In these days of pollution, traffic jams and ugly urban sprawls, it’s little wonder that many corporate groups are looking for a more natural, environmentally-friendly setting for their events.
For many, Sabah and Sarawak on the island of Borneo, bring to mind images of lush, untamed wilderness. The largest and second largest Malaysian states, they constitute the biggest swathe of pristine, undisturbed greens in Southeast Asia.
“Both destinations are uniquely different. In fact, these two states complement each other. Sabah is well known for its natural history and exotic wildlife, while Sarawak is well known for the Iban longhouse experiences and overall riverine adventures,” says Madeline Regis, managing director of Borneo Passages.
The number of “green” and adventure travellers has gone up every year with the rise of ecotourism (Sabah’s visitor arrival is at 1.7 million in the last nine months, up by 14 percent as compared to the same period last year, while Sarawak is tracking well for its target of over 3 million tourists this year), but more than that, Sabah and Sarawak have also come under the radar of meeting planners and incentive travel organisers who are always on the look out for new and appealing venues for their next corporate out-of-town events.
Sabah and Sarawak promote themselves under the umbrella of “Malaysian Borneo”, with its international appeal hinging largely on being exotic, mystical, mysterious and unexplored.
Jill Henry, chief executive officer of the Sarawak Convention Bureau, notes that group sizes for meeting packages in Sarawak are smaller compared to its neighbour.
“There is less commercialised tourism development in Sarawak as access into some of the more remote area requires river or light aircraft transportation Where else in the world can you be conferencing in the morning and watching the orang-utans in their natural habitat in the afternoon, exploring the wilderness on a mountain hike, tasting exotic food from market stalls, pampering one’s self in a high-end jungle spa or sunning on the beach? In Sarawak, of course,” she adds.
Regis echoes the same sentiment that opportunities to combine serious business with nature tripping and an interaction with ethnic culture (both Sabah and Sarawak are home to nearly 30 ethnic groups) are Sabah’s ultimate attraction. And these elements are incorporated in gatherings, whether they are done indoors or outdoors.
“The offshore islands for a day visit or an evening theme dinner are most popular with our clients. Alternatively, a folklore performance and dinner in local village is very much sought after,” says Regis.
Nature is inescapable in Sabah and Sarawak but the states also possess all the modern comforts. The capital of Sarawak, Kuching, with its ubiquitous cat-theme (”kuching“ is the Malay word for the animal), is a picturesque city with varied dining choices. Kota Kinabalu in Sabah has great waterside resorts and, aside from offering land-based options, for meetings or teambuilding, can be a great base to arrange boat trips, with sumptuous native lunch on neighbouring islands, or other watersports activities.
However, what Sabah and Sarawak possess in abundance is the opportunity to escape from the grinding daily office routine and urban pressures.
Groups that are looking to shake off the corporate cobwebs and gulp in clean air in a fresh and healthy environment will not be disappointed. For those organisers seeking an events programme that reconnects with nature, East Malaysia offers some ideal and exciting options.
Malaysia Airlines (MAS) runs daily flights to Kota Kinabalu in Sabah and Kuching in Sarawak via Kuala Lumpur. MAS and five other international carriers are also offering direct flights to Sabah. Visitors can fly straight through Kota Kinabalu International Airport from Bangkok, Cebu, Guangzhou, Hong Kong, Manila, Seoul, Singapore, Taipei and Tokyo among others. Kuching International Airport, on the other hand, can be reached via other connecting flights from Singapore, Brunei Darussalam and Kota Kinabalu. With the Pan-Borneo Highway offering a convenient road network, overland journey by bus or car is easy to arrange between Kota Kinabalu, Kuching and Bandar Seri Begawan in Brunei Darussalam.
Sabah and Sarawak are blessed with warm tropical weather, which ranges between 21?C and 32?C.
English is widely used, and the national language Bahasa Malaysia or Malay is spoken everywhere alongside local tribal dialects. Mandarin and some Chinese dialects are also spoken in the big towns and cities by ethnic Chinese.
Citizens of ASEAN countries can enter both destinations visa-free for stays of less than a month. Visa on arrival is available for residents of most countries at Kota Kinabalu International Airport and Kuching International Airport for stays of up to 30 days. See www.imi.gov.my for the latest regulations.
BORNEO PASSAGES SDN BHD
Contact: Madeline Regis
BORNEO ECO TOURS SDN BHD
Contact: Albert Teo
CAT CITY HOLIDAYS
Contact: Mok Venia
SERIDAN MULU TOURS and TRAVEL
Contact: James Wan
MRS MANAGEMENT SDN BHD
Contact: Kristine Liew
ASIAN OVERLAND SERVICES
Contact: Anthony Wong
The Must Sees
Kinabalu National Park
Scaling the heights of Mount Kinabalu is almost obligatory for first-time visitors to Sabah. At 4,085m and still growing at 5mm a year, it is the tallest peak between Papua New Guinea and the Himalayas. The youngest non-volcanic mountain in the world is the centrepiece of the sprawling 754sqkm Kinabalu National Park, a habitat to thousands of plants and animals. Declared Malaysia’s first World Heritage Site in 2000, the park comprises cloud-covered forest where orchid, pitcher plants and rhododendrons bloom and a surreal world of granite peaks and steep cliffs.
Just 43km from the Park and on the eastern boundary is Poring Hot Springs. Here your group can enjoy an invigorating soak at the open-air or enclosed tubs filled with hot sulphur water from a natural spring. A walkway takes you through the rainforest canopy for a bird’s eye view of life at the top of towering dipterocarp trees.
For the hardy, rugged group you can even stay overnight within the park with a choice of chalets, lodges, villas, cabins, and a hostel for 224 people.
Sepilok Orang Utan Sanctuary
A 40-minute flight from Kota Kinabalu takes you to Sandakan – to the lush 4,300-hectare Kabili-Sephe Sepilok Forest Reserve set aside in 1964 to protect orphaned baby orang-utans. A great way to watch the orang-utan up close in their natural habitat, a boardwalk leads to a viewing gallery and feeding platform where the apes are fed milk and bananas twice a day by rangers. Feeding time also attracts long-tailed macaques to the area.
Visitors are restricted to walkways. Refrain from touching these gentle creatures as the more mischievous ones may try to grab your camera or hat, in which case you should call for a ranger as trying to wrestle with a 200-pound ape may not be a good idea.
Bako National Park
Bako National Park has a rich ecosystem teeming with mangroves and kerangas forests. It is ideal for day trips as it lies a mere 37km north of Kuching and is one of the best places in Sarawak to see the proboscis monkey. From Kampung Bako, visitors have to take a 25- to 30-minute ferry ride along the Bako River. Small bays, steep cliffs and sandy beaches make Bako’s coastline a delight. The half-hour trek to Telok Pandan, which ascends the verdant hills overlooking Telok Assam, lets visitors come within touching distance of carnivorous pitcher plants, and leads them to a fascinating view of a secluded bay below the famous sea stack. A 10-minute descent through cliff vegetation brings you to a beach located within the park.
Niah Caves National Park
Near the coast between Miri and Bintulu lies the Niah Caves National Park, which rocked the archeological world in 1959 with the unearthing of an early human settlement, dated 40,000 years ago, within its high-ceilinged chambers. A must-see is the Great Cave, easily reached via a 3km raised boardwalk, which is enclosed on both sides by dense primary rainforest. Over 60m high and 250m wide, it is one of the world’s most spectacular cave entrances, leading to an even larger chamber within. The Painted Cave features a narrow 30-metre strip of prehistoric drawings of dancing figures and boats done in red hematite. This is also where the “death ships”, which served as coffins, were found and carbon dated between 1 and
SABAH’S GASTRONOMIC DELIGHTS
Madeline Regis of Borneo Passages offers tips on where to find the best dining places in the heart of Kota Kinabalu.
Kampong Nelayan Restaurant is one of the most popular seafood restaurants in Kota Kinabalu. House specialties include garlic scallop, black pepper ostrich meat, pandan chicken, buttered lobster and hinava (a local dish). But after-hours diners go there not only to taste the bounty of the sea, Kampong Nelayan is a place to have fun and socialise and have a bit of interaction with local culture. A show of Sabah’s traditional dances is on every night from 2000 to 2100. There are a lot of opportunities of audience participation, it is always a spectacle to watch foreigners attempting the tricky bamboo dance or watch them shoot balloons with the local blowpipe.
Spice Island Restaurant at the third level of the Sutera Harbour Marina and Country Club is host to a refreshingly unique menu of Malay-Indian fusion cuisine. It is one of the resort’s signature restaurants and one of Kota Kinabalu’s favourite fine-dining establishments. Dinner is served from 1830 to 2230.
Peppino Restaurant has been voted one of the best restaurants in Malaysia. Peppino has a traditional Italian ambiance that sets the mood for romance. Chef Giuliano Ungaro tempts you with superb Italian fare and an extensive wine list with vintages from around the world.
Atmosphere Restaurant is a chic and revolving restaurant that serves Asian Western fusion cuisine. Aside from its culinary delights, the restaurant offers a 360-degree view of the Sabah capital, which is its main attraction. Atmosphere Restaurant is located on the 18th floor of Menara Tun Mustapha building (formerly called Sabah Foundation Building), an iconic Sabah landmark.
BEST TIMES TO PLAN AN EVENT IN SARAWAK
The key to a successful event is to make it unforgettable. Jill Henry of the Sarawak Convention Bureau shares some useful tips.
Plan meetings to coincide with Sarawak’s colourful annual social events such as the Kuching City Day Parade (in August). Participants can don cat masks and tabby tails and join in the fun, or companies can enter a themed corporate float and promote their brand to cheering locals as the parade winds its way through the city streets. Or join in the annual Sarawak Regatta (in September). International corporate groups and their sponsors are welcome to compete in a number of classes – usually 20 persons per boat.
For groups after some other fun team-building activities, there are plenty of chances to get wet in the Baleh-Kapit Raft Safari (in April). Participants are given the chance to spend the night at selected longhouses located along the Baleh River and its tributaries, where they will experience first-hand the rich and diverse cultural traditions of the Iban community. Six-person teams compete in bamboo rafts to experience the ultimate rafting adventure.
For music lovers, Miri International Jazz Festival (in May) is a great choice. Corporate groups can utilise this festival as their gala dinner night and be entertained by regionally and internationally recognised jazz musicians. This musical event draws jazz lovers from all over the region for a fun-filled and entertaining experience in one of Sarawak’s emerging resort cities.
Sarawak’s signature event, the Rainforest World Music Festival (in July) was 10 years old in 2007. Visiting renowned musicians from all over the world feature lilting tunes and soul-stirring ethnic music from traditional instruments fills the rainforest with sounds of joy and celebration. Let your hair down and have the best time in your life partying with people from all over the world.
l Hold a Headhunter Theme Party in a traditional Iban longhouse, Sarawak’s signature incentive theme event.
l Organise team-building and jungle trekking in one of the State’s pristine national parks such as Bako near Kuching.
l Visit a Dayak long house to enjoy the local hospitality and learn more about Dayak customs and traditions.
l Take your group on a tour to the World Heritage-listed Mulu National Park with the chance to explore the world’s largest cave system.
l Kayak through the rain forest between riverside Kampongs.
l Take a long boat ride along one of the many rivers that connect rural communities.
l Visit the orang-utan sanctuary at Semonggoh or Matang Wildlife Rehabilitation centres.
Sabah and Sarawak offer a wide range of accommodation from longhouses, lodges and five-star resorts. Most upscale properties are fitted with modern and state-of-the-art facilities for meetings and conferences, and all are old hands at putting together exotic themed events.
Nexus Resort Karambunai Resort
The Nexus Resort is one of the largest in Asia. Aside from a luxurious Grand Ballroom and eight meeting rooms with a total covered space of 2,745sqm there is practically unlimited outdoor space, with the resort offering 1,350 hectares of landscaped and natural surroundings. This offers your group a huge range of options for teambuilding or other outdoor activities. The resort specialises in Borneo Rainforest and Pirates of Karmbunai themed events.
Shangri-La Tanjung Aru Resort
This 495-room luxury retreat boasts a one-stop event planning service offering all the facilities and support for a productive and profitable meeting. Whether you require the 1,200-person, pillarless ballroom or any of 10 smaller function rooms. All rooms feature state-of-the-art audio-visual equipment, including wired and wireless broadband internet access, microphones, a range of projectors, satellite and teleconferencing, and simultaneous translation system available upon request. Shangri-La’s team of professionals specialises in organising events tailored to clients’ requirements, and ensuring that every detail of your event is attended to.
Sutera Harbour Resort
Overlooking the harbour, Sutera Harbour Resort, located in the heart of Kota Kinabalu, comprises the five-star luxury hotel accommodation of the city-style The Pacific Sutera and resort-style The Magellan Sutera.
The properties have a choice of function and meeting rooms to suit groups of any size. There are two large ballrooms that can hold up 1,000 and 2,000 guests respectively – with one ballroom being supported by 10 multi-purpose breakout rooms, which is ideal for multi-session conferences. There are 28 spacious meetings rooms whose layout can easily be configured and there is a mini-theatre that can seat up to 100 guests.
Only 25 minutes from the airport and within driving distance of some of Sarawak’s famous national parks, this five-star property has a pillarless ballroom for up to 800 people, three pre-function rooms and four meetings rooms, all equipped with today’s modern conveniences. After long sessions indoors, half an hour at the hotel’s top-notch tennis court is enough to loosen tense muscles or just unwind with a quick tour of Kuching’s Main Bazaar two blocks away.
Miri Marriott Resort & Spa
Sarawak’s first five-star full-service spa resort overlooking South China Sea, the resort is just 2km from the city centre but also within driving distance of sightseeing, diving, golfing and jungle-trekking opportunities. Its capability is organising events and functions in a tranquil ocean-front resort. It has a spacious meeting and banqueting facilities – a total of seven meeting rooms – equipped with all the business amenities and services that are required and much more.
Borneo Highlands Resort
An ideal location for corporate retreats that stimulate creative thinking away from the city’s hustle and bustle, Borneo Highlands Resort is nestled deep within the sprawling natural flora and fauna of the Borneo rainforests. The resort has two well-equipped meeting rooms for up to 60 people. For relaxation without the exertion of a mountain hike, there are jungle spas, an 18-hole golf course, a gym and a karaoke room with well-stocked song list of Mandarin, English, Malay and Japanese tunes.