Thursday, July 25, 2013

Discovering Sabah in Malaysian Borneo

Sabah, one of two states of Malaysian Borneo, is so rich in treasures it is easy to be overwhelmed when planning a trip there – wildlife, culture, jungle and national parks both in land and on water entice thousands of visitors to the area every year.

The capital Kota Kinabalu is a great base, and will likely be the first point of contact for arriving visitors. It has a charm of its own, particularly down on the waterfront area which has been developed to include many bars, restaurants and nightmarkets. Sites of interest include the Sabah Museum, both the City and State Mosques, the Atkinson clocktower and the handicraft and Filipino markets.

There’s also the North Borneo railway, where passengers can experience the sights of Sabah via a vintage steam train, which has been refurbished to recreate the bygone era of British North Borneo.

The city is home to around 452,000 people, of which the largest majority are non-Malaysians. Kota Kinabalu, or KK as it is commonly known, is the gateway to the Sabah region, which can only be described as a travellers delight, because there are so many diverse things to do.

Those with a love of the outdoors, nature and wildlife are due to get the best experience out of visiting the state, as it prides itself on its natural environment – with the majestic Mount Kinabalu being the main attraction for many visitors.

But rest assured, even if you’re not enthusiastic about a three-day hike up the mountain, there is more than enough to keep you occupied as you explore Sabah and all its beauty. You’ll likely fall in love with the area so much you won’t want to leave. Here’s a list of highlights we recommend.

Mount Kinabalu

Standing at 4,095 metres tall, Mount Kinabalu is one of the highest mountains in South East Asia and one of the reasons many tourists visit Sabah. Mt Kinabalu is situated in the Kinabalu National Park, which is a relatively easy and scenic drive from Kota Kinabalu.

While the three day Mt Kinabalu climb (two if you’re super fast) to the peak of Borneo is the real challenge, the Kinabalu National Park also has a number of other walks available, plus the option of not going all the way to the top of the mountain.

The mountain park’s impressive flora and fauna over four climate zones also attracts nature lovers, and the mountain is home to the famous Rafflesia, which has the largest single flower in the world (nearly one metre in diametre).

There are various legends surrounding the history of the mountain, but the main one tells the story of a Chinese prince who fought with his family, so the king chased him away from the palace, so he sailed until he reached the sea near Borneo. His ship sank and everybody on board died, except him. He was found on the beach by local villagers, alive, and they took him into their community.

Eventually he married a local woman at the village. He subsequently confessed to his wife about his family troubles, and said he must return home to China to heal the rift. He sailed back to China and was welcomed by his parents, and told them he married a local girl. The father asked him how could he marry a woman of such low status. Every day the man’s wife climbed up Mt Kinabalu and would gaze out to the ocean to look for any ships coming in, in the hope it was her husband. Eventually she became sick and died on the mountain, where she was buried.

After his father forgave him, the Prince returned to Borneo, where he found out his wife had died, and he climbed the mountain to visit the gravesite and mourn the death of his wife. He also died on the mountain

The mountain is also host to the Mt Kinabalu International Climbathon every year – dubbed the world’s toughest mountain race. The event started in 1987 as a search and rescue exercise for the staff who worked at the park, and has since developed into a world class mountain running event.

Currently the record holder for the run to the summit and back is Italian Marco De Gasperi in 2 hrs 36 minutes and 59 seconds – not bad considering it usually takes most three days to walk.

Northeast of the park is the Poring Hot Springs, the word “Poring” the Kadazandusun (Sabah’s largest ethnic community) word for the bamboo species which grows in the area. A great spot to relax after a hard day’s trekking and explore the jungle.

Sabah Tea plantations

Located near the Poring Rd Junction, the Sabah Tea plantation is more than 2,500 hectares in size and produces both regular and certified organic tea. Sabah Tea is the only organic tea farm in Borneo and one of the few in the world.

Visitors can see Mt Kinabalu from the tea house, and enjoy a guided tour of the processing factory and plantation. Also on site is obstacle-crossing in the Sapaon Recreational Area, batik making, trekking along the trails to the peak of Kamunsu Hill or going on a nighttime walk to see unique insect life. There is also accommodation available and a restaurant on site.

Mari Mari Cultural Village

Situated around 25 minutes drive from Kota Kinabalu, the Mari Mari Cultural Village is recommended to those who are interested in finding out about Borneo’s ethnic tribes. Tour guides are well informed and tourists are given an insight into traditional life in the villages of Sabah in a scenic jungle setting.

Traditional homes from five ethnic communities – Bajau, Lundayeh, Murut, Rungus and Dusun – have been recreated and tourists have the chance to enjoy local specialities such as rice wine, fried snacks and honey on their trip, as well as a spectacular authentic ceremony to end the tour. Tours are three times daily at 10am, 2pm and 6pm and include a meal

Continue reading (Incl. Pics) at: Discovering Sabah in Malaysian Borneo