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Sabah: Journey to the land below the wind

Legacy Phuket Gazette

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PHUKET: When I was a child, the word Borneo would conjure up images of colonial explorers in pith helmets slashing their way through wild jungle teeming with exotic plants, ferocious animals and roaming tribes of headhunters. As I grew older, my mental picture was expanded by David Attenborough’s wonderful documentaries, which transported me to this remote island in the darkest heart of exotic Asia, and always left me marveling at the incredible array of plant and animal life it supported.

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One of the four species of great apes, Orangutans are found throughout Borneo. Photo: Greg Hume
These early influences instilled in me a life-long wish to visit Borneo and recently my wish came true. As my plane took off from Kuala Lumpur, I felt a thrilling sense of anticipation and it wasn’t long before tantalizing thoughts of orangutans, elusive pygmy elephants, colorful hornbills, unexplored caves and virgin rainforest filled my mind.

In just two and a half hours, we began our descent into Kota Kinabalu, capital of the Malaysian state of Sabah and the main entry point for visitors to Borneo. Disembarking at the spotless and gleaming modern airport, I quickly jumped into an air conditioned taxi which took me to the sprawling grounds of the 384-acre Sutera Harbor Resort, the base for my forays into Sabah. Okay, I thought, as my romantic notions dissolved, so it’s not exactly the slow boat ride up silent mist-covered river to a bamboo hut in the jungle I was expecting, but it would have to do.

As it turns out, it did quite well indeed – this massive resort complex contains two 5-star hotels with almost 1,000 rooms, a 27-hole golf course and country club, a 104-berth marina, the luxurious Mandara Spa, four world-class restaurants – all set among lush tropical gardens and bordered by calm blue ocean.

I had been invited to Sabah by Tourism Malaysia to attend Tadua Kamataan; traditionally a harvest festival held by the Kadazan-Dusun people of northern Borneo to appease and respect the spirit of the rice paddy. Nowadays, the festival has become a wider celebration of the cultural diversity of Sabah, where tourists and locals alike can see traditional dances and costumes, music performances, handicrafts, local cuisines and the ever-popular beauty pageants.

But before attending the official celebrations, we were scheduled to check out some of the many attractions in and around Kota Kinabalu that make Sabah a such an fascinating destination. After a restful night at the hotel and a sumptuous buffet breakfast, our group met in the lobby to be greeted by our guide George. A Sabahan. A man of Indian descent, George turned out to be a fountain of knowledge about the history, culture and geography of the region, and as we soon found out, never short of a joke either. Soon we were off on a bus to the Mari Mari Cultural Village, tucked away in the tropical jungle covered hills that surround the city.

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Nepenthes Rajah is the largest pitcher plant.
At first, I was weary that this cultural village might turn out to be a “Disney-fied” tourist trap, but I was pleasantly surprised. The village consists of five longhouses faithfully reproduced by descendants of various tribes in the region. Our guide for the village, along with the other guides who demonstrated traditional skills, dances and costumes, descended from the cultures represented at the village. This lent an authenticity to the tour and our guide was indeed knowledgeable about traditional practices and beliefs and more than happy to answer follow up questions from a curious journalist. The interactive displays of traditional skills included cooking, henna tattooing, cloth and rope making, bamboo fire-starting, rice wine production and blow pipe hunting demonstrations.

But, perhaps the most astonishing part of the tour was the longhouse of the Murut – one of the last tribes to give up their headhunting practices. Under the roof of the 15-meter long bamboo house, is a platform set in the center of the floor, supported by thick, yet flexible tree branches, it is used as a sort of trampoline. In former times, after returning from a raid, the heads of their enemies would be hung from the roof and the victorious warriors would use the the platform to bounce and leap to snatch their “prize” from the rafters. The tour was concluded with a lively musical performance, where dancers dressed in very colorful traditional clothing demonstrated the “bamboo dance”. Requiring incredible skill, dancers hop and weave between long shafts of bamboo, which are slid to and fro on the floor and clapped together to create a percussive rhythm for the dance. The tour was a fascinating introduction to the skilled workmanship and complex culture and of Borneo’s original inhabitants and I left wanting to learn more about them.

The following day we hopped on a speedboat to explore the Tunku Abdul Rahman Marine Park, comprised of a cluster of islands 20 minutes from Kota Kinabalu. The five islands of the park are gleaming emeralds dotting the shallow turquoise water, ringed with white sandy beaches and verdant coral gardens. The denizens of these pristine waters include scorpion fish, blue-spotted rays, cuttlefish, mantis shrimps, the occasional green or hawksbill turtle and between November and February, whale sharks can also be spotted.

Our first stop was Manukan island, where some of our group chose to relax on the beach while others donned snorkels and dived into the water in search of marine life. For scuba enthusiasts, there are countless dive companies offering a range of dive experiences, giving you the chance to explore the abundant coral reefs and exotic marine creatures that inhabit the serenely beautiful waters.

After our morning on the beach, it was off to nearby Sapi island for lunch; a veritable smörgåsbord of fresh crab, calamari, fish, prawns and a choice of many local noodle and rice dishes. All this was finished off with a dessert of Malaysian cakes, sweet sticky rice and fresh tropical fruits. After lunch I went exploring and came across a colossal monitor lizard, grazing for food at a leisurely pace. This behemoth was an astonishing two meters long, but apparently quite docile and didn’t seem to be bothered at all by having his photograph taken.

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The unusual probiscus monkey.
After our peaceful morning at the beach it was time to head back to Kota Kinabalu to attend the official Tadua Kamataan celebrations. As we filled into the large auditorium, we could see that we would be in for quite a show, as dozens of performers in colorful traditional dress lined the walls to welcome attendees. After everyone was seated the performances began, some 34 of Sabah’s distinct tribal cultures were represented in a medley of traditional song and dance performances, each one more dazzling then the last. The sheer variety of costume, music and dance styles made it obvious why Sabahan’s pride themselves on preserving and sharing the rich cultural heritage. After the show, many guests posed for photos with the charming ladies who

— Mark Knowles

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Archiving articles from the Phuket Gazette circa 1998 - 2017. View the Phuket Gazette online archive and Digital Gazette PDF Prints.

Top 10

Top 10 things that have changed in Thailand during the Covid-era

The Thaiger

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Top 10 things that have changed in Thailand during the Covid-era | The Thaiger

Things have changed. In some cases they’ve changed a lot and may never be the same again. Many people are suffering as a result of the impacts of lockdowns and the border closures. Entire industries, like aviation and entertainment, have been profoundly affected. Some people are being forced to re-invent their lives as a result. Fears over Covid-19 are causing people to change their habits and re-evaluate their lives. Here are some of the main things we believe have changed since January this year.

Face Masks

The now ever-present face mask will be with us for a long time. In Asia, it was never uncommon to see people wearing face masks for traffic, air pollution, fears of disease or just as a fashion statement.

In the Covid-era, mask wearing will now just become part of what we wear when in public spaces. When we leave home we’ll check if we have our keys, our wallet AND our face mask. Even when the government relaxes the current laws about the wearing of face masks, most people, we predict, will continue to wear them anyway, at least in the medium to long term.

Taking Your Temperature

It’s everywhere, it doesn’t appear to be very effective or reliable, but it’s not uncommon to have your temperature taken by someone pointing an infra-red thermometer at your head numerous times a day. The only people that appear to have benefitted from these temperature checks are the manufacturers of infra-red temperature check machines. But in the Covid-era they remain an ever-present reassurance that at least businesses are trying and want to be seen as contributing to the broader public health safety.

Flying in the Covid-era

While the domestic carriers are all flying again, they’re doing it tough. Planes are sometimes half-empty and there’s certainly less choice of times and destinations, compared to before the Covid travel restrictions set in.

But it hasn’t stopped the budget airlines from making the situation extremely competitive with the fares still very low. The aviation industry will certainly re-emerge with fewer airlines as some will be unable to weather the Covid storm. Even the Thai government’s announcement of soft-loans to airlines, with 2% interest, will do little to help and simply kicks the bankruptcy can down the road a few more months.

Confidence

Many business had to close during the lockdown. Some have re-opened. Others tried to re-open but have since closed again. Some are struggling along as best they can, tweaking their business models to cope. But people, through fear or simply being unable to afford it, are going out less and spending less. People are rediscovering the values of close communities, family or the joys of Netflix and at-home entertainment.

The impacts of recessions across the region will have long-lasting, profound effects on consumer confidence and behaviour. People’s renewed confidence will lag behind any eventual economic recoveries.

Eating Out

There’s been few clear winners in all this Covid mess. But delivery companies are one of them and the local motorcycle delivery services in particular. Grab Food and Food Panda are just two examples of the new way we eat and many restaurants are changing their table service model, and even their take away services, to suit the new normal of food-on-demand. Some restaurants have even closed their doors forever and turned into virtual restaurants, delivering food exclusively through the convenience of app ordering and delivery.

Even as the situation has eased to a large degree in Thailand where a lot of daily living is back to ‘normal’, people simply aren’t going out as much, have pivoted to the delivery services for some shopping and eating, and finding new ways of running their lives, closer to home and with less household outlay.

The Travel Industry

Apart from the obvious lack of international tourism, there’s no doubt we’re simply going to be travelling less in the short to medium term. Many people will be unable to afford the long holidays of the pastand may travel less, or not at all. For business we’ve found efficient ways to keep in contact without meeting face to face. Had anyone ever heard of “zoom’ video conferencing software before Covid?

For the communities that relied on tourism, the changes in their situation has been profound. Businesses are having to reinvent their model to cater for domestic tourism or simply find other ways to diversify their business plan, or just wait out the situation. That wait will eventually kill off a large chunk of local and foreign businesses.

The Economy

Thailand is in recession. So is everywhere else, and the situation, sadly, is likely to get worse as the Covid-era stretches out beyond 2020 and restrictions hold back investment. Some previously good businesses are now out of business. Businesses that were struggling before have been proven unsustainable and closed, probably never to re-open.

Globally, the government stimulus poured into local economies has caused artificial spikes in some stock markets. All this debt will need to be repaid at some stage. In other countries, where the government paid salaries for companies that were forced to close up or sack staff, are finding it hard to ween people off the grants and get them back to work.

In Thailand the economy has been hit hard, particularly in the export , tourism and hospitality industries. The downstream effects of all the staff losing their work, will have an effect on the local economy for many years.

Thailand, reliant on international tourism, has found itself exposed once the borders were closed. As the situation extends way past the ‘few months’ people were expecting, the full impact is starting to hit hard, particularly in places like Pattaya, Phuket and Chiang Mai. Their reliance on tourism has exposed their economies and left thousands wondering what else they can do to sustain themselves.

Whilst Thailand has recovered quickly from past political unrest, tsunamis and past pandemic threats, this time there will be a much longer path to recovery and will force many businesses to re-evaluate their businesses.

Work from home

Both Thailand’s commercial property market and businesses that have previously had centralised offices, have seen a big shift in behaviour. Driven by the need to work from home during the lockdown in April and May, many businesses magically discovered that they can actually function perfectly well with their employees working from home. The flow-on effects of all this is reducing traffic on the roads, lighter peak traffic loads, flexible hours and, of course, larger businesses wondering why they’ve been renting all this expensive commercial building space. Freelance work is a boom industry as company’s work forces move online instead of in-office.

The red light industries

The reality has certainly hit home for tens of thousands of Thailand’s sex workers. Although not officially recognised in Thailand, prostitution has been a huge local underground (and not-so-underground) industry in the past, creating its own micro-economy involving locals and international tourists.

Without official government acknowledgment, the jobs of Thai sex workers are not recognised and their salaries vanish once the bars and borders close. No rights, no unemployment pay. The number of prostitutes in Thailand is upwards of 100,000, and these workers have had to head home, many back to the northern and northeast provinces. Thailand’s red light districts were locked down for almost 3 months and bars and clubs, and the bar girls and boys, have been struggling ever since.

The pause button

There are few people that have not been profoundly affected by the impact of the coronavirus. Whilst some have been confronted directly with health issues, and even the deaths caused by Covid-19, of friends or relatives, others have had to put their lives and businesses on hold.

People have been unable to travel, business doors have been closed, many people have lost their job and thousands of events have had to be cancelled or postponed.

Even though many parts of the economy are being to grind back into action, there will be a lingering hang-over for just about everyone as they re-orient their lives to suit the new situation. In some cases, the pause button may have to be hit again, as the world continues to battle Covid-19, and find new ways to live with it.

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Thailand

Things that have changed in Thailand in the Covid Era | Top 10 | VIDEO

The Thaiger

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Things that have changed in Thailand in the Covid Era | Top 10 | VIDEO | The Thaiger

Top 10 things that have changed in Thailand during the Covid-era

Things have changed. In some cases they’ve changed a lot and may never be the same again. Many people are suffering as a result of the impacts of lockdowns and the border closures. Some people are being forced to re-invent their lives as a result. Here are some of the main things we believe have changed since January this year.

Face Masks

The now every-present face mask is now with us for a long time. In Asia, it was never uncommon to see people wearing face masks, for traffic, air pollution, fears of disease or just to a fashion statement.

In the Covid-era, mask wearing will now just become a normal thing we wear when in public spaces. Even when the government relaxes the actual laws about the wearing of face masks, most people, we predict, will continue to wear them anyway.

Taking Your Temperature

It’s everywhere, it doesn’t appear to be very effective or reliable, but it’s not uncommon to have your temperature taken by someone pointing a gun-thing at your head, numerous times a day. The only people to have benefitted from these temperature checks are the manufacturers of infra-red temperature check machines.

Flying in the Covid-era

While the domestic carriers are all flying again, they’re doing it tough. Planes are sometimes half-empty and there’s certainly less choice of times and destinations, compared to before the Covid travel restrictions set in.

But it hasn’t stopped the budget airlines from making the situation extremely competitive with the fares still very low. The aviation industry will certainly re-emerge with fewer airlines as some will be unable to weather the Covid storm.

Confidence

Many business had to close during the lockdown. Some have re-opened, some tried to re-open but have since closed again, and some are struggling along as best they can. But people, through fear or simply being unable to afford it, are going out and spending less. The impacts of recessions across the reason will have long-lasting, profound effects on consumer confidence.

Eating Out

There’s been few clear winners in all this Covid mess. Delivery companies are just one of them, and the local motorcade delivery services in particular. Grab Food and Food Panda are just two examples of the new way we eat and many restaurants are changing their table service model, and even their take away services, to suit the new normal of food on demand. Some restaurants have even closed their doors forever and turned into virtual restaurants, delivering food exclusively through the convenience of app ordering and delivery.

The Travel Industry

Apart from the obvious lack of international tourism, there’s no doubt we’re simply going to be travelling less in the short to medium term. Many people will be unable to afford the long holidays of the pastand may travel less, or not at all.

For the communities that relied on tourism, the changes in their situation has been profound. Businesses are having to reinvent their model to cater for domestic tourism or simply find other ways to diversify their business plan, or just wait out the situation.

The Economy

Thailand is in recession. So is everywhere else, and the situation, sadly, is likely to get worse as the Covid-era stretches out and restrictions hold back investment. Some previously good businesses are now out of business. Businesses that were struggling before have been proven unsustainable.

Globally, the government stimulus poured into local economies has caused artificial spikes in some stock markets. In other countries, where the government paid salaries for companies that were forced to close up or sack staff, are finding it hard to ween people off the grants and get them back to work.

In Thailand the economy has been hit hard, particularly in the export , tourism and hospitality industries. The downstream effects of all the staff losing their work, will have an effect on the local economy for many years.

Shell shock

Thailand, reliant on international tourism, has found itself exposed once the borders were closed. As the situation extends way past the ‘few months’ people were expecting, the full impact is starting to hit hard, particularly in places like Pattaya, Phuket and Chiang Mai. Their reliance on tourism has exposed their economies and left thousands wondering what else they can do to sustain themselves.

Whilst Thailand has recovered quickly from past political unrest, tsunamis and past pandemic threats, this time there will be a much longer path to recovery and will force many businesses to re-evaluate their businesses.

The red light industries

The reality has certainly hit home for tens of thousands of Thailand’s sex workers. Although not officially recognised in Thailand, prostitution has been a huge local industry in the past, creating an enormous underground market for locals and international tourists as well.

Without official government acknowledgment, their jobs are not recognised and their salaries vanish once the bars and borders close. No rights, no unemployment pay. The number of prostitutes in Thailand could be upwards of 100,000, and these workers have had to head home, many back to the northern and north east provinces. Thailand’s red light districts were locked down for almost 3 months and bars and clubs, and the bar girls and boys, have been struggling ever since.

The pause button

There are few people that have not been profoundly affected by the impact of the coronavirus. Whilst some have been confronted directly with health issues, and even the deaths caused by Covid-19, of friends or relatives, others have had to put their lives and businesses on hold.

People have been unable to travel, business doors have been closed, many people have lost their job and thousands of events have had to be cancelled or postponed.

Even though many parts of the economy are being to grind back into action, there will be a lingering hang-over for just about everyone as they re-orient their lives to suit the new situation.

In some cases, the pause button may have to be hit again, as the world continues to battle Covid-19, and find new ways to live with it.

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Never miss out on future posts by following The Thaiger.
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Tourism

Riding and renting a motorbike in Thailand | Top 10 tips | VIDEO

The Thaiger

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Riding and renting a motorbike in Thailand | Top 10 tips | VIDEO | The Thaiger

Motorbikes and scooters are the most popular mode of transport in Thailand, and most of south east Asia. In many cases, they’re the ‘engine’ for the local economies. Most of them just go and go and go, they’re astonishingly reliable. Getting around on a motorbike is easy enough and will get you to your destination faster, whilst the cars and trucks are plodding along in the traffic.

But riding a motorbike in Thailand can also be very dangerous. If you stick to the common sense basics – ride within the speed limits, wear a bike helmet, obey the traffic rules and don’t drink and drive – it remains a perfectly reliable way to get around.

Here’s our Top Ten tips to make your journey on the motorbike safer, and, more comfortable.

Number 1. Wear appropriate clothes. Falling off a motorbike without anything covering your knees or elbows, is going to be painful enough – having at least some fabric between you and the road is going to reduce the painful grazes a bit. Long pants and a long shirt are a good start. Always wear shoes for the same reason. And a motorbike helmet as well – it’s the law and it could save your life.

Number 2. Keep your bike in good condition. As hardy and reliable as the modern motorbikes are, they will run better and for longer if you keep up the service schedule, and change the oil around once a month. Apart from changing the engine oil, keep an eye on the tyres as the road surfaces in much of Thailand, plus the heat and humidity, will wear down your tread quickly. Your brakes will also need checking. Then there’s the lights at the front and back, which are your best way to inform other driver’s what you’re doing in the traffic. Indicators may not be used much by the locals, but YOU should.

Number 3. Make sure you have a proper license. Your car license in your home country isn’t legal in Thailand to ride a motorbike. Your International Drivers License for cars, issued in your home country isn’t going to cut it either. Legally, the only document that will satisfy the Thai legal system, officially, is a Thai motorcycle license. Keep this in mind if you want to rent a motorbike! If you live in Thailand you simply must get a proper motorbike drivers license of you want to ride a motorbike here. And whilst we’re talking about a Thai Motorbike License, we’re talking about the ones you get from the Land Transport Offices, not along Khao San road for 500 baht!

Number 4. Check your travel and health insurance. Every week The Thaiger hears from tourists stuck in a Thai hospital with mounting hospital bills and an insurance company that won’t pay out because they didn’t have a proper drivers license. Or no insurance at all. And even if you have travel or health insurance, check the fine print because most insurance contracts don’t include driving on motorbikes in Thailand.

Number 5. Driving is different in Thailand. Many of the rules are the same as countries that also drive on the left-hand side of the road. But it is a totally different vibe. Apart from the lunatics that drive too fast, drink-drive or ghost ride…. That’s driving against the flow of traffic on the wrong side of the road…. there’s just a different attitude to driving. It’s a bit like swimming with a school of fish… if you just go-with-the-flow, and keep in the stream of traffic, you’ll generally do well. Be extra careful and mindful if you’re not used to the flow of Thai traffic. Number

Number 6. Green lights mean GO. Red lights also mean GO…. sometimes. You’ll see what we mean. Don’t even think about trying it. You’ll either end up fined, or dead.

Number 7. Have a practice. If you’re either new to driving a motorbike or new to driving a motorbike in Thailand don’t thrust yourself into a busy stretch of road immediately. Try something a little calmer and slower to get a feel of the subtle differences in Thai traffic movement. You’re sharing the road with trucks, cars, buses and passenger vans.

You’re meant to stay on the left hand side and you’d be well advised to do so, despite the behaviour of some Thai motorbike drivers that want to mix it with the ‘big boys’. Get some confidence with your motorbike and way it handles, and moving in and around traffic on a quiet road before you tackle the main roads.

Number 8. There’s pot holes, then there’s POT HOLES. The roads around Thailand have really improved in the past decade but you’ll still find pot holes in places there wasn’t one the day before. If you want a really good reason for giving plenty of distance between you and the car in front, it’s to see the pot hole before you end up IN it. Whilst car tyres might glide over these holes in the road, your motorbike is likely to come to an abrupt halt, with you continuing over the front of the handlebars – something to do with Newton’s first law of motion.

Number 9. If you’re not sure, don’t. Never ridden a motorbike? Didn’t ride a motorbike in your own country? There’s two good reasons not to try it for your first time in Thailand.

It can be a bit of a challenge for even experienced motorbike drivers, well different anyway. There’s plenty of other ways to get around and if you want THAT selfie for your Facebook page there’s thousands of bikes parked by the side of the road where you can get a photo. Just because your friends did it when they travelled to Thailand doesn’t mean you have to.

Number 10. Police will often arbitrate on the spot at an accident. If you are in the wrong and damaged someone or someone else’s bike you’re probably going to have to pay up. Now, there’s the ‘official’ way to sort things out in these case and the ‘unofficial’.

The policemen will get to the scene soon enough and, often, decide there and then who was at fault. They’ll often negotiate how much should be paid as well. The urban myth is that Thai police always side with the the locals – that’s not the case although, if you are indeed in the wrong then you’re IN THE WRONG!

If you are concerned that you’re being rolled by the locals in sorting out a simple motorbike accident then call the Tourist Police or your consulate immediately. DON’T agree to pay any money to anyone until you’ve spoken to at least the Tourist Police.
Getting into an argument with the local police will almost certainly guarantee you’ll come off second best. Demanding that you speak to the police chief, etc, will also usually end up in the situation not going well in your favour. Be patient and don’t lose your cool. You are in a foreign country, you’re a guest and they do things differently – end of sentence.

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