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#JOM! STAY: Malaysia's legendary hotels (Part 1) - May 3, 2022

They may not all have modern conveniences but David Bowden reflects upon the history of some of Malaysia's legendary hotels.We seek comfort in reflecting on the past, returning to places that we're familiar with or, the notion that things were better in the 'olden days. While some of us can't survive without WiFi, dégustation dinners and cable television, it's refreshing to be immersed in an old-fashioned bathtub or have the staff recognize you and remember your preferred beverage. It goes without saying that a grand hotel must be, grand and this is something that can't be created; properties become legendary with age.  Therefore, it can be assumed that a new hotel can be a great hotel but not necessarily a legendary hotel.

Sadly, heritage isn't universally valued and many of Malaysia's early hotels are no longer standing. Neither are many government rest houses that once graced major towns and destinations such as the Gap near Fraser's Hill which is now derelict and a lost opportunity for a destination boutique hotel and iconic restaurant. Here are some of Malaysia's legendary hotels to seek out - not all brilliant nor necessarily old, but all are reminiscent of the 'good old days'.

CARCOSA SERI NEGARA, KUALA LUMPUR

Carcosa is included not because guests can stay here anymore but because this gracious property is part of Malaysia's heritage. It once operated as a boutique hotel but that ceased years ago and its status is now unclear. Few Malaysian properties have had as many dignitaries pass through them as Carcosa. This was the Queen of England's preferred residence but that had a lot to do with the colonial mansion once being the High Commissioner's residence. Hopefully, it will reopen, fully restored and revitalised.

THE LAKEHOUSE CAMERON HIGHLANDS, PAHANG

What I like about legendary hotels is that they're places to experience not just venues in which to sleep. So, they're places to fully utilise the room and public spaces. The Lakeside is a boutique country house opened in 1970 by retired British Colonel Stanley J. Forster, who set out to recreate a British B & B in the cool Cameron Highlands. He successfully incorporated a sumptuous lounge room with a fireplace and small bar. This is the perfect venue to settle into a high-backed lounge with a book or good company. It's a place to chat, enjoy a board game or a card game and, of course, sumptuous afternoon teas here or on the adjoining terrace. Take a stroll around the manicured gardens, enjoy traditional English fare or local dishes and retire early after a fireside nightcap.

THE MAJESTIC HOTEL KUALA LUMPUR

The Majestic was once the hotel of choice for colonials and the nation's social elite before the original hotel closed in 1983. Built in 1932, opposite the grand KL railway station, the 51-room hotel was important when rail travel was important. When it closed, the building reverted to the National Art Gallery until 1998. The Majestic Wing reopened and a new 15-storey Tower Wing opened in 2012. Rooms in the original wing are preferred by traditionalists. Patrons can enjoy food and beverage facilities in period surroundings at The Colonial Café, The Bar, The Tea Lounge, The Orchid Conservatory, The Drawing Room and The Cigar Room. Contemporary facilities include a pool, spa and gym.

THE MAJESTIC MALACCA, MELAKA

Set back from Sungai Melaka, the Majestic was originally a local tycoon's private mansion. Built in 1929 in Straits Settlement style with tiled floors and teakwood detail, it was converted to a hotel in 1955 and remained open until 2000 when competition from newer hotels forced it to close. It reopened in 2008 with the original mansion and a modern annex behind it. New facilities include a pool, gym and spa village while history hounds will seek comfort in the refined precincts like The Library, The Bar and the restaurant with dishes inspired by Kristang, Chinese, English, Indian, Nyonya and Malay cuisines.

YE OLDE SMOKEHOUSE FRASER'S HILL, PAHANG

Heat and humidity took its toll on colonialists who craved England's cooler weather. Fraser's Hill developed in the 1920s as a refreshing and healthy venue for soldiers to recuperate after World War 1. Companies and government departments also established bungalows for staff to holiday in. Ye Olde Smokehouse opened as a soldier's convalescent home but became a hotel in due course. It now appeals to those seeking the nostalgia of an era when Fraser's Hill was popular with expats. What it lacks in slick contemporary facilities it makes up for with a tranquil garden setting, period furniture, comfortable lounges and a small bar with a fireplace.

Source: NST

How do tourists differ from excursionists? - April 1, 2022

LETTERS: Those in the tourism business should know the difference between tourists and excursionists. The former stays overnight while the latter would leave the same day. At any one destination, visitors are either tourists or excursionists. But the same visitor can be a tourist in one city and excursionist in another. So terms used must be correct to help tourism business tap into both markets. Recently, I was struck by the heading of a report claiming, "First eco-tourism farm launched". This is because there is no such thing as eco-tourism farm. 

Eco-tourism is nature-based, while farms for plants or animals are manmade. There can only be one, the two cannot be combined. The practice of ecological farming with results friendly to the ecology or environment is known as eco-farming. Although such efforts ought to be lauded, it would be incorrect to label them as eco-tourism. Initiatives by farms to receive visitors are known as agriculture tourism or agritourism. It was also referred to as agrotourism by the Tourism, Arts and Culture Ministry as a tourism concept. Therefore, it would be wrong to claim that the newly launched hydroponic farm in Bentong is the first agrotourism farm. It may be the first for the company, but certainly not the first to be opened to visitors or the pioneer in hydroponics.

Recently, the Visit Melaka 4.0 campaign was launched with the aim of attracting 5.6 million tourists this year. Chief Minister Datuk Seri Sulaiman Md Ali said 33 tourist spots were involved compared with 24 in the previous campaign. He disclosed that the campaign would be held until Dec 31 and offered discounts of up to 57 per cent to all visitors. Had the state authorities been clear on the difference between visitors, tourists and excursionists, the report would have stated that the campaign is expected to attract 5.6 million visitors, as not all are tourists.

Most would be excursionists from within Melaka or other states taking a day trip to visit the many attractions. Those who stay overnight at hotels or private residences are deemed tourists, and the estimated numbers could only be ascertained through scientific surveys.

The authority that conducts annual surveys on domestic tourism is the Department of Statistics Malaysia. Pre-pandemic in 2019, Melaka received 13,979,000 domestic visitors, Negri Sembilan 13,303,000, Kelantan 10,986,000 and Perlis had 2,088,000. Higher numbers were recorded in Terengganu at 14,158,000, Johor (14,274,000), Kedah (14,831,000), Penang (15,411,000), Pahang (18,498,000), Sarawak (19,793,000), Perak (21,070,000), Sabah (22,035,000), Kuala Lumpur (22,633,000) and Selangor (33,589,000).

Many would argue that Sabah and Sarawak could not possibly attract such a high number of domestic visitors, given their distance from other states, not knowing that intrastate travel is also counted. And two-thirds of domestic visitors are excursionists, one-third are tourists.

 

Astrotourism Pahang Series to woo tourists tourists once border reopens - March 21, 2022

KUALA LUMPUR: Stargazing and other astrotourism activities will soon become the latest official tourism products of Pahang. This initiative was unveiled today during the pre-launch of the Astrotourism Pahang Series. Through the project, domestic and foreign tourists will be able to experience Malaysia's one and only International Dark Sky Park. This first-of-its-kind facility in the country will allow visitors to enjoy nature spots in Pahang that have naturally clear dark skies, especially at night. 

Such locations are known among astrotourism enthusiasts as being ideal spots for stargazing. Pahang Tourism, Culture and Environment Committee chairman Datuk Seri Mohd Sharkar Shamsudin, who was the guest of honour at the pre-launch event, said the initiative's main strategic focus was to develop an astrotrourism system in Malaysia. He said the project will also engage communities to raise awareness about Pahang's iconic dark night sky and use it as a valuable asset.

"The location of Pahang, which is a Penisular Malaysia tourism icon, is suitable for stargazing and astronomy related activities. "Such activities depend on spots which have very low amounts of artificial lights from the city. We will facilitate the protection of Pahang's dark night sky," Sharkar said at the pre-launch event at a restaurant in Subang Jaya here today. Also present was Malaysia Inbound Tourism Association (MITA) president, Uzaidi Udanis.

Based on MITA data, the association estimated that it received 2.2 million domestic tourists due to multiple movement controls measures. This year, the association estimated that it could welcome 9 million tourists following the reopening of the international border. When commenting on this issue, Uzaidi said that MITA and its members were ready for the reopening of the international border on April 1. He said that he was thankful for the community in MITA for persevering during the extremely tough times brought about by the pandemic. He said like many other tourism-related entities, MITA has been coming up with new and innovative ideas to sustain the tourism industry, which has been hard-hit due to Covid-19 during the last two years. "We have been ready and we are prepared for the border opening. Our basic aim is to get the maximum amount of tourists. "We are still here. Our executive council (exco) members have not given up and all of us have renewed our licences," he said.

On a separate issue, Uzaidi said the recent announcement by the government to raise the country's minimum wage may still pose a problem for workers in big cities. He said even with the implementation of a RM1,500 minimum wage starting from May 1, the amount was insufficient especially when living in Kuala Lumpur. "We have employed more than 3.6 million employees, and it is not easy to get new talents. As time goes by, the cost of living is getting higher, and RM1,500 is not enough especially when one lives in the city where everything is pricier," he explained.

#JOM! GO: 4 snorkelling spots in Malaysia - April 19, 2022

To get a closer look at the marine world at some of the country's island destinations, David Bowden puts on a (different) mask and snorkelers away. MALAYSIA is known as a dive destination with many islands that are well-established for scuba diving.  For example, Sipadan Island off Sabah's east coast is rated AS one of the world's best dive sites, with the late and great marine biologist Jacques Cousteau calling it, "an untouched piece of art".

Snorkelling is a different proposition altogether and usually the first step for those who have a remote interest in the marine world and are on their way to learning how to scuba dive. Just as you need to walk before you can run, you need to snorkel before scuba diving. With the high cost of scuba diving, it's best to do the snorkelling at the less developed dive islands. There's not much to snorkelling although it always helps to know how best to use the mask, snorkel and fins so that you don't end up with a mouthful of saltwater. Here are some Malaysian island destinations where you can get a closer look at the marine world. 

PULAU PAYAR, KEDAH

Pulau Payar is part of the Pulau Payar Marine Park (there are four islands in the group) and is located just one-hour's boat ride south of Langkawi. It's a well-established snorkelling destination with facilities like a pontoon so when you get tired, you just return to rest on the floating facility moored in the middle of the Malacca Strait. The islands are uninhabited although the Fisheries Department has a Marine Park Centre with interpretation facilities. Snorkelling and dive equipment are available for hire on the pontoon and while the visibility varies (this is quite a popular location so the water can get turbid with all the fins thrashing about) it's a good location to snorkel.

Boulder and brain coral can be seen on the bottom and organisms like black barracuda, giant grouper, clown anemone fish, black-spotted puffer fish and even the harmless black-tipped reef shark may be seen. Because this gets more crowded than the other sites, there's a temptation for some to feed bread to the fish. Do something positive for the marine environment: don't feed the fish; they don't eat bread or cake; let them eat other marine organisms.

PULAU REDANG, TERENGGANU

Like Tioman, Redang is an attractive proposition for snorkelling as it's accessible by direct flights from Kuala Lumpur. While most snorkelers are happy to float on the surface, it's possible to dive slightly deeper once you have mastered the skill of not swallowing water via the snorkel. One of the best snorkelling beaches here is Tanjung Dalam where the Berjaya Resort is located as the waters have good visibility ('good vis'). Head across to the Marine Park Centre for more wonderful snorkelling locations. While divers have a better chance of seeing turtles, it's not impossible while snorkelling. Coral, batfish and nudibranchs are more likely sightings though. 

PULAU TENGGOL, TERENGGANU

Tenggol's snorkelling charm is that the island is located seemingly in the middle of nowhere but actually just 45 minutes by fast boat (two hours by slow fishing boat) from Kuala Dungun. It's the most remote of all the islands but that's part of its charm. Facilities on the island are limited to simple wooden chalets that are a mere hop, step and a jump from the turquoise waters. Put on your mask, snorkel and fins and step straight into the island's rich marine life thriving in the clear waters off the main beach of Teluk Air Tawah. The visibility is good and in the deeper waters you may see groupers, parrot fish and batfish. The rocky foreshores on either side of the main beach are the best places for more serious snorkelling. Like all the islands on the East Coast, the best time to visit is from April to October.

PULAU TIOMAN, PAHANG

Tioman Island is one of Malaysia's most popular islands due to the laidback lifestyle and quality of diving. For snorkelers who want to progress to being a fully-fledged scuba diver, this is a great place to learn. There are several bays and beaches (mostly on the western shoreline) with Kampung Salang on the northwest coast, being one of the best to snorkel. The jetty here is as good a place as any. From the water it's also possible to admire the island's twin peaks rising above the carpet of emerald rainforest. Tulai Island, accessible by one of many boats for hire along the beach, is another good snorkelling location for angelfish, jacks and puffer fish.

Source : NST

End of monsoon season perfect time for border reopening - March 12, 2022

ROMPIN: Reopening the country's borders on April 1 could not have come at a better time, especially for tourism operators in Pulau Tioman near here. They said with the east coast monsoon season drawing to a close and the previously rough choppy seas getting more calm, there would be uninterrupted ferry services between the mainland and the duty-free island. Following the monsoon season in October last year, the resorts and chalet operators were forced to close businesses as the ferry services had to stop. Salang Pusaka Resort owner Abdul Khalid Mohamad, 65, said the resort had been getting bookings consistently over the past few weeks.  "The monsoon season will end this month and the decision to reopen the country's borders is timely.

"Although we see the number of guests increasing during the ongoing school holidays, we hope to see the return of foreign tourists especially from Singapore soon." He said ferry services from both the Mersing (Johor) and Teluk Gading (formerly known as Tanjung Gemok) jetties had resumed their normal timetables. "The sunny weather has allowed visitors on the island to participate in beach activities, snorkelling and scuba diving," he said when contacted.

Khalid, who operates 56 units of chalets, said he expects businesses to be a little slow during the fasting month of Ramadan before holidaymakers return during the Hari Raya Aidilfitri holidays. "Visitor arrival is usually slow during the fasting month but the chalets and restaurants here will operate as usual, so people can still plan their trip to Tioman. "The past two years have been a real challenge due to the Covid-19 and movement control. I hope businesses will return to normal and there will be no further setbacks," he said. Damai Tioman Resort owner Syed Rizalman Syed Abu Bakar said the move to reopen international borders next month which coincides with the end of the monsoon season had given much relief to the resort operators on the island. "Before the monsoon season, domestic tourists have been providing a lot of support for Tioman, with bookings consistent until October this year. We hope to see foreigners returning to the island in stages after April.

"There are about 100 chalet and resort operators on the island and we have been actively doing online marketing to promote our business on social media. "It would take some time before we can actively participate in tour and travel agent exhibitions to extensively promote the island," he said, adding he hopes to see businesses to return to how they were before Covid-19. Syed Rizalman, who has been operating his 50-room resort for about 30 years, said resort operators there only had eight and nine months of good businesses on the island before the start of the monsoon season. Meanwhile, Tourism Pahang general manager Kamaruddin Ibrahim said Pulau Tioman along with Taman Negara in Jerantut would be among the popular destinations for foreign travellers when the international borders reopens next month.

 Source : NST

 

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