Feb 27, 2012

Visiting Kota Kinabalu, Malaysia

East Malaysia, located on the Island on Borneo, is known for its diverse cultures. The name “Borneo” may conjure up images of people living in a primitive manner but Kota Kinabalu is a dynamic city with malls, four-lane highways, and even Burger Kings. I am always interested in learning about various ethnic groups and their lifestyles. Even though in the remote parts of Borneo some people still follow a traditional way of life the best place to learn about the different groups is at a cultural village. While in KK, which is the easy way to refer to Kota Kinabalu, we booked a tour to Mari Mari Cultural Village with the travel agent at the Hyatt Regency’s tour desk.

The cultural village, high in the hills in the rainforest, consists of five traditional homes. Each house has its unique architectural style and was built by the members of the tribes they represent. John and I were greeted by guides in traditional outfits and learned about some of their traditions. We prepared a portion of our lunch local-style by wrapping diced chicken and vegetables in a banana leaf that we inserted into a section of bamboo to be cooked over the open fire. The Murut group is best known for their blowpipes used in hunting and in war. John was the only one in our group to hit the target with the blowpipe which was only right since he was the “chief” of our group. In the center of the floor of the Murut house there is a large round bamboo section that works like a trampoline. The warriors get it bouncing then one would jump up to reach a “prize” hanging from the ceiling. The last stop was a cultural show of the traditional dances from the various groups. At the end of the tour we enjoyed a lunch that included the bamboo portion we had prepared earlier. Cultural villages are one way to preserve the traditions of local cultures in a world that is becoming increasingly the same.

There are a couple orangutan rescue centers in Sabah but both are full-day trips from Kota Kinabalu so we went to the Shangri-la’s Rasa Ria Resort Nature Reserve where they have a variety of nature-related activities. Twice daily they offer a program called, “In Search of the Orang Utan.” Two of the biggest problems facing the orangutans are a loss of habitat due to the cutting down of the rainforest and poaching. After a short informational program, a 15-minute jungle walk took us to the orangutans viewing and feeding platform. The orangs are free roaming but they know the easiest place to get their food. They are being slowly introduced to the wild and learning how to survive. When they are about six they will be sent to a larger nature center in Sepilok. The tour ended at the nursery where the babies are kept, bottle-fed, and trained until they are nearly three-years old. The babies are not put with the older orangs because the olders ones play too rough. Wild long-tailed macaques also showed up for the free food and had fun cavorting from tree to tree.

The Hyatt is a city hotel so we took a boat to one of the several nearby islands for a day on the beach. Our stay at the KK Hyatt was a good mix of culture, wildlife and beach time.