Melting pot of cultures and festivals

  • Malaysia
  • Wednesday, 31 Dec 2014

Things to do in 2015: Snorkelling is a popular activity in the islands off Sabah and Sarawak’s coasts. — File pics

Celebrating Malaysia’s myriad cultures and festivals.

Malaysia is not only a nature heaven, but also a country with plentiful festivals and cultures.

This year is Malaysia Year of Festivals (MyFEST) 2015, and “Endless Celebrations” is its theme.

“With MyFEST, our intention is to give visitors a magical holiday experience, with special emphasis on the various festivals celebrated by Malaysia’s multi-cultural society,” said Tourism Malaysia director-general Datuk Mirza Mohammad Taiyab.

“We have identified 50 key events to be highlighted during the MyFEST campaign year, which includes celebrations of our cultural roots, our love for food, unique pastimes, music and more,” he said.

Mirza added that Malaysia will host a big “open house” at the national level, to share Malaysia’s festive joys with family and friends of all ethnicities.

“The national-level open house events are for Chinese New Year, Aidil Fitri, Tadau Kaamatan, Gawai Dayak, Deepavali and Christmas,” he said.

Locals and foreign tourists alike can look forward to the completion of the Keretapi Tanah Melayu Bhd (KTMB) electrified double-track project linking Padang Besar to Kuala Lumpur next year, making the northern part of Malaysia more accessible.

Visitors crossing the suspension bridge to get to the Jenut Papan salt lick and the waterfall area in Sungai Ruok, in the Royal Belum State Park.

“It will trigger more travel to domestic points like Ipoh and Taiping that are on the way to Padang Besar,” said Mirza.

Johor, too, is expected to be in the limelight next year due to new tourism developments in Iskandar Malaysia.

Penang and Kuala Lumpur, which have long garnered international attention for its vast assortment of delicious food and fantastic shopping, are expected to continue to draw tourists.

“Sabah and Sarawak will remain as favourite nature destinations,” added Mirza.

Malaysia is also the perfect place for many hobbyists. “For example, we promote our islands to divers; the jungles of Pahang and Sabah to nature lovers and birdwatchers; Malacca to culture buffs, and so on.

“Each state has its outstanding attractions. I hope that tourists will have the chance to visit all of them,” said Mirza.

Ecotourism gem

Malaysia’s natural and environmental assets make ecotourism a highly beneficial, feasible and sustainable form of tourism.

“One of the ecotourism gems in Malaysia is the Royal Belum State Park in Perak.

“Its 117,500ha of pristine mountainous forests protect ecosystems that have evolved over millions of years.

“Currently, the park attractions include 11 newly discovered waterfalls, 12 salt licks, and aboriginal settlements of the Negrito and Jahai tribes located deep in the forest,” said Mirza.

Mulu National Park in Sarawak is also one of Malaysia’s World Heritage sites.

“It is famous for its rich biodiversity and gigantic limestone caves inhabited by millions of swiftlets and bats. The 480m canopy skywalk in the park is the longest tree-based walkway in the world,” said Mirza.

Tioman Island Marine Park Centre in Pahang is a must-see for avid divers and beach lovers as it is the largest marine park in Malaysia.

The pristine Belum forest abounds with huge trees such as this one.

Taman Negara Kuala Tahan is another of Pahang’s gems, as the fully protected area is home to one of the richest and most complex ecosystems in the world.

“Visitors can enjoy swimming, bird-watching, camping, jungle-trekking, wildlife observation, mountain-climbing, cave exploration and fishing,” said Mirza.

Also in Pahang, the National Elephant Conservation Centre in Kuala Gandah is a fun place to visit to get up-close and personal with the gentle pachyderms.

“It is a base for the Elephant Relocation Team which began elephant translocation programmes in 1974. Tourists can feed, bathe and ride the elephants into the tropical jungle.

It is an outreach programme to educate the public about the importance of the species and habitat protection,” said Mirza.

Island paradise

Sabah is known for its pristine islands off Semporna which are world-class dive sites.

The islands of Sipadan, Mataking, Kapalai, Mabul and Pom Pom are sought-after destinations for diving enthusiasts and beach goers, while nature lovers tend to make a beeline for the Tabin Wildlife Reserve and Danum Valley.

According to the Sabah Tourism Board, the lower Kinabatangan river in Sandakan offers plenty of nature encounters for visitors who hope to spot endemic animals in the wild, such as the orang utan, Bornean pygmy elephant, the proboscis monkey, birds, crocodiles and macaques.

Mount Kinabalu is, of course, a hot favourite among locals and tourists, for jungle-trekking and mountain-climbing.

Over in Sarawak, Miri is a popular dive destination due to an abundance of pristine patch reefs.

The Miri-Sibuti Coral Reefs National Park boasts corals that lie at depths from 7m to 30m. Divers may also chance upon some interesting wrecks, according to the Sarawak Tourism Board.

Satang Island, Sarawak, is also home to other great dive sites, and World War II shipwrecks can be spotted at Santubong, off the coast of Kuching.

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