Sunday, June 22, 2008

Top 3 Places to Visit in Malaysia for Nature Getaways

Finding a hard time deciding where to go for your next adventure? For those of you looking for a holiday with a challenge (and some education) in Malaysia, then check up on these top three places in both West and East (Sabah and Sarawak) Malaysia:

1. Sabah, Borneo Island, East Malaysia - Now where does one start? Sabah is rich in natural flora and fauna, both terrestrial and also marine. It has South East Asia's highest peak, Mt. Kinabalu, and also one of the world's most unique rainforest basin, the Maliau Basin in Danum Valley. One can always start with Kota Kinabalu, the capital of the state. Kota Kinabalu is the largest city in East Malaysia. It's a pretty popular resort destination due to its proximity to tropical islands, lush rainforests and Mt. Kinabalu.

2. Sarawak, Borneo Island, East Malaysia - For Sarawak, do not miss the opportunity to visit the unique caves at Mulu, north of Sarawak. The Gunung Mulu National Park is situated close to the southern border of Brunei with Malaysia, about 100km east-southeast of the town of Miri. The Park has a number of world record-breaking caves such as the Sarawak Chamber - largest cave chamber in the world, Deer Cave - largest cave passage and the Clearwater Cave - longest cave in Southeast Asia. There are at least 300km more of explored caves, which provides a spectacular sight.

3. Pulau Perhentian (Perhentian Islands), West Malaysia - Glittering gems off the East Coast, the Perhentian Islands are a small group of captivating coral-fringed islands off the coast of northeastern Malaysia in the state of Terengganu. The Islands are one of the most beautiful places on the earth, but unexplored by mass tourism yet. Activities on the islands are limited to scuba diving, snorkeling and sunbathing. The islands are ideal for peaceful vacations.

I've only been to some of the places in Sabah and also Sarawak, but will soon be adding more to my portfolio of adventure holidays!

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Surfing in a Nissan Frontier at Nyalau, Similajau, Sarawak

I had a chance to drive through 2.5 feet of water during the Similajau/Nyalau field trip this time. Early Monday morning 9th June, it rained torrentially and gave quite a volume of water for the Nyalau villages to absorb, especially Ulu Nyalau. I didn’t think the drainage system could handle such sudden, large volumes of water, added to the fact that it was the occurrence of king tide levels at the time. On one of our daily journeys in and out of the village roads, at the lowest point just before reaching Ulu Nyalau village, the stretch of road is very low that it was inundated for up to 2.5 feet. Flood has arrived.

Earlier we have been using Kuala Nyalau as our base camp but when this flood occurred, Dr. Lee decided we go back to Bintulu and take our boat from somewhere along the Similajau River, upstream of the flood areas. On a couple of occasions I had to drive through water in the Nissan Frontier we hired, which was an interesting experience.

The photos here show how high the water level was at the time. These photos were taken at about 5.00pm, and Dr. Andrew Alek was driving at the time.

While driving through, the water actually reached up to the headlights and covered it entirely; this we only realized in the most undesired of ways when we had to drive through the flooded road when it was already dark. And I was at the helm. That was scary.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Diving off the Coast of Similajau, Bintulu, Sarawak - Part 1

I was on a field trip with Dr. Lee Nyanti of UNIMAS and his team on 7th – 11th June 2008. He was going to do some dives off the coast of Similajau to do coral reef surveys plus marine fauna surveys and sampling. Not quite my area of expertise but being in the outdoors never ceased to thrill the adventurous side of me.

To get to the diving spots, we had to first get to Similajau coast. We hired a boat from one of the local fisherman (a friendly chap named Effendi and his crew Hisham) at Kuala Nyalau village, a fishing village located at the estuary of Nyalau River, 70km from Bintulu town. Kuala Nyalau is one of three Kedayan villages located along the Nyalau River, which drains into the South China Sea.

The UNIMAS team, led by Dr. Lee Nyanti, comprised Dr. Lim Po-Teen - a plankton specialist, Dr. Andrew Alek Tuen – a terrestrial flora and fauna specialist, Jongkar Grinang – aquatic and macrobenthic specialist, and technical assistant Amin Mangi. On Sunday 8th June, we took the boat out for as far 1 km parallel to the coastline, and Dr. Lee selected 4 dive spots of about 2-3 km apart, up to the mouth of Similajau River.

Weather was fine and sunny. Some of the photos I took are shown here.

Dr. Lim managed to collect one lobster species at one of the dive spots (exact location is kept confidential) and according to these guys, the lobster is a juvenile. Imagine how big a fully grown one could be.

Friday, June 13, 2008

Sematan Palm Beach Resort, Sematan, Sarawak

My family and I spent a good four days and three nights at Sematan, southwest of Sarawak on 30th May - 2nd June 2008. Sematan is a small fishing town just over an hour's drive from Kuching City. We stayed over at a nice, cosy motel sort of resort called the Sematan Palm Beach Resort. You practically drive up all the way to your doorstep. Well, maybe up to 10 feet from your doorstep, depending on which type of accommodation you're taking up. Here are some photos during our four-day stay there.

For the first two nights we took up the terrace twin room (for 2 pax) which costed RM 180 per night for weekends and public holidays, and RM 153 per night for weekdays. The last night, we stayed at the Quadruplex Chalet, which had the same rate. Basically there are four types of accomodation namely:

Detached Chalet for 4 pax
Quadruplex Chalet for 2 pax
Terrace Twin for 2 pax
Terrace Family for 6 pax

The Terrace Twin room is very cosy, ideal for quiet times of relaxation. There is hardly any of the typical hotel room gadgetry around, e.g. a phone, a fridge, drawers and stuff you never really use. There is hot water available, a small 15" TV (good enough for me) and the very comfortable bed. Plus, for those absolute city-dwelling people, yes, there is air-conditioning. Which I find to be not so necessary. But wife and kid loved it so what to do.

The rates I paid for included breakfast and dinner, which I thought was a pretty good bargain. Food is served buffet-style, and mostly a mixture of both eastern and western cruisine. Food is also very freshly-prepared, and I particularly liked the salad bar they had one evening.

There are none of those hotel-type entertainments around, e.g. karaoke bar, or any other sort of bar with alcoholic drinks, swimming pool, jacuzzi, gym, etc. There is just plenty of peace and time for a family (or individual) to enjoy relaxation.

I spent most of my time at the beach with my wife and son. We would be up by 8am, have a quick breakfast and would be hitting the gentle mornig waves by 9.30am. Yup. Did that four days in a row. Plus the late afternoon session at about 5.30pm when it's not so hot. My son Nathan loved the warm waters and getting his chunky body all immersed in the sea. The beach is long, almost flat and has extremely cealn water, to my great surprise. I'm so used to beaches with myriads of wood debris and plastics floating around as you trod on the sand.

I would strongly recommend this place for those of you looking for a good, cheap and peaceful getaway from the City, which is not too far from Kuching.

For more info on the chalets and rates, you may also check this website.

If you want to book, the contact numbers are:

Sematan Palm Beach Resort
Tel: +6082 712388, 711112, 711128

Have a great time at Sematan!