No wild horses can keep me away once I make up my mind. The same philosophy that Light always triumphs over Darkness, even as travel advisories red flag international travel and the fearless go where God leads them. It led me recently to Sabah – A State of Malaysia located on the northern portion of Borneo, and federated into Malaysia on September 16, 1963 (Population approx. 40 lakh). Sabah, when translated in Malayan language, is spelt as ‘Sabah, negeri di bawah bayu’ which means ‘Land below the Wind,’ as it is located just below the typhoon prone region of the Philippines.
For a quick need-to-know info, Sabah is divided into five administrative divisions and 27 districts. Its total land area is nearly 73,904 square kilometres (28,534 sq mil), surrounded by the South China Sea in the west, Sulu Sea in the northeast and Celebes Sea in the southeast, thus endowing it with a total of 1,743 kilometres (1,083 mi) of coastline. You get a glimpse of this pristine beauty as your aircraft gently sways to landing over green-blue clear waters, island mountains with clean white sand beckoning you to come run across its undisturbed shores.
I was in Sabah invited by Malaysia Tourism to experience this breath-taking land of rich natural resources, a collective of people you eventually fall in love with, food you would leave your husband/partner for, and mountains that could speak its secrets, if your heart is open enough to listen to its stories.
Read more on the MegaFam here: http://etheldacosta.com/au-revoir-kota-kinabalu-sabah-you-are-truly-asia/
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Five days in Sabah are not enough for the travel hungry. Nevertheless, I’ve listed my personal favourites `Must-Do in Sabah’ checklist, though there’s a whole lot more I’ve yet to see, and will do so soon on my next visit. Sabah Tourism, please pay heed 😊
MUST SEE – MARI MARI CULTURAL VILLAGE
Sabah has an estimated 42 ethnic groups with over 200 sub-ethnic groups with separate own languages, cultures and belief systems. The three largest indigenous groups in Sabah are the Kadazan-Dusun, Bajau and the Murut. There are large Malay, Suluk and other Bumiputera ethnic minorities as well, while the Chinese makes up the main non-indigenous population. An up-close of this culture can be seen at the Mari Mari Cultural Village (Jalan Kionsom, Inanam, Kota Kinabalu, Sabah), where we were treated to experience a village planned as a museum that preserves Borneo ethnic culture. The experience aims to share the knowledge, history, culture, and tradition of Borneo with visitors so that it is not forgotten.
For me, it was an enlightening eye-opener to understand how much the locals respect their ancestry and where they come from. Nestled in a dense forest, Mari Mari features five different ethnic tribes in one village – the rice farmer Kadazan-Dusun, the longhouse resident Rungus, the hunters and fisherman Lundayeh, the cowboy and sea gypsy Bajau, and the famously feared headhunting tribe, Murut. As the head guide took me through the homes, rituals, ceremonies, social structures, food and customs of each tribe, I revelled in trying out each dish, tasting bamboo cups of rice wine (all the indigenous tribes loved their wines and revelled in it, the guide shared), eating traditional snacks and savouries, participating in ceremonial rituals and celebrations that defined the essence of these tribes. Energetic dance customs, elaborate costumes, detailed masonry skills in house building, even mating rituals, all showcased with pride and elan. Yes, whilst enthusiastically participating in this cultural foreplay of sorts, I also realised that I was five rice wine shots down and totally at Shanti with myself. The perks of being well taken care of!! Which Malaysians have developed to an art craft. One could learn the finer nuances of meticulous hospitality from them.
For bookings and info, click here: https://marimariculturalvillage.com/
MUST DO – KIULU RIVER RAFTING (Class I-II)
I’m no water-baby, finding safe comfort on solid land over unpredictable water has been my security blanket for years. An experience which is aplenty at this excursion for the brave hearts and some dare-devils. Going by the popularity of the sport, plenty of dare-devils here for this adrenaline pumping destination. Good man Valentine, who manages this activity, puts safety as top priority. Nobody steps into the raft till they have understood the rules, the fine lines in between the rules, and consent forms signed and handed over to his staff. Very ninja like discipline. Once everyone had understood the don’ts and do’s, life jacket, helmets, oars and a dozen rafts into water they go.
Kiulu River is a great river for beginners, making it enjoyable for the elderly and kids, who can join in this trip, making the activity very suitable for families who like travelling together. I watched a four-year-old boy, all suited and strapped to a life jacket, bravely getting into a raft with his parents, while I shrank behind a tree pretending to be invisible. A six/seven hour ride down the river, followed by a stomach-happy Kiulu cuisine lunch, was the key to the heart, Valentine told me, laughter dancing in his eyes. Of course, I know all about food and heart. I was happy digging into my lamb steak, dry and content 🙂 So, do not miss this experience!!
You can check them out at https://www.riverbug.asia/
MUST EXPERIENCE : KILAS WILDLIFE SAFARI RIVER CRUISE
Those who know me close, know I’m a die-hard romantic. Sabah ensured that it pulled all stops to play the heart card. Hence, this is why you must not miss going into the Kilas wetlands. Located 112kms from Kota Kinabalu city, the Kilas River is the abode of the dashing Proboscis Monkey, long tailed macaques, the rare silver languor, and other wildlife along the river bank.
Dignified, nonchalant, shy and very alpha (the males), Proboscis monkeys (Nasalis larvatus), nicknamed “Monyet Belanda” or “Dutchman,” (no offence to Dutchmen I know) are endangered mammals that are endemic to Borneo. Their key characteristics are the huge pendulous noses used to attract mates, big fat bellies, and their striking colour fur coats (for adults). Their tails are fascinating too, like a serpent’s flared hood permanently latched unto their backside. Proboscis monkeys live in organized harem groups consisting of a dominant male, and up to 24 females with their offspring. They have webbed feet and hands to help them outpace the crocodiles, one of their main predators, and they survive mainly on a diet of leaves, seeds, and unripe fruits, occasionally munching on insects as well. We were told they only eat unripe fruits as the sugars in ripe fruits ferment in their stomachs and cause fatal bloating. Point noted.
On the evening that we were on the river, the clans were out and about their usual business, unmindful of silly humans gawking at them through camera lenses. However, what absolutely blew my mind was the river boat night safari watching magical fireflies that turn the lush vegetation along the river into a Christmas wonderland, and a breath-taking sky full of stars humanly impossible to count. There were tears in many eyes, including mine. Such a precious Planet gifted to us. I will never ever forget this vision in my entire life.
Book your cruise here: https://www.amazingborneo.com/package/klias-wildlife-sunset-river-cruise-proboscis-monkey-fireflies
ROLLING THE RED CARPET TO WORLD TRAVELLERS
As the State of Sabah rolled out the red carpet to the media and trade professionals who flew into the State to attend the PATA ADVENTURE TRAVEL & MART 2020 Conference held at The Pacific Sutera Hotel, I had an opportunity to interact with the Minister Tourism, Federation of Malaysia over lunch, followed later with a conversation with the Deputy Chief Minister and Minister of Tourism, Culture and Environment, Sabah, Datuk Christina Liew over cocktails and dinner. Gentle, alert, erudite and intelligent, it always makes me happy when I meet women who take the lead to drive change and progress. Even more so, when progress is led for the greater good of a collective community that takes great pride in its multicultural ethnicity.
Excerpts of my interview with Deputy Chief Minister and Minister of Tourism, Culture and Environment, Sabah, Datuk Christina Liew.
Ethel: What makes Sabah a preferred international travel and leisure destination?
Minister of Tourism: Visitors enjoy Sabah for its array of touristic offerings. From the beaches, to nature, wildlife, dive activities and cultural experiences can all be accomplished in the State. It is easy to get around and language is also not an issue since most can converse in English.
E: What are the highlights initiated by Ministry of Tourism to spotlight Sabah to the travel industry?
MoT: This year we launched our new branding, Enchanting Sabah. Sabah has always been known as an eco-destination way before the term eco became popularized, and I believe we have achieved maturity in this sense. The conservation efforts in Sabah should be commended from having the Sepilok Orang Utan Rehabilitation Centre which has been in operation since 1964, Selingan Island Turtle Hatchery since 1977 and of course, in the recent years, the Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Center and soon to come, a Pangolin Sanctuary. Now it is time to position Sabah differently and angle these as part of our enchanting elements of Sabah.
E: How does the Ministry aim to woo business investors, and what are the support mechanisms on offer?
MoT: We are seeing more international hotel brands keen to be present in Sabah. The long standing beaches and coastlines have brought in brands such as the Shangri-La group and upcoming, the Alila Dalit Bay, part of the Hyatt group will open. Also part of Hyatt is the Centric brand which will open downtown, and this is probably much swayed by the opening of our new convention centre, the Sabah International Convention Centre.
E: Plans for the immediate future to support and promote tourism in and to the State
MoT: Being sensitive towards the current COVID-19, Sabah has had to divert some marketing plans to areas that are highly affected. However, promotion continues especially towards the domestic market who is in fact still able to travel within the country. STB is also amplifying digital presence as a mean to reach the consumers directly.
E: Your favourite spots in Sabah and why.
MoT: The wildlife river cruise at the Lower Kinabatangan off Sandakan is probably among my favourite spots in Sabah. It’s a nice serene feel to stay in one of the river lodges and enjoy the evening cruise to spot wildlife. Of course, the highlight would be to spot the Bornean Pygmy Elephant, but I have yet to see one in the wild. I was fortunate enough to have an Orang Utan come up to the boardwalk of the lodge I stayed at. It was quite a surreal and exciting encounter.
So, are you getting ready for your own personal Sabah encounter? I know I am. As I said earlier, no wild horses can keep this woman down once she’s made up her mind. Wings on her feet always. May you find yours too.
More on what to do in Malaysia, read here: http://etheldacosta.com/anda-mempunyai-hati-saya-malaysia-you-have-my-heart-malaysia/
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