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#JOM! GO: Take me to the river! - February 24, 2022

RIVERS often capture our attention for all the wrong reasons, especially when they flood and create havoc for people living in low-lying areas. Despite these occasional hardships, rivers are vital to the country as a means of transportation, for agriculture, a source of domestic and industrial water, and even a home for many people who live in stilt houses over rivers.  Some of Malaysia's most fascinating tourist attractions are also located on or near rivers, or are the starting point for adventurous upriver boat journeys. In many parts of East Malaysia, for example, rivers are the only means of transport to and from some remote villages.  There's something soothing in watching a river flow by, relaxing under a shaded tree on a riverbank, or boating along a river on a journey of discovery. There's always something or someone waiting around the next meander with the added bonus that fish and seafood are guaranteed to be served on the menus of the district's restaurants.

Here are 10 of my favourite Malaysian river towns that I still enjoy exploring on my domestic travels; some are well-known while others are off the main tourist trail. All have "famous" dishes to ensure travelling to them is all that more enjoyable.

KUALA LIPIS

Located at the confluence of two rivers — Pahang and Lipis — with Sungai Kenong joining the former just a little further downstream to the east of the town. River connectivity, all the way down Sungai Pahang from near Raub to Pekan on the South China Sea, was once vital in the country’s early development. Several historic buildings in Kuala Lipis reflect the town’s importance when it was the Pahang state capital from 1898 to 1955. In 1924, the railway arrived in town to further open up this riverine town to destinations along the line between Kelantan and Johor. The town appeals for several historic sites such as the district office, the former Pahang Club and Clifford School which can be visited on foot and there is enough here to warrant an overnight stay in the town. Dine in at Medan Tangga and look for Hakka noodles and

LIMBANG

Geographically, the far north of Sarawak is quite fascinating with Limbang and Lawas separated by a large expanse of tropical lowland rainforest that is part of Brunei Darussalam. I’ve flown into Limbang and also driven from here to Lawas with the latter being accessed via a narrow strip of Brunei and two border checkpoints. Interestingly, Limbang is isolated from other roads in Sarawak with the only way in or out via a network of roads through Brunei. This fascinates me and a quick investigation of its history indicates that Limbang has long been disputed land with various rebellious tussles having been staged here (the local museum was an old fort). Some residents live in a water village on the eastern side of the river while visitors have the option of staying in one of several nearby hotels. Limbang can also be accessed by road from Miri via Bandar Seri Begawan, by air from Miri as well as by a boat journey along Sungai Limbang from Brunei Bay.

MIRI

Miri is the largest city and air gateway in northern Sarawak. Just east of the city, several rivers coalesce to become Sungai Miri, which flows from Lutong in the north down to Miri, before joining the South China Sea just near the former Shell township and the Miri Golf Club. This waterway is always busy with small vessels that service the offshore oil rigs. My preferred viewing location is the club lounge in the Pullman Miri Hotel and with its northerly aspect; both sunrise and sunset views are perfect from here. Views at river level are possible on a river cruise that departs from here and ventures out into the open waters off Miri and travels near to Siwa Oil Rig. There are several inexpensive seafood restaurants near the ferry terminal.

MARANG

Knowing your geography is always important, but no more so than for those heading to Terengganu. Marang is small town south of Kuala Terengganu while Merang is located just to the north of the capital. The main activities in both towns are fishing and tourism with the former being the port of departure for Pulau Kapas and the latter for Pulau Redang. Marang is located at the mouth of the river of the same name that empties here into the South China Sea. The quintessential image of the east coast has always been a sleepy coastal village with fishing boats languishing in the shallows of some backwater, with Marang being the closest I’ve come to admiring such a sight. There are some reasonable beaches with beachfront chalets both north and south of the breakwaters that now protect the river mouth and estuary. Ferries to Pulau Kapas depart from the jetty on the northern side of the river near the bridge.

MUKAH

While the beaches of coastal Sarawak may not win awards for Malaysia’s finest beaches, there’s always something soothing in their coastal breezes and sea vistas. The town of Mukah, on the coast to the northeast of Kuching is a sleepy fishing town with some fascinating journeys on the meandering Sungai Gigis and its tributary, Sungai Tellian. The latter is home to the privately-owned Sapan Puloh Melanau Museum.

PEKAN

The Pahang royal town of Pekan is located on Sungai Pahang near its river mouth and the South China Sea. The town’s commercial centre is located on the southern bank of Peninsular Malaysia’s longest river and is accessed via the Abu Bakar Bridge. Pekan is a good town to explore on foot with an impressive museum and royal buildings such as Sultan Abdullah Mosque and the Royal Mausoleum. Close by is the Istana Abu Bakar, Royal Sports Field and Mangga Tunggal, the former royal residence. Visitors staying at the AnCasa Royale Pekan Hotel can admire river views while being treated like royalty. Several treats to enjoy in the town are

SIBU

Sibu is situated on the mighty Sungai Rajang, which rises in the Sarawak interior above Belaga and Kapit, before heading past Sibu on the last of its meandering journey to the South China Sea just west of Sarikei. Sibu is a transportation hub for those travelling downriver from the interior and there is an airport for travel further afield. Express boats travel 260km up river to Kapit, where those heading further in to the interior are required to change to a smaller boat. Sibu’s Central Market is the largest in Sarawak with some unusual forest products for sale and hawker stalls above. Seek out specialty dishes such as Kam Pua Mee, Kompia pastries and Foochow Mee Sua (longevity noodles).

SUNGAI PETANI

Sungai Merbok flows through Sungai Petani and a Visitors Centre near the bridge is the best place to appreciate the district’s archaeology, biology and geology. The centre expands over several buildings with a different theme for each and very informative displays. Students of archaeology will be fascinated to discover that Kedah is where the Hindu-Buddhist Tua Kingdom flourished over 2,500 years ago (this predates most other archaeological sites in Asia). Scientists from Penang’s Universiti Sains Malaysia conduct an archaeological dig at Sungai Batu within the Bujang Valley area. Visitors can also hire a boat here to explore the river and its mangrove-lined riverbanks or simply relax in a seafood restaurant. For those who want to explore more, continue seaward to a group of deserted islands just offshore from the mouth of Sungai Merbok (Songsong, Telar and Bidan Islands). Fresh river-caught oysters are especially delicious.

TEMERLOH

Close to the centre of Peninsular Malaysia, Temerloh is a strategic service town on the banks of Sungai Pahang. Visitors can admire the river from the tree-lined Esplanade, which is also a popular venue for snacking at numerous stalls just beyond the riverfront. Boating and recreational activities are popular near where Sungai Semantan joins the mighty Sungai Pahang. Sunday and the Pekan Sehari, Pahang’s oldest market, is a great time to visit. Temerloh is easily accessible from Kuala Lumpur by highway and is becoming increasingly popular even as a day destination, but with so much to do here; an overnight visit is recommended. Seek out dishes like Bahulu Sabut and Ikan Patin Tempoyak while visiting vibrant new concepts like Amani Vanilla (ice cream) and Hogoh De Coco (crispy chicken).

MELAKA

Not so long ago, the meandering Sungai Melaka hardly entered the tourism plans of those travelling to this Unesco World Heritage Site (a site shared with George Town, Penang) centred on the historic heart of Melaka. Its potential as a tourist attraction was recognised and the river was rejuvenated and its banks revitalised with murals, plants and a general spruce up. A cruise along the river is now an essential activity for first-time visitors with small boats regularly travelling up and down the river. Visitors can admire places of worship, Kampung Morten, bridges, murals, back lanes and historic sites on a cruise of just under an hour and from 9am to 11pm. Various discounts are available, including one that enables hopping on and off to admire various attractions.

Source: NST

Kuantan 188 targets 350,000 visitors this year - Feb 20, 2022

KUANTAN: The latest icon of Kuantan, a 188-metre high tower named Kuantan 188, which is also the second highest tower in the country, is targeting 350,000 visitors this year. Its managing director Datuk Zulkifli Mohamad said since it was opened officially last Dec 15, Kuantan 188 had received 45,791 visitors. "Other than the views from the 92 metres (m) high observation deck with a 360-degree view, and at a height of 104 m through a skydeck, Kuantan 188 will also offer the experience of dining at a height of 98 m beginning the month of Ramadan. "For those who like challenges, various extreme activities can be tried such as sky walk, antenna climb and drop zone such as those found at Macau Tower and Taipei 101," he told a press conference during the launching and rebranding of Kuantan 188 here on Sunday (Feb 20).

The event was launched by Deputy Minister of Tourism, Arts and Culture Datuk Seri Dr Santhara J.P. Also present were Kumpulan Hospitality 360 Sdn Bhd president and chief executive officer Datuk Omar Naresh Mohan and state Public Works, Transportation and Health Committee chairman Datuk Seri Norolazali Sulaiman. The tower was developed by the Federal Government through East Coast Economic Region Development Council (ECERDC) before it was handed over to the Pahang government. It also received a certificate as an official member of the World Federation of Great Towers (WFGT) comprising renowned towers in the world, during the ceremony.

The tower, with its upright design and tapering profile symbolising the shape of the traditional Malay spear tips, as found on the Pahang State Coat of Arms Malay, prior to this, was known as the Menara Teruntum. Subsequently, it was changed to Menara Kuantan 188 and presently, only Kuantan 188, taking into account its height of 188 metres. The design of its viewing deck was inspired by the flowers and leaves of the White Teruntum plant, plentiful along Sungai Kuantan in the old days.

Zulkifli also informed that Kuantan 188, located on the bank of Sungai Kuantan, was prepared to accept bookings for private functions and also lauded entrepreneurs, handicraft or food sector industry players to also conduct tourism related activities at the tower and Laman Teruntum. Meanwhile, Santhara regarded the rebranding of Kuantan 188 as timely, especially with the expected opening of the national borders in the second quarter of this year, other than the extreme activities offered which could lure its own segment of tourism. "The activities are in keeping with the interest of the young and I am also led to understand that Kuantan 188 will become the landmark of the 5G technology experience, virtual reality and lifestyle products based on technology which can attract the interest of domestic and foreign tourists and boost the image of local tourism," he added. Since Jan 1, the tower operation had been handled by Syarikat Hospitality 360, a subsidiary company of MAA Group Berhad which was experienced in various sectors of business including tourism since 1992. - Bernama

Pahang launches new tourism campaign with target to attract 8 million tourists - January 18, 2022

KUANTAN: "This is Pahang 2022-Unlimited" has been picked as the state's new tourism theme as part of a strategy to revive the industry which targets to attract eight million visitors this year. State Tourism, Culture and Environment Committee chairman Datuk Seri Mohd Sharkar Shamsuddin said after experiencing a drop in tourists following the Covid-19 pandemic, the fresh initiative will help steer the state's tourism goal to emerge as a top destination in the post-pandemic era. "The target is domestic tourists as the arrivals of international visitors might be a little slow....we hope to attract between seven and eight million visitors this year and if we can achieve 10 million visitors in 2022 then that is commendable. Although some destinations in Janda Baik (Bentong) and Temerloh are still closed due to the floods, other popular destinations including Taman Negara (Jerantut) and Cameron Highlands are open.

"Pahang achieved seven million visitors in 2020 before recording a drop to a million last year largely due to the movement control order and pandemic outbreak. The government has implemented several measures to curb the outbreak and we hope this will boost visitors' confidence to travel to Pahang," he told reporters after the "This is Pahang 2022 - Unlimited" launching ceremony at a hotel here last night. The Regent of Pahang, Tengku Hassanal Ibrahim Alam Shah Al-Sultan Abdullah had earlier launched the ceremony before presenting tourism awards to 111 individuals consisting industry players, local authorities, non-governmental organisations, tour operators and agencies. Also present was Menteri Besar Datuk Seri Wan Rosdy Wan Ismail. Meanwhile, Sharkar said he was informed by Tourism Pahang that hotel reservations at popular destinations in Pahang which were spared by the recent floods have been booked up till April this year.  "This is a good early sign that the industry is recovering and the state will continue with its promotions to draw people here. Instead of only focusing on the existing destinations, we will promote new activities and potential destinations.

"Unlike previous years, Menteri Besar (Datuk Seri Wan Rosdy Wan Ismail) had announced a huge budget amounting RM8.4 million for the tourism sector when tabling the state's 2022 Budget last year. This will certainly help with the promotional activities to revive the tourism industry across Pahang to get back on track," he said, adding Pahang was awarded as the best domestic tourism destination by the Malaysia Tourism Council last year. Meanwhile, Sharkar said two new programmes - Pahang Ocean Canoe International Challenge and Pahang Hiking Week - will be making their debuts in the tourism calendar this year. "The multi-day canoe ocean race will see participants travelling about 240km from the Chendor beach in Cherating (Terengganu border) to Pantai Hiburan in Rompin (Johor border). Technical experts are looking into the event as we will comply with international standards...it will be held in the second half of the year.

"The Pahang Hiking week will help promote recreational hiking spots in Pahang and it will be held simultaneously in several districts. Aspiring hikers will be provided with a list of hiking spots which they are comfortable to climb as this programme aims to help encourage a healthy lifestyle," he said.In his speech earlier Sharkar said the word "Unlimited" or "tiada had" in Malay which is used in the new theme carries the meaning that Pahang is fortunate for having a wide variety of attractions, ranging from highlands to forest, beaches and islands.

US$800-plus million Genting SkyWorlds to soft open on Feb 8 - January 31, 2022

KUALA LUMPUR: Genting Malaysia Bhd's highly-anticipated US$800-plus million outdoor theme park will have its soft opening on Feb 8. The group, in a statement today, said ticket sales of the Genting SkyWorlds would go live via the theme park's website and mobile app on Feb 4. "We are now ready to reveal our theme park to the world," Genting Malaysia head of business operation and strategies Lee Thiam Kit said.

"Built with an investment of over US$800 million, this game-changing new themed attraction will put Malaysia and Pahang on the world tourism map," he added.  Genting SkyWorlds was expected to attract three million patrons and RM200 average spend per patron, according to Maybank Investment Bank Bhd. This will see Genting SkyWorlds ranked as the second most visited theme park in Asean. At RM200 per patron, Maybank IB said this would be 20 per cent lower than Universal Studios Singapore's (USS) at S$80 (about RM250).

"On Ebitda (earnings before interest, taxation, depreciation and amortisation) margin, we assume 30 per cent or 10 percentage points higher than USS as Genting SkyWorlds will not pay 20th Century Fox gate royalties but a fixed annual licence fee. "These result in a decent RM180 million Ebitda per annum but are not enough to offset RM330 million depreciation per annum," the bank said in a report today. All in all, Maybank IB said it rated Genting SkyWorlds highly. "Even though we expect Genting SkyWorlds to be loss-generating due to heavy depreciation, we are confident that it will draw the crowds (whether gaming or non-gaming) and be net positive for Genting Malaysia," said the bank, which maintained its "Buy" call and RM3.38 target price on the company.

Elaborating on the theme park, Resort World Genting vice president and head of theme park operation Greg Pearn said Genting SkyWorlds would be offering a 20 per cent discount on ticket prices while some attractions undergo the final commissioning process and remain unavailable to guests. "Opening a theme park during the pandemic has been a challenge, and while every effort has been made to ensure our full offerings are available, a small selection of attractions require a little more time to be completed, something the team is working hard to achieve," he said. Built across 10.52 hectares at an elevation of 6,000 feet above sea level, Genting SkyWorlds will take guests on a sky-high adventure through nine movie and adventure inspired "worlds", incorporating original intellectual properties as well as movie-themed fun and excitement across its world-class rides and attractions. Source- NST

Floods: Janda Baik expected to incur RM12m in losses in 4 months - January 10, 2022

BENTONG: Pahang's popular tourist spot, Janda Baik, is expected to suffer losses amounting to about RM12 million as some of its locations are unable to operate for four months following the recent devastating floods that hit these areas. State Tourism, Environment, Culture, Plantations and Commodities Committee chairman Datuk Seri Mohd Sharkar Shamsuddin said among the areas most badly affected by the floods last Dec 18 was Pulau Santap, a major recreation spot in Janda Baik. He said 33 of the 54 resorts and chalets in Janda Baik were destroyed with the costs to be incurred estimated at between RM157,500 and RM6 million for each affected resort or chalet. "We will ask the federal government to assist in their recovery process through a special allocation with priority given to repairing the damaged infrastructure such as roads, bridges and public areas. 

"We are also asking for consideration be given to the tourism operators here who wish to obtain a flexible loan facility to repair or rebuild their resorts or chalets soonest possible and which will cost a lot." Sharkar said this at a news conference here today after viewing the destruction around Pulau Santap caused by the recent floods. Also present was Tourism Pahang general manager Kamaruddin Ibrahim. According to him, Tourism Pahang would also be listing the locations in Janda Baik that were forced to temporarily close as well as the resorts and chalets which could still receive tourists, for their reference.  "We hope that Janda Baik can operate again as soon as possible as tourism is a source of income for many of the local residents. About 300 workers are affected by the temporary closure of the resorts and chalets here. "Also affected are the other economic activities that depend on tourism such as the food business, all-terrain vehicle (ATV) rental and horse riding because before the floods, Janda Baik had been seeing a lot of visitors each weekend," he said.

Asked if the floods could affect the Visit Pahang Year relaunching plan this year, after being shelved for two years due to the Covid-19 pandemic, Sharkar said they would be focusing on other areas that were not affected by the floods such as Cameron Highlands, Fraser's Hill, Cherating in Kuantan and Pulau Tioman, Rompin. For the other flood-hit tourism locations like Taman Negara in Jerantut, Sungai Lembing in Kuantan and Lanchang in Temerloh as the "centre of Peninsular Malaysia", he said the recovery works were scheduled for completion soon. – Bernama

Source: NST

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