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Kiulu Farmstay at the Valley in the Mist

Kiulu Farmstay

Countryside is always stereotyped as a backward place for the poor. However, as a city grows big, urban people have to deal with more traffic jam and pollution, high living cost and smaller space, and now they envy the Orang Kampung (villagers), who enjoy a richer and healthier life because of fresh air, clean water and organic food in rural area.

Kiulu, one of the most beautiful villages of Malaysia

Kiulu is one of the most beautiful villages of Malaysia

I read somewhere that says Kiulu is the second most beautiful village of Malaysia and also known as the Valley in the Mist. In fact, Kiulu is a kingdom of villages because it consists of 103 villages. When driving on the winding and hilly road in Kiulu, you will be mesmerized by the lush hills, clean river, scenic plantation and peaceful villages.

Kiulu, the Valley of Mist

Kiulu, the Valley of Mist

Therefore, I was so glad to visit Kiulu Farmstay in April to experience village lifestyle for 2 days in this magnificent place. Kiulu is only 1 hour and 15 minutes away from Kota Kinabalu City (KK) by car, very convenient for me to reconnect with nature and to appreciate what are gone in city, i.e. fresh air, clean rivers and starry sky.

Tamparuli Town

On the way to Kiulu Farmstay, my guide, Pius and I stopped briefly in Tamparuli Town for a walk at Tamparuli Bridge and local market. FYI, Tamparuli Mee, a homemade local noodle, is a must-try if you eat in this town.

(left) Tamparuli Bridge and (right) view of Mt. Kinabalu in Kiulu

(left) Tamparuli Bridge that looks like a Natgeo logo, and (right) view of Mt. Kinabalu on the way to Kiulu

I saw people feeding fishes under the bridge. There are probably thousand of them, most are fat fishes over 1 feet long! According to a local, the river is under Tagal system (no fishing), so the fishes can grow really big.

“Village is a place where you can find peace, unity, strength, inspiration and most importantly a natural and beautiful life” – Minahil Urfan

The Fig Tree Eco-Lodge

After 45 minutes of driving from Tamparuli, we arrived Kiulu Farmstay. I was excited when I saw the crystal clear river from the hanging bridge. The emerald color of the river is a sign of natural water, something healthier than chlorinated blue swimming pool.

Hanging bridge to Kiulu Farmstay

Hanging bridge to Kiulu Farmstay

River under the hanging bridge

River under the hanging bridge

Kiulu Farmstay is surrounded by greenery. The bamboo lodge blends very well into the nature. I saw no big cement structure.

Bamboo houses of Kiulu Farmstay (Fig Tree Resort)

I overnight in the building at the right. The small building at the left is common bathroom and kitchen for campers.

In contrast to warm and sunny environment of beach resort, the riverside Fig Tree Lodge is tranquil and refreshing. I always dream of owning a house next to a river, so I can go swimming and fishing anytime. Staying in Kiulu Farmstay makes me desire it even more.

Bamboo house accommodation of Kiulu Farmstay

Bamboo houses of Kiulu Farmstay (Fig Tree Ecolodge)

The Fig Tree Lodge itself is an attraction. It’s so well built and designed, you can tell that they spend a lot of efforts to details. Except the roof, most items such as furniture and wall are made of locally sourced bamboo and wood. Some big bamboo poles are 20 years old. It’s an unique traditional house with some contemporary elements.

Dining area in the bamboo house

Dining area in the bamboo house. Nazllie (left, journalist), Pius (2nd from right, tour guide), and Jumadi (middle) & Esther (right) are our host

The lodge has two rooms that can accommodate about 4 to 6 people, big enough for a family group. They plan to build 8 more rooms in future. Electricity is on 24×7, so fan, light and hot water are always available. The lodge is also complete with a kitchen, bathroom and dining area.

My bedroom and the paddy grinder outside

My bedroom and the paddy grinder outside

The bedroom is clean and neat that I had no problem sleeping deeply. The split bamboo walling and flooring make this lodge looks like a cozy home of farmer. They add layer of rice husk waste between the walls to regulate the temperature.

This fig tree is the icon of Kiulu Farmstay

This fig tree is the icon of Kiulu Farmstay

Near the lodge is a big fig tree. Locals believe fig tree is spiritual (never swear or curse under fig tree), so some traditional rituals are performed under fig tree.

Fresh organic food in Kiulu Farmstay

Fresh organic food in Kiulu Farmstay

Esther is our cook who can make very nice local dish from fresh fruits and vegetables such as banana buds, tapioca, maize, pumpkin and sayur manis (Sabah vege). Worrying that we were not used to village food, she always asked, “is it good?” She should know that we are happy by looking at our empty plates lol.

Hiking

After a fulfilling lunch, Jumadi and Pius took us to explore the jungle nearby. Actually the so-called jungle is “forested orchard”. Instead of clearing the land for plantation, they let the fruit trees grow scatterly and wildly among the wood.

Plantation in village and forest

Plantation in village and forest. Can you tell what these trees are?

That’s why at first I was puzzled when Pius pointed here and there to introduce variety of crops, herb, vegetables and fruits that he spotted along the way, when I thought we were walking in a forest. My late grandfather also used to have such orchard in Tamparuli, and I often saw fowls, pangolin and other wildlife foraging in his plantation.

Variety of edible plant and fruits

Variety of edible plant and fruits. From left to right, top to bottom: Pineapple, edible fern, cempedak, salak

Just to list some crops that we saw, mango, durian, bambangan, rambutan, cempedak, rubber, peanut, maize, tarap, fern, sayur manis (Sabah vegetable). The best month to visit is September, which is the start of fruiting season, and they say you can eat so many free fruits that are almost worth as much as the tour.

Liposu fruit

Liposu fruit

Among the dense undergrowth are some herb and spice plant too, like gingers and tuhau. We also walked around the farmland of villagers. They are really friendly and don’t mind we roam in their territory.

Edible ginger

Edible ginger or tuhau

No matter how developed a country is, agriculture is still extremely important for a nation to achieve self-sufficiency on food. A healthy environment is crucial to sustainable farming, so it shouldn’t be taken for granted.

Trekking along the river

Trekking along the river

Even first world countries such as Japan and UK send their students to expose to farmstay, to learn the relationship between agriculture and mankind.

Mantub Waterfall in the forest

Mantob Waterfall in the forest

During jungle trekking, we also crossed a few streams and went upstream to see Mantob Waterfall. Watch at the video below and see how clean the water is, as if we can drink it unboiled.

The clean river isn’t by luck. The villagers of Kiulu love their environment, so they keep the water source free from pollution and deforestation.

Unpolluted river of Kiulu Valley

Unpolluted river of Kiulu Valley

River

We sweated a lot after 2.5 hours of hiking. Kiulu has one of the cleanest rivers in Sabah, so it’s a shame not to take a soak there.

Hanging bridge and the river

Hanging bridge and the river

I camped in Kiulu more than 20 years ago. I’m happy that the river still remains clean and chilling until today. Now Kiulu even becomes the most popular destination for white water rafting.

Crystal clear river of Kiulu

Crystal clear river of Kiulu

In America, 40% of the rivers are polluted and are considered unhealthy for swimming, fishing or aquatic life. The same thing will happen to Sabah, if we don’t protect our rivers.

Enjoying the clean water

Enjoying the clean water (but too shallow to do tubing)

I wanted to try tubing, but too bad the water was too shallow that time due to prolong drought. Further downstream there is a spot where you can snorkel and see many fishes. The world populations of freshwater species have declined by 55% between 1970 and 2000. Fortunately, many rivers in Sabah have tagal (no fishing) system in place to prevent over-fishing.

buffalo skull next to the bridge

Buffalo skull next to the bridge

buffalo skull next to bridge

Buffalo skull has replaced human as sacrifice for bridge construction

To locals, river is the source of life and the origin of civilization, and it is also viewed as the guardian. In our history, people were sacrificed to appease the river god, whenever a new bridge was built. Nowadays, buffalo skull is used instead.

The Stars

Kiulu Farmstay is formed by three villages: Kampung Mantob, Kampung Pinagon Baru and Kampung Dumpiring. City people can live at a place many years without knowing who is their neighbour, but nobody is a stranger in a Sabah village.

Party with villagers at night

Party with villagers at night. Thank you Saidin, Sikong, Johari, Pius and others for the wonderful time.

In the evening the villagers shared some food and liquor (Montoku and Lihing, the local rice wine) with me. We drank and played music until late night. Some local stories, history and folktales were told, the most interesting one is a snake-like eel up to 5 feet long could be found in their river in old days.

Milky Way in Kiulu

Milky Way in Kiulu

I ended up quite tipsy going to bed, so it’s a miracle that I could wake up at 3am to take some photos of Milky Way. Though starry sky is nothing special to our villagers, light pollution prevents 1/3 of world from seeing Milky Way. 80% of North Americans and 100% of Singaporeans can’t see Milky Way in their cities.

Quad Biking

Somehow I managed to get up on time in next morning and tried quad biking the first time. Initially I thought it would be something leisure like cycling in a garden. Oh my lord, the quad bike really rocks like a mini 4-wheel drive and able to conquer any terrain.

Quad biking in Kiulu

Quad biking in Kiulu

Quad bike can go really fast and furious. The braver you are, the more fun you can get out of it, and it’s really addictive. I would say it is the highlight of this trip. The deeper part of Kiulu is the best playground for quad biking, as it has many rugged road in undulating slopes, with scenic forest, hill, gorge and village view along the way.

Quad bike is quite easy to operate. Before we hit the road, they let us practiced in a field first. We started at 8:30am and had fun riding 22 Kilometers until 11:30am.

Gorge in Kiulu

Gorge in Kiulu

Quad biking is more powerful than scooter, so it can cause severe injury if we are not careful. However, I didn’t know what happened to me. I’m not a risk taker, but my personality changed when I was riding this bike. I was so reckless and fearless in speeding on bumpy and steep road. Anyway, it’s really fun.

Quad biking in Kiulu

Quad biking in Kiulu

Quad bike is a beast and seems like having a mind of its own. You have to fight a bit hard with it to fully control the stiff steering, or it’ll take you to hell. Don’t worry. Just go slow and get used to it in the beginning.

Big Foot Point in Kiulu

Big Foot Point in Kiulu

After 11 KM, we stopped by Big Foot Point in Kipunti Village for a break. Locals say footprints of big foot were seen around here, when they constructed the new road. Kiulu is also the Valley of Mystery.

Rumour says there is big foot around here

Rumour says there is big foot around here

Kiulu has gradually become a popular place for people who want to experience village lifestyle and outdoor adventure in nature. You can book the tour online. Other activities you can do include rice processing, rubber tapping, cooking, buffalo riding, BBQ, fish spa, camping, etc.

You can contact Kiulu Farmstay for more info:
Website: kiulufarmstay.com
Facebook: KiuluFarmstay
Tel: +60 88-438300
E-mail: info@kiulufarmstay.com
GPS: 5.975465, 116.302143 (see Location Map)
See more photos of Kiulu Farmstay

Photos taken in Kiulu, Sabah, Malaysia Borneo

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Bawang Jamal Beach: Sunset, Longhouse, Milky Way

Playful children from local village

Need a break? Hearing someone says, “let’s go to the beach!” will definitely cheer you up. Everyone loves going to the beach. However, it stinks for beachgoers to get only a few meters of space at a popular but crowded beach. Personally I dislike sharing a beach with hundred of people.

Bawang Jamal Beach (or Pantai Bawang Jamal in local language)

Bawang Jamal Beach (Pantai Bawang Jamal in local language)

Photo of Coney Island Beach by Michael Candelori

A crowded beach in USA (photo by Michael Candelori)

Luckily, with about 1,300 Kilometers of coastline, Sabah has so many nice beaches that are enough for everyone to get over 10,000 Sq. Meters of space.

Bawang Jamal Beach

Bawang Jamal Beach is about 1 KM long

I’m not exaggerating. Bawang Jamal Beach (Pantai Bawang Jamal in local language), in north of Sabah, is one of them, and most of the time you would see less than 10 people on this 1-Kilometer long beach.

Intertidal zone

Water-filled trough (Runnel)

Promoting the beaches of Sabah to foreigners can be challenging sometimes, because my marketing managers would comment, “The photos are nice but hey.. the beach is so empty. Tourists would think that our beach ain’t fun or got shark!”

Panoramic view of Bawang Jamal Beach

Panoramic view of Bawang Jamal Beach

Located in Kudat, Bawang Jamal Beach is really hidden well behind a village and dense casuarina trees (GPS: 6.993149, 116.727974, see Location Map).

End of Bawang Jamal Beach

End of Bawang Jamal Beach

During my visit, I saw an Australian couple spending their vacation at this beach, and they say Bawang Jamal Beach is probably the best beach in Borneo. I had seen the seething mass of meat (people) in Bondi Beach of Sydney, so I understand why they love this secluded beach so much.

Tourist walking on the beach

Tourist walking on the beach

This beach is unspoiled and turtles also come to nest occasionally, and a turtle hatchery was built around here. Street and house light can drive turtles away, so no development could mean a good thing to wildlife.

White sandy beach of Bawang Jamal Beach

White sandy beach of Bawang Jamal Beach

Local children beachcombing for shells and seaweed

Local children beachcombing for shells and seaweed

The blue sea and snowy beach here are something that tourists willing to pay high dollar for staying in such an untouched beach. It’s a small bay flanked by rocky shores. The intertidal zone and sandy beach are wide, which is very suitable for kids who can’t stop running around.

Bawang Jamal Beach of Kudat

The island far behind is Kelambu Island

Edible seaweed

Edible seaweed found on the beach

Sometimes group of village kids would walk along the shore to collect edible stuffs such as shellfish and seaweed. In tourist beach we can’t do this because usually there is nothing left.

Crawl marks left by seashells

Crawl marks left by seashells

Rocky shore of Bawang Jamal Beach

Rocky shore of Bawang Jamal Beach

Rocky beach at the end of Bawang Jamal Beach

Rocky beach at the end of Bawang Jamal Beach

The rocky shore at the edge of the beach is fun to explore. You would see many small marine animals trapped in the tide pools. I can sit there whole day watching them crawling or swimming.

Starfish in tide pool

Starfish in tide pool

Rocky beach covered by yellow seaweed

Rocky beach covered by yellow seaweed

The most interesting feature of Bawang Jamal Beach is big area of rocky shore covered by yellow seaweed. It looks like a golden carpet when lighted by warm colors of sunset.

Beautiful sunset at Bawang Jamal Beach

Beautiful sunset at Bawang Jamal Beach

Rock formation along the beach

Rocks along the beach

Actually I want to photograph the luminous sea (“glowing sea” caused by bioluminescent phytoplankton) of Bawang Jamal Beach, but it wasn’t in peak condition during my visit. Anyway, I saw many fishes swam near to the shore to lay eggs, and a fisherman showed me his caught after night fishing, it’s kind of fun.

Fish caught by villager at night

Fishes caught by villager at night

Mossy rocks and seaweed on the beach

Mossy rocks and seaweed on the beach

No matter what, this beach is quite unique that I’m sure many photographers would thank me for introducing them another nice spot for landscape shots.

Milky Way at the beach

Milky Way at Bawang Jamal Beach

As this beach is free from light and dust pollution, you can see thousands of stars clearly in crystal clear sky. I shot a few photos of Milk Way. Later I found that some of my friends have no idea what is Milky Way because they never see one in the city.

Super Sunset

Not only that, the sunset view at Bawang Jamal Beach is spectacular. No kidding. The nice sunset and beach can be the excellent backdrop for romantic movie scenes.

Dog and cat enjoying sunset

Dog and cat seem to enjoy the sunset

Sunset view at Bawang Jamal Beach

Sunset walk at Bawang Jamal Beach

Our beaches are really underrated. I’m kind of upset when some travel portals rank some mediocre (but popular) beaches as the best in the world.

Panoramic sunset view

Panoramic sunset view

Sunset run on the beach

Sunset run on the beach

After seeing so many nice beaches in Sabah, I’m not easily impressed by beaches in other countries. In fact, many Sabahan friends return from overseas trip and say, “heck, you know what? Our beaches are better.”

Secret Place Cafe

By the way, if you stroll around this beach, you would find Secret Place Cafe near the midsection of the beach. Well, it’s not that secret. I saw a number of westerners relaxing there.

Secret Cafe Place

Secret Cafe Place

You can buy hot and cold drink such as tea, coffee, soft drink and beer there. They also sell food like fried rice, noodles, toast and omelette. The prices range from RM6.50 to RM8 (≈US$1.60-2.00) and the serving size is quite big. Though the cafe is not certified Halal, they serve no pork.

Beach at Secret Cafe Place

Beach at Secret Cafe Place

FYI, you also can rent snorkelling gears and camping tents at this cafe. I think they offer sunset BBQ too.

Lupa Masa Longhouse

For those who want to spend more wonderful time at Bawang Jamal Beach, Lupa Masa Longhouse is only 3 minute walk away from the beach. The design of this accommodation is based on traditional bamboo longhouse of Rungus people in Kudat. “Lupa Masa” means “Forget Time” in Malay language, which conveys that it is an enjoyable place where you would forget about time.

Lupa Masa Longhouse

Lupa Masa Longhouse

Like how villagers live, the bedroom and amenities of the longhouse are very basic. The room is quite warm during daytime, but quite cooling at night. Electricity for lighting is available. Common toilet and bathroom are just 10 Meters outside the longhouse. The place can accommodate about 12 guests.

Lupa Masa Longhouse

Lupa Masa Longhouse has some basic amenities (From left to right, top to bottom: longhouse, bedroom, washroom, verandah)

The accommodation fee per night is RM50 – 75 (≈US$12.50-19), depend on if you want to participate in Homestay (with full meals) or just Bed & Breakfast. They can help you to arrange various activities around Kudat, for example, snorkeling, fishing, sunset tour and river cruise.

Longhouse under the starry sky

Longhouse under the starry sky

Lupa Masa Longhouse is only 7 Km before the Tip of Borneo. Below is their contact:
E-mail: lupamasaborneo@gmail.com
Tel: +60 19-8020549
Website: lupamasa.com
Facebook: Lupa.Masa

Mangrove river behind Bawang Jamal Beach

Mangrove river behind the beach

Would you prefer a crowded beach or a tranquil beach? Please tell me in comment section below.

Photos taken in Kudat, Sabah, Malaysia Borneo

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