Sunday, August 31, 2014

The Red-bearded Bee-eaters of Borneo


WITH a descending “ka-ka-ka-ka” call, the green bird sat on its perch, waiting for its mate. “Ka-ka-ka-ka,” came the reply from above.

The birds were taking turns to feed their young.

The male swooped down into its nest in the ground and within a few seconds out it came.

It perched on the same branch. Then came the female’s turn. She entered the nest and came out again. With a final “ka-ka-ka-ka” the pair flew off.

Click! Click! Click! Click! Click! The cameras fired away.

For a moment there was silence then chatter was heard as the birders relaxed and started chit-chatting while they waited for the return of the green bird.

Bee-eaters are members of the Meropidae family, of which there are 26 species worldwide.

Of these only three are found in Borneo — one of which is the Red-bearded Bee-eater (Nyctyornis amictus), which is a locally common resident of primary and old secondary forests in Borneo’s lowland forests.

It ranges from Borneo to Sumatra through the Malay peninsula and into Myanmar.

Red-bearded Bee-eaters are called this because of their vermilion throat feathers, which look like a beard when they are puffed out.

Unlike the elegant looking Blue-throated Bee-eaters, the Red-bearded are more robust in appearance. They grow to a size of 27 to 31 centimetres.

The male has a pinkish lilac forehead and crown with a narrow fringe of blue feathers at the base of the bill and around the eyes. Their lores (spot between the eye and start of the beak), chin and throat are red.

The female’s forehead is vermilion and forecrown lilac. The bill is dark and curves downwards at the tip.

As it calls, the bird stretches forward, puffs its long throat feathers out, and bobs its head up and down with each note.

It may also jump a few steps sideways along the perch, then turn around to face the other way.

When making the rattling call, it wags its tail backwards and forwards.

Continue reading (Incl. Pics) at: The Red-bearded Bee-eaters of Borneo
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Crafts expo complements Sarawak Regatta


KUCHING: A crafts exhibition is being held at Kuching Waterfront from now till Sept 7, in celebration of the annual Sarawak Regatta.

According to Sarawak Tourism Minister Datuk Amar Abang Johari Tun Abang Openg, the ‘Malaysia Crafts Promotion 2014’ stands as a key event in promoting local craft products to visitors.

“This year’s regatta will see 500 paddlers from 11 countries taking part. (As such) we are expecting a lot of overseas visitors over the next one week or two.

“The sales target for this year is RM750,000, even though we achieved RM1.1 million last year.

There are 81 entrepreneurs coming to exhibit their crafts products; 55 of whom are from Sarawak, 12 from Kelantan, five from Sabah, four from Selangor, three from Melaka and two from Perlis.

“We hope they (entrepreneurs) would know how to ‘entice’ people to buy from them. The purpose of the exhibition is to help these entrepreneurs improve their livelihood as well as to provide business opportunities to kampung folk as the raw materials needed to make these crafts come mostly from villages,” he told a press conference prior to officiating at the exhibition here yesterday.

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Saturday, August 30, 2014

Sarawak Regatta, dragon boat race organised as one grand event


According to Sarawak Tourism Minister Datuk Amar Abang Johari Tun Openg, the annual Sarawak Regatta and the inaugural International Dragon Boat Regatta could expect over 7,500 paddlers competing in different challenges throughout the four days beginning Sept 4.

“This year’s event will be different from those in previous years with the inclusion of the dragon boat competition,” he told a press conference held at his office in Wisma Baitulmakmur in Petra Jaya near here yesterday.

“This is the first year we are organising the Dragon Boat Regatta after last year’s Exhibition Race. It will be conducted under International Dragon Boat Federation (IDBF) Competition and Rules of Racing,” he said, adding that this would also be the first time for the dragon boat race – an event that normally takes place along the shoreline or lakes – to be held in a river.

The Dragon Boat race expects a total of 20 teams comprising 600 peddlers to compete in four categories, namely International Mixed 12-Crew (minimum four women), International Open 12-Crew, International Mixed 20-Crew (minimum eight women) and Final International Open 20-Crew.

From this line-up, 14 are international teams from Australia, Indonesia, Brunei, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, Hong Kong, Macau, Chinese Taipei and Canada; while the remaining six are from the state (two teams), Sabah, Perak, Penang and Putrajaya.

Participants will ply the 500-metre river route between Grand Margherita Hotel and Godown Amphitheatre, slugging it out to grab prizes totalling RM39,000 and medals.

In addition, Abang Johari also highlighted that the 14th East Asia Inter-Regional Tourism Forum (EATOF) General Assembly taking place simultaneously at Riverside Majestic Hotel here.

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Friday, August 29, 2014

Climbing Mt. Kinabalu In 1 Day, Not 2


Background:

My wife and I travelled to Eastern Malaysia in mid-August in hopes doing some scuba diving, finding orangutans, going on river cruises, and climbing Mt. Kinabalu.  Before leaving Korea for our trip, we researched for hours on the web and found it was best to climb it in two days.  “Ok” I thought, no biggy.  So I looked into getting a reservation at Laban Rata, but only found accomodations through tour groups, and the prices seemed quite high.  So I dug deeper, and found the company itself that owns the lodging.  After contacting them directly I learned they were all booked for the dates we had available.

To be honest, it was a bit frustrating… everything we were finding directed us to climb Kinabalu in two days, not one.  On the first day you’d climb to Laban Rata, about 6km up the trail, resting for dinner and a short sleep before climbing to the summit in the cold, dark hours before the sunrise.  The prices to do this were astronomical, in my opinion.  After all, this was a National Park, and I was a bit confused why a private company seemed to have a monopoly in the lodging options in the park.  Also, Laban Rata was all booked!  No vacancy.  Keep in mind, I was emailing/calling 2-3 months ahead of time. 

Kinabalu is a popular spot, and clearly we came into the game a little late!  I wasn’t going to try to change the system, I simply wanted some answers on whether or not we could hike in one day, just by ourselves (no tour group),  and that particular information was difficult to find.  I eventually found enough info to point us in the right direction, and I’m happy to report that we completed Kinabalu in one day, more details of that is located here.  The goal of this post is to lay out what we did to hike Kinabalu in one day.  Hopefully, it can help others who are currently experiencing headaches over trying to plan their trip to Kinabalu.  If that is you… don’t worry, it’s really quite simple.

Pre-Game Preparations:

Arrive at Kinabalu Park HQ early in the morning the day before you plan to climb Kinabalu.  I’d suggest staying somewhere close to the park, within walking distance.  We stayed at Kinabalu Mt. Lodge.  It was a great accomodation and only about 1.5km from the park.  There’s a few other options near the park, so shop around if you wish, but I’d recommend Kinabalu Mt. Lodge.  The park opens at 7:00am, so I suggest arriving before 8:00am for sure.  You’ll need to impress the staff and Park Ranger, Mr. Dikin, so he may grant you permission to climb in one day.  There’s rumors floating around that they have only ‘X’ amount of permits per day, but I’m not sure about this. 

The day we climbed, there was only one other gentleman from Japan doing the one-day climb, and us.  The day before that, our guide Johny informed us there was five groups attempting the one-day journey.  So who knows?  All I know is that if you want a shot, arrive the day before and apply early.  The desk workers will send you to speak with Mr. Dikin.  After a five minute conversation about hiking, the process, the weather, etc., he will call the desk workers and give them go-ahead.  Then you can fill out paper work.  Bring your passport, they will make a copy.  No need for cash on this day, you’ll pay for everything tomorrow when (if) you hike.  All this took less than one hour, so we fumbled through the tiny gift shop, grabbed more information, and went to Poring Hot Springs for the day.

It’s also important to purchase food for your upcoming hike.  Take more than you think you’lll need.  There’s drinkable water at many spots during the climb, so one or two med-sized water bottles would be sufficient.  Purchasing food the morning of the hike may be difficult, the gift shop doesn’t open till 8:00am and the restaurant across from Park HQ doesn’t get rolling till 7:00am, either.  We did, however, manage to purchase ‘to-go’ lunches from the restaurant.  It was a sandwhich, some chicken, apple, egg and water for 15MYR.  If you prefer this, arrange it the day before and you can pick it up at 6:45am before your hike.  For snacks, try the gift shop at Park HQ, or the restaurant across the street from Park HQ also has snacks/drinks available.

A note about clothes:  if you’re expecting it to be warm, think again.  Pack extra layers, for sure.  I love to travel light, so I did the hike in shorts and a light jacket and was borderline miserable near the summit.  Definitely bring pants, light thermal layer, and rain gear.  It will probably rain on you, so be prepared.  Thin hat and gloves would be recommended, too.

Continue reading (Incl. Pics) at: Climbing Mt. Kinabalu In 1 Day, Not 2
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MASwings soaring through turbulence


KUCHING: Malaysia Airlines subsidiary MASwings has not been affected by the rise in resignations faced by its parent company following the double tragedies that struck the national carrier this year.

MASwings chief executive officer Captain Ritzerwan Rashid told a press conference yesterday that MASwings crew members have been advised to stay focused on their duties.

“We do not see our cabin crew members making the move. In fact, MASwings will continue to stay focused and will only act when there are directives from our parent company MAS,” he stressed.

In a statement on Tuesday, Malaysia Airlines said 186 of its crew had resigned between January and July this year, with many citing family pressure due to the MH370 and MH17 tragedies as the reason.

Meanwhile, fellow Malaysia Airlines subsidiary Firefly would soon see more crew members joining the airline.

“Nobody is leaving Firefly but instead we have more coming in to join us,” said its chief executive officer Ignatius Ong.

“Our current fleet size is 15 and we are looking to increase the number of aircraft to 17 within the next four years. With this rapid growth, we are looking for more to come in and join us.”

Ritzerwan and Ong later jointly launched the MASwings-Firefly Cabin Crew Integration Programme.

Under the programme, 10 MASwings cabin crew from East Malaysia will fly alongside Firefly crew members on flights around Peninsular Malaysia, while 10 Firefly cabin crew will be integrated into MASwings’ flights and routes.

Held for the second year running as part of efforts to strengthen greater national integration as well as to mark National Day and Malaysia Day, passengers flying MASwings and Firefly will get to be part of this unique experience from this Sunday (Aug 31) to Sept 16.

Ritzerwan said passengers of both airlines would be able to appreciate a different level of customer experience during the programme.

“What’s different about this programme is the exchange of knowledge, places and cultures within Malaysia,” he said.

Continue reading (Incl. Pic) at: MASwings soaring through turbulence
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Thursday, August 28, 2014

Sabah to see first Borneo Rhythms of Rimba Wildlife Festival


A festival to present a mosaic of the amazing tapestry of Sabah’s biodiversity is set to be held for two days in October.

Dubbed the 1st Borneo Rhythms of Rimba Wildlife Festival (ROR), it is scheduled on Oct 3 and 4 in the nature destination town of Sandakan.

The outdoor festival will be held at the Rainforest Discovery Centre, in the Sepilok forest, well known internationally for the Sepilok Orang Utan Rehabilitation Centre and the Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre (BSBCC).

Facing the lush 4,294ha tropical forest of Sepilok, the programme will feature presentations from the government, conservation and academic organisations, including the Sabah Forestry Department, Land Empowerment Animals People (LEAP), Borneo Rhino Alliance (BORA), BSBCC, HUTAN, Danau Girang Field Centre (DGFC), University of St Andrew’s Scotland, University Malaysia Sabah and Reef Guardian.

Their collective work covers the gamut of Borneo’s forest habitats, elephants, rhinoceros, orang-utans, sun bears, pangolins, whales, dolphins and marine life.

Intertwined with the above will be musical performances by Amir Yussof, Jason Lo, Pink Tan, Carburetor Dung, Guba, Jin Se and many more.

In addition, numerous arts and crafts workshops, zumba, yoga and contemporary dance presentations will also make up the colourful, wildlife and nature-centric vibe of the festival.

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Wednesday, August 27, 2014

A Lifetime of Saving Orangutans


I finally have met the third person connected with one of Dr. Lewis Leakey's greatest legacies. He had personally chosen three women to spearhead field research on primates, as he believed they were key to understanding the mysteries of human evolution. He referred to the women as the Trimates. Each one -- Jane Goodall (chimpanzees), Dian Fossey (gorillas) and Biruté Galdikas (orangutans) -- became the super-stars of their field.

I had only met Jane Goodall at a cocktail function, although I did spend time in Gombe Stream National Park where she did her ground-breaking work. I met Dian Fossey in 1976, and spent some time with her, while Kenyan filmmaker Simon Trevor and I worked on a World Wildlife Fund film about forest destruction in East Africa.

I met Dr. Biruté Galdikas on a hot afternoon this past August when our rather ancient Trigana Air 737 landed in Pangklanbun, Borneo. We were 14 friends and family. It had been quite a trek to get here and, by the look of the airport terminal, we were most definitely not in Kansas anymore.

I felt deeply moved at meeting her, that she had made the effort to come to the airport, that she was taking her time to be with us for the next three days. The idea that a person would dedicate their entire life to understand and protect a single species is remarkable, and the people who have chosen to do that have a rare and unique character. One feels a certain sense of awe in their presence.

In any case, Dr. G. (it was suggested that this was an appropriate reference) laid out the rough plans for the next days and, while waiting for our luggage, talked about the visit the week before of President Clinton who had come with a group of donors to the Clinton Global Initiative to see first-hand the orangutans threatened by forests rapidly disappearing due to logging and palm oil plantations.

Clearly she was very pleased about his visit. Her perceptions of President Clinton were precise, from his grasp of information, to how he engaged, to how he radiated empathy. It was as if Clinton were an orangutan being studied.

We took a short drive down to the Kumao River, boarded two klotoks, (traditional river transport boats), and headed up a tributary to Tanging Haropen, one of several feeding stations. These are places where wild and rehabilitated orangutans can come for a reliable feeding. This is especially important in the dry season when wild fruits are less available.

Continue reading (Incl. Pics) at: A Lifetime of Saving Orangutans
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Tuesday, August 26, 2014

AirAsia ‘Free Seats’ promotion is back


KUCHING: AirAsia Bhd (AirAsia) is back with another ‘Free Seats’ promotion to all AirAsia and AirAsia X destinations with three million promo seats made available for immediate booking.

According to a press release, the Free Seats are available for booking until August 31, 2014, for the travel period from March 1 till October 24, 2015. AirAsia X is offering the lowest all-in-fares from as low as RM229 one way to its long haul destinations.

This free seats promotion offers flights to various domestic and international destinations across the airline’s extensive network, such as to Langkawi, Manila, Guilin, Yogyakarta, Krabi, Kochi and many more destinations from klia2, as well as other exciting destinations from the airline’s other hubs in Penang, Johor Bahru, Kota Kinabalu and Kuching.

The Free Seats promotion is available online at www.airasia.com and also via AirAsia’s mobile apps on iPhone, Android devices and the Blackberry 10, and also AirAsia’s mobile site at mobile.airasia.com.

AirAsia group chief commercial officer, Siegtraund Teh said, “With an RM0 base fare, everyone can enjoy wonderful holidays at their dream destination.

“This is also our way of saying thank you for all the support for making us the leader in low cost travel and voting us the world’s best for six consecutive times.”

AirAsia X is also offering the lowest all-in fares to its destinations from RM229 one way on Economy for flights departing from Kuala Lumpur (klia2) to Sri Lanka (Colombo), Japan (Nagoya, Osaka, Tokyo via Haneda & Narita), Australia (Adelaide, Sydney, Melbourne, Perth, Gold Coast), South Korea (Busan, Seoul), China (Chengdu, Hangzhou, Beijing, Shanghai), Taiwan (Taipei) and Nepal (Kathmandu).

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Monday, August 25, 2014

Tourism Ministry urged to work extra hard for Sabah


KOTA KINABALU: Kapayan assemblyman Dr Edwin Bosi is reminding the Federal Tourism and Culture Ministry to put their act together to ensure that the tourism industry in Sabah will remain vibrant and attractive.

He said the government had apparently felt that it could gain some RM6.5 billion receipts from tourism in 2014 but unfortunately could not foresee that the fatal and kidnapping incidents in the east coast would happen.

“Now it appears that the government has to work extra hard to achieve this target,” he said, adding the security issue appeared to have been addressed by the security personnel which was a very challenging one.

Dr Bosi also said that the problem of unlicensed tour operators, agents, guides and their transportation, if left unchecked, could bring down the tourism industry as well.

“I am glad to read in the newspapers that the ministry has sprung into action to check these operators and guides,” he said.

However, he lamented that the illegal vans are still very much in the business and far below the industry’s expectations.

Dr Bosi felt that the ministry should go after these illegal operators rather than spending time checking on the legal operators for minor offences.

“I was informed that at their last operations, the ministry only managed to nab 10 illegal vans. This is a poor performance,” he said.

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Saturday, August 23, 2014

Boosting connections in Brunei Darussalam


In the run-up to Asean Economic Community integration in 2015, Brunei Darussalam is ramping up transport developments, chasing new opportunities and re-establishing past connections.

With the potential for a boost in inter-Asean travel, the Sultanate is working to position itself as an intermediary for business and leisure travellers.

Isolated by the sea, Brunei Darussalam is cut off from access to both the Trans-Asian Railway and the Asean Highway Networks, which is spurring the authorities to improve air and maritime connectivity, externally, while expanding internal road connections.

In its ‘Global Competitiveness Report 2013 to 2014’, the World Economic Forum (WEF) ranked Brunei Darussalam 49th out of 148 countries for the standard of its seaports, jumping eight places year-on-year, and 55th in terms of the competitiveness of its air services infrastructure, an improvement of six places.

Taking off

Most recently, Royal Brunei Airlines announced it would reinstate its route to Ho Chi Minh City.

The route, which was cut in October 2011, has regained importance as passenger numbers to Vietnam jumped 15 per cent in 2013. The airline announced in August it plans to run four round-trip flights a week starting in October.

The move is one of several efforts to increase air traffic with regional partners. Royal Brunei announced its order of seven A320neo aircraft in mid-August, due for delivery in 2018, saying that the planes were specifically intended to reduce fuel costs and serve potential new routes to Australia.

According to the airline, the A320neo uses 17 per cent less fuel than the A320s currently in use, and with Brisbane, Perth and Darwin just a few hours’ flying time away, the company is confident demand will rise.

With the increased passenger numbers, extensions to the Brunei International Airport are seeing timely completion.

The US$150 million upgrade process, which is expected to finish later this year, is set to double passenger handling capacity at the airport to three million and will include new arrival and departure areas, luggage handling facilities and expanded parking.

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Friday, August 22, 2014

Sabah tourism to stay strong


KOTA KINABALU: The State Government is confident of registering an increase in tourist arrivals by year end despite lingering impact of the recent double airline tragedy and the series of kidnappings that took place in the east coast of the state earlier this year.

Chief Minister Datuk Seri Musa Aman said that although the incidents were expected to cast a shadow on the tourism industry, a healthy growth was still likely with a bulk of international tourist arrivals coming from Singapore.

“As shown in the past, negative events are unlikely to impact the tourism sector significantly and are viewed as temporary setbacks,” he said when officiating at the Asian Tourism International (ATI) College 17th Convocation in Tanjung Aru yesterday.

He noted that Sabah registered RM6.35 billion in tourism receipts last year with 3.38 million tourists, which represented a 17.6 per cent increase compared to the tourist arrivals in the previous year.

This was despite a security situation in the early part of the year and significant negative press and travel advisories in foreign markets.

Musa said the latest data from Tourism Malaysia showed the number of international tourist arrivals in Malaysia between January and April had increased by 10 per cent to 9.27 million, compared to 8.43 million over the corresponding period in 2013.

“However, this does not mean that we must not work hard to continue drawing tourists to Malaysia and Sabah. Negative events aside, the State Government is committed to make Sabah a viable and attractive destination for holidays and for meetings and conventions,” he said.

Continue reading at: Sabah tourism to stay strong
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Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Borneo trip planner: top five places to visit


FROM unique wildlife to untouched jungle, few destinations can match the natural drama of Malaysian Borneo. Visit hill tribes, explore tropical islands and conquer its highest mountain on this unforgettable adventure.

YOUR TRIP MAPPED OUT

Discover Malaysian Borneo by car, plane, boat and on foot, beginning in Sarawak, with a visit to our jungle-dwelling cousins and a stay with local tribespeople, before heading to Sabah and its islands, the peak of Mt Kinabalu and Borneo's "lost world".

1. SEMENGGOH WILDLIFE CENTRE

Best for orang-utans

Watch orang-utans frolicking in the canopy at the Semenggoh Wildlife Centre, one of the best places in the world to see the species in their natural habitat.

Kilometres into your trip: 0

Fly to Kuching via Kuala Lumpur. Semenggoh is a 24km drive from Kuching by taxi.

It's feeding time at the Semenggoh Wildlife Centre and bananas, coconuts and jackfruit are piled on the feeding platform. Soon, a face pokes from the tree line: two chocolate eyes, a pair of puffed-out cheeks and a wrinkled muzzle, framed by a mantle of cinnamon fur.

"Here comes Ritchie," says John Wen, who's been working as a wildlife assistant at the Semenggoh reserve for nine years. "He's the big man of the orang-utan family here. Usually we just call him the King."

He watches as Ritchie lumbers out from the forest, balancing on balled fists at the end of two bushy arms.

"He has a bad temper, so the rest of the family usually let him eat first. We've all learnt it's not a good idea to get in between the King and his lunch," John laughs, as Ritchie scoops up an armful of fruit and disappears back into the forest murk.

As soon as he leaves, the other family members swing down to claim their lunch, cartwheeling lazily through the trees to gather heaps of fruit in their rangy limbs. Of all Borneo's wild inhabitants, none has the totemic status of the orang-utan. Asia's only endemic great ape, the orang-utan (whose name derives from the Malay words for "man of the forest") lives wild only on Sumatra and Borneo. But their natural habitat is under threat due to deforestation and palm-oil plantations, which makes wildlife sanctuaries such as Semenggoh, along with sister reserves at Sepilok and Matang, all the more vital.

Surrounded by 740ha of protected rainforest, Semenggoh is the largest wildlife reserve in Sarawak. It's home to a permanent population of 27 orang-utans, many rescued from captivity, that roam the jungle and return to the reserve at meal times.

Continue reading (Incl. Pics) at: Borneo trip planner: top five places to visit
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Sunday, August 17, 2014

Night walk at Kubah National Park


WITH the current warm and dry weather, there is no better place to spend a night than at Kubah National Park.

Twenty-two Malaysian Nature Society members, their spouses and children descended upon Kubah National Park earlier this year.

The night started with participants registering and being allocated accommodation.

After a quick bite for dinner, all assembled for the introduction and briefing.

Then off we went on the short climb (about 1km) towards the famed Frog Pond.

Almost immediately we sighted numerous spiders by the roadside, then fish and prawns in the drain.

Next we encountered the Oriental Dwarf Kingfisher sleeping on a branch overhanging the road edge, barely two metres off the ground.

We approached it very carefully and photographed it without flash from about a metre away.

As the night was just barely cool, the bird did not puff itself up (blanket itself with its feathers) and we were able to capture minute details with a macro lens.

Everybody observed the radiant colours with awe for quite a while.

The bird kept calm and stayed put, as it could not see at night to fly.

Continue reading (Incl. Pics) at: Night walk at Kubah National Park
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Look beyond MAS for air connectivity to Kuching


BELAGA: Tourism Minister Datuk Amar Abang Johari Tun Openg is weighing options with other airlines for more connectivity to Kuching, instead of relying solely on Malaysia Airlines (MAS).

Believing that Sarawak must not place all its eggs in one basket and admitting shifting his attention from MAS to other airlines, Abang Johari, who is in the midst of negotiating with Singapore, said there must be more options for Sarawak.

“You must have other baskets. You cannot rely on one airline,” he said, adding that there would be more options for Sarawak come 2015 as BIMP-EAGA has agreed on an open sky policy.

Instead of wallowing in the aftermath of the MH370 disappearance and the shooting down of MH17, Abang Johari said both unfortunate air incidents have not adversely affected local tourism.

“We have an increase of tourists by seven per cent, up until June (this year) we have over two million tourists.”

Abang Johari, who is also Housing Minister, explained that local tourism was not affected because more than half of the two million tourists coming to the state came via Singapore.

“Sabah is affected because it receives a lot of tourists direct from China. Ours are mostly from Singapore. The most these tourists can stay in Singapore is only five to seven days, after that they will go to other places including Sarawak.

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16 teams taking part in Borneo International Wushu Championship


SIBU: Sibu Municipal Council Chairman Datuk Tiong Thai King said the Malaysian government is encouraging the development of wushu sports in the country.

He said excellent wushu exponents were not only given strong recognition for their contribution to the country but were also given extra incentive and appreciation for their achievements.

“This will augur well for the development of the sport which is gaining strong popularity among the people in the country,” he added at the opening of the 6th edition of the Borneo International Wuishu Championship held at SMK Sacred Heart yesterday.

His speech was delivered by his personal secretary Tang Tung King.

A total of 246 wushu exponents from 16 teams throughout the country, including the Wushu Federation of Brunei Darussalam and Indonesia East Java Wushu team took part in the championship.

The other teamsfrom outside the state are Low Kim Fun Taiji Class and Zen Wushu Academy from Johore and Persatuan Taijiquan from Selangor.

The local teams are Dongbeibei Taiji Wushu Academy, CMAA, SMAA, Jing Ying Dragon & Lion Dance Association, SMK Sacred Heart Wushu team, Miri Wushu Association, Chinese Culture Art Association Peng Yang team, SMk Tinggi Sarikei and SMK Deshon Sibu.

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Friday, August 15, 2014

Australia hails lasting bond with Malaysia at WW2 memorial


Australia today hailed the lasting bond forged with Malaysia during the Sandakan Death March of World War 2 and said the link,which had strengthened over the years, was demonstrated in the joint search for a Malaysian commercial aircraft that went missing in March.

Australian High Commissioner to Malaysia Rod Smith hailed Sandakan as an important chapter in the history of military links between Australia and Malaysia.

He said the links forged on the battlefields during WW2, and strengthened through the Emergency and Confrontation in Malaysia, had continued to today.

Malaysian and Australian defence forces’ personnel were working shoulder to shoulder even now in the search for Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370, which went missing on March 8 on a routine flight from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing.

“Today, Australia and Sabah’s close bond extends to education, tourism, trade and investment as well.

“These bonds between our peoples and nations will forever be strengthened by our shared past,” he said when speaking at the Sandakan Memorial Day here.

The annual memorial day is held to remember the more than 2,400 Australian and British prisoners-of-war who lost their lives while incarcerated at the Sandakan Camp and during the death marches to Ranau in central Sabah.

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Wednesday, August 13, 2014

A different Rhythm of Kinabalu show this year


KOTA KINABALU: The Department of Arts and Culture (JKKN) Sabah will for the third year running, organise the ‘Rhythm of Kinabalu’ programme on September 13 and 14, at its premises in Jalan Penampang.

Director Jasmi Rasit said unlike previous years, the Rhythm of Kinabalu this year will see a combination of traditional and modern orchestral groups performing musical fusions featuring renowned local artistes.

“The Rhythm of Kinabalu is the result of collaboration between JKKN and agencies, including Universiti Malaysia Sabah (UMS) and the State Cultural Board (LKNS), held in conjunction with Visit Malaysia Year 2014.

“The programme this year will consist of the combination of a modern orchestral group from UMS with two traditional orchestra groups from the LKNS.

“This is the first time that a modern combination is being brought into the programme, which we expect would last for one hour and 15 minutes,” said Jasmi, when met at the JKKN Hari Raya celebration at its premises here yesterday.

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Monday, August 11, 2014

En-route to Sarawak for a memorable quest


A familiarization trip for post AMITE 2014 Conference delegates over 2 days in the south of Borneo, with Kuching city in the spotlight for the ultimate adventure experience.

KUCHING - Sarawak Convention Bureau (SCB) is proud to once again host a familiarization trip in collaboration with the Malaysian Convention & Exhibition Bureau (MyCEB) - dedicated to high-level international professional conference organizers (PCOs), destination management companies (DMCs) and incentive houses to explore the possibilities of what Sarawak has to offer as a business events destination.

Following the recently completed Asia Meeting & Incentive Travel Exchange (AMITE) in Singapore, the clients dropped by Kuching from the 17th-19th July for a short interactive South Bornean quest as a post familiarization trip.

The familiarization received tremendous support from two of our industry partners; The Ranee Boutique Suites who graciously hosted their memorable stay and CPH Travel Agency (Sarawak) that delivered great service ensuring the programme went smoothly.

Delegates were immediately set on a mission upon their arrival as they were asked to select their rooms with a blow-pipe stunt - aiming at balloons to determine the rooms they will stay in; ranging from suites to deluxe rooms. They also got a glimpse of the Sarawakian cultural with a traditional Orang Ulu dance performance and live Sape during the welcome reception.

Adventure caps were on the next day at the natural habitats of the orangutans at Semenggoh Wildlife Centre, followed by a kayaking adventure in the rainforest with a stopover to enjoy a traditional Bidayuh lunch on the pebble beach.

Continue reading (Incl. Pic) at: En-route to Sarawak for a memorable quest
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Saturday, August 09, 2014

Over 700 indigenous peoples attend 6th world indigenous day do in Tenom


KOTA KINABALU: The Murut Cultural Centre was filled with over 700 Orang Asal in colourful traditional costumes from all over Malaysia as they gather for the four-day World’s Indigenous Peoples Day celebrations in Tenom, near here, starting today.

Since 1994, the United Nations’ International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples (PHOAS) has been observed on Aug 9 annually to promote the protection of the rights of the world’s indigenous peoples.

The celebration, officiated by Sabah Murut Association (SMA) vice president Senator Datuk Dr. Lucas Umbul, was followed by cultural performances, traditional games competition, a youth jamboree and sale of traditional food and crafts.

“The PHOAS theme for Malaysia, ‘Uplifting Indigenous Peoples Customary Institution’ is chosen because customary institutions have long maintained distinct social, economic and political systems of indigenous peoples, which is crucial for our identity and harmonious existence,” said General of the Indigenous Peoples Network of Malaysia (JOAS) secretary Mary Giun, in a statement here today.

She said the customary law guaranteed the sustainable use of land in a way that was beneficial to Orang Asal as well as the environment.

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Thursday, August 07, 2014

Sabah tourism players want action against illegal operators


KOTA KINABALU: Illegal tour operators, which have mushroomed lately, are giving Sabah a bad image with complaints of outright cheating and even molest by tourists.

Malaysian Association of Tours and Travel Agents (Matta) wants the enforcement agencies under Tourism Ministry to act against the illegal players who ply their trade openly and offering tour packages on websites.

"We want more regular enforcement to be carried out against the illegal transporters, unlicensed tour agents and guides," Matta Sabah chapter chairman Robert Chong told a press conference.

Present were Matta president Hamzah Rahmat and vice-president (Inbound) K.L.Tan.

Chong said there have been many reports of people being cheated by illegal tour agents and there was a case of a tourist who complained of being molested while using an unlicensed boat to the islands off the city.

"These illegal transporters operate without any licence, permit, insurance and tour guides. They are taking a high risk and undercutting their prices to compete with legitimate travel agents," Chang said.

He said the illegal operators could be seen operating openly at the Kota Kinabalu International Airport, hotels and other popular tourist spots.

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Wednesday, August 06, 2014

MASwings starts direct Labuan-Sibu flights


LABUAN: MASwings has started direct flights between Labuan and Sibu.

Labuan Chinese Chamber of Commerce (LCCC) president Datuk Wong Kii Yii yesterday told the media that the operation officially started on August 5.

“I want to thank MASwings for responding to LCCC’s request to have the direct connecting flight,” he said.

Earlier, LCCC held a meeting with MASwings business development head and charters, Zamani Maran and its senior managers here.

The flights from Labuan (MH3227/MH3655) will be at 11.40am, and is expected to reach Sibu at 1.35pm. The Sibu flight (MH3652/MH3226) is at 9.25am and expected to reach Labuan at 11.20am.

The evening flight from Sibu is at 6.20pm, reaching Labuan around 8.15pm.

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Tuesday, August 05, 2014

Kuching is cool for cats


I'd just stepped outside into the 36 degree heat and humidity when my phone rang. It was my wife back in New Zealand, where the weather was wet and cold.

We had a quick chat about various things and then she told me our new cat, Otis, described by the SPCA as "a handsome gentleman with a sense of adventure" seemed to be missing me. And had taken to tearing up the furniture.

I stopped her.

"Darling, I've really had enough of cats right now," I said.

I was standing outside the Cat Museum near Kuching, the capital of Sarawak, and had just seen more cat statuary, posters, trinkets and artwork than in the many previous decades of my life.

Kuching is close to the Malay word for cat, and it may have been there was an abundance of felines around this region along the edge of the Sarawak River. Another theory is the place was named for a particular fruit (mata kucing) which, according to some, looks like cats' eyes.

Either way, attractive and sprawling Kuching - population around 500,000 although you'd never know it in the quaint central area - has embraced its cat association. At various intersections there are plaster or cement statues of cats (some cute, some idiotically ugly) and the animals wander freely through open-air restaurants, bars, cafes and shops. In many small stores there are shelves of cats carved from wood or moulded from plaster.

Cats everywhere. And soooo cute.

The crowning glory in this cat obsession, however, is the Kuching Cat Museum, located in a commanding building north of the river. This towering place on top of a hill is enormous and impressive . . . but when taxi drivers or tour guides point and say "Cat Museum", that's a little misleading.

The museum occupies only a corner of the ground floor of this municipal hall and office block, but they sure cram in a lot of cat stuff.

The Cat Museum was transferred to Sarawak on the north coast of Borneo from Kuala Lumpur on Peninsula Malaysia in 1988 and officially opened here five years later.

Since then anything cat-related - and I do mean anything - seems to have found a place in it.

The room of movie posters illustrates this at its most bizarre. Aside from a single word in the title, what's the connection between the films Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, Cat People, The Owl and the Pussycat, What's New Pussycat? and The Cat Burglar?

Continue reading (Incl. Pic) at: Kuching is cool for cats
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Monday, August 04, 2014

Eye on Imbak Canyon


A new research centre makes Imbak Canyon its focal point.

DEEP in the heart of Ulu Kinabatangan in Sabah’s south-eastern region is a canyon valley so remote and inaccessible that it has, for years, remained little-known, even to the people of the nearest village of Kampung Imbak in Tongod.

Because of that, this wilderness has remained untouched – it is one of the last unlogged contiguous lowland dipterocarp (a family of tropical hardwood trees with two-winged fruits) forest left in the state today.

In 2003, the Yayasan Sabah Group designated it as the Imbak Canyon Conservation Area, solely for research, education and training, and as a seed source or gene bank. In 2009, all 30,000ha of the area were accorded Class 1 (Protection) Forest Reserve status.

The area merits protection as it is a crucial corridor link between two important protected areas: Danum Valley and Maliau Basin. This link facilitates movements of wildlife like the pygmy elephant, orang utan, bearded pig, clouded leopard and even the critically-endangered Sumatran rhino (footprints were previously detected there).

Its pristine state makes it ideal for research into non-destructive use of an undisturbed forest, for instance in carbon sequestration (removing carbon dioxide and storing it in the soil). It also serves as a catchment area for the Imbak River which merges with the Melian River before spilling into the Kinabatangan, Sabah’s principal waterway.

Yet, just a few decades before, the forest had been vulnerable; it was within the logging concession given to Yayasan Sabah. Fortunately, a scientific expedition by Sabah Forestry Department in 2000 helped saved Imbak Canyon as it showed the area to have abundant biodiversity. Two other scientific studies were conducted after that, in 2004 and 2010.

Rich wilderness

Imbak Canyon, together with Danum Valley, Maliau Basin and the coastal forest of Tumunong Hallu, form part of the one million hectare of concession known as the Yayasan Sabah Forest Management Area. Half of this is Class 1 (Protection) Forest Reserves consisting of the mentioned conservation areas and other logged sites now given the Class 1 category. The other half consists of Class 2 Commercial Forest Reserves, which can be logged.

Petronas is funding the conservation of Imbak Canyon. In 2010, the oil and gas company allocated RM6mil for a three-year commitment to manage the area in a sustainable manner. So far, there has been public awareness campaigns, wildlife surveys, studies on climatology, hydrology and ethnobotany (relationship between humas and flora) as well as construction of an information centre, a jetty to ease transportation of crops by villagers who farm at the forest fringes, and a research station.

Dr Waidi Sinun, Yayasan Sabah conservation and environmental management division group manager, says Imbak is special for different reasons – one being the shape of the canyon and its 25km-long, mountain-bounded valley. It is visible from the air, just like Maliau Basin and Mount Kinabalu.

Continue reading (Incl. Pics & Vid) at: Eye on Imbak Canyon
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Sunday, August 03, 2014

Sarawak natural hot springs - Try the healing waters


NATURAL hot springs with geothermally heated under-ground water can be found in some parts of Sarawak.

There are two popular sites in Kuching – Annah Rais in upper Puncak Borneo Road and Kampung Panchor Dayak in Serian.

The one at Annah Rais is naturally occurring in the middle of the river while the one in Panchor exists naturally in the middle of a secondary forest.

Both are Nature’s gifts to be treasured.

I relished my time relaxing and letting the mineral-rich water flow into my pores in both hot springs.

I was told by Panchor hot spring staff some people made it a practice to visit at least once a month for their health – and sanity!

Water from the Annah Rais hot spring is a bit clear while that at Panchor appears slightly yellow-brownish or milky.

It has been widely speculated that hot spring waters are laden with sulfur, silica, radium, selenium, boron, magnesium, manganese, lithium, calcium, sodium, potassium, silver and many other minerals.

So far, no studies have been made to detect the presence of dissolved minerals in both hot springs here.

The Annah Rais hot spring, believed discovered about 300 years ago, was open to the public in 2011.

Co-operator Ringin Edo said the early settlers regarded it as a holy place to seek charms and blessings.

“According to my grandfather, long time ago, people who believed in the power of superstition, would go to the place to meditate.

“They would bring some something with them such eggs, bananas, local potatoes, betel leaves and tobacco as offerings to the evil spirit there.

“They would also sing some folk songs to praise the spirit,” the 63-year-old recalled.

Ringin said while meditating – normally between 8pm and 10pm – a person would remain still even if beaten by mosquitoes or other insects, or seeing strange things, animals or snakes passing by before the spirit appeared.

The spirit would then ask the person what he wanted.

“According to my grandfather, in the old days, men liked asking for charms so they could marry the women of their fancy.

“However, more often than not, the spirit would tell them he could not fulfil their wish because he has no power and could do nothing.”

Ringin, a former teacher, also related a story told by his grandfather about an old woman who went to meditate in order to seek help from an evil spirit to heal her eyes.

The woman was almost blind but after the meditation, she could see.

“It was just a story or coincidence – nothing more than that. Or maybe superstition. It’s up to the individual,” Ringin surmised.

However, he pointed out that soaking in a hot mineral spring at Annah Rais could help relieve joint pains.

“If a person has a swollen ankle, he or she can dip it in the bearably hot water three or four times and it may heal. I have tried many times and it worked.”

Continue reading (Incl. Pics) at: Sarawak natural hot springs - Try the healing waters
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Geology walk at Santubong National Park


CRUSTS, caramel, nuts in porridge – they sound more like a cooking lesson than a walk to learn about geology.

However, these are the striking analogies Hans – a geologist with Shell in his former life – and a dedicated nature lover and photographer, used to explain to us about the ways rocks have behaved over the geological time scale.

Santubong is a striking coastal sandstone mountain reaching an 810-metre elevation.

Some brave, and fit, souls actually climb to the summit, but last month, about 30 MNS members took a much gentler walk from the newly operational Santubong National Park headquarters as far as the waterfall with the canopy bridge.

We walked slowly as Hans explained about continental and ocean crusts.

Continental crust consists largely of granitic (mainly quartz and feldspar) rocks that form the continents.

Oceanic crust, on the other hand, is located under the oceans and mainly composed of different materials known as basaltic rocks, which are mostly dark in colour.

Over the aeons, different crustal slabs slide or ‘dive’ under one another, releasing enormous forces that often push up continental rocks (but sometimes oceanic rocks are pushed up).

That is part of the story of how, Hans explained, Gunung Santubong, which seemingly arises almost directly out of the sea, was formed. Another piece of the puzzle may be found in the intrusive rocks found at Santubong.

How can we detect where these slabs of crust (known as tectonic plates) have dived under one another? One important clue, Hans explained, is when we see dark-coloured basalt rocks, usually hidden under the oceans, at the land surface.

One of the big boundaries between crustal slabs in Sarawak corresponds approximately with the Lupar River.

One can see dark-coloured basalt rocks on a bank of the Batang Ai hydroelectric lake. Interestingly, though not surprisingly, some tree species are only found on one side of the Lupar valley dividing line, while others are only found on the other.

So how about the caramel? The cooks among us will know that to make kueh sarang semut, one first has to make caramel.

This we do by heating sugar carefully in a pan until the mass of white crystals begins to melt to a shiny liquid and darken in colour.

In the same way, Hans explained, showing us a sandstone rock that was pale brown on one side and dark brown on the other, some of the sandstone at Santubong has been heated up by hot magma injected into narrow cracks in the sandstone, and has undergone a similar change, with the melted part not gritty like normal sandstone but smooth and also darker in colour.

After melting, the rock is known as hornfels, (a German word for horn rock) as smooth as the horns of a cow.

This is where the nuts in porridge example comes in – an example of rock that was injected as hot paste into cracks of the sandstone is diorite – which cooled very slowly when still deep underground, so that some components made big crystals of mainly feldspar and hornblende (the nuts) floating in a fine-grained mass (mainly feldspar).

Then Hans explained some of the other geological features we can see at Gunung Santubong.

Continue reading (Incl. Pics) at: Geology walk at Santubong National Park
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Friday, August 01, 2014

Best Exotic Kingdom - Philip Eade’s ‘Sylvia, Queen of the Headhunters’


“I have done almost everything in life except two things. I haven’t had a son, and I have never come down in a parachute.”

Sylvia Brett Brooke, wife of the last “white rajah” of Sarawak, may have had a reputation for embellishing the truth, but it was decidedly well earned. This, after all, was a woman who inspired naughty nursery rhymes by her pal George Bernard Shaw (“She’ll have bells on her fingers / and rings through her nose, / And won’t be permitted to wear any clo’es”) and sent J. M. Barrie, creator of Peter Pan, scurrying for cover when he became the focus of her amorous attentions. In the chunk of northern Borneo her husband’s great-uncle had received for his services to the sultan of Brunei, she played hostess to the daredevil adventurer Richard Halliburton.

In Hollywood, she spurned Errol Flynn, whose plan for a film version of the original rajah’s exploits was, she decided, vastly inferior to her own. During her heyday, between the two world wars, she presided over a kingdom the size of England whose subjects greeted her arrival with 21-gun salutes and elaborate parades. Marooned in New York in 1941, with little to sustain her but hot dogs and gin, she was reduced to telling fortunes in a bar called Leon and Eddie’s, “where I was known as ‘Toots.’ ” Her novels and stories were published on both sides of the Atlantic, and she jotted down not one but two autobiographies. The second, the reviewer for The London Evening News observed, “could be an Evelyn Waugh novel.”

And yet, as Philip Eade makes clear in “Sylvia, Queen of the Headhunters,” his suitably dishy account of her to-ings and fro-ings, she wasn’t lying about the importance of her failure to produce a male heir. The abdication in 1946 of Sylvia’s deeply diffident and unconventional husband, Sir Vyner Brooke, might have occurred even if a son had been on the scene, but the fecklessness of his three daughters certainly added to the melodrama surrounding the succession, which straggled on even after Sarawak became Britain’s last colonial acquisition. When one daughter married a popular band leader (or, as the scandalmongers had it, Princess Pearl became the bride of the King of the Hot-Cha), 5,000 fans assembled outside the London registry office. Not to be outdone, another daughter married a wrestling champion known as “the Gable of Grapple” — who, alas, quit the ring to open a fish-and-chips shop. After their divorce, she transferred her affections to a Spanish orange importer with, her mother remarked, “the face of a meditative goat.” The daughter who succeeded in marrying a respectable (albeit much older) aristocrat became, upon his death, “the merriest of widows.”

Not that the parents of Leonora, Elizabeth and Valerie Brooke were models of propriety. As the daughter of the “fabulously well-connected” Reginald Brett, the second Viscount Esher, Sylvia spent her childhood trying to attract the attention of a father who found his two girls “tiresome” and doted, to an alarmingly intimate degree, on the youngest of his two sons. Sylvia’s sister grew up to be the Bloomsbury painter known simply as Brett, who found her niche in D. H. Lawrence’s domestic entourage, but it wasn’t until Margaret Brooke, the estranged wife of the second rajah of Sarawak, became the Bretts’ neighbor in the countryside that Sylvia found a way of distinguishing herself (if mostly disapprovingly) in her father’s estimation. After a “strange, shy luncheon,” at which, she reported, they “discussed lavatories and plumbing,” she became engaged to the rani’s son, Vyner, who, despite his social ineptitude, would soon demonstrate that he’d inherited his father’s talent for extracurricular dalliance.

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