Wednesday, January 31, 2018

HoustoniaMag: Visiting Brunei, the Tiny Kingdom of Borneo

There’s no booze, but the wildlife and mosques are worth it.

I had been obsessing about snapping some photos of Brunei’s most famous denizens, the Proboscis monkeys. Besides the fact that I’m fascinated by one of the weirdest creatures on the planet, I could hardly wait to visit the Royal Kingdom of Brunei to tag my 172nd country.

There’s always been something mysterious to me about this little monarchy sandwiched together with parts of Malaysia and Indonesia on the island of Borneo. You can fly to Brunei for less than $35 one way from Kuala Lumpur and there’s no visa necessary for U.S. citizens. Plus, let’s not forget they have Proboscis monkeys.

Brunei is divided into two parts by a sliver of Malaysia’s Sarawak region, but the capital city of Bandar Seri Begawan and the international airport are in the larger western portion of the country. The Temburong region to the east is much more remote and is largely inaccessible except by boat. The southern half is a protected area known as Ulu Temburong National Park and is one of the biggest draws of the country. If you come to Brunei, you’ll more than likely be spending your time in BSB or the National Park, so a couple of days is enough to see the main sights.

Most of the capital city’s action seems to be centered near the riverfront. The muddy brown channel snakes through the city and the jungle and allows the speedboats to access Malaysia and the Temburong region. The most distinct feature of the Brunei river are the stilted houses along the shore that look like they would be better suited in a Louisiana swamp.

These water villages are made up of hundreds of wooden buildings and shacks connected together by piers, jetties and wooden bridges. This area has been nicknamed the “Venice of the East;” it’s unique, but comparing it to Venice might be a bit of a stretch.

For $1 Brunei, you can take a one-minute ride to the other side of the river to wander through the labyrinth of wooden buildings and bridges. It’s pretty quiet, but you can find small shops, restaurants, schools and even a police station, all built above water. If you’d rather see the town from below, you can hire a speedboat to ferry you through the channels and up the river to see the monkeys.

The Proboscis monkeys look more like Alice the Goon from Popeye than monkeys, and the adult males get quite large. Unfortunately, I soon discovered that you can see them in the trees, but it’s nearly impossible to get close enough to get that National Geographic photo you had your heart set on. The one hour trip up the river costs about $30 Brunei and includes a quick tour through a water town as well as potentially spotting some crocodiles, snakes and tropical birds along the way.


How an adventure may help save the mountain forests of Borneo

An eco-adventure in the highlands of Borneo spanning Sabah, Sarawak and neighbouring Krayan province in Kalimantan, Indonesia, offered two things: chances to be closer with pristine mountain forests and to help out in local conservation projects.

This was the Heart of Borneo Highlands Eco Challenge (HEC) that I went through last year.

The biennial HEC went far beyond an ordinary tourism package. Rather, it was an adventure event, initiated by the indigenous people of Borneo’s interior, that combined history, culture, and stewardship of nature.

Participants travelled by 4WD, walked through ancient Bornean rainforests, and visited villages and historical sites. These are places the ancestors of the highlanders once passed through on their migratory routes thousands of years ago.

The highlands of Sarawak, Sabah, and Krayan are located inside the Heart of Borneo, an initiative to conserve the mountainous forested core of this great island that was agreed upon among the three governments of Brunei, Indonesia, and Malaysia in 2007.

The eco challenge was organised by the Alliance of the Indigenous Peoples in the Highlands of Borneo (Formadat) with help from WWF-Malaysia.

Alicia Ng of WWF (Sarawak office) said the goals of the organisers were to heighten the awareness of ecotourism in the highland forests of Borneo.

Rather than a huge trail running competition, the challenge was more of an ecotourism journey delving into the roots of the people and the natural surroundings that have nurtured them.

The aim was to conserve the biodiversity of the Heart of Borneo for the benefit of the people who rely upon it through a network of protected areas (and sustainably-managed) forests.

Two eco challenge trails were featured. First was the shorter five day “Jungle Exploration” trail which covered only Sabah and Sarawak (Kota Kinabalu-Sipitang-Long Pa’ Sia-Long Semadoh-Lawas) that I went for. Then there was a 10 day “Heart of Borneo Experience” which extended to Long Bawan in Kalimantan.


New species documented at Tawau Hills Park

TAWAU: A team of citizen scientists and avid wildlife enthusiasts carrying out a wildlife survey at Tawau Hills Park has documented new findings of lesser-known species of bats, frogs, birds inhabiting the biodiverse-rich rainforest sanctuary.

“The expedition has contributed significant findings noteworthy for the park. Up to date, there are more than 300 species of birds, 70 species of frogs and 90 species of mammals documented at the park,” said founder of 1StopWildlife Borneo, Shavez Cheema.

Speaking at the recent dinner reception hosted by Assistant Sabah Tourism Minister, Datuk Pang Yuk Ming in support for the expedition, Shavez said the wildlife survey was carried out by 1StopBorneoWildlife who are working closely with Sabah Parks on publishing a book on the Tawau Hills Park.

“It’s heartening to see strong interest, support and recognition from locals as well as foreigners on the importance to conserve and protect the natural environment and its inhabitants,” he added.

The team currently carrying out activities in documenting wildlife at the park during the 10-day expedition from Jan 23-31 also received assistance provided by experienced guides from local tourism company, Adventure Alternative Borneo on conservation work and developing new strategies for ecotourism in the park.

Continue reading (Incl. Pic) at: New species documented at Tawau Hills Park

Tuesday, January 30, 2018

Wanderlustingk: Borneo packing list - A realistic guide on what to bring to Borneo

Ever since watching National Geographic, I’ve dreamed of visiting Borneo. Borneo is HUGE, so when I finally got my chance to visit, I ended up focusing my time on visiting the Malaysian part of Borneo as well as Brunei as it was easier to get around. 

However, one does not simply land in Borneo without significant preparations and a well-thought packing list for Borneo.  Keep reading for tips on what to do before you leave for Borneo (including vaccinations and malaria tablets), what to pack for Borneo, and what you’ll definitely want to know about leeches in Borneo.

Included in this Borneo Packing List:

* Weather in Borneo
* Borneo Packing List for Two Weeks
* What to pack for jungle trekking in Borneo
* What you need to know about leeches in Borneo
* Medicines to bring with you before you visit Borneo
* Do you need malaria pills for Borneo

What's the weather in Borneo?

Keep mind that Borneo is actually composed of THREE countries (Brunei Darussalam, Indonesia, and Malaysia) and it's a huge island.  Depending on where you are planning on visiting, the weather might be quite different.

?That said, on average, there's a dry and a rainy season.  Expect Borneo weather to be hot and humid with average temperatures in winter being about 27 degrees Celsius (81 F) and average temperatures in summer nearing 30 degrees Celsius (86 degrees).  That said, the humidity is often an issue, so it will feel hotter than it is. I was constantly sweating through my clothes.

Rainy season in Borneo can bring a lot of rain, on average, over 400mm of rain in January/December, although the average drops significantly in summer and spring.  If you're trying to guarantee good conditions for trekking in Borneo, you might want to avoid rainy season.

Borneo Packing List for Two Weeks

Keep in mind that my itinerary for Borneo was a diverse one, including a mix of cities as well as trekking.  I’d say that I spent most of my trip out in nature although I stayed each night in a basic accommodation or hotel.

If your trip is more trekking intense, you might want to ask your tour guide on what is specifically needed for long-term trekking hikes as this Borneo packing list is more intended for people who intend to do daily day hikes rather than week-long trekking.

My trip was more nature focused with nine of our days spent doing day trekking in the Malaysian and Bruneian jungle with returning to our accomodation each night.  It wasn't continuous as I had never done jungle trekking before this trip and I wasn't sure how it would be.

The rest of the trip was split between city sightseeing in Malaysia (Sabah/Sarawak) and Brunei, paragliding in Ranau, and snorkeling off the coast. I did not do a week-long trek like some people, but you still might find some useful advice for your Borneo packing list here.


Monday, January 29, 2018

An Occasional Traveller: The Tip of Borneo

I first read about The Tip of Borneo about a year ago and wanted to make a trip there.  It has also been years since I last visited Kota Kinabalu. 

When Malaysia Airlines tested their new A350-900 XWB planes on the Kuala Lumpur – Kota Kinabalu route, I took the opportunity to fly on the new aircraft.

The Tip of Borneo is located in the district of Kudat, which is approximately three hours’ drive from Kota Kinabalu. 

The journey took us through various towns like Tamparuli, Tuaran and Kota Belud passing by rustic villages in the valleys, green padi fields, rolling hills, coconut and oil palm plantations as well as roadside stalls set up by the locals selling fruits, food and handicrafts.

We stopped by the gong making village of Kampung Sumangkap.  The gong is an important instrument in Sabah’s indigenous traditional music.  It is played at major events and festivals.

Most of the villagers made a living by making gongs of various sizes. They display their wares at the workshop.  Most of the gongs are made from brass or bronze.

One can walk about freely in the village and see how gongs are being made.  Souvenir gongs in various sizes and unique designs can be purchased as a memento of the visit. 

Visitors have to pay an entrance fee of RM5.00 and the village is open from 8.30am to 5.30pm daily.

Continue reading (Incl. Pics) at: An Occasional Traveller: The Tip of Borneo

Sunday, January 28, 2018

New Miri Handicraft Centre opens to welcome visitors

MIRI: The Miri Handicraft Centre with its cosy interior and ample parking was rebuilt at the cost of RM1.9 million.

Miri mayor Adam Yii said the re-building  was completed last year  and now houses 13 local handicraft stalls, a kiosk for local favourite ‘Kueh Lapis’ (layered cake) as well as a cafeteria during the launch of Miri Handicraft Centre’s new building yesterday.

“Miri Handicraft Centre promotes local arts and handicrafts and is a place of interest for tourists and visitors to Miri city.

“It is the earnest hope of the Miri City Council (MCC) that the local tourism partners such as the government agencies, private entrepreneurs and individuals play their parts respectively. With the concerted efforts, we would be able to develop Miri into the most liveable resort city.”

As 2018 is tourism year for Miri, the launch of Miri Handicraft Centre spearheaded the council’s journey to further promoting Miri, Yii added.

“We can do it if we have the right mind-set, determination and passion for our Miri city.”

During the function, Yii shared a brief history of the Miri Handicraft Centre located next to the Miri Polyclinic.

He said the centre was originally the site of the Miri Community Hall which was the first community hall in Sarawak.

It was built by the government with the grant of RM50,000 with a similar sum of money donated by the then Sarawak Shell Oilfields Limited and a further sum of RM20,000 provided by the Council previously known as Miri Urban District Council.

The construction was completed and opened to the public on 16th August 1958 with a seating capacity of 300 persons.


Saturday, January 27, 2018

The Travelling Stomach: Seeking Orangutans in Borneo

With a love for Attenborough programmes and a resulting curiosity in all wild animals, especially those closely related to ourselves, Borneo had been on our bucket list for a while.

Not only for the orangutans but also for the bizarre proboscis monkeys that aren’t found anywhere else in the world.

Our tour into the Bornean rainforest was hosted by the team at Orangutan Applause, who guided us around the waters to see some of the world’s most incredible wildlife.

How can you not fall in love with such adorable, human-like creatures?!

The Orangutans

The main reason most people visit Borneo are these ginger haired apes.

There are three feeding stations located within Tanjung Puting national park which are open for tourists to visit and catch a glimpse of these amazing creatures getting their fill of bananas and sugar cane.

We visited each of these once during our two day tour and every time were lucky enough to see quite a large group of orangutans, giving us the opportunity to get some phenomenal shots as they swung in the trees above us and clambered down to grab a stash of food.

A word of warning: get there early if you want a seat on the benches, but don’t be afraid to lose your seat if you can get a better view elsewhere.

We visited in early September and the platforms were fairly busy but we could always get a great view.

Arif, our guide, warned us that over 30 boats moor up to watch these incredible creatures in peak season!

Continue reading (Incl. Pics) at: The Travelling Stomach: Seeking Orangutans in Borneo

Friday, January 26, 2018

Sabah hotels and resorts encouraged to go green

KOTA KINABALU: A delegation from the Malaysian Green Building Confederation (MGBC), Sabah Chapter led by its chairman Mok Juang Yu, paid a courtesy call on Sabah Tourism, Culture and Environment Minister Datuk Seri Panglima Masidi Manjun, on January 22 to brief him on the Borneo Green Resort Rating Tool.

During the briefing, Mok recalled their courtesy call to Masidi late last year, when the minister lamented shortage of hotels in Sabah, especially hotels that are certified green.

Masidi noted that green hotels and resorts will always fetch higher tourist dollars and complements the state’s effort to develop eco-tourism in a big way.

In line with this, Masidi requested MGBC Sabah Chapter to formulate a green resort guideline, which should be practical, effective and affordable, especially for the small resorts.

He was then briefed on the draft Borneo Green Resort Tool, which MGBC had tested on two eco-resorts in the east coast, namely the Balung River Eco Resort and the Sipadan Mangrove Resort.

Both resorts are utilising renewable energy, recycling water and self sustaining in food source and other sustainable practices.

Sim noted that both resorts will achieve gold or higher if they make some improvements that are very cost effective.

Continue reading (Incl. Pic) at: Sabah hotels and resorts encouraged to go green

Wednesday, January 24, 2018

Sabah tourism players advised to embrace digital technology

KOTA KINABALU: Tourism industry players in Sabah have been advised to embrace digital technology to boost their business and further develop the industry in the state.

Tourism, Culture and Environment Minister Datuk Seri Panglima Masidi Manjun said this when launching the first Digital Tourism Workshop organized by the ministry through the Sabah Tourism Board.

“Just because 3.684 million tourists came to the state last year, does not mean they will come again this year. We have increasing arrivals every year, but do not take for granted.

“The world is so open today, everything is available on our smartphones. When people are planning for their vacation, they are looking for experience. That is why they prefer to make their own arrangement according to the information they found from the internet,” he said.

Masidi further elaborated that hotels and tour agents needed to look at digital technology development as the new potential in marketing their products.

“Report shows that more than half of our tourists from China came to the state on their own. They did not book their holiday through tour agents.

“Almost 60 per cent of them came on their own, and we can see that the number keeps increasing. The culture of traveling is evolving. It is not about visiting or sight seeing anymore, it is about living there,” he added.


Tuesday, January 23, 2018

The Alushzka: Food Review - Afternoon Tea at Miri Marriott Resort and Spa

Hello People! Are you guys looking for a place to have some tea and sweet pastries while catching up with your friends or family?

Miri Marriott is the right place for you to check out!

Last Saturday, me and my fellow bloggers were invited to do a food review on their Afternoon Tea offer held at Borneo Baking Company, an open bakery; serving premium coffee and tea with pastries, cakes, sandwiches, chocolates, blended beverages and retail corner.

What is Afternoon Tea?

Afternoon tea has always been in our culture since the British invasion a long, long time ago.

Tea or coffee will be served along side of finger foods such as sweet pastries, sandwiches and cakes.

For us locals, we also have our own version but served with local kuehs.

Upon arrival, (I was slightly late because doing housework), we were served with Welcoming drink which was this yummy mango smoothies by Junai, one of the  friendly staff BBc staff.

We were greeted by Miri Marriott Executive Chef, Chef Len Ivan Osmund, Chef de Partie, Chef Clora, F&B manager, Mr. Gunalan Batumalai and of course, Ms Chu, their Assistant MarCom Manager.


New ferry service linking Kudat to Palawan in the Philippines set to boost tourism

KUDAT: The soon-to-be introduced ferry service connecting Kudat to Palawan in the southern Philippines will boost the status of Sabah’s northernmost district as the gateway to four Unesco World Heritage sites.

They are Kinabalu National Park in Sabah, Gunung Mulu National Park in Sarawak, Tubbataha Reefs Natural Park as well as Puerto Princesa Subterranean River National Park in Palawan.

Kudat District Officer Sapdin Ibrahim said the ferry service would also be a catalyst for the development of tourism and benefit the agricultural, fisheries and food industries.

“With the Kudat-Palawan ferry service. Kudat can be the gateway to Sabah, Sarawak, Brunei and Kalimantan, Indonesia.

“This ferry service will also encourage two-way travel between Sabah and the Philippines,” he said, adding the ferry could carry up to 270 passengers, 30 cars and 10 lorries.

In 2017, the number of domestic and foreign tourists to Kudat was about 182,000, compared to 128,000 the previous year, thanks to the implementation of more than 50 programmes in conjunction with Visit Kudat 2016/2017, he said.

Kudat could expect between 200,000 and 250,000 visitors this year, Sapdin added.

Kudat has an abundance of beautiful beaches and the ‘Tip of Borneo’ in Simpang Mengayau is also located here.


Forget 'business as usual', Sabah tourism players told

KOTA KINABALU: Sabah tourism players who adopt a ‘business as usual’ approach stand to lose out, given the emergence of online players in the industry.

State Tourism, Culture and Environment Minister Datuk Seri Masidi Manjun said the state’s tourism players should instead evolve and embrace online engagement, particularly social media in terms of marketing and promotions.

He said that while Sabah recorded an increase a 7.5 increase (3.68 million people) in tourist arrivals last year, there is no guarantee the performance will be matched in the future if the tourism players do not become more competitive.

He cited the example of the Sabah Tourism Board (STB), which has embraced digitalisation since 2009. STB began their online foray with Facebook and Twitter and now have an established presence on Instagram, YouTube, Weibo and WeChat, with the latter two specifically targeted at the Chinese market.

“STB is also starting to use WhatsApp for promotions and has been working with social media influencers by bringing them to experience Sabah through their postings,” he told audience at the Digital Tourism Workshop, held here today.


Monday, January 22, 2018

Emily's World: Beautiful Borneo

Borneo is somewhere I have wanted to visit for years, mainly because of my love for orangutans and my long-term dream of seeing them in their natural habitat. As I did some research, I realised I might also be able to see my other two favourite animals in Borneo too; elephants and turtles.

I love elephants and was lucky enough to volunteer with them in Thailand a few years back but I had never seen them in the wild, nor had I ever seen a Pygmy Asian elephant, which are only found in Borneo! I also really love turtles and another big bucket-list dream of mine I’ve had for years, is to see turtles laying their eggs on the beach.

So off I went to Borneo with high hopes to fulfil my jungle dreams!

Kota Kinabalu

Borneo is a large island in Southeast Asia shared by Malaysia, Indonesia and Brunei. As I did some research, I read that despite being the smaller share of the island, the Malaysian part of Borneo is the more well trodden path than the Indonesian so this is where I headed- to the state of Sabah, in the north.

I flew from Bali to Kuala Lumpur and then straight on to Kota Kinabalu, the capital of the state of Sabah, landing late at night. I hadn’t had any internet for most of the previous week, so when I got up that first morning and did some proper research, I realised that Borneo was not only way bigger than I had anticipated- it is the third largest island in the world- but also I actually wasn’t anywhere near where I wanted to be!

I wanted to be in Sepilok, in order to visit a well renowned Orangutan sanctuary there but unfortunately it was actually a six hour drive away from KK on a public bus. Instead of wasting the extra day travelling there, I decided to book an early flight to the nearest airport Sandakan for the following day.

At this point I was still with my friend from home Jordan who had come with me to the Komodo Islands, so I booked for us both. All admin done, we then went exploring the city of Kota Kinabalu.

When thinking about Borneo, I thought only about the jungle and rainforest so I was kind of surprised by the size and craziness of the city of Kota Kinabalu; it was really busy, with big buildings and hectic roads.

As the day went on though, we realised that although the city was busy, there weren’t many other tourists around at all. We definitely stood out and got so many stares! KK is a coastal city but the beach wasn’t within walking distance, so we spent the day exploring the streets, finding the odd food market where we bought some tropical fruit and I tried a spicy chicken laksa. 

Surprisingly we also found a large, modern shopping mall with many western shops- which was something we wouldn’t have expected to see at all in this non-touristy city. Quite sad when you think about it! My Great Auntie actually lived in KK back in 1965 (called Jessleton back then) and I sent her photos- it would have been interesting to see how it was back then, untouched by the western world.

Later that evening, my friend and I caught a public minibus to the main beach Tanjung Aru, to view the sunset. There were soooo many tourists taking photos but mostly Asian tourists; I had read that Borneo is popular amongst Singaporeans and Malaysians from the mainland.

It was the most incredible pink sunset- which then turned into heavy rain shortly after, so we sheltered under a nearby shelter which fortunately turned out to be another really big/ cheap food market! This is one excellent thing about being in a non-touristy place- everything is sooo much cheaper!

Sepilok – Orangutans

The taxi came at 5am the following day to take us to the airport for our short flight from KK to Sandakan. On arrival, we got a taxi to Sepilok which took about half an hour. We were staying at Forest Edge Resort which fortunately was just down the road from Sepilok Orangutang Rehabiliation Centre, so we headed straight there.

I have always loved Orangutans and wanted to see them looking happy and healthy, ideally in the wild but if not possible, then in as close to their natural habitat as possible, in a good sanctuary that treated them nicely. (In the wild your chances of spotting one are very slim- how it should be.) So I did lots of research on this- and the day was every bit as good I had hoped.

Continue reading (Incl. Pics) at: Emily's World: Beautiful Borneo

Sunday, January 21, 2018

Everything But The Kitchen Sink: My Malaysia Trip - Borneo

The next part of my Malaysia trip was my favourite, spending time in the Borneo rainforest.

We had jam packed 3 days planned through Sabah in Borneo.

It started with a flight from Kuala Lumpur the previous day to Kota Kinabalu, then about a 4 hour layover in a hotel before an early morning start to fly to Sandakan to start our tour of Borneo.

Despite being on very little sleep, we were so excited to visit the Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Center.

Our guide Erdy picked us up and took us around the center, which also had the Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Center.

It was amazing to see all of the animals so close up!

The orangutans are semi-wild here, so they are allowed to leave the enclosures whenever they choose and the keepers feed them with fairly tasty food so they're encouraged to leave and depend on their own for better food.

They also have a nursery for the young and are kept closely monitored by the center.

Everything is very well thought out at the center, there are museums and educational videos you can watch and plenty of tour guides around who you can ask questions.


Saturday, January 20, 2018

The Lite Backpacker: Why You Should Visit Turtle Island in Borneo

Selingan Turtle Island

Borneo’s turtle island is a once in a life time experience. A chance to get up close and personal with some of this planets ancient creatures, in a sustainable and environmentally supportive way.

Who doesn’t love turtles? Not loving turtles is like not loving puppies or kittens. They are amazing creatures who are simultaneously cute and awe inspiring.

While I was diving off the coast of Borneo on an island called Mabul, I didn’t go more than an hour in the water without seeing one. Actually, I also saw one from the deck of my accommodation as I watched the sun set.

They are everywhere. However, turtle island was by far the best “turtle experience”, not only did I get to see a mother turtle lay her eggs, but I got to see the hatchlings be released into the ocean. Magical!

Where is Turtle Island?

Turtle island is part of marine conservation park between Malaysia and the Philippines, just off the coast of Sabah, Borneo. It is a great example of international cooperation for wildlife, being jointly managed by the two countries to preserve the turtle hatcheries.

The best way to get there is through Sandakan, a seaside town, that is a launching pad to the island.

How to get to Turtle Island?

As turtle island is part of a highly protected marine park, there are only a limited number of visitors allowed on the island per day. Therefore, you cant just rock up or catch a boat there, you need to book a tour.

There are a few tour companies that run a monopoly on the tours, however, their websites are a bit hard to navigate. I found the best way to book was to email them, they will then send you a secure booking link.


Friday, January 19, 2018

The key to Borneo pygmy elephants' survival

KOTA KINABALU: A BETTER understanding of the origins of the Borneo pygmy elephants in Sabah is vital for their survival.

Danau Girang Field Centre researcher Benoit Goossens said understanding the pygmy elephants’ origins and past demography would be useful for the development of a long-term conservation strategy.

He said the centre, together with the Sabah Wildlife Department and other partners, was drafting a 10-year action plan to protect the elephants.

He said there were fewer than 2,000 pygmy elephants living in an increasingly fragmented environment. With regular news of poisoned or dead Bornean elephants, the future is grim for the endangered species.

A recent study by a joint research team, published in Scientific Reports, revealed that the elephants may have arrived on Borneo island at a time of the last land bridge between the Sunda Islands in Southeast Asia.

The research team was led by Lounes Chikhi from Instituto Gulbenkian de Ciencia (IGC, Portugal) and CNRS, Université Paul Sabatier (France), Cardiff University (Wales), Sabah Wildlife Department and Goossens.

“Until recently, there are two opposing theories on the origin of Bornean elephants: they could have been introduced by humans, maybe 300 years ago, or they could have diverged from Asian elephants a long time ago.

Continue reading (Incl. Pic) at: The key to Borneo pygmy elephants' survival

Soul searching in Kota Kinabalu

ISLAND hopping in Kota Kinabalu (KK), Malaysia, isn't really the highlight of our trip. It wasn't special and to be honest, I believe Philippines has better beaches.

But the beach person that I am, we went anyway. So here's an honest breakdown on our island hopping in KK.

While walking at the waterfront near the iconic Marlin Statue, Rovin (not his real name), a Filipino living in KK, approached us and offered us an island hopping tour.

Since it's a lot cheaper than the usual tours we found in the internet, we decided to get his number and go with him the next day.

He asked for 50 MYR per person per island. It's up to you what island you want to visit. We decided to visit the 4 main islands: Manukan Island, Sulug Island, Mamutik Island and Sapi Island.

Take note that Ruben isn't really a licensed tourist and that's why this way of island hopping is inexpensive. Are you willing to take the risk? If yes, message us if you want to get his number. You don't really need to book him months or weeks for the tour, tho.

Actually, you could just walk around the waterfront area and people like Rovin will walk up in front of you and offer you different kind of tours. There are a lot of people on this island.
There's a resort here. There's a part of the beach that I wanted to hang out at but it seemed that it was only for the customers that are staying in the resort.

The part of the beach for the day-tourers have a lot of stones and just plain meh. We didn't stay long here. Nicole swam and I just soaked in the heat of the sun and slept. It was nice tho.

If you're with the licensed tour, the entrance for the resort is inclusive with the payment (thus, expensive). Rovin just told us to walk pass the reception and go along with the flow of tourists.

Continue reading (Incl. Pic) at: Soul searching in Kota Kinabalu

Thursday, January 18, 2018

Sabah among most popular travel destinations for China tourists

KOTA KINABALU: There are currently 95 direct flights weekly between Kota Kinabalu and cities in China.

Consul General of the People’s Republic of China in Kota Kinabalu, Liang Caide, said Sabah was one of the most popular travel destinations for tourists from China.

“In 2016, 380,000 Chinese tourists visited Sabah. The number of Chinese tourists reached 430,000 in 2017, an increase of 15 per cent compared to 2016.”

He said Chinese tourist arrivals to Sabah would rise to 1 million in the future.

At present, Liang said there were 95 direct flights per week to different cities in China, adding that Xiamen Air just launched a direct route connecting Kota Kinabalu and Beijing on Tuesday.

“I believe there will be more direct flights in the future, which will attract more Chinese tourists to visit this beautiful Land Below the Wind,” he said in a press conference here yesterday.

On another note, Liang said Sabah was strategically located and an important node of the Maritime Silk Road.

“Sabah has diverse culture, beautiful scenery and rich tourism resources.

“Sabah is also the nearest place of Malaysia from China, we are historically and culturally related.”

In recent years, following the advancement of The Belt and Road Initiative, he said more and more Chinese enterprises had set foot in Sabah, while trade and economic cooperation between two places had shown strong vitality and remarkable strength, allowing the people of Sabah to realise the benefit brought by the Belt and Road initiative.


Wednesday, January 17, 2018

How did elephants get to Borneo? Scientists compare theories

Researchers believe they may have solved the mystery surrounding the origins of the Bornean elephant.

A team of scientists from Cardiff University joined forces with other experts from across the globe to tackle the conundrum of how the endangered species of mammal came to live on the south Pacific island.

The group used genetic data analysis and computational modelling to study the history of the elephants and found they might have migrated between the Sunda Islands in Southeast Asia during low sea levels.

The Bornean elephant is a subspecies of Asian elephant that only exists in a small region of Borneo, and until recently there were two opposing theories about their origin.

Dr Benoit Goossens, from Cardiff University’s School of Biosciences, said: “It has been thought that the Bornean elephant could have either been recently introduced by humans around 300 years ago, or they could have diverged from Asian elephants a long time ago.

“Historical records do show that neighbouring Sultans offered elephants as gifts to the Bornean Sultan in the 17th century and therefore current elephants could be non-native elephants that have become feral.

“There is also genetic research that demonstrated that Bornean elephants are very different from that of the other Asian elephants, suggesting that there was an ancient separation, possibly around 300,000 years ago.”

Dr Goossens said there was evidence for both theories but his colleague in the research, Rita Sharma, Instituto Gulbenkian de Ciencia, in Portugal, said their study had shown the likely answer was that the subspecies had naturally colonised Borneo around 11,400 to 18,300 years ago.


Sabah to speed up hotels construction to accommodate foreign tourists

KOTA KINABALU: The state cabinet will expedite the construction of hotels to accommodate the increasing number of foreign tourists to Sabah, Tourism, Culture and Environment Datuk Seri Panglima Masidi Manjun said.

Although the state is in dire need of hotels, it must still ensure that the hotels that will be built in Sabah are reputable and of the highest quality.

“The state cabinet had recently decided to speed up the construction of more hotels in the state and a few companies had already been tasked to do so. We are fully aware of the state’s need,” Masidi said at a press conference during the launching ceremony of Xiamen Airlines’ inaugural flight from Beijing to Kota Kinabalu at the Kota Kinabalu International Airport (KKIA) on Tuesday.

“We must be proactive. We must leverage on Sabah’s beauty, not only in terms of its nature but in terms of its services and facilities as well,” he added.

Earlier in his speech, Masidi disclosed that there were over 430,000 tourists from China who came to Sabah, adding that most of them were from the southern or central China.

Last year’s figure had indicated an increase of 15.7 per cent in tourist arrivals compared to those of 2016.

Furthermore, with the commencement of the Xiamen Airlines’ direct flight, the state, Masidi asserted, would be expecting more Chinese tourists for this year and thus hotels would be needed more than ever.

Masidi also said the launching of Xiamen Airlines’ direct non-stop flight from Beijing to Kota Kinabalu will open more doors for Chinese tourists to come to Sabah.

“This is a huge opportunity for Sabah and Malaysia. We can expect more Chinese tourists to visit Sabah because of the availability of this direct flight,” he said.

“There will be a strong exchange of visitors to foster good relationship between China and Sabah. China has been the main international market source for Sabah.

“For the last ten years, we have penetrated into the main as well as the second tier cities with a population that craves for trips to the beaches and islands, which we are known for,”  Masidi said.


Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Sabah expects more direct flights

KOTA KINABALU: Sabah expects more direct flights from various destinations and is working hard to accommodate the increasing number of tourists to the state, said Sabah Tourism, Culture and Environment Minister Datuk Seri Panglima Masidi Manjun.

He said in fact, 62 chartered flights from China were expected to arrive in Kota Kinabalu over the next three months.

“We need to provide enough quality hotel rooms. The state cabinet has decided to speed up the building of hotels and have tasked some companies to build more hotels,” he told reporters upon returning from Beijing on the Xiamen Airlines’ inaugural direct flight here today.

A total 163 passengers boarded the flight from Beijing, including Malaysian Ambassador to China Datuk Zainuddin Yahya.

Masidi said the state government, as well as tourism industry players needed to be proactive to cater to the needs of the visitors.

He was pleased that Xiamen Airlines had chosen Kota Kinabalu as its first international destination from Beijing – a manifestation of good relationship between Sabah and China.

Masidi said Sabah recorded 430,000 tourist arrivals from China last year, a 14.7 per cent increase from 2016.

Continue reading (Incl. Pic) at: Sabah expects more direct flights

Monday, January 15, 2018

Josh's Travelogue: Mt. Kinabalu - We made it to Low’s Peak

Mount Kinabalu

Twenty-four hours after we landed in Kota Kinabalu, we were already wide awake for our 2 A.M. hike to the summit.

I was geared with a headlamp, bonnet, two layers of shirts and a jacket, and another two layers of pants.

It was warm inside Laban Rata restaurant where we ate our super early breakfast (or a super late dinner) of stir-fried noodles (like a Malaysian version of pancit canton), eggs, bread, and coffee.

I’m estimating 80 people were in the room; all excited to reach the top.

I had no expectations of the trail or the summit as, I’ve already mentioned, I am still a beginner in climbing mountains.

We waited five minutes for the food to settle down our bellies and we were literally out in the dark.

With only our headlamps illuminating the path, we trudged step by step on what felt to be the longest staircase I’ve ever climbed.

Part of it was because many hikers went out all at once and there was human traffic (not human trafficking, ugh).

I guess we were better rested than most of the other groups in front so we had the most energy during that ascent.

We overtook more than 30 people on our way! The cold didn’t get into us as we continued to climb up the rocks and stairs.

I grasped on to the ropes tightly because I do not know what will happen when I take the wrong footing. (In the back of my head, I’m going to fall and die.)

As I glance back to the trail we just passed, the headlamps of the other climbers shone like stars in contrast to the still dark but lightening sky above.


Sunday, January 14, 2018

Kuala Penyu to be top tourism attraction

KUALA PENYU: The Central Board has approved a four-star hotel and a five-star hotel with about 800 rooms combined to be built in Kuala Penyu.

Assistant Sabah Tourism, Culture and Environment Minister Datuk Pang Yuk Ming said Kuala Penyu would undergo major transformation in a year or so.

“At present, the proposal to build four-star and five-star hotels have been approved by the Central Board.

“In time to come, more hotels and resorts will be coming up in Kuala Penyu,” Pang said at the groundbreaking ceremony of Wong Tai Sin Temple, Sabah here yesterday.

He said Kuala Penyu was poised to become one of the main tourism destinations in Sabah in the next five years with the establishment of the famous Wong Tai Sin Temple here.

Pang believed that tourists from around the world, especially those from China, would flock to the Wong Tai Sin Temple in Kuala Penyu to receive blessings.

“I hope everyone will do their part in making sure that the temple is erected in the 1.5 to two years in order to spur the economy of Kuala Penyu,” he said.

Pang said the establishment of the temple was a historical moment for Sabah as this would be the third Wong Tai Sin Temple outside Hong Kong, after Macau and Vancouver.

“The Wong Tai Sin Temple in Hong Kong is a popular tourism destination with 6 million visitors recorded a year.

“Each year, the temple receives donations amounting to HKD500 million.

“I believe the Wong Tai Sim Temple here will enhance the tourism products of Kuala Penyu.”


Saturday, January 13, 2018

Bungaraya Island Resort spearheads conservation on island

KOTA KINABALU: Bungaraya Island Resort on Gaya Island seeks to continue to collaborate with Sabah Parks in its efforts to preserve and conserve the natural wonders of the state.

“We work really closely with Sabah Parks in terms of conservation. So, we actually look after the island. When we were building the resort, all of the trees were not cut down.

“This is one of the collaborations that we have done with Sabah Parks,” resort owner Gillian Tan told reporters during an appreciation luncheon with media members and tour agents at the resort’s newly-furbished Pantai Restaurant and Bar, yesterday.

She said 15 of the resort’s staff had been designated by Sabah Parks as its official wardens and that their job is to look after the island.

Apart from that, Bungaraya has also been working very closely with Sabah Parks to eradicate fish bombing activities across Gaya Island.

“As a result from our cooperation with Sabah Parks, the number of fish bombing activities from this area has decreased significantly,” she said, adding that Bungaraya had been collaborating with Sabah Parks since the inception of the resort.

On a separate note, Gillian said the tourism industry had been somewhat slow in the past few years. However, she was pleased that 2017 had been a good year for her resort.

“I hope 2018 will be a good year for us. As I have mentioned, the tourism industry is coming back slowly,” she said.


Friday, January 12, 2018

Traveling with SJ: Meeting Doctress Dolittle in Borneo

“I used to like palm trees,” I thought, as I watched them whiz past our car window in a green-brown blur. “Now I can’t stand them.” We were on our third day of travel across the interior highways of Malaysian Borneo and the view still hadn’t changed. The legendary jungles and exotic Tarzan vines of my imagination had quickly evaporated, replaced by endless oil palms. A robotic forest, they stood ugly and unnatural in their manufactured rows.

No signs of wildlife, no bird song, just dusty leaves, caked earth, and humid air that dripped with the smell of diesel fumes and acrid burning plastic. Across the heart of Borneo, acre upon acre of palm oil plantations extended toward the horizon like an apocalyptic mirage. But no matter how hard I rubbed my eyes, I couldn’t make it disappear.

I stole a glance at our taxi man’s eyes in the rearview mirror. ‘How many times has he done this drive?’ I thought. ‘Does he do it with numb eyes? Did he see what it looked like before the plantations came?’ Adan had spoken few words since we’d jumped into the back of his aging black Nissan two hours earlier, but then he broke the silence to read my mind. “I hate it,” he said.

“Everywhere, the palms.” In just 30 years, his family had watched dirt roads paved, concrete consume jungle, and animals pushed farther from home and closer to their’s—Sukau, a small town on the banks of the Kinabatangan River in the northeastern corner of Sabah, Malaysian Borneo.

Adan was taking us to his family’s homestay there, a third-generation house built on stilts near the river’s edge. His family is one of many tourism operators in the area offering accommodation and riverboat excursions to spot wildlife.

And with good reason—the Lower Kinabatangan is one of the last places on earth where you can see the endangered orangutan and Asian pygmy elephant in the wild. Borneo is the only home for the endemic proboscis monkey, owner to the most bizarre nose and only beer belly in the primate kingdom, and host to over 300 bird species like the Elvis-haired rhinoceros hornbill. Snaking 560 km (350 mi), the mighty Kinabatangan sustains one of the most biologically diverse habitats in the world. So two hours into our 2.5 hour drive, where was the rainforest?

As we’d come to learn, Borneo (the world’s third largest island, shared by Malaysia, Indonesia, and the tiny nation of Brunei), has lost 30 percent of its forest in the last 40 years, with palm oil expansion, illegal logging, and ensuing forest fires to blame. The real reason the Kinabatangan is a ringer for tourists hoping to spot wildlife is because encroaching deforestation has forced animals closer to the river’s edge.

I saw patches of jungle thinner than two lane highways running parallel to the bank. Self-preservation has also forced many locals to sell their hereditary land to the palm oil corporations, exacerbating the problem. But they don’t put that on the tourist brochures. No one wants to vacation in the movie Fern Gully.

The road to Sukau was straight, but I felt queasy. There was no question I’d soon be having nightmares starring zombie palm trees. At last we dusted into the homestay’s driveway and the view finally changed. Enter, Adan’s sister, Maria Amit, Doctress Dolittle of the Kinabatangan, Restorer of Faith in Humanity, and Owner/Operator of the Sukau River Homestay. As we shook hands, her eyes laughed from behind thin-rimmed glasses.

She wore a headscarf and long sleeved shirt despite the heat, and a sarong of the Orang Sungai people. With round cheeks framing a kind face, in four days I never saw Maria without a calm smile. As a host, she knew when her guests were curious for conversation or preferred silence; something she’s undoubtedly perfected over nine years of opening her home. Her stories illuminated Borneo’s past for us, well beyond her 40 years.


Thursday, January 11, 2018

Sarawak Tourism Board ramps up digital strategy as it cuts tradeshow presence

The Sarawak Tourism Board (STB) is cutting back on consumer fair and tradeshow participation in favour of digital advertising.

“We will substitute our presence with advertising on digital portals and encourage industry players to sell their packages through online platforms,” stated STB’s acting CEO Mary Wan Mering.

She added that the tourism board will be “very selective” about which B2B travel trade fairs to participate in.

In particular, STB intends to be present at niche fairs for suitable offerings like birding, diving and caving.

STB is also in the midst of researching what shows to attend in order to reach out to key markets including China, Japan, South Korea, Australia, New Zealand and Western Europe, according to Wan.

“This year, we are deliberating whether to attend ITB Berlin where traditionally we used to have space under the Tourism Malaysia pavilion,” she told TTG Asia.


Sarawak targets 5.25m visitor arrivals this year

KUCHING: The Ministry of Sarawak Tourism, Arts, Culture, Youth and Sports is targeting 5.25 million visitor arrivals to the state this year.

Its minister Datuk Abdul Karim Rahman Hamzah is optimistic the state will be able to reach the target, considering there are more international flights from countries such as China and Indonesia to Sarawak via Kuching starting this year.

“We have a lot of new connectivities such as daily direct flight from Shenzhen, China to Kuching where the response has been quite good and we also have the inaugural flight from Singapore to Bintulu as well as the number of AirAsia flights from Singapore to Kuching has increased from nine to 16.

“Apart from that, we also have the Xpress Air flight from Pontianak to Kuching and Miri and also by month-end Wings Air will be operating from Jakarta-Pontianak to Kuching twice a week,” he told reporters after witnessing the handover of duties from his ministry’s former Permanent Secretary Datu Ik Pahon Joyik to new Permanent Secretary Hii Chang Kee at Baitulmakmur Building here yesterday.

Abdul Karim pointed out that with the new connectivities, the state would be able to attract more visitors.


Sabah's 2017 tourist arrivals likely hit 3.7m

KOTA KINABALU: Sabah had achieved its best performance last year in terms of arrivals and tourism receipts, said Sabah Tourism, Culture and Environment Minister Datuk Seri Masidi Manjun.

“The number of tourist arrivals in the state last year was expected to hit 3.7 million, which would contribute to tourism receipts amounting to RM7.76 billion.

“About 35 per cent of international arrivals were from China, owing to improved air travel between the country and Sabah.

“I would like to attribute the good results to the close collaboration between airline companies and Malaysia’s leading airport operator Malaysia Airport Holdings Bhd, ” he said at a welcome dinner for passengers flying to Sabah on Malaysia Airlines Bhd’s new Airbus A350 from Kuala Lumpur recently.

Masidi said there were 14 airlines which offered services, including 176 international and 418 domestic flights at the Kota Kinabalu International Airport (KKIA).

He said with the high number of flights, KKIA had become the second-busiest airport in the country after Kuala Lumpur International Airport.


Wednesday, January 10, 2018

MAS Airbus A350 conducts test flight to KKIA

KOTA KINABALU: A Malaysia Airlines Berhad (MAB) Airbus A350 plane conducted its test flight from the Kuala Lumpur International Airport (KLIA) to the Kota Kinabalu International Airport (KKIA) yesterday.

Aimed at providing the pilots and cabin crew the experience of handling the new aircraft before it started its Kuala Lumpur to London service on Jan 15, the plane arrived at KKIA at 3.50 pm after departing from KLIA at 1.05 pm.

Tourism, Culture and Environment Minister Datuk Masidi Manjun, Sabah Tourism Board chairman Datuk Joniston Bangkuai, MAB’s Chief Commercial Officer Arved von zur Muehlen and more than 100 other passengers were on the flight.

Speaking to reporters after arriving at the KKIA, von zur Muehlen said the new aircraft, which has 286 seats including four seats in the First Class, 35 in Business Class and 247 in Economy Class, is believed to be able to provide excellent experience and comfort to customers.

He expressed gratitude for being able to fly the KUL-BKI route prior to commencing the KUL-LDN route.

“We’re happy we can fly here and are very grateful for the support from Sabah Tourism Board to show our latest product.

“The A350 is our latest flight as we are redoing our fleet, which is one of the youngest in Asia with only four years,” he said.


Tuesday, January 09, 2018

Kudat Has Potentials To Become Major Tourist Destination In Sabah

KUDAT -- Kudat district has the potentials to become one of the major tourist destinations in Sabah and in the region.

Sabah Minister With Special Functions Datuk Teo Chee Kang said the district not only boasted of many beautiful beaches including the Simpang Mengayau beach but it was also a part of the Tun Mustapha Marine Park that covered an area of 898,762.76 hectares across Kudat, Kota Marudu and Pitas districts.

"Kudat will also serve as the transit point for foreign and domestic tourists when the ferry service between Kudat and Palawan (in the Philippines) begins operation," said Teo, who is also the state assemblyman for Tanjung Kapor in his speech at the annual meeting with federal and state government agencies' heads for Kudat district.


Monday, January 08, 2018

Matador Network: Searching for wild cats in Borneo and scaring away poachers

Standing on the rickety suspension bridge over the Segama River, I am enveloped in the lush greenery of the ancient tropical rainforest. The heat is palpable, and the moisture-laden air is buzzing with a cacophony of insect calls. Thick clouds of mist drift lazily over the treetops and a rumbling sound growing in the distance warns of an approaching downpour.

This is Borneo’s Danum Valley, home to one of the oldest rainforests on Earth. Estimated to be 140 million years old, this forest has a distinctly primeval feeling to it. I almost expect a raging Tyrannosaurus rex to burst out of the mist.

But I am here to look for much less sinister creatures. Danum Valley is home to all five species of Borneo’s wild cats: the almost-never-seen Borneo bay cat, the elusive Sunda clouded leopard and marbled cat, the endangered flat-headed cat, and Borneo’s own species of leopard cat — the Sunda leopard cat.

Most of these cats are nocturnal hunters, concealed deep in the jungle during the daylight hours. But the jungle is teaming with life at any time of the day.

I return to the Field Centre — the research facility where I am staying, and discover a group of maroon langurs lounging in the low branches of the trees and occasionally sprinting across the lawn. It is a rare sight to see these handsome canopy-dwelling primates at such close range. They wouldn’t be as cheeky in the presence of a clouded leopard, but lucky for them, and not as much for me, no cats are lurking in the shadows.

Searching the jungle at night

When the darkness falls, our guide Mike leads us on a night drive. Standing in the back of a pickup truck, we follow the beam of Mike’s spotlight, as it dances across the solid wall of jungle. Soon we spot a three-striped palm civet munching on fruit high up in the canopy. Next, Mike points out a slow loris looking down at us with its cartoonishly large eyes.


Sabah still strives to ensure sumatran rhinos’ survival

KOTA KINABALU: Efforts to ensure the survival of the Sumatran rhinoceros, especially in Sabah, have not ceased, says state tourism, culture and environment minister Datuk Masidi Manjun.

He admitted that with the poor health of Iman, the only female rhino in captivity, efforts had become more difficult.

“Considering that she (Iman) is the only one left, to me, that is even more difficult (to save Sumatran rhinos from extinction).

“You know, when you only have one left, sometimes you have to think twice before engaging in a treatment that has not been proven yet,” he said when met by reporters after opening the Camaca Gelato Concept Cafe here yesterday.

Masidi said there had been a lot of suggestions and theories on how to treat Iman, but so far, none were successful.

Nevertheless, he was pleased the Sabah Wildlife Department (SWD), through its cooperation with various bodies, continued to work hard to ensure the survival of the rhino species.


Sunday, January 07, 2018

Sabah needs more hotels to cater to tourists influx

KOTA KINABALU: The Sabah Tourism, Culture and Environment Ministry has expressed concern over the insufficient number of hotel rooms to accommodate the growing number of tourists to the state in the future.

Its minister, Datuk Seri Panglima Masidi Manjun said as the state was enjoying encouraging numbers in tourism receipts, the state government feared its promotional efforts would an exercise in futility.

“There are limitations to promote Sabah as we do not want the tourists to pitch up tents simply because we do not have enough rooms (for them).

“If there are not enough hotels, in the future, we will definitely have a big problem. Eventually, growth will become a plateau if the state tourism’s growth does not equal the availability of hotel rooms,” he told reporters after opening a Taiwan-based cafe Camaco Gelato Concept Cafe here today.

Masidi said his ministry, through its agencies such as the Sabah Tourism Board, was striving to ensure that there were enough hotels to meet future demands.


Saturday, January 06, 2018

Indonesian Backpacker: Tanjung Puting National Park, The Wonder Of Borneo

Declared as a national park in 1982, Tanjung Puting National Park encloses different types of ecosystem including the lowland tropical forest, dry-land forest, peat swamp forest, mangrove forest, coastal forest and secondary forest.

Tanjung Puting supports the natural habitat of various endemic wildlife on the brink of extinction such as the proboscis monkey, agile gibbon and sun bear.

Rivers that meander across the sanctuary are populated by the arowana or dragon fish, false gharial, saltwater crocodile and soft-shelled turtle.

A variety of large mammals also inhabit the wilderness of Tanjung Puting, such as the common muntjac, bearded pig and Javan mouse-deer.

The national park is recognized for its orangutan rehabilitation center, the first of its kind in Indonesia.

The rehabilitation center is spread across three main locations: Tanjung Harapan, Pondok Tanggui and Camp Leakey.

At Tanjung Harapan a raised platform function as a feeding area for orangutans.

This activity is the most awaited moment of the tourists when visit to Tanjung Puting National Park.