Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Mount Kinabalu, Borneo


Are you searching for a true sense of achievement?  Or the ultimate test of mental and physical strength?

With views of unbelievable granite rock formations and a panorama nearly 4100m down to the ocean? Then Mount Kinabalu is the summit climb for you.

The sun rises, the clouds part and you are amazed to see where you really are.  The sweat, the pain, the 2 am start with soaking wet clothes, are all quickly forgotten.

 “Did I really walk up here?” you ask yourself. The wind is still howling, your fingers are wet and freezing, but in this moment you don’t care.

The granite peaks around you are unusual, astonishing shapes, that make you wonder the creation of what you are seeing.

It’s a formidable, unrelenting, sparse place, not even mammals can live on this granite plateau.  You walk through the night to reach the summit in pitch black, wind and rain using ropes to heave your body up the steepest parts of the granite face.

“Aki Nabalu” means the revered place of the dead, which perfectly describes the feeling in this place.  There does seem to be a mystical, eerie sensation that overpowers you.

Climbing one of South-East Asia’s highest summits is no easy task and you definitely need some level of fitness.  In just over 24hrs you will climb up over 2500 meters and also have to get back down.

You will hike in two separate landscapes, mostly jungle and steps at the base, changing to open granite faces at the top.  On-route there are huts for resting, where there are small mountain squirrels which are definitely not shy.

I watched as a man took a tiny piece from his apple getting the squirrels to come right to his hand and feed.  Although one squirrel was unbelievably amusing and defiant, whilst being shown the piece in the man’s hand, it went around his back and slyly stole the whole apple.

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Borneo Rainforest Lodge and the Wildlife of Danum Valley


Borneo, and in particular the Sabah region of Malaysian Borneo, is rightly famed for the richness of its wildlife and the beauty of its landscape.

Whilst watching the proboscis monkeys swinging in the trees from the Kinabatangan River is a fantastic experience and snorkelling from the white sand beach of remote Lankayan Island is wonderful, there really is only one place for me when it comes to experiencing this incredible place in all its glory and that’s the Danum Valley.

Unlike large swathes of the world’s rainforests, when Danum became a conservation area there was no human habitation, and therefore no human interference in the area, leaving it as a pristine piece of virgin forest.

After flying in to the small town of Lahad Datu, some 80km away, the 4-wheel drive vehicle soon leaves the covered roads to head deep into the forest on rutted tracks, crossing cut-aways on what look like makeshift bridges, with groups of macaques idly watching on from the side of the road and majestic hornbills soaring through the tree tops.

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AirAsia connects Sarawak


AirAsia will add more services to Sarawak with three weekly direct flights from Kuching to Kota Bharu, due to start 22 March this year.

It will be AirAsia’s eighth domestic route from Kuching, and AirAsia will be the sole airline to connect Kuching directly to the East Coast of Semenanjung Malaysia.

During last week’s ATF in Kuching, tourism officials said it was imperative that Sarawak gained better airline access and more connectivity to other tourist destinations to make it more convenient for international travellers to visit more than one destination in Malaysia.

The new service should cut travel time and fares between the two tourism regions.

The three weekly direct flights will operate every Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday departing Kuching at 0700 and arriving in Kota Bharu at 0855 while flights from Kota Bharu will depart at 0920 and arrive back in Kuching at 1120.

The airline marks the launch with free seats which are available for booking online at www.airasia.com until 2 February.

Passengers will only need to pay for the applicable taxes and fees from RM29 one way. The travel period for these free seats will be 22 March 2014 to 31 January 2015.

Continue reading at: AirAsia connects Sarawak
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Sunday, January 26, 2014

The jungle at night at Camp Permai Rainforest Resort


THE silence and the darkness of the tree-shrouded path at Camp Permai Rainforest Resort were shattered.

About 90 two-legged creatures armed with torchlights, mosquito repellent and cameras swarmed out of the conference room ready for an adventurous introduction into the night jungle world.

However, were the creatures of the night jungle ready to face the two-legged ones?

A large spider of undetermined species had staked out a leaf along a well-travelled trail for the night, probably hoping for prey to appear and then it would capture the prey from the depth of the darkness hiding its dark brown body.

However, the predator became the prey of the flashing lights. It stayed put. It didn’t move. The flashing camera lights must have disturbed its night vision, but still it remained – a stationary model for the visitors.

Night predators, such as this spider, tend to stay in one place even when surrounded by flashing lights. They hunt by camouflage and the night provides the cover.

Spiders, like scorpions, are air-breathing arthropods with eight legs. An estimated 40,000 spider species inhabit all corners of the world except Antarctica.

All spiders, except one species, are predators that prey on – depending on their size (ranging from two millimetres to hand-size) – tiny insects, ants, spiders and birds.

Most spiders also spin webs designed to catch and subdue prey. Young spiders have been seen to eat nectar, and the extent of this habit is relatively unknown as they are predominantly nocturnal.

The noisy crowd and the bright lights dissipated down the trail to the next victim. The large brown spider, with relief, slid back into the darkness, waiting for the next unsuspecting visitor.

Meanwhile, gasps of disbelief filled the night, an angle headed lizard, sure of its cover, had not fled into the darkness. In a flash, flashing lights surrounded it; it was penned in by light.

The greyish brown lizard with the upright crest should have been hidden as is clung to the tree trunk, but it was spotted by the sharp-eyed guide who then pointed it out to his charges. We were enthralled and wanted desperately to take memories in pictures to the security of our homes.

Angle headed lizards (Gonocephalus sp) are members of the Agamidae family. These lizards, sometimes called dragons, eat ants, spiders and insects. They are truly magnificent creatures.

Continue reading (Incl. Pics) at: The jungle at night at Camp Permai Rainforest Resort
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Saturday, January 25, 2014

Did it snow on the summit of Mount Kinabalu?


KOTA KINABALU: Did it snow at Mount Kinabalu just before dawn on Jan 17 when temperatures dipped to -3°C?

A report submitted to Sabah Parks by their head ranger Martin Mogurin indicated that there were signs of snow at the summit area of the 4,101m-high mountain along the Crocker Range around 4am.

Martin said guides at the mountain submitted a report but were unable to back it up with pictures as it was dark. Sabah Parks officials are trying to verify the report.

Sabah Parks chairman Tengku Zainal Adlin, who has climbed every face of Mount Kinabalu in the last five decades, is not surprised over the snow report.

Zainal said that ice on the mountain was common, especially in the early hours of the morning.

Sabah Parks director Paul Basintal said he was gathering information but he has his doubts about the snow.

Continue reading (Incl. Pic) at: Did it snow on the summit of Mount Kinabalu?
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Friday, January 24, 2014

Elusive Bay Cat Photographed In Striking Detail In Borneo


An extremely elusive creature called a bay cat has been photographed in stunning detail in its native Borneo in Southeast Asia.

The new image, which was captured by a photographer working with the wildcat conservation organization Panthera, is one of the first high-resolution images taken of the enigmatic species. Previously, grainy camera-trap images were the main evidence of the cat's existence.

The bay cat, or Pardofelis badia, is a mysterious little wildcat that lives only on the island of Borneo, which includes the countries of Malaysia, Brunei and Indonesia. The diminutive hunters are smaller than the average house cat and have either ruddy chestnut or grayish coats.

Their nocturnal nature and secretive demeanors, combined with a low population density, make sightings of the cats incredibly rare. Almost nothing is known about what they eat or how they reproduce

Logging has threatened some of these cats' tropical forest habitats, and the creature is now listed as endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature. In the past, the elusive cats were only documented in poor-resolution camera-trap images first captured in 1998.

In November 2013, another research team captured several camera-trap images of the cats, along with Sunda clouded leopards and marbled cats.

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Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Sabah seas for tourism in conservation


KOTA KINABALU: Sabah is expected to attract 3.4 million visitors and generate RM6 billion in tourism revenue this year.

Tourism, Culture and Environment Minister Datuk Masidi Manjun told press members after launching the book: “The Sensational Seas of Sabah” by Scubazoo yesterday that they expected to exceed last year’s revenue of RM5.7 billion from the industry this year.

“At the same time, the ministry also expects to exceed last year’s tourists arrivals of 3.2 million,” he said.

He then went on to say the revenue generated from the tourism sector had now exceeded the logging industry, which was once the state’s major revenue generator.

“The income from the logging sector was once RM2 billion but last year, it generated only RM1 million – it was due to the decision of the present Chief Minister who decided to cancel the logging concessions in Sabah several years ago. It was a bold step to ensure that the forest was conserved and less trees were cut,” he said.

He described the decision by Chief Minister Datuk Seri Musa Haji Aman as a wise one and that Sabah was now reaping the fruits from that wise decision since the income generated from the tourism sector now exceeded that of the logging sector.

“In the logging sector, we realised that once the last tree was logged, that was the end,” he said.

He then called on the industry and the people of Sabah to support efforts to look after the state’s natural heritage and not let the quest for more profit to deter them from doing what is right.

“We need the strength to look after our islands, our nature and disallow acts that lead to degradation – that is why we limit the number of visitors on Sipadan to 120 people daily and to the Kinabalu Peak to 192 people daily. If our quest was for more profit, we will soon lose Sipadan and Kinabalu. I hope the industry will support this,” he said

Continue reading (Incl. Pic) at: Sabah seas for tourism in conservation
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Monday, January 20, 2014

Sarawak aims to be a major eco-tourism destination in region


KUCHING: Malaysia, especially Sarawak, will promote itself as a major eco-tourism destination in the region to tap the shifting global trend among tourists towards eco-tourism.

Tourism Minister Datuk Amar Abang Johari Tun Openg, citing statistics from the World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO), said tourists were now flocking to places such as Central Africa, the Amazon in Central America, Kenya in Africa, and Southeast Asian countries.

“When there is a trend like that, Malaysia thinks we can play a role in attracting interests towards new products based on our bio-diversity,” he said during a special interview session with journalists covering the 17th Meeting of Asean Tourism Ministers here yesterday.

The meeting was held in conjunction with the Asean Tourism Forum 2014 (ATF 2014), which is hosted by Malaysia, and is being held here.

Attending this eight-day international forum are leaders and delegates from Asean member countries and their dialogue partners, including those from East Asia.

Abang Johari enthused that this huge event would do the state very well in terms of wooing more foreign tourists to its shores.

He added that after developing its energy and industrial sectors, the next move for the state was to develop the services sector such as tourism, which required good infrastructure in order to attract more visitors.

The government, he said, would be “putting in a lot of money” in the 11th Malaysia Plan to boost its tourism industry, and it would work closely with the private sector to realise its goals.

Among others, Abang Johari said, the state had engaged experts from New Zealand to conduct a masterplan study on hinterland tourism with the aim of developing eco-friendly rural tourism infrastructure.

Hinterland tourism would also benefit homestay operators, he opined.

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Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Getting your groove on at the Sarawak Cultural Village


The Sarawak Cultural Village provided an ideal way to ease into Borneo. I don’t know about you, but I like to settle in before turning up the adventure. Whether it is hiking, traveling, drinking beer, running, any activity, I like to get my groove on first before really hitting it hard.

When my plane flew over Borneo after a a long commute to the airport in Kuala Lumpur, the last thing I wanted to do when I hit the ground was to hit a hot humid jungle and start trekking. I felt this same way the next morning. Therefore, I was glad that my first tour on my itinerary was the Sarawak Cultural Village.

The Sarawak Cultural Village was located about 45 minutes outside of the capital of Sarawak, which is Kuching. It was just me and a friendly couple named Trevor and Pauline from New Zealand on the tour. The village was located in the shadow of the beautiful Mt. Santubong. As soon as I saw the mountain I had an urge to break away and climb it. I had to fight with myself and remind myself to go easy.

The Sarawak Cultural Village consists of examples of longhouses, dwellings, handcrafts, and other examples of the seven main ethnic groups from the people that live in Sarawak. The seven groups consist of the Bidayuh, Iban, Penan, Orang Ulu, Melanau, Malays, and Chinese.

There are actually over 40 sub ethnic groups in Sarawak alone. It would be ridiculous for the village to try and focus on all 40, so concentrating on just the main seven is a good way to acclimate visitors like myself who need to be eased into the experience.

Each visitor to the Sarawak Cultural Village was issued a passport. You could then get your passport stamped at each section of the village pertaining to the individual seven ethnic groups. The passport has a one page section on each ethnic group with a little picture of each style of housing, so it is a tremendous keepsake. I of course kept mine in my fanny pack.

At one of the longhouses, we were greeted by a very attractive young lady. She invited us in and performed a beautiful welcome dance. It was mesmerizing, and I have the video on my phone and watch it almost daily. I am not sure what I enjoyed more, the dance itself or the catchy music in the background.

Continue reading (Incl. Pics & Vids) at: Getting your groove on at the Sarawak Cultural Village
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Sunday, January 12, 2014

Kuching is the Chiang Mai of Borneo


The biggest surprise of my recent trip to Southeast Asia was how beautiful and pleasant Kuching in Sarawak, Borneo is. I came to Borneo for the jungles and the wildlife; I did not think I would find a city that I connected to in such a positive way.

In fact, Kuching reminded me of the Thai travel Mecca of Chiang Mai without the hordes of foreign tourists. I had not even heard of this town before I started researching for Borneo. Now, I can’t wait to return and explore Sarawak even more.

For those unfamiliar with Borneo, the island consists of two Malaysian states: Sarawak and Sabah, the Kingdom of Brunei, which is its own country, and the rest of the island is Indonesia. Kuching is the capital and largest city in Sarawak. The population of Kuching is roughly 600,000 people.

Chiang Mai is possibly the capital of backpacking adventure travelers in Southeast Asia. The reason for its appeal is its pleasant vibe, friendly people, and gateway to many interesting trekking and tours. Chiang Mai is famous for its hilltribe tours where you can ride elephants, hike, ride bamboo rafts, see waterfalls, and then stay in remote hilltribe villages at night.

The characteristics that make Chiang Mai so awesome can also be found in Kuching. In fact, I think Kuching has more to offer in this realm. Kuching is also a smaller city like Chiang Mai with an equally laid back ambiance and just as safe as Chiang Mai. In my limited time in Kuching, I found the people just as friendly and welcoming as Chiang Mai.

The trekking opportunities in Chiang Mai are a little overblown in my opinion. They are fun, and I would do them again, but they do not compare to other world class outdoor adventure locations. The scenery outside Chiang Mai is hilly and more like Missouri or Arkansas in the U.S. Doi Inthanon, located a little farther outside Chiang Mai is a different story as it is more forested with the highest mountain in Thailand.

Kuching is also a gateway to incredible trekking opportunities. You can see semi-wild orangutans in Semiggoh Wildlife Reserve, you can see the giant rafflesia flower in Gunung Gading National Park, and you can see wild proboscis monkeys in Bako National Park. For those that like the hilltribe experience, you can have a similar tour by visiting a Borneo longhouse.

Continue reading (Incl. Pics) at: Kuching is the Chiang Mai of Borneo
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Friday, January 10, 2014

ASEAN Tourism Forum 2014 in Sarawak ready to welcome 1600 delegates


With just days to the opening ceremony of the ASEAN Tourism Forum (ATF), the state of Sarawak and host city of Kuching, are all geared to welcome over 1,600 delegates which includes ASEAN Tourism Ministers and officials, exhibitors, international buyers, international and local media as well as tourism trade visitors.

Prime Minister, Dato’ Seri Najib Tun Razak is scheduled to deliver a key note address at the official opening ceremony on January 20. The ATF is the first major international conference in conjunction with the start of Visit Malaysia Year (VMY) 2014.

The ATF is a cooperative regional effort to position and promote the ASEAN region as one tourist destination where Asian hospitality and cultural diversity are at its best.

Adopting the theme, ASEAN - ADVANCING TOURISM TOGETHER, the ATF 2014 will deliberate and explore the sustainable development of tourism and look at how various tourism initiatives and plans can further support the mantra of Tourism Conserves, Preserves and Protects.

“Malaysia is honoured to continue the spirit and tradition of the ASEAN Tourism Forum which embraces the role of being a catalyst for change in tourism policy and development, and subsequently improving the economic and social standing among ASEAN countries,” said the Minister of Tourism and Culture, Dato’ Seri Mohamed Nazri Abdul Aziz.

“Malaysia is pleased to have the presence of ASEAN Ministers of Tourism from Brunei Darussalam, Cambodia, Indonesia, Lao PDR, Myanmar, Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam, as well as Dialogue Partners from China, Japan, Korea, India, Russia and Brazil. The ASEAN Tourism Ministers will also be having consultations with international organisations namely United Nations World Tourism Organisation, World Travel & Tourism Council and PATA.

“The ministerial meetings are aimed at promoting an exchange of ideas, review of industry developments and joint formulation of recommendations to further accelerate the growth of ASEAN tourism,” he continued.

As the annual convention of the ASEAN tourism industry, ATF comprises ASEAN Tourism Ministerial Meetings, the ASEAN Tourism Conference and a 3-day TRAVEX event.

The unique and specialised ATF TRAVEX makes it easy and convenient for suppliers of ASEAN tourism products and services and international buyers to conduct business and meet quality participants through the Seller-Meet-Buyer (SMB) and the Buyer-Meet-Seller (BMS) appointment scheduling sessions. Both parties can maximise their participation through flexible one-to-one pre-scheduled meetings to explore, negotiate and ink deals with each other.

ATF TRAVEX 2014 will be held at The Borneo Convention Centre Kuching (BCCK).

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Tuesday, January 07, 2014

Borneo Jazz is back with a ‘bang’ – of world-class names


MIRI: Borneo Jazz co-organisers have their jazz stars lined up for the Visit Malaysia Year 2014 (VMY 2014) and Visit Sarawak Year 2014.

The annual jazz festival, now in its ninth year, will be held here from May 9 and 10.

It is organised by Sarawak Tourism Board, supported by the Ministry of Tourism and Culture Malaysia and Ministry of Tourism Sarawak and endorsed by Tourism Malaysia.

The impressive jazz lineup this year includes musicians who have made it big in the world of jazz, said Sarawak Tourism Board through a press statement yesterday.

Among the bands that will be performing will be Iriao, the eight-piece ethno-jazz band from Georgia.

Iriao’s repertoire is based on Georgian authentic folk instrumental and polyphonic music, which has been recognised by Unesco as a masterpiece of oral immaterial heritage.

However, the band is not aiming to modernise the unique polyphonic Georgian music but to saturate and adorn it with jazz elements. This is the first appearance of a Georgian band at the Borneo Jazz fest.

Another interesting line-up is Vocal Sampling, an all-male a cappella musical group from Cuba expected to be among the hit of this year’s Borneo Jazz in Sarawak. They are a well known band and a crowd pleaser. In the last two years, a capella acts have been a show topper at Borneo Jazz. Their album ‘Cambio de Tiempo’ was nominated for three Latin Grammy Awards.

Other favourite jazz bands listed for this year’s event will be Brassballett from Germany – the first and only show worldwide where musicians are dancers at the same time.

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Monday, January 06, 2014

Christmas with Orangutans


After starting my holiday vacation out with a few days in Melbourne (see "The Great Ocean Road" for background), I fly to Kota Kinabalu, Malaysia (on the island of Borneo) to meet up with Nimarta, who is already there and has been there for a few days now. We are staying with one of her friends from college, Alex, who happens to live right by the airport so it's quite convenient. They meet me at the airport and I hop in his truck, because everyone in Malaysia drives a pickup truck.

It's about 10:00 at night, so it's late, but not to worry. Restaurants in Malaysia are open all night. We roll into a little seafood joint and it's packed with people eating dinner, or whatever you call a 10:00 meal. Nimarta had caught a fish on Alex's fish farm earlier in the day so the restaurant takes it to cook. BYOF. Bring your own fish. Other than that, we let Alex do all the ordering since everything is in Malaysian and he knows what to do.

At about 10:30 a big family comes in to the restaurant, which is basically just a covered patio with some plastic lawn furniture. 10:30 and people are still going out to dinner! I learn that there's not really a set breakfast, lunch, or dinner in Malaysia for most people. People just eat whenever they feel like it. Guess these folks were hungry for some 4th meal. Our food comes and I have no idea what to expect.

Looks like we got some beef, squid, veggies, and of course the fish. After chowing down on those some steamed crabs land on the table. Two big trays of them. Now I remember Alex pointing at the bucket of live crabs while talking to the server. Talk about fresh. It's been quite an experience for my first meal in Asia, but I'm exhausted and we have a 7 AM flight tomorrow so it's time to go to bed.

Alex and his wife Daphne live on the water and we sit out in the back yard and watch a few planes land after dinner. They only have one room in the house with air conditioning and they've let us stay in it, which is good because humidity and me do not get along and I can't sleep when I'm sweating. Luckily the room cools off during the night and I'm able to sleep pleasantly without overheating (I know, first world problems...). Alex drops us off at the airport just after 5:30 in the morning and we say goodbye. We have a 7:00 flight to Sandakan, a small coastal city that serves as the gateway to the Borneo rain forests.

We have a booked a two day tour with the Borneo Nature Lodge and our guide picks us up at the airport right on time. We would have liked to go on a longer adventure but due to my limited time in Malaysia before heading to Indonesia this is the best we can do. Our guide is Kurt (short for something Malaysian), born and raised in Sandakan. We also have a driver chauffeuring us around in a sweet white van. Kurt and the driver will be our personalized guides for the next two days. Not bad!

Our first stop is the Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Center (http://www.orangutan-appeal.org.uk/about-us/sepilok-rehabilitation-centre). The sanctuary was set up by a British woman and 1964 and now is the most important orangutan rehabilitation center in the world. The goal of Sepilok is to nurse injured orangutans back to health and slowly prepare them for life in the wild.

It takes a few years for the process to complete but eventually, if the orangutan is deemed fit, it will be released into the wild. Technically there are no fences for the sanctuary. The animals can leave whenever they want. But why would they leave when they get fed delicious fruit twice a day?

We are here a bit early so we get some breakfast at the cafe. I get a traditional Malaysian breakfast, which means noodles and egg. It's not what I think of when I think of breakfast food but it's not bad. The first orangutan feeding is at 10:00. It's only about 9:15 but Kurt recommends we head into the sanctuary to get a good viewing point for the feeding.

It's not a very big place, but very dense. Who knows how many orangutans are in these trees. We are parked on the boardwalk when we hear something in the trees right above us. We look up to see our first orangutan, breaking branches and dropping leaves all over us.

Continue reading (Incl. Pics) at: Christmas with Orangutans
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Sunday, January 05, 2014

Back to Borneo


Considering that ten years ago Borneo was the only place in the world on my list of places I never wanted to go, I was surprised to find myself back there for a second visit. Spending New Year's Day there put me in Borneo in 2012, 2013 and 2014. Lesson learned: anything is possible.

What brought me back was the promise of friends to travel with. So, for the second time, I ignored the dire warnings in the book Shooting the Boh and flew to the Malaysian state of Sabah, on the island of Borneo. This vacation was very different from last year’s trip. I had more than twice as much time and was traveling with friends from Boise. I didn’t take as many pictures and didn’t once make time to write in my journal, but I laughed a lot, enjoyed traveling with my friends and ate some amazing food. It was a fantastic star kind of vacation.

This blog entry will be mostly about the travel logistics for people traveling in Sabah. One thing I found very helpful was buying a local SIM card for my phone. It cost about $10 USD for the card and enough credit to last me the whole two weeks. I never had to buy more credit despite all the calls I made.

My trip started out with a couple days to myself and I took a shuttle from Kota Kinabalu to Tommy’s Place, up at the northern tip of Borneo. There are lots of private cars being used as pirate cabs going between KK and the town of Kudat, so if you can arrange to be picked up in Kudat, you don’t need to pay the 100 or 120 ringgit that official shuttles or taxis charge to drive from KK.

Tommy’s Place is on a beautiful beach on the west-facing coast of the tip. There is also a surf shop and a couple other places that rent bungalows along the same beach. The place was almost deserted and although there was usually somebody else on the beach, I never saw more than a few people. The waves looked like a lot of fun and I saw a few people surfing, but I spent most of my time walking the beach, searching through tide pools and snorkeling.

Low tide was in the morning that week and after breakfast it was fun to poke through the tide pools, looking at sea stars, crabs and little fish. I didn’t venture out far with the snorkel, but the northern part of the beach is protected by a bit of reef and the waves were calm enough for me to swim comfortably without fins. The current swept me back towards the beach, rather than out to sea. There were lots of kinds of coral, most very brightly colored, and lots of beautifully colorful fish.

The next stage of the trip was back to Kota Kinabalu to pick up my friend Jess. I got a ride into Kudat and then went to the pirate cab station where you can get a ride to KK for 25 ringgit. I paid extra because my backpack took up a whole seat in the car and I wanted to be driven all the way across KK down to the southern part of town where the airport is. That put me up to 40 ringgit, but it was well worth it. It was a fast ride in a comfortable car with good music straight to my hotel. Plus I got to sit up front. The scenery along the coast there is beautiful.

Jess and I stayed at the Casuarina Hotel, where I stayed last year, because it’s right next to the airport, has a free airport shuttle and we had a flight the next morning over to Sandakan. It was my first internal flight in Borneo and I have to say it was much easier than the bus. Flights are subsidized by the government, so they’re also cheap. If it weren’t for the evil carbon footprint and hassle of buying tickets in advance, I would have flown more often. Even Kudat has an airport.

Flying over to Sandakan I was shocked to see that the entire island interior was palm oil plantations. I had heard about the destruction of the rain forest and how plantations are destroying the biological diversity and habitat of Borneo, forcing out animals like orangutans. I knew a lot about this from visiting last year. I just hadn’t seen it from the air. It was devastating.

The rows of oil palms went on as far as I could see, the whole way across the island. I kept waiting for it to end, and when I finally saw a scrap of natural forest I realized that it was the Rainforest Discovery Centre, which I visited last year. I could see the canopy walkways from the air. It was disheartening that the only “natural” jungle I saw on the flight was basically a park.

Continue reading (Incl. Pics) at: Back to Borneo
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Saturday, January 04, 2014

Sipadan Island – The Dive Legend of Borneo


In 2009, Sipadan Island was nominated as ‘New 7 Wonders of World Nature’ by the New7Wonders Foundation. The initiative followed an earlier New7Wonders of the World campaign, and attracted 100 million votes from around the world before the voting completed on November 11, 2011.

Sipadan Island didn’t manage to make to the list but you bet that many feel that it should. Ever since diving celebrity Jacques Cousteau raved about Pulau Sipadan’s diversity of marine life, this dive mecca has been indisputably the most famous scuba destination in Malaysia.

And it is famous around the globe as well! In fact, it was listed as ‘World’s 50 Best Dive Sites’ by CNN Travel in 2012. If you love scuba diving, then this is a must-visit place.

Sipadan Island (Pulau Sipadan in ‘Malay’) lies off the east coast of Malaysian Borneo in Sabah – near the town of Tawau in Sabah. You can take a plane directly to Tawau airport or if you are visiting Sabah via Kota Kinabalu, you can catch a bus from Inanam Bus Terminal in KK.

Travelling by land to Tawau from Kota Kinabalu will take about 10 hours. Not bad actually, since you can enjoy the nice view of beautiful tropical rainforest of Sabah along the way. You might want to stop at a few places like the Sabah Parks and Poring Hot Springs on the way to Tawau. That’s if you hire a vehicle for you to drive yourself.

Before reaching the town of Tawau, you need to take a turn to Semporna at a T-Junction (Tawau-Sandakan-Semporna Junction) since you’ll need to get to Semporna first to fetch a boat to Sipadan. If you travel by commercial bus, you just need to buy a ticket directly to Semporna at Inanam Bus Terminal.

Once you reach Semporna, I suggest that you take a rest and find a nice place to stay first. Sipadan used to have resorts but to protect the environment these were closed around the year 2002. To dive in Sipadan waters you have to stay somewhere nearby, such as on Mabul, Kapalai or in Semporna, and take a boat to the island.

A boat trip to Sipadan Island from Semporna will take about an hour. So, settle down and plan for your big day carefully. You are about to begin the trip of your life.

Continue reading (Incl. Pics) at: Sipadan Island – The Dive Legend of Borneo
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Thursday, January 02, 2014

Key Sabah tourism events 2014


Fourteen key events are lined up in the Sabah Tourism Board's calendar.

The Sabah Masters 2014, from Jan 8 to 11, will kick off things off at the Sutera Harbour Golf Course.

Fans will get the chance to witness some of Southeast Asia's top golfers tee off at the international event.

The Asian Paragliding Accuracy Championship is scheduled to take place from March 12 to 19 in Ranau, bringing world-class paragliders to the state.

The Borneo International Marathon is also set to attract running enthusiasts to the state capital on May 5.

Non-runners can also be a part of the marathon by signing up as volunteers, photographers or to lend their support to the pavement-pounders.

On June 7 and 8, locals and tourists can head to Likas Bay to catch the 29th Sabah Dragon Boat race.

The 28th Mount Kinabalu International Climbathon will see endurance athletes across the globe gather in Kundasang on Oct 18 and 19 for the annual adventure event.

Other exciting cultural and music festival events throughout Sabah to be held this year are the Regatta Lepa in Semporna (April 25-27), Sabah Fest (May 2-4), Harvest Festival Kaamatan (May 30-31), 8th Kota Kinabalu Jazz Festival (June 13-14), Sunset Music Festival at the Tip of Borneo (June 20-21).

The 10-day Sabah International Folklore Festival will be held in June while Sandakan Memorial Day falls on Aug 15 and the annual Petagas War Memorial service falls on Jan 21.

For more information on this year's events in Sabah, visit www. sabahtourism.com
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Wednesday, January 01, 2014

Visit Sarawak Year 2014: Longhouse Homestay Packages


In Kuching Malaysia traditional longhouses have been selected to be used for homestays. It was arranged under the National Blue Ocean Strategy (NBOS) to turn villages and longhouses into tourist attractions to benefit their residents.

They are listed in the ‘Longhouse Homestay Package Brochure’, which comes under the ‘Visit My Kampong (VMK) – Transforming kampungs into centres of tourism to accelerate rural development’ initiative, that was launched yesterday.

Assistant Minister for Tourism Datuk Talib Zulpilip, who launched the package at the Kuching International Airport (KIA), said this community-run tourism business was being done on a public-private partnership (PPP).

Capital allocation and training would be given to the selected villages and longhouses, he told reporters covering the event.

“This package is launched in conjunction with Visit Sarawak Year 2014 and Visit Malaysia Year 2014.

“We aim to attract 4.1 million tourists to our state this year. With active and aggressive promotions, we are confident of attracting more tourists based on trends recorded last year and the year before.”

The 13 selected longhouses are subdivided into Iban, Bidayuh and Orang Ulu longhouses.

The attractiveness of these longhouses to tourists was in fact given a shot in the arm on Oct 28 last year when Lonely Planet listed the Iban longhouse in its top 10 ‘Where to feel like one of the family’ places in its Best in Travel 2014.

The world’s number one guidebook publisher and global authority on travel Lonely Planet described Iban longhouses as a cosy place.

“Things can get cosy in an Iban longhouse. Members of Sarawak’s largest ethnic group traditionally live in communal, wonky, wooden structures that might be home to 30-odd families – and a few curious travellers.

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Keep Sabah preferred tourist destination


KOTA KINABALU: It would take a synergized effort from all parties to keep Sabah as one of the most preferred destinations in the region, and achieve its 2014 target of over three million tourist arrivals.

Chief Minister Datuk Seri Musa Aman said everyone, especially those at the front line of the tourism industry, must in this regard have the right knowledge and attitude towards the tourists.

Speaking at the Countdown to Visit Malaysia 2014 at Lintasan Deasoka here last night, he noted that Malaysia had set a target of having 28 million tourists with tourism receipts of RM76 billion next year.

Out of this, he said 3.4 million visitors were expected to come to Sabah and contribute RM6.277 billion to the state’s income.

“In order to realize this, it is very important for all parties especially those at the front line, such as taxi drivers, hotel workers and tourist guides to always give their best services, be friendly and helpful towards our guests.

“Apart from that, I also hope all the front liners would improve their knowledge on tourism products and attractions that Sabah has to offer.

“This is to ensure that efforts to promote our tourism involved not only the Tourism Ministry and related agencies but everyone in the our society,” he said.

Musa said he welcomed the initiative by all ministries and local authorities in Sabah to host more events to highlight the diverse and unique culture and traditions of the local communities.

He however reminded that not only the organizers but all Sabahans attending such events must show that Sabah is the best and most accommodating host to outsiders.

Touching on the event, he said the countdown held in Kota Kinabalu was significant and in line with the national level effort, where Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak had officially declared 2014 as ‘Visit Malaysia Year’, with a theme "Celebrating 1Malaysia, Truly Asia".

Continue reading (Incl. Pic) at: Keep Sabah preferred tourist destination
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21% increase in tourist arrivals in Sabah


KOTA KINABALU: Sabah recorded a 21 per cent increase in tourist arrivals in January to October this year, as compared to the corresponding period last year.

Tourism, Culture and Environment Minister Datuk Masidi Manjun said official figure for November and December was not available yet but the encouraging figure for the first 10 months lend confidence that the State will well exceed the targeted three million visitors by year-end.

Speaking at the Visit Malaysia Year 2014 Countdown here last night, Masidi said the sharp increase was contributed mainly by domestic tourists.

He noted over 1.82 million from the 2.55 million tourists that visited Sabah as of October were Malaysians from Peninsular Malaysia and Sarawak.

This represents an increase of 17 per cent for domestic arrivals as compared to the previous year.

A sharp increase of 307,325 people or 84.7 per cent was also recorded for international tourists segment, with China and Hong Kong as main contributor.

Masidi noted Sabah also recieved 237 specially chartered flights during the period, the highest in the country to date.

The increase was also supported by several new direct flights to Kota Kinabalu, including from Hangzhou, Shenzen and Shanghai in China, Kota Baharu in Kelantan, and Cebu in The Philippines.

He noted flight frequency from Tokyo amd Perth has also been increased to three and two times a week, bringing the total number of non-stop flights from international destinations to Kota Kinabalu to 18.

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