Friday, March 31, 2017

Geographical: Borneo Wildlife Warriors - new web video series launches

New video series tracks the journey of Aaron Gekoski as he joins Borneo’s Wildlife Rescue Unit to get on conservation’s front lines – watch new episodes each week on Geographical

Borneo is widely regarded as being home to an absolutely stunning array of wildlife and natural beauty, but as is so often the case around the world, this ecological diversity doesn’t come easy.

Facing constant threats, both man-made and environmental, the region’s ecosystem needs almost constant monitoring to keep it alive.

Enter the Wildlife Rescue Unit (WRU), a dedicated team of conservations tasked with protecting all that Borneo’s animal kingdom has to offer.

Falling under the auspices of the Ministry of Tourism, Culture and Environment of Sabah, the WRU has been protecting Borneo’s wildlife since its launch in 2010 and today employs 229 staff members across the country.

And they could be about to take on one more.

The WRU came to the attention of wildlife journalist Aaron ‘Bertie’ Gekoski in 2013 while he was documenting a story about elephants being poisoned for their tusks in Zimbabwe.

It was a tale that never left him and, hearing about a similar event at a Bornean palm oil plantation, he decided he had to investigate for himself.


AirAsia flies Kuching/Pontianak daily from June 5

KUCHING: Low-cost airline AirAsia, will now fly to Pontianak, Indonesia from Kuching with direct daily flights commencing June 5 this year.

Operated exclusively by AirAsia with the flight code AK1028 (Kuching to Pontianak) and AK1029 (Pontianak to Kuching), this marks AirAsia’s 10th route from Kuching and the airline’s second route from Malaysia into Pontianak.

AirAsia head of commercial, Spencer Lee said the airline was excited to launch its second international flight from Kuching which will further expand its connectivity between Malaysia and Indonesia for all its guests.

He said Pontianak offers a unique experience for travellers with it being one of the twelve cities that straddle the Equator.

“We are confident this new route will contribute to the five million tourists target for Sarawak this year aside from boosting the local economy and trade sector,” he said.

In celebration of the new route, travellers can look forward to all-in-fares from as low as RM89 one-way which are available from now until April 2 for the travel period from June 5 to September 30.

AirAsia BIG members who book during the promotion period can also earn two times (2X) AirAsia BIG Points on the base fare. Visit or use the AirAsia mobile app on the iPhone or Android devices to enjoy the special promotional fares.

AK1028 departs at 1155am from Kuching and arrives at 11.45am (West Indonesian time) in Pontianak. On the other hand, AK 1029 departs from Pontianak at 12.10 noon (West Indonesian time) and reaches Kuching at 1.50pm.


Thursday, March 30, 2017

Hilton arrives in Kota Kinabalu, Malaysia

Hilton today announced the opening of Hilton Kota Kinabalu, a 305-room hotel located in the center of Sabah’s capital city.

An urban melting pot of Southeast Asian culture, Kota Kinabalu has emerged as a growing resort destination for local and international travelers alike due to its unparalleled access to Borneo’s pristine beaches, rugged mountain ranges and incredible biodiversity.

“Borneo has long attracted visitors seeking a vacation out of the ordinary,” said Sean Wooden, vice president, brand management, Asia Pacific, Hilton.

“At Hilton, we are always looking to be in the destinations that matter most to our guests, and with the opening of Hilton Kota Kinabalu, we are well positioned to deliver our award-winning hospitality from the gateway to this beautiful island.”

Hilton Kota Kinabalu is only 300 meters from Kota Kinabalu’s newest landmark – Plaza Shell, Sabah’s first fully green building.

The hotel is also near the Tunku Abdul Rahman Park Islands, Kota Kinabalu Observatory Tower, and several restaurants and shops at the city’s Waterfront complex.

Hilton Kota Kinabalu is approximately nine kilometers from Kota Kinabalu International Airport and 90 kilometers from the Kinabalu National Park – home to Mount Kinabalu, Malaysia’s first UNESCO World Heritage Site and the tallest mountain in the country.

Inspired by Borneo’s unique biodiversity, Hilton Kota Kinabalu’s design features an intriguing fusion of nature and art, resulting in an authentic, minimalist decor that creates a calm and reflective contemporary guest experience.

All 305 guest rooms and suites are equipped with motion sensing technology that controls lighting and air conditioning, modern furnishings and ergonomically-designed workspaces.

Continue reading (incl. Pics) at: Hilton arrives in Kota Kinabalu, Malaysia

Asean International Film Festival Award - All set for the night

KUCHING: The biennial Asean International Film Festival Award (Aiffa) 2017 from May 4 to 6 have kicked off a series of exciting events and activities up till the big night.

Aiffa is in its third edition and all the 10 Asean countries will be taking part in the festival.

Aiffa festival director Livan Tajang said the organiser would promote the event through exhibitions and press conferences in Sabah, Kuala Lumpur, Jakarta, Singapore, Bangkok and Manila.

“We are receiving film entries now and this will be up for competition during the festival.

“We are talking to accomplished filmmakers and students of film as well as engaging partnership with international and regional film community and local business people,” she said at a press conference.

Café crawl, which is informal talks by local and international filmmakers, will be conducted at three selected cafes in Kuching from May 4 to 6. Film chats and screenings are among activities to be held during the sessions. This event is open to public.

“These are the people who moved beyond Asean region and win awards internationally.

Now they contribute by educating other Asean filmmakers.

“We would like to groom aspiring filmmakers so that they can become professionals.

“We also want to provide a platform for the younger people to learn more about films,” Livan said

Besides film festival and awards, the public will be treated to free public screening of movies at the Godown amphitheatre Waterfront Kuching, on weekends next month.


Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Struggles of our sea turtles

BLINK. Blink. After a deep, peaceful sleep, he must have felt like he’d just woken up to a circus. Surrounding his temporary home in the bright blue plastic tray are curious humans, pushing at each other to have a closer look. He must have been glad to be hidden under the matching blue blanket as he thought about his escape.

The young Hawksbill turtle, the star attraction on this pleasant morning, is due to be released into the sea after having spent several days at the Gaya Island Resort’s Marine Conservation Centre. He’d found himself trapped in a fisherman’s bubu (fish trap) and was brought here by the fishermen for further action.

The Hawksbill, considered by many to be the most beautiful of all sea turtle species for their colourful shells, is a critically endangered species. Their population has dropped more than 80 per cent in the last century, due to the trade in their exquisite carapace (shell), also known as “tortoiseshell”.

The star Hawksbill regally climbs out of his sanctuary and onto the warmth of the soft sand.

Waiting across from him in the warm, shallow grey-green water, is the resort’s marine biologist Scott Mayback. Zig-zagging his way across the sand, the Hawksbill finally reached his destination, as the waves caress his body, and float him further away from the shore.

“Stay safe, little one,” I mumbled to myself, as I feel my eyes tearing up.

Gaya Island is set within the Tunku Abdul Rahman Marine Park, a group of five islands surrounded by corals off the coast of Kota Kinabalu, Sabah. The Marine Centre is situated on Tavajun Bay, reachable either by a five-minute boat ride from Gaya Island Resort’s jetty or through a 45-minute trek.

The centre was set up in 2013 and has since then, rescued, treated and cared for numerous endangered green sea turtles (Chelonia mydas) and one critically endangered Hawksbill (Eretmochelysimbricata).

Outside the turtle rescue centre is a 14,000-litre recovery tank for housing sick or injured sea turtles. This recovery tank also holds a coral nursery that will be used to breed coral fragments to be returned to the sea, and help rejuvenate and improve the natural reefs.

Continue reading (Incl. Pic) at: Struggles of our sea turtles

Collaboration on enhancing turtle conservation and eco-tourism in Sarawak

KUCHING: Sarawak Energy Berhad (SEB) has formalised an agreement with Sarawak Forestry Corporation (SFC) to work in partnership to enhance the latter’s turtle conservation programme and promote eco-tourism at turtle landing sites Tanjung Datu National Park, Pulau Talang-Talang Besar and Pulau Talang-Talang Kechil.

A Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) was signed at Menara Sarawak Energy yesterday in the presence of Chief Minister Datuk Amar Abang Johari Tun Openg to confirm SEB’s intent to provide the sanctuaries with green energy via a solar centralised system.

The MoU includes other areas of cooperation with SFC such as to allow SEB to evaluate new solar technologies for potential applications at remote and rural areas.

Signing the MoU on behalf of SEB was its group chief executive officer Sharbini Suhaili while SFC was represented by its chief executive officer Wong Ting Chung.

Serving as witnesses to the MoU were SEB executive vice-president for Corporate Services Aisah Eden and SFC head of Protected Areas and Biodiversity Conservation Oswald Bracken Tisen.

Commenting on the collaboration, Sharbini in a statement said sustainability underpinned SEB’s business, operations and interactions with the community.

“As a responsible corporate citizen, SEB is pleased to be able to help provide electricity to Tanjung Datu National Park and the two turtle islands of Pulau Talang-Talang Besar and Pulau Talang-Talang Kechil by providing a green source of energy free from carbon emission to these protected areas, replacing noisy diesel generators making it more conducive for turtle conservation.”

SEB will connect Tanjung Datu National Park with 10kW of solar power, Pulau Talang-Taang Besar with 8kW and Pulau Talang-Talang Kechil with 6kW. The three turtle sanctuaries currently use diesel generators with restricted hours of operation that require high maintenance costs.

It will also train the parks’ rangers on the operation and maintenance of the system. The technical team will continue to attend to breakdowns, do periodical inspection and scheduled maintenance as required.

Meanwhile, Wong said SFC was fortunate to have SEB as a partner, first in biodiversity conservation and now in eco-tourism development as exemplified by this joint undertaking at Talang Satang National Park.


Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Kiulu launches Tourist Pass for eco-tourism adventures

KOTA KINABALU: The Kiulu Tourist Pass will be made available to visitors from April onwards for travellers looking to experience the various eco-tourism activities in Kiulu, at a discounted price.

Sabah Tourism Board chairman Datuk Joniston Bangkuai said the pass, which is valid for a year, was one of the initiatives to promote eco-adventure tourism here.

The RM5 pass will see RM3 returned to the community to help develop tourism activities.

“Kiulu promises an enchanting experience by offering its scenic views where visitors will be taken through the Kiulu River Valley. The pass will also highlight the local attractions and activities along the way.

“Necessary information will also be made available in the pass to assist self-guided tourists and visitors alike in case of emergency,” he said at the launching of the Kiulu Tourist Pass and Kiulu Arch here.

Joniston, who is also Kiulu assemblyman, said visitors should take advantage of the pass to experience Kiulu in conjunction with Visit Kiulu Month in April.

Many activities have been lined up for the month-long event such as a traditional food and drink fiesta, cultural fest, tamu (market), and a tagal fishing challenge.

Travellers can check out Visit Kiulu's official website at to get more information about events and activities taking place here.


Direct Bangkok-KK flight

Kota Kinabalu: Thai Airways together with its subsidiary Thai Smiles launched its inaugural direct flight from Bangkok to Kota Kinabalu on March 26.

Thai Airways Assistant Executive Vice President, Commercial, Wiwat Piyawiroj, said the cooperation in the opening of the Bangkok- Kota Kinabalu route between Thai Airways and Thai Smiles marked a milestone in showcasing the business model between the parent company and its affiliate.

"By providing this service, Thai Airways will be the distributor and marketer for the distribution of tickets and Thai Smiles will be the flight operator.

"This type of business will take place on several international routes that are due to launch this year.

And we strongly believe that this cooperation will bring comfort to passengers travelling to various cities.

In particular, the direct Kota Kinabalu route will bring about sustainable and profitable growth for both airlines."

Acting CEO of Thai Smiles, Captain Woranate Laprabang, revealed that Thai Smiles, a subsidiary of Thai Airways, the national carrier, was very proud to open the new route to Kota Kinabalu.

"It is acclaimed to be a major tourist destination of Asean region in the extent of the exuberance of nature.

The ticket will be sold by Thai Airways while the flight will be operated by Thai Smiles.

"The opening of this new route to Kota Kinabalu is considered one of the strategic priorities for us in the Asean region. Thai Airways and Thai Smiles will expand growth in order to develop more international network of routes extensively.

"Furthermore, we are committed to increasing our customers' choice to have a chance to travel to new destinations.

Of course, we are confident that our reputation for excellent service will make both airlines the market leader in the near future."

The Bangkok-Kota Kinabalu flight is open daily. There are two types of services including "Premium Economy Class" or "Smile PLUS Class" and "Smile Class" are offered for more comfortable space.

Passengers in both classes will receive a baggage allowance up to 30 kilograms and 20 kilograms, respectively.

For passengers traveling in the Premium Economy Class, priority will be given to their luggage.

The Airbus A320-200 airliner equipped with full facilities is in service for passengers to enjoy a superior flight experience. Foods and drinks are specially selected for the passengers. In addition, for adventurous passengers with lots of baggage, the airline also allows 10 kg weight from normal weight for climbing equipment and diving equipment.

Continue reading at: Direct Bangkok-KK flight

Monday, March 27, 2017

Borneo Wildlife Warriors - TV presenter Showcases the Heroic work of Sabah’s ‘Wildlife Warriors’

Let Aaron “Bertie” Gekoski take you on a ride … into the forests of Sabah.

The award-winning wildlife photographer and television presenter, aka the “shark selfie guy,” is in the Bornean state to headline an online documentary series for Scubazoo, a Sabah-based underwater production company.

Called “Borneo Wildlife Warriors,” the series will explore Sabah’s wondrous wildlife and the people who seek to preserve it.

The series follow the documentary filmmaker’s first televised outings in the state, “Borneo from Below,” which took a look at the state’s cornucopia of natural wonders beneath the surface of the sea.

Gekoski, a fashion photographer turned conservationist, takes a lighthearted approach to wildlife conservation, complete with stunts, in the vein of the late Australian environmentalist Steve Irwin.

Make no mistake, though: the 36-year-old adventurer does not flinch from exploring contentious issues.

Wildlife  trafficking, the exotic pet trade, shark finning, blast fishing – they are all subjects he explores in short lively episodes.

He does so hand in hand with local experts and wildlife officials in an attempt to bring attention to the most pressing issues of conservation in one of the world’s most biodiverse areas.

“It’s basically a reality show on our wildlife rescuers and it also showcases the many wonderful characters within the WRU [Wildlife Rescue Unit] who are doing great deeds,” the unit’s assistant director Dr. Sen Nathan was quoted saying.

“It depicts the superhuman efforts that our heroes employ to save the wildlife in Sabah.”


Sabah Sea Gypsies - The masters and servants of the sea

Sabah’s east coast is an enchanting place to visit. Aside from its pristine islands with white sandy beaches and beautiful diving sites, it also boasts unique cultures and lifestyles.

The trips I make to this part of the world has never bored me.

In fact, each trip taken to document the culture and lifestyle of the islanders here, especially the Bajau people, has been an eye-opener and has given me a better insight into this seafaring community.

The Bajau Laut or sea gypsies live a seaborne lifestyle. They live in small wooden sailing vessels or stilt huts built atop coral reefs and rarely set foot on land.

If they do go ashore, it’s usually just to collect fresh drinking water or gather timber to make their boats. They never stay on land for long.

They depend greatly on the sea for their main source of income, just like their forefathers.

The Bajau Laut people trade with the locals for their livelihood, using the fish they catch, the coral and shells they pluck from the bottom of the sea, and other sea-based products.

Almost everyone from this community is stateless, living a rather carefree and easy lifestyle, not looking far beyond tomorrow.

What is really intriguing about them is not just their simple lifestyle but the ancient Sama language they speak and their culture that they practise.

The Bajau Laut are indeed the masters of the sea. They roam the waters of Malaysia, the Philippines, and Indonesia.

In Sabah, this community can be found around the islands of Mabul, Bohey Dulang, Sibuan, Maiga, Mantabuan, Selakan and Omadal.

One can travel and visit these islands to see how they live.


Sunday, March 26, 2017

Exploring Sarawak cultures to inspire art

IT feels a little funny to be in a room with artists younger than me, listening to them talk about cultural practices older than all of them put together, and how the arrival of organised religion and logging changed their community forever.

And hearteningly, their reason for being so keenly aware of the situation is that they have been exploring their respective cultures to inspire their art.

There are four participating young contemporary artists featured in Manah: A Living Legacy, the first exhibition of the year for Galeri Petronas Suria KLCC. One of them is Shaq Koyok, a Temuan from Selangor. The remaining three are from Sarawak — Alena Murang (Kelabit), Kaleb Anyie Udau (Kenyah) and Kendy Mitot (Bidayuh).

When they were invited to take part, ‘Manah’ curator Dr Baharudin Arus requested that they work with non-traditional media as the rest of the exhibition was made up of artefacts and traditional items used by the indigenous people of Malaysia.

‘Manah’ was Baharudin’s second time curating an exhibition with Galeri Petronas. His own research into the Mah Meri culture gave him a deeper appreciation of what seemed like superstitions and backward practices to most members of modern society.

He said the art exhibition was to dispel the misconception that Orang Asli and Orang Asal cultures were backward or not on par with modern thinking.

“This is wrong. When we look at indigenous arts and cultures, in some parts, they are more advanced than us.”

Part of exhibition

Relating how they came to be part of this exhibition, Alena said Shaq attended a Petronas workshop and ended up telling Baharudin about their little collective of young indigenous artists.

Her own piece ‘The Storyteller’ is three-panel artwork of an old woman’s wrinkled face on the left and a young woman’s face on the right, rendered in arcylic, charcoal and chalk on canvas. This is technically quite traditional where art is concerned but it is accompanied by an audio of the songs and chants Alena recorded of her lessons with these Kelabit elders.

During an interview with journalists, Alena brought up a theme that echoed throughout their artwork and personal research — the traditions practised by the elders in their community have almost been wiped out by the arrival of religion, modern development, and the lack of interests from the subsequent generations.

The handful of elders who remember the old Kelabit songs are declining by the year, taking with them songs about distinctly non-religious practices such as love affairs, animal sacrifices and headhunting.

Alena went back to record and rework them slightly into something easier to feed to modern audiences.

“A lot of the songs were forgotten or not sung anymore. I went back to learn them to make them more contemporary and share them with everybody,” she said.

Tribute to Bidayuh ritual

Kendy Mitot’s installation — ‘Bilayar Simonggi I’eng D’e Piobuo’ or The Last Voyage of the Souls-Spirits — is a tribute to a Bidayuh ritual that is on the verge of extinction back in his hometown of Bau.

During his PhD research into Bidayuh rituals, he learned from the priests and priestesses that this year will be their last to perform the ceremony as they are old and tired.

“This is sad because we need to keep this culture,” Kendy said, adding that the priests and priestesses are between 70 and 90 years of age.

His ritual room had ships, woven from sago fronds, floating around an altar marked out in a circle with rice husks. Some of these ships contained a carved wooden figure. Others had strips of colourful cloths tied to them. One ship bore the St George’s Cross.

Continue reading (Incl. Pics) at: Exploring Sarawak cultures to inspire art

Saturday, March 25, 2017

Mount Kinabalu's Mountain Search and Rescue Unit gets rescue paraphernalia

KOTA KINABALU: Members of Sabah’s own Mountain Search and Rescue (Mosar) are now better equipped to handle any situation on Mount Kinabalu.

They have been provided breathing apparatus to be used in their operations at the nation’s tallest peak.

Some 26 Mosar personnel recently underwent training to use the breathing apparatus at Ranau in the mountain’s foothills.

Ranau Fire and Rescue Services Department officer in charge Jimmy Lagung said the breathing apparatus were usually used by firefighters when they enter a burning structure.


Friday, March 24, 2017

Sutera Harbour – Your first choice in Kota Kinabalu

In your search for first class accommodations in Kota Kinabalu, there is one name that should be at the top of your list; the magnificent Sutera Harbour Resort.

A fully integrated resort, the 384-acre Sutera Harbour Resort is built on reclaimed land and is situated just 5 minutes from the airport and 10 minutes from the heart of Kota Kinabalu.

The centrepiece of the resort is the Sutera Harbour Marina, Golf and Country Club which includes the 27-hole Graham Marsh designed championship golf course and the 104-berth marina that can accommodate 13 mega-yachts and 91 smaller vessels.

The course is divided into three distinct nines of varying difficulty; the Garden (holes 19-27) set by the Pacific Sutera Hotel, the Heritage (holes 10-18) which runs by the Magellan Sutera Resort and the Lakes (holes 1-9) adjacent to the golf clubhouse.

The club amenities include a 41-bay, two tiered driving range, a fully stocked pro shop, practice greens complete with areas for chipping and practicing side hill lies, fully equipped locker rooms with sauna and spacious function rooms.

This is the only 27-hole facility in Sabah and is also the only club to offer night golf to its patrons.

The club has been host to the Asian Tour’s qualifying school and is looking to host a full field event of its own to properly showcase the golf course and the rest of the property.

5-star accommodations are the order of the day at the luxurious Pacific Sutera Hotel.

An air of subtle elegance permeates the hotel with its grand entrance, high ceiling lobby lounge, panoramic view of the sea and 500 immaculately appointed suites and guestrooms all backstopped by superlative amenities and excellent service.

The hotel’s swimming pools are beautifully landscaped and surrounded by greenery and sit a stone’s throw away from the resort’s private beach.

A splendid view of the Tungku Abdul Rahman Marine Park and the tropical islands that lie therein provide a tranquil backdrop to the spectacular sunsets of Kota Kinabalu.

The world class Mandara Spa sits between the pools and the beach and offers the classic Balinese experience where guests can unwind and relax in the artfully decorated rooms or enjoy a full massage beachside in the open air pavilion.


A giant reason to conserve Sabah's forests

A towering giant has recently been discovered in the heart of Borneo, the most imposing of its kind in a land of giants. The world's tallest tropical tree stands at over 94m - taller than New York City's Statue of Liberty or the former Asia Insurance Building at Raffles Place.

Researchers found it in a protected Sabah forest and are hoping that the discovery will highlight the need to conserve the forests of Borneo, home to thriving wildlife and plants.

Said ecologist Gregory Asner, who found the tree with his colleagues: "Sabah (and Borneo in general) harbours some of the most spectacular tropical trees on earth. I have worked throughout the Amazon, Central America, on tropical islands including Madagascar, in tropical Africa and beyond, and yet Sabah's forests stand out as truly inspiring."

The Shorea faguetiana tree first caught the eye of researchers last year when Dr Asner and his colleagues were surveying Sabah's forests in a helicopter.

That was when they struck gold and found the tree that turned out to be 94.1m tall, with an immense canopy measuring 40.3m in diameter, in an undisturbed forest patch in Danum Valley.

Even better, they also found 49 other specimens taller than 90m spread all over Sabah, all of which would have crushed the previous record for tallest tropical tree.

Describing the moment he saw the tallest among them, Dr Asner, director of the Carnegie Airborne Observatory at the Carnegie Institution for Science in the United States, told environmental news site Mongabay it was flanked on each side by a tree of the same species of Shorea, each almost as tall.

"There are three trees, like brothers, standing above the rest of the canopy. I almost cried as we circled the tree maybe 10 times before the pilot said we had to go back," he said.

The previous record belonged to an 89.5m giant discovered in Sabah's Maliau Basin last year. It was reportedly spotted during a research project that used an airborne Lidar (Light Detection and Ranging) scanner to create 3D images of forest structure.

News of the latest record prompted Datuk Sam Mannan, the Chief Conservator of Forests at the Sabah Forestry Department, to organise an expedition to locate the tree and determine what species it was.

After trekking through a forest trail on Feb 22 this year, the team found the tree on a slope at about 359m above sea level. Mr Juanis Runcin of the Sabah Forestry Department then climbed the tree to obtain leaf samples so that the tree species could be identified.

Continue reading (Incl. Pics) at: A giant reason to conserve Sabah's forests

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Mini aquaculture park in Tuaran - A perfect place to fish with family members

KOTA KINABALU: There is a mini aquaculture park in a suburban residential area off Tuaran, some 30km from here and it is actually quite a catch.

Families, especially those with an enthusiasm for fishing and seasoned anglers make this place – Laya-Laya mini aquaculture park – their go-to venue when they feel like fishing and spending time with their families the same time.

The Laya-Laya mini aquaculture park operated by the Sabah Fisheries and Fishermen Development corporation (Ko-Nelayan) offers several ponds for anglers to fish.

Reared with various types of fish including the giant (goliath) grouper, hybrid groupers, Barramundi, mangrove jacks and even the almost extinct black bass, this place is perfect for those just starting to learn to fish.

Three ponds are available for fishing – Pond A for catch and release, Pond B for catch and carry, and river rig also for catch and carry purposes.

Park project manager Mohd Shah Hime Awang said their specially bred fish weighed between 1kg and 40kg.

“It depends on the type of fish and here, we make sure that our fish are at their most healthy state always,” he said.

For children, they even provide a special children’s fishing pond on a catch and release basis.


Tourism hotspot Kudat can shine with Pan Borneo Highway

KUDAT: The Pan Borneo Highway can help put Kudat in the limelight as a tourism hotspot according to district officer Sapdin Ibrahim.

Despite the existence of idyllic attractions throughout Kudat such as the Tip of Borneo and Kelambu Beach, he said distance from the state capital remains an issue.

“Driving from Kota Kinabalu to Kudat takes about three hours typically but the highway project can cut that down to half or even an hour, which will make it viable for more people to visit the district.”

“For this reason, we are highly anticipating the completion of the project,” he said during a briefing session for the press who are participating in the Kembara Media Negaraku.

Sapdin also took the opportunity to address some of the challenges currently faced by the district’s administration, such as reducing poverty among rural folks.

“Any boost to our eco-tourism sector is a big help in our efforts to eliminate poverty here in Kudat.


Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Melalap railway station building to be preserved as National Heritage

TENOM: Deputy Chief Minister Tan Sri Joseph Pairin Kitingan said the old railway station building in Melalap here would be preserved as a National Heritage.

He said this was to preserve the historical building for future generations.

“We agree with the museum to preserve and ensure the old building will become an attraction,” he told reporters after visiting the site of the Melalap railway station here on Monday.

He said the station was closed in 1971. The railway in Melalap was a major communication system for people who wanted to go Jesselton (now Kota Kinabalu) via the Tanjung Aru station.

Pairin said the effort would also attract more local and foreign  tourists to Tenom and would bring an impact on socio-economic development of the local communities in this area in the future.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Borneo – A future gem of Asia-Pacific

AS the third-largest island on earth, Borneo has its own unique advantages, including geographic location, natural resources, climate, and cultures.

This column will share on possible ways to further develop Borneo into a well-balanced and mutually-complemented community with the hope of opening up more sophisticated discussions on, for example, coming up with a model that may potentially be adopted by other developing economic entities.

If asked what paradise would look like, all might answer differently. However, if told there is a place rich in natural resources, renowned for diverse landscapes, notable for distinct cultures and friendly people, insusceptible to extreme weather and immune to natural disasters, most people would say that Borneo is an ideal place to stay and live.

With an area of nearly 750,000 square km (about twice that of Germany and over triple that of the United Kingdom),

Borneo is the third largest island in the world. Strategically located at the geographic centre of Maritime Southeast Asia, the island is surrounded by the Philippines, Indonesian archipelago, and the Indochina peninsula, and further by major economies such as China, South Korea, Japan, Australia and India.


From 1941 to 1945, Borneo was occupied by Japanese forces. A significantly large number of the local population lost their lives, including all the Malay Sultans of Kalimantan in the Pontianak incidents. During this period, the Dayaks, receiving assistance from the Allied Z Special Unit, engaged in guerrilla warfare against the occupying forces, mainly in Kapit Division.

After the Fall of Singapore in 1942, thousands of British and Australian prisoners were sent to camps in Borneo. At one of the worst sites around Sandakan, only six of some 2,500 survived. The Japanese forces were defeated by the Allies in 1945.


Today, Borneo is more harmoniously shared by Brunei and Malaysia in the north, and Indonesia in the south.

The population consists mainly of the Dayak community, Malays, Banjar, Chinese, and Kadazandusun. Most of the approximately 20 million inhabitants live in coastal cities and towns, including Samarinda, Banjarmasin, Balikpapan and Pontianak in Indonesia; Kuching, Miri, Kota Kinabalu, Tawau and Sandakan in Malaysia; and Bandar Seri Begawan in Brunei.

Primarily mountainous and antipodal to an area of Amazon rainforest, Borneo has been extensively covered by rainforest historically. Due to heavy logging, dense areas of rainforest have been reduced.

Deforestation has been further accelerated by, for instance, mining and the widespread development of oil palm plantations.


Monday, March 20, 2017

Asian Correspondent: Two new bird species discovered in Borneo

BORNEO’S remote Meratus Mountains are home to two species of bird previously unknown to scientists.

According to a new study published in academic journal BirdingASIA, the mountain range in South Kalimantan, Indonesia, is home to two species that have been named the ‘Meratus White-eye’ and the ‘Meratus Jungle Flycatcher.’

Whilst the mountainous regions of Malaysian Borneo in Sarawak and Sabah are relatively well-explored, Indonesia’s Kalimantan provinces have been seldom visited by avian experts.

Nevertheless, “few people would have predicted that there are still a couple of undescribed bird species holding out in an isolated tract of hills,” one of the researchers, Dr Frank Rheindt from the National University of Singapore, told Asian Correspondent.

“Within South-east Asia, the island of Borneo is one of the longest studied regions.”

The only previous documented ornithological survey in the Meratus region was made in October 1996, was significantly hampered by heavy rainfall, and only focused on areas below 900 metres.

The 2016 study found that habitat between 500 and 700m was largely destroyed for cinnamon and rubber plantations, gradually giving way to degraded forest with recent and ongoing logging activity.

Between 900 and 1,400m, where the researchers undertook observation, was closed-canopy forest.

Borneo is the largest island in Asia, boasts one of the richest ecosystems on earth and is home to many species not found anywhere else.

This includes 420 birds, more than 40 of which are endemic, as well as the pygmy elephant, proboscis monkeys and Asia’s only great ape – the orangutan.

Orangutans only exist on Borneo and the Indonesian island of Sumatra.

Across the swamps, mangroves and rainforest of Borneo, some 15,000 plants can be found, 6,000 of which are endemic.

According to the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), three species are discovered every month in the Heart of Borneo conservation area.


Sunday, March 19, 2017

Hilton Kota Kinabalu adds to Sabah's prestige

Kota Kinabalu: The grand opening of the ninth Hilton property in Malaysia – the 305-room Hilton Hotel Kota Kinabalu – is timely as Sabah continues to grow as a popular tourist destination.

Chief Minister Datuk Seri Musa Aman said the State Government is confident the presence of this well-established hotel chain would complement economic growth, especially in the tourism sector in Sabah, and the city in particular.

He said the State Government welcomed the establishment of this reputable hotel that adds to Kota Kinabalu's landscape, which is a milestone for Hilton Hotels and Resorts, and a testimony of the confidence that investors have in Sabah.

"Let me assure Hilton Hotels and Resorts that you have made the right decision to invest in Kota Kinabalu.

I also commend Pekah Hotels for rescuing this project, which was abandoned for a couple of years.

"This hotel has all the attributes for success with its strategic location in the city and latest facilities that create ease for both business and leisure travellers whereby its grand ballroom can accommodate 900 people which will also provide an alternative to those seeking space within the city to hold their events.

"To grow our economy, we do not only need infrastructure development, but also complementary services such as reputable hotels," he said, at its official opening, Saturday.

He hoped the hotel would contribute to the State's long-term goal to establish Sabah as the world's destination of choice in terms of nature diversity, rich cultures as well as business and investments.

"I wish to take this opportunity to call on hotels and resorts in Sabah to create their own niche and to offer something different to guests. Make use of feedback that guests send you to update your services and to cater to the needs of your target market.

"I also wish to see hotel and resort operators in Sabah raising the bar on standards so that your guests will return not only to Sabah, but to your hotel or resort.

"Sabah is known for its biodiversity, clean environment and nature based destinations, and thus, I am urging the resort and hotel operators to be mindful of the need to implement policies that support this," Musa said.

He said Sabah does not only need infrastructure development to boost its economic growth but also complementary services such reputable hotels.

"Tourism will continue to feature as part of Sabah's economic development. With our strong presence in the global tourism market, the government remains committed in further developing the sector along with private entities.

"Sabah has a variety of tourism products that cater to the needs of tourists, from nature destinations to rich cultural heritage, a diversity of food, and shopping options. There is always something for everyone who visits our State.

Continue reading (Incl. Pic) at: Hilton Kota Kinabalu adds to Sabah's prestige

Bornean 'tuhau' plant rises to prominence, thanks to Kadazandusun cousins

KOTA KINABALU: The use of the Bornean ‘tuhau’ plant as a key ingredient in a range of health, food and beauty products is gaining popularity among Malaysian entrepreneurs – and placing the highly-beneficial local herb in the spotlight.

Although commonly used as traditional food ingredient in Sabah, Kadazandusun cousins Deiseree Daniel Jambun and Marion St Joan Galid decided to take a different approach to tuhau and incorporated its extract into their ‘Love, Lusie’ beauty scrubs.

The move made them the first in the world to use the plant as a beauty product ingredient.

Scientifically known as etlingera coccinea, tuhau, or wild ginger, is endemic to Borneo. The plant is commonly found in the jungles of Sabah and Sarawak, and they are believed to be rich in antioxidants and antibacterial properties.

Deiseree, founder of Love, Lusie, said the idea of incorporating tuhau into beauty products came when she was eating pickled tuhau at her home in Kuala Lumpur last year.

“It came out of the blue and I texted my cousin (Marion), and the next thing we knew, we were already experimenting and distributing test products to our relatives and friends.

“It took us about three months to finally release them for sale in Aug last year. Since then, we have kept receiving positive feedback and orders," she said.

Their tuhau-infused beauty scrub is a certified hit with consumers, with marketgoers thronging the Love, Lusie booth at the Sunday market in Gaya Street here today. Customers could take their pick from scrubs for the body, face and lips.

The indigenous people of Sabah have, for generations, been using tuhau as a traditional remedy for stomach pains as well as wounds – apart from using it as a food ingredient.

For wounds, young tuhau shoots would be dipped in water and placed on the injured area.

"Post-partum women also use it to remove body odour.

“(Indigenous people) use tuhau as their primary plant for medicine, because they know it is effective.


Tambunan to kick off this year's Kaamatan

Kota Kinabalu: Tambunan's Pisompuruan Square has been chosen to launch the State-level Harvest Festival on May 1.

Deputy Chief Minister Tan Sri Joseph Pairin Kitingan said the district about 80km from the city was selected in conjunction with the Visit Tambunan Year 2017.

He said Head of State Tun Dr Juhar Mahiruddin is expected to officiate the annual auspicious occasion of the festival celebrated by the Kadazandusun Murut (KDM) community.

"The committee has chosen a theme 'Kaamatan Asas Perpaduan' (Kaamatan Basic Unity) or 'Kaamatan Impowon Pisompuruan' for the festival this year which is seen as suitable with the role of festival and celebrations as a channel to instil unity among the multiracial society in Sabah.

"The climax of the celebration will be at Hongkod Koisaan KDCA in Penampang on May 30 and 31 with various programmes including performances of Kadazandusun," he said, adding that 14 committees, including sub-committees, have been formed to prepare for the celebration.


Saturday, March 18, 2017

Dinks in Transit: Borneo and its epic creatures and jungles

After leaving Mabul, I made my way to Kota Kinabalu (KK) – the capital of Malaysian Borneo.

This meant a midnight flight in a small plane through a storm. I once said I enjoyed turbulence.

I may need to retract that comment – Malaysia Airlines needs to steam clean seat 2A now.

I also nearly had a vicious attack by a monkey. An animal sanctuary may need to do a bit of a clean up too.

What didn’t help the situation was I had just bought a new book which starts off with a scene of a devastating plane crash in the forest.

My brain quickly made the connection with Borneo and that was it – 45 minutes of clutching onto my seat, hoping for the best.

The pilot was a little cowboyish too which didn’t help either. Maybe this is why my flight only cost R240?

Nonetheless, I made it to Kota Kinabalu (KK), the capital of Malaysian Borneo, in one piece.

The first thing I noticed about this city is that it is much bigger than I anticipated.

I was expecting some sort of backwater city, but what I got was this large metropolitan, complete with massive shopping malls and great infrastructure.

Hell, the Queen Mary 2 was even docked nearby!

There isn’t much to do in the city, however. It’s a popular base from which to explore the nearby jungle and Mount Kinabalu.

My first adventure was a trip out of the city to try and spot the rare Proboscis monkeys in their natural habitat.

This trip made me realise that although KK is pretty big, Malaysian Borneo quickly turns to jungle and small villages as soon as you leave the city.


2016 sees rise in tourist arrivals to Brunei

THE total number of international tourist arrivals to Brunei Darussalam through the Brunei International Airport (BIA) reached 218,809 in 2016 compared to 218,213 in 2015, recording a 0.3 per cent year-on-year increase.

The Brunei Tourism Development Department of the Ministry of Primary Resources and Tourism (MPRT) said in a statement that in 2016, the Far East region was the only source market that has continued to show positive growth at 10.4 per cent especially from countries such as South Korea, Hong Kong, China and Japan which have all grown by 23.7 per cent, 19.4 per cent, 10.7 per cent and 3.2 per cent respectively.

Australia and New Zealand markets have both showed a decline at 18.7 per cent (year-on-year), followed by the long haul market such as the United Kingdom at 10.1 per cent and Asean markets such as Malaysia and Singapore at 1.1 per cent.

The overall increase can be attributed to the high travel demand from the Far East market, visa facilitation (visa on arrival) for China and chartered flights from China and South Korea, the department said.

Whereas, the weakening global economy and high regional competition from neighbouring countries in the Asean have affected the performance and growth of the Australia and New Zealand, Asean and long haul source markets in 2016 to some extent.

Malaysia contributed to the top tourist arrivals in 2016 due to its easy air accessibility and proximity with 24.8 per cent (26.6 per cent in 2015), followed by China in second place with 18.7 per cent (16.9 per cent in 2015).

Indonesia moved up one ranking at 9.5 per cent (7.9 per cent in 2015), Philippines dropped to fourth place at 7.8 per cent (8.2 per cent in 2015) and Singapore remained at the same position from last year at 6.6 per cent (7.4 per cent in 2015).

In total, the top five countries have contributed the majority portion of international tourist arrivals into the country in 2016 at 67.4 per cent.


Friday, March 17, 2017

How Malaysia’s golden goose of ecotourism, Sabah, keeps the visitors coming

The East Malaysian state has fostered an economy that’s as robust as its many natural wonders, from Lake Toba to Mount Kinabalu

Policymakers would be wise to study what the East Malaysian state of Sabah has done right.

With 3.4 million visitors in 2016 – more than a million from China alone – Sabah has become one of Asia’s most successful eco- and adventure-tourism destinations.

Of course, a combination of Mount Kinabalu (Southeast Asia’s tallest mountain), countless diving spots as well as pristine forests have helped boost the state.

Budget carrier AirAsia has also played a vital role, driving down fares and expanding capacity.

However, Sabah wasn’t always a success story. Twenty-five years ago, the state was facing a major economic dilemma.

For decades, local businessmen had focused on extractive industries, logging the state’s extraordinarily rich forests. But by the early 1990s, it was clear that was unsustainable.

Datuk Masidi Manjun, the Minister of Sabah Tourism, Culture and Environment, is sanguine: “Back then, it wasn’t difficult persuading ordinary Sabahans that conservation was the way forward. Sabahans have always had a close affinity with the forests.

“It helps that tourism, culture and the environment are all under the same ministry. This means we are able to craft and coordinate the right policies, thereby ensuring that everyone, including the private sector, is moving in the same direction,” he said.

Jackie Jimin, a 29-year-old native Murut marketing professional is extremely upbeat. Having studied and worked for many years in Kuala Lumpur she was able to return to Sabah in 2010 and find similarly well-paid work: “I came back to look after my mother who’s been ill. The local economy’s a lot more diverse now. The tourism boom has opened up lots of opportunities. Things are ‘amplified and advanced’.”

Others are more cautious. Asgari Stephens, a Kuala Lumpur-based but Sabah-born private equity investor talks about the need to upgrade local skills: “We need to raise standards, improve training and work to compete with Bali and Phuket. Mass tourism from China isn’t necessarily very profitable.”

“Sabahans are proud of their cultural heritage. This is taught and nurtured in schools. We are a multicultural and multireligious people. The state government is working hard to ensure that our native cultures thrive.”


Thursday, March 16, 2017

RM60 million boost for Sarawak tourism

KUCHING: The state government has approved RM60 million to boost the Sarawak tourism industry this year.

This was revealed by Assistant Minister for Tourism Datuk Lee Kim Shin yesterday after chairing the Annual Sarawak Tourism Steering and Co-ordination Committee Meeting for 2017 on the behalf of Chief Minister Datuk Amar Abang Johari Tun Openg who is also Tourism, Arts and Culture Minister.

“The ministry’s 2017 directions are to concentrate on key result area implementation to create new growth in the service sector. The key result projects for 2017 include branding for Sarawak, product enhancement, new product development and variety, promotions and marketing, and connectivity and capacity building.

“Funding of RM60 million has been approved to create new growth and branding which covers events and festivals, facilities and infrastructure, product development, promotion and marketing and studies,” Lee said.

He added that this year, the government is working on creating branding for Sarawak and positioning Sarawak as a tourist destination. The ministry is outsourcing specialists to do it.

Meanwhile, he said national tourist arrivals for 2016 was 26.7 million as compared to 25.7 million in 2015. The 2016 national tourist receipts increased to RM82.1 billion as compared to RM67 billion in 2015.

He added that Sarawak visitor arrivals in 2016 was 4.6 million, bringing an estimated tourism receipt of RM8.37 billion, equivalent to 7.89 per cent of the state’s GDP and contributing various job opportunities to the service sector and rural community through homestay programmes.

He also announced that the seventh Sarawak Hornbill Tourism Awards will be held on Nov 23 and 24. Nomination is open from now until June 30.

Awards in contention are for Outstanding Hotel and Accommodation Provider, Outstanding Destination Management Company, Outstanding Tourist Guide, Outstanding Food Outlet, Outstanding Cottage Industry Contribution, Outstanding Transport Contribution, Outstanding Media Contribution, Outstanding Tourism Attractions and Events and the Hornbill Special Award.

Continue reading (Incl. Pic) at: RM60 million boost for Sarawak tourism

Sabah Tourism Board building 100 years old next year

KOTA KINABALU: The Sabah Tourism Board (STB) building will be 100 years old on March 16, 2018 and an organising committee has been formed between PAM Sabah Chapter and Sabah Tourism Board (STB) to celebrate the auspicious occasion next year.

“The building, of which the opening was officiated by the governor Mr Pearson, on March 16, in 1918, will be exactly 100 years old next year,” said Ar Victor Wong, the organising chairman of the PAM-STB organising committee.

Wong is the Immediate Past Chairman of PAM Sabah Chapter and chairman of the Heritage and Conservation Committee under PAM Sabah Chapter.

The STB building was one of the buildings that were fortunate enough not to be destroyed during the Second World War, by the allied bombing in the Jesselton then. It is now one of the only three buildings in Kota Kinabalu gazetted for conservation and heritage.

The other two buildings are the Atkinson Clock Tower and the Lands and Survey Department building, which were later converted to the Department of Social Welfare that was destroyed by fire in the morning of December 31, 1992.

“The building was first occupied in 1918 by the Government Printing Department when completed, but later renovated in 1936 to house the Treasury, Audit Office, a bank and the Post Office,” Wong added.

The building underwent restoration in 1989 and it was officiated open on January 19, 1991, to house the Sabah Tourism Promotion Board, now the STB office.


Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Aandl - Sandakan

As usual, the long distance bus terminal is out of town in KK but this time the hotel recommended using Uber/GrabIt rather than a taxi.

Uber was not available so the helpful night guy on reception ordered a car through GrabIt which worked well and was about half the price of a taxi.

The location of the car which has been booked can be tracked on the smartphone to check progress! (First time we have used this type of service!).

We arrived well in time for the 0900 bus to Sandakan – a long 6 hour journey to the east of Sabah - our longest bus journey of the trip. 

There is beautiful scenery for much of the way. The early part is dominated by the mighty Mount Kinabalu, which was imposing but shrouded in clouds and mist. 

The latter part is dominated by oil palm plantations, which have unfortunately replaced the ancient forests over large tracts of Malaysia and particularly Borneo.

Taxi into Sandakan from the out of town bus station, of course!

We had eventually chosen a very cheap (10 euro per night but 5 of 32 hotels in Sandakan in TripAdvisor) hotel, which came very well recommended, was very central and nothing else looked particularly interesting - the May Fair.

Its rooms looked more like those you might expect to find in a hospital/institution, there plugs everywhere (so no problem recharging equipment), some interesting “don’t” signs (see photo) and it looked clean – OK so far.

Continue reading (Incl. Pic) at: Aandl - Sandakan

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Bornean Sun Bear - Meet the wild beauties of Borneo

Sun bears are cute, cuddly and playful, but they are not doing too well in their Malaysian home.

“Many of them have lost their forest habitat,” says sun bear expert Wong Siew Te. “In the past 50 years, almost all lowland forests, except for a few protected areas, have been affected by logging or cleared for plantations.”

“Now, the greatest threat to bears and wildlife clinging on to the few remaining patches of forest is poaching. Though just a few people are doing the hunting, the impact is devastating.”

Malaysia has good wildlife laws but poor enforcement and persecutions are poor, according to Wong.

“There are rampant sales of wildlife on the Internet; even baby sun bears can be bought,” he laments.

Wong is being interviewed in conjunction with the launch of Discovery Channel’s Frontier Borneo, an action-packed journey featuring the lives of remarkable men and women and unforgettable creatures on the third largest island on the planet.

They have to deal with home-made bombs in the oceans, explore uncharted jungles, rescue endangered animals and come face to face with deadly creatures.

This unique cast of local and international wildlife rangers, explorers, scientists and conservationists uncover some of the most spectacular landscapes to be found in Borneo.

In tonight’s episode (Astro Ch 551, 10pm), Wong faces almost insurmountable odds as he attempts to provide a new life for bear cub Dodop, which can’t even feed herself.

Wong founded the Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre in 2008 after witnessing many captive bears – cubs and adults – kept in small cages, unhygienic and often disgusting conditions in zoos, farms, private menageries, and private homes.

Continue reading (Incl. Pics) at: Bornean Sun Bear - Meet the wild beauties of Borneo

Monday, March 13, 2017

Dinks in Transit: Mabul – paradise but for how much longer?

It’s been a dream of mine to travel through Borneo, and I am finally ticking this off my bucket list.

My first proper stop was the small island of Mabul, located in the Celebes sea. There’s no doubt the waters in these parts are stunning, but for how much longer?

Getting to Mabul isn’t a fast process. One has to fly to Sabah (the Malaysian part of Borneo) and then endure a minibus ride for 100kms to a town called Semporna – effectively a s**thole.

What puts Semporna on the map is the port that shuttles you to Mabul. Apart from that, the 16 hours I spent there were 16 wasted hours of my life.

The town smells, it’s polluted to the gills and there’s a serious problem with homeless children hounding you for cash wherever you go.

I couldn’t wait to depart first thing the following morning.

Mabul is an interesting island. The important things to know are the following:

  • It’s tiny – you can walk around it in 30 minutes.
  • Its population is roughly 2,000 people, half of which are under the age of 14 (Durex should make an ad here).
  • The ‘economy’, so to speak, is entirely that relating to a fishing village and a snorkeling and diving hotspot.

Mabul is also the best example you’ll ever see of extreme poverty and extreme wealth coexisting.

The island itself, where the local population lives (mainly immigrants from the Philippines) is dirt poor.

You’d be forgiven for thinking you were walking through refugee camp. All the resorts and dive centres, however, are built on stilts out on the water and benefit from beautiful views and sea breezes.

The variety of accommodation will amaze you, ranging from R300 a night to R3,000 a night.