Friday, February 29, 2008

Bako National Park: Museum of geological wonders

WELCOME to the living museum of geological wonders – Bako National Park in Sarawak.

It is Malaysia’s oldest national park and is now 50 years old. Time and natural forces of waves and wind have sculptured bewildering rock formations such as sea stacks and arches as well as caves.

The park has almost every type of vegetation found in Borneo. Covering 2,727 hectares at the tip of the Muara Tebas peninsula, Bako has seven complete eco-systems.

You will find beach vegetation, cliff vegetation, kerangas of heath forest, mangrove forest, mixed dipterocarp forest, padang or grasslands and peat swamp forest. You can notice the contrasts of the different vegetation as you trek the different jungle trails in the park.

Continue reading (incl. pics) at: Bako National Park: Museum of geological wonders

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Don’t miss Sukau wildlife sanctuary

Her greatest pleasure is to see her home state’s tourism industry grow from strength to strength. Tourism is now the second largest revenue earner for Sabah.

The state is now undoubtedly one of the hottest destinations in the country.

Mary had started out as a receptionist in a hotel in Sandakan, her home town, many years back. Her contacts with tourists inspired her to take up a tourism course. From then on, there was no turning back for her.

Even when she is on holidays, she prefers to keep herself updated on tourism by meeting with people in the industry.

Tell us about your most interesting travel experience in Malaysia.

It was a cruise to the wildlife sanctuary in Sukau and lower Kinabatangan River in Sabah several years back. We saw every exciting animal we set out to see — proboscis monkeys, long-tailed macaques, silver-leafed monkeys, pygmy Bornean elephants, bearded wild pigs, orang utans, hornbills, kingfishers and eagles. The region teems with wildlife.

Continue reading (incl. pic) at: Don’t miss Sukau wildlife sanctuary

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Brunei top 5 market for Malaysian tourism

By Azlan Othman

Brunei is among the top five markets for Malaysian tourism as 1.17 million tourists from the Sultanate visited the neighbouring country last year, Bernama reported.

In December alone last year, some 145,386 Bruneian tourists crossed the border.

Limbang, Labuan, Kota Kinabalu and Miri remain the main attractions for Bruneians, lured by the favourable exchange rate.

In addition, the fruit season, 'Tamu' market and seafood restaurants also attract Bruneians to hop across the border, besides enjoying the scenic view of Kota Kinabalu.

Tourist arrivals to Malaysia hit 20.97 million in 2007, surpassing the 20.1-million target set by the Malaysian government. It brought in total revenue of RM46.1 billion, exceeding the target of RM44.5 billion.

Tourism Malaysia said tourist arrivals for 2007, which coincided with the Visit Malaysia Year, represented an increase of 19.5 per cent compared with 2006.

Singapore remained the top market with 10.49 million tourists, followed by Indonesia (1.80 million), Thailand (1.62 million), Brunei (1.17 million), China (689,293), India (422,452), Japan (367,567), the Philippines (327,140), Australia (302,363) and Britain (276,213).

December arrivals rose by 22.5 per cent to 1.88 million from the same period in 2006. Total arrivals from Singapore were 935,439, followed by Indonesia (171,615), Thailand (162,208), Brunei (145,386), China (72,409), India (36,800), Australia (34,810), Japan (32,337), the Philippines (28,425) and Britain (27,848).

Major markets that recorded double-digit growth in December were Brunei (85.4 per cent), Indonesia (64.9 per cent), India (58.3 per cent), Australia (55.9 per cent), Britain (34.9 per cent), the Philippines (33.1 per cent) and China (32.4 per cent).

Brunei is the third biggest contributor to Malaysia's tourism revenue after Singapore and Indonesia with RM10.8 billion and RM1.7 billion respectively.

Courtesy of Borneo Bulletin

Monday, February 25, 2008

Spectacular Sabah - it's nature's gift

The following is an article about Sabah tourism in Shanghai Daily:

IN Sabah, the only thing you need to do is stroll and smile. With sacred mountains, sweeping coastlines, lush rain forests and exotic beaches, the world's third-largest archipelago seems to have been blessed by Mother Nature.

Located in the northeast corner of Borneo, Sabah was known in ancient times as the "land below the wind" as it lies below the typhoon belt. It shares the island with Indonesia to the south and Brunei and sister state Sarawak to the west.

From mountain high to ocean deep, the Malaysian state is a land of natural wonders boasting one of the world's largest rainforests.

Sabah's abundance of nature is partly due to its emphasis on eco-tourism. "Always take a bag with you for rubbish when going out,'' May, our tour guide, told us the first day we arrived in Sabah.

The "wind land" offers a tropical haven of pure green - including the rafflesia flower, the world's largest - and untainted wilderness. The 31 indigenous groups who live here such as the Kadazans, Muruts, Bajaus, Kedayans, Sulu, Bisaya, Rumanau, Minokok and Rungus speak more than 80 dialects but live harmoniously together while at the same time preserving their own unique culture, traditions and customs.

Continue reading at: Spectacular Sabah - it's nature's gift

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Enchanting paradise of Kuraman Island, Labuan

Sandy beach of Kuraman Island

A visitor enjoying the sun and sand

View of the island

Photos courtesy of and Copyright to Farrah Dayinie and
Brunei Press Sdn Bhd.

By Farrah Dayinie

The soft wind and sweet melody of waves hitting the sandy beach will always give a pleasant feeling to any who feels stressed and pressured by the demands of modern lifestyle.

That was the exact feeling I got when I was given the opportunity to visit the sandy beach of Kuraman Island, also known as the Mayat Island.

As I departed from Serasa Beach on a small boat at 12 noon, I could feel the heat of the burning sun. On the way towards the island, during the 45-minute journey, everyone on the boat were mingling and munching on snacks and taking in the view, my mind started to wonder and imagine how the island would be like.

Excitement started to build up as we saw the Kuraman Island for the first time from afar. As the boat got closer and closer to the island, we can see a row of three chalets that will be our accommodation as we planned to spend a night there. As we reached the sandy beach, I eagerly moved to the front portion of the boat to be the first to get down.

As we moved in, we noticed that we were not alone on the island. A group of foreign tourist was enjoying a small barbeque party right in front of a small hut.

The reason for the visit to the island was not for leisure, but to complete the shooting for a local drama, which will be broadcasted in Radio Television Brunei (RTB) soon.

Before filming, we settled down at our accommodation, freshened up ourselves and gathered for lunch.

After lunch, the group searched for suitable location for filming. Once the shooting completed, the group took the opportunity to get into various beach activities such as swimming, riding the 'banana boat' ride, collecting sea shells, walking on the beach and much more.

In the evening, we were invited for a barbeque dinner with lots of chicken, prawn and fish. After the fantastic dinner, we entertained ourselves with light music and prepared for the final shooting work the next day.

The next morning, we managed to see the sunrise and witnessed the fishermen moving out to sea, as well as enjoyed nature's wonders.

After breakfast, filming began again along the beach. When the director was satisfied with the whole shooting, we were instructed to prepare ourselves to return home. All the equipment and personal baggages were loaded into the boat.

On the way back, we managed to visit a village in Kuraman Island, which reflects the originalities of fishing villages.

Kuraman Island is a favourite destination for tourists who wish to enjoy the sun and sand.

Courtesy of Borneo Bulletin Sunday

Sabah Steps Up Tourism Campaign in Melbourne

MELBOURNE -- The Sabah government and the Kota Kinabalu City Council have stepped up their campaign to attract more international and domestic holiday-makers to the Borneo state.

This was evident from the fact that Sabah was the only Malaysian state to send a separate contingent of suppliers and hoteliers to the two-day 16th Asia-Pacific Incentives and Meetings Expo (AIME) here last week.

"We are very focused on our promotions overseas and we are getting good results,'' said Noredah Othman, marketing manager of the Sabah Tourism Board. Noredah, who led the Sabah mission here, said Sabah Tourism Minister Datuk

Masidi Manjun was a man of vision who "has some fantastic ideas and plenty of drive'' to promote Sabah as a holiday destination.

"He is dedicated to tourism and under his leadership Sabah will be able to increase the number of tourist arrivals,'' she said.

Continue reading at: Sabah Steps Up Tourism Campaign in Melbourne

Saturday, February 23, 2008

AirAsia plans to increase Kuching-Macau flight frequency

Kuching: Budget carrier AirAsia plans to increase the frequency of its Kuching-Macau international direct flight route with the positive response received since the launch on Nov 15 last year, its East Malaysia and Brunei regional manager Shanmugamnathan Suppiah said Friday.

He said the airline was also considering the possibility of using its Airbus fleet to cater the growing number of passengers on the route.

"Hopefully, this can be implemented soon," he told reporters after a meeting here with officials of the Sarawak Tourism Board (STB), the state government tourism marketing and promotion arm.

Without disclosing the average passenger load for Kuching-Macau route since the launch, Shanmugamnathan said AirAsia was currently flying from Kuching to Macau three times a week using the Boeing 737 aircraft.

Continue reading at: AirAsia plans to increase Kuching-Macau flight frequency

Friday, February 22, 2008

Kota Kinabalu's Nightlife

Since KK, as we call Kota Kinabalu fondly, has been leaps and bounds, faster than ever, almost as fast as the Sabahans’ taste for what is en vogue and modern.

We like dining out and party the night away, and the choice getting more varied by the day. Some of our favourite places presented here below will lure even you out of your hotel room. Come and meet us, let yourhair down and enjoy KK’s unique night-life!

Fine Dining – Elegant and Exquisite

You are looking for an elegant place that serves exquisite food and wine? The choice is yours: international hotels offer the best, a fusion of tropical and western reflected in both, the cadre and food, plus the Sabahan smile. An outstanding experience is dining at “The Coast”, the latest addition to the Shangri-la’s Rasa Ria Resort restaurants. Located on the beach and with its spectacular design it promises an exceptional dining experience.The food is pure designer wear, too, making an evening out at The Coast a truly memorable night.

Besides international hotels, there are a couple of restaurants downtown that offer elegant dining, such as the “Little Italy”, which serves the best Italian food in Sabah; the “XO Steak House”, where delicious steaks are prepared to your liking; and “The Ocean Seafood Village Restaurant” and the “Port View Restaurant” celebrate Sabah’s fresh seafood at its best. Exquisite Thai food is served at the “Tham Nak Thai” restaurant in the Api-Api business centre.

Local Dining – Plentiful and Taste

Your holiday in Sabah would not be complete with a local dining experience, and the choice is as varied as your taste. Good thing: no where a special dress code is required! Maybe one of the most fantastic displays ofthe local food fare is the “SEDCO Square”, which converts into an open restaurant every night. Locals like it justas much as tourists: select fresh seafood from aquariums, and have it prepared according to your liking:steamed, fried, with lots of garlic or no salt, you are the chef without having to cook or wash the plates! Next toseafood there are also many locally grown vegetables, from wild ferns over mustard greens right to asparagus.

A speciality you should try: kangkung belacan, a type of local spinach with a strong prawn paste sauce, a Sabah favourite. BBQed chicken and duck, Malay satay with peanut sauce, and a cold beer, and you’ll be coming back for more! If you like to combine your outing with a little culture, we can recommend the “Kampung Nelayan Float-ing Restaurant” that comes with nightly cultural dances. Especially recommended dish: the “steamboat dinner”,a selection of fresh seafood and vegetables cooked in a chicken bouillon that is kept boiling in the middle of yourtable: the steamboat. This is an especially convivial way of treating some friends to an informal dinner.

Along the Beach – Light and Easy

KK has discovered its beachfront, and the newly opened facilities at “Anjung Senja” and “Anjung Selera” are modern and clean, with Malay restaurants offering simple but delicious local specialities: ‘soup tulang’, ‘tom yam’, ‘nasi ayam’, BBQed sea ray and satay to name but a few. Anjung Senja is centrally located on KK’s waterfront and can be reached by foot, and Anjung Selera, with its even wider range of local restaurants is found at Tanjung Lipat in Likas, only some 10 minutes’ drive from the city. Don’t be astonished at how many locals visit the places – this is a sign how good the food is!

Newly opened along the KK waterfront is “Anjung Perdana”, an intriguingly designed night sport that offers from Brazilian cuisine over Malay specialities everything right to a couple of Kadazan dishes. Its various barsoffer a wide variety of drinks and beers, there are pool tables, outside bars for those who like it a bit quieter and inside nightly live music entertainment by local and international bands with spacious dance floors. Right now, this is the place to be seen…!

Music and Dance – All Night Long

After you have satisfied your hunger, you might want to go and let your hair down. A variety of clubs and other night spots offer all you can hope for. If you feel like rounding your evening off with a cold beer and some light entertainment, you might want to check out the recently opened beer garden at “Shenanigan’s”, Hyatt Hotel’s latest addition to its internationally renowned outlets. And if you feel like hitting the dance floor, you can simply enjoy their night club, “Shenanigan’s” with its nightly life band. An especially popular place amongst locals is the Beach Street ”The Reef Project Dance Bar & Grill” right in the middle of town. Extravagantly landscaped with tropical flora, you will find an open-air fast food restaurant with live entertainment, and the “Reef Project” pub and karaoke. This is live entertainment at its best, and you will find some quiet corners where you can observe the crowd and enjoy your drink.

A bit out of town is the Lintas Square and Plaza, where you will find a wide range of night spots, be it for some light local food, a glass of wine or a wild dance party. Best: enjoy it all together, at Lintas. Another notable addition to KK’s night life is the Razz-Ma-Tazz, a world-class entertainment realm that compromises several clubs under one roof, state-of-the-art facilities, a bistro, wine & cigar bars and a pool side. This unique club with international guest bands promises just another memorable experience to compliment your stay in KK, and it is only five minutes’ drive from KK city on the way to Tuaran.

Courtesy of: New Sabah Times 'In' Sites - Sabah Travel and Leisure Guide

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Eating Out in Sabah: Kampung Nelayan Floating Seafood Restaurant

Nestled in Taman Tun Fuad just 10 minutes from Kota Kinabalu city is the Kampung Nelayan Floating Seafood Restaurant. Since opening its doors ten years ago, the restaurant has earned its reputation as one of the most unique dining experiences in Kota Kinabalu. The restaurant ‘floats’ on a pond and can comfortable seat up to 400 diners at a time.

The restaurant is particularly known for its fresh seafood, cooked to your preference. Among the favourites on the menu are the famous ‘kam heong’ crab (kam heong is a special paste, made of various condiments) and fried garoupa with sliced mango (if you prefer, you can request any other fish to be prepared in this style).

Simply mouthwatering is the shredded egg butter prawns – a delicious dish of prawns cooked to perfection, topped with ‘egg floss’ and creamy sauce. For dessert, you simply have to try the famed ‘coconut pudding’ – best served chilled! The best part is you can enjoy a hearty dinner every night while being entertained by a pulsating cultural performance.

For a more private affair, Kampung Nelayan also offers VIP rooms, ideal for personal functions such as wedding anniversaries, birthdays, engagement and full moon parties. The service here is commendable and the staff are always willing to go out of their way to ensure your dining experience is as flawless as possible. Fantastic ambience with a rustic touch, Kampung Nelayan offers the best of dining and entertainment under one floating roof!

Kampung Nelayan is located at Taman Tun Fuad, Bukit Padang, Kota Kinabalu. It is open daily from 11:30 am to 2:00 pm (lunch) and 6:30 pm to 11:00 pm (dinner). The cultural show takes place from 7:45 pm to 9:00 pm daily. Call 088-231003 / 231005 to make reservations. Visit

Courtesy of: Sabah Malaysia Borneo - Sabah Tourism Monthly Tourism Magazine

Game for the ultimate Borneo adventure?

MIRI: Super-exotic tour packages lasting 21 days encompassing Sarawak and Sabah, and Sarawak-Brunei-Sabah are now on offer, giving local and foreign tourists the chance of a lifetime to sample the ultimate Borneo adventure via a variety of all-in-one packages.

The tourism authorities of Sarawak and Sabah have joined hands to tailor several fascinating joint tour packages covering all the major tourism sites in east Malaysia.

Sarawak Tourism Board (STB) chief executive officer Gracie Geikie told The Star yesterday these 21-day packages were aimed at tourists with plenty of time to spend, especially those from long-haul destinations of the Americas, Europe, the Middle-East and the Far East.

Continue reading at: Game for the ultimate Borneo adventure?

Monday, February 18, 2008

Shangri-La’s Tanjung Aru Resort unveils CHI, The Spa

Setting new standards for luxury and relaxation, Shangri-La’s Tanjung Aru Resort and Spa (STARS) recently debuted CHI, The Spa at its premises. Shangri-La’s CHI, The Spa is internationally recognised as a world-class spa brand, and its opening brings its trademarks of excellence to Sabah.

Inspired by the mystical legend of Shangri-La as captured in James Hilton’s Lost Horizon, CHI is built on its own private island named Pulau Bayu, Malay for “Island of the Breeze.”

Eight island villas dot the 4,161 metre resort spa, making it the largest in Kota Kinabalu. Each villa features CHI’s signature spa within a spa concept, and offers private treatment rooms, lounge areas, steam rooms, lush outdoor gardens and bathing facilities.

Continue reading (incl. pic) at: Shangri-La’s Tanjung Aru Resort unveils CHI, The Spa

Sabah and Sarawak flights going cheap

KUCHING: MASwings, a wholly owned subsidiary of Malaysia Airlines, is offering 20,000 discounted seats to Sabah and Sarawak during the Malaysia Airlines Travel Fair (MATF) to be held from this Friday till Sunday.

Managing director Dr Amin Khan said customers can enjoy discounts of up to 40% on the airline’s Fokker 50 services.

Special deals will also be available on MASwings’ Borneo Pass 5 and Borneo Pass 7, which allow travellers to fly to any five or seven sectors of their choice.

Continue reading at: Sabah and Sarawak flights going cheap

Sunday, February 17, 2008

MASWings studying viability of Kuching-Tanjung Manis route

TANJUNG MANIS: Malaysia Airlines’ wholly owned subsidiary airline, MASWings is looking forward to the possibility of including Tanjung Manis in Mukah Division as one of its Rural Air Services (RAS) destinations.

Its Managing Director, Dr Amin Khan said the airline was very keen to develop the new Kuching–Tanjung Manis route to meet the needs of the public.

“We have actually have talked to the Federal Government about our interest in the potential new route,” he stated in an interview during an exclusive air trip to study the route potential from Kuching to Tanjung Manis at Tanjung Manis Airport on Friday.

Dr Amin said MASWings was going to study the viability of the route and the facilities provided by the airport before making any further decisions.

The study would take about a month.

According to the initial plans, MASwings was going to fly the route four times a week, namely, on Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday and Sunday.

Continue reading at: MASWings studying viability of Kuching-Tanjung Manis route

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Enjoying Sabah

This weekend we found ourselves in Kota Kinabalu. After a hefty brunch, we set off in our Ford Explorer on a two-hour journey for a river cruise to see the famed Proboscis monkey. We got onto the Beaufort Highway and from there, travelled another 25km through lush greenery to Kampung Garama. Once we arrived, we stopped for a tea break, before starting our journey along the river.

We cruised slowly down the river while taking in the sights and sounds of the environment.

We saw some lizards running up the tree trunks and various coloured birds nestling in the greenery. Suddenly, we spotted some movements in the trees and I pulled out my binoculars. It was a family of long-nosed, long-tailed Proboscis monkeys jumping from tree to tree! They looked inquisitively down at us as we gawked up at them.

The Proboscis monkeys are an endangered species and are found only in the island of Borneo. The males have a large protruding nose. The purpose of the large nose is unclear, but it is suggested that it is used to court the female species. The pot-bellied creatures live in groups of 10 to 32 and are considered shy animals.

Continue reading (incl. pics) at: Enjoying Sabah

Friday, February 15, 2008

Tenom Murut Traditional House - Messages on wood

By Anna Vivienne

CARVINGS or decoration of wood has been an art since time immemorial. Through ages, times and in many places, carvings on stone or wood has been practised. They usually tell a story or hold a message.

And this practise is no less used in Sabah, with the most popular being by the Murut people.

The Murut live mostly in the southwest interior of Sabah, like the districts of Keningau, Tenom and Nabawan Pensiangan as well as along the Sapulut and Padas Rivers.

The Murut nowadays live in the mainstream of of a thriving society and with this comes ‘modernisation’. With so-called modernisation comes the wish to keep up with the Joneses, therefore the old ways are set aside or left to be forgotten.

Anyway, even if there are still experts on wood carvings out there, it is not so easy to visit and view their works.

The best place to go and look at traditional Murut carvings is at the Murut Traditional House at Tenom. Yes, the traditional house there is huge and beautifully made and intricate carvings are every where on the wall and on the pillars.

The carvings however are not more markings and squiggles on the pillars. They carry a message.

For instance, a rather plain, straight forward looking carving on a pillar, named ‘Sinimpung’ has a significant meaning.

The Sinimpung is actually a message to the community of the harmonious existence among them. The post is usually located at the door so that visitors will be informed and discouraged from making unwanted violent advances.

The people also hoped that the carving (in its own way) will encouraged everybody to live together in a peaceful manner.

Another carving which is a little bit more intricate than the first is called ‘Lumayau Awas’. This carving is usually carved by a person who wish to travel. The carving serves to inform the community about his departure. A caricature of flying foxes means he will return after the journey.

A carving called ‘Pinansiet Ungkuyon’ is actually an engagement token from a guy to a girl. The male side is supposed to carry the carved pole to his intended during an engaement ceremony. It serves as an engagement announcement.

The “Pinansiet Ruandu’ carving is another form of announcement. This carving tells of an engagement within a family and is displayed prominently in ther homes of the newly bethrothed woman. This is to inform visitors and discourage any more interest from eligible young men for the girl.

A nomadic life can be difficult, but the Muruts ensures that the people know about their hardship. They do this by carving their experiences on a pole. This carving is called ‘Lumayau Nansulor’.

Actually the Maori sometimes carves not only poles and posts but also the fittings of his house too, even the rafters. He is influenced by nature around him, the flora and fauna.

These carvings can be located at the Murut Traditional House in Tenom.

Courtesy of: New Sabah Times 'In' Sites - Sabah Travel and Leisure Guide

Thursday, February 14, 2008

MAS offers 70% discount at annual travel fair

KOTA KINABALU: Malaysia Airlines will be offering up to 70 percent discount at its annual three-day travel fair.

Its area manager for Sabah Morris Ong Sing Luk said the Malaysia Travel Fair (MATF), the country’s renowned premier consumer travel event, is back this year with its value-for-money air travel deals from Feb 22-24.

“During this exciting three-day event, which will be held at eight locations nationwide, travellers will be able to take advantage of great bargains with discounts of up to 70 percent on our domestic and international routes,” he said.

Due to popular demand, they had decided to hold this year’s event as a dual fair – physical and virtual, he said at a press conference at the airlines administration office here yesterday.

He said the MATF in Sabah would be held at Sutera Harbour Resort here. In Sarawak it would take place at Permata Exhibition Centre in Kuching, Wisma Sanyan in Sibu and Mega Hotel in Miri.

Continue reading at: Special ‘Malaysia Pass’ programme for Korean golfers

Window on Brunei tour for transit flyers

By Zasika Musdi

Royal Brunei Airlines and Sunshine Borneo Tours signed an agreement yesterday for the "Window on Brunei" Transit Tour Programme.

Signing the agreement was the Chairman of Sunshine Borneo Tours, YAM Pengiran Anak Haji Abdul Wadood Bolkiah, and RBA Senior Vice President Commercial - Yield and Planning Captain Sheikh Rashid Sheikh Hj Abd Salam.

Under the agreement, passengers who are transiting in Brunei for more than four hours will have the opportunity to experience a complimentary city tour that gives a brief glimpse of what Brunei has to offer as a tourist destination.

Sunshine Borneo Tours will bring passengers to Bandar Seri Begawan's waterfront that overlooks Kampong Ayer, Yayasan Shopping Centre, Sultan Omar Ali Saifuddien Mosque, Istana Nurul Iman and Subangsih Mulia.

"Sunshine Borneo Tours sees the transit tour programme as a great opportunity to introduce Brunei to passengers who are travelling through our country," said YAM Pengiran Anak Haji Abdul Wadood.

Passengers who wish to stay at the airport during their transit may opt for a complimentary meal voucher at the Coffee Garden in the Brunei International Airport departure hall.

Courtesy of Borneo Bulletin

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Maliau Basin: Sabah's Lost World

Deep in the rugged heartland of Sabah lies a piece of paradise. It is one of the few remaining areas virtually untouched by man—not just in Sabah but in the whole world! The Maliau Basin is distinguished by its almost circular perimeter outlined by a razor-sharp rim with steep slopes on all sides. The highest point is thought to be Gunong Lotung which is over 1,600m in elevation although this has not yet been accurately surveyed.

Despite its volcano like appearance the 25km Basin is in fact a sedimentary formation comprised mainly of gently inclined beds of sandstone and mudstone. It is a single significant water catchment area drained by a set of tributaries of the Maliau River, one of which descends a magnificent series of waterfalls known as the Maliau Falls. More than sixteen waterfalls have since been discovered making Maliau Basin one of the highest concentrations of waterfalls in one area in Malaysia. Here also you will find Lake Linumunsut, Sabah’s only true lake, formed by a landslide blocking a small tributary of the Pinangah River. Maliau Basin has never been permanently inhabited and over 80% of the area remains unexplored.

Before you decide to dress up like Indiana Jones and embark on an epic journey of slashing your way through wild untamed jungle, access to Maliau Basin is strictly controlled. The 390km2 Basin was originally part of a 10,000km2 timber concession belonging to Yayasan Sabah (Sabah Foundation), a government subsidiary. Realising the immense biodiversity value of the area, Sabah Foundation voluntarily designated the Maliau Basin as a Conservation Area for the purposes of research, education and training in 1981.

Sixteen years later, in 1997, the Maliau Basin Conservation Area was upgraded by the Sabah state government to a Protection (Class One) Forest Reserve which means no commercial interests will be allowed into the basin other than limited ecotourism, and the area was extended to its present size of 588.4km2 (58,840 hectares). It is also gazetted under the state Cultural Heritage (Conservation) Enactment 1997, which provides for the preservation, conservation and enhancement of the cultural heritage of Sabah.

Early expeditions which came close to Maliau Basin date back to the early 1900s up to the 1970s but they never found their way onto the rim of the Basin itself. A pilot was reported to have almost crashed into Maliau’s sheer cliffs in 1947. The first team to properly visit the interior of the Basin was in 1982 and this opened the doors for several organised scientific and adventure expeditions. The scientific expeditions in 1988 and 1996 revealed a spectacular array of plant species, including six species of pitcher plant and 37 species of orchid, several of which are new records to Sabah.

Rafflesia tengku-adlinii, one of Sabah’s rarest plants, was found during this expedition, and no new sites have been found elsewhere since. In addition, there are many more species of rhododendrons, orchids, ferns and other plants, which will require much more research and study.

These plants thrive in a diverse and unique landscape of lower montane forest dominated by majestic Agathis trees, rare montane heath forest and lowland and hill dipterocarp forests. There are over 40 species of dipterocarps as well as wild species related to well-known fruit trees, such as the rambutan, mangosteen, durian and jackfruit. These forests are also a refuge for rare and endangered animals such as Sumatran rhinoceros, banteng, proboscis monkey and Asian elephant, along with 182 species of birds.

One of the most dramatic signs of wildlife is a clear path which cuts across low heath forest through a pass on the southern rim into more fertile alluvial forest sites near the centre of the basin. Known as “Jalan Babi”, this natural game trail is likely the migration route of pig herds in search of food, especially during intense fruiting seasons.

The label “Lost World” which has been used to describe Maliau Basin was said “to be inspired by Arthur Conan Doyle’s story of the adventures of Professor Challenger in unknown territory northwest of Manaus (Brazil), where a lofty plateau was Maliau is as pristine, as incredibly self-contained and magical a place as could be found on Borneo which is one of the world’s everlasting icons of the splendour of nature.” (KM Wong, Malaysian Naturalist, Vol. 54/3).

It is difficult to disagree with this observation. Spectacular scenery, wild unexplored jungle, undiscovered plant life, exotic animals—Maliau Basin is a treasure trove of possibilities and discovery. The real meaning of the name “Maliau” is lost beneath the dark tea-coloured waters that flow through the basin. One account says that it is a Murut word for “murky”, which describes the silt-laden river waters during floods.

Another tells of a Murut name which means Land of the Giant Staircase after the steplike hills and ridges there. Whatever meaning Maliau may carry, it is without doubt one of the most significant natural treasures of Sabah. It transcends the meaning of wilderness, remoteness and the allencompassing joy of discovery. It is simply, one of God’s green gifts to the world.

Courtesy of: New Sabah Times 'In' Sites - Sabah Travel and Leisure Guide

More hotel occupancy in Sabah

TUARAN: The average occupancy rate of hotels in Sabah stands above the national occupancy rate for the first half of last year.

Chief Minister Datuk Seri Musa Haji Aman said the rate for three and five star hotels was at 72 percent, which was 10 percent higher than the national rate of 62 percent.

He said this was the fruit of strong promotion by the state government and private tourism players to sell Sabah’s unique destinations overseas and within the country.

“I am glad to note that the government’s commitment to boost tourism by allocating funds for better infrastructure, such as the extension of the Kota Kinabalu International Airport and construction of the Low Cost Carrier Terminal, is being matched by the private sector through the investment in new and innovative products.

“In the same period, Sabah created 402 new rooms to meet rising demand from international and local travellers,” he added.

Continue reading at: More hotel occupancy in Sabah

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Jasmine Spa - An oasis in the heart of the City

It’s about now that one feels the sense of achievement 2007 brought to us, looking back only bring fond memories very similar to after you’ve said your piece in public for the first time, or got off the dentist chair with nothing more than a mild bruise.

One of the best ways to soothe those tired muscles and rid the body of the impacts it took from this past year, what better way than to be treaded with a whole lot of tlc at Jasmine Healing therapies.

Jasmine feels cozy and comfortable, the rooms are beautifully lit, the scent of fresh flowers and natural oils instantly calm the senses, that relaxed feeling comes immediately and involuntary as I glide onto a comfortable bench upon request and my journey begins.

The attendant with her soothing hands, aromatic oils and lotions weave her magic.

At Jasmine, you have a choice of healing therapies to choose from. The Thai Siatsu massage aligns the energies of the body using gentle pressure on specific points. This massage includes compressions and stretches.

You don’t just lie there, the therapist moves and stretches you into a sequence of postures.

It’s like yoga without doing any work. Thai massage is more energizing than other forms of massage. It also reduces stress and improves flexibility and range of motion.

The hot stone massage is highly recommended. Heated smooth, flat stones are placed on key points on the body. The Jasmine massage therapist will expertly place the smooth stones on specific points on the back or in the palms of the hand.

The heat warms and relaxes the muscles, which allows the therapist to apply deeper pressure, if desired. The warmth of the hot stones improves circulation and calms the nervous system. The Jasmine therapists place the stones on points that are thought to be energy centers of the body to rebalance the body and mind.

If you are looking for a perfect and a fantastic way to start 2008, a couple of hours at Jasmine is one option that should be on your short list.

Location: Warisan Square

Interior: Balinese Inspired

Open: Monday-Sunday 11:00am to 11:00pm

Courtesy of: New Sabah Times 'In' Sites - Sabah Travel and Leisure Guide

Monday, February 11, 2008

Shangri-La’s Tanjung Aru Resort’s Valentine Day Specials

Shangri-La’s Tanjung Aru Resort (STAR) offers numerous fantastic features for Valentine’s Day this year, starting with a unique speed dating Valentine’s dinner.

Scheduled for February 14, 2008 at STAR’s Grand Ballroom, the event appropriates the popular concept of speed dating into a classy and comfortable seated dining affair, priced at RM150++ per person.

Speed dating takes the idea of a blind date and multiplies it, and in STAR’s case, will offer 21 male and female singles a chance to pick out a great date for the night.

The dinner’s 21 female guests will be seated at individual tables in the Grand Ballroom, while the male guests pick out their seating sequences from a bowl upon arrival.

Continue reading at: Shangri-La’s Tanjung Aru Resort’s Valentine Day Specials

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Malaysia 2nd most price competitive country in global tourism

KUALA LUMPUR: Malaysia has emerged as the second most price competitive country in the world in the travel and tourism (T&T) industry out of a total of 124 countries surveyed, says the Geneva-based World Economic Forum (WEF).

The WEF, often noted for its annual top-level meeting and discussions on current affairs and trends in Davos, Switzerland, also gave top marks to Malaysia’s participation at travel and tourism fairs and ranked the country at sixth position, which reflected the government’s strong commitment to promote the industry.

The WEF’s recently-released Travel and Tourism Competitiveness Report 2007 (TTCR) also applauded the government’s high priority to T&T as well as Malaysia’s good road, railroad, airport and port infrastructure, and its domestic travel network.

It hailed Malaysia’s good ground transport infrastructure and excellent price competitiveness in very low ticket taxes and airport charges, low comparative fuel prices and a favourable tax regime.

Continue reading at: Malaysia 2nd most price competitive country in global tourism

Saturday, February 09, 2008

Brunei's Empire Hotel recognised with Asian Golf Monthly Awards

18-hole Jack Nicklaus Signature Golf Course at The Empire Hotel

Photos courtesy of and Copyright to Brunei Press Sdn Bhd.

The Empire Hotel & Country Club's 18-hole Jack Nicklaus Signature Golf Course recently received another award for its fine golfing facilities.

The 2007 Asian Golf Monthly Awards Presentation was held at the Singapore's Meritus Mandarin Hotel. The voting for these prestigious annual awards was conducted through their website at

The Empire Hotel achieved 5th place as the Best Golf Resort, 6th place as the Best Championship Course and 9th place as the Best Destination, all in Asia.

"Votes are by readers and hopefully, we will climb up the ladder next year," said Manfred Keiler, general manager of The Empire Hotel.

The Empire Hotel golf course was a host venue for the annual Brunei Open from 2005 to 2007, contested by the professional Asian Tour golfers and this tournament will return to The Empire this year.

Courtesy of Borneo Bulletin Weekend

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Gong Xi Fa Cai 2008 from

Please be informed that our office will be closed for four and a half (4 1/2) consecutive days from 6th (afternoon) to 10th February 2008 in conjunction with the Chinese New Year Celebration public holidays nationwide.

For travel and related requests, do note that all your e-mails enquiries may be replied during this holiday period (depending on priority and/or importance) but earliest confirmation can only be processed on Monday, 11 February 2008 (working hours +0800 GMT MYT).

Any inconvenience caused is very much regretted.

For those who are celebrating the Chinese New Year festival, all of us at would like to wish you 'Gong Xi Fa Cai' and may you have a healthy and prosperous year of the Rat ahead.

Best wishes,

The Team, &
Colourful Frontiers Travel Sdn. Bhd.
(Travel Company of - 639704A KPL/LN 4605)

1st Flr., Lot 12, Block B
Damai Plaza Phase II
Lorong Pokok Manis Satu, Jalan Damai
88300 Kota Kinabalu, Sabah, Malaysia
Tel: +6-088-249177
Fax: +6-088-234703

Birding at Tabin

Tabin Wildlife Reserve at approximately 121,000 hectares (300,000 acres) is the largest wildlife reserve in the state of Sabah, Borneo. No where is it more true where birders can say, “Species are common here, but individuals less so.” Comparing this rainforest and the Tabin Wildlife Resort to our other birding destinations in South-east Asia, we found this to be the perfect mix of good birding, superb accommodations, and delicious food. And besides the birds, we frequently encountered Gibbons, Bearded Pigs and an array of spectacular butterflies on our walks on the dirt roads that run through the reserve.

Until the early 1970s, the Tabin was covered by primary dipterocarp forest, but then was intensively logged until the mid-1980s. A core area forest of about 8,600 hectares (21,500 acres) was left intact. In 1984, Tabin was gazetted as a wildlife reserve. Today, much of the remaining forest is early to mid-secondary growth with trees averaging 20m to 40m in height. Most of the area surrounding the reserve has been converted to plantations, primarily Oil Palm and Cocoa. The nearest town is Lahad Datu, about 50km to the SW or approximately 90 minutes by vehicle. For birders, this is all good news, since it makes Tabin accessible and provides a variety of habitats in which to see birds.

Birding at Tabin is easy. We had our best luck by walking along the dirt road each morning that runs north from the Wildlife Department, located about 1km from the Tabin Wildlife Resort. Ask your guide to pick you up in a vehicle at 6am at your Cabin, and then drive you to entrance to the Mud Volcano trail; however, instead of heading into the forest, simply walk along the main road. You will be looking into secondary forest with many tall trees. We found the best birding to be between about 6:30am and 11am, with a peak from 7-9am. It is often foggy in the early morning, until about 7:00am. The heat of the day begins to build by 10am, but fortunately a cooling sea-breeze usually picks up by about 10:30am. We recommend that you bring along a liter of water (per person), and a piece of fruit. The Tabin Wildlife Lodge can prepare a boxed breakfast or lunch for you, making it possible to get a quick start on the trails in the morning.

We spent many happy hours walking along the mostly level 26 km road. Our strategy would be to walk slowly in one direction after the guides dropped us off. We would arrange with them to retrieve us at a certain time (usually sometime between 11am and 2pm). We found we could easily walk about 8-12km from the drop-off point looking for birds before the Resort truck came for us, and we were driven back for lunch. Mosquito or insect repellent was not necessary, and so long as you remain on the road (or nearby), shorts and a t-shirt combined with light-hiking shoes were ideal attire. We always packed an umbrella to protect us from the occasional passing shower. We preferred 10x binoculars to any other magnification.

Overall, at least 259 species of birds have been recorded here. We found Tabin particularly good for certain groups of birds: Babblers, Broadbills, Hornbills and Raptors. Since much of the forest along the road is in various stages of regeneration, bird watching (and bird photography) at Tabin offers some distinct advantages over better-known destinations: the birds are lower in height, since the trees are not as tall as in a primary rainforest; there is more light that penetrates the forest to ground level (great for photographers); and there are more species of birds here because of the juxtaposition of several habitats.

For example, we found raptor nests (including Blyth’s Hawk Eagle and the rare Wallace’s Hawk Eagle) in the tallest trees of the forest facing the nearby Oil Palm Plantation. We saw 10 raptor species of the 157 bird species we recorded in our two months investigating the reserve (Feb-March 2005). We also found all 7 Hornbill species in this part of Borneo, with the Observation Tower at the Mud Volcano being the best place to comfortably sit and watch for them. Babblers are especially common, since many of them like to forage in the dense understorey of the forest. Altogether, we found 12 babbler species at Tabin. Finally, we found 7 Kingfisher species such as the Banded Kingfisher that likes to hunt in the forest, and the tiny Black-backed Kingfisher that often perched in and around the Resort’s dining area.

For hard-core birders who want to see the rarer species such as the Pittas (four species observed here), a trip to the primary forest of the core area will be necessary. You will need to arrange with the Tabin staff a support team to accompany you into the primary rainforest, and plan on needing one day each to travel in/leave the forest. This area would also be the best place to look for the very rare Bornean Bristlehead. On the other hand, those birders keen on using tapes of bird calls via large speakers to attract nocturnal owls and frogmouths into view will find the Tabin Wildlife Resort an ideal base.

You will be able to take advantage of the numerous electrical outlets on the grounds of Resort to play recordings (or make recordings of bird calls) for hours. Also, the staff will be able to drive you to remote locations at night to try recorded calls at different locations. Similarly, digital bird photographers will be pleased with the resort’s facilities, since processing images on your laptop computer in the rooms is easy and safe. We were very pleased with how well the Resort’s facilities (and staff) enhanced our workflow, and we highly recommend the digital approach to capturing the best images during your stay at Tabin.

Practicalities: The distinct advantage of the Tabin Wildlife Resort to any other birding destination in the area is/are the accommodations. The Chalets in the forest and the Cabins above the river have air-con and hot water that work perfectly, and provide a much-needed respite from the humidity and rigors of the rainforest. Both you and your equipment will appreciate the opportunity to dry-out and cool-off after long walks. (One caveat though: set your room air-con to 25° Celsius; any cooler and you will cause condensation to form on your binoculars and camera equipment when you venture out into warmer air.)

We particularly enjoyed the spacious, clean rooms that have been built with lovely, local hardwoods. The views from the Cabins into the trees that arch over the river are especially nice, and it was possible to see Pied Hornbills, Malaysian Blue Flycatchers, Arctic Warblers and Red-rumped Trogons here (among others). Anyone with a spouse who is not a keen birder (or rainforest enthusiast) should take note: one of you will be perfectly happy birding while the other remains at the Lodge in your comfortable room, or enjoying coffee/tea in the dining area with splendid views of the forest and small river nearby.

Tabin is a Wildlife Resort that can please a couple with quite different interests.

Courtesy of: New Sabah Times 'In' Sites - Sabah Travel and Leisure Guide

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Kota Kinabalu promises an eco-friendly waterfront project

OVER the last few decades the narrow shoreline of the once serene coastal town of Kota Kinabalu (KK) has changed.

What KK was, in the 1950s or 1960s, is now almost unrecognisable to those who grew up close to it.

It has rapidly changed its face over the last three decades with most of the city centre built on reclaimed land.

Today, Kota Kinabalu City Hall is striving to strike a balance in preserving its old environment, while pushing for development to make the city a world-class leisure and tourism spot, in line with the objectives of the Sabah Development Corridor (SDC).

This rainforest city of over 300,000 people will play the leading role as the gateway to Sabah, which aims to be one of the most liveable places in Asia.

Continue reading at: Kota Kinabalu promises an eco-friendly waterfront project

Monday, February 04, 2008

Eating Out in Sabah: Rainforest Café

A jungle in the city? With good food to boot! The Rainforest Café on Beach Street (Jalan Pantai) in Kota Kinabalu opened its doors in October 2007, offering diners a wide array of local delights and international favourites.

As the name suggests, the restaurant carries a jungle theme, with ‘trees’ greeting you as you step into the eatery. There are several notable must-tries on the menu.

For starters, try the Larb Gai, a Thai appetizer of minced chicken served in crispy lettuce with Thai sauce. On the main course list, the Oxtail Asam Pedas is one of the signature dishes of Rainforest Café.

Want more Malaysian favourites? We recommend the Tiger Prawn Curry served with rice or the Nasi Goreng Kampung (Fried Rice), which comes with satay, a sunny-side-up egg and a chicken drumstick – how about that for a complete meal?

If it’s something hearty you want, you cannot go wrong with the sirloin steak or the mouthwatering Chicken Cordon Bleu, a tender chicken breast stuffed with ham and cheese, served with potato and mushroom volute. The menu also offers a variety of pastas, pizzas and sandwiches. You can even opt to create your own sandwich; just ask the friendly waiter.

For a fine finish, you’ll be spoilt for choice. The chocolate brownie is every chocolate-lovers’ dream or for something local, order the sago gula melaka. And the best part is, nothing on the dessert menu is priced above RM5.00!

Perfect for a quick lunch or a romantic dinner, Rainforest Café adds to the list of Kota Kinabalu’s great dining venues. Call 088-218325. Open daily from 10.00am to 12 midnight.

Courtesy of: Sabah Malaysia Borneo - Sabah Tourism Monthly Tourism Magazine

Tourism masterplan for Santubong

SANTUBONG: The State government has embarked on a 12-year plan to turn scenic Santubong peninsular into a major tourist attraction in Sarawak.

Housing Minister, Dato Sri Abang Haji Johari Tun Openg said the tourism potential of the area was great compared to the many tourism products already in place.

“To further enhance the tourism sector in Santubong area, we will build a modern commercial centre and other tourism-related facilities at Muara,” Johari told the media after closing a seminar - ‘Paradigm Shift to Face the Challenges of the Second Wave of Development’ - organised by Parti Pesaka Bumiputera Bersatu (PBB) of Santubong Parliamentary constituency at a resort here, yesterday.

He said the whole stretch of Sarawak River bank from Kampung Boyan in Kuching to Muara Tebas, had been identified to have the potential to attract foreign tourists to the area.

Continue reading at: Tourism masterplan for Santubong

Sunday, February 03, 2008

Kota Kinabalu City Jubilee joy

Kota Kinabalu: A BRAZILIAN dancer giving an acrobatic performance to mark Kota Kinabalu City's eighth birthday at the waterfront, Saturday.

The occasion saw a dash of global multi-culturalism with nearly 1,000 dancers and school children taking part. Nearly 10,000 city dwellers witnessed the parade of colours and culture, including Head of State Tun Ahmadshah Abdullah and consort, Chief Minister Datuk Seri Musa Aman, Cabinet Ministers and foreign envoys.

The two-and-half-hour extravaganza went into fiesta mood when the international dance troupes from Scotland, Ireland, Kenya, Spain, Brazil, Ukraine, Poland and New Zealand walked in. The groups were accompanied by Bajau horsemen from Kota Belud.

Continue reading at: Kota Kinabalu City Jubilee joy

Saturday, February 02, 2008

Sarawak nature’s surprises

Venture out of Kuching and you’ll be amazed at the little discoveries.

Sarawak is known as the Land of the Hornbills but it is perhaps better known for another animal – the orang utan.

These “men of the jungle” are in danger of becoming extinct due to development and deforestation in their habitat.

We took a half-hour drive from Kuching to Semenggoh Wildlife Rehabilitation Centre, a temporary home for the endangered animals of Sarawak, especially orang utans ithat have been injured, orphaned or rescued from villagers who kept them as pets.

The centre is situated in a forest, and their aim is to help the animals adapt to the wilds again.

This is a good sign as it indicates that the orang utans are slowly adjusting to the wilderness and are able to forage for food on their own.

We reached the centre early in the morning, having been told that the best time to see the orang utans was during feeding time at 9am. The park rangers told everyone to stand away from the feeding platform as the creatures were, after all, wild.

We obeyed and stared eagerly at the mountain of fruits, hoping that an orang utan would drop by. A ripple of excitement broke out within the group as a huge orang utan approached the platform from the trees.

Continue reading (incl. pics) at: Sarawak nature’s surprises

Unique charm of Limbang museum

By Hj Mohd Said Arshad

Limbang Regional Museum, located near the Limbang River, was officially opened by Datuk Adenan Hj Satem, Social Development Minister on August 27, 1994.

Back in 1897, the wooden double-storey museum was an old fort during the reign of Rajah Charles Brook against native uprisings.

During the Brooke era, half of the ground floor acted as a prison, while the other half was used as storage. Later on, the upper floor was used as administrative purposes for the resident, district officer and staff.

Several government departments had also used this building until a fire brokeout back in 1989.

As it was gazetted as an historical monument back in 1985, the building was then renovated six years later, preserving its original architectural design.

In the museum, visitors can see 'Batu Ganesa', a Hindu deity bearing an elephant head, which was found at the resident's place in 1921, as well as a Jawi script gravestone.

The museum displays the history and culture of the people from the region - Malay and Kedayan indeginious groups.

At the entrance of the museum, lies a replica of a buffalo and two sets of old canon.

The museum was built to give Limbang residents an opportunity to understand the role of such historical site and also to provide a valuable lesson, whilst at the same time to attract tourists to the area.

Courtesy of Borneo Bulletin Weekend

AirAsia eyes cheap Singapore-Sabah direct flights next

THE duopoly is finally over. Now everyone can fly to Singapore at the price of a roti canai, AirAsia group CEO Datuk Tony Fernandes told reporters after the flight.

Until the Malaysian and Singaporean governments decided to liberalise the KL-Singapore sector, MAS and SIA were for a long time the only airlines offering shuttle flights between the destinations.

Tony, along with two other AirAsia's founding members - Datuk Pahamin Rejab and Kamarudin Meranun - donned black attire of a soccer referee with a red cloth resembling a red card stitched onto their left shirt pockets with the initials of MAS and SIA on them.

Continue reading at: AirAsia eyes cheap Singapore-Sabah direct flights next

Friday, February 01, 2008

Semporna - Discover nature’s secret

By Anna Vivienne

Semporna’s islands are valuable for the sheer magnitude of marine biodiversity they support. Islands located in the Sulabayan area were identified in the National Eco-Tourism Plan as a potential marine eco-tourism site thus prompting the Semporna Islands Project. Conducted by the Ministry of Tourism, Environment, Science and Technology it is in collaboration with Sabah Parks, WWF Malaysia, UK’s Marine Conservation Society and Belgium’s Nature Link. It is designed to help foster understanding of the importance of marine conservation on the islands and is carried through displays, exhibitions and workshop among schoolteachers, local community and relevant officials.

Plans are also underway to gazette eight islands, Bohey Dulang, Bodgaya, Tetagan, Sebangkat, Selakan, Maiga, Sibuan and Mantabuan, to be known as Semporna Islands Park. Well-developed and extensive coral reefs are present surrounding the islands and these supports a high diversity of fishes, soft corals, sponges, anemones, echinoderms, mollusks and other species. Diversity is greater than that of Pulau Sipadan and is reported to be comparable to that of Australia’s Great Barrier Reef.

Some of the islands are uninhabited, while others have long been occupied by fishing villages and small farms. The banned practice of blast fishing have removed the larger more conspicuous fish and caused damage to coral around these islands.

The 350 square km area will be managed by Sabah Parks where communities would be allowed to remain provided they conduct sustainable fishing. Such move has been met with some resistance from local inhabitants who want to maintain rights to their traditional fishing ground.

The first sight of Pulau Bohey Dulang and Pulau Bodgaya took my breath away. The sheer cliffs and lush tropical jungle of Bohey Dulang, Bodgaya (often called by its abbreviation Gaya), and the Tetangan islands make for a striking contrast to the uninspiring flat and coconutcovered islands and islets around them. These imposing figures are part of the rim of an ancient volcanic crater, now inundated and encircled by coral reefs. The cliff-fringed Bodgaya and Bohey Dulang are majestic with their peaks shooting vertically up from the sea, some reaching a towering 300 metre.

Together with travelling companion Otto, our first stop in exploring the Semporna Islands was Bohey Dulang. The island is home to the now dilapidated Japanese-owned pearl farm, which virtually closed off the island to visitors until 1992 when the company suddenly closed shop. The Kaya Pearl Co., is now home to a Sabah Park research/visitors centre as well as an army and security outpost. There is little to see here except for the Sabah Park’s office, which serves as an exhibit room, store room and meeting room. For the more adventurous traveller, there’s a three-hour climb to Bohey Dulang’s highest peak for a breathtaking view of the surrounding islands.

Separated from Bohey Dulang by just a few metres at one end, Bodgaya features a more hospitable terrain for a community of Bajau Laut. It’s thickly covered jungle slope made it the ideal obstacle course for the world famous Sabah Eco- Challenge Race in 2000.

20 minutes boat ride away is Pulau Sibuan, home to two families of Bajau Laut and an army base. With the current tight security imposed on traveling around Semporna’s water, make sure the person organising the trip has made a formal request to the relevant authority before you set off. We stopped by Sibuan for a security check with the resident army personnel. Once the formalities were over, we became their guests and spent an interesting afternoon sharing lunch and stories.

The local Bajau Laut inhabitants generously supplied coconuts. Otto and I had earlier planned on diving at one of our island destinations. Refreshed after our lunch we decided to explore Sibuan’s underwater world. Otto explains that Sibuan’s gentle sandy slope has made it a favourite among snorkelers and first-time divers. The marine life is not as rich as those found in Sipadan but the massive barrel sponges and plate corals towering the floor bed is a magnificent sight nonetheless.

To visit each and every island would take more time than what was available to us. As we made our way for a brief stop in Semporna, my tour guide pointed out the other islands. Pulau Mantabuan, approximately 3km long and 1.5km wide is another island of the Bodgaya Group. It is one of the few uninhabited islands and a familiar destination for scuba divers. Pulau Maiga is a popular stopover for fishermen seeking shelter when the sea gets rough. The island has several long stretches of white sandy beaches fringed by coconut trees. Its nutrientrich warm water supports prolific coral growths and teeming shoals of fishes.

Semporna’s violent past is evident in the peninsula’s bold mountainous topography, which continues offshore. Immediately to the west of the Bodgaya group are several high islands, and beyond. them, the larger islands of Silawa, Bait, Pebabag, Puno-Puno, and the largest of all, mountainous Pulau Timbun Mata which extends offshore along nearly the entire northern coast of the Semporna Peninsula. Gunung Sirongal (486 m), perched near the eastern tip of the island, is the highest offshore point in the district and serves as an essential navigational landmark.

Along the southern edge of the peninsula is a chain of several small high islands, Menampilik, Nusa Tengah, and Si Amil. Interspersed with these are more numerous low islands of stranded coral limestone. The largest and most important is Pulau Bum Bum, also the most densely populated in the district. There is a bus service that goes around the island and the fare is 50 cents whichever way you go. Scattered around the northern part of the island are seaweed farms, grown on long lines floating in the green, shallow waters.

Seaweed is an important source of income for local farmers who harvest, dry and sell them to international markets for human consumption, animal feed, pharmaceutical products, fertilizers and as industrial raw material for the production of a wide range of products. Visiting these seaweed farms is possible as long as one is prepared to haggle it out with small boat owners. They may charge as much as RM100 (just to take you there), so if you want your money’s worth go during high tide when the engines are less likely to get stuck in the sandy bottom or tangled up in the seaweed.

To the south is Pulau Omadal which prior tothe establishment of Semporna in 1887, served as a staging port and maritime link in the network of regional trade that extended from central Sulu to the eastern Borneo coast. Slaves were a major trading commodity and moved from Sulu through Omadal to Bulungan in eastern Kalimantan, then an important regional slave market.

The island is home to old hand-carved grave markers; their origin still debated and is either Chinese or Japanese depending on whom you ask. It’s best to have a guide if you plan on exploring the island. Omadals are the least enthusiastic bunch when it comes to having foreign visitors at their doorstep. It’s customary to ask permission from local villagers before you start clicking away with your camera.

We arrived back in Semporna late in the afternoon and decided to visit Bukit Tengkorak (Skull Hill), the town’s only oncession to tourism on the mainland. Taxis offer the quickest and most convenient mode of transportation. The five kilometer drive cost RM10 each way. If you worry about them leaving as you do the 20 minute hike up the hill, pay the fare after the trip is over.

Just 15 minutes drive from Semporna town, Bukit Tengkorak, also known as Bukit Kabongan (Hood Hill) was gazetted as a historical site by the Sabah Museum in 2000. The dug up steps have long been eaten away by the rain so the steep track up may be muddy and slippery. A second part of the climb is wooden steps that give way to observation decks. From the highest viewing point it is possible to see Pulau Bum Bum in its mass coconut-covered entirety.

Covering an area of 150 acres, this long extinct volcano served as a major pottery-making site in Southeast Asia between 4340–4350 BC. Amazingly, more than half of the pottery and obsidian artifacts date back to about 1200–900 BC, traced back to Talasea, Melanesia some 3,500 km away.

Semporna’s charm is not just in its underwater life but also its wildlife and local culture. Semporna, its islands and the elusive Bajau Laut community have managed to retain some of their secrets, with that unmistakable sense mysticism and charm.

Courtesy of: New Sabah Times 'In' Sites - Sabah Travel and Leisure Guide