Wednesday, February 28, 2018 KotaKinabalu, Borneo, Malaysia

Kota Kinabalu is the capital of the Malaysian state of Sabah on the island of Borneo.

It is one of the most beautiful places on Earth, but it also has a grim history.

KK was leveled during the second world war but nowadays it is one of the most developing cities in Malaysia.

It was occupied but the Japanese and been influenced by the English for many decades.

Quite an interesting history.

I arrived at the Tanjung Aru Resort.

The weather is hot and humid, but you do get the occasional twenty minutes of heavy rain showers every day during lunch hours.

Thus it dries up almost instantly.

The resort has a golf course, and some small beaches at the front, but they are full of crabs.

The swimming pool area is OK.

However, I did not travel this far to spend time at something which I have got back home.

I want to discover the world-renowned beaches, snorkeling with the sea life and explore the corals, not to mention, my orange friends – the orangutangs.

It is possible to hire a boat, but I suggest with a guide. The beaches on the nearby islands are marvelous.

I highly recommend “Police beach,” which is truly spectacular.

Continue reading (Incl. Pics) at: Kota Kinabalu, Borneo, Malaysia

Policies up for review to make SarawakTourism more vibrant

KUCHING: Sarawak is relooking at its strategies and policies to address several issues in the tourism sector and to improve what the state has to offer to visitors.

Minister of Tourism, Arts, Culture, Youth and Sports Datuk Abdul Karim Rahman Hamzah pointed out the need to improve the overall standard and quality of products and services within the tourism industry – from accommodation, restaurants, tour guides to packages – so as to grow the sector and make Sarawak a preferred tourism destination.

“Our national parks are very popular with both local and foreign visitors but there is still room for improvement as I notice that the facilities are not up to expectations.

“Things like accommodation, the washrooms particularly, as well as jetties and boats taking tourists to Bako National Park, for instance, need to be improved. The river is infested with crocodiles and I do not want to hear of any mishap,” he told reporters after delivering his presentation on ‘Sarawak Tourism Blueprint’ on the second day of ‘Sarawak Dialogue’ here yesterday, where permanent secretary to his ministry Hii Chang Kee and Sarawak Dialogue organising chairman Adrain Jerome were also present.

Abdul Karim said while the management of most – if not all – national parks are under Sarawak Forestry Corporation (SFC) and not under his ministry, he proposed for a joint management, at least for the parks most frequented by visitors.

“We are still looking into this. While they (SFC) want to conserve and preserve the parks, we want to promote them to the world. So I believe coming together is crucial and will allow us to do all three things (conserve, preserve and promote).”

On another issue, he said tour guides from outside are not allowed to take tour groups or visitors into and around the parks by themselves, as these parks insist on using their own rangers.


KadazanDusun Cultural Village - Same experience minus long journey

KOTA KINABALU: Sabah – known for its multi-cultural communities and diverse ethnic groups – is a cultural haven for tourists who are often eager to see the state’s traditional houses.

Visitors can now opt to cut down on the number of road trips to remote villages and visit the newly launched KDCA (Kadazan Dusun Cultural Association) Cultural Village in Penampang instead.

Also known as Koisaan Cultural Village (KCV), the houses in the area were underutilised, as they were only open to the public several times a year, mainly during the Harvest or Kaamatan festival in May.

KCV chairman Sairah Indan said it had upgraded the houses and opened the place to visitors from Feb 19.

Visitors can now tour the cultural houses and learn about the natives’ traditions through exhibitions and performances at an open stage there for a fee (RM25 for locals and RM35 for foreigners).

Visitors can also see and experience for themselves some of the traditional sports of Sabah’s Kadazandusun community.

“As it has a limited land area of just 3.6ha, we can only accommodate 11 houses for now.

“We are searching for a bigger area to accommodate all of the 40 ethnic houses available in Sabah,” Sairah said.

The 11 houses available for viewing at the moment are the Beaufort Bisaya House, Penampang Kadazan House, Kota Belud Tindal House, Ranau Liawan House, Kuala Penyu Tatana House, Keningau Gana-Kuijau House, Tuaran Lotud House, Tambunan Tuhawon House, Papar Kadazan House, Murut Lansaran House and Kudat Rungus longhouse which also accommodates other ethnic group such as the Tobilung, Tinagas, Tombonuo and Kimaragang.


Tuesday, February 27, 2018

Sarawak a ‘phenomenal brand’, says AirAsia chief

KUCHING: Sarawak is a growing brand and set to achieve more in the tourism industry, given its rich culture and biodiversity.

In pointing this out, AirAsia Bhd group chief executive officer Tan Sri Tony Fernandes views Sarawak as ‘a phenomenal brand’, adding that more efforts should be undertaken to promote the state.

“As the Chief Minister (Datuk Patinggi Abang Johari Tun Openg) said earlier, Sarawak is rich in biodiversity, culture and amazing rivers.

“There is a diversity of culture from Mulu, to Kuching, to Sibu. You have to work together with the airlines, while embarking into the digital world.

“The digital world should enable Sarawak to reach (out) to a larger amount of people, and you have this Rainforest World Music Festival as well,” he said in response to a question raised during a session at ‘Sarawak Dialogue’ yesterday.

Abang Johari launched the inaugural event themed ‘Sarawak, The Bridge to New Beginnings’ focusing on four major sectors – tourism, education, health and digital economy.

On another subject Fernandes, who was the keynote speaker, described Africa as a potential continent for AirAsia to explore and expand its network to.

He added that at present, the low-cost carrier lacks the appropriate aircraft to fly to Africa.

“Africa is going to be huge for us. We’re just waiting for the right planes to be delivered to us,” he said, adding that potential African routes could ‘happen in the next two years’.

“We want to fly to all continents – I’ll probably retire when we (AirAsia) fly to Rio (de Janeiro) to play a football game there,” he quipped.

These remarks were made in response to another question posed by one of the participants.

On another question, Tony said AirAsia is looking into the feasibility of implementing dual aerobridge system at its low-cost carrier terminal (LCCT).


Sarawak hotels catering to growing number of tourists

KUCHING: The state tourism industry received a major boost with the official launch of the ‘Riverside Majestic Hotel Astana Wing’ to cater to the growing number of tourists arriving in the state.

At the launch of the hotel’s Astana Wing yesterday, Chief Minister Datuk Patinggi Abang Johari Tun Openg said the four-star hotel will benefit from future attractions and urban renewal projects, mainly along the Kuching Waterfront up to the Padungan area.

“The service must be majestic, because we are staying in a palace (Astana) in a very strategic location,” he added.

He revealed that the hotel will be managed by Sarawak Economic Development Corporation

(SEDC), which has played a pioneering role in the transformation of the state’s tourism industry since its formation 46 years ago.

According to him, SEDC has taken the lead with the development of Sarawak’s first international class hotel in 1976 which was the Holiday Inn Kuching – now known as Grand Margherita Hotel – and the Holiday Inn Damai Resort (Damai Beach Resort) in 1986.

He believes the addition of the Astana Wing is a timely move by SEDC to keep abreast with the competition and to maintain its role as a major player in the state’s tourism industry.

With the new wing, he added, hotel guests will be able to visit the iconic Darul Hana bridge on foot while enjoying the beauty of the city along the Waterfront.

He mentioned that among future beautification projects in the area is the cascading water feature that will be built near the State Legislative Assembly building.


AirAsia sees great potential in Sarawak

KUCHING: AirAsia Bhd is not far away from launching the Kuching-Bangkok and Kuching-Jakarta routes, upon the setting up of a low-cost carrier terminal (LCCT) here.

According to AirAsia group chief executive officer Tan Sri Tony Fernandes, the low-cost carrier sees great potential in Sarawak and is looking at expanding flight routes between the state and Southeast Asia.

He points out that AirAsia has already launched its Bintulu-Singapore, Kuching-Shenzhen, Kuching-Langkawi and Kuching-Pontianak routes.

“We are not far away from launching Kuching-Bangkok and Kuching-Jakarta (routes). We believe in Sarawak’s potential, especially once we have a LCCT in Kuching,” he said in his keynote address ‘Flying High’ at the inaugural ‘Sarawak Dialogue’ here yesterday.

Fernandes said he would be looking forward to having a LCCT in the city so that AirAsia could ‘start growing’. He said AirAsia would continue to appreciate and nurture talents as what it had set out to do in the first place.

“I don’t care whether you went to Stanford (University) or Cambridge (University) because all you need is to have a brain. As long as you have a brain, we will support you by transforming from a raw diamond into a diamond.”

Fernandes recalled having come across a boy from Sibu who used to load and unload baggage with him. He found the Sibu boy to be very gifted and therefore, encouraged him to go the extra mile to excel in his life.

He added that the Sibu boy was ‘smart’, but lacked the financial means to pursue a better life.

“AirAsia groomed him and later he became a pilot. Today, he is a captain and about to become an instructor. We are all about giving the people the ability to grow,” he pointed out.

Continue reading (Incl. Pic) at: AirAsia sees great potential in Sarawak

Sarawak in talks with Motac to allow guide licences to be issued by state ministry

KUCHING: State Minister of Tourism, Arts, Culture, Youth and Sports Datuk Abdul Karim Rahman Hamzah today revealed that there are talks with the Ministry of Tourism and Culture (Motac) on allowing the issuance of tourist guide licenses by the state ministry.

He said there is need for the the state to issue its own licenses to counter the problem of insufficient tourist guides.

“Miri has only one or two registered tourist guide(s), ‘mana cukup’ (certainly not sufficient) and the unregistered guides come into play because there are not enough registered guides due to the expensive fees and difficulty of getting the license,” he said at a press conference after presenting his talk “Sarawak Tourism Blueprint” on the second day of the Sarawak Dialogue here.

He explained that presently the tourist guide licenses are issued by Motac as tourism is deemed as under the federal government list, but the state government does not fully recognised this.

“I feel that tourism has been taken away from the state. I am very firm when it comes to this (tourism matters relating to Sarawak). In the first place, tourism was not even a subject in the state or federal or concurrent list when we formed Malaysia in 1963,” he said.

He recalled that when the Federal Constitution was amended in 1994, tourism was inserted in the Ninth Schedule and became a federal matter without consultation with Sarawak.

“The state will not give up in pursuing this matter and that’s why we have our own ministry and Sarawak Tourism Board to look at our tourism matters.


Monday, February 26, 2018

Ven Going Places: How I Experienced Mt. Kinabalu

I reached Mt. Kinabalu’s Lowe’s Peak at around quarter to 7am, meeting several of my (fast) team mates who were already going down.

I looked at my watch thinking I need to make the cut-off time at Sayat-sayat for the Ferrata, so I have an hour to get down to km7 or known as checkpoint, can I make it considering the steep descent, rope segments and my knees?

Thankfully, I did not suffer any headache and I was able to cope with the altitude. I asked a fellow hiker who was already going down to take photos of me with the signage which he gladly obliged.

He even asked me if the shots he took were okay, I smiled said yes, thank you and he left me to catch up with his buddy.

I was left alone at the peak.

How I wish I could stay longer, the beauty was so eerily captivating. I can feel the euphoria taking over my being.

But 10minutes was gone too soon and I started my descent, meeting several of my friends midway, I congratulated them and said “I need to get down”, I was in a rush that I forgot to take a photo of them, a photo of us.

To celebrate with them the joy of reaching the top. I think I would always regret that, a lesson learned.

Continue reading (Incl. Pics) at: Ven Going Places: How I Experienced Mt. Kinabalu

Sarawak and AirAsia still discussing low-cost travel hub

KUCHING: The state government is still in the process of negotiating with AirAsia Berhad on the latter’s proposal to make Sarawak a low-cost travel hub.

Chief Minister Datuk Patinggi Abang Johari Tun Openg, however, assured that the state government would collaborate with AirAsia for the plan to be realised.

He said the location for the low-cost carrier terminal (LCCT) here had been decided but declined to reveal it to prevent unnecessary spiralling of the price of the identified land.

“To be fair, we are discussing with AirAsia, which will be a win-win-situation for AirAsia in Sarawak. Tony wanted Kuching to be their hub and he has his plan. So for us, we will look from that perspective because we want to make sure that everybody will gain,” he told a press conference after delivering a keynote address at the inaugural Sarawak Dialogue here yesterday.

He was referring to AirAsia Berhad Group chief executive officer Tan Sri Tony Fernandes, Abang Johari welcomed AirAsia’s plan to make Sarawak its low-cost travel hub, saying more connectivity would boost tourist arrivals in the state.

“This means our food operators, our hotels, our craftsmen, our cottage industry, will benefit. So we are looking at it from that perspective,” he said.

Asked when the low-cost travel hub in Sarawak will be in operation, he answered in jest: “As long as Tony agrees to our terms.”

Fernandes, who was present at the press conference, said they chose Sarawak because it is “fantastically located”.


Sunday, February 25, 2018

59steps: Postcard from Borneo - encounters with my cousins and other animals @59steps

I am not, or was not until recently, a fan of going out to seek the glories of nature. Like many couch potatoes, I prefer others to do it for me. I love the Attenborough programmes – the Blue Planet and all – for their miraculous photography, and for revealing things about the natural world that we might never otherwise know. And no doubt, when he’s old enough, we will take our grandson to the zoo, where he will be as thrilled by the elephants, tigers and giraffes as my kids were.

When I’m abroad, I find it easier to rouse myself to go out and visit the works of man (or should I say people, Mr Trudeau?) than to commune with wildlife. Give me churches, mosques, temples and amphitheatres any day. To indulge in nature, you have to go to inconvenient places where you risk falling off cliffs, being struck by bits of flying lava or eaten by lions. Buildings don’t usually threaten your personal safety, but some do speak to you as eloquently as the natural world.

That said, the glories of Borneo lie not in buildings but in the endless rainforest, packed with mammals, birds, reptiles and all manner of creepy crawlies. It would have been churlish not to pay homage to them.

So when we arrived in Sandakan, one of the two main cities in Sabah, at the end of our current jaunt through the Far East, we resolved to leave as soon as possible. It’s an ugly city, built by the British as the main point of export for hardwood and rubber, fought over and destroyed by the Japanese and the Australians in World War 2, and rebuilt around a number of hideous concrete buildings that dominate the skyline.

But beyond the town lies the Kinabatangan river. It flows from the interior, through patches of virgin rainforest, past palm oil plantations and ends up winding its way through impenetrable mangrove forests through to the sea.

About 90 kilometres up-river sits the Sukau Eco Lodge, which, as the name suggests, is very eco. Just about everything is recycled. This was where we came to commune with whatever wildlife chose to show itself during our three-day stay.

You get there by boat, which takes about two hours, assuming there’s nothing to capture your attention on the journey. Each tour party is accompanied by a guide, whose job is to point you towards everything worth seeing on the tree-lined shores.

“Are zere Hotteurs here”? It took a few seconds to figure out that the elderly French gentleman was asking about the presence of otters. To which the answer was yes. But we didn’t see any.

Our tour party was dominated by French birdwatchers. I’d thought always the French were mainly interested in blasting birds out of the sky and then eating them. These folks proved me wrong. Armed with high powered binoculars, cameras that must have cost thousands, they ventured forth on the river, grimly determined to see every orangutan, proboscis Monkey and hornbill that hung out in the dense vegetation on the banks.


Four Points by Sheraton Sandakan hotel eyes domestic market for turnaround

SANDAKAN: The Four Points by Sheraton Sandakan started operations in May 2012. Just as business was picking up and as the hotel was making its name, there were terrorist attacks just about 200km away from town here.

Sandakan, formerly known as Elopura has a rich heritage and goes as far back as World War II when about 2,000 Australian soldiers were shot dead. Hence, the historical ANZAC Day was commemorated. The centennial was a great and memorable day here.

Just as deals were being closed with China with big charter groups, the MH370 incident in 2014 brought all travels to a standstill. Following this, another pirate attack within the vicinity of Sandakan did not make in bound travel any more exciting nor promising. International travellers were being stopped by endless travel advisories.

After being employed at the hotel since early 2016 and having studied the selling points of Sandakan, Peter Padman, General Manager of the hotel gave deep thought to how one should change the perception of the general public, focusing on the domestic market.

Whilst he did a bit of international travel, he found that to maintain the fair share and continuity of foreign leisure business, the concentration needed to be diverted to both government and leisure, domestically instead of internationally.

Citing the visits of the Prime Minister, Deputy Prime Minister, Minister of Tourism and the Ambassador of the United States, he said Sandakan was safe for visitors.

He said these were signs that the town was safe for inbound travel; however the travel alerts have yet to be lifted as this needs a good two years of unwanted happenings, like militant attacks or kidnappings.

“Though there has been peace in the area over the past 20 months, international travellers are still very sceptical about visiting the town of Sandakan,” Peter said.


Saturday, February 24, 2018

MeanderWithMeg: Best things to do in Sandakan, Borneo @meanderwithmeg

Sandakan is famous as a gateway to ecotourism in the Sabah region of Borneo. As a huge animal lover, my purpose for visiting was to see as much of the species native to this part of Borneo as I could, although primarily the orangutan.

I used the city of Sandakan as a base to explore the local area, however, there are also many things to do in Sandakan itself that can keep you happily exploring for a few days.

Where Is Sandakan?

Sandakan is a town in the Malaysian state of Sabah, on the northeast coast of Borneo. It is the second largest town in Sabah after Kota Kinabalu. Sandakan is easy to get to with an international airport on the outskirts of the city and many local and long distance bus routes.

Sandakan has a population of approximately 158,000 and is considered to be one of the main ports for tobacco, oil, coffee, sago and timber exports. This industrious history meant that at one time it had a high concentration of millionaires due to the booming timber export business.

The town was completely destroyed in World War II, although now it since been rebuilt and is thriving. Sandakan is not very Westernised, so if you’re after shopping centres, luxury hotels and restaurants then you won’t find them easily in Sandakan. What you will find, however, is a an authentic experience and a town that’s in a great position for you to explore this part of Borneo.

The town is structured by miles with the centre of Sandakan as 0 and the further you travel outwards the more the miles increase. It will not be uncommon for you to hear destinations referred to by their miles – e.g. The Australian War Memorial is at Mile 8.

What to do in Sandakan

There is plenty to do in the town and the surrounding area so you could easily spend several nights here. I booked two nights in my hostel when I first arrived to explore the local area before heading off to the Kinabatangan River. On my return I spent a couple more days in Sandakan to finish up my sightseeing, so I can recommend at least a stay of four nights.


Friday, February 23, 2018

24 gazetted heritage sites in Sabah

KOTA KINABALU: The State Government has gazetted 24 places as heritage sites in the state.

They include the old post office building which is now the Sabah Tourism Board office, Atkinson Clock Tower, Community Hall in the city, Padang Merdeka, Mat Salleh Monument in Tambunan and the Skull Hill archaeological site in Semporna, said Tourism, Culture and Environment Minister Datuk Seri Panglima Masidi Manjun.

Speaking at the launch of the State Heritage Enactment Act at the Sabah Museum near here yesterday, Masidi said the benefits of having these places gazetted as heritage sites included financial assistance for their preservation.

He said several other places would be gazetted as heritage sites, namely Sabah Turnbull Hall, the old RTM Building, Melalap Train Station and Kent Teachers College.

“I hope that more buildings will be nominated,” he said, adding that the recognition did not mean that the heritage sites would be taken over by the government.

“The ownership will not change …What we want is for the structures to be maintained and preserved. The Sabah government will help in terms of financing the preservation and restoration works, if any,” he said.

He also said the owners were not obliged to agree to their buildings being turned into heritage sites.


60,000 Chinese tourists celebrate Chinese New Year in Sabah

KOTA KINABALU: Some 430,000 tourists from China visited Sabah last year and contributed more than RM1 billion in tourism receipts, with an average spending of over RM 2,500 per person.

Consul General of the People’s Republic of China in Kota Kinabalu, Liang Caide said around 60,000 Chinese tourists spent their Chinese New Year holidays in Sabah this year.

“Sabah has become one of the most popular travel destinations for Chinese tourists.

“There are more than 100 direct flights connecting Kota Kinabalu to various cities in China every week.”

At the same time, Liang said the number of Sabahans visiting China for business, tourism, visiting friends and relatives had increased.

“Last year, the Consulate General issued 25,000 Chinese visas,” he said at the Chinese New Year celebration organized by Kota Kinabalu Chinese Chamber of Commerce and Industry (KKCCCI) here yesterday.

Liang said the cooperation between China and Sabah had created vast opportunities.

“More and more China firms have ventured into infrastructure development, hotel and residential property development, durian plantation and various other projects in Sabah.”

He said the prospect was bright for exchanges and cooperation between Sabah and China in the future.


Thursday, February 22, 2018

Scientists unlock secret of proboscismonkey

KOTA KINABALU: There is a secret to Sabah’s iconic male proboscis monkeys – when they become bigger, so will their body and testicles.

But more importantly, the males with a bigger nose can attract more females.

According to a scientific study, there is a clear link between the nose sizes of the males and the number of females in their harems.

The study was jointly carried out by scientists from the Sabah Wildlife Department, Danau Girang Field Centre, Cardiff University and Kyoto University.

Researcher Dr Ikki Matsuda from Chubu University and Kyoto University in Japan said exaggerated male traits, such as a large nose, could be great for attracting females.

During this study, morphological measurements and behavioural observations in free-ranging proboscis monkeys were carried out in the Lower Kinabatangan Wildlife Sanctuary, Dr Ikki said in a statement.

They also recorded the vocalisations of male and female proboscis monkeys at three different zoos – the Yokohama Zoo in Japan, Singapore Zoo and Lok Kawi Zoo in Sabah.

Continue reading (Incl. Pic) at: Scientists unlock secret of proboscis monkeys

Tourism players encouraged to work with MATTA to attract tourists to Sarawak

KUCHING: Tour operators and travel agents in Sarawak are encouraged to participate in marketing activities organised by the Malaysian Association of Tour and Travel Agents (Matta) as it is now actively organising sales missions to several countries in its effort to attract tourists to the country.

Matta president Datuk Tan Kok Liang said they were currently actively collaborating with international markets and organising sales missions to China, India and other Asian countries, while 29 agents will be participating in ITB Berlin 2018 – the world’s largest tourism trade fair.

“We have briefed Chief Minister Datuk Patinggi Abang Johari Tun Openg on our Matta promotional activities and marketing activities for this year, which travel agents and tour operators in Sarawak are encouraged to take part in.

“Next year, Malaysia is the preferred destination for Europeans, and Sarawak and Sabah have a lot of nature-based tourism attraction which is very good for tourists from Europe.

Of course, we also have the Matta Fair in PWTC (Putra World Trade Centre) and are looking into collaborating with Sabah and Sarawak to suggest that Borneo will be the preferred domestic destination for Malaysia. That will boost tourism arrival for both states,” he said.


Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Sabah – last haven of the orang utan

KOTA KINABALU: A new study in the scientific journal Current Biology has found that 100,000 orang utan have died in the past 16 years, with Sabah likely to be the last haven for the critically endangered species.

Two Sabah-based co-authors of the study, Dr Marc Ancrenaz and Dr Benoit Goossens believe that steps taken by the Sabah government would see the survival of the orang ­utan in the wild.

“We sincerely believe that the major orang utan populations in Sabah are secure thanks to the commitment from the Sabah government to protect 30% of the state’s land mass.

“Moreover, hunting is not a big issue here, compared to some other parts of Borneo island.

“There is definitely hope for wildlife in the state.

“Sabah might, in the future, be the last place where it would be possible to find wild orang utan,” the two scientists said in a statement yesterday.

Dr Ancrenaz, who is co-director of the NGO Hutan, said the study found that the rate of decline in orang utan on the island of Borneo was more rapid than they had initially thought.

“If we cannot stop this decline, many more are going to disappear in the next few decades.

“It also means that there were more orang utan in the past than we thought, and this illustrates how difficult it is to know exactly how many wild orang utan survive in Borneo,” he said.

Continue reading (Incl. Pic) at: Sabah – last haven of the orang utan

Sabah doing right thing for orangutan conservation

KOTA KINABALU: One hundred thousand orangutans have disappeared in the last 16 years in Borneo, a new study published last week in Current Biology, reveals.

Two Sabah-based co-authors, Dr Marc Ancrenaz, co-director of the NGO HUTAN and Dr Benoit Goossens, director of Danau Girang Field Centre and Reader at Cardiff University, took part in the study and they explain the significance of these results for Sabah and praise the government’s hard work to protect orangutans in the State.

“This figure is staggering and means a few things at the scale of Borneo, explained Ancrenaz.

“First of all, the rate of decline is much faster than what we thought, and this is worrying. If we cannot stop this decline, many more populations are going to disappear in the next few decades. It also means that there were more orangutans in the past than what we thought, and this illustrates how difficult it is to know exactly how many wild orangutans are surviving in Borneo. Counting these animals is indeed a very difficult task and most (if not all) estimates published in the past have been shown to be wrong, confirmed Ancrenaz.

He said the major reason explaining this decline is the killing that happens in non-protected and protected areas. Forest conversion for agriculture explains less than 50% of the decline. This also means that it is urgent to change our approach to conserve orangutans.

“What does that mean for Sabah, asked Goossens who said most large populations have been relatively stable for the past 20 years in the State thanks to the creation of new fully protected forests by the State government.

“The goal of the State Government to set aside 30% of its forests as totally protected areas will certainly increase the chance of survival of orangutans in Sabah, he explained after the Sabah Wildlife Department refuted and disagreed with a foreign media report that claimed over 6,000 orangutans have been killed in Sabah between 1999 and 2015.

However, Ancrenaz pointed out that severe habitat fragmentation and further land conversion could take a heavy toll on small orangutan populations. For example, data from HUTAN and Sabah Wildlife Department showed that the fragmented population of orangutans living in Lower Kinabatangan was about 1,100 in the early 2000’s. Today this population numbers less than 800 individuals.

“Hunting is not an issue in Lower Kinabatangan. This decline is explained by habitat loss and the fact that orangutans need a landscape with sufficient natural forest to survive.

“Many other small groups of animals that were isolated in the late 1990s-early 2000s because of oil palm conversion were not accounted for during the orangutan state survey of the early 2000s. Most of these small populations are now gone, he added.

Goossens said there are ways to improve the chance of long-term survival of this iconic species in Sabah.

Continue reading (Incl. Pics) at: Sabah doing right thing for orangutan conservation

Monday, February 19, 2018

Upgrade at Kinabalu Park boost for tourism

KOTA KINABALU: The upgrading of Burlington Hut in Kinabalu Park, has been completed and handed over to Sabah Parks.

The project also saw various other facilities being improved including the workers’ quarters, Kinabalu Park operations office and checkpoint counters under the 10th Malaysia Rolling Plan.

A total of RM12mil was allocated with Pembinaan HY Juta Bhd commissioned to undertake the projects.

The project which was completed on Dec 8 last year, was officially handed over by a representative from the company, Datuk Tiong Ing Sing to Kinabalu Park manager Yassin Miki.

In a statement, the Sabah Tourism and Culture Ministry said with the completion of the upgrade, visitors would enjoy better services.

Continue reading (Incl. Pic) at: Upgrade at Kinabalu Park boost for tourism

Sabah celebrating jump in tourist arrivals

KOTA KINABALU: It was a good year for Sabah tourism, thanks to the hard work put in by all stakeholders.

State Tourism, Culture and Environment Minister Datuk Masidi Manjun said there were more than 3.6 million tourist arrivals in 2017, a 7.5% increase from 2016.

He noted that despite two major setbacks, the number of tourists visiting the state had increased.

“Even when we thought the industry would collapse following the deadly June 5 Mount Kinabalu quake in 2015, all of you proved the critics wrong,” he said during an assembly with ministry staff.

Masidi added though the tourism industry had come to a standstill for a while after the incident, as well as the Lahad Datu intrusion in 2013, it had bounced back.

“In fact, we managed to increase the number of visitors,” Masidi said, adding this would not have been possible if ministry staff including clerks and cleaners, Sabah Parks personnel, tour guides, mountain guides and everyone else related to the industry had not give their best.

Continue reading (Incl. Pic) at: Sabah celebrating jump in tourist arrivals

Plans underway to make Tusan Beach a popular tourist destination

MIRI: The relevant authorities have plans to develop Tusan Beach – well-known for its ‘Blue Tears’ phenomenon – and also other beaches here into popular tourist attractions.

“There are plans by my ministry to develop these beaches here, particularly the one in Tusan. We hope to get it done this year,” disclosed Assistant Minister of Sarawak Tourism, Arts and Culture Datuk Lee Kim Shin when asked by reporters on the latest tourism products to be developed in the city.

He was met during his Chinese New Year open house gathering at his residence here on Saturday.

Adding on, Lee highlighted the need to address the issues of indiscriminate dumping of rubbish as well as the presence of debris such as logs and wood pieces, which make the beach   dirty and not presentable to tourists.

“A proposal has been forwarded to Miri Resident’s Office, which calls for relevant stakeholders to conduct regular beach-cleaning to keep these areas clean and beautiful.”


Sunday, February 18, 2018

6,100 orangutan s killed? Rubbish, says Sabah Wildlife

It says the report was baseless because it was based on a research finding without hard facts and evidence produced by three scientists based in Sabah.

KOTA KINABALU: The Sabah Wildlife Department (SWD) has rubbished a foreign media report claiming that 6,100 orangutans were killed in Sabah between 1999 and 2015.

Its director, Augustine Tuuga, in a statement here today, said the report was baseless because it was based on a research finding without hard facts and evidence produced by three scientists based in Sabah.

He said research findings published in the PLOS journal in 2004 estimated the orangutan population in Sabah at 11,000.

At the time of the study, 60% of the orangutan population in the state was believed to be outside of the protected areas.


Friday, February 16, 2018

First special direct charter flight to Sandakan brings 160 tourists from Taiwan

SANDAKAN: A total of 160 tourists from Taiwan became the first group of passengers arriving in Sandakan Airport on a special direct charter flight from the country today.

It was an initiative of tour agency, Taikar Sdn Bhd, with cooperation from its Taiwanese counterpart, Sunrise Express Travel Service Co. Ltd, using Malindo Air flight.

The arrival of the tourists at 10.50 am was given a grand welcome in conjunction with the Chinese New Year celebration.

Also present were Sabah Tourism Board general manager Suzaini Datuk Sabdin Ghani and Sandakan Municipal Council secretary Faridah Giau.

Speaking to reporters, Suzaini said the initiative was in line with the state government’s efforts to bring tourists to other districts of the state and not to focus only to Kota Kinabalu.

“This is their first attempt and I hope more tour agencies, airlines and hotel operators would collaborate in this kind of partnership to enable more tourists from Taiwan to visit Sandakan,” Suzaini said.


Thursday, February 15, 2018

Sabah looking at suggestions to tackle KKIA overcrowding

KOTA KINABALU: Sabah is scrutinising recommendations to improve the Kota Kinabalu International Airport (KKIA) capacity in an effort to address increased flights and tourist arrival into the state.

Among the suggestions made were to expand the existing KKIA facilities into the sea via reclamation as well as build a new runway and construct a new airport.

The KKIA Terminal 1 had emerged the second busiest airport in the country after Kuala Lumpur International Airport, with an annual capacity of nine million passengers.

Sabah Tourism, Culture and Environment Minister Datuk Seri Masidi Manjun said 7.9 million passengers had used the airport throughout 2017, with 3.68 million tourists arrival.

"If we look at the increasing number of tourists, especially from China and South Korea, to Sabah and particularly Kota Kinabalu, we will face a possibility of reaching the maximum capacity in the near future," he told reporters after attention the Ministry's inaugural assembly here, today.

"This is something which will eventually become a challenge for KKIA to allow more aircrafts to park.

“Therefore we had taken into considerations the proposals by various quarters. All options are being fined tuned and when the time comes, the government will choose the most practical and viable option," he stressed.

On airport expansion and additional runway construction, Masidi said the state government would conduct thorough study to determine whether the recommendations are viable as it affect the environment.


Borneo has lost half its orangutans due to hunting and habitat loss

'Their forests homes have been lost and degraded, and hunting threatens the existence of this magnificent great ape'

Borneo has lost more than 100,000 orangutans in the space of just 16 years as a result of hunting and habitat loss, according to a new report.

Logging, mining, oil palm, paper, and linked deforestation have been blamed for the the diminishing numbers.

However, researchers also found many orangutans have vanished from more intact, forested regions, suggesting that hunting and other direct conflict between orangutans and humans continues to be a chief threat to the species.

The report published in the Current Biology Journal found more than 100,000 of the island's orangutans vanished in the period of 1999 to 2015.

“Orangutans are disappearing at an alarming rate," said Emma Keller, agricultural commodities manager at the Worldwide Fund for Nature (WWF).


Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Maslight: Mulu Pinnacles (4D3N) Trip 2017 - Part 1 @Maslight

I've lost count to the number of times I've re-written this post, I can't seem to complete it.  It has been a struggle but I'm gonna make sure I complete this 😂.  To those waiting for this post, I sincerely apologize for the delay.  Post 1 is getting longer hahaha help!

Where to begin?

If you're planning to do the Pinnacles, it is highly recommended to book in advance since there's limited slots available at Camp 5.  Allocate 3 days 2 nights for this tour.  Minimum 3 person per tour.  But if you're going solo, don't worry, they will group you up with other solo travelers :) I'll include a summarize costing for this trip at the end of Part 2 of this post.

The return ticket from Kota Kinabalu to Mulu costs RM295.32 via MasWing and I had booked it early, my trip was 5 days after TMBT.  I don't know what I was thinking when I agreed for that trip but I was excited for it.  I was confident about my recovery haha.  Optimist!

Flight to Mulu

There are 2 available flights to Mulu from Miri in a day and 1 from Kuching.  Flights will transit at Miri for immigration clearance (for at least 20 minutes).

My flight was originally scheduled for a 55 minutes flight but somehow it was cancelled (without notice).  Thankfully, friend had informed me earlier (around August, mind you) I had sort it out with Malaysian Airlines.  So, that's about an extra 30 minutes to Mulu.

How to book?

Booking for your trip is relatively easy.  Here's a guide on how to plan your trip (Mulu Park website is so informative and you can book your trip from there).  You can also make booking via travel agent or tour operator, but it would cost higher (depending on accommodations in Mulu Park (inclusive meals).

The day finally came, thank god my legs felt better after begging my sis to massage it.  Who hates packing? ME! Am always indecisive about the clothes bring and would stack it and only put into the bag almost at the very minute hahahah.  Happens all the time when I travel, struggle to pack was so real.

Continue reading (Incl. Pics) at: Maslight: Mulu Pinnacles (4D3N) Trip 2017 - Part 1

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Eris Goes To: Travelogue Borneo - Inside A Kelabit Longhouse in Bario, Sarawak

The concept of communal living may be alien to many of us who live in the city. Our apartments are like tiny cages, our gated and guarded homes a substitute for cells.

For some indigenous peoples in Sabah and Sarawak, however, communal living is the only way of life they have ever known. Long houses have afforded its residents protection, safety and convenience since ancient times, and allows a unique bond to form between family, neighbours and friends.

I had the privilege of staying at one of these long houses recently, on a trip to Bario, Sarawak, where the Kelabit people live. We stayed at the Bario Asal Lembaa Long House, the largest longhouse in the area and home to 23 families.

During our visit, it was like a big party, as not only were the people from Volvo Trucks  there for the official launching ceremony of their CSR projects, so were some research students as well as NGO volunteers. The atmosphere was festive, and reminded me of days when I was younger and everyone would congregate back in our hometown during the holiday season (not anymore since the grandparents died. Sigh)

Dating back to 1958, the Bario Asal Lembaa long house is a living piece of history, where generations of families have lived and died. Elevated on wooden stilts, the building is mostly made from wood and has numerous entry and exit points.

The longhouse is divided into three ‘sections’, the first being the tawa – a long covered hallway that stretches from one end to the other. Used for ceremonies, gatherings and official functions, the space is lined with portraits of the families who live here, as well as historical figures and important community leaders within the Kelabit community.

It felt a bit like a family museum, and I was touched to be welcomed into something so precious and intimate.


Sunda pangolin now totally protected in Sabah

SANDAKAN: The Sunda pangolin has been upgraded to a totally protected species in Sabah, and joins the ranks of the Orangutan, Sun Bear and several other iconic species found in the state.

Sabah Tourism, Culture and Environment Minister Datuk Masidi Manjun said this meant that it was forbidden to hunt, consume or sell pangolins or their parts and offenders could face the maximum penalty as provided for in the Sabah Wildlife Conservation Enactment 1997.

“The document to upgrade the protection status of pangolins has been approved by the Sabah State Cabinet,” he said in a speech at the launch of a pangolin sculpture at the Sandakan Airport here today.

The text of his speech was read out by Assistant Minister Datuk Kamarlin Ombi, who launched the sculpture built from recycled polycarbonate advertising boards and used bottles.

Masidi said one of the biggest challenges in pangolin conservation was that very little was known about “this highly secretive and elusive creature”.

He said that for millions of years, pangolins have evolved and adapted to enable them to remain undetected and were often found in low densities based on camera trapping studies.

This made them rarely seen and particularly difficult to study, leading scientists to believe this species was in significant danger of extinction, he said.

Despite the existence of wildlife laws in different countries, poaching and illegal trafficking of wildlife species still persisted, he said.

Continue reading (Incl. Pic) at: Sunda pangolin now totally protected in Sabah

Monday, February 12, 2018

Travelettes: A first timer’s guide to Sarawak, Borneo @travelettes

Sarawak is a playground for adventure seekers, wildlife watchers, cultural enthusiasts and foodies.

If this sounds like you, then this corner of Asia won’t disappoint. Here’s my beginner’s guide to this beautiful Malay state, located on the island of Borneo.


The capital city of Sarawak, Kuching, is a refreshing change from the fast-paced mega cities of Asia.

Instead of swathes of high rise buildings and concrete, you’ll find crumbling colonial architecture, pungent spice markets, grand mosques and a shady riverside promenade ideally suited for watching the sun set with a cold drink.

Kuching is the starting point for most international travelers in Sarawak. Only a short flight from Singapore or Kuala Lumpur, the city has a sleepy stride which is easy to navigate.

Most travelers stay on the riverside in old Malay shop houses that have been converted into quirky, comfortable guesthouses.

A good way to get your bearings is to join a walking or cycling tour. We join the bubbly Farha from Wayang Tours on a culinary and heritage tour of Kuching.

We start by wandering the old streets of Chinatown, popping our heads into the lavishly decorated temples that seem to adorn every corner.

The Indian market is next with its kaleidoscope of brightly colored buildings brimming with vivid fabric shops, spice displays, colorful fruit shops and a vegetable market.

We find a dark alley leading to a tiny mosque where worshippers sit quietly in the shadows. It is an oasis of calm and cool in the midst of the bustling market place.

We can’t help but notice the burgeoning population of cats. Kuching is also known as ‘cat city’ because of the cats bought in by the original Malay traders.

Now there are giant cat statues, piles of kitschy cat souvenirs and even a cat museum; a must for cat lovers of the world.


Sunday, February 11, 2018

John Leathwick: Climbing Kinabalu

Kinabalu, a massive granite peak in Sabah, Borneo, has a summit elevation of 4095 metres, making it the highest point in Malaysia. It has always had an interest for me, mostly because of the international renown in which it is held for its biodiversity; it supports between 5000 and 6000 plant species, making it an important centre for plant biodiversity in Southeast Asia.

However, I had never seriously considered the idea of climbing Kinabalu – it was not only out of reach geographically, but also because of its height – some 1300 m higher than I’d climbed before.

That all changed in the middle of last year, when my sister suggested that we join her and her husband for a trip to Malaysia to visit some old haunts where they had lived and worked, including a reunion with school pupils whom Mike had taught several decades ago. The prospect of a guided tour through Sabah, complete with local contacts was too good to turn down, and we signed up straight away.

But then the tantalising prospect of Kinabalu came to the fore – could we fit it into our schedule? more important, was there still sufficient stamina in a 60+ year old body for such an undertaking? The scheduling question was quickly resolved, and plucking up our courage, we booked for the climb with Amazing Borneo Tours, resigned to having a good time, even if still somewhat doubtful of an ascent to that altitude!

After some less than ideal fitness preparation, we finally arrived in Kuala Lumpur, and after three days of astounding hospitality, food and humidity, we moved on to Kota Kinabalu, the capital of Sabah, where our Kinabalu adventure would really begin.

Coming from a New Zealand spring, the heat was opressive, and we wondered how this would play out when it came to walking. With anticipation on the night before, we sorted our gear, gave a case with our city clothes to other party members for safe keeping, and went to bed ready for an early morning call.

The climb begins

At five-thirty the alarm duly cheeped, and we were soon out into the first light of day to where our ride was ready and waiting.  After a couple more pickups, we were on our way, winding out through the early morning traffic, heading north and inland towards the dark bulk of mountain that stood imposingly on the skyline.

Fortunately the higher we climbed the cooler it got, so that by the time we registered at the Park Headquarters, it was a pleasant 20 degrees or so. Once tagged and teamed up with Jimmy, our ever calm and smiling local guide, we were off to Timpohon Gate (1866 m) for a 9 am start to the first day’s climb that would take us to the rest-houses at Laban Rata (3270 m).

At a superficial level, it would be easy to mistake this walk for somewhere in New Zealand, particularly at the beginning – the climate on the lower slopes is not too dissimilar to a New Zealand summer – mild temperatures although perhaps a bit more humid, and a pleasant walk through dense rain forest, with at least some familiar looking genera – Dacrydium, Phyllocladus, and Blechnum to name a few.

Continue reading (Incl. Pics) at: John Leathwick: Climbing Kinabalu

Eris Goes To: Travelogue Borneo - The Kelabit Highlands of Bario, Sarawak ( )

Here’s a joke I heard from an East Malaysian friend who was taking a cab in KL.

The cabbie asked where he was from, and he answered Sabah, to which the cabbie replied “Oh, bila datang Malaysia?” (When did you come to Malaysia?)

I can understand where Mr Cabbie was coming from. Partly due to ignorance and the ‘I don’t care what happens beyond my little bubble of a place’ attitude, many of us West Malaysians tend to forget that the other half of our country lies just across the ocean.

While I wouldn’t call myself an adventurer, I’ve been to a couple of places overseas, and it’s ironic that I haven’t fully explored my own backyard. Since I visited Sabah in 2016, it was time to tick Sarawak off the list too.

I recently joined a media fam trip by Volvo Malaysia, to see the work they have done in Bario, a small settlement up in the highlands bordering the Indonesian state of Kalimantan.

I had never heard of the place and didn’t know what to expect – only that it was hard to reach and would take 11 hours by 4 WD through muddy logging trails and swollen rivers. Fortunately, we didn’t have to go through that as there are now plane services that run twice daily from Miri Airport, serviced by MAS Wings.

These are not your typical commercial flights. No cabin crew, nor toilets. Instead, you hop on board a tiny Twin Otter that seats a maximum of 14 people.

Owing to the aircraft’s small size, they are very stringent on weight. Both you and your baggage will be weighed before boarding. Bags should not exceed nine kilos.

And we have takeoff! The ride from Miri to Bario took approximately 50 minutes.

This was my second time in a small plane; the first was in a four-seater Cessna. The sound of the engine and propellers was extremely loud and we had to shout to be heard. I couldn’t hear anything from the pilot’s intercom either lol.

There wasn’t much need for conversation though – look at this gorgeous view! Large swathes of plantation were soon replaced by thick, emerald-green jungle, stretching as far as the eye could see.

The view of undulating hills, untouched by man for millions of years, was occasionally interrupted by milky brown rivers, slithering through the landscape like a giant snake. It was a majestic sight that made me feel small and insignificant, and awed.


Kudat tourism to boom in a few years

KUDAT: Minister of Special Tasks Datuk Seri Panglima Teo Chee Kang strongly believes that Kudat tourism will take off in the next few years in view of the great tourism potential of the district.

Teo, who is also Tanjong Kapor assemblyman, said the development of resort, hotel and island tourism would flourish and attract more investors to Kudat in the future.

“In view of the demand, the government should facilitate such developments and have a comprehensive planning in place,” said Teo.

“I hope entrepreneurs in Kudat will seize the opportunities in the tourism sector as well,” he said.

The Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) president said Kudat’s economy was driven by the fishing, aquaculture and agriculture industries.

That said, Teo stressed that Kudat had been actively promoting its tourism industry in these few years.

“At present, more than 2,000 tourists visit Kudat every month, mostly foreigners from China and western countries,” he said after officiating at the opening ceremony of the Kudat Fish Farm Restaurant operated by Kim Men Seafood Supplier and Aquaculture here yesterday.

The restaurant is located at Kampung Tambakan, 10 minutes by boat from Marina Jetty Kudat.

The restaurant can accommodate up to 60 customers. Tourists can also snorkel and swim at the fish farm.

Kim Men Seafood Supplier and Aquaculture has established partnership with Times Holidays Travel and Tours Sdn Bhd and Wasai Travel and Tour Sdn Bhd to promote the fish farm as a tourist attraction.

Teo disclosed that Kudat had created unique tourism products in the past year, such as fish farms.

He said aquaculture was very popular in the district owing to the high quality seawater in Kudat.

He said these fish farm operators leveraged on their aquaculture business and transformed it into a tourism product.

“Fish farms may not be attractive to the people of Kudat or Sabahans, but foreign tourists love them.

“Some Chinese tourists even told me that they would return to visit the fish farm again,” said Teo.

He said Kudat was blessed with beautiful natural scenery and crystal clear seawater.

He said there were 50 islands in Tun Mustapha Marine Park and he had visited several of the islands, including Balambangan Island, Banggi Island and Maliangin Island, all offering unique natural views and geographical terrain.


Saturday, February 10, 2018

Backpacks and Sunhats: Kuching Sarawak Borneo

Borneo is an amazing destination for families to visit. The opportunities to see wildlife are everywhere. It is easy to get around once you are there and mostly inexpensive.

English is widely spoken. We were there at the end of the wet season, low season for tourists and we found it very quiet, not crowded at all, I understand it is quite different in the high season.

We were so excited to arrive in Borneo. Our first destination was the city of Kuching in Sarawak state. We stayed for 3 nights as a base to explore the area.

Things to see and do in Kuching are: the Semenggoh Wildlife Centre; a sanctuary for Orangutans. Bako National Park and the cultural village.

We also enjoyed a one hour trip along the Sarawak river from Kuching harbour front to see local villages and fishing boats.

Semenggoh Wildlife Centre

At the Semenggoh wildlife centre the Orangutans are free to live wild in the forest but fruit is put out for them twice a day at a feeding platform.

Visitors can view the platform at feeding times in the hope of seeing one or more of these beautiful ‘men of the forest’ coming to feed.

We were in Borneo at the end of January in fruiting season, during this time there is plenty of food in the forest so not as many Orangutans come to feed.

We were up early and organised a driver to arrive for the 9am feeding, expectations of the guide were low, and I was getting worried.

But as we arrived at the platform one Orangutan came to feed and stayed for almost an hour swinging in the trees.

It was a magical experience and a great start to our stay in Borneo.

Continue reading (Incl. Pics) at: Backpacks and Sunhats: Kuching Sarawak Borneo