Monday, 3 September 2012

Malaysia's Biggest Annual Sports Events

Post three of my work for Tourism Malaysia this week details the country's best annual sports events. From the Grand Prix to Monsoon Cup, read Malaysia's Biggest Annual Sports Events to find out what's on over the next 12 months.

World's best dive sites?

Malaysia is packed with world-class scuba-diving sites. Three of the very best are:
Layang Layang - an isolated dive spot off  the north coast of Sabah where some of the richest marine biodiversity and clearest waters in Malaysia are found - a magnet for manta rays and hammer head sharks; Sipadan - found in the Celebes Sea and famed for its drop-offs, wall dives and breeding turtles; and Tioman - a jungle-clad island, surrounded  reefs, wrecks and underwater caves.
Find out more about these dive sites in my recent blog for Travelwire Asia, Malaysia: Three of the best dive spots - part of a publication for Tourism Malaysia
Swarming shoals at Layand Layang. Pic: UU. Nudi, Flickr.

Getting up-close with turtles at Sipadan. Pic: Fudj, Flickr.

Borneo basics

If you've never been to Borneo, better get your skates on. With the rainy season kicking in at the end of October, you've got about eight weeks left of 2012 to discover one of the most magical places on the planet.

For most people, Borneo means orang-utans, and this was the impetus for my first-ever trip to the island, back in 2002. Still at uni, I couldn't have been more excited as I packed my long shirts (to hold back the bugs), rubber boots (to resist the leather-eating peat bogs) and read up on howler monkeys, orang-utan nests and floating villages.
To most people, Borneo means 'orang-utans'

But when I told my friends and family I was off to 'Kalimantan', they hadn't a clue where I was going. Despite being the third largest island on the planet and home to one of the oldest rainforests in the world, only a fraction of UK tourists seem to know that Borneo is actually divided between three separate countries: Malaysia, Indonesia and Brunei. 

Borneo's virgin rainforests have suffered from deforestation

Kalimantan, the Indonesian section, covers around 73% of Borneo's land mass. Found in the southern area of the island, it's home to unique peat swamp forests, which harbour rare species, including orang-utans. One of the most heavily forested areas of Borneo, Kalimantan has seen vast sections of its rainforest cleared for the farming and logging industries during the '70s and '80s. With the environmental impacts of these clearances brought to the limelight - most notably through the reduction in orang-utan populations - reforestation programs and environmental campaigns have seen positive steps taken towards the regeneration of Kalimantan's precious habitats in recent years. 

Kalimantan is best known for its orphaned orang-utans

Brunei: Borneo's only sovereign state is found on the north coast and is vastly different to the Indonesian and Malaysian sections of the island. Extensive petroleum and natural gas fields have fuelled significant economic growth, which has made Brunei one of the most developed and wealthiest countries in SE Asia. Nonetheless, Brunei still has its fair share of rainforests, with lowland forests covering much of the country and mountainous forests found further inland. 

Brunei is one of the richest countries in SE Asia

Sabah and Sarawak: Malaysia claims two states in Borneo, together covering around 26% of the island and, for most tourists, this is the place to come. Travel and tourist infrastructure is better than in Kalimantan and, although significant logging for palm oil plantations has occurred here, several wildlife reserves and protected areas make it easier for tourists to interact. Sabah and Sarawak also offer some of the best opportunities for hiking in Borneo, and with well-marked trails in the national parks, exploring without a guide is manageable.  

Sabah and Sarawak have some of the most accessible hiking trails in  Borneo

Read more about my adventures in Kalimantan in my article 'Up the creek in an orange carton', which was long-listed for the Bradt Travel Writing Awards 2011, or discover the Best places to hike in Sabah and Sarawak in my recent blog-post for Travelwire Asia - an article that was part of a publication for Tourism Malaysia