Tuesday, 25 December 2012

Jungle Bells of Long Pasia

Located more than 250km south of Kota Kinabalu, Sabah is a remote highland village of Long Pasia, in the district of Sipitang. It is only about 10km to the border of Kalimantan of Indonesia. With an altitude of more than 1,000 meters above sea level, the Christian dominated villagers of the Lundayeh tribe wakes up to the cool mist that clouds the panoramic lush greenery mountainous rainforests of one of the most beautiful village in Sabah.

Morning mist envelopes Long Pasia even at 9am

Located at a convergence of two rivers, the river Matang and the river Sia, which combine to form the source of the river Padas, the main economic activities of the villagers are fishing, farming, hunting and handcrafting. The name ‘Long Pasia’ means ‘the mouth of the red river’ in the Lundayeh language.

Rice fields in Long Pasia. 

It took us almost seven hour to drive from Kota Kinabalu to Long Pasia via the Sipitang town. Two and a half hour on tarmac road and the remaining on gravel roads. We passed through some rubber, banana, tapioca and paddy fields along the way. It was a back-breaking ride on the last one hour drive as we drove through a treacherous muddy logging road. It was December and it rains almost every day in Malaysia, so the bad road condition was pretty much anticipated. However, the breathtaking sight and cool fresh air of the scenic village that greeted us washed away our fatigue and tiredness almost instantly.

It was only about a week away from the big day of Christmas. The stack of firewood behind the Borneo Evangelical Mission communal church tells of a big feast coming to the quaint village of Long Pasia. A host of activities such as football matches, singing and dance rehearsals has been lined up prior to the big event. It involves the locals as well as the family members who just returned from the cities.

A game of soccer is one of the favourite activities. 

Long Pasia village chief, Mudin Sia was one of the happiest person. “I am happy to see the younger people coming back with their families driving new four-wheel drive vehicles, bringing back with them goodies for their families and the community. Christmas is a very heartwarming get-together occasion that we look forward to every year”. 

Stack of firewood behind the church.

There are no roast turkeys for Christmas in this part of the world but there definitely will be a lot of cooking. The spirit of gotong-royong (cooperation among many people to attain a shared goal) is practiced on a daily basis in Long Pasia, so preparing a big Christmas feast was never a daunting task to them.  

Celebrating Christmas in this remote area of Sabah is definitely an experience by itself, devoid of all the commercial hypes normally associated with it. But as with any other Christmas around the world, one thing will remain in common. It’s the ringing of the church bells on the morning of Christmas day. For the Lundayeh Christians in Long Pasia, it is truly a community get-together that is firm in heritage, values and beliefs. Jungle bells are here to stay. 

For more info on Long Pasia, please contact the followings: 

Tourism Malaysia (Sabah Office)
Lot 1-0-7, Ground Floor,
Block 1 Lorong Api-Api 1,
Api-Api Centre,
8800  Kota Kinabalu,
Tel:  +6088-248 698/ 211 732/ 447 075
Fax:  +6088-241 764

Sabah Tourism Board
51 Gaya Street,
88000 Kota Kinabalu,
Tel:  +6088-212121  
Fax: +6088-212075  
Email: info@sabahtourism.com
Website: www.sabahtourism.com

Saturday, 15 December 2012

Why Malaysia Is Great For First Time Backpackers

One and half year ago I set off on my first backpacking adventure travelling across Thailand and the Indochina. These days I’d like to think my horizon have broadened as far as challenging myself and experiencing new cultures, however, if you have never been backpacking before, Malaysia is definitely a great place to make that transition and first step, as well as just being a lot of fun!
Kuala Lumpur skyline at night

The combination of beach, jungle, mountain, heritage sites, multi religious place of worship, multi ethnic indigenous people and city and rural landscapes in Malaysia, is definitely a great way for a first time traveller trying out various activities and see a variety of sights. And the food, yes, the food is what Malaysia is synonymous with, and they are cheap too! With all this variety in one country it really allows you to find out what aspects of travel you really like within the comfort of a developed, bureaucratically stable country. Most travellers found it a great place to learn the basics of travel, and a chance to make and learn from any mistakes they made along the way without too many repercussions.

One of the main contributing factors of Malaysia being a great destination is obviously the sunshine. In any parts of the country, be it Langkawi, Kuala Lumpur or Kota Kinabalu, you can wake up to sunny skies every day of the year. It really does make a difference to your day as most of Malaysia’s towns and cities are on the coast and that means you can make a trip to the beach at the drop of a hat. The sunny climate is also reflected in the laid back “no worries” attitude of the locals. With most first time backpackers, you are either trying to escape the stresses of the 9 to 5, or looking for a well-deserved break from the university. This definitely helps when you’re trying to relax and have fun.

A resort at Sipadan Island, Sabah.

Malaysia is definitely an easy country to adapt to if you are coming from either Europe or North America, especially so if you are from an English speaking country or can speak the language well. Despite the fact that Bahasa Melayu (Malay Language) is the official language here, the majority of Malaysians are able to speak decent English, even in the rural areas. Although travellers are encouraged to push themselves to visit countries where they don’t speak your language, or have different customs, traditions, or ways of life, but for a first time traveller it really helps that they speak a universally recognised language. Also, even if you don’t speak much English people are normally willing to help where they can. I came to know of a young Japanese lady who backpacks from Vietnam and Thailand. She speaks very little English but at the end her three week’s stay in Malaysia, she could speak great conversational English and some Bahasa Melayu as well!

And as for the food, like I mentioned earlier, is one of the local’s favourite pastime, that is surely going to rub off on any travellers. Malaysian cuisine is as diverse as the nation itself, fusing the culinary traditions and flavours of the Malay, Chinese, Indian, Arabian and European cooking, making it an appetising destination to visit for travellers who love food. Displaying the same fertile blend of influences, Malaysia has "one of the best assortments of delicious cuisines in the world" according to the Lonely Planet travel guide.

Satay, one of Malaysia's favourite delicacies.

There are so many reasons why Malaysia is a great backpacking destination, especially for first time travellers that I couldn’t possibly write them all. My advice would be to visit this great country and really experience the true meaning of ‘diverse’. If it gives you the travel bug, then it will inspire you to see more of the world, which is only a good thing in my mind.

Tourism is booming in Malaysia and the World Travel Guide sums it up very well -  "Tropical islands and endless white, sandy beaches offer a taste of paradise, while beneath warm coral seas, world-class dive sites await exploration. Orang-utans, the oldest rainforest in the world, city skyscrapers and majestic mosques and temples, plus a gorgeous coastline are enough to tempt even the most jaded visitor" 

Monday, 10 December 2012

The Houseboats of Kenyir

Situated about 60 kilometres to the west of Kuala Terengganu is Kenyir Lake. With the size that covers 209,199 hectares and contains 340 small islands, 25 waterfalls and numerous rapids and rivers, Kenyir Lake is the biggest lake in Southeast Asia. Part of Kenyir Lake is also within the boundary of Taman Negara (National Park), home to the world’s oldest jungle believed to be 130 million years old!

The Gawi Jetty, one of the two jetties at Lake Kenyir
The lake is a popular tourist destination for her beautiful scenario of lush tropical forest and its invaluable species of flora and fauna. It is believed that the area is the habitat of more than 8000 species of flowers, 2500 species of plants and trees, 8000 species of orchids, 370 species of birds and more than 250 species of fresh water fish that complements Kenyir Lake’s total eco-system. The Kenyir Lake creates and provides many amenities for total relaxation and enjoyment in a unique environment. However, the best way to explore Kenyir Lake is by ‘houseboating’, which I experienced recently during my visit organised by Tourism Malaysia Terengganu.

Our Houseboat for the night.

The houseboats, with their amenities such as Satellite TV, karaoke, kitchen and bathrooms, will take you to island hopping excursions to most of the islands. Among the places of interest on the islands are Lasir Waterfalls, located 16 km to the south of Gawi Jetty. Lasir Waterfalls is spectacular in their rush down five rapids. A large camping area and a jungle trekking trail up to its summit further enhances Lasir's attraction. You can also do kayaking over there, right up to its falling waters. At night, if you choose not to sleep in the boat, just bring your blanket and pillows or hammocks and pick a spot in the little huts at the jetty where the boats are anchored. In the morning, you will wake up with bird singing from the jungle and perhaps the fish in the lake has eaten the baits that you cast the night before.
Fishing is one activity that nobody should miss once in a houseboat. Fishing rods are provided for those who doesn’t bring along theirs. Hundreds of species of freshwater fishes are found in Lake Kenyir, such as Kelab, Toman, Sobarau, Kelisa, Lampam and many others. There are at least 25 commonly found species of fish for the hard core anglers. Toman (snakehead fish) will almost always give a hard time to anglers. Alternatively, anglers might want to go to the estuaries, which are the better places for fishing. The catch of the day can be grilled on the barbeque grills on the houseboats or on dry land, where the boats are anchored.

A bountiful catch of Lampam.

Other places that appeal to visitors in Kenyir Lake are the caves such as Tok Bidan, Taat and Bewah Caves. Among these, Tok Bidan is submerged under water. Cavers will have a delightful time exploring the Bewah Cave and the Taat Cave situated at Pulau Bewah. Bewah Cave is known for the many artifacts. Neolithic axes, flints, human skeleton of some 3000 years and wall paintings are found in Taat cave which can be explored when water level is at its lowest.

Enjoying the cool dips at Lasir waterfall

For the less adventurous or for those who just want to get a de-stress, then you can just laze around the chalets and gaze at the distant speeding boats and listen to the choo-choo sound of the boathouses passing by. It is still a great way to enjoy the natural and tranquil Kenyir Lake.

For more information on Kenyir Lake, please visit:

Tourism Malaysia Terengganu
11, Ground & First Floor,
Pusat Niaga Paya Keladi,
Jalan Kampung Daik,
20000 Kuala Terengganu,
Terengganu, MALAYSIA.
Tel: +609-630 9433/9093
Fax: +609-630 9091
Website: http://www.tourism.gov.my/ms-MY/Master/Web-Page/Places/States-of-Malaysia/Terengganu

Wednesday, 5 December 2012

Surfing? In Malaysia?

One of the finalists in action

“Surfing? Is there such a thing in Malaysia?” was the quick response from a friend when I told him what I was doing in Kuala Terengganu recently. I was there on the invitation of Tourism Malaysia Terengganu (thanks guys!) together with a few travel media friends. One of the highlights of the programme was the Rip Curl Pro Terengganu 2012 held at Pantai Batu Burok, a 6 star Asian Surfing Championships event that commenced from November 30 till December 2 2012.

Colourful skateboards lined up at one of the contestants' tents

With big prize money and valuable ASC championship points on offer, the Rip Curl Pro Terengganu has drawn the Asian region’s best professional surfers from Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand, Taiwan, and the Maldives, as well as surfers from Japan, Singapore, and France. In case you are still wondering, yes, there are professional surfers from Malaysia and for them, there was a special award for “Best Malaysian Surfer”.

Jonni, our surf instructor with a bunch of hopefuls like me.

Excitement was in the air throughout the 3 day event with booths set up selling surf merchandise, game stations, demos on surfboard making and surfboard art by Laura, the surfboard artist from Germany. Also open for the visitors are a skateboard ramp by Carver. I was told that being a good skateboarder does help you to become good at surfing.  

The locals add up to the excitement by hawking their stuff.

Laura, the lovely surfboard artist.

However, the greatest attraction on the sideline of the event was the Surf Clinic by Rip Curl School of Surf conducted by Jonni. I was thrilled as I couldn’t imagine myself surfing. The feeling was just ….out of this world! Here are tips for beginners that I picked up from Jonni. When you are learning, you need to start on a surfboard that has some width and thickness to it, yes a long board. How long depends on a how big you are, the bigger the person the bigger the board should be. If you do not want to be a longboarder that’s okay, but you will get a lot better faster if you use the long board. A longer board will help you to get the basics down. From there you can scale down in size as you progress, think of it in steps. A short board is super wobbly and unstable for beginners. Start on a bigger board and it will help you progress faster, ride more waves, ride the waves you do catch further, and have more fun!

One of the local contestants from Terengganu

For those of you travellers who plan to seek fun surfing in Malaysia, well, you know where to find them. The best time, however, is during the monsoon season between November to March. As for me, I am heading to the nearest mall selling a good skateboard (before investing in a proper surfboard), preparing myself for the next surf event!

The Rip Curl Pro Terengganu 2012 is sponsored and supported by the State Government of Terengganu, Rip Curl Malaysia, EC Extreme, the Ministry of Tourism Terengganu Office, and Tourism Malaysia. Co-sponsored by Fanta, Nestle Drumstick and Sunplay with Suria FM as media partner.

For more information about the Rip Curl Pro Terengganu, please contact:

Rip Curl Malaysia
Queenie Chia
Office Tel: 03-7880 3821
Mobile:  +60162077071
Email:  queenie@ripcurl.com.my

Tourism Malaysia Terengganu
11, Ground & First Floor,
Pusat Niaga Paya Keladi,
Jalan Kampung Daik,
20000 Kuala Terengganu,
Terengganu, MALAYSIA.
Tel: +609-630 9433/9093
Fax: +609-630 9091
Website: http://www.tourism.gov.my/ms-MY/Master/Web-Page/Places/States-of-Malaysia/Terengganu

Wednesday, 28 November 2012

Gua Wang Burma-My First Caving Experience

Malaysia has some of the biggest and longest caves in the world. Some are archaeological sites, others are simply beautiful with stalagmites and stalactites, and maybe some underground rivers. Some caves are home to a wide variety of cave fauna such as bats, swiftlets, toads, snakes, and invertebrates such as insects, spiders, beetles, cockroaches, centipedes and millipedes.

Amongst the most famous caves in the world are the caves in Gunung Mulu National Park, Sarawak, which was recognised by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site in 2001. More than 345 km of cave passages have been mapped in Mulu.
In Peninsular Malaysia, caves can be found in all the northern and eastern states of the peninsular. The tropical karst towers occur as steep isolated hills rising from the valley floors. 

Perlis, the northernmost state in Peninsular Malaysia, has some interesting river caves, some of which have been mined for tin, such as Gua Kelam 1 and Gua Kelam 2. The latter is one of the Peninsula's longest caves and accessible to adventure cavers, just like Gua Wang Burma. Many foreign spelaeologists come to Malaysia to document the caves and study the fauna, the physical properties, as well as the history.
Our group being briefed by Aziz, the forest ranger, who is our guide for the day.

The most popular cave in Perlis is Gua Wang Burma, a cave system that has become the main attraction of the Wang Kelian State Park within the Perlis State Park. Recently, I was invited to join a group of 30 Tourism Malaysia frontline officers and some media friends for a 5 day Nature Trail of Kedah, Perlis and Langkawi, an opportunity I wouldn’t want to miss out, especially when I saw the Gua Wang Burma exploration in the itinerary.

The Twin Stalagtites, one of the main attractions in Gua Wang Burma Satu

The journey starts with an uphill jungle trekking guided by an experienced Forest Ranger known as Aziz. We were shown and briefed of the various medicinal and poisonous plants and trees along the way. After about 40 minute of enjoying the beauty and bounty of the natural untouched rainforest, we finally reached the entrance of the cave.  Known for its streams and exotic species of insects and fungi, the cave system is divided into two main caves: The less challenging and more scenic one is Wang Burma Satu, with its unique rock formations comprising of stalagtites, stalagmites and columns, and Wang Burma Dua, which is physically and mentally challenging with its dark hooks and turns, of narrow passages and muddy tunnels – you will need to crawl or squeeze your way through to reach the amazing water-worn rock formations in the inner part of the cave.

Another interesting multiple stalagtite formations

Caving in Malaysia is still relatively new, but I strongly believe that, with a more cohesive effort by The Forestry Department and Tourism Malaysia, the activity can be promoted to become a popular recreational tourism.

I have to conclude that, after the three and a half hour caving adventure of Gua Wang Burma, I really look forward to my next caving experience. Mulu Caves, here I come!

For more information on Gua Wang Burma, please contact the followings:

Perlis Forestry Department
Km 2, Jalan Kaki Bukit
01000 Kangar
Tel : +604-9765066
Fax : +604-9767901

Tourism Malaysia Perlis
No 19, Ground Floor
Jalan Pengkalan Indah
Taman Pengkalan Indah
Pengkalan Asam
01000 Kangar
Tel : +604-9781213
Fax : +604-9781143

* All images courtesy of Hafiz Othman.

Friday, 16 November 2012

Up Close with The Orang Asli

I experienced my first real encounter with the Orang Asli (indigenous people) community sometime end of June this year. Peninsula Malaysia has three main Orang Asli ethnics. They are Negrito (commonly found in the northern states), Melayu Proto (found in the southern states) and Senoi (found in the central part of the peninsula). I was with two friends looking for new off-roaders campsites when we passed by their village, known as Pos Bersih in Ulu Slim in the state of Perak, some two hour drive from the Kuala Lumpur city centre. The Orang asli we met are of the Semai tribe, a sub-ethnic of the Senoi, which is also the largest ethnic of the three.

Approaching the village, I could see several motorcycles over-laden with petai (bitter bean-Parkia speciosa) coming in and out of the village. Apparently, it could very well be a bountiful petai season now, judging from the abundance of the produce. The village of about 120 houses has a primary school and electricity supply provided by the government. There are also quite a number of single storey uniformed brick houses built in the village. We were later told that they were part of the Rural Ministry’s programmes to build free livable houses for the hardcore poor of the state as well as in other states in Malaysia. Nevertheless the sight of the craftily built traditional Semai huts on stilts are still predominant in the village. Using renewable natural materials including timber and bamboo, the dwellings are often built without using nails while the roofs are made of rumbia (sago palm). Pre-cut holes and grooves are used to fit the timber elements into one another, effectively making it a ‘prefabricated house’.  Pos Bersih definitely lives up to its name. ‘Bersih’ in Malay language means ‘clean’ and it was well reflected in the surrounding areas of the whole village.

The Semai community in Pos Bersih are mostly animist, some profess Christianity while only three families profess Islam. However they are still gripped by their old beliefs of witchcrafts. I was invited by Sani, a middle-aged village headman or ‘Tok Batin’ to come again later in December, as they will be celebrating their annual festival of ‘Genggulang’ which is a festive ritual to appease land spirits for a good harvest and is still observed in many places where the people worship the rice spirit. In this ritual, the spirits are offered sacrificial chickens, flowers, and unhusked rice. Now, the festival has lost much of its religious meaning. It has become more of a cultural event similar to the way the Chinese celebrate Lunar New Year or the Westerners celebrate Christmas. The Semais love to dance and it is in occasions like this that they will perform their cultural dance or ‘Mondek’ from late evening till the wee hours of the morning.

Budin and his newly wed wife.

The river Slim which flows near the village serves as the main water supply to the villagers. The scenic river with its crystal clear water is full of activities in the early morning and dawn with all the villagers bathing and doing their laundry by the river. Interestingly, it is also from this particular river that the district got its name ‘Slim River’.

The Petai that Budin sells. 
We also met Budin and his wife, a newly wed couple of three months who stay in one of the traditional dwellings. His earns his living by selling forest produce like rattan and petai. Budin seemed to be quite content with his life, saying that he enjoys the slow and laid back lifestyle of the Semais. After having a brief chat with Budin over a cigarette, we decided to make our move to our next destination. As a gesture of goodwill, I bought two bunches of petai from Budin at a discounted price before we leave Pos Bersih.

Traditional Semai dwellings still an inviting sight.

Wednesday, 14 November 2012

A New Beginning

I’ve been wanting to blog for a long time. They say pick a subject that you are most familiar with/have interest on. Trouble is so many things interest me. So, after much deliberation, I decided to start with the subject that I know will be of keen interest to me till the end of my life, considering I am approaching my half century mark in five year time.

A Quote on Travel I extracted from melsenpai blog

So this is it. This is ‘The New Beginning’ to my blogging career. The subject? Travel and Tourism. Travel is something which I have been deprived of myself all these years due to my work commitments. My hope is that this blog, Malaysiana Explorer, will help to encourage foreign travellers/tourists to see and explore this blessed country like me, and discover the wonders that Malaysia has to offer.  And I am going to start it off on my birthday! Happy Birthday to me and Happy Birthday to ‘Malaysiana Explorer’! Please enjoy my travelling experiences in the upcoming articles :)

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