF Gracie Geikie said history had proven that country music passed the test of time in Miri itself.

“Research conducted before MCMF was initiated in 2014, shows that country music is very much alive and probably promoted by Americans and other expats discovering oil in 1910 in Miri.

“Miri too is very much a country music fan compared to other parts in Sarawak. The Orang Ulu (highlanders) until today are famous for country music and that is why we have the country music fest here,” she said.

Continue reading (Incl. Pic) at: Miri reverberates with country music
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Mirians give the thumbs-up in support of festive events


MIRI: Efforts to organise various festivals including music in Miri City received the thumbs up from many, as they augur well and are in line with efforts to make Miri City a vibrant and preferred resort in the region.

In music, Miri City has three major festivals – Asia Music Festival, Borneo Jazz Festival and the Miri Country Music Festival (MCMF).

MCMF which is held today at ParkCity Everly Hotel, is organised by Planet Conventions and Events Sdn Bhd and endorsed by Miri City Council and supported by ParkCity Everly Hotel Miri, Sarawak Tourism Board, and music portal Rentak Sejuta and Selibriti On Line.

“The business community, especially welcomes festivals like this not only to boost business but also to promote Miri City to the outside world,” said Jee Mui Lan – proprietor of Ming Cafe, Miri that hosted the preview show for MCMF, on Thursday night.

President of the Dayak Bidayuh National Association, Miri branch Captain Bernard Idit concurred with Jee saying that Mirians welcomed events that help strengthen unity and racial harmony.

“Although the oil price is down and cost of living escalating, Mirians still maintain the spirit of unity and harmony.

Thanks to all the exciting moment in events by MCC and others in boosting the tourism industry particularly with the annual country music festival and other events throughout the year,” he said.

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Lambir Hills National Park Miri to host 5th Bornean Frog Race


The annual Bornean Frog Race is back for the 5th year, this time at Lambir Hills National Park in Miri on April 30.

The Institute of Biodiversity and Environmental Conservation, Universiti Malaysia Sarawak and its partner, the Sarawak Forestry Corporation, urges all Malaysia Nature Society members, as well as the public to take part in the event.

Participation is limited to 100 and already half have been taken up.

The Bornean Frog Race aims to draw the public attention to the region’s rich amphibian fauna, and at the same time, targeting children for special education programmes on nature conservation and amphibian protection.

The race is celebrated on the last weekend of April since 2012 and four editions have been held.

The event coincides with the annual ‘Save the Frogs Day’, a global event celebrated via 270 events in over 30 countries worldwide, to highlight conservation issues facing the world’s amphibians.

The event includes talks by local and foreign experts on amphibian biology and conservation, exhibition of frog-related memorabilia, workshops and frog photography and drawing and painting, both by leading experts in the region.

The finale of the event is a photographic race, whereby participants race along a pre-designated forest trail, and try to photograph the most number of frog species, the rarest frog or photographically capture the most aesthetic image, via DSLR, compact camera or smartphones.

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Friday, February 26, 2016

Kiki Roams - Kota Kinabalu, Malaysia: Weird Things Found at the Sunday Market and Island Hopping


Kota Kinabalu (KK) has an early morning market every Sunday. It starts setting up around 6:30 a.m. and by 7:00 a.m. everything is in full swing. As far as markets go, this one is quite small and sells soaps, lots of trinkets and souvenirs (t-shirts, key chains, postcards, etc.), gardening equipment, and fresh food (mostly fruits).

There’s a small section of the market (lines up with the bird statue down the street) that sells ready made foods like banana leaf steamed rice with chicken, curry puffs, sweets, and other noodle dishes. We loaded up on spring rolls, curry puffs, bananas, and steamed rice/chicken for our lunches for our island hopping later in the afternoon.

As for the market, unless you had the intention to buy some specific (in our case, our lunch), it is definitely one you can skip. I didn’t buy anything other  than a a few items for lunch. There isn’t much of interest other than one stall that was selling breast milk soap. Yeah, like human breast milk soap – I asked in case this was an unusual translation for “goat milk soap” or something of the like.

Island Hopping

One of the big draws of KK are three small islands that are about a 20-30 minute boat ride from shore that boast sandy beaches and good snorkelling.

From Jesselton Point, you can buy boat tickets to get to the islands. We paid 33 MYR/person (about $11 CDN) for boat travel to visit two islands. From the main terminal, there are 50 of so companies to choose from – all tickets were the same price so we just chose the company that had the shortest line up.

Sapi Island

First up: Sapi Island. This is a very tiny island that gets overcrowded quite quickly by tourists and snorkelling/scuba diving tours. We took the 8:00 a.m. jetty, knowing about the overcrowding, and we only had to share the island with a few people. This is great, because the main sandy beach is only about 50 feet. Unfortunately, when we got there the beach was closed to the public due to the two red flags that were flying.

The islands have a coloured-coded flag system regarding the quality of the beaches. For example, purple flags mean “caution – marine pests present” (i.e.: jellyfish) and two red flags means “high danger – beach closed to public”. Of course, they did not tell us this when we booked our boat tickets.

Not to be deterred, we walked a few minutes over a very rocky area (good shoes are needed – flip flops not recommended) and eventually found ourselves on a quite stretch of sandy beach which was open for swimming. You will need to sign a waiver form as there are no lifeguards on duty here.

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TheMissMcG's Blog - The animals came in two by two


The title of this blog makes it sound as though there was an almighty flood… That’s not what happened but I have seen lots of animals and been in a boat…

Sepilok and River Kinabatangan

After a long wait for a bus at Ranau, I boarded the bus to Sepilok and the journey went super quickly as they were showing San Andreas, a recent film about an earthquake in San Francisco. Quite entertaining. I checked into a dorm (turned out to be the same as Anne from the other day), had a quick snack and then headed to the Rainforest Discovery Centre.

The RDC had livening walking trails around a lake and a giant canopy walkway. After failing to visit two canopy trails, I was determined to make it to this one. And I succeeded! It was amazing watching the birds from so high and it was so peaceful with very few tourists. I managed to spot and identify a yellow and black broadbill but I’ve no idea about the others.

More excitingly though, after chatting to a guide for a while, she informed me that there were orangutans in the trees so she took me to find them. My first sighting of these incredible orange beasts was of an adolescent free in the trees.

I spent over two hours in the canopy and up the towers. I was told that after 6pm, if you’re patient, you may see flying squirrels – this I had to see! And sure enough, after half an hour or so of practiced patience, almost from nowhere, a squirrel jumped from a tree and glided magically to another tree.

That evening, I made friends with the two other girls in our dorm, Colombian Barbara and fellow Brit, Laura. We had a nice evening with some games and dinner in the resort restaurant. They told me about their plans to visit River Kinabatangan the next day, which was next on my destination, so I decided to join them. There would just be time to visit the orangutan sanctuary in the morning!

The orangutan sanctuary was fantastic, although it was sad hearing about the awful conditions that have brought the orangutans here. The centre rehabilitates them, allowing them to learn to climb, play and forage in a protected setting before releasing them back into the wild when they are ready. I spent some time first in the nursery watching the young ones playing, climbing and just being darn adorable.

I then went to watch the feeding time which was equally entertaining – even if did start to rain! I then decided to try one of the walking trails as Anne had an amazing encounter with an orangutan whilst on it – one actually touched her! I didn’t have that luck but did enjoy the forest nonetheless.

And then it was time for the river cruise. We travelled a couple of hours by minibus with Anne, Barbara, Chinese/Oz Eddie and German couple Frank and Barbara and were super impressed with the resort on the beautiful river.

Continue reading (Incl. Pics) at: TheMissMcG's Blog - The animals came in two by two
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Thursday, February 25, 2016

Nome from Home - Conquering Mount Kinabalu


Mount Kinabalu is the highest peak between the Himalayas and Papa New Guinea, standing at 4,095m above sea level. There are limited climbing permits a day as you need to stay overnight at the Laban Rata resthouse which has a certain number of beds. It takes 2-3 days (with altitude acclimatisation). When I eventually researched all of this…the night before the climb… I realised it was likely more of a challenge than I had originally anticipated!

We arrived at the starting lodge at Kinabalu Park the afternoon before the climb, in a torrential downpour…already it was not looking good. We used the time to get used to the slightly thinner air and pack our overnight bags. With the prospect of walking with the pack for 15+ hours up hundreds of steps and over boulders, through jungle and on ropes – a lot of usual essentials stayed behind. 

Towel? No need when you can pack some wet wipes. Pyjamas? Not necessary when you can sleep in your day clothes. Toiletries?! Travel sized deodorant and toothpaste only required – for one night a finger can be a brush.

The reason for being so minimal in our packing was the need for warm (and therefore bulky) clothes. Temperatures at the base are around 30 degrees, at the top, it’s below freezing. So warm hats, scarfs, leggings, and thermals are all required if you are to reach the summit.

The trek started at 8.45am the next day at the Timpohon Gate entrance after some panic buying of head torches and hiring of walking poles. With three brilliant local guides we picked our way through the jungle path and started the climb. About 35-40 minutes later we had done our first kilometre. Just another 7.5km to go and the ‘flattest’ one only just done.

Our group started to split up as people found their own stride. We had a rough target of getting to Laban Rata at between 4-5pm. Every now and then, shouts of ‘PORTER!’ would move down the line indicating that us tourists better move for the locals taking bags and supplies up to camp. 

We saw more luggage than man sprint up past us as we watched, mouth open in awe at the physical strength of these guys – some carrying more than 35kg of stuff including crates of beer, bed linen, even mattresses, up and down.

At every 0.5k there was a sign. At every 1k there was a rest point. These proved good places to eye up climbers from yesterday and that morning coming down. “Is it worth it?” “Did you make it?” “Are we close?” started all conversations. “Yes, yes and you keep going” was the usual reply. I was already looking forward to being in their position the next day.

A packed lunch of sandwiches, fried chicken, a boiled egg and an apple at the 5k mark gave us some much needed energy. Out of the jungle, we were now passing through the clouds and the terrain had turned into open (and sunny) boulder steps. Split from the group, it was just me and Aussie nurse Esther climbing together chit chatting (in between laboured breaths) and giving various exclamations of being in the sweatiest condition of our lives. Lovely!

Any area of flat was savoured, any sip of water too. At 5.5k we knew we were nearly done for day one. We had smashed our time target, on course for a 2pm arrival at the resthouse – but I was slowing down. Going three steps and stopping for breath took time. Esther ploughed on. Out of water and exhausted I was ecstatic to see the outbuildings for generators and water tanks signalling Laban Rata. 

Shouts and cheers from my walking mates greeted me as I finally heaved my body up the final elevation, stumbled up the building steps and collapsed into a chair on the balcony. The first 3,270m (10,730ft) were done. I stayed horizontal on my bunk bed for the next two hours, only rising to hear that unfortunately, altitude had got to a Dutch girl, who was currently throwing up in the bathroom.

Despite physical tiredness – sleeping does not come easy on the mountain. The low oxygen in the air means that you sleep for 10minutes and are awake for 45 there after, constantly. The night before we had been given our departure times for the summit based on how we had done that day – with the slowest leaving first. There is no over taking on this stretch of the route as much of it is on ropes. I was in the second team, of three, with a leaving time of 2.30am.

Sharing the female eight bed dorm, we finally woke around 1.30am to the sound of heavy rain. Our hearts sank. It was a disaster. We had be warned before that under the circumstances of any rain we would not ascend and would have to turn around and climb back down to base. 

It was too dangerous. The mountain was hit by a 6.0 magnitude earthquake on 5 June 2015 at 7.15am local time. Despite lasting just 30 seconds, it was the strongest earthquake to effect Malaysia since 1976.

The tremors caused a landslide and the collapse of a huge piece of granite from the exposed rock face which crashed down on the ropes and stairs section just before the 7km check point. 18 people died. Including Robbi Sapinggi, the son of our lead guide. 11 were injured and over 130 others were stranded up on the exposed mountain for days with no way of getting down. 

While a new route close to the old one has been created, there are still weak points in the rock and any sustained water run off, it was feared, could act as a lubricant and cause another slide. The area is also still experiencing weak aftershocks. Joh Min our guide, told us to stand down and go back to sleep.

Continue reading (Incl. Pics) at: Nome from Home -  Conquering Mount Kinabalu
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Borneo Rainforest Adventure Walk - Borneo Kalimantan


Balikpapan is the second largest city in East Kalimantan, a province in Indonesia bordering Sarawak in Malaysia. The coastal city is situated on the east coast of Borneo and is mostly known for its palm oil, coal mining and oil refineries.

Balikpapan is a little off the beaten and track for most tourists. Whilst it’s not your everyday tourist destination, there are quite a few things to do and see around Balikpapan, including a Borneo rainforest walk.


Volunteering with orangutans

I was there as a volunteer at the Samboja Lestari Orangutan and Sun Bear Sanctuary, just outside the village of Samboja. Volunteering is a unique way to holiday as aside from working with these beautiful but sadly endangered animals, we also had the opportunity to see what else the surrounds had to offer. 

One of our extra-orangutan curricular activities was a walk in the tropical Bangkirai Hill Borneo Rainforest. The forest is not far from Samboja, and 58km from Balikpapan.

For the other volunteers who were not from Queensland (or similar sub-tropical and tropical regions) a walk in this Borneo rainforest was an opportunity to experience the tropics in all its splendour (and leeches).

 
Borneo rainforest walk

Close to the renowned Canopy Bridge Walk was the start of many forest treks.

We paid our entrance fee and took a local guide to accompany our group of 12 volunteers.

Off we set.

Light rain rapidly turned into a heavy tropical and steamy downpour, typical of a Borneo rainforest.

Thank God for the $3 poncho I had stuffed into my non-waterproof daypack. It turned out to be a life saver. 

Our Borneo rainforest walk wasn’t so much of a walk but a jungle scramble, up and over large wide fallen tree trunks.

We constantly fell over trip hazard vines that grabbed your shoe or ankles.

Wait-a-while tendrils held onto our soaked clothing, many times ripping my protective poncho armour.


Fear of leeches

Once the rain stopped everyone breathed a sigh of relief, but the humidity heightened.

I have a morbid fear of leeches. I refuse to have anything share my blood. No one hops on me for a free ride, if I can help it. 

Our guide simply could not understand why I refused to take my poncho off after the rain.

The fear of something grabbing or attaching itself to me in the dense undulating thicket was enough to make me sweat litres under that poncho. And I wasn’t about to take it off for anyone! 

I knew about opportunistic acrobatic leeches leaping off leaves onto unsuspecting trampers. I wasn’t about to become a victim. 

Continue reading (Incl. Pics) at: Borneo Rainforest Adventure Walk - Borneo Kalimantan
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Bridging elephant populations in Sabah


KOTA KINABALU: Bornean elephants show a low significant degree of genetic differentiation among populations and securing connectivity between spatially distinct population and avoiding further fragmentation within population being an absolute necessity if we want to conserve the species.

This is one of the main conclusions of a paper published online on Tuesday in the scientific journal Biological Conservation by a team of scientists from Danau Girang Field Centre (DGFC, Sabah), Cardiff University (UK), the NGO HUTAN (Sabah), Instituto Gulbenkian de Ciência (Portugal), the Institute for Systems Genomics (USA), the CNRS (France), and Sabah Wildlife Department.

The Darwin Initiative for the Survival of Species, US Fish and Wildlife Service, Elephant Family, Houston Zoo, Columbus Zoo and the Portuguese Science Foundation mainly funded the study.

“Back in 2005-2007, our team spent several months collecting dung samples from all elephant ranges in Sabah, then analysing their DNA to provide an insight in their genetic diversity and determine the degree of population fragmentation and isolation of the existing herds.

“It was alarming to detect reduced gene flow levels among elephant populations in Sabah and significant genetic differentiation between populations, especially between ranges such as the Kinabatangan, Tabin and Central Sabah (Malua, Ulu Segama, Kalabakan, Kuamut, Gunung Rara Forest Reserves),” explained Dr Benoit Goossens, Director of DGFC and the lead author of the study, in a statement here, yesterday.

Interestingly, he said the Kinabatangan population appeared to be the most genetically diverse, leading to two critical recommendations – reconnecting the Kinabatangan population to other populations in the state and to strictly avoid any fragmentation of the Kinabatangan population.

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Rajang River a tourist attraction for Sibu


SIBU: The 563km Rajang River, the longest in the country, makes Sibu a unique place, says Sibu Municipal Council (SMC) deputy chairman Dato Andrew Wong.

Besides that, the unique way of life of longhouse people along the river give tourists an unforgettable experience, he added.

“If you use speedboat going down the river in Tutus area, crocodiles can be seen sunbathing by the river bank.

“So by using a crocodile as Visit Sibu Year (VSY) 2017 mascot, we portray adventure and ecotourism along Rajang River to attract visitors,” he told a full council meeting yesterday.

To further explain the choice of crocodile as the mascot, he said the matter had been debated by the public in the social media.

Wong said visitors were fascinated by how local people especially those living along Rajang River had integrated with nature.

“Even though there are roads and electricity and water supplies our local Bumiputeras are still well connected with nature.

“Tourists are amazed by that. That is something they are trying to experience for themselves,” he said.

Continue reading (Incl. Pic) at: Rajang River a tourist attraction for Sibu
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Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Kiki Roams - Kuching, Malaysia: Bako National Park and Omigod Monkeys!


Bako National Park was on the agenda today and what an amazing day. It is a 27 square kilometre peninsula full of dense (and ridiculous hot/humid) jungle, hiking trails and almost a guaranteed wildlife spotting experience.

The Journey

First, can we all give a round of applause because I didn’t get lost once during this journey? So, from the the downtown area, you can catch the number 1 bus (it’s red – the buses are colour-coded!) to Bako from the riverfront area, directly across the street from the Riverside Majestic Hotel. I say directly across the street because this seems to be the only bus stop that doesn’t look like a bus stop. It is a random bench and plastic chair underneath a giant McDonald’s advertisement. So, easy to walk right by (which I didn’t do) and not know what it is.

The bus takes you right to the boat terminal for the national park. It takes about 40 minutes to get there and costs 3.50 MYR (a smidgen more than $1 CDN). Easy peasy.

At the boat terminal, you purchase your entry ticket to the national park (20 MYR) and at the next counter, your boat transfer (40 MYR return ticket). The boat leaves whenever there is enough people – seems that five as the minimum but they might still make you wait around a while as they hope to get 8-10 people). Be patient. Also? the boat ride is about 30 minutes and be prepared to take off your shoes and roll up your pants as high tide is still present in the morning and you’ll have to hop out of the boat and wade your way onto the beach to get to the park.

The nice thing is that there are taps of water to wash the sand off your feet before you slip your footwear back on. Be prepared to spend most of the on at the park as during low tide it is pretty much impossible for the transfer boats to bring you back to the terminal. 

The tide start coming back in around 3:00 p.m. and even then, it’s quite low and the journey back to the terminal is much slower as the boat driver navigates random sand shoals that weren’t there on your way in. You’ll also see boats marooned on the sand shoals and people walking on them with sticks as they try to get crabs and other seafood during low tide. From a distance it looks like people are walking on water.

I hired a licensed guide at the boat terminal (100 MYR for the day….about $33 CDN). This is the last point at which you can hire a guide – there are none in the national park for hire. You don’t necessarily need a guide – the trails are very well marked and it is easy to navigate. I opted for a guide because I wanted to have information about the wildlife, the trees, flowers, etc.

The guide also knew the best spots to find wildlife and he will take you off the standard trail to check out other areas where you might see some interesting wildlife. I had a great experience (licensed guides actually undergo training to learn info on the area and also receive training in first aid given the number of poisonous things that can kill you in the park) with my guide and highly recommend hiring one.

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Guide for spotting Orangutans - Insider tips from Matt Brazier


Whilst in 2006 there was an estimated 66,000 orangutans in the world, now there’s thought to be only 45,000  – an incredibly steep decline. The prospect of seeing such a unique and clever creature at risk of disappearing in the next few decades is a powerful draw. So here’s how to best see orangutans, locally known as the people of the forest.

Choose where you want to see them: in the wild or in a rehabilitation centre, or both?

When choosing your orangutan experience, be prepared that each will have its pros and cons depending on whether you see them in the wild or in a semi-wild environment. Combining both experiences gives you a fuller picture of the survival of this animal, but it really depends on how much of a focus orangutans are for your holiday.

Rehabilitation Centre

These are centres dedicated to rescuing orangutans from habitat loss, poaching and the illegal pet trade. They usually encompass a large area of land, providing orangutans with supplementary food for support before they can leave of their own accord through a rain forest corridor out to the wild. With regular feeding times, you are virtually guaranteed to see an orangutan during your visit.

Pros:

* Very high likelihood of sighting
* Relatively close proximity to the orangutans – around 10 feet away
* Good on site information about the species
* Money goes towards conservation

Cons:

* Group environment with other travellers
* More staged and static

There are three popular centres you can visit:

1. Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre is a 40-minute drive from Sandakan, Sarawak. It is the largest rehabilitation centre in the world and has 43 km of protected rainforest for 60-80 orangutans to live in.

2. Semengoggoh Wildlife Centre is a 30-minute drive from Kuching and is the largest rehabilitation in the western state of Sarawak. It boasts 7 km of forest reserve for around 30 semi-wild orangutans to inhabit.

3. Matang Wildlife Centre is in the Kubah National park and is 40-minute drive from Kuching. It specialises in looking after orangutans with previous issues such as territorial and aggressive behaviours. The apes are kept in enclosures and large cages, and this is a less frequented centre as it provides quite specialist care. I mention it here for travellers particularly interested in the rehabilitation of difficult individuals.

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Miri Country Music Fest ‘over two days next year’


MIRI: Miri Country Music Fest (MCMF) will turn into a two-day affair from next year, according to a recent decision made by Planet Conventions and Events Sdn Bhd recently.

Advisor of MCMF Gracie Geikie, who is also the director for Planet Borneo Group of Companies, said the MCMF had been a one-day music festival since it was first organised in 2014.

“We have received feedback from fans, especially those from outside Miri who requested us to make the MCMF a two-day festival instead of one day.

“In reference to the welcome response from fans to the MCMF, we have decided to make the only country music festival in the country from a one-day to a two-day event starting next year,” she announced during a press conference on MCMF at Miri City Council yesterday.

Gracie also promised that the third edition MCMF which is to be held on Feb 27 at ParkCity Everly Hotel will be bigger and better than before.

She said fans can expect another exciting experience for this year’s festival which will showcase country bands from Nashville in USA, Australia, Singapore, Indonesia, Kuala Lumpur, Kota Kinabalu and Miri.

These bands she added will entertain festival goers with their rendition of rock, pop, contemporary, bluegrass and folk country tunes.

The organisers expect this year’s festival to attract 3,000 festival-goers locally as well as visitors from Brunei Darussalam, Singapore, Indonesia and Australia.

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Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Borneo’s hidden gems: Bako National Park and Santubong Peninsula, Sarawak


Walking along a trail, on my way to one of Bako National Park’s beaches, there came the most stunning view of Mount Santubong and the south China sea beyond. It’s moments like these when you know you’re on a good holiday!

As the oldest and smallest national park in Borneo, Bako is often forgotten by travellers who are drawn to the more famous Mulu National Park, Kinabatangan and the Danum Valley. Similarly, the Santubong Peninsula, just west of the park itself also offers various outdoor activities, stunning beaches and wild swimming pools to boot, although not many travellers visit.

This is a blessing and a curse; whilst the remote jungle atmosphere is helped by the fact there are few tourists, it also means people are missing out on a true hidden gem.

Bako National Park and the Santubong Peninsula is just under an hour’s journey by car from Kuching International Airport, so you can step off your flight and be spotting the big nosed Proboscis monekys endemic to Borneo without wasting more time on travelling to some wild area miles away.

Bako National Park can only be reached by an additional 20 minute boat ride from the road. This has helped protect the wildlife inside and the journey offers stunning views of the landscape: Mount Santubong, various beaches and even mangroves. The park boasts some of the most varied habitats in the whole of Borneo: from rainforest, to sandy beach, to mangroves, to rocky outcrops.

You can essentially see any species found in Borneo in this park, except Orangutans – but there’s plenty of opportunities for you to spot them later on your holiday. For example, just a 20 minute drive from Bako is the Semmengoh Orangutan Sanctuary where you can see rehabilitated Orangutans before they are released back into the wild.

Another benefit of Bako National Park are its hidden beaches, of which there are many. They are secluded in secret bays and give you a truly private experience. A personal favourite is Teluk Pandan Kecil beach which has the feel of a desert island.

The trail to this beach is also the one that gives brilliant views over Mount Santubong and the South China Sea. Animal lovers – watch out for the characterful bearded pigs that make the sandy shores their home. They’re very relaxed and like noseying the area for bites to eat.

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SuperrChloeeh vs. the World - Back to the Motherland: Mt. Kinabalu National Park


MT. KINABALU NATIONAL PARK

6:30AM. Wake up, brush teeth, get changed, pack bag, pack snacks, then proceed downstairs to meet everyone by 7AM. Last minute checks, making sure no one was left behind. Car started, engine warmed up, seatbelt fastened, then slowly backing out of the driveway.

Where are you going? Mt. Kinabalu National Park.

48 minutes into the drive, you stop by Tamparuli (pronounced TAAM-PAR-RULEE), a small quaint little town on the way to the National Park for a spot of breakfast. Most Kopitiams (coffee shops) are closed due to Chinese New Year but you find one that sells steamed buns, dim sum, and “famous” Tamparuli fried noodles. You enter, uncle, grandma, aunts, and grandaunt following.

“Minum?” a waitress asks in Malay, meaning “drink”.

You order a Milo Swam (warm Milo), whilst everyone else orders a selection of Kopi O, Milo, and Lemon Teh Bing (Iced Lemon Tea). For your makanan (food in Malay), your table orders a selection of fried noodles and dim sum, shared around by everyone. After breakfast, everyone hops back into the car, beginning the remaining 1 hour and 30 minute drive up to the National Park.

Up until now, the road has been relatively straight and flat. But now begins to ascent up to the mountains. No more straight roads. It bends and curves, like a snake wrapping its body around its prey.

Then, as you come around a bend, a tall, dark silhouette comes into view. Mt. Kinabalu, you gasp as your car slowly inches towards it. Next thing you know, the mountain is now on your left side, standing taller, prouder, bolder than it was before. You stare at it, in awe of its magnificence.

Lush greenery covers the base of the mountain, leaving it exposed at the top. You can see the creases and rocks and maybe a small waterfall gushing from the mountain. Majestic.

Luckily along the drive, there were spots allowing for cars to stop and take pictures. And that’s exactly what you did; whipping out your camera and snapping away. But you are only halfway to the National Park, so onwards you go.

As the drive continues, you notice clouds beginning to sweep in, threatening to cover the top of the mountain. Oh no, you think to yourself. But luckily, you were not far from the National Park now.

Pulling into the entrance, your uncle pays the entry fee and you make your way along the path, before stopping by the side of the road.

You see the mountain rising up above the sea of forest green, standing out with its sooty-grey rock complexion. Wisps of clouds begin to roll in from the right side, giving the mountain a mystical and mysterious feel to it.

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100,000 visitors come to see Sabah wildlife every year


KOTA KINABALU: Businesses are encouraged to harness the opportunities to work with wildlife and make a profit at the same time by establishing educational self-financing wildlife centres in Sabah.

Assistant Sabah Tourism, Culture and Environment Minister Datuk Pang Yuk Ming said Sabah attracted over 100,000 visitors a year who come here to see the wildlife in the State.

“Wildlife is an important attraction for the tourism industry in Sabah.

“The whole world, especially from Europe, China and Japan, come to Sabah specifically to see for themselves the animals and mammals in the wild.”

He said the mammals in Sabah were not only part of our heritage and worth preserving, they also provided a large income and many jobs in hotels, airlines and travel companies from wildlife-related tourism.

Pang said there were many opportunities for businesses to contribute to wildlife conservation and still make a profit.

For instance, the Labuk Bay Proboscis Monkey Sanctuary near Sandakan is run as a business but also helps to preserve wildlife and to attract tourists, he said.

“Whilst the population of proboscis monkeys is declining in most parts of Borneo, at Labuk Bay the proboscis population is steadily increasing as well as attracting an increasing number of overseas tourists.

“So it is a win-win situation for all concerned,” he said when officiating at the launching of a book entitled Phillipps’ Field Guide to the Mammals of Borneo and Their Econology’, authored by Quentin Phillipps and Karen Phillipps, here yesterday. The book is published by Natural History Publications (Borneo).

In addition, he said there were large areas of mangrove habitat suitable for proboscis monkeys near the Nexus and Rasa Ria Resorts near Tuaran, where the monkeys could be re-introduced to the habitat to expand their population as well as promoting a conservation message to tourists and local visitors.

Citing another example, Pang said the recently opened Bornean Sun Bear Centre, an NGO founded by Wong Siew Te was helping to rehabilitate sun bears which have been kept illegally as pets.

“Most of their income comes from visitor’s fees of both local and international tourists.

“Not only does this project help rescue sun bears from being kept in bad conditions, it also helps educate the public about the need to protect wildlife and forest ecology.”

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Travel advisory to the east coast of Sabah did not reflect actual situation


KOTA KINABALU: The travel advisory issued by the United Kingdom and Australia to warn their citizens against travelling to the east coast of Sabah did not reflect the actual situation here, Assistant Minister of Sabah Tourism, Culture and Environment Datuk Pang Yuk Ming said.

While the countries have the right to protect their citizens, Pang pointed out the double standards as no travel advisory was issued for places like Paris, Jakarta and Thailand where recent incidents have claimed multiple lives.

On the contrary, he said an all-out travel alert was issued for Sabah, whether there was such incident or not.

The British Foreign and Commonwealth Office has advised its citizens against all but essential travel to islands off the east coast of Sabah, and raised the terror threat level from ‘general’ to ‘high’.

Australia also advised its citizens to avoid all travel to coastal resorts in the east cost of Sabah due to high threat of kidnapping.

He said the countries should be fair to Sabah when they issued the travel alert.

Pang said China’s Ambassador to Malaysia Huang Huikang had personally visited Semporna and went to one of the islands.

“If the situation is as bad as what is projected, the Ambassador himself would not have made the trip."

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Monday, February 22, 2016

Borneo Adventure - Black River Cruise


On the water in Kalimantan

Samboja is a small township in East Kalimantan and the gateway to our Borneo adventure.

It is an hour’s drive from the capital, Balikpapan, on the east coast of Indonesian Borneo.

Samboja’s economy is largely based on open-cut coal mines, oil and palm oil plantations. Look out to sea and you’ll see oil rigs on the horizon.

However, some Indonesian Borneans still make a living from the sea and rivers leading out to sea. 


Borneo Adventure on Sungai Hitam

One such river is Sungai (translated means river) Hitam, about an hour’s drive from the Samboja Lestari Orangutan and Sun Bear Sanctuary. The river is 35km from Balikpapan.

As part of our two week Orangutan volunteer program we were able to enjoy a late afternoon river cruise.


Fishing Villages

Sungai Hitam is in a lowland and mangrove forest. 

As we left the small jetty, we passed through palm strewn and mangrove banks.

We cruised along to come to a local fishing village seemingly built on dodgy sticks, stuck in the high muddy river bank.

Colourful wooden boats were parked along the river’s edge, sometimes two or three deep, covered by drying nets.

Shanty dwellings were thrown together, but with an odd one having a large satellite dish out the front! 

Continue reading (Incl. Pics) at: Borneo Adventure - Black River Cruise
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Miri still unpolished tourism gem


MIRI: It has been more than a decade since Miri was declared a city, even so, the development that has been happening in the city which was once a small fishing village is said to be below expectations.

Sharing his opinion on the local tourism industry, Meritz Hotel and Bintang Megamall general manager John Teo, in fact, has high expectations for the young city.

“Many visitors who come to Miri are still Bruneians who make up more than half of the total number of visitors, while others fall under the category of business travellers, MICE (Meetings, Incentives, Conferencing, Exhibitions) delegates, government officials and leisure travellers.

“Undeniably, due to the high exchange rate of Brunei Dollar to Ringgit Malaysia, we have and still are having many Bruneians coming to Miri especially over the weekends. Many of them have even purchased housing properties here as their second home. Comparatively, the goods in Miri are considered cheaper than in Brunei, hence the popularity.”

On this issue, Teo pointed out that the hospitality industry plays a vital role because Miri has a handful of three to five-star rated hotels.

“Despite the year 2015 seeing an average rate of 67 pct occupancy in the lodging market, there may be a need for hoteliers to improve as they face competition from budget hotels, inns and homestays.”

Teo added that there were said to be more than 100 budget hotels, inns and homestays, both legal and illegal, here, providing more than 4,580 rooms.

“With the average price of RM120 (for budget hotel) to RM30 (inns and homestay), these rates actually hit hard on the star-rated hotels, resulting in the latter having to lower their room rates or do promotions in order to fill up their rooms,” he told The Borneo Post.

The extended operating hours at the Miri-Brunei checkpoint last year worries Teo as it may affect the lodging market negatively.

“Previously, Bruneians coming down to Miri usually had to stay at least two days and one night here because the border closed at 10pm. It means they rather spend more time here, staying the night and perhaps continue shopping the next day before heading home. (Ironically) The new policy means we are losing business badly,” he said, adding that there have been plans to call on the government to return to the previous policy in order to improve the local economy.

As for this year, Teo, who has more than two decades of experience in the hospitality industry, opined that Miri should be expecting a much lower occupancy rate.

Continue reading (Incl. Pics) at: Miri still unpolished tourism gem
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Marked increase in turtle landings on Libaran island


SANDAKAN: Friends of Sea Turtles Education and Research (FOSTER) unveiled its new executive committee during its annual general meeting at the Sandakan Yacht Club on Saturday.

In 2013, Trekkers Lodge Sdn Bhd signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with the Sabah Wildlife Department and promptly set up a turtle conservation program on Libaran Island here.

The program includes creating awareness for the locals and visitors on the conservation value of sea turtles, undertaking research projects with the goal of better understanding the life cycle of sea turtles surrounding the Libaran Island area and to make available research programmes on sea turtle for international and local students.

To meet the objectives, Alexander Yee, managing director of Trekkers Lodge Sdn Bhd, has set up FOESTER in 2013.

Since then, FOSTER has sponsored 12 local villagers to undergo an Honorary Wildlife Warden course and subsequently provided employment for them to take care of the turtle hatchery, Taman Hadiah on Libaran island.

Turtle landings on the island have seen a marked increase and since November 2011 till January 2015, 25,939 baby turtles have been released into the ocean from Taman Hadiah, of which 16,406 are Green Turtles and 9,533 are Hawsbill Turtles.

Last year, FOSTER together with the Ministry of Tourism, Arts and Culture and private companies such as ABC Tours Sdn Bhd, Traverse Tours Sdn Bhd and Sepilok Tropical Wildlife Adventures Sdn Bhd, worked with the villagers and have successfully cleaned up Libaran shoreline on a daily basis for the whole year.

Poised for the next phase of growth for FOSTER, a new team of executive committee (exco) members were elected and they will be leading FOSTER for the next two years.

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Spruce up town for Visit Tambunan Year


TAMBUNAN: Deputy Chief Minister Tan Sri Joseph Pairin Kitingan hoped that all works to beautify the surroundings of the town and places of interest to become attractions for tourists are proceeding smoothly before the Visit Tambunan Year in 2017.

He believes that with the cooperation of all parties here, all efforts to beautify Tambunan town will be carried out smoothly.

“I have visited some areas of this town recently and I see there are some changes in giving the town a facelift before the Visit Tambunan Year next year,” he said.

Pairin, who is also Infrastructure Development Minister, praised the efforts of the district management headed by district officer Thomas Lojigin, in planning to develop the town into a beautiful and clean town in conjunction with Visit Tambunan Year.

He also urged for places that have become tourist attractions to preserve their beauty by maintaining the natural surroundings.

He also called on the residents here to take the opportunity to increase their revenue through arts, culture and agricultural products by offering them to the tourists when they visit this area.

“Many arts and culture as well as agricultural products of the community here that can be highlighted, including traditional food, dances, traditional dress, handicrafts, traditional musical instruments, ginger products and many others that can generate income for the population.

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Sunday, February 21, 2016

Kinabatangan — an incredible Borneo wildlife experience


The gibbon sat in a tree, gazing out across the turbid waters, its long, sinuous limbs somehow more graceful than gangly. It was the black variant of the endemic Bornean gibbon, and a magnificent specimen. As our guide manoeuvred the small boat to give us better views of one of Borneo’s most iconic primates, I took a second to look around at my three teenage daughters.

The looks of wonder and delight on their faces reinforced once more that leaving Ireland on a four month odyssey across Australia and Southeast Asia had been a good decision. What they were learning from the experience, both about the natural world and the different cultures and communities we encountered along the way, simply can’t be taught in the classroom.

We’d just left the tiny village of Bilit in a small boat on our way to the Kinabatangan Jungle Camp (aka KJC), were we would spend a few days immersed in the amazing jungle wildlife of the region. What a start to a stay that was to be a highlight of our four month trip.

Kinabatangan: a special place for wildlife

At 560km Sungai Kinabatangang is the longest river in the east-Malaysian state of Sabah on the island of Borneo. The lowland dipterocarp rainforest along the lower reaches of the river offers refuge to an eclectic mix of wildlife in a region beset on all sides by the burgeoning palm oil industry.

Kinabatangan is a stronghold for wild Bornean orangutans, holds Malaysia’s largest populations of the endemic proboscis monkey, is home to nearly 200 species of birds, 10 primates, and a population of the extremely rare Borneo pygmy elephant.

If you’re a wildlife enthusiast visiting this part of the world this is an area you’d be crazy to miss.

My wife and I had been to the region before — way back in 1998, before we had the girls. I wrote an account of that trip, the woes of the region’s orangutans and the rampant expansion of the palm oil industry for Wild Ireland magazine. Returning with the children was something we’d spoken about for a long time.

The intervening 17 years has had quite an impact on the area. The inexorable march of oil palm plantations has encroached on the forest from all sides, pushing the boundaries of what is now (thankfully) the Kinabatangan Wildlife Sanctuary, a 26,000ha area gazetted as a protected wildlife refuge in 2004 under the administration of the Sabah Wildlife Department.

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Limbang riding the crest of development


LIMBANG constituency is unique. It can be likened to an island separated from the Sarawak land mass by its borders with Brunei Darusalam to the west and east, Lawas District to the southeast and Miri District at the south and southeast.

With two state constituencies — Bukit Kota and Batu Danau — sandwiched between the Sultanate of Brunei and its Temburong District, one must have a passport to travel into or out of Limbang from any part of Malaysia.

Bukit Kota, centred around Limbang town, has 16,316 registered voters – Malay Bumiputeras over 55 per cent, Chinese (40 per cent) with other Bumiputera groups making up the rest. This is home to the biggest Kedayan population in Sarawak.

With a distinctive Brunei Malay language, this multiracial District was mired in economic backwaters until the advent of a wave of transformation and increasing connectivity via land induced greater physical, socioeconomic and mindset changes.

Things are looking up for Limbang where the buffalo is an icon.

The opening of the RM21 million Friendship Bridge at Pandaruan is a symbol of Malaysian-Brunei cooperation and also the last piece of the Pan Borneo jigsaw. It unleashes the economic potential of the Limbang Basin and promotes regional travels and growth, further boosted by the extension of the opening hours of the CIQs from 10pm to midnight.

Limbang is a melting pot of ethnicities and cultures. With its strategic location next to Brunei, Labuan, Lawas and Sabah, this bustling river port boasts a crowd-pulling cultural festival – the Pesta Limbang which draws tens of thousands of locals and visitors alike to its shores every year.

Iconic buffalo races

In Batu Danau, the iconic buffalo races are the highlights of the annual Pesta Babulang.

Water sports and land sports, especially motocross, welfare activities and assistance for the needy, including natural disaster victims, all receive the personal attention of incumbent Bukit Kota state assemblyman Dr Abdul Rahman Ismail.

Substantial inflow of funds, translating into welcomed socioeconomic changes through development projects — major and minor – have brought in a heightened sense of optimism and new found vibrancy, putting to rest the former image of Limbang as an economic backwater.

The latest mega project is the RM150 million Limbang Bridge which will slash by half the travelling time to barely 45 minutes from Limbang to the Brunean capital of Bandar Seri Begawan. This is a welcomed development for visitors from Brunei and vice-versa.

Now, travellers have to pass through the Tedungan CIQ and Batu Danau region.

The distance will also be reduced to less than 20km from the present 50 km from Limbang town to the Malaysian-Brunei border.

Continue reading (Incl. Pics) at: Limbang riding the crest of development
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