A jungle village of contrasts

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iol travel feb 14 Sabah

AFP

A boat passing by during sunset in Kota Kinabalu, Malaysia's Sabah state.

Long Pasia, Malaysia - In the remote jungle villages of Sabah there is a long tradition of chasing deer and wild boar with spears.

“Our grandfathers used to go hunting with such implements and some of us still do, others take a gun instead,” says Semuel Salutan, 50, from Long Pasia.

Vacationers can even opt to stay with Semuel's family of seven in simply-furnished rooms perched on wooden stilts above squawking chickens.

The state of Sabah is tucked away in the far north corner of Borneo island, a landmass shared by Malaysia, Indonesia and the sultanate of Brunei. The inhabitants are a tiny group of Christians, the Lundayeh, who do not ascribe to the state religion in Malaysia, Islam.

Tourists in Long Pasia can go fishing and hike through woodlands to waterfalls and lakes. They can observe exotic birds and butterflies or learn about the ways and customs of the locals.

The village in Sipitang lies in Sabah's southwest. Coming across one of the rare, critically endangered Sabah rhinoceros here though is as unlikely as winning a major lottery prize.

The creature, which is also the world's smallest rhino, stands 1.3 metres tall from hoof to shoulder. Scientists from Germany and Malaysia are working to save the impressive mammal species from extinction.

An offroad car takes seven hours to cover the 150 kilometres between Long Pasia and the capital Kota Kinabalu. For most of the way the surface is rutted sand and gravel.

Kota Kinabalu is a place of contrasts. At the pier in the centre of town freighters lie at anchor with barges moored close by.

Men and women dash between the boats and the market stalls carrying baskets and sacks.

“Private boat to the islands,” a barker yells at the passing tourists.

A cheaper way of getting across is to take one of the numerous ferries which set off more or less every few minutes for the nearby territory. Travelling with one of these is certainly more authentic.

Fresh fish does not have far to go in order to land in the shopping malls, hotels and pier restaurants, with their cosmopolitan Korean, Italian or even Irish interiors.

There is wine on sale and beer from the keg, a rarity in Malaysia where alcohol as well as pork are usually off the menu for religious reasons.

A cheap can of beer can be had at the local Chinese restaurant where men are huddled over playing cards and tucking into fried noodles.

One must-do is a trip to Kinabalu National Park with Mount Kinabalu soaring 4,095 metres aloft.

Its forest is teeming with splendid parrots and orchids and the area is a Unesco World Heritage site.

Unusual creatures can be found hereabouts, such as slimy, 30-centimetre-long worms and the king-sized blooms of the Rafflesia arnoldii plant. These are not very pretty to look at but they are the largest individual blooming flowers on earth.

Sabah is not overcrowded with visitors and travellers are sure to find their own place in the sun along more than 1,400 kilometres of coastline.

On the other hand, it can get busy at the Sepilok Orang Utan Rehabilitation Centre near Sandakan in the east when feeding time comes around and the primates pose in the trees to the whirr of cameras.

Naturally, the underwater panorama around the island represents a bonanza for fans of diving and snorkelling, especially near Semporna.

Unforgettable moments include encounters with whales and rare hawksbill sea turtles. - Sapa-dpa

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