Even when she’s satiating wanderlust, Malaysian diving superstar Pandelela Rinong just cannot resist the call of the water.
“When I travel, I usually aim for something adventurous that involves water such as doing fun activities at the beach, hiking to a waterfall or hopping on a boat for a tour around the islands,” she offers via e-mail.
But those activities might just be a front for another holiday must-do – the pursuit of good food.
“After a long day and feeling hungry, I will hunt for local delicacies at the food stalls,” the 24-year-old admits.
“I am a food lover and I love all kinds of food, from Western to Asian. My utmost favourites would be Korean and Japanese,” she adds.
The athlete made a big splash in the international sporting scene when she became the first Malaysian diver to clinch an Olympic medal, a bronze, in the 10m platform event at the 2012 London Olympics.
She added another feather to her cap when she bagged the silver medal with Cheong Jun Hoong in the 10m synchronised platform event at the 2016 Rio Olympics.
Those achievements can be partly attributed to her intensive training. But amid her tight schedule, Pandelela tries to go for short vacations at least twice a year.
“Travelling helps me to get out of my comfort zone and escape my daily routine, discover new places and gain new experiences. A great holiday is to stay in a nice and safe place with good company and also enjoy myself there without worrying about work back home,” she offers.
Like most millennials (and thanks largely to those diving competitions), Pandelela is well travelled. Some of the countries she has been to include Germany, Italy, the United States, Japan, South Korea and Mexico.
“I also have been to most of the Asean countries except Brunei and the Philippines,” she reveals, adding that the warm weather in the region is a bonus.
“In Asean countries, because of the tropical weather, you don’t have to worry about bringing thick winter clothing. Besides that, I love the countries’ local legends and folklore which can sometimes be amusing and scary at the same time but there is always a moral behind them,” she remarks.
Of all the Asean destinations, her favourite is Borneo, which comprises Sabah, Sarawak, Brunei and Kalimantan.
“The locals interact with one another and get along well. And there are a lot of tourist attractions and must-try local delicacies,” she says.
Hailing from Kampung Jugan in Bau, Sarawak, Pandelela highly recommends a visit to the Malaysian side of Borneo.
“Sarawak has the oldest caves, and rainforest with flora and fauna, that is preserved well, which is perfect for hiking and sightseeing; cultural villages and festivals for tourists to enjoy; and historical buildings from the British colonisation that still remain to this day.
“When you have finished exploring the state, you can cross the border of Sarawak to visit Indonesian Kalimantan by road.
“Sabah has beautiful beaches perfect for scuba-diving, and abundant fresh seafood,” she says.
For the more adventurous ones, the proud Sarawakian says a road trip to Brunei should be on the itinerary.
“I haven’t been to Brunei, so I look forward to travelling there by road some time,” she adds.
Whenever she travels, she always brings along sunblock, a raincoat, light clothing and insect repellent to help her get through the humid weather and frequent rainy spells in Asean countries.
She also encourages visitors to interact with its citizens.
“Be friendly with the locals because they might show you some things or places you may not know about,” she says.
Pandelela hopes that Asean leaders will continue to preserve and protect the region’s natural environment, wildlife habitats and cultural heritage.
“I hope they can work together to protect the ecosystem and fight climate change. They should also increase the security around the tourist attractions, to promote tourism,” she concludes.