Saturday, December 31, 2016

Honeymoon heaven: Nowhere's more romantic than the wilds of Borneo

We’re enveloped by pitch black.

Earlier in the day, I had convinced my wife Antonia that boating through a mangrove jungle in Borneo was a great idea. Now, I am not so sure.

We’re on honeymoon, as it happens.

Empress cicadas are screeching. Ripples beneath us drum against our leaky glass fibre riverboat. Nothing will go wrong, of course. But there’s no escape plan.

Then our ranger, who is sitting cross-legged on the bow, flicks on his torch. The white beam cuts through the nothingness until it catches the reflection of a pair of submerged eyes. They belong to a saltwater crocodile.

He adjusts the light’s position to the left, then to the right, revealing two more pairs of eyes.

‘It is high tide, and they like to hunt now,’ he says in a hushed voice. ‘But don’t worry, they are only small. No threat to humans for a few more years.’

Borneo is the largest island in Asia. It is a highly efficient ecosystem of dense, steamy rainforest.

Sir James Brooke, a British colonialist, undertook mammoth expeditions here in the 19th century to bring order to a violent and chaotic tribal land.

In those days, the Dayak, a collective term for the indigenous people of Borneo, practised the ancient tradition of headhunting.

This involved the taking of heads between warring tribes. Nowadays, you are more likely to find yourself in a Bornean jungle spa having a head massage.

We are one hour north of Kota Kinabalu, Borneo’s capital. My wife’s grandfather worked here for five years as an accountant in the Commonwealth Development Corporation during the Seventies.

It feels as though little has changed since then.

There is one Canary Wharf-style office tower and the younger locals are ambitious for a more cosmopolitan existence.

However, they are immensely proud of their heritage and constantly direct our attention to the country’s true natural powerhouse — Mount Kinabalu.

At 13,435 ft, it is the highest mountain between the Himalayas and New Guinea.


Friday, December 30, 2016

Bobo and Chichi: Searching for Orangutans in the Borneo Jungle

Its not often you get to see endangered animals in the wild. Let alone witness them for four days straight while riding your own private boat through the jungles of Borneo. That’s just what we got to experience during our adventure in Borneo Jungle by boat.

This entire trip is all a special thanks to our friends Katy and Emil, who we met in Laos last year. The four of us instantly hit it off during our trip to Nong Khiaw and we ended up traveling together for the next week. The two of them did this exact experience last year and told us about it. They loved it so much they said they wanted to do it again, this time with us!

One of the most unexpected and one of our favorite parts about traveling long term would be the friends you meet along the way from all over the world. Meeting back up with them again somewhere else is even more exciting.

So thanks to our friends we were set up for four incredible days in the jungle. On their last trip they learned how to get the most of their experience starting with finding the best guide to take you on the boat with their crew which made our four days one of the most memorable travel experiences to date.

Our Guide

Our friends met Chris on their first trip. During one of the walks they were paired up with Chris and were impressed with his knowledge of the jungle as well as respect other jungle guides gave him. They couldn’t help but wonder how much better the trip was with Chris instead of their original guide, and decided to book this trip through Chris.

We couldn’t have had a better guide!

Chris is such a fascinating person. Having grown up part of his life in the middle of the jungle, he’s devoted his entire adulthood to sharing his home and teaching others about the jungle and the orangutans who live there. He made our trip complete, his company was one of the best highlights of our experience.

Chris would take us with a crew consisting of a captain, captain’s assistant, and a chef for the next 3 nights through the jungles of Borneo (Kalimantan) to watch the orangutans at the three different feeding stations as well as wild sightings in the jungle from our boat.

During our walks through the jungle he would stop and point out any interesting insects or plants that might interest us and explain what it was. There were a few occasions where he would find plants and tell us about the medicinal purpose and have us try it! I got to try a bitter plant that is said to help treat malaria.

From giving us jungle medicine, making Katy and I queens for day with crowns made of leaves and sticks, treating us after leeches attacked our feet, helping us with a magic eucalyptus oil for our itchy bug bites, and introducing us to the orangutans he knew by name, teaching us about every animal we saw in the wild, he was the best damn jungle guide we could have had and wouldn’t go back again without him!

I seriously could write a whole book about how awesome Chris is. A few small paragraphs just isn’t enough. Seriously, this is the guy that Nat Geo calls when they need a jungle guide to take their photographers to spot wild animals. If Chris had a resume to hand out, it would be freaking impressive.

Life on the Boat

We set off for three nights on a klotok, our wooden boat, where we would be cruising through Tanjung Puting National Park and the Sekonyer River to three different orangutan feeding stations and any stops for sightseeing we wanted to make along the way. We loved sitting at the front of the boat and looking for any animals in the wild. From looking high in the trees for proboscis, macaques, gibbons, and orangutans to looking in the water for vicious crocodiles. We would get a lucky treat of seeing a giant hornbill from time to time as well.

Some of our favorite times of this trip were spent on the boat just cruising down the beautiful river, bonding with our guide, and looking for wild animals.

We would sleep on a mattress with a bug net on the top floor of our wooden vessel each night hoping a huntsman spider didn’t join us at some point in the middle of the night. We went to bed when the sun went down and woke up each day when the sun came up.


Thursday, December 29, 2016

Spirit Quest with Giraffe: Diving in Borneo - it’s simply Sipadan

If crystal clear waters, white sandy beaches and the experience of diving in an aquarium is what you are after then look no further then Sipadan Mabul, Borneo. A place where the fish are plentiful, turtles and sharks become the norm and you find yourself completely in awe of mother natures island life.

How to get there & back again:

I would highly recommend flying in from KUL direct to Tawau which takes approximately 1.5 hours and flights are quite cheap through Air Asia and/or Malaysia Airlines.

However, you can also fly direct to Tawau from Kota Kinabalu which is only a 45 minute flight.

We flew with Malaysian Airlines and have had great service. They also include 30kg checked baggage in their fare price whereas Air Asia charge extra.

From the airport you will need to make your way to Semporna.

You can share a mini van or grab your own taxi. A private taxi will cost you roughly 150 RM.

If you travel direct to Mabul your dive resort can collect you from the airport which is recommended.

We were fortunate enough to be collected by Sipadan divers who took us for 30RM each to Semporna.

From Semporna it is about a 45 minute boat ride which is beautiful. If you need to stay the night here then I’d advise a stay at Dragon Floating Inn.

The VIP room is absolutely huge and it’s a fun experience living/sleeping over the water.

For drinks and food hit up Skyline Restaurant for good, cheap food, great service and a lovely view.

To return your dive resort will arrange your return to the airport inclusive of boat and land transfers.


Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Magic Kervan: Orangutan, stinky predatory flowers, teachers-bodybuilders and other endemits of Borneo

We head to the outskirts of Kuching on foot. The city is called “The city of cats”. At almost every roundabout we see figures and statues of cats, but we couldn’t understand why they are so honored here and we didn’t see much cats on the streets.

One comes to Borneo in order to see natural wonders, endemits, rare animals and plants. Historical landmarks and architectural buildings are not the strong sides of the island.

Our next destination is Gunung Gading National Park. We want to visit it in order to see the parasitic giant flower Rafflesia. Here grows a rare kind of Rafflesia that blossoms only at the territory of this park.

Biological note: Rafflesia Arnoldii is the biggest flower on earth reaching a diameter of 1 meter. Its leaf bud grows for 9 months before blossoming and is as big as a human embryonic. The huge flower stays open for just six to eight days and before it fades it emanates a strong smell of decomposing corpse. Because of its short and impossible to predict period of flowering one has to be very lucky to see one but we will try anyway. There are said to be many Rafflesia flowers at this park so, who knows, we might see an open one.

We walk for an hour and a half under the hot sun till we reach the fork to Lundu Town where the entrance to the park is. We start hitchhiking and no more than 15 minutes later a luxury jeeps stops by. It is driven by an elegantly dressed driver.

He is going to a nearby place just 10 km away, but insists to take us to Lundu as he says he is not occupied with anything in particular at the moment. We refuse as the distance to Lundu is 100 km. but he keeps insisting. Soon we fly direction Lundu and enjoy an air-conditioner for the first time.

Before we entered the car the outside temperature was 40 degrees Celsius (105 Fahrenheit) and we started feeling dizzy waiting on the road. Our driver turns out to be a rum bird – he is a professor at the university though he looks like a businessman. He belongs to the ethnic group Bidayuh, one that we have never heard of till now, but this is normal as there are so many ethnic groups in Borneo.

He told us that most of the Bidayuh are Christian Evangelists and go to church every Sunday. His name is Joshua and has five brothers and four sisters. He speaks in a low, flat tone and doesn’t seem very interested in us. He doesn’t ask us where we come from or what we do. We drive in silence most of the time and at the end he leaves us at the center of the town with an air of someone who did his duty.

We reach the fork to the park and sit to eat in a pavilion. It is 6 p.m. now, the park closes and we decide to try and enter through the main entrance. There is still light from the sun and we know that the path with the Rafflesia flowers is no more than 30-40 minutes walking distance.

The Rafflesia flower and its magical intent

The guard at the door spends some time wondering who these two strange guys coming on foot at this time of the day are. We tell him we want to walk for 20 minutes inside the park. Obviously the improbability of the situation is too much for him as all tourists come with organized transport and guides and he receives a brain freeze and lets us in without requesting us to pay any entrance fee.

We start running but we don’t see even a bud of the Rafflesia flower. We read some information signs where they say that the best chance to see the blossoming flower is during the rain season, which is September-December. Nevertheless the forest is amazing. We see giant liana vines hanging everywhere and the trees are enormous. We feel like we are in a fairy tale.


Coral Triangle-Southeast Asia: 4 must-travel spots and activities to relish at the tip of Borneo

If you’re a travel junkie or just someone looking for the next island getaway, you cannot miss out going on a trip in the Kudat district of Sabah. Why? Besides indigenous culture and breathtaking views, Kudat offers the peace and quiet you rarely find in crowded islands.

Kudat is a town located at the northern tip of Borneo, about 190 kilometres north of Kota Kinabalu. Communities in Kudat rely mainly on handicrafts, fishing, and farming of oil, rubber, rice, vegetables, trees, and plants to earn a living.

Kudat boasts of natural attractions, biodiverse areas, and unique cultures that can be tapped for ecotourism development.

It takes at least three hours to reach Kudat from Kota Kinabalu by land travel. You can opt to take either a bus or avail car rentals to reach it.

If you’re in a hurry to enjoy the Kudat experience, you can also choose to book a plane trip. A plane ride will take you to Kudat from Kota Kinabalu in less than an hour.

CTI-Southeast Asia, a project funded by the Asian Development Bank and the Global Environment Fund, is investing in leveling up Kudat’s ecotourism efforts through a community-based ecotourism (CBET) venture. This will support Kudat in making it a top-notch ecotourism destination in Sabah.

The “authentic Kudat experience” will be the perfect travel escape for backpackers, ecotourists, cultural explorers, or travelers just wanting to uncover all there is to see in Sabah.

We listed below four places and activities that will help you make the most out of your Kudat trip. The four villages involved in CBET all have something unique to offer.

The villages of Bavang Jamal, Loro Kecil, Inukiran, and Banggi Island offer ecotourism products that will not just benefit tourists but also the villages through increased livelihood and promotion of local culture.

1. Watch the spectacular sunset in Bavang Jamal and Loro Kecil

Bavang Jamal and Loro kecil are located  in northern Sabah and it is perfect for those who love fine sand beaches and crystal-clear waters where visitors can watch magnificent sunsets. A stay at the traditional longhouse at Bavang Jamal could offer you a typical village experience where you can also engage with the local community.


Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Murum Penan’s handicraft a hit at Sarawak Handicraft Festival

KUCHING: The workmanship of the Murum Penan artisans attracted a favourable number of customers at the recent Sarawak Handicraft Festival, earning them around RM10,000 in handicraft sales.

Festival goers were drawn to the booth displaying crafts of the Murum Penans like gawung (rattan basket), ba’rang (water bottle carrier), bo’rat (rattan mat) and ba’sah (rattan bangles) during the 10-day event at the Kuching Waterfront.

Sarawak Energy, in a joint effort with the Malaysian Handicraft Development Corporation (MHDC), assisted the artisans in terms of logistic arrangements by providing them with an opportunity to market their products and exposure to the handicraft industry.

Artisans Kong Kupak, Unyang Gasing, Roska Asan, Medlin Lagu, Meron Kulleh and Bonny Sanai said that they felt more confident in their craft making skills following the good response and feedback they received at the festival.

“This is the fourth outing for the Penan artisans from Murum to showcase their craft making, promote their handicrafts and gather more knowledge and ideas from other players in the craft industry,” said Sarawak Energy’s senior manager of Social Investment and Community Development Joanne Tan in a press release.

“They are already master craftsmen, but we want to take that to the next level by improving the marketability of their products to improve the socio-economic opportunities of the community. Aside from exposing them to new design concepts available in the market, their exposure to events such as this festival serve as an ideal platform for them to network and be around other artisans.”

Culture and heritage is one of Sarawak Energy’s corporate social responsibility (CSR) pillars, and the corporation has rolled out a comprehensive plan to develop the handicraft skills and products of the Penans at Murum to provide them with an alternative livelihood plan.


Monday, December 26, 2016

Cklebold: Borneo Borneo wherefore art thou Borneo

The airport was a breeze and we had about an hour to kill so we got some food in us and coffee. Called the folks again to wish them a Merry Christmas (I am going to miss living in the future). Our gate was all the way at the end of the terminal.

There were only a handful of people waiting at the gate, something like six or seven including us. We joked with each other about a plane ride with so few people. Turns out all the other people were on a different flight. So the gate cleared out and Jennifer and I were the only two left.

Boarding time came and still it was only us. Everyone was laughing as we made our way outside to the plane. It was such a small plane and short flight that we walked outside. One guy even joked with us

“You charted the plane for yourselves yes?”

We then realized that we were the only passengers on the plane. Literally it was just Jennifer, me, two cabin attendants and the pilots. The flight attendant stood right in front of us and gave the safety briefing as if having a casual conversation with a friend.

If you ever get the chance to be the only person on a commercial flight let me know because I am sure the club is pretty small.  The flight into Mulu took about 90 min and you are flying over the rainforest the whole time. It was fun to watch all the green crisscrossed with the rivers below.

We landed on the one runway at Mulu and had no trouble getting our luggage as the guy just carried our two bags over from the plane. We had to wait about 10 minutes for the shuttle from the hotel. We spoiled ourselves a little bit on this leg of our journey.

Jennifer used her points to book us a room at the Marriott. This place felt like a palace compared to our hotel in Kuching. The hotel is all on stilts, apparently the whole place can flood during the wet season and is built right into the rainforest. The bed was fabulously comfortable but we had no time to enjoy it as we had a tour of the famous deer cave that afternoon.

We were the last ones to get to the park so we left on the hike almost immediately. Gunung Mulu National Park is an amazing place. It is a World Heritage Site and has serval amazing world renowned cave systems, hikes and other natural wonders.

It is best known for the bats that live there. Made famous by the “Planet Earth’ series there is a segment on caves. If you haven’t seen it yet, go rent it and watch it. It is what inspired us to visit. The park has some great trails, all of which are easily accessible and are all on wooden platforms so the walking is easy as. It took about 1.5 hours for the group to get to the cave entrance.

From there we hiked into the first cave, The Lang Cave. This one was small compared to Deer cave but still had some amazing formations and was very easy to get through. Carlsbad caverns and it have virtually the same trail set up.

From Lang cave it was another short walk through the forest to reach our main destination of Deer cave. The famous cave that has huge mounds of Bat guano and lots of bugs.

The size of this cave is staggering. It is over 2k in length and 174m high at the entrance, it is the largest cave in the world that is accessible to the public. Other than the smell (it was pretty horrendous at times) the cave was amazing and Jennifer and I both got some great photos.

At the very end of the tour you come to a crest in the hill, surrounded by bat shit and there are tons of these little creepy insects like earwigs everywhere. Me being the wise ass that I am decided to play a trick on Jennifer.

Continue reading (Incl. Pics) at: Cklebold: Borneo Borneo wherefore art thou Borneo

Sunday, December 25, 2016

Backpack Anxiety and Me: Borneo - a wildlife paradise

I’m sat on a wooden swing at Tabin wildlife reserve, overlooking the hillside lodges and the jungle bridge over the Leopard river.

I can hear the flowing crystal waters and the birds singing in the trees, as I watch the butterflies hover around the bright tropical flora, it is a truly magical place.

My time so far in Borneo has been absolutely breathtaking. I had no expectations and perhaps this is one reason I have been so blown away by the country- its wildlife, natural beauty and the charm of the local people.

Following a two hour flight from KL , I arrived in Sandakan in the state of Sabah. It is a tiny little airport so I am guessing the town isn’t that big.

I am staying just one night at Four Points by Sheraton (luxury)! The hotel is gorgeous with an infinity pool and views over the sea. I spent the afternoon by the pool relaxing, feeling exceptionally blessed to be having such a great adventure.

I’m full of anticipation for this part of my travels and looking forward to seeing what Borneo has in store for me. Sandakan is a small town with very little for tourists and is really used as a stopping point for visitors to Sepilok which is where I head tomorrow.

Having been unwell in KL I haven’t eaten a proper meal for a couple of days –  just snacks – so I went to the restaurant in the hotel and ordered a delicious chicken Caesar salad.Honestly  salad has never tasted so good!

Today I travel to Sepilok Nature Resort, about 30 minutes drive from Sandakan. This place is stunning. It is a resort right next to the Orang utan sanctuary and is comprised of wooden bungalows around a beautiful lake with lots of woodland and beautiful flora and fauna.

I used my afternoon to visit the Orang utan sanctuary at feeding time as my guide explained that sometimes it can be very difficult to see the Orang-utans so I figure if I go twice I double my chances!

At this sanctuary they reintroduce captive Orang-utans back into the wild. The sanctuary covers 40sq Km of rainforest and there are around 80 orang-utans at the centre.

I spent the final part of the afternoon exploring the resort I’m staying in looking at the beautiful flora and fauna. You can see the pictures below ; the natural beauty continues to astound me. The flowers are truly incredible. the detail and the colours so beautiful.

Continue reading (Incl. Pics) at: Backpack Anxiety and Me: Borneo -a wildlife paradise

Thursday, December 22, 2016

Adventures of Mel and Alex: Monkeying Around in Malaysian Borneo

Once again cutting it stupidly fine, in true Mel and Alex style, we managed to make the plane from KL just in time and arrived safely in Borneo. We have well and truly reached the point in our trip now which surpasses any pre-trip planning and organisation, and so we arrived in Kota Kinabalu, buzzing with anticipation of all the amazing things we wanted to do, but with no actual solid idea in place of how we were going to make any of it happen. Enter Kota Kinabalu, Land of the Tour Operators, but not much else…

Kota Kinabalu

We arrived at Halo Hostel in Kota Kinabalu in the early afternoon, and spent the afternoon looking round the town. It was… not what we expected. While we were by no means expecting the bustle of the hectic metropolis that is Kuala Lumpur, we thought that there would be someone there! The original plan was to have a wonder around, find somewhere a bit buzzy for lunch and do a bit of research about the town.

In the end we indulged our Western habits and got a cheeky Nandos, purely because there was one other family in the restaurant and we were so excited to see other people, being somewhat concerned that the zombie apocalypse had happened and we’d missed the memo. Admittedly, it was the middle of the day on a Wednesday, but still.

What KK does have, to make up for the lack of human life, is tour operators. On every corner there is a shop professing unique, once in a lifetime tours at the best rates. Mountain climbing, scuba, rafting, river cruises, monkey treks and animal encounters which all sound suspiciously similar to the one their neighbour was punting.

We surmised that KK is something of a stopover, which is convenient for entry into Borneo but doesn’t have such a huge amount to say for itself as a city in its own right. Full of shopping centres, but much like the tour guides all seemed to consist of shops selling the same product, and once you had seen one, you had seen them all.

This is of course with the exception of the Centre with a games arcade hidden inside, in which I spent an embarrassing amount of time fuelling my Tekken obsession, much to the amusement of the local kids.

I feel I may be being a bit harsh on Kota Kinabalu, there were some positives – there were a few very tasty restaurants including Chilli Vanilla, where I had tasty mango salsa tortillas, and which served excellent Hungarian food too.

I also came across a shopping centre in the South of the city, IMAGO, which not only had people in it but also had kitted out for Halloween – they had ‘escaped convicts’ running around the store the week before and also had a Live Maze right in the centre, which I thought was a nice touch, even if it was slightly out of place opposite Prada!

We also met the most eccentric, hilarious dry cleaner who delighted in regaling us with tales about stains in other customers clothes, her Philippino coin collection, and the fact that all white people looked the same to her!

Alex and I parted ways for a couple of days during our return to KK for our flight out; with Alex climbing Mount Kinabalu (which he will be filling you in on in a later blog). I went on a snorkelling trip across Gaya Island with Down Below Adventures.

Unfortunately the trip was cancelled due to weather on my first attempt, which left me toddling back to the Tekken arcade with my tail between my legs. The following day was beautifully bright and sunny… in hindsight a little too sunny as I now have a burned back and pasty white front from being face down in the water for hours!

The weather clearing up led to fairly good visibility, and on my first of the three swims I turned around to find myself face to face with a shark! Now, while my head vivedly recalls that it was a 15 foot Great White snapping distance away, I think what is more accurate is that it was a Reef Shark quietly minding its own business, until we frightened the life out of it and it fled.


Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Tourism set to be Labuan’s economic engine

LABUAN: Labuan is on track towards making tourism an  active generator of its economic development.

Member of Parliament for Labuan, Datuk Rozman Isli, said to increase the economic benefits of tourism, it was essential for it to adopt and implement a tourism strategy focusing on sustainable development.

“The government has approved an allocation of RM18 million to improve the tourism facilities in all the marine parks such as on Rusukan Island.

“The tourism facilities will be further improved to give better impression to both domestic and foreign tourists to ensure they will return in the future.

“Otherwise, we might face difficulties and need to do ‘repair’ works,” he said at the closing of the Natural Tourist Guide Course (Level 2) Labuan yesterday.

He said the annual tourism programme, Remembrance Day, a memorial day to commemorate the sacrifices of the First World War armed forces, would be celebrated historically and joyfully with participants from participating countries such as the United States and local hoteliers and eateries.

“We need to accelerate our domestic economy after the slump in global oil prices that led to the slowdown in the oil and gas sector.

“Local traders are badly hit with more than 10,000 oil and gas workers with their families having left the island, and there are hotels ceasing operations.

“We need a sustainable development to stimulate our economy and create employment opportunities for the locals,” he said.

Rozman who is also the Labuan Corporation chairman said a number of investors had submitted proposals to the corporation and top government leaders for future investment especially relating to a marine park on Kuraman Island and other prime areas including sea reclamation areas near the downtown area.


Monday, December 19, 2016

Busking to become tourist attraction — Sarawak Tourism Board

SIBU: Sarawak Tourism Board (STB) will work closely with all the relevant local authorities in ensuring the success of its busking programme at all the major cities and towns in the state.

Its Products & Corporate Relation manager Maurice Balang said the busking event was part of STB’s initiatives to put varieties in its tourism products.

“For Sibu, the busking programme is held in conjunction with the ‘Visit Sibu Year 2017’,” he said when met at the Sibu Busking Event Christmas Festival Party 2016 on Saturday.

“In Kuching, the busking event has been introduced for a long time, however in Sibu, it has just been introduced sometime this year and it receives overwhelming response from both locals and visitors.

“Towards promoting such healthy busking activities, the STB and the relevant local authorities have prepared a venue and the needed audio system for the purpose,” he pointed out.

Maurice said, through the busking programme, local talented bands and individuals could promote themselves.


Saturday, December 17, 2016

Direct Busan-KK flights bring Sabah Tourism Board closer to MICE mission

KOTA KINABALU: Eastar Jet’s new non-stop flights from Busan to Kota Kinabalu brings Sabah Tourism Board (STB) closer to its Meeting, Incentives, Conferences and Exhibitions (MICE) mission for Sabah in 2017.

Its general manager, Gordon Yapp, said STB has plans to go beyond its maintained target tourists such as Free Independent Travelers (FITs), couples as well as families, and expand to catering for a specialized niche of group tourism dedicated to conferences, seminars, or company incentive trips, among others.

Therefore, Eastar’s decision to be the first South Korean carrier to open Busan directly to its sole Malaysian destination is apt as the latter city is part of South Korea’s largest industrial area with the likes of globally renowned Hyundai and Samsung and a 10 million population count, he added.

According to the general manager, the low cost carrier’s first direct flight from Seoul to Kota Kinabalu had already contributed to the 144,596 Kota Kinabalu arrivals between January and September 2016.

“The arrivals from Seoul as of January to September had actually increased by 45.2% compared with last year,” said Yapp at the press conference for the Eastar Jet’s December 15 Busan-Kota Kinabalu inaugural flight here yesterday.

“With the new flights, we can expect to add another 3% to 4% arrivals increase from Seoul and Busan,” he revealed, adding that STB is also on its path of increasing flight accessibility.

The general manager also said with the Malaysia Airports Berhad statistics of 30% increase of international arrivals into Kota Kinabalu International Airport (KKIA), STB is confident in achieving the aim of 240,000 to 260,000 Kota Kinabalu arrivals from South Korea in 2017.


Friday, December 16, 2016

Iban legends and fairytales come alive in dance

KUCHING: The staging of Iban mythical tales in ‘Ensera Raja Langit’ through dance and drama captivated audiences and fans of Iban legends and fairytales at Tun Ahmad Zaidi Adruce Auditorium of Batu Lintang Teaching Institute on Wednesday night.

Sarawak Dayak Dance And Cultural Association or Serakup Ngajat Asal Iban Sarawak (Ngasi) president Ajat Sumoh said such classical drama could inspire the younger generation to have an interest in Iban classical dance, while encouraging the team spirit among them.

“The main objective is to portray unique Iban ngajat (dance) and classical play through dance drama and theatre,” Ajat said.

“ ‘Raja Langit’ is a classic Iban mythical tale where immortal princes from the heavens descend to earth to mingle with mortals to secure the war-torn earth, and make peace among warring earthlings.”

The classic tales beloved of the Iban community had been passed from one generation to another.

The drama was executed by 35 dancers cum actors and 12 traditional musicians.

Ajat said this was the first time members of Ngasi stage a dance drama translated from classic Iban folklore.

Continue reading (Incl. Pics) at: Iban legends and fairytales come alive in dance

Thursday, December 15, 2016

Sibu tourism task group willing to help promote Kanowit

SIBU: Sibu Divisional Tourism Task Group (DTTG) is willing to support and assist Kanowit District Office in organising events to attract visitors to Kanowit.

Sibu Resident Hii Chang Kee who is the head of Sibu DTTG said Kanowit could host remote control powerboat races and promte homestay programme and local food.

“But there must be strong cooperation first from leaders including those at Village Security and Development Committee level for Kanowit to be further developed and progress.

“Good understanding between all those involved will ensure smooth implementation of events where everybody in the local community can make their contribution regardless of race and background,” he said when officiating at ‘Appreciation Dinner’ jointly organised by Kanowit District Office and Kanowit District Council (KDC) held here on Tuesday.

Hii also commended Kanowit District Office and KDC on their achievements throughout this year including the hosting of Kanowit Festival 2016 that was held in October.

He noted that Kanowit needed to organise many local and international level events to attract people to the town.

“A simple event would be able to pull good crowd if it is organised creatively with good facilities and sufficient manpower.

“For example Sibu Base Jump 2016 where the event did not require grand promotion yet it had attracted 60 jumpers from many countries,” he said.

Hii later suggested they organise runs on the Kanowit Bridge after it is completed next year.


Tuesday, December 13, 2016

3,000 attend Highland Folk Music and Dance Festival

MIRI: Long Bedian was humming with lively activities last weekend as over 3,000 visitors from various longhouses and ethnic groups flocked there for the 3rd Highland Folk Music and Dance Festival from Dec 9-11.

All nine Orang Ulu ethnic groups under the Federation of Orang Ulu Malaysia (Forum) took part in various dance and folk music performances which were held over two nights.

Meanwhile, various traditional games were held during the daytime which many visitors also participated in. Apart from the performances, many stalls were also set up by Penans from nearby longhouses who brought handicrafts such as mats, baskets, bags and purses made from rattan to sell to visitors.

Over 10 government agencies including the Fire and Rescue Department, army personnel from the 9th Infantry Brigade, Welfare Department and Agriculture Department were also present to give talks and cultivate public awareness on various subjects for the communities there.  

The army provided dental and health check services which over 100 people went for during the festival.

This year’s festival was also held to commemorate the first anniversary of Telang Usan’s elevation into a district and of Long Bedian into a sub-district.

Continue reading (Incl. Pics) at: 3,000 attend Highland Folk Music and Dance Festival

Monday, December 12, 2016

Malaysia Asia: Where to go in Sabah for 2017

You may be asking Where to go in Sabah for 2017, and fear not as Malaysia Asia will give you a basic guide to this as we have been traveling around North Borneo quite a bit. For the year 2017, there are many interesting places in Sabah for all kinds of travelers out there, which includes Ecotourism, adventure, islands, beaches, mountains, wildlife, birding, food hunting and even shopping. Yes, you guessed it, Sabah is one of the destinations of Malaysia that offer the best of just about anything.

The main entry point into Sabah is Kota Kinabalu, the capital city which is a located by the sea and a mere 10 minutes from both the international airport and also the domestic airport which are side by side. You should also know that Kota Kinabalu or KK as it is commonly called is central, is your gateway to all around Sabah.

Before I proceed, I will just highlight what KK has to offer below.

Kota Kinabalu offers a mixture of lifestyle, shopping, food, relaxation, islands & beaches and loads of culture. While some may spend a day or two in KK, note that you can easily hop on a 15 minute boat ride from Jesselton Pier to visit the beautiful islands of the Tunku Abdul Rahman Marine Park which consist of Manukan, Mamutik and Sapi Islands. Sunbathing, snorkeling, scuba diving, sea walking, trekking and an island to island zip line awaits you here.

For those wanting food, lifestyle and culture, you can simply explore KK city on foot and encounter all of these, especially near the Gaya Street area. Hotels, restaurants, cafes, malls and souvenir shops await the city traveler. A tip is to try the local breakfast and tea time at one of the classic coffee shops here. However, we recommend that you visit other parts of Kota Kinabalu to fully experience what Sabah has to offer.

Where to go in Sabah for 2017

This is a common question that I always get from travelers from my social media accounts and now, I can recommend some interesting places for where to go in Sabah for 2017. I will also highlight them by the destination and not by the city or town so you can roughly find what you would like to to or where you would like to visit in Sabah. Take note that the places below are not for your commercial tourism as those can be easily done at KK City with abundance of information available. The ones recommended below are catered to visitors wanting something different from the ordinary.

Kinabatangan River for a Wildlife Experience

Kinabatangan is clearly one of the best places in Sabah for wildlife and everything related to it. In short, it is here where visitors will see the most wildlife, birds, reptiles and flora, all in one destination. The popular Kinabatangan River is also known as Sukau where you will find numerous Eco resorts and lodges along the main river where moving around in boats is your main transportation.

Among the activities, the Kinabatangan River Cruise is listed as the number one thing to do there, where you have the opportunity to spot wildlife, namely the Borneo Pygmy Elephants who move around in herds. Other wildlife include Orang Utans, Gibbons, Proboscis Monkeys, Birds, Snakes and even Crocodiles. Trekking is also available, but with the local nature guides that take you into the dense rainforest.

For the nocturnal animals, there is a Kinabatangan night river cruise where you will experience spotting crocodiles, wild cats, snakes and birds in a boat that moves really slow along the side of the river and some smaller rivers here. Chances are you will be seeing wildlife, hence this is one of the best places in Sabah to spot wildlife. To book tours here, you can contact North Borneo Safari as they are one of the reputable Kinabatangan tour operators for many years. They also provide professional services like wildlife photography tours and video shooting.

Danum Valley

Since the dawn of age, Danum has always been there and till this very day, Danum Valley is still one of the top three pristine rainforest that is under conservation. The absolute beauty about this place is that there is only one Eco resort called Borneo Rainforest Lodge or BRL in short, which is a 5-Star luxury resort and the Danum Valley Field Centre. Recently in 2016, news of another new resort in Danum Valley surfaced where they plan to open in 2017.

Continue reading (Incl. Pics) at: Malaysia Asia: Where to go in Sabah for 2017

Sunday, December 11, 2016

Expand wildlife corridors in Heart of Borneo call

KOTA KINABALU: Kapayan assemblyman Dr Edwin Bosi said the step and effort taken by the government to increase the forest cover would come to naught if the ecology and in particular, the wildlife component was not taken into consideration.

Bosi said the government had just passed an Enactment to amend the Forests (Constitution of Forest Reserves and Amendment)(Amendment) Enactment 1984 during the November 2016 Assembly sitting.

This Enactment saw the excision of a Forest Reserve Class I, renaming and extension of Forest Reserves, he added.

He said the extension of Forest Reserve was undertaken to take into account the importance of these forests such as water catchment, high conservation values, rich marine habitat, potential for forest recreation activities, for community development and economic programmes and as wildlife corridor and habitat.

Bosi stressed that wildlife needs habitat and habitat means the forest.

He said now we could see fragmentation of forest and these had caused the separation of wildlife.

The fragmentation has also caused human-wildlife conflict to escalate.

Bosi said wildlife corridors were inadequate for now.

“I hope the government will expand or extend the wildlife corridors within the Heart of Borneo (HoB). If this is realised, wildlife such as the pygmy elephants will not only forage in Sabah but also in Sarawak, Brunei and Kalimantan,” Bosi said, adding the loss of so many pygmy elephants in Gunung Rara Forest Reserve was a step backward in wildlife conservation.

“We also know that our eco-tourism promotion will go nowhere if our wildlife is not protected and conserved.

“The opening up of land for oil palm in elephant habitat brings about human-elephant conflict. It must be addressed by ensuring that companies and contractors involved in land clearing, planting of oil palm or those involve in re-afforestation must be aware of the problem of elephants raiding their areas.”


Saturday, December 10, 2016

Pojiegraphy: 5 Top Places To Visit In Sandakan (Part I)

Generally (or is it only me), we have less interest to explore our own place. My case, I rarely go out and do new things when I'm back in my hometown (Kota Kinabalu, Sabah). I am more comfortable staying at home and spending the whole day with my dearest family. Well, that's the main purpose of going back actually, to have a quality time them.

My job as a travel writer requires me to move here and there.

So, when I have the chance to go back home, I prefer not to go anywhere but instead be at home. Poor me, now I know.

When I received an exclusive invitation from Sabah Tourism Board and Gaya Travel Magazine to join #ICYDKSandakan familiarisation programme, I immediately jumped to this opportunity and realise that there are many interesting places in #Sabah that I need to discover - one of those is SANDAKAN.

Sandakan offers a wide variety of tourism products and below is a list of things that you may do while being in and nearby the city. Based on my 4D3N trip, these are the first 5 places that I could recommend you to visit:

Sukau Village

Sukau Village is one of must-visit spots in Sandakan. Located nearby the famous Kinabatangan river, Sukau is blessed with abundant of biodiversity that attracts travellers that are into nature to come over and experience the nature wonders.

In Sukau itself, there are several lodges you can choose to stay. I stayed at Sukau Rainforest Lodge and definitely it is highly recommended one. Why? I will share it in a separate blog post. At Sukau Rainforest Lodge, you can also do several activities including night or morning cruise, morning nature walk and more.

While in Sukau, I had the chance to join the morning and night cruise along Kinabatangan river, morning walk at Hornbill Boardwalk - held nearby Sukau Rainforest Lodge and each one of it gives interesting information about the wildlife that lives around here.

Best for: Nature, adventure, honeymoon, educational tour

Things to bring: comfortable clothes and footwear, binocular, raincoat and a sense of adventure

Labuk Bay Proboscis Monkey Sanctuary

Have you seen the famous proboscis monkey (Nasalis larvatus)? It is widely known as a creature that is only available in Borneo. Besides, it was also chosen as the official mascot for Visit Malaysia 2014. This type of monkey can be found in the countries that divide the island which are Indonesia, Brunei and Malaysia (Sandakan). Proboscis monkey is listed as endangered species and now protected from hunting and capture in Borneo.

Good to know: The scientific name of this long-nosed monkey is nasalis larvatus. It also has different names according to the country. Locally we call it 'bayau' or sometimes 'monyet belanda'. Meanwhile, Indonesian call it 'monyet belanda' or 'bekatan'.


Friday, December 09, 2016

Travellers choose Kuching as 8th top rising Asian destination

KUCHING: The state capital Kuching is listed among TripAdvisor’s Top 10 Destinations on the Rise for Asia, finishing above Kota Kinabalu and Georgetown, Penang.

These three cities are also the three destinations from Malaysia found among the Top 10, making Malaysia the only country with such a high representation.

Kuching is at eighth spot, Kota Kinabalu at ninth and George Town rounds it up at 10. The top destination for Asia is Baku, the capital of Azerbaijan (which also made it to fifth place on TripAdvisor’s World Top 10 destination list).

The awards recognise 43 destinations around the world selected by an algorithm primarily measured by year-over-year increase in positive TripAdvisor traveller review ratings for accommodations, restaurants and attractions, and increase in booking interest.

This is the fifth year of the awards and Travellers’ Choice Destinations on the Rise lists were also revealed for the United States, Europe and South America.

The awards described a trip to Kuching as an enriching experience for any visitor, with the many museums and attractions which offer insights into the local heritage and traditions.

It said more can be learnt about Sarawak’s main ethnic groups including the Iban, the Bidayuh and the Orang Ulu at the Sarawak Cultural Village, a living museum where staff live and work to preserve their heritage and cultural traditions.


Kota Kinabalu International Airport continues to register double digit growth in international passenger movement

The Kota Kinabalu International Airport (KKIA) continues to register double digit growth in international passenger traffic movements for the past 10 months of this year as a result of consolidated operations under one roof.

From Jan to Oct, month-on-month growth compared against last year for international passenger traffic movements ranged from 20 percent to 37 percent, with year-to-date (YTD) growth at 28 percent.

Statistics also showed that the airport had registered YTD total domestic and international passenger growth of 10 percent.

This strong growth was contributed by strong performance from a wide range of airlines primarily the AirAsia Group, Jin Air from South Korea, and 16 other airlines operating at KKIA.

The Sabah Tourism Board had also reported an increase in total number of international and domestic visitors to Sabah for the period of Jan to Sep totaling 2.5 million which is a 5.2 percent increase when compared to the same period last year.

Malaysia Airports Holdings Berhad (MAHB) general manager Mohd Suhaimi Abdul Mubin said the number of passengers is expected to increase this Christmas and New Year celebration period, starting from the third week of Dec up till the first week of Jan 2017.


Thursday, December 08, 2016

Sabah’s Staghorn (Acropora) coral account for 70 pct of species worldwide

KOTA KINABALU: A research team from Universiti Malaysia Sabah (UMS) has come up with the most comprehensive checklist of the largest reef-building corals, the Staghorn (Acropora), in Sabah.

The researchers reported 83 species of staghorn corals present in the waters of Sabah through reviews of published accounts within the last three decades by various research groups, and records of voucher specimens deposited in the Biotechnology Research Institute (BRI) and Borneo Marine Research Institute (BMRI) of UMS, and the Museum of Tropical Queensland, Australia (MTQ).

The richness of staghorn coral fauna reported for Sabah parallels that of Indonesia and is comparable to the diversity reported in other neighbouring countries.

It accounts for 70 pct of the 120 staghorn species identified globally.

Former director of the Biotechnology Research Institute and principal investigator of the project, Assoc Prof Dr Vijay Kumar said the number of staghorn coral species tallied for Sabah is nothing short of impressive as its coastline is relatively much shorter in contrast to other coastal nations in Southeast Asia.

“Our findings further highlight the staggering diversity of Sabah’s biological resources in the marine environment, apart from the terrestrial realm,” he added.

Twelve staghorn coral species in the checklist constitute first records for Sabah, including a rare species, Acropora Suharsonoi, which was collected during a marine bioprospecting project undertaken recently by BRI.

“The highest number of staghorn coral species was recorded in Darvel Bay followed by the Banggi group of islands, and the waters off Semporna.

“The corals of Darvel Bay are the best studied in Sabah and much of the current knowledge regarding its biodiversity is attributed to a 1998 scientific expedition led by researchers from Denmark and BMRI,” said Rolando Robert, who is the first author of the paper.


Move to make Kiulu Mini Carnival a weekly affair

KOTA KINABALU: Rural tourism in Sabah is fast gaining popularity as evident in the tremendous response to the Kiulu Adventure Challenge (KAC) and Kiulu Mini Carnival (KMC) over the weekend.

Aimed at promoting Kiulu as a premier adventure and eco tourist destination, the KAC and KMC have succeeded in enhancing awareness among the rural folks on how tourism could become a viable source of income.

More than 1,000 people, including foreign visitiors, thronged the River Bug Adventure Base at Rangalau Lama, Kiulu,  for the KAC and the fun-filled KMC.

The KAC involved cycling and running through mountains and valleys with scenic views, as well as rafting along the Kiulu River, while the KMC featured a “Badih Gulu-Gulu” (traditional open market), traditional food and drinks fiesta and traditional sports.

Organised by the Kiulu Tourism Association (KTA) and supported by Tourism Malaysia and Sabah Tourism Board, the KAC which was divided into various categories, attracted more than 500 participants.

The Kiulu Mini Carnival, which was organised by the Kiulu Socio-Economy and Cultural Association (Pesbuk), provided opportunity to visitors to sample authentic Kiulu traditional delicacies prepared by the local community.

The Badih Gulu-Gulu, which saw pesticide-free agricultural produce and local handicrafts such as hat and vest made from tree barks being sold, was a hit among visitors prompting Kiulu Assemblyman Datuk Joniston Bangkuai to suggest for it to be held on a weekly or monthly basis.

Joniston, who is Sabah Tourism Board chairman, was particularly happy to note the participation of the local community in the KMC as an avenue for them to showcase and market their hand-made crafts, traditional foods and drinks.

“It was like back to nature as the traditional foods were cooked without any ingredients except for salt,” said Jason Prickely from Australia, who was at the event with several friends.

Continue reading (Incl. Pics) at: Move to make Kiulu Mini Carnival a weekly affair

Wednesday, December 07, 2016

New trail to Mount Kinabalu summit opens

KOTA KINABALU: A new trail leading to the Mount Kinabalu summit will be opened for climbers this Friday.

Sabah Tourism, Culture and Environment Minister Datuk Seri Masidi Manjun is scheduled to launch the Kota Belud Trail in a flag-off at the Timpohon Gate, Kinabalu Parks in Kundasang.

In a statement issued by Sabah Parks, the 1.1km trail is an alternative trekking and climbing route to the existing Ranau trail.

The Ranau trail was reopened in December last year after restoration works were completed following the tragic earthquake in June.

Continue reading (Incl. Pic) at: New trail to Mount Kinabalu summit opens

Archaeological park for Sarawak by 2019, featuring artefacts dating 1,500 years old

SANTUBONG: Sarawak will soon have its own archaeological park featuring artefacts estimated to be more than 1,500 years old.

The park, said Deputy Chief Minister Datuk Amar Abang Johari Tun Openg, will become a state legacy for Sarawak’s youth.

Abang Johari said that the construction of the park was expected to begin next year and that it will be open to visitors by 2019.

The state government, he said, was committed in ensuring that state’s culture and heritage, are well-preserved for the future generation, historians and tourists alike.

Abang Johari said Santubong is home to several artefacts including stones believed to be more than 1,500 years old.

“These (treasures) are part of our history and our heritage, which made us a unique society,” he said.

He added that research has shown that Santubong was the entry point of Islam, Hinduism and Buddhism in Borneo apart from being a major port of call for the Chinese traders then.


Tuesday, December 06, 2016

Ambitious book sheds new light on Danum Valley Conservation area

KOTA KINABALU: One of the best ways to explore Sabah’s renowned Danum Valley Conservation area at Ulu Segama Forest Reserve, Lahad Datu, is by flipping through the pages of a newly-launched book - “Danum Valley, the rainforest”.

Its author, Dutchman Hans Hazebroek, said the monograph provides readers an overall insight into the rainforest which they could never get by visiting the place alone.

“By going through the book (which is written using layman’s terms), readers will get invaluable information about Danum Valley.

“(Readers who later visit the site can therefore experience Danum) in the right context with the knowledge they have,” said the geologist after the book-launching ceremony, held in conjunction with the opening of the Danum Valley Wildlife and Resources survey 2016 here.

The book is co-authored by Sabah Parks chairman Datuk Seri Tengku Dr Zainal Adlin Tengku Mohamood and Yayasan Sabah conservation and environmental division group manager Dr Waidi Sinun.


Sunday, December 04, 2016

400 contestants test their mettle in Kiulu Adventure Challenge

KIULU: More than 400 extreme adventure enthusiasts put their physical fitness to the test at the 2nd Kiulu Adventure Challenge (KAC) here.

The annual adventure race saw participants running, cycling and water rafting to reach the finishing line.

The race started at 6am and ended at about noon. It was held at the Riverbug Kiulu Adventure Centre in Kampung Rangalau Lama, near here.

Tourists and visitors alike flocked to the village to witness the event, and experience the many activities lined up in the programme.

Among them were traditional Sabahan competitions like blowpipe and slingshot, as well as ziplining and Tagal fish feeding.

Kiulu Adventure Challenge is an extreme sporting race event listed in the Sabah tourism calendar.


Saturday, December 03, 2016

Sabah takes plunge with launch of 'End in Sipadan' diving campaign

KOTA KINABALU: The Sabah Tourism and Culture Ministry has kickstarted its "End in Sipadan" campaign to promote Sabah as a major, world-class diving destination.

Ministry director Ahmad Zaki said the campaign, which runs till June, will highlight diving sites here and in Kudat, Sandakan, Lahad Datu and Semporna.

"Sabah's diving trails, both old and new, will ensure an enthralling experience for divers.

"This campaign will also feature six volunteerism programmes, including coral planting, underwater cleaning, and turtle resting reef-building at the diving sites," he said during a press conference at Pulau Sapi island here, whereby the media and tour operators were taken on diving tours.

Three-day beginner diving lessons, which started yesterday, are among the first activities of the campaign aimed at affording participants a first-hand experience of being underwater with diverse marine life.


Friday, December 02, 2016

World.Wide.Webb: Malaysian Borneo – Kota Kinabalu, Sepilok and Kinabalu National Park

WOW! What a country, hands down the most incredible place I have ever visited. It’s an amazing contrast of leafy green jungle and towering mountains, and home to some of the most magnificent animals on the planet.

Borneo is actually a huge place and supposedly the 3rd biggest island on the planet. It is split into two main parts, Malaysian Borneo (the smaller part in the north) and Indonesian Borneo (much larger part).

Malaysian Borneo is again split into different sections, the part that we visited was called Sabah and covers the most northern tip of the island.

Despite all the apprehension about our visit mentioned in my previous blog we had a really great time, although I still don’t think it is somewhere I would chose to visit on my own.

I also feel quite strongly that it won’t be the last time I come here, 6 days wasn’t enough time to soak up the uniqueness of this country and there is far more to discover beyond the reaches of what we saw.

We flew into Kota Kinabalu from Kuala Lumpur landing late afternoon. We had a few hours exploring the city but it’s more of a local place so there isn’t too much to see or do.

It also has a bit of a dodgy feel in that we didn’t really see anyone else there who wasn’t Asian, and we got some strange leery looks off the seedy locals.

The next day we headed out of town on the bus to Sandakan, 6 hours of windy mountain roads later and we were dropped off at a empty road junction.

It was 3km from there to our final destination of Sepilok, and luckily for us there was one man with a car waiting to take us up to our hotel.

Sepilok is the home of the Orangutans, the main reason we came to Borneo. So we thought we would do it properly and pay to stay in the nicest resort there.

There is no town just a few accomodation places around the Orangutan sanctuary which is set deep in the jungle.

Our resort was AMAZING, a little pocket of complete solitude worlds away from anywhere else we’ve been so far.

We had a wooden cabin to stay in amongst the trees with a balcony, awesome outdoor shower and the most stars we have seen so far.

We had two nights here so for our one full day we went to visit the Orangutans or ‘man of the forest’ as it directly translates.

Sepilok Orangutan rehabilitation centre is one of the best places we’ve been with a remarkable programme in place for this endangered species.

Orangutan infants are dependent on their mothers until at least 6 or 7 years old, meaning if they become orphaned they are in real danger of not surviving.

Unfortunately due to large amounts of deforestation in their habitat this occurs all too often.

The parents are either killed or separated from their young leaving them abandoned, sometimes plantation workers may find them and take them home to be a pet keeping them in poor conditions.

The centres rescue programme takes the orphaned Orangutans and after some time in quarantine and a health check acts as their surrogate parents.

They have an indoor nursery where they teach them not only the skills they need to survive in the wild but also to trust humans again.

When they reach 5-6 years old depending on their progress they are released into the outdoor nursery.

This is just the open jungle and Orangutans are encouraged slowly to venture further and further away from the sanctuary.

Some will take to this and may never be seen again, whilst the less confident will be dependent on the centre for the rest of their lives.