Thursday, June 25, 2015

The forgotten jungle heroes of Borneo

Troops from the Parachute Regiment, outnumbered by more than 10 to one, withstand a ferocious enemy attack lasting more than two hours.

A firefight which should have ended in bloody defeat instead becomes an astonishing victory against the odds.

The feat has been likened by one senior officer to the Battle of Rorke’s Drift during the 19th century in Africa when a garrison of 150 British troops fought off up to 4,000 Zulu warriors.

But you will struggle to find much in the history books about the battle for Plaman Mapu, which happened 50 years ago on the border of Malaysia and Indonesia.

That is about to change with the imminent screening of a new documentary about this largely forgotten incident.

The latest in the We Were There series on Forces TV reveals the story of the brave 36 soldiers and shows three surviving veterans revisiting the scene of their triumph five decades later.

It is a bittersweet experience as the men are feted by locals and pay tribute to fallen comrades.

Back in 1965 Les Simcock, then 18, was on leave and in a cinema with a girl when his name flashed up on the screen.

The message was to alert him that he had received a telegram ordering him to report back for duty.

Les and his colleagues in 2 Para were bound for Malaysia, a fledgling state that was being supported by Britain.

Over the next six weeks they received intense jungle training before being deployed to the island of Borneo where they were posted to a base on the 1,000-mile border with communist leaning Indonesia.

Their job was to help prevent an invasion. It was a hellish, mosquito infested place that was teeming with snakes and rats.

There were frequent torrential downpours and the awful humidity left the men constantly drenched in sweat. This small garrison usually comprised 140 soldiers but on the night of April 27 two of the three platoons were out on patrols that lasted between three and 10 days.

The remaining 36 men including Private Les Simcock were dug in but the attack starting at 5am came as a surprise. Most of the Paras were sleeping and a downpour helped camouflage the sound of the advancing Indonesians.

Continue reading (Incl. Pics) at: The forgotten jungle heroes of Borneo


Quake-hit Mt Kinabalu to reopen to climbers September

KUNDASANG: Mount Kinabalu is expected to be reopened to climbers in early September, said Sabah Tourism, Culture and Environment Minister Datuk Seri Masidi Manjun.

The mountain, which stands at 4,095 metres, was closed to climbers following an earthquake in the state on June 5 that claimed the lives of 18 people comprising climbers and mountain guides.

Masidi said, however, the number of people on the mountain at any one time would be reduce by about half, from 192 to about 90, in the early stages of its reopening to climbers.

“The safety of climbers is of utmost priority.

We do not want to take a risk by maintaining the number as in the past,” he told reporters after handing over contributions to the victims of the June 5 earthquake.


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Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Cruising on a Borneo River

There is a special feeling that Borneo invokes. There really is no other experience that comes close to cruising on a tranquil river in Central Kalimantan surrounded by lush tropical jungle while watching rehabilitated orangutans frolicking in nature reserves.

Inspired by the virtually untapped tourism potential of Central Kalimantan, two British ladies, Gaye Thavisin and Lorna Dowson-Collins, converted a traditional Kalimantan riverboat known as a rangkan into the comfortable cruise boat we now know as the Rahai’i Pangun. Their venture brought the first jungle cruise to the Rangun River in Palangkaraya, Central Kalimantan.

Ecotourism is at the heart of Kalimantan Tour Destinations. This social enterprise is a way of protecting the environment and creating alternative livelihoods in the region. Through this river cruise, they are able to demonstrate that business can be a vehicle to support development problems by demonstrating there is a different value for the forest, while supporting local inhabitants of the region.

Our journey onboard the Rahai’i Pangun began at 8.30am when we were picked up from our local hotel in Palangkaraya and brought by car to the river harbour. Here you can see how the river is a source of life to so many living along its riverbed; canoes with engines traverse up and down its waters, locals fish, bathe and find their livelihoods here.

Stepping onboard the Rahai’i Pangun, you feel instantly rejuvenated. It is a floating marvel with five bedrooms, an open-air dining area and living room with a large observation deck. All rooms are air-conditioned with en-suite bathrooms, and although not five-star luxury, the rooms are certainly comfortable.

The boat departed from the harbour at 9am and we began cruising upstream on the Rangun River. The first half hour or so we passed through villages and fishing boats with friendly locals waving at us.

Then the forest engulfed us and after a couple of hours, we reached the island of Kaja, a 25-hectare sanctuary where rehabilitated orangutans live, still fed by rangers watching over them on the opposite side of the river.

The sight of three furry, orange friends hanging out in the trees was breathtaking – but there were many more orangutan encounters to follow over the next couple of days.

Continue reading (Incl. Pics) at: Cruising on a Borneo River

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Gawai Dayak: A time for family reunion

MIRI: The chatter in the longhouse fell silent as all eyes turned to two primary schoolboys squaring off with each other, waiting for the referee’s go.

Seconds later, the two strove to outdo each other in arm-wrestling competition – one of many games held every Gawai Dayak at the longhouse in Machan, thanks to the initiative by its chieftain Mayang Umpi.

Other fun activities were gulping down hot coffee, ‘tuak’ (rice wine) and soda drinking, three-legged races, retrieving coin from a plateful of flour and even Halloween-like contests.

Head of Gawai Dayak celebrations Mapang Sebang said these traditional games derived from a showcase of strength and special abilities of the past generations.

“Tuak was the only prize for the Gawai games back then,” he reminisced of the era of his late father, who was a legendary figure in Kanowit and Julau.

Drinking hot coffee actually honoured an elderly man Aki Tinko from the longhouse, who had a supernatural resistance to heat. He even took up the challenge of dipping his hand in boiling water as a testimony of his integrity, or to clear the air whenever his reputation was questioned.

It was also a sight to behold as the longhouse women effortlessly carried their husbands on their backs during a piggy-back race. Laughter broke as the husbands struggled to lift their spouses for the return leg, where many stumbled.

Gawai is a festival celebrated by the Dayaks in Sarawak and West Kalimantan, with June 1 being officially regarded as a public holiday in Sarawak. To the Dayaks, it is a time for family reunion as well as for them to touch base with their ancestral roots.

The idea for Gawai Dayak was first mentioned in 1957 during a radio forum conducted by Tan Kingsley and Owen Liang, a radio programme organiser. Up till 1962, the British colonial government refused to recognise ‘Dayak Day’ – instead, they called it ‘Sarawak Day’ to be celebrated by all Sarawakians regardless of tribes.

Still, the Dayaks continued celebrating their harvest festival up until after Merdeka and formation of Malaysia. It was on Sept 25, 1964 that the state government officially gazetted June 1 as the day to observe Gawai Dayak every year.

Continue reading (Incl. Pics) at: Gawai Dayak: A time for family reunion

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Sabah travel agents to make full refund to Mount Kinabalu climbers for cancellations

KOTA KINABALU: The imposing of cancellation fee on potential mountain climbers, who have made bookings, has left red face on tourism authorities.

And now the Malaysian Association of Tour and Travel Agents (MATTA) have directed its members to extend a full-refund to climbers for the mountain climbing packages booked between June 5 and Aug 31.

MATTA vice president Inbound Datuk Tan Kok Liang told New Sabah Times that agents should not be imposing any cancellation charges as the service provider Sutera Sanctuary Lodges has confirmed full refund to its customers.

Tan reminded its members to stay united and help rebuild the local tourism industry.

“By giving full refund strengthens our professionalism and moral ethics as the cancellations are beyond our control due to the earthquake which hit Mount Kinabalu on June 5.

“Any MATTA member that declined to cooperate may be queried by the licensing division of the Ministry of Tourism and Culture,” he warned.

He said: “This is not the time to impose cancellation policies.”

The decision was made after a briefing chaired by State Tourism, Culture and Environment Datuk Masidi Manjun with the presence of Sabah Parks director Dr. Jamili Nais, Sabah Tourism Board general manager Datuk Irene Charuruks and Ag Ahmad Zaki from Ministry of Tourism and Culture Malaysia, along with Sani Sham of Tourism Malaysia and Ravi Karthiravelu from Sutera Sanctuary Lodges and MATTA Sabah Chapter.


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