Friday, February 27, 2015

Visiting Sabah Tea Plantation and Facing My (Non Tea Related) Fears

The thoughts that go through your head when you are terrified of heights but doing something that might kill or cure you are overwhelming. When in Sabah, despite signs saying something like “just please don’t do this if you are afraid of heights, ok? OK?!”, I kept schtum and did a very high and very wobbly rainforest rope walk anyway. I have had a year of trying to conquer my fears (doing the worlds longest island to island zipline in Sabah was another one), and forced myself.

It started well. Until I put my foot on the narrow plank and realised just how wobbly the bridge was. Very very very wobbly, and I started to wobble mentally too. But I put both feet on and clutching the rope sides for dear life, I walked on. Someone got on behind me – SUPER WOBBLE – and I started to panic but I curtailed it and thought THIS IS OK! THIS IS OK! In a completely manic way. I reached the end of the first bridge. Just two more to go. Easy, right? Right.

The second bridge was fine. Ish. When I put my foot on the third bridge, I could see the end, and I thought, I have done it! But then I looked down. 30 metres into the rainforest. I noticed all of the whirring and squealing, every animal, insect and bird appearing to do their bit to add to my sense of complete and utter panic.

OH MY GOD. I imagined the bridge swirling with me on it, then me spinning to the ground. And then I caught hold of myself, and I walked, my heart pounding, my breath shallow but I did it. I bloody did it! And I am here to tell the tale. Fear faced, a little piece of my brain quietened for a bit. What next? We will see.

What to do when you have just terrified yourself to within an inch of your existence, what do you do next? Why, head to a Sabah Tea Plantation for lunch! Why not? Sabah Tea is a beautiful tea plantation nestled in the folds of Mount Kinabalu. The drive there is spectacular.

The clouds whirling around the mountain, said to be protected by the souls of the dead of Sabah. Locals, many of whom previously were animists (some still are), are very respectful of Mount Kinabalu and the jungle. They believe that the souls guarding the mountain and the area in general can trap you, make you lost and ensure that you die, if you don’t.

There is a lot of sad history here, it was witness to a brutal death march at the hands of the Japanese army at the end of World War 2 where 2,345 allied prisoners of war died. Incredibly, only 6 survived. The Sabah Tea Plantation shows a documentary about this in the room where they serve lunch, overlooking the rolling fields of tea, and Mount Kinabalu.


Thursday, February 26, 2015

Borneo Jazz celebrate its 10th birthday

SARAWAK, Malaysia – Year 2015 marks the tenth anniversary of the Borneo Jazz Festival in Sarawak. The two-day exciting festival of Jazz music will be celebrated on Friday, May 8 and Saturday, May 9 in the Resort City of Miri.

The organizer, Sarawak Tourism Board proudly presents the best performers’ lineup promising the festival to be a hit celebratory note by bringing back favorite performers from the past years from different countries to celebrate a decade of Jazz by the sea.

The performing bands will cover a wide range of jazz genre from all over the world. From the local scene, “All The Best”, a five-piece ensemble with Miri-born Syafiee Obe Hairunie, who is also the conductor of the Kuching SONS Jazz Orchestra to lead the local challenge. It parades contemporary jazz with a twist of Malaysian flavor with added Latin rhythms.

Favorite international performers on stage this year will be one of the most on demand jazz pianists from the Spanish Blues scene, Lluis Coloma, boogie-woogie at its most inspired. Louis Coloma at the piano will dislodge all the keys with great big happy smile.

The Dirty Dozen Brass Band from the United States of America, sparkly exhilarating and featuring exuberant traditional brass band from the rich jazz traditions of New Orleans. The Dirty Dozen revolutionized the New Orleans brass band style by incorporating funk and bebop into the traditional New Orleans jazz style.

From Perth, Western Australia, Diamond Dave and The Doodaddies are a four-piece Chicago style Blues Band offering a solid selection of uplifting grooves covering swinging shuffles, soul, boogaloo, ‘cry in your beer’ blues and more.  The Doodaddies proves not only that the roots of the blues are strong and far reaching, but the future of the blues is bright.

Jump4Joy, the Swedish high energy entertainment with a strong New Orleans flavor brings their music kind of feel-good energetic toe-tapping sounds from the stage.

Mo’Blow from Berlin, Germany, is more towards energetic spicy groovy funk. After hearing Mo’ Blow you will think differently about their country of origin because Germany is not exactly known as the home of soul and funk jazz.

Other popular jazz band listed for this decade of celebration is The Nylons, a cappella jazz group from Canada. They are well known for their dazzling harmonies and slick stage performances.

Continue reading (Incl. Pics) at: Borneo Jazz celebrate its 10th birthday

Sabah upbeat on medical tourism

KOTA KINABALU: Medical tourism is a growing market in Sabah with the potential to attract Chinese tourists as they are familiar with the culture and Chinese language here.

KPJ Sabah Specialist Hospital chief executive officer Mohd Azhar Abdullah said KPJ complemented the government’s effort to attract tourists here.

For instance, the central marketing staff at KPJ tagged along with government agencies or business groups on road shows overseas to promote Malaysia, he said.

“Sabah has great potential for people to holiday and recuperate from their health problems,” Mohd Azhar said, adding the medical tourism promotion efforts were mostly targeted at countries in this region, including the Middle East and China.

“Chinese tourists are a big potential market because they are used to our culture and a lot of our people speak Mandarin.

“We are looking at the Middle East also, the Arabs,” he said in an interview during the lion dance performance organized by the hospital in conjunction with Chinese New Year here yesterday.

He said the KPJ hospital was as good as hospitals overseas, providing quality healthcare services at affordable prices.

“We are comparable to other hospitals in the region, such as Singapore. Whatever they have in Singapore, we have it here,” Mohd Azhar said.

He disclosed that a fair number of doctors at KPJ Sabah Specialist Hospital are locals, while some who are not locals are married to locals, which enabled the hospital to understand the local setting.

Continue reading at: Sabah upbeat on medical tourism

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

20th Baleh-Kapit Raft Safari to be a grander affair

KAPIT: The 20th edition of the Baleh-Kapit Raft Safari on April 10-12 is expected to be a grander affair.

Kapit Resident Fedrick John George said for the men’s open category, the top six cash prizes are RM3,000, RM2,500, RM1,500, RM800, RM700 and RM600 respectively, while those who come in seventh to 10th will receive RM500 each.

For the men’s closed, freestyle, women’s closed and paddle boat categories, the top six cash prizes are RM2,000, RM1,500, RM1,000, RM700, RM600 and RM500 respectively, while those who come in seventh to 10th will receive RM400 each.

The prize for the best decorated raft will be decided later.

“This year the first leg of the Baleh-Kapit Raft Safari is from Rumah Alan, Sungai Sekeroh Oyan, Mujong on April 11 and on the second day, the flag-off is from Rumah Weng, Nanga Sempurau, Sungai Mujong, Baleh River to the Kapit express passenger terminal,” he said during a recent meeting on the race here.

Side events planned include the Kapit Fest, mini regatta, traditional games, exhibition booths and the sale of handicrafts, as well as mountain bike challenge and big bike show.

The mini regatta under the Kapit Division Power Boat Association will involve 18hp tunnel boats, 30hp tunnel boats and 40hp tunnel boats.

Continue reading (Incl. Pic) at: 20th Baleh-Kapit Raft Safari to be a grander affair

National Geographic honour for Sukau Rainforest Lodge

KINABATANGAN: The Sukau Rainforest Lodge has become the first in South East Asia to be selected as a member of the National Geographic Unique Lodges of the World – National Geographic Society’s newest foray in world-class travel experiences.

National Geographic Unique Lodges of the World is a collection of boutique hotels in extraordinary places around the world with a demonstrated commitment to sustainability, authenticity and excellence.

Selected through a rigorous evaluation process, each lodge offers an outstanding guest experience while supporting the protection of cultural and natural heritage and embracing sustainable tourism practices.

National Geographic deployed experts to each site to evaluate operations, meet staff at all levels, scrutinize the lodge’s impact on the local environment and community and ensure that these criteria were met.

Costas Christ, a world-renowned sustainable tourism expert cum editor for National Geographic Traveller magazine, said that the newest addition of Sukau Rainforest Lodge further builds National Geographic’s travel portfolio, which includes National Geographic Expeditions, Traveller magazine, travel books, photography courses and the @NatGeoTravel digital and photography community.

“By creating this carefully curated group of hotels, lodges and retreats that meet internationally recognized sustainable tourism criteria while providing top-notch guest experiences, National Geographic opens a new chapter in the power of travel to protect our planet.

“Travellers can feel confident when they stay in one of these lodges that they are helping to safeguard cultural and natural treasures in some of the world’s most incredible places” Christ explained.


Bidayuh Song Festival on May 23 and 24

KUCHING: The Bidayuh Artists and Musicians Association (BAMA) will be organising a Bidayuh Song Festival (BMF) on May 23 and 24 at the Community Park in Serian.

BAMA president Dr Alim Impira said the festival is aimed at introducing Bidayuh songs to the people.

As a prelude to the festival, Dr Alim said 10 musician groups and 10 singers will be performing at Tribes, Kuching City Mall, Jalan Stephen Yong, Batu Kawah, Kuching.

He said each musician group and singer will render Bidayuh songs from their respective albums.


Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Gaya Island Resort – one of the best places in Sabah for a vacation

Come to Gaya Island Resort if you are in the need for total relaxation and time away from the urban life.

A 3 days 2 nights getaway is possible to restore some zen, but 5 days 4 nights would sooth frayed nerves while 6 days 5 nights might just renew one from within.

Why do I say that?

Well, take a tour of the resort with me, see what you can do (or NOT do) here and decide if Gaya Island Resort is your pot of gold.

Gaya Island Resort’s beauty is unsurpassed. A short stretch of beach (the stretch that is accessible by guests of the resort) on the resort itself is clean with fine sand and gentle waters.

I have shared the first part of my stay here (LINK) which chronicled a bit about my villa and its surroundings.

Gaya Island Resort offers 120 villas and two-bedroom suite, all build from the use of local materials which allowed the lodgings to blend harmoniously with its natural environment.

The villa interiors are designed with a contemporary elegance, exuding both luxury and comfort.

In this post, I will talk more about the activities in Gaya Island Resort.

My favourite part of the resort includes the yoga studio (have you ever seen one like this??), the pool area with its perfect all-day lounging beds, nicely shaded from the direct sun by the pool bar and the short stretch of beach where I ran every morning.

Reception area: The gracious welcome after you’ve alighted from the transfer speedboat lifted any travel weariness off.

You are welcome to linger, but should you want to retire to your villa immediately, a kind escort will lead the way and provide a quick run-through to get you acquainted with the workings of your accommodation.

Lodgings are in individual villas perched on a hill with a respectable distance from each other.

The standard is 2 villas on a particular spot upon the hill, but the clever angling of the built of each ensures sufficient privacy (both sounds and view) for its occupants.


Monday, February 23, 2015

REVIEW: My stay in Gaya Island Resort

If there is any resort that I’ll gladly return to again and again, it would be the Gaya Island Resort.

YTL portfolio of resorts are truly enchanting.

I have not been to the Cameron Highlands Resort (another of YTL’s properties in Malaysia) but my stays at Pangkor Laut Resort, Majestic Melaka, Tanjong Jara and Majestic KL had left me with great pleasure and pleasant memories.

Each of their resort has its own charm, though I still name my favourites Tanjong Jara and Gaya Island.

A triumph card in GIR is its surrounding beaches; where unlike Tanjong Jara and Pangkor Laut Resort, Gaya Island is surrounded by the most alluring clean and clear waters right at its waterfront, without having to take the boat out.

The Tavajun Bay is breathtaking though it requires a short boat ride from the main resort (say about 5 minutes?).

Spending an afternoon here is most ideal. You might even sight the occasional wild boars.

It is secluded and safe, plus the sand is like a soft bed just made for tanning or lazing.

The water is pristine, magically green and blue.

I generally avoid swimming in the sea as it leaves me all icky but swimming in the ocean here left me invigorated and refreshed.

And of course, if swimming is not your thing, head back to your villa, for there is always this huge bathtub to soak in.

Continue reading (Incl. Pics and Vid) at: REVIEW: My stay in Gaya Island Resort

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Malindo Air mulls Labuan-KL-Singapore sector

LABUAN: Talks to establish flights from Labuan to Singapore with a brief transit in Kuala Lumpur are still on-going, said Labuan Member of Parliament Datuk Rozman Isli yesterday.

Speaking to the media after launching the ‘Fly In and Tee Off Package’ by MASwings and Labuan Corporation, he said that he had raised the matter with Malindo Air, where they are considering taking on the Labuan-Kuala Lumpur-Singapore-Labuan sector.

“I did suggest the idea last time since we have many expatriates here working in the oil and gas sector and in the international financial industry here who need better and more convenient air connection to go abroad from this island.

“I can see the demand is there and the air traffic is potentially high for the Labuan-Kuala Lumpur-Singapore sector. The transit in Kuala Lumpur may only take around 45 minutes and the management in Malindo Air is now studying the possibility to operate in the sector. They are also waiting for flights to operate the new route of Kota Kinabalu-Labuan-Kota Kinabalu.

“If the sector is commenced then we can cooperate in terms of tourism industry between Labuan and Singapore,” he said, adding that the Labuan-Kuala Lumpur-Singapore air sector was a good start for Labuan Airport to be turned into an international airport.

Meanwhile, the head of MASwings Marketing Unit, Shauqi Ahmad, said that the Fly In and Tee Off Package started from RM1,009 per pax, which is designed for golfers flying from Kota Kinabalu, Miri and Kuching to play golf at Labuan International Golf Club and stay at partner hotels here, namely Dorsett Grand Labuan, Billion Waterfront Hotel and Palm Beach Resort Labuan.

“This is a new package for golfers initiated by MASwings with the cooperation of Labuan Corporation and travel agents since we found out that many of the tourists from China, South Korea, Japan, Taiwan and other countries coming to Sabah are interested to play golf at different golf courses in the state.


Friday, February 20, 2015

Santubong National Park closed until further notice

KUCHING: The Santubong National Park is now temporarily closed in view of severe damage caused by recent inclement weather.

Sarawak Forestry Corporation in a statement said the Chief Park Warden had directed the National Park to be temporarily closed to the public with immediate effect until further notice.

The directive was made for safety reasons and to allow repair works and clearing up of the plank walk leading to the waterfall.

SFC will announce the re-opening of the park after the completion of rectifying works or when facilities are deemed safe for the public.


Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Borneo Orangutan and Sun Bear

Our day began with a visit to the Orangutan and Sun Bear Sanctuary at Sepilok. Orangutans are an endangered species and endemic to Borneo. At the sanctuary orphaned animals are looked after until about 12 years of age when the process of returning them to the wild can begin. Babies and adolescents are completely dependent upon their mothers from whom they learn the life skills necessary to survive; orphaned animals stand little chance of making it to adulthood on their own.

The monkeys were very entertaining as they swung around their "nursery", masters of leaping from tree to tree, hairbrained creeper and rope manoeuvres plus hanging upside down when the mood takes them. It's amazing what you can do with effectively 4 hands. The young animals crave affection from their carers with whom they form a close bond, however this means repatriation to the jungle can be a long process.

At around 3 foot high, sun bears are the smallest bear species in the world. like the Orangutans, these creatures are high on the scale of cuteness but do not desire the same level of nurture. The bears remained completely unconcerned as we all looked on, instead they concentrated on sucking the milk and nibbling at the flesh from coconuts as if nothing else in the world mattered unless of course they were snoozing up in a convenient tree.

After the sanctuary we were ready for the real thing and travelled back from Sandakan where we boarded another power launch. Here we joined a lovely Finnish couple called Jukka and Marjukka, who were to be our rain forest buddies for the next few days. The launch soon attained warp speed factor 8 as we zoomed off on the 120km journey to the Sukau Rain Forest Lodge on the Kinabatangan River.

At first we passed through the mangroves along narrow winding waterways...... we felt like we were in a chase from a Bond movie!  Along the way, Jamil spotted a croc languishing on one of the was a monster.....well over 4m long. It obligingly opened its mouth to show off its impressive dental attributes, so that our professional photographer ie Mrs C could take a snap...Geddit?

We arrived at Sukau at 3pm.....what a place! On arrival we were given cold towels and iced tea to refresh ourselves. There then followed a demonstration on how to put on traditional Sabah sarongs.....apparently there were his and hers in our rooms for us to wear for dinner. Well it had to be done didn't it?! The Lodge was top drawer and was where David Attenborough came to film Proboscis monkeys (another unique species) and Orangutans for one of his wonderful BBC Wildlife programmes. This was obviously THE place to be!

After a fast turnaround we boarded a small boat and Jamil ferried us downriver to a narrow tributary of the Kinabatangan. Almost immediately two huge rhinoceros hornbills flew overhead. I felt like I was entering Jurrassic Park. We soon saw troups of long and pig tailed macaques busying themselves by the water edge, crashing through the trees, preening and in the case of the young monkeys tumbling through the branches with poorly executed gymnastics.

It want long before some proboscis monkeys were spotted. These were slower moving than the macaques and larger (especially in the nose department!). The dominant males in each troup were impressive beasts. Over the next 2 hours we were held spellbound as we observed different groups of monkeys displaying all sorts of antics. As dusk began to fall we saw flying stork billed kingfishers and an oriental darters or snakebirds diving for fish. Wow! Returning to the lodge, our senses felt overloaded. It was time for a (magnificent) dinner and a cold beer as we sat on the terrace overlooking the river under a pristine, light pollution free sky. Wow again, what a day!

Continue reading (Incl. Pics) at: Borneo Orangutan and Sun Bear

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Sarawak expects to attract five million tourists this year

KUCHING: The state is targeting to receive five million tourists this year, following a strong performance last year when it attracted 4.8 million visitors.

Sarawak Tourism Minister Datuk Amar Abang Johari Tun Openg said the number of arrivals at 4.857 million last year exceeded their target of 4.5 million tourists, an increase of 11 per cent from the 4.371 million recorded in 2013.

The number of foreign visitors last year was 2.99 million, an increase of 12 per cent from the 2.66 million recorded in 2013 while domestic arrivals reached 1.86 million, marking an improvement of nine per cent from the 1.7 million recorded the previous year. He also disclosed that the estimated tourism receipt for last year was RM10.86 billion.

“With regard to our tourism development, the state unexpectedly achieved well beyond target. Initially we thought it would reach 4.5 million but the final figure was 4.8 million. We expect tourism to become a very important driver in the services industry to our economy,” he told a press conference after officiating at the soft launch of the Asean International Film Festival and Awards (Aiffa) 2015 at Pullman Hotel here yesterday.

Assistant Tourism Minister (Local Products and Events) Datuk Gramong Juna, Assistant Minister in the Chief Minister’s Office (Bumiputera Entrepreneur Development) Datuk Mohd Naroden Majais, Sarawak Convention Bureau chairman and Mukah MP Dato Sri Dr Muhammad Leo Michael Toyad and Tourism Ministry permanent secretary Datu Ik Pahon Joyik were among those present.

Abang Johari mentioned that the bulk of tourists coming to the state last year were from Brunei, at 1.9 million. They mostly visited Miri, which recorded hotel occupancy rate of 67 per cent.

This was followed by Indonesians with about 550,000 arrivals, which he attributed to the medical and education sectors here.

Other visitors, he added, included those from the Philippines at 135,861, Singapore (49,059), China (39,735), United Kingdom (33,854), India (32,487), Thailand (31,955) and Australia (21,039).


2nd Aiffa to bring glitz and glamour to Kuching

KUCHING: The second Asean International Film Festival and Awards (Aiffa) to be held here from April 9 till 11 this year is set to bring glitz and glamour to the city with its showcase of films, screenings and top celebrities from the region.

Movie fans will get to meet and possibly rub shoulders with Asean celebrities like Raymond, Richard and Ruffa Gutierrez of the famed reality series ‘It takes gutz to be a Gutierrez’, Nora Aunor and Piolo Pascual from the Philippines, Shafira Umm, Alex Komag, Christine Hakim from Indonesia and our very own Dayang Nurfaizah and Dewi Lina Seriestha, Anuar Zain and Nur Fazura Sharifuddin.

The biennial film festival, which celebrates the best of films from around the Asean region and to build business-to-business networking, will kick start its programme with film business presentations, seminars and exhibitions at the Sarawak Tourism Complex, including Asean-China films and television productions on the final day.

The official opening of the festival is scheduled to take place at the Sarawak Cultural Village on April 10, which includes a marathon of films competing in Aiffa 2015 to be selected by juries comprising top film makers from the Asean region such as Uwei Saari, Philip Cheah of Singapore, Pantham Thongsang (Thailand), Phan Dang Di (Vietnam) and Latika Padgaonkar of India.

The much anticipated award night and gala dinner will be held at the Borneo Convention Centre Kuching (BCCK), where winners of the 12 categories including Best Director, Best Actor, Best Actress, Best Screenplay and Best Director of Photography will be announced.

“The state will play host to the second Aiffa after we first held it in 2013. Aiffa 2015 will be the first to be endorsed as a strategic event by Asean leaders.

“As the Asean chairmanship has been passed to Malaysia this year, this social event will integrate with the interest of the people in Asean’s 10-member countries.

“This film festival will definitely promote arts and performance in the state and country,” Tourism Minister Datuk Amar Abang Johari Tun Openg told a press conference after officiating at the soft launch of the event at Pullman Hotel here yesterday.


Monday, February 16, 2015

Sarawak Cultural Village will be further developed and promoted

KUCHING: The Sarawak Cultural Village (SCV) is an iconic landmark in Sarawak which the Tourism Ministry will help to further develop and promote.

Sarawak Tourism Minister Datuk Amar Abang Johari Tun Openg said that the ministry would find a way to blend the rich culture and the biodiversity of the SCV into further promotion plans.

He said SCV had truly reflected the harmonious relationship among all races in Sarawak and every visitor who had stepped into this cultural village for the past 25 years had got this message from us.

The Tourism Ministry will work with SCV management and Sarawak Economic Development Corporation (SEDC) to see how they can further improve the infrastructures here.

Abang Johari said this when he spoke at the SCV 25th Anniversary Dinner on Saturday night at Dewan Lagenda, Sarawak Cultural Village here.

He believed the improvement plan may be implemented in the next five to 10  years which will also include research or studies on the rich biodiversity of Sarawak.


Sunday, February 15, 2015

Mulu’s fantastical and fascinating features

LIMESTONE landscapes or karst scenery have fascinated me throughout my life probably because, as a boy, I was used to seeing greyish granitic moorlands in West Cornwall in the United Kingdom. My first exposure to limestone scenery was on a school geography-geology field trip to the Mendip Hills in Somerset (now only 60km from my home) to view a gorge, bare rock faces and visit a cave system.

Subsequently, I have visited this Carboniferous limestone hill mass on many occasions with my students to study Cheddar Gorge, Wookey Hole caves and the views beyond, over the lowlands of Somerset, from the plateau areas high above.

At Oxford University, I had the great privilege of attending a weekly tutorial given by one the world’s experts in karst (limestone) geomorphology Dr Marjorie Sweeting. Sitting on the floor of her study, I pored over maps of her native Yorkshire’s temperate limestone scenery and she enthusiastically recalled her most recent research into tropical limestone features in Cuba.

Little did I know then that, 10 years later, well into her 60s, Marjorie Sweeting would be a leading scientist on a Royal Geographical Expedition (RGS) to explore the Mulu massif. That scientific expedition, for 15 months in 1977 to 1978, led by Robin Hanbury-Tenison and consisting of 120 scientists from all over the world and of various disciplines – professional mountaineers, botanists, ecologists, geomorphologists, hydrologists, speleologists and zoologists – with their findings focussed the wider world on the glorious gems of a ‘little known’ area of Borneo.

‘Little known’ does not do the Penan, Berawan and Murut people full justice for they had lived in this area for centuries. Without their expertise and guidance, this expedition would never have been brought to the eyes of the world. Subsequently Mulu has never looked back, yet its cultural and geological histories are firmly rooted in the past.

In 1971, there were only four National Parks in Malaysia – Taman Negara and Templar in Peninsular Malaysia; as well as Kinabalu and Bako in East Malaysia. Twenty-nine years later the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (Unesco) Conference in Cairns, Australia declared Gunung Mulu National Park and Mount Kinabalu National Park as World Heritage Sites.

Continue reading (Incl. Pics) at: Mulu’s fantastical and fascinating features

Borneo's Biodiversity Bonanza

Anyone visiting Borneo who fails to be thrilled by the wildlife and spectacular scenery should check they still have a pulse! In ten square kilometres it has more biodiversity than North America and Western Europe put together.

How staggering is that? It's also the third largest island in the world and comprises 3 countries. Sabah to East, where we were and Sarawak to the west which became part of Malaysia in 1963, the tiny Sultanate of Brunei between them and to the South, the huge Kalimantan, which is part of Indonesia.

We travelled to Sandakan by bus so we could "feel" the interior of Borneo. It was a good move. As we climbed out of Koto Kinabalu the mighty, misty 4000m plus Mt Kinabalu emerged.

The tumbling foothills were covered with primary rain forest giving us a taste of what we were to see in 2 days time. However 3 hours into the journey the landscape changed to "non biodiverse" monoculture......gudzillions of plantations established to deliver Palm oil products including biodiesel.

Huge tracts of forest have been lost to agriculture but fortunately the Malaysian Government have recognised the need to protect what remains. Indeed some plantations have been allowed to revert to diverse (secondary) forest where the plants and animals can once again proliferate and endangered species have a chance to survive.

We stayed overnight in Sandakan where it was difficult to find a restaurant selling alcohol as the North Western area is predominantly Muslim. The town was a strange mix of new buildings and tired looking concrete blocks.

Our hotel was one of the tired variety and in need of a refurb but was fine for the night. However one of its redeeming features was a restaurant and bar on the roof overlooking the Sulu Sea. After our bus trip we were thirsty so it seemed rude not to go there for a drink.

The view over the town, harbour and out to the tributaries of the Kinabatangan River was fab. Strangely there was an engagement party just starting as we tackled our iced lemon tea and the first tune they fired up on the karaoke machine was "please release me let me go, for you don't love me any more" by Engelbert Humperdink!

We looked at each other and smirked! We left them to it and went for dinner with Pam and Jen from Northampton, young 20 something's who we met on the bus. I treated us all to a slap up dinner at a Habeeb Curry House for the princely sum of £7!

Pam told us her life story of marriage at 20 to a South Africa through to her recent relationship when she discovered her boyfriend had cheated on her when she a acquired a "nasty STD!" All very illuminating.

After a night in our luxurious (not) 4 poster bed at the shabby but not chique Nak Hotel, we were keen for our next adventure to start. Jamil who was to be our guide for the next 4 days, took us to the Sandakan Yacht Club where we boarded a two engined power launch captained by the sharply dressed Siti.

This was going to be fun. Siti flicked the switch, powered up the nautical equivalent of the "Quattro" and we sped off to Selingan Island which lies close to the Phillipines border in the Sulu Sea. Here green turtles return to its beaches to lay their eggs and it looked just as you would imagine a tropical island paradise should be be. White sand, Palm trees and blue sea.

Continue reading (Incl. Pics) at: Borneo's Biodiversity Bonanza

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Woo tourists with quality Sarawak tourism products

KUCHING: Tourism Malaysia hopes local players will focus on developing quality tourism products as customers have become increasingly sophisticated and demanding.

Its state director Salahuddin Mohd Ariffin said intense competition and abundant choices meant tourism players needed to offer more creative and innovative tour packages.

“Customers now want quality and tailor-made packages. Hence, luxury tour programmes are something worth looking into for better returns on investment.

“This is because the strengthening of the US dollar against many currencies, including the Ringgit, has increased the purchasing power of international travellers to Malaysia,” he said at `Kelantan Delight Sales Mission to Sarawak’ held at Pullman Hotel here yesterday.

The inaugural mission was organised by Tourism Malaysia Kelantan in collaboration with AirAsia Berhad and Tourism Malaysia Sarawak.

Twenty-two participants, comprising government agencies, five travel agencies, and 12 hotels from Kota Bharu, participated.

Over 60 industry players from Sarawak, including seven government agencies, 19 travel agencies, nine hotels, and two homestay operators, attended gathering, which was meant for industry players from both states to sell tour packages and accommodation.

Citing the Travel Market Report, Salahuddin said luxury vacations on the rise were those related to honeymoons, weddings, romantic getaways and family leisure.

“I believe this year will be a good one for Sarawak’s tourism, following positive performances last year, which recorded 4.86 million tourist arrivals – an increase of 11.2 per cent as compared to the 2013 figure.

“About three million of these arrivals were foreigners.”

On the Year of Festival (MyFest 2015), that has already been launched, Salahuddin advised tourism players in Sarawak and Kelantan to tap the many opportunities available in selling the more than 70 events and festivals happening across the country this year.

Continue reading (Incl. Pic) at: Woo tourists with quality Sarawak tourism products

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Banteng next on extinction list after rhino in Sabah?

KOTA KINABALU: The recent published images of a group of armed hunters posing with the carcasses of two banteng (Bos javanicus) and a range of other large mammals raises questions on the extent of the poaching problem that is ravaging Sabah of its unique wildlife.

Penny Gardner, a doctorate student at Cardiff University who is doing research at the Danau Girang Field Centre here, said she was shocked to read about the incident in a local newspaper, quoting Sabah Forestry Department director Datuk Sam Mannan.

“The Bornean banteng is also known as the tembadau or sapi hutan, and is a very rare species of wild cattle that lives only within the remote and dense forests of Borneo,” she said in a statement here today.

The Danau Girang Field Centre (in partnership with the Sabah Wildlife Department) has been engaged in a long-term study of the Bornean banteng for the past five years, mostly funded by Sime Darby Foundation, Houston Zoo and the Malaysian Palm Oil Council.

Banteng are only found on the island of Borneo and are one of the rarest species, following closely behind the Sumatran rhinoceros, which is on the verge of going extinct in the wild. The population size of the Bornean banteng numbers only a few hundred individuals.

Gardner said over the past 30-40 years, the banteng has suffered catastrophic events, which had caused the local extinction of some herds, a story similar to many other species in Sabah, such as the Sumatran rhino, orang-utan, sun bear and elephant.

Meanwhile, Dr Benoit Goossens, the Director of Danau Girang Field Centre and advisor to the Sabah Wildlife Department, said the loss of the two mature banteng shown in the images (one bull and one cow) from the Lahad Datu district had a devastating consequences for the species.


Sabah Tourism Federation established

KOTA KINABALU: The Sabah Tourism Federation (STF) has been established to unite associations and associates from the various sectors of the tourism industry to pursue mutual interest and cooperation.

STF protem president Dato’ Seri Winston Liaw said the protem office bearers and board members of the federation were elected during a meeting held at Le Meridien Hotel recently.

The federation encompasses 10 tourism and hospitality associations in Sabah.

The line-up of STF include leaders of local tourism and hospitality associations, namely Liaw (also Sabah Association of Tour and Travel Agents chairman) as the president, Fiona Hagan (Malaysian Association of Hotels Sabah Chapter chairperson) as deputy president, Christopher Chan (Sabah Hotel Association president) as honorary secretary general, Grace Leong (Sabah Tourist Guides Association president) as honorary treasurer general, Tony Chew (Sabah Tourist Association chairman) as deputy honorary secretary general and James Ong (Malaysia Budget Hotel Association Sabah Chapter chairman) as deputy honorary treasurer general.

The executive board members are Ritchie Lee (Sabah Backpacker Operators Association president), Djuanis Mogirong (Persatuan Homestay Sabah president), Dabalun bin Hj Balau (Persatuan Pemandu Pelancongan Bumiputra Negeri Sabah president) and Robert Chong (Malaysian Association of Tour and Travel Agents Sabah Chapter chairman).

“The federation would serve to promote and protect the interest of members in particular, and the interests of the tourism industry in Sabah.

“It will also act as a consultative body and representative in all matters pertaining to issues affecting the conduct and development of the tourism industry in Sabah,” Liaw said in a press conference here yesterday.

Also present to witness the formation of the federation was Assistant Tourism, Culture and Environment Minister Datuk Pang Yuk Ming.

In addition, Liaw said STF would coordinate the rationalization of the various plans, programmes and activities undertaken by the various sectors of the industry as well as the government and private sector.

“We will initiate and assist in the formulation of policies concerning the promotion and development of tourism and tourism standards for the industry in Sabah through legislation setting or safeguards.”

He added that the federation would also assist in the promotion of both domestic and international tourism and in the upgrading of tourism infrastructure and services for the benefit of both members and tourists.

Continue reading (incl. Pic) at: Sabah Tourism Federation established

Drastic drop in chartered flights from China to Sabah

KOTA KINABALU: Less than 10 chartered flights from China are heading for Sabah this Chinese New Year, marking a drastic drop compared to previous years.

To date, only four chartered flights from Chengdu of Sichuan Province, two from Changsha of Hunan Province and three from Hangzhou of Zhejiang Province have confirmed coming to the State during the Chinese festive season.

Assistant Tourism, Culture and Environment Minister Datuk Pang Yuk Ming admitted that the number of chartered flights this year was much less than before, given that there were 120 chartered flights to Sabah last year and 268 flights in 2013.

He said free independent travelers (FIT) from China were returning to Sabah but the number of tour groups was still lagging behind, especially chartered flights.

Pang said the potential for chartered flights was huge because not many airlines would consider providing scheduled flights to Sabah as the Chinese were seasonal travelers.

“For airlines to mount direct flight is a long shot because the Chinese are seasonal travelers. They only come (to Sabah) during Chinese New Year, National Day holidays and long holidays between June and August.

“So to rely on scheduled flights, I don’t think many airlines will consider it,” Pang said in a press conference to announce the formation of Sabah Tourism Federation (STF) here yesterday.

On the other hand, Pang, who is tasked with overseeing the Chinese market, welcomed the arrival of Chen Peijie, Consul General of the People’s Republic of China in Kota Kinabalu.

“I believe her arrival will have a big impact on tourist arrivals from China.”

Pang said the setting up of a Chinese consulate here showed the good relations between Malaysia, in particular Sabah, and China.


Monday, February 09, 2015

Future Miri Country Music Festival may be a two-day affair

MIRI: Future Miri Country Music Festival (MCMF) may be extended to two nights if public response continues to climb.

During the inaugural run last year, the organiser expected only 1,500 country music lovers to show up, but 1,920 tickets were sold.

At the second edition on Saturday night, the response exceeded expectations again, so much so that country music lovers yearned for the show to be over two nights.

“If the response continues to be good, we are going to run for two nights. We targeted 2,000 tickets (this year), and we sold 2,000 tickets, but there are walk-ins, too,” said MCMF advisor Gracie V Geikie.

“We have visitors from Singapore, Cambodia and Kuala Lumpur. They travelled all the way just for this. They said that one night was not enough. We will see. It depends on the feedback from tonight’s show,” said Gracie when met before the show on Saturday.

In the end, ticket sales totalled 2,130.

“We are proud and honoured to learn from the US Embassy that Miri Country Music Festival is the only country music festival to be held in South East Asia. This is a pride and honour for Miri, in particular, and Sarawak, in general.”

The festival, organised by Planet Conventions and Events Sdn Bhd, was held at ParkCity Everly Hotel. It featured Kareem Salama from the US, Country Sisters (Czech Republic), Rani & Westom Country Band (Indonesia), Mel & Joe (Singapore), Os Pombos (Kuala Lumpur) and also local talents Hi-breed (Kuching) and Starlets (Miri).

“I have a strong vibe that this festival will continue to grow and become a permanent tourism and musical event for Miri. We also have Borneo International Jazz Festival and Asean Music Festival,” beamed Assistant Minister of Communication Datuk Lee Kim Shin.


Sunday, February 08, 2015

The longhouse bidan of Niah

IN the 1950s, it would take a strong hunter more than three days’ walk from Niah to Miri on a rainy day along a small jungle path.

The then normal way to reach Miri from Niah was by a coastal boat sailing down the Niah River out to the sea and then to Miri.

Three coastal boats plied between Bintulu, Niah, Bekenu and Miri weekly. A boat would call at Niah, then proceed to Bekenu and from there, to Miri.

That too might take a day or more, depending on the waiting period.

If you were heavily pregnant and your time was near, would you walk that far and for that long, or would you take a boat, which might cost half a year’s income from selling rice?

Many sick people would go to Miri for treatment in the government hospital in the peninsula or what people referred to as the Old Miri Hospital in the 50s through to the 80s.

People who died while seeking treatment would be buried at Pendam Tekalong, below the present SIB church on Canada Hill. That cemetery was excavated not long ago to make way for a proposed hotel — which is still pending.

In those early years, many people perhaps had no choice but to consider seeing a traditional bidan, a godsend.

Rangayan Ayong became a ‘bidan’ or ‘birth assistant’ at Rumah Ranggong in Niah soon after marrying Tuai Rumah Ranggong Jenau in 1955.

For more 20 years, she helped deliver babies, never asking for a fee or a token packet of rice. It was out of her good heart or a dedicated mission in today’s language.

“She collected and kept all the small urns her patients gave her, they would line the road from the Iban longhouse to Batu Niah,” recalled Chula, her eldest daughter.

Knowledge from dreams

Rangayan married Ranggong when she was barely 16. She said she was given the knowledge to help deliver babies in a series of dreams.

Her hands were ‘touched’ by a spirit and that was how she started helping in deliveries at her longhouse and those nearby. From then on, she was the one to call to assist with births.

Amazingly, there were no reports of deaths at birth or deaths of mothers from Rumah Ranggong.

“Each delivery was amazing and I could feel the baby in the womb with my hands,” recalled Rangayan, also known as Indai Inggol.

Today, her memories are failing her as she has not been that well since her husband passed away.

According to her son Inggol, Rangayan has always been a very quiet woman.

She gets along with everyone in the longhouse because she is very patient, respectful of others, well versed in Iban adat and was the wife of a longhouse chieftain.

Besides, she is very confident in whatever she does. Now almost 75, she still has that hearty laugh which is very much part of her cheerful character.

Besides being a village bidan, Rangayan has always been a very good cook, and she has passed her culinary skills to her children.

Good pua weaver

Special dreams which visited her when she was younger also helped her to be a good pua weaver. Her fame has travelled far and wide.

The Ibans traditionally believe such dreams which visit Iban women help them to become the best pua weavers in Sarawak. These dreams would also teach them what patterns to weave.

From young, Rangayan has also been a good farmer, planting padi, maize and vegetables to help sustain her family.

Continue reading (incl. Pics) at: The longhouse bidan of Niah

Saturday, February 07, 2015

10 reasons to explore Borneo, Malaysia - Part 2

While Borneo isn’t wild with a buzzing backpacker scene or filled with travelling party animals, it is a welcome treat of getting back to nature and witnessing things that you’ve only seen in National Geographic. Borneo and its 140 million year old rainforest definitely knocks you on the head and shouts, “Wake up! This is nature at its finest!”, whilst simultaneously lulling you into a fascinated stupor.

I covered some reasons of why you should go to Borneo because of its wildlife and jungle last week, and the Orangutans are a highlight of those who can travel over to Sepilok! I’m now sharing with you my experience of the coast and mountains of Sabah. For those who love beach life and hiking in epic hills, then this should get you searching for a plane ticket over there.

This is the second half of my ‘10 Reasons to explore Borneo’ and I’m sure you’ll agree with me that A) it is the ONLY place you need to go to see a world-class sunset, and B) Borneo will make you feel very small and insignificant in the world.

6. Be breathless at the Gomantong Caves

Have you ever explored a deep crack in the earth? The Gomantong Caves are a large cave system that’ll wow you… but be sure to pinch your nose. The stench of bat poop and other animal waste is pungent, but the hidden space within the rocks is equally as breathtaking.

Simud Hitam (Black Cave) is the most accessible and it has a ceiling that’s as high as 90 metres. Swiftlets and bats live in this cave, and the bird’s nests are often collected to be eaten. I’ve never tried birds nest soup and the thought of it does make me turn a bit green around the gills, but you can watch licensed locals climb to the roof of the caves to collect abandoned nests.

If you arrive in the evening, you might see the hordes of resident bats leave the cave in a flurry for their night-time hunting, almost tag-teaming the Swiftlets returning after their day-time feedings. So with all this wildlife living side-by-side, you can only imagine the amount of poop that accumulates and attracts an entire population of bugs. It’s not for the faint-hearted, but sometimes nature is a touch messy.

The other crevice in the earth is Simud Putih (White Cave) and as it is more challenging to get to and explore, you’ll need to get that organised before you arrive. You can find the caves after an 1 ½ hours bus ride from Sandakan and they’re open from 8am to 6pm.

7. Marvel at Mount Kinabalu

Do you fancy feeling dwarfed by another feature of Borneo? Then take a walk up Mount Kinabalu! It’s a towering 4,095m that stands proud against the horizon with a constant mist covering around its peak.

My cousin who lives in Kota Kinabalu climbed this on a school trip, so I thought it might be something I could do, but the more I looked into it, the more I realised that perhaps I wouldn’t be able to trot up it as briskly as I’d hoped.

Continue reading (incl. Pics) at: 10 reasons to explore Borneo, Malaysia - Part 2

Friday, February 06, 2015

Prizes galore for concert-goers at Miri Country Music Fest

KUCHING: Planet Conventions and Events Sdn Bhd has prepared several attractive prizes for lucky festival goers at the Miri Country Music Fest this weekend.

Among some of the prizes are flight tickets, a hotel night stay as well as dinner and spa vouchers.

Festival goers are encouraged to come dressed in their best Western cowboy attire as the organisers will be awarding prizes to the best dressed cowboys and cowgirls.

Prizes include return flights from Miri to Mulu and Miri to Kuching, with tickets are sponsored by MASWings Sdn Bhd.

Visitors will also have the chance to win lucky draw prizes which include hotel stays and dinner and spa vouchers. The prizes are sponsored by ParkCity Everly Hotel Miri and Miri Marriott Hotel.

The Miri Country Music Fest, held for the second consecutive year, will take place at Parkcity Everly Hotel Miri on Feb 7. The festival features seven bands – Country Sisters from the Czech Republic, Mel and Joe (Singapore), Hi Breed (Kuching), Os Pombos Band (Kuala Lumpur), Starlet Band (Miri), Kareem Salama (USA) and Rani and Westom Country Band (Indonesia).

Tickets to the festival are available in Kuching, Miri and Kota Kinabalu. In Kuching, the tickets are available at Utopia (019 8790043), BaramBar (012 8855778) and Planet Borneo Travel and Tours Services (082 241300) while in Miri, the tickets are available at Parkcity Everly Hotel Miri (085 440288) and Planet Borneo Travel and Tour Services (085 414300).


Thursday, February 05, 2015

Starlet Band to play Miri Country Music Fest

KUCHING: The Miri Country Music Fest (MCMF) this Saturday (Feb 7) will see the city represented by the all-women Starlet Band, which is known for their infectious beats and enthusiasm on stage.

Regulars in the local music scene, Starlet Band is made up of talented and attractive ladies related to one another, who will showcase their take on country rock tunes.

A press statement said the band will also perform with the sape for a local touch.

Organised by Planet Conventions and Events Sdn Bhd, MCMF will be held at ParkCity Everly Hotel Miri and will also feature Os Pombos from Kuala Lumpur, Country Sisters (Czech Republic), Hi Breed (Kuching), Mel and Joe (Singapore), Kareem Salama (USA) and Rani and the Westom Country Band (Indonesia).

The programme includes a festival bazaar offering wide varieties of food, games and souvenirs; a music workshop; and line dance workshop.

The bazaar will begin at noon, while the workshop is from 2pm to 5pm and the concert stars at 5.30pm.

Held for the second year running, the one-day festival is endorsed by Miri City Council and Malaysia Conventions and Exhibition Bureau (MyCEB) and supported by the Sarawak Tourism Board, United States Embassy, MASWings Sdn Bhd, Parkcity Everly Hotel Miri, BNB Tech and Planet Borneo Travel and Tours Services.

Continue reading (Incl. Pic) at: Starlet Band to play Miri Country Music Fest

Kudat-Palawan ferry service soon

KUDAT: Construction of a ramp for a roll-on-roll-off (RORO) service linking Kudat to Brooke’s Point in the province of Palawan, Philippines is expected to commence in mid 2015.

Minister of Special Tasks Datuk Teo Chee Kang said the sea linkage would boost tourism and trade activities between Palawan and Kudat once the ramp was completed.

The Tanjung Kapor assemblyman said this after visiting the Customs, Immigration, Quarantine and Security (CIQS) centre here on Tuesday.

Teo said Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak had announced the setup of the CIQS centre during his visit to Kudat in October 2013.

The CIQS centre initially operated from a container office but it has now moved into the Kudat Port Authority building.

“The CIQS centre in Kudat has been fully operational since last year,” Teo informed.

Teo believes the RORO service will strengthen security between Palawan and Kudat, particularly the safety of tourists and traders once it starts to operate.

Continue reading at: Kudat-Palawan ferry service soon

Wednesday, February 04, 2015

Matta Travel Fair Kuching back with exciting packages

KUCHING: The Malaysian Association of Tour and Travel Agents (Matta) Travel Fair is coming back again with many exciting holiday packages and offers.

This sixth edition of the annual tourism event will be happening from March 13 to 15 at Boulevard Shopping Mall here.

So far, 55 booths have been sold and more travel agents are expected to join as there are more than 180 Matta members in the state.

So far, the confirmed participants are Airworld Travel, Bel-Air, Borneo Exploration, Borneo Fairyland, Cat City Holidays, Cempaka Travel, Great Leap Tour, Ibanika Tours, Inter-Continental Travel, Interworld Travel, Ik Chin Travel, Ming Ming Travel, Multiclients Travel, Natol Holidays, Orient Holidays, Pin Sing Travel, Pelancongan Merdeka, Sara Worldwide Vacations, Sak Soon Travel, Tanahmas Travel, and TH Travel.

Non-Matta members who have indicated their participation are Tourism Malaysia Sarawak and Swiss-Garden International Vacation Club. Organising chairman Chris Kon said this time around, there would be more on destination packages.

“Customers can expect to see worldwide flight deals and ground package offers, and they will also get expert advice on many very attractive holiday destinations,” he said during a press conference at Matta Sarawak office yesterday.


Tuesday, February 03, 2015

Rani and Westom Country Band to entertain at Miri Country Music Fest

KUCHING: Music lovers are in for a treat as the Miri Country Music Fest will feature a whole lineup of outstanding musicians this year.

The festival will see the Rani and Westom Country Band, a popular country music troupe from Indonesia performing at ParkCity Everly Hotel, Miri this Feb 7.

According to a press statement from the organiser, the band infuses heart-thumping dangdut beats into their music, making for a very refreshing and entertaining performance.

“Festival goers can look forward to a great time dancing to our music at the festival this weekend,” said band leader Rani in the statement.

Besides the Rani and Westom Country Band, the Miri Country Music Fest will also include Hi Breed from Kuching, Starlet Band (Miri), Os Pombos (Kuala Lumpur), Mel and Joe (Singapore), Country Sisters (Czech Republic) and Kareem Salama (USA).

Both Hi Breed along with Mel and Joe performed at last year’s event, and their fans should not give their show a miss as both bands were the crowd favorite last year.

Organised by Planet Conventions and Events, the country music festival is expected to attract 4,000 visitors this weekend.

Endorsed by the Miri City Council and Malaysia Convention and Exhibition Bureau (MyCEB), the festival is supported by Parkcity Everly Hotel Miri, MASWings Sdn Bhd, US Embassy, Sarawak Tourism Board, BNB Tech and Planet Borneo Travel and Tours Services.


Monday, February 02, 2015

Investors urged to develop Kudat tourism

KUDAT: Minister of Special Tasks, Datuk Teo Chee Kang is welcoming investors to develop the tourism potentials in Kudat.

Speaking at the inaugural Kudat Tourism Industry Dinner here recently, Teo said that Kudat is the only district in Malaysia to have its own calendar of tourism events.

He said Banggi and Matunggong in Kudat possessed huge tourism potentials such as mesmerizing scenery and tourist attractions, scuba diving sites, abundance of seafood, delicious local cuisines, refined handicrafts and uniqueness in culture.

Teo, who is also the Tanjung Kapor assemblyman, added the State Economic Planning Unit (EPU) had outlined long-term developments in Banggi and Matunggong areas, including upgrading basic infrastructure and road systems to encourage tourist arrivals to Kudat, as well as building a ramp for roll-on-roll-off system to open up the tourism and trade opportunities between Kudat and Palawan, Philippines.

In addition, Teo vowed to strive for allocations from the federal and state governments to develop the tourism industry in Kudat, and to place developments of the district under the 11th Malaysia Plan.

On a related note, he said that Kudat would have the largest marine park in the country, namely the Tun Mustapha Marine Park.

He urged the people in the district not to engage in illegal fish bombing, especially in the vicinity of the marine park because it would damage the marine ecology, which in turn, would affect the future generations and tourism sector in Kudat.

Teo also called on the people to maintain cleanliness in the district and to refrain from littering to avoid leaving a bad impression on tourists.

During the dinner, Teo encouraged the private sector to work hand in hand with the government to develop the local tourism industry.

Although the Prime Minister has recently announced a revision of the National Budget 2015 in view of the drop in crude oil price and weakening of the Ringgit, Teo believed that it would not affect the tourism industry if the private sector worked with the government to develop and overcome the obstacles in the tourism industry.


Sunday, February 01, 2015

Fort Alice given a new lease on life

LIKE a forgotten memory from a distant past, Fort Alice would have slipped into historical oblivion but for a major restoration that will ensure her 150-year-old legacy is passed on from one generation to the next as testimony of her existence and role in the chronicles of Sarawak.

Fort Alice whose restoration was completed last December, now stands tall against the backdrop of the Batang Lupar. Though a grand old dame, Alice is also new.
Built in 1864 during a turbulent period in the history of the state, Fort Alice witnessed many changes to the local socio-politico and economic landscapes and survived through the hard and tough times.
The elements may have ravaged her but she remains strong and alluring as a curious new object — thanks to her restorers who used belian or ironwood to re-construct her skeletal frame.

Fort Alice was forged from the bones of her predecessor, Fort James, which was relocated downstream from Skrang.
Fort James, built in 1849, was frequently flooded and a new settlement was sought.
The new settlement was built in 1864 and christened Fort Alice, after the consort of the second Rajah, Charles Brooke.
Abandoned for many years, Fort Alice had lost her lustre and become a relic, blotted out by the march of time and rotting away — her non-belian materials infested by termites.
She was only spared a dip into the dross of history by an earnest conservation effort that has given her a new lease on life.
For those who have never seen Fort Alice, she looks like a two-storey wooden bungalow. However, the deceptively strong wooden facade is a mere shell of her original sturdy frame.
Historians have unearthed much evidence, pointing to Fort Alice being a wooden structure on stilts which was later walled up, as she passed through different hands, according to architect Mike Boon, consultant of the Restore Fort Alice project.
Involvement of local community
Work started on May 28, 2013 to restore the fort to her former glory. The project began with the traditional miring ceremony seeking blessings for the smooth mending of the dilapidated citadel.
Boon said as a historically significant building in Sri Aman, it was only right that the local community was involved in the restoration process to enable the present generation to preserve the history of the fort for posterity.
As Fort Alice would serve as the platform to promote the preservation of historical sites, the restoration project involved six local school teachers as facilitators and over 30 students from Primary 5 to Form 6.
The plan was to dismantle the entire fort and rebuild her to her original form. Following the restoration, Fort Alice will be turned into a community heritage museum under the Sarawak Museum Department.
The students involved in the project can be trained as voluntary tour guides for visitors to the fort.
“The whole idea of basic conservation is do less is more as this equals minimum disturbance and prolongs the lifespan of the building.
“Although appointed for the restoration project 10 years ago, I was lucky it didn’t start back then because many mistakes would have been made as background information on the fort only surfaced in recent years,” Boon said.