Thursday, December 31, 2015

Good morning from Tip of Borneo!

I’ve spent the past few days in Kota Kinabalu (KK) just relaxing, eating good food, and frankly, not doing much else…no beach in KK but a nice waterfront area with lots of bars and restaurants.

Yesterday we caught a shared taxi from Padang Merdeka Bus Terminal in KK to go to Kudat, where we were to camp out by the beach and check out this workaway situation.

There are also daily buses to Kudat but unfortunately we had missed the only bus at 8:30am.

However, for RM 12 extra, we got a nice mini van along with 9 other passengers that brought us to Kudat around 3pm.

Since we were the last people on the van, for RM50 more, they brought us to Tip of Borneo where our workaway beach is “supposed” to be.

However, due to the lacking directions given by our workaway host, it was very unclear as to where we needed to be, so we decided to camp out near the cafe establishment run by the local expat Howard.

As we were just hanging out on the beach in the morning, the owner (Howard, an expat who’s been living in the area for 10+ years) of the restaurant behind our camping spot, Tip Top restaurant, came to inform us that since it’s New Years Eve, the beach could get pretty rowdy late into the night/early morning with locals since it’s the main beach.

Continue reading (Incl. Pics) at: Good morning from Tip of Borneo!

Kuching-Hong Kong route a boost to closer ties

KUCHING: The new Kuching-Hong Kong flight route can further boost exchanges between Sarawak and China, said outgoing China’s consul-general in Kuching Liu Quan.

Thus, he encouraged local people especially those in the business sector and media practitioners to use the flight when the route kicks off on  April 1 next year.

“There are very limited direct flights to Kuching unlike Kota Kinabalu, Sabah. ‘Tidak cukup’ (not enough), we need more,” he said.

Liu and wife Sun Xia were at the farewell dinner hosted for them by KTS Group, The Borneo Post and See Hua Daily at KTS Garden here on Tuesday night.

Among the distinguished guests present were KTS Group managing director Dato Henry Lau and wife Datin Wendy Lau, his mother Datin Sri Wong Suk Ting, deputy managing director Stephen Lau, Datuk Bandar of Kuching North City Commission Datuk Abang Abdul Wahab Abang Julaii, Padawan Municipal Council chairman Lo Khere Chiang, Kota Samarahan walikota Dato Peter Minos and Indonesian consul-general Jahar Gultom.

“Hopefully with all the support from all stakeholders, the flight route can be sustained,” he quipped, and said he was speaking on behalf of Sarawak Tourism Minister Datuk Amar Abang Johari Tun Openg.

He believed that visitors from China would like the state as it had so much to offer, from beautiful natural sceneries to the exciting array of food and the splendid festivals celebrated by the diverse community.

Continue reading (Incl. Pics) at: Kuching-Hong Kong route a boost to closer ties

Talk on fascinating pitcher plants found in Borneo

KUCHING: Sarawak Biodiversity Centre (SBC) will kick off its public awareness campaign for 2016 with a tea-time talk on “Nepenthes of Borneo: Fascinating Pitchers and Discoveries” on Jan 16.

The talk will focus on fascinating pitcher plants or Nepenthes found in Borneo, newly discovered species, as well as the interesting stories behind the ability of these amazing plants to adapt to their environment.

“These unusual shaped plants, long been thought to be carnivorous, have a huge following of fans – both avid collectors and researchers.

Recent studies have also shown that some pitcher plants have adapted to other means of acquiring food, including through synergistic relationships with mammals,” it was said in a press release.

The speaker, Ch’ien Lee is no stranger to Sarawak and has made numerous contributions to publications on Nepenthes, having traveled widely in the region to document the species.


Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Kaul Fest continues as pride, identity of Melanau community

DALAT: The annual Kaul Festival remains an event that is clearly identifiable to the Melanau community in Mukah Division.

The one celebrated at Kampung Klid on Monday, which was graced by Welfare, Women and Family Development Minister Datuk Fatimah Abdullah, was a spectacle that exemplified the spirit of unity among the Melanaus as well as the will to preserve the culture and tradition of the community.

The village is quite remote — one can catch a boat here and reach there in about an hour; or travel via helicopter.

At the festival, Fatimah — who is Dalat assemblywoman — also presented RM5,000 from her Minor Rural Project (MRP) fund to the village’s security and development committee (JKKK).

The Kaul Festival is celebrated at different times, according to its hosts. The celebration at Kampung Narub came a day after the one in Kampung Klid.

The next hosting venues would be Kampung Medong on New Year’s Day; Sungai Kut Muara and Sungai Ud next March; followed by Oya and Mukah town in April.

Kaul Festival began as a celebration by the Melanau Liko (pagan) before the arrival of Christianity and Islam in Sarawak — held to mark the end of the rainy season and also to welcome the fishing season.


Tuesday, December 29, 2015

The Phuket List: Sabah - Eastern Borneo

After an expensive 3 day break in Brunei it was time to head back to Malaysian Borneo to explore the eastern state of Sabah.

My first full day in Kota Kinabalu I got to meet up with another member of my Australian family as she was finishing up her own group tour of Borneo.

After not seeing each other for 3 years we had plenty to catch up during lunch and an excursion to the mall.

It was great to see her and made me even more excited for my upcoming trip to visit them in Australia!

The next two days consisted of many hours of work and an occasional break to watch Netflix.

Then it was time for Halloween! A welsh girl from my hostel and I decided to attempt the Greek toga look so we spent a few hours at the mall compiling pieces of our last minute costume.

We ended up looking pretty good for only spending $15 and a couple of hours shopping! After we got dressed we headed out to dinner and got plenty of strange looks from locals, who don’t celebrate Halloween, but we took it all in stride.

Our first stop was a popular bar for backpackers just around the corner from our hostel and we had a few drinks there before heading out to the next bar.

The second bar we ended up at was ALL locals and us but these locals actually dressed up!

The Welsh girl got called up for the “best dressed” competition and of course the westerner wins!

She collected her bottle of whiskey and we were on our way to a third bar with a group of locals.

We arrived at the bar just as they were closing and I asked for a glass of water.

The bartender told me he couldn’t give me one because he was closing the till but I begged him and he finally relented.

Much to my surprise as I took a GIANT gulp, my water tasted like vodka. That burned. a lot.

Then he tried to charge me for it?! I gave him a look and then we got the people we were with to drop us back at the hostel. All in all a great Halloween evening!

The 1st of November was a recovery day and I managed to get some work done as well.

The next day we went to see the Martian and it only cost 8.50 RM (about $2.25)! Great movie.

On the 3rd of November I caught an early morning flight to Tawau in the south of Sabah to reach the city of Semporna.

Semporna is the gateway to Sipidan Island and other great diving spots and where I got to do my open water diving course.

We caught the afternoon boat out to Mabul Island which would be my home for the next 4 days.

It was movie night the night I arrived and we watched Sharkwaters, which is a documentary about the shark finning trade.

I bawled like a baby. Think Blackfish but for sharks. If you can find it you need to watch it. Seriously.

Continue reading (Incl. Pics) at: The Phuket List: Sabah - Eastern Borneo

Monday, December 28, 2015

New Kuching route will make Hong Kong gateway to Borneo

KUCHING: With the papers inked for the twice-weekly Hong Kong-Kuching-Hong Kong route starting April 2016, the local tourism has some work ahead in preparing to receive visitors from Hong Kong and Southern China.

Planet Borneo Group of Companies’ director/principal consultant Gracie Geikei is happy to see that the Hong Kong-Kuching sector is back again.

“This will open up markets, making Hong Kong the gateway to Borneo – if we align our tourism marketing efforts to support this,” she told The Borneo Post. She added that the influx of tourists was very much dependent on the local tourism operators and stakeholders and how the Sarawak tourism board could work with them to synergise their marketing efforts.

“Engagement and execution are vital to ensure we do not miss this opportunity. There have been too many international flights coming in, only to pull out because of poor load.” Gracie opined there were tremendous opportunities for working expatriates in China to visit Sarawak.

“This route will open new growth for Sarawak.” Malaysian Association of Tour and Travel Agents (Matta) Sarawak chairman Chris Kon said local hoteliers and travel agents were excited about the new airline coming into the city.

“It’s a good start and a good move as now there are very limited direct flights into Kuching. Hong Kong is the gateway for China. It is also an international connection to other parts of the world.”

Kon, a tourism industry veteran of 25 years, pointed out that this was not only good for tourism but also for business, especially China businesses with an interest in investing here.

“Our only concern is not to look inbound alone but to promote Sarawak to the world through Hong Kong. There is great potential for inbound. Hong Kong is a concrete jungle. Sarawak is their gateway to nature, culture and adventure.”


Sacrificing the forest revenue to save the forest in Sabah

KOTA KINABALU: Sabah though may have lost substantial revenue from the forest and its resources, it has achieved many milestones in forest management and conservation.

“Due to deliberate conservation measures and economic diversification, forest revenue today accounts for only four percent or less of the total state revenue,” Sabah Forestry Department Director Datuk Sam Mannan told Bernama.

However, he said, conservation measures caused high opportunity costs.

For example, land with good palm oil potential in the Ulu Segama-Malua Sabah Forest Management (SFM) and Forest Stewardship Council (SFC) certified areas, demand a current market price of at least USD10,000 (RM42000) per hectare, excluding the timber resources on the land.

“This translates to a capped potential financial return on land value alone of at least USD20 billion (RM80 billion).

“This is a mind boggling opportunity lost in the cause of conservation. Despite this loss, the forests are no longer exhausted but managed for sustainability,” he said to Bernama.


In line with the state’s deliberate conservation measures and economic diversification, the State Government has phased out short term annual logging licences inside Forest Reserves (FR).

“In a historical decision logging in Ulu Segama-Malua was phased out completely in December 2007, after nearly 50 years of continuous logging.

“Thus eliminating some 50 years of non-sustainable, politically driven timber allocation policies of the past.

“This has helped to ensure that timber harvesting in Sabah is now planned with governance and addressing sustainability at the same time,” he said.

The ulu Segama-Malua area that holds about 30 percent (3,500-4,000) of Sabah’s total Orang Utan population was given Class 1 (Protected Forest Reserve) protection status and Totally Protected Areas (TPAs) in Nov 2012.


On reforestation measures in Sabah, Mannan said as of Dec 2014 the state had planted naturally treated and rehabilited natural forest covering an area of about 550,000 hectares.

This, since 2005, translates to an annual average outcome of 20,000 hectare  of silviculture and 3,000 hectares of natural forest rehabilitation planting.

The establishment of 6,000-10,000 hectares of new forest plantations of fast growing exotics and natural species each year has been maintained.

It is forecasted that Sabah would produce 5 million cubic metres (m3) of certified plantation timber (exotics and natural species) and natural forests harvesting of 500,000 m3 by the year 2030.

“This will be more than sufficient to support a robust timber industry, employing modern technology to produce high quality products,” he said.

The products include fancy plywood, garden furniture, cellulose-based plastics, and green fuel, pulp and paper, ethanol and truck bodies, amongst others.


In a move to build Sabah’s reputation as the pioneer of compelling undertakings in tropical forest conservation and management, the state has established an extensive network of collaboration with several renowned foreign institutions.

These institutions include the Royal Society of the United Kingdom (UK), a prestigious research organisation that has been working in Danum Valley since 1985.

Other research institutions engaged in bio-diversity research in Sabah are Kyoto University, Cambridge University, the University of London (since 2011) with the collaboration from Royal Society, Imperial College London and Sime Darby.

Sabah pioneered Reduced Impact Logging (RIL) in the 1990s for Dipterocarp forests, with research undertaken near Danum Valley, a 1,900 hectares compartment with assistance from the Royal Society Research Programme.

The state is the home to the largest research project assessing land-use changes at Kalabakan called SAFE (Stability of Altered Forest Ecosystem).


Sunday, December 27, 2015

The orchid man of Miri

BIG LEAF NURSERY is a unique orchid-breeding setup in Miri as only one species — the Borneo Orchid or phalaenopsis — is grown there.

The owner Lim Shiow Hong has a soft spot for orchidaceae since the age of 12 when he started his romance with this much sought after exotic flowering plant.

Growing orchids and being close to nature has always been his way of relieving stress from his job in the sales business. For 10 years, he had been going the extra mile to achieve sales targets (which became progressively higher), and as a way to wind down after work, the passion for growing orchids proved the right panacea.

Lim received his secondary education at Marudi Government School. After that, he worked in the timber and marketing industry for 15 years, starting off as a saw doctor (in a sawmill) from 1991 to 1996. Subsequently, he joined the sales and marketing sector, first as a sales supervisor at Servay Supermarket, Miri, and then as marketing personnel with Sebor from 1995-2002.

He was sales supervisor with Harrisons Trading from 2002 to 2003, and before venturing out on his own to achieve his dream of running an orchid nursery, he was area sales executive with Harpers Trading.

His nursery started with a small shed at his home in 2000. He grew dendrobiums and some wild orchids at first but ventured further afield, slowly buying some orchid flasks from Kuala Lumpur Bird Park.

Lim was not successful at first because the survival rate of the orchids (phalaenopsis) he was growing was quite low due to his inexperience. The turning point came in 2002 when he met an orchid expert from Ulu Yam known as Mr Yap, the biggest phalaenopsis grower in the whole of Malaysia.

Lim recalled: “I learned a lot from him in the early stages and slowly gained more confidence.”

In 2003, Mr Yap formed Waltex Biotec Sdn Bhd which has become the most significant phalaenopsis orchid grower and specialist in the country. The company also teaches and promotes the growing of palalaenopsis.

Meeting the challenge

As there is an ever expanding interest in orchid growing, Lim got to thinking about his own life and aspirations. Since he has this great passion for orchids, why not turn it into an enterprise. After all, he has all the sales and marketing experience. So he took up the challenge and gave himself a trial period of five years.

Lim and his wife started with a relatively small capital — RM70,000 — their whole life savings.

“I’m very thankful to my wife. Without her, Big Leaf Nursery would never have been formed. I’m now at home taking care of the baby and she is working outside,” he beamed.

Lim readily acknowledges his wife is the person behind his career and totally agrees that behind every successful man is a great lady.

Today, he fills big orders for weddings, special occasions as well as hotel and other functions. His nursery carries the tag ‘palaenopsis’ on its van. Special weddings with large displays of orchids on the aisles around grand marquees in Miri have been striking and impressive attractions to even tourists who happen to pass by.

However, Lim continues to meet challenges such as lack of database on sales, and difficulties in forecasting sales. Orchids have a long growing period and it is also not easy to contain some diseases.

Lim’s orchids are not grown in greenhouses, as what many people would think, but in open spaces. Greenhouses in Taiwan, for example, require exorbitant investments but the upside is there is good quality control. And for this reason, Taiwan is regarded as a destination for horticulturalists and orchid lovers.

Taiwan also holds many floral festivals annually, attracting millions of tourists as well as a lot of investors.

Continue reading (Incl. Pics) at: The orchid man of Miri

Saturday, December 26, 2015

Visit Kota Kinabalu, where dreams come true!

People most frequently say that travelling abroad unaccompanied by somebody can be quite challenging especially when you’re there to explore the local culture.

However, I am delighted to share with you that even though I was alone in my journey, the entire trip to Kota Kinabalu went smoothly and I managed to enjoy it in my own means.

Welcome to Sabah! Malaysia is on the spectacular tropical island of Borneo. Sabah is a land of stimulating natural scenery, lavish ancient tropical rain forest, vibrant coral reefs and mysterious ethnic beliefs.

Yeah I had a 3-day and 2-night trip in Kota Kinabalu in February last year! It was my first visit to Sabah and what an amusing experience it was!

I had some firsthand and unforgettable memories that I will never forget for the rest of my life.

I was delighted in visiting the islands and do shopping at the various outlet stores in downtown Kota Kinabalu.

I also had a chance to immerse myself with the natives and the tourists.

I was quite surprised to know that a lot of Filipinos are residing there but it’s indeed a good thing for me since I could just communicate with them freely using my mother tongue.

In addition, eating the local foods there was also commendable.

Some of them were strange but mostly were mouth-watering.

Originally, I intended to include trekking in Mt. Kinabalu in my travel plan but my fear ate me since it’s one of the tallest mountains in South-East Asia so surely it’s quite high and I was too scared that nobody could help me immediately if something bad or dangerous would happen to me since I was travelling alone but anyway my escapade went like this.

On my first day, I had my city tour and it was pleasurable.

I walked around near my accommodation and saw various sights with great appreciation.

I then hired a taxi for me to reach farther attractions and know more on their culture.

I visited Kota Kinabalu City Mosque, Suria Sabah, Filipino Market, Gaya Street Market, Tun Mustapha Tower, Wawasan Intersection, Seafood Port and Warisan Square.

I have also seen Atkinson Clock Tower and Swordfish Statue when I was wandering.

I took a lot of pictures for my family and friends to see even they were not with me physically on that certain day.

Continue reading (Incl. Pics) at: Visit Kota Kinabalu, where dreams come true!

Poring Hot Springs - Jelly legs and jungle people

Following our expedition to the top of [this part of] the world, we headed to the Serindit Hostel at Poring Hot Springs.

Everyone knackered, we had a very early night. We all woke up the following morning in quite extraordinary amounts of pain.

Quads and calves were absurdly tight and there was much hilarity at attempting to descent steps.

The only time I can recall similar discomfort was after the Yorkshire Three Peaks last year - but I'd actually done some training for that; this was worse.

Our accommodation was simple; shared bathrooms, few facilities, but most of us had aircon and the communal area was a great space to chill out, drink beer and chat.

The following day was spent hobbling about the Poring Hot Springs park.

We ventured up into the jungle canopy, and took a canopy walk; crossing wobbly cable-strung walkways hanging precariously between the trees - hideous distances off the jungle floor.

I still don't like heights. We stretched the aching calves, hiking up past a waterfall with locals bathing in its cool waters, and onto the Bat Cave.

All the boys were sorely disappointed not to find Alfred tuning up the batmobile.

Few of us took in the springs themselves, for fear of disease - they were mobbed by locals and didn't look the cleanest.

That evening, we shared a barbecue at the local restaurant, where we had become regulars.

Rice wine emerged, and along with several too many Tiger beers, we echoed the Christmas Eves of many, drinking too much and feeling crap the following morning.

Continue reading (Incl. Pics) at: Poring Hot Springs - Jelly legs and jungle people

Friday, December 25, 2015

The Mountain - Mount Kinabalu

Mount Kinabalu

Waking up in our shared room on 22nd December (Shona and I sharing with the brilliant Irish Sharon and Aussie Emma), we headed for breakfast and safety briefings before driving to the trailhead for about 9:00am.

We were joined on the climb by local mountain guides: the 59 year old Supinghi ('Pingi'), young Billy and James, and our trip guide, Johmin ('J'). All amazingly fit, patient and capable guides who could not have done more to help us.

The hike started smoothly, with everyone feeling pretty fresh and the weather perfect.

Before too long, the group separated out to a pack at the front (including S and me), led by Billy - the guide with the wink and the Mohican.

A further group were a wee way behind, travelling with James, and bringing up the rear was the stalwart Tim - a chap suffering from progressive MS, with truly inspirational determination - who was back-stopped by J and Pingi.

Every half or full kilometre, small rest stops were provided, normally with toilets.

Before we joined the trail, such frequent stops seemed ludicrous, but it quickly became apparent how necessary they were.

The gradient was fairly severe. The terrain was either boulders, or big steps, and the going was relentless.

The stops were essential to rehydrate, eat and rest. And pee.

The day's destination was our bunkhouse, 6km up the trail and at 3273 metres elevation.

We all remained in good spirits despite the hard going and by kilometre 4, were well ahead of schedule.

We heard that Tim had fallen behind, but was supported both by the guides, and a couple of our team had held back to give him encouragement.

Spirits stayed high, and those of us in the front group made our 6km overnight stop by 2:30pm - about 2.5 hours ahead of target.

Tim made it in a few hours later to an emotional and rapturous applause from the team.

On arrival, we dropped our bags and headed out onto the lodge balcony to rehydrate and witness what was singularly the most spectacular sunset we've ever seen - from our vantage point above the clouds, we saw a molten skyline creating deep silhouettes of the mountainside; the red hues bouncing off a cloudscape dominated by a dark storm cell, periodically exploding with flashes of lightning.

Continue reading (Incl. Pics) at: The Mountain - Mount Kinabalu

Thursday, December 24, 2015

KKIA gearing up to receive expected holiday crowd

KOTA KINABALU: Kota Kinabalu International Airport (KKIA) is gearing up to receive the expected holiday crowd during Christmas and New Year.

In an interview with Bernama, its Manager, Sunif Naiman, said the number of passengers was expected to increase by five per cent these coming festive and New Year seasons.

He said since the KKIA consolidated the operations of budget carrier, AirAsia and full-fledged carriers such as China Southern Airlines and Malaysia Airlines at the main terminal on Dec 1, the flight movements and the daily average number of passengers in KKIA had also increased from 8,000 passengers to about 18,000 passengers per day.

“For December, the terminal expected an increase of about 54,000 passengers between Christmas and New Year period. All preparations have been put in place to make sure airport operations are smooth and passenger convenience remains top priority.

“Malaysia Airports will work closely with all airlines, particularly AirAsia, to ensure passenger convenience especially within this peak period.

“We have further enhanced our communications with all stakeholders, including government agencies and service operators, to ensure that all check-in, immigration and Customs counters are at optimal utilisation,” Sunif said.

He said KKIA was fully equipped for passenger comfort.

It has 64 check-in counters for all 16 airline companies, ample parking space (3,521 bays), 12 passenger boarding bridges (PBBs), ample seats at the boarding area, medical centre within the terminal, automated teller machines and currency exchange outlets, taxi and car rental services, telecommunication  service outlets and various retail outlets within the terminal, he said.

Continue reading (Incl. Pic) at: KKIA gearing up to receive expected holiday crowd

Five forest corridors in Sabah identified for protection

KINABATANGAN: Five private forest lands about 3,000 hectares in size at the Lower Kinabatangan Wildlife Sanctuary (LKWS) that have the capacity to enhance connectivity of existing fragmented wildlife forest in LKWS have been identified by the FGV-BCT Conservation Project Initiative.

They comprise the Batu Putih Corridor, Tanjung Bulat Corridor, Buang Sayang Corridor, Lokan–Sangau Corridor, and Balat-Deramakot-KTS plantation Corridor.

Borneo Conservation Trust (BCT) honorary secretary Datuk Dr Laurentius Ambu emphasised in a statement yesterday that the forest corridors identified must be maintained and protected for their sustainability.

Dr Laurentius also urged that these areas be safeguarded against illegal logging activities and from encroachment.

He said that a recent river patrol conducted by the FGV-BCT-SWD team revealed that the forested areas from Batu Putih to Bukit and from Bukit Garam to Kampung Balat had been encroached. The encroachment indexes were 0.47 and 0.63 respectively.

“There has been clearing of the riparian reserve and illegal structure was seen established along the reserve,” he said.


Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Landmark Protection for Borneo’s Endangered Wildlife

Thanks to Rainforest Trust donors, a major logging concession in Sabah, Borneo, has been converted into a 168,032-acre permanent sanctuary for wildlife that links two of the most important reserves in Asia – the Maliau Basin and Danum Valley – saving one of the most critical stretches of lowland rainforest remaining on the island.

On December 21, 2015, Rainforest Trust received news from its local partner in Borneo that the Sabah State Assembly formally approved the permanent protection of 168,032 acres of the Kuamut logging concession as a Class I Forest Reserve. This status confers the same level of protection as a national park.

The new protected area – nearly four times the size of the District of Columbia –strategically links two of Borneo’s largest protected areas, which are vital to protecting one of the planet’s last remaining strongholds of biodiversity.

Rainforest Trust in collaboration with Bornean partners Yayasan Sabah Foundation, the Royal Society South-East Asia Rainforest Research Program (SEARRP), and Permian Global worked with Sabah’s state government to formally establish the new Kuamut Forest Reserve.

Its protection comes after intense pressure to open these forests to repeated logging and oil palm development.

“The Kuamut Forest Reserve is a crucial link in a huge protected area complex extending across more than 77 miles of lowland rainforest and encompassing a wide variety of habitats for wildlife,” said Dr. Paul Salaman, CEO of Rainforest Trust. “After a struggle against logging and oil palm companies and their desire to open up these forests to development, we have finally secured protection for this exceptional area. The declaration of the Kuamut Forest Reserve is one of the greatest refuges for biodiversity in all of Borneo.”

The lowland forests in Danum Valley are among the world’s most important – and threatened – biodiversity hotspots. The area supports 340 species of birds, including the Critically Endangered Helmeted Hornbill and numerous endemics. Over 60 species of amphibians, 75 reptile species, and 40 fish species are found in the area.

The valley is also home to Borneo’s Pygmy Elephant. Numbering less than 1,000 total individuals, this is the smallest elephant in the world and it depends upon Kuamut for its survival. Studied for less than a decade, it remains one of the least understood elephant species in the world.


Sunday, December 20, 2015

Kota Kinabalu needs more activities to attract visitors

KOTA KINABALU: The city needs to carry out more activities to attract visitors from within and outside of the country, said Mayor Datuk Abidin Madingkir.

It was important for the city to have more activities such as the Gaya Christmas celebration, he said at the closing ceremony of the four-day Gaya Christmas celebration held at Lintasan Desaoka near here on Friday evening.

“Kota Kinabalu is a developing city and is a tourist focus site. Hence, I feel there is a need for us to conduct more of such events which can be used as an attraction,” he said.

He added that such events had the capacity to cheer up and bring life to the city’s ambiance as well as showcase the culture, tradition and way of life of the city folk.

“What is more important is that such programmes could be used as a platform to unite the multi-racial, multi-cultural and multi-religious people of Kota Kinabalu,” he said.

He also said that it was the aim of the City Hall to continue organising the event every year as it was in line with the vision to turn Kota Kinabalu into a sustainable and friendly city by 2020.

In his speech, Abidin also reminded that Christmas was a time for gratitude, of giving, hope, remembrance, family and unity.

He added that in connection to that message, they have carried out donation drives from the people since the first day of the Gaya Christmas event.


Saturday, December 19, 2015

Santubong Homestay nominated for Asean Homestay Standard

SANTUBONG: After winning Best Homestay during the Sarawak Hornbill Tourism Awards 2009/2010 and taking third place in the Best Homestay category during the national-level One District One Industry (SDSI) showcase in 2012, Santubong Homestay is adding one more feather in Sarawak’s cap with its latest nomination, the Asean Homestay Standard.

According to its coordinator Jamilah Shukri, Santubong Homestay made it to the Top 10 list out of 181 homestays in Malaysia to be nominated in that category.

“Those that have been nominated will then be judged accordingly to criteria set to be selected as the winner where the award will be handed out in the Phillippines in January next year during the Asean Tourism Forum,” said Jamilah.

The Asean Tourism Forum (ATF) is an annual tourism event organised by Asean member states while the Asean Homestay Standard is a new category to be introduced next year, said Ministry of Tourism and Culture Malaysia (MOTAC) senior principal assistant secretary Norsiah Patah.

For ATF 2016, all ten Asean countries need to nominate five of their best homestays.

“As for Malaysia, Santubong Homestay was one of the homestays chosen because it offers a unique experience to visitors as well as other factors that contributed to its success including the cleanliness and wonderful hospitality,” she added.


MOU inked on direct flight between Kuching, Hong Kong

KUCHING: Sarawak will be directly connected with Hong Kong via air beginning April 2016 following the inking of an official agreement on the move.

The memorandum of understanding (MOU) was signed by Sarawak Tourism Board (STB) and Hong Kong Airlines here yesterday.

The board was represented by its chief executive officer Datu Ik Pahon Joyik, who is also permanent secretary to the Tourism Ministry, while the airline company was represented by its strategy and planning commercial department manager Andre Zhang.

For the record, Hong Kong Airlines is a subsidiary of Hainan Airlines Ltd.

Tourism Minister Datuk Amar Abang Johari Tun Openg, who witnessed the ceremony, said under the MOU, Hong Kong Airlines would fly passengers on board its 174-seat A320 flight via the Hong Kong-Kuching-Hong Kong route twice weekly.

As part of the agreement, the minister also said STB would provide incentives and support as part of the airline’s request to ensure sustainability of this route.

“On this endeavour, Tourism Malaysia and Malaysian Airports Holdings Bhs (MAHB) will also offer incentives, apart from STB. The initial agreement outlined the route to be flown between Hong Kong and Kuching on Wednesdays and Sundays, with the time slots to be determined by the airline based on market demands and also the approval by the Hong Kong government,” he said.

Abang Johari also stressed that while Hong Kong Airlines would be responsible for flight operations, aircraft maintenance, safety and security, STB would be in charge of the sustainability of the route.

On this, he said a series of market introduction on the destinations, namely Hong Kong and cities across Southern China, would be planned as part of the marketing plans associated with the route.


Friday, December 18, 2015

More Arab tourists expected to visit Sarawak

KUCHING: Sarawak received more than 5,000 tourists from Middle East countries during the first nine months of this year, its highest so far.

According to Sarawak Tourism Minister Datuk Amar Abang Johari Tun Openg, though the number is not significant it is a great development as the state is gearing for more visitor arrivals in the years to come.

“The code sharing partnership between Malaysia Airlines and Emirates Airline recently announced is great news as we can promote our state through the code sharing initiatives,” said Abang Johari when speaking at the opening ceremony of the Yemen Festival at Majma Mall, Jalan P Ramlee yesterday.

He expressed confidence that with the recent opening of VivaCity Megamall, the largest shopping complex in Sarawak, and several upcoming malls the state would be able to cater to the needs of Arab tourists.

“We are also having our new Tabung Haji Hotel, scheduled to be open in two years’ time which will feature among others a separate swimming pool for males and females. These and other facilities will cater well to Arab tourists too,” he said.

Continue reading (Incl. Pic) at: More Arab tourists expected to visit Sarawak

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Organiser expects 3,000-turnout for Highland Folk Music, Dance Fest 2016

KUCHING: The Orang Ulus in Baram will once again host the ‘Highland Folk Music and Dance Festival 2016’ as an effort to help boost the state’s tourism sector.

According to Telang Usan assemblyman Dennis Ngau, the two-day event will be held in November next year.

“We held similar events in the past — the last one was in 2012 — and we are bringing it back because we aim to revive the dying performing arts of Orang Ulu sub-ethnic groups.

“As such through this festival, we hope to showcase the interesting music and dances of the various ethnic groups under this community in Baram,” he said during a press conference held on the sidelines of the State Legislative Assembly sitting on Tuesday.

Dennis also highlighted that the timing of the festival would coincide with the first anniversary of Telang Usan’s elevation into a district. Adding on, he said the hosting venue would be Long Bedian, which had just become a sub-district recently.

“We hope that the next festival would be able to attract a bigger crowd than the turnouts in previous editions — the last eventmanaged to attract 2,000 visitors including those from Peninsular Malaysia, Singapore and Brunei.


Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Borneo stands up for its wildlife

Ending the year on a positive note, some 55 participants from Heart of Borneo countries have come together to draw up joint actions to address illegal wildlife trade and set biodiversity conservation monitoring priorities in the world’s third largest island.

Jointly organized by the Ministry of Environment and Forestry Indonesia and WWF Indonesia in collaboration with Indonesia’s Ministry of Economics, US Department of State, GIZ, Asian Development Bank and TRAFFIC, the meeting was a direct follow-up on a recommendation from the 9th Heart of Borneo Trilateral meeting held last August, where wildlife trade issues were discussed at length. 

“I hope we can all come together as one for two days to brainstorm and identify some useful and practical ideas we can jointly implement next year. Let’s show the world that our Heart of Borneo Initiative is solid and that it can protect some of the world’s most precious living things,” said Bambang Dahono Adji, Director of Biodiversity Conservation in Indonesia’s Ministry of Environment and Forestry.

Illegal wildlife trade is widespread in Southeast Asia and Borneo is no exception. Its amazing wildlife is highly sought after both domestically and internationally. Early this month, authorities in Java seized over 2,700 birds said to have been smuggled from East Kalimantan in Indonesian Borneo from a passenger ship. Last month, authorities seized over 200 birds in Kalimantan. Between them the two seizures collectively involved at least 1,611 Greater Green Leafbirds Chloropsis sonnerati, a species targeted for the songbird trade. Between 2012 and August last year, the Indonesian government also seized over 1100 Helmeted Hornbills Rhinoplax vigil as they were heading to China; 70% of which were from West Kalimantan.

Other wildlife such as bears and pangolins are also being targeted—between 2012–2015, Indonesia alone conducted over 45 seizures totalling more than 11,500 pangolins. Just last month, Indonesia arrested a German national for attempting to smuggle eight Earless Monitor Lizards Lanthanotus borneensis. The lizard is endemic to Borneo where it is totally protected in all three countries (Indonesia, Malaysia and Brunei Darussalam).

Indonesia is currently in the process of revising Act No. 5 of 1990 regarding biodiversity conservation and habitats, while the governments of Sabah and Sarawak in Malaysian Borneo are undertaking a number of initiatives on various aspects of their legal and policy frameworks. The Sabah Wildlife Department has recorded at least 23 illegal wildlife trade cases in 2015, including one arrest and conviction in relation to trade in the Bornean Clouded Leopard Neofilis diardi. Sarawak Forest Corporation seized hundreds of turtle eggs and wild meat earlier this year, including from Serikin, a border town with Kalimantan.

Continue reading (Incl. Pics) at: Borneo stands up for its wildlife

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

More Sarawak tourism projects slated for 2016

KUCHING: The state government has allocated RM20 million for tourism related projects which will be implemented beginning next year.

Sarawak Tourism Minister Datuk Amar Abang Johari Tun Openg said among these projects included the expansion of tourism belt North Yu Seng/Jalan Merpati, Miri; Bakam Point in Miri; riverbank beautification and walkway from Kampung Boyan to Fort Margherita here and the upgrading of Dalat Waterfront, Mukah (Phase 2).

“The federal government under the Ministry of Tourism and Culture has also approved an allocation of RM5.9 million for the upgrading of Niah National Park (RM3.4 million) and redevelopment of Heritage Trail from Kampung Bintangor to Kuching Esplanade (RM2.5 million) which will be carried out in the 1st Rolling Plan of the 11th Malaysia Plan from 2016 to 2017,” he said in his winding-up speech at the State Legislative Assembly (DUN) Sitting this morning.

Abang Johari, who was the first minister to present his speech for the ministerial winding-up, also touched on tourist arrivals in the state where the downtrend arrival at national level had also affected arrival in Sarawak.

“Sarawak received 3,746,933 visitors from Jan to Oct this year, bringing an estimated tourism receipt of RM8.24 billion.

“However, based on past trends of average arrivals from Nov to Dec, my ministry is anticipating 4.8 million visitor arrivals in Sarawak in 2015,” he said.

Abang Johari’s speech was also interjected by Chew Chu Sing (DAP-Kidurong) who sought clarification on whether the ministry could do “something that is concrete for the people to travel domestically especially during the festive season.”


Sunday, December 13, 2015

Organiser eyes tourism package for HobbyCon KK

KOTA KINABALU: Organizing chairman of Youth, Hobby and Lifestyle Convention (HobbyCon), Johan Julian Lee Abdullah is aiming to upgrade the event to world class standard.

Johan said he wanted to provide a proper venue of air-conditioned place for each community that was taking part in the event (HobbyCon) with a specific room or hall for their own competition and the current practice was that all of the communities were placed together in the sports complex hall.

“If possible, we want the event to be a tourism package. This event is actually also sponsored by Sabah Tourism. I think they also understand that we are able to bring people from outside of Sabah to come over,” Johan said an interview during the 9th Instalment of HobbyCon at the Likas Sports Complex here yesterday.

“Hobbycon is not tied specifically to a culture. We are talking about hobby. So anyone, who likes pop culture, animation, movies and cartoons, will find it easy to take part in it. So, what we need to do is to provide them with a proper venue space and entertainment to keep them coming,” he said.

Those who came from outside of Sabah were from Labuan, Sarawak, Brunei as well as from Korea.

He also highlighted that HobbyCon had always been counting on the Sabah Tourism calendar since its first year on 2007 which was held at Asia City Complex here.

Johan emphasized that there was a very big increase in terms of people coming in as well as increasing numbers of each of the communities.

“Maybe last time when we organized the first community started with cosplaying, we had maybe about 50 participants in the whole of Kota Kinabalu. However, now we have more than 120 participants for All-Star March. That is not including the ones who are not participating in the march,” he explained.

He also said that in the first year of the event there were only 12 booths as compared to 60 booths now.

In terms of the number of participants, there were only 200 people when compared to last year’s 2,000 participants and more participants were expected in this year’s HobbyCon.

Asked about the proceeds from the sale of tickets, Johan explained that it would be used for the upcoming event as well as to hire coming guests for logistics and providing accommodation for the guests.

“This year’s guests, who came from Taiwan and the Philippines, are not just coming for this two-day event but they will also be brought to islands here.”

“We want to give them a chance to visit Sabah. This is actually good because when they go back, they can tell people and other future guests on the event and  it will roll that way.”

Continue reading (Incl. Pic) at: Organiser eyes tourism package for HobbyCon KK

RM168 bln Sabah tourism receipts by 2020 target ‘achievable’

KOTA KINABALU: Minister of Sabah Tourism, Culture and Environment Datuk Seri Panglima Masidi Manjun said Malaysia Year of Festivals 2015, or MyFEST 2015, would help achieve the tourist arrivals target of 2020 under the Malaysia Tourism Transformation Plan.

“MyFEST 2015 is expected to help Malaysia secure the targeted 29.4 million tourist arrivals and RM89 billion in tourism receipts for 2015.

These figures will help achieve the target of 36 million tourist arrivals with RM168 billion in tourism receipts by 2020 under the Malaysia Tourism Transformation Plan,” he said in his speech delivered by Assistant Minister of Tourism, Culture and Environment Datuk Pang Nyuk Ming.

On shopping sector which continued to hold the second biggest share of tourist expenditure after the accommodation sector, Masidi said a collaborative effort in organizing Wisma Merdeka 1Malaysia Year-End Sale program was a good initiative in promoting Sabah.

“Ministry of Tourism, Culture and Environment is fully supportive of the Sabah Tourist Association (STA)’s collaborative effort with the Ministry of Tourism and Culture Malaysia (MOTAC) Sabah and Tourism Malaysia (TM) Sabah in organising Wisma Merdeka 1Malaysia Year-End Sale program.”

“This initiative is a good effort in promoting Sabah as an attractive value for money shopping destination to domestic and international tourists and also help to bring numerous benefits to the local retail sector and boosts tourist expenditure in the country,” he added at the launching of Amazing Quest Wisma Merdeka 2015 held at Wisma Merdeka shopping complex yesterday.


Saturday, December 12, 2015

Kinabalu Tattoo Convention - Tattooing becoming a popular trade

KOTA KINABALU: Contrary to popular belief, tattooing is a trade that can be passed down from one generation to the next.

At least, that is the case for Nico Broghammer, who credits his father as his biggest influence and inspiration in his career.

Nico, who hails from Germany, joined 62 other tattoo artists from all around the world at the first ever Kinabalu Tattoo Convention, which began yesterday at the 1Borneo Exhibition Hall and will run through Sunday, December 13.

Although Nico only formally began tattooing at the age of 19, he has always been encircling the edges of the tattoo scene, owing to the fact that both his parents are tattoo artists.

“I grew up in the scene, in the tattoo business, so I think the most part is from my parents,” he said.

“It’s definitely the way that I will be.”

Aside from his father, who is his “hero” in the industry, Nico also draws inspiration from tattoo artists such as Filip Leu and James Tex.

Despite his youthfulness, the 22-year-old has participated in tattoo conventions in Canada and Hong Kong prior to joining tattoo enthusiasts in the ‘Land Below the Wind’.

Another tattoo artist from Thailand began sharing the tricks of the trade with his son about four to five years ago.

Jimmy Wong, who has been in the scene for a whopping 44 years, now takes his 24-year-old son with him to each convention he partakes in.

Beginning in 1971, Jimmy started off tattooing American soldiers during the war in Vietnam, which explains his earlier American-infused style.

Nowadays, Jimmy leans more towards traditional Thai designs, which he said were growing ever more popular in the country.

“In the olden days, there were not many traditional styles as they were only popular amongst the monks,” he explained.

“Today, it’s a more public phenomenon; everybody is doing the traditional style tattoo.”

For local Pip Lubasi, it is the passion for tattooing that keeps his love for the art alive.

As one of the pioneering tattoo artists in Kota Kinabalu, Pip has broadened his horizons through exhibitions and conventions the world over, in which he has been a party to.


Friday, December 11, 2015

Why not to skip Kota Kinabalu: 7 reasons to stick around Sabah’s capital

Often just a transit stop for travellers headed to the wild jungles and pristine coral reefs of eastern Sabah, Kota Kinabalu offers much to those who decide to stay on – from fantastic seafood to tropical island-hopping, orangutan encounters to a steam train ride into a bygone era.

Just a short hop from Kuala Lumpur, and a mere 40-minute flight from Brunei, Kota Kinabalu (KK) also makes a great case for tying in a stopover within a stopover if you've already visited Southeast Asia's major flight hubs and are keen to break up a long international flight in a new destination. Read on for seven great ways to make the most of it.

Soak up the city sights

One of Malaysia’s fastest-growing cities, sprawling Kota Kinabalu is no longer easy to picture as a British colonial trading post. But with just three buildings surviving the 1945 Allied bombings (including the Atkinson Clock Tower, the post office-turned Sabah Tourism Board headquarters, and a welfare office, which, after being razed by fire in 2002, has become an unofficial street art gallery), one can hardly blame it. But while business booms in KK’s office blocks, day-to-day life thrives at street level much as it always has.

By the waterfront, KK’s Central Market is a feast for the eyes, if not the stomach. Hawking everything from exotic tropical fruits to prawns the size of small lobsters, this wet and dry market is open all day, every day, and makes for great photo opportunities. Wander south, and you’ll hit the colourful Handicrafts Market – perhaps the best place in Sabah to pick up inexpensive textiles, pearls and other souvenirs.

Eat, eat, and eat some more

KK’s rich ethnic makeup has birthed one of the most diverse culinary scenes in Southeast Asia. Unsurprisingly, seafood is king here. Head to Welcome Seafood Restaurant ( for one of the freshest, most affordable seafood feasts in town – simply point to what you want in the tanks and indicate your cooking style (hint: try the curry crab) and it’ll be on your table in minutes. Worth forking out a little more for is a meal at Alu-Alu CafĂ©. Don’t be fooled by its modest surroundings; here, seafood sourced from Borneo Eco-Fish, an organisation dedicated to harvesting and distributing seafood from sustainable sources, is prepared with modern Chinese-style finesse.

From Indian to Italian, you can find it all in KK. But if it’s hawker food you’re after, head to the city’s famed Night Market to take a culinary tour of Malaysia, or jump in a taxi to Lido Square, a newer, more local food market in the suburb of Penampang where you can feast on everything from mouthwatering gou tie (pork dumplings) to the perfect Kuching laksa for next to nothing.

Ride the North Borneo Railway

Built in 1896 to transport tobacco from Sabah’s interior to the coast for export, Borneo’s first (and still only) railway was all but destroyed during World War II. In 2011, the North Borneo Railway finally reopened, complete with a retrofitted locomotive offering tourists the chance to experience its most scenic section, turn-of-the-century-style. Leaving from Tanjung Aru, just south of KK, the iron horse chugs past lush paddy fields and traditional stilt villages before arriving in the town of Papar. The four-hour round trip includes breakfast, a smashing tiffin lunch, and stops at Kinarut, with its serene Chinese temple, and Papar, which has a colourful produce market worth checking out. Tours depart on Wednesdays and Saturdays, but be sure to check ahead if the train running; the old girl is temperamental.


Thursday, December 10, 2015

7 places to visit in the ‘Abode of Peace’

Brunei Darussalam, with its “strict” Islamic laws and high cost of living, is an unlikely travel destination, even for tourists from neighboring Southeast Asian nations. The country, if not totally unheard of by others, is only arguably famous for 2 things – its oil and its Sultan, who was once the richest man in the world before the advent of tech billionaires.

During my travels in Indonesia and Malaysia in 2012, I’ve made many Bruneian friends who intrigued me with tales of their country. This, aside from the fact that we shared the same humor and interests, made me want to go to Brunei. So I made a promise to visit them when I had the time and money.

In April 2015, I was finally able to fulfil my promise when I went to Brunei (and Kota Kinabalu) with my college friends for the Holy Week. When I told my Bruneian friends that I’ll visit them when I booked our flights in September 2014, they were very excited. I knew we were going to have a good time.

We arrived in Brunei International Airport via Royal Brunei Airlines from Manila on April 2. The flight took less than 2 hours and it was quite an experience flying in a Muslim-owned airline. I’d recommend RBA for any traveller for its comfortability and service.

‘Logistical concerns’

Public transportation is either difficult or expensive to access in Brunei. There are no busses or trains from the airport to the city center and cabs are expensive. Make sure you arrange an airport transfer from your hotel, as we did. You’d pay a much cheaper price compared to taking a taxi.

Aside from public transportation, it’s also difficult to find cheap accommodation in Brunei since there are very few choices for travellers. So it’s a good thing we booked our hotel a month before our arrival through Agoda. We paid a relatively cheaper price for 2 rooms and 3 nights compared to the usual 4-star and 5-star accommodations available in the country.

The welcome I had from in Brunei is one of the warmest I’ve ever experienced. Since it was difficult to take public transportation, my Bruneian friends drove us around the places of interest. They showed us the cheap but excellent food places to eat in and even invited us for high tea in one of their homes. It was Bruneian hospitality at its finest!

That being said, here are the 7 places that I suggest for travellers visiting Brunei.

1) Masjid Jame ‘Asr Hassanil Bolkiah

As the name suggests, this mosque was built to celebrate the current sultan’s 25th year in power in 1992. Its 29 golden domes are symbolic of Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah’s place as the 29th ruler of his dynasty.

Located in one of the suburbs near the city center, the magnificent Masjid Jame, as the locals call it, is one of the most beautiful ones in Southeast Asia and the largest one in the country. It is intricately decorated with picturesque gardens and quaint fountains.

Inside the mosque are huge decorated prayer halls for men and women. Every pillar and stairway shows the devotion of Bruneians to Islam.

Tourists can actually go here for free as long as they wear the proper attire. Women are required to wear black robes before being allowed to roam inside the mosque. People can visit any day except Fridays when Bruneian men have their afternoon prayers in Masjid Jame.

2) Masjid Sultan Omar ‘Ali Saiffudien

Considered as the major landmark and tourist spot in Brunei, this mosque tops the beauty of Masjid Jame. It was finished in 1958 by the father of the current sultan. Since then, no buildings were allowed to be built higher than this masjid – about 52 meters – so it naturally dominates Bandar Seri Begawan’s skyline.

It’s a great example of modern Islamic architecture with marble minarets and golden domes. Beside the mosque is an artificial lagoon and barge, which was added in 1967 to commemorate the 1,400th anniversary of the coming down of the Quran.

The interior of the mosque, adorned with imported items from across the world, is actively used as a place of worship for Bruneians. Non-Muslims are not allowed to enter the prayer hall but tourists can go around the vicinity of the mosque for free.

We visited the mosque at sunset and the view was breathtaking.

3) Royal Regalia Building

As if the mosques they built are not yet enough testaments to the wealth of the Brunei royals, they’ve also built a museum to house the treasures they own.

The Royal Regalia Building is home to the royal regalia – the royal chariots, crowns, and jewelry, among others – of Brunei’s monarchs. Since this was built to celebrate the current sultan’s silver jubilee in 1992, all the gifts from foreign presidents and kings are also displayed here.

Among the sultan’s collections were golden swords from Middle Eastern countries and small replicas of famous landmarks from across Southeast Asia. Even former president Corazon Aquino’s gift to the sultan was displayed, proof of the longstanding good relations between the Philippines and Brunei.

The museum is located in the center of Bandar Seri Begawan. Tourists can enter for free but are only allowed to take photos in the main gallery.

Continue reading (Incl. Pics) at: 7 places to visit in the ‘Abode of Peace’

Tuesday, December 08, 2015

Exploring Micro Brunei

We had a short stop in this micro-nation, taking in mosques, a billion dollar country club and a stilted village! I am writing this blog as if it was up to Stephi, she’d simply say don’t bother with Brunei!

After seeing the amazing Orang-utans in Sepilok, we returned to Kota Kinabalu. We caught two ferries out of Malaysia (via the tax-free island of Labuan where we stocked up on duty-free chocolate) and into another Singapore-like country; Brunei Darussalam. Brunei isn’t known for its tourism, but as we were so close, we (but mostly I) wanted to pop in and see what it had to offer.

Brunei and the UK share a special relationship, formed from when the Sultanate was a under the protection of the British (but remaining an independent country) from 1906 to 198, with the UK still coming to Brunei’s defence if invaded now.

Due to its naval strength, at its height the Sultan of Brunei controlled most of the island of Borneo, as well as some of the present day Philippines.

However with the emergence of Singapore as a key trading port and the increase in land attacks from Bornean tribes and Filipinos, Brunei was weakening and had to give away land to those who came to its military aid.

It ceded the Western state of Sarawak to James Brooke, a British explorer, and the Eastern state of Sabah to the East India Trading Company, a British funded outfit that brought Asian riches back to the homeland.

Later both Sarawak and Sabah joined with mainland Malaya to become present day Malaysia, leaving a very small Brunei.

Stephi arranged us a homestay via Airbnb with a young Bruneian man named Aziz.

Located around 10km outside the capital of Bandar Seri Begawan, we had a spacious room, complete with TV, wi-fi and air-con, which was a real necessity considering the 33c heat!

Brunei is a very rich country due to its oil and gas reserves; leading to very cheap petrol (just 15p a litre) and nearly everyone owning a car.

When combined with very low tourism, it removes the need for public transport or even swathes of taxis (there are less than 50 in the whole country and you can’t book them in advance).
Thankfully Aziz and his friend Azrin were happy to take us places during our brief stay.

On our first morning, Azrin dropped us off in Bandar, home to most of the country’s tourist attractions.

Brunei is a deeply Islamic country, much more so than Malaysia or even Indonesia, so its greatest mosques were a must-see.

The Sultan Omar Ali Saifuddien Mosque was built for the country’s 28th Sultan (father of current Sultan).

With the bright sunshine, its huge golden dome and pristine white walls made it an impressive sight.

Continue reading (Incl. Pics) at: Exploring Micro Brunei

Weekend in Borneo

We spent last weekend in a city called Balikpapan on the island of Borneo.  It was my first trip to an Indonesian island other than Java, where we live!

We left from Semarang airport which has only one tiny baggage carousel and no sky bridges- you just walk out onto the tarmac to board your flight.

Upon arriving at the Balikpapan airport we were shocked to be greeted by a giant, modern airport that looks a lot like the new Raleigh-Durham terminal. 

Balikpapan’s largest industry is oil so I guess oil money builds nice airports.

We found a restaurant called Ocean’s and ate there twice because it was delicious and right on the water. 

There were people sitting on the very end of this drooping pier during both of our meals but it didn’t look quite sturdy enough for me to venture out.

Joel and I were celebrating our anniversary so our goal for the weekend was some beach relaxation. 

Indonesian beaches are typically pretty dirty so our hopes for a trash free beach are a tall order.

Our hotel, Le Grandeur, has someone comb the beach daily so there was a stretch that is moderately clean. 

However, they pick up only directly in front of their building so you can still see giant piles of plastic bottles on one side and washed up debris on the other. 

It’s sort of like if someone were to take great care in manicuring their lawn but then throw all their garbage in the neighbor’s yard- it doesn’t really help the overall ambiance of the block.

Continue reading (Incl. Pics) at: Weekend in Borneo