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Sabah Fest 2015: AGOP, The Heritage of Sabah’s Caves

Sabah Fest 2015

Travel back in time and delve into the stories and legends surrounding Sabah’s caves through AGOP (means Caves) – this year’s Sabah Fest presentation. The musical performance AGOP will be held from the 1st to 3rd of May at the Auditorium of Kompleks JKKN Sabah at 8:00pm.

The following photos were taken during the final rehearsal.

Sabah Fest 2015 group performance
This three-day event will also highlight Sabah’s rich cultural heritage through a handicraft and traditional food showcase from 4pm to 10pm at the venue’s grounds.

cultural dance
The focus of this year’s Sabah Fest is a celebration of another important icon of ancient Sabah which thrives today as a living tradition and that is none other than Sabah’s mysterious caves. Widely known as AGOP by many communities on the east coast, ‘AGOP’ translates to the word ‘cave’ in the Orang Sungai, Dusun Begak and Dusun Subpan dialect.

legend of golden deer
Pic: the legend of golden deer of Madai Cave

Chinese dance in Sabah Fest 2015
Pic: arrival of Chinese fleet to Sabah. Great performance by KK High School

The celebration of Agop this year takes us on an expedition mostly to the east coast of Sabah to sample the charms of the communities – Ida’an, Orang Sungai, Dusun Begak and Dusun Subpan- who identify with the ancient cave culture and related on-going traditions and practices.

Dusun Melangkap from Kota Belud
Pic: Dusun Melangkap from Kota Belud

The musical theatre also highlights the role of Admiral Cheng Ho of the Ming Dynasty who came across the highly valued birds’ nests and presented them as a gift to the Emperor.

love story
Other rarely seen groups such as the Tidong of Tawau, Dusun Sandayoh of Paitan and Dusun Melangkap of Kota Belud have been invited to perform and display their culture and musical traditions at this year’s Sabah Fest.

love story in Sabah Fest 2015
Pic: romance triangle. Who will win her heart?

This year’s production is made possible with the involvement of some 350 people, including 140 performers from 7 ethnic groups who hail from 5 districts around Sabah.

dance in Sabah Fest 2015
From Lahad Datu are the Dusun Subpan from Kampung Segama, Dusun Begak from Tungku and Ida’an from Kampung Sepagaya.

Idahan couple
Pic: Ida’an from Lahad Datu

Also represented are the Orang Sungai from Sandakan, Tidung from Tawau, Dusun Sandayoh from Paitan and Dusun Melangkap from Kota Belud; each showcasing their cultural identity through song and dance.

Chinese dance in Sabah Fest by KK High School
Sabah Fest is made grander with a 100-strong welcoming troupe playing the tagunggak and Murut gong as guests arrive. Also performing are 80 dancers from around Kota Kinabalu private and non-governmental organizations, schools and universities, namely Universiti Malaysia Sabah (UMS), KK High School, SK Stella Maris Tanjung Aru and SM Maktab Sabah.

Orang Sungai
Pic: Sabah Fest 2015 uncovers the local rituals, legend and belief about caves

Don’t miss this annual premier event, showcasing Sabah’s vibrant cultural heritage, history and tradition in the form of thrilling theatrical performances, dance and music. Find out more at www.sabahfest.com.

dance by Orang Sungai
Tickets for the stage performance are available at RM50 per show. Show starts at 8:00pm. Tickets are available for sale at the ticket counter of auditorium. For more information on the event, please contact Francesca Lydia, Event Executive, Sri Pelancongan Sabah at +60 88-232121, email info@sabahtourism.com.

Photos taken in Kota Kinabalu, Sabah, Malaysia

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Where to Travel, Eat and Stay in Kunak town, Sabah

Idahan of Kunak

Though one of the oldest civilization of Sabah starts in Kunak, Kunak is not the most developed area of Sabah. Kunak is also where Islam first landed in Sabah, and you still can find traces of Japanese WW2 occupation around. Today, Kunak is a “forgotten” town at Sabah East Coast, and nobody remember its bustling history.

mosque in Kunak
Pic: Islam of Sabah starts in Kunak.

The locals there call Kunak the “Cowboy Town” (Pekan Koboi). Kunak is quite safe and peaceful, and doesn’t look a town of outlaw. With a population of about 50,000, most Kunakians are Bajau, Idahan and Bugis mainly working in oil palm and fishing sectors. The people here are very friendly.

Where to Travel

I don’t like standard sight-seeing tour, so Kunak is a nice town for me to see Sabah in different angle. Kunak is not a popular tourist destination of Sabah, but there are a few interesting places for you to explore.

1. Madai Waterfall

This 40-Meter waterfall is only 15 KM away from Kunak town and next to the main road. It is the favorite recreation site of the locals.
Madai Fall
» Read more about Madai Fall

2. Japanese War Tunnel

This war tunnel is a huge underground cave used by Japanese force during World War II. It is located in Mostyn oil palm plantation of Sime Darby about 12 KM away from Kunak.
Japanese war tunnel
» Read more about Japanese War Tunnel

3. Madai Cave

Madai Cave is the second largest cave of Sabah and situated in “Swiftlet Mountain”. This cave would be closed in Apr, Aug and Dec for bird nest harvesting by Idahan people.
Madai Cave
» Read more about Madai Cave

Idahan girls
Pic: Idahan girls are fair-skin and beautiful. May be they eat bird nest soup every day. 🙂

You may read my other blog about Kunak if you want to visit more attractions.

Where to Eat

Kunak is famous for its deer meat and chili paste. Kunak town is near to sea so its seafood is relatively fresh and cheap. Below are a few good places for eat out in Kunak.

1. Fook Seng Restaurant (福成餐室)

For me, Fook Seng Restaurant is the No.1 Restaurant in Kunak. It establishes in 1970, the oldest restaurant of Kunak. The taste and variety of food there is good and they serve no pork.

Fook Seng Restaurant (福成餐室)
Fook Seng Restaurant is located at: Bahagian Kedai Sedco, Block C, Lot 4, 91207 Kunak, Sabah. They open from 10am to 8pm daily.
Tel: +60 89-852 828, +60 16-831 9828 (mobile phone, look for Ben Poon)

deer meat of Sabah Kunak
Pic: deer meat (payau) fried in soy sauce and zesty sliced ginger

food of Fook Seng Restaurant, Kunak
Pic: air-conditioned room which can host about 20 guests

Kunak seafood
Pic: sweet and sour garoupa

fried squid
Pic: deep-fried calamari

fried mixed vegetables
Pic: mixed vegetables and mushroom

fried tofu
Pic: fried tofu (stuffed with minced meat) and fried brinjal

2. Vui Kee Seafood Restaurant (威记海鲜餐厅)

Another restaurant recommended by the locals. They open from 9am to 9:30pm. The food there is quite good too.

Vui Kee Seafood Restaurant (威记海鲜餐厅)
Vui Kee is about 4 KM away from Kunak town (See location map) and near (2-min walk) to Mostyn Hotel.

deer meat (payau)
Pic: deer meat (Payau) for RM7 (≈USD2.33)

seafood tom yam soup
Pic: seafood Tom Yam soup for RM6 (≈USD2)

Note: prices as of Oct 2012

3. Restoran Cita Rasa Kita (R.C.K.)

This restaurant is very near (1-min walk) to Mostyn Hotel, and they serve Halal food (Muslim-friendly).

BBQ chicken
Nobody told me about this place. I was attracted by the smoke from their BBQ.

BBQ chicken wing
Pic: BBQ chicken wing, not bad.

BBQ chicken tail
Pic: BBQ Chicken Tail, anyone?

Where to Stay

Kunak is neither a big city nor popular destination, so they have only 2 hotels. If you plan to stay in Kunak, I will recommend Mostyn Hotel at Simpang Empat (means “Fourth Junction”), which is near the roundabout 4 KM before Kunak town.

Mostyn Hotel (摩士丁酒店) of Kunak, Sabah
Mostyn Hotel is the most decent hotel of Kunak. The accommodation is clean and basic.

reception counter of Mostyn Hotel
Pic: reception counter. The staffs can speak basic English.

Below is their contact:
Address: MDKNK 2360-2363, Simpang Empat, 91200 Kunak, Sabah, Malaysia. (See location map)
Tel: +60 89 853005
Mobile Phone: +60 16 8260105
E-mail: mostynhotelkunak@gmail.com
Fax: +60 89 852699

room of Mostyn Hotel

Mostyn Hotel twin bedroom
I stayed in their Standard Room (Twin Bed) on 1st floor, for RM67 (≈USD22) per night.

bathroom of Mostyn Hotel
Pic: attached bedroom & toilet, with water heater

Mostyn Hotel (摩士丁酒店): types of rooms and rates
Pic: types of rooms and rates of Mostyn Hotel (as of Oct 2012)

In case you can’t read Malaysian language, Tingkat = Floor, Jenis Bilik = Room Type, RM = Malaysia currency (USD1≈RM3), Harga Bilik = Room Price, Cukai Kerajaan = Government Tax, Jumlah Keseluruhan = Total Price.
Upon check-in, they collect RM100 refundable deposit, so prepare more cash.

Though Mostyn Hotel is not in the town center of Kunak, its location is still quite convenient, as Vui Kee and Cita Rasa Kita restaurants are nearby. If you take long-distance bus to Kunak, you can ask the bus to drop you very near to this hotel.

Going to Kunak

Kunak is 470 KM away from Kota Kinabalu city (KK) and located between Tawau and Lahad Datu (see Sabah map below). Normally, most travellers take a 45-min flight from KK to Tawau or Lahad Datu, then get a taxi to Kunak (Distance: 58KM from Lahad Datu, 83 KM from Tawau).

location map of Kunak

To save some money, backpackers would take long-distance bus from KK to Kunak. The bus ticket is about RM50 to RM60 (≈USD17-20) one way and the road trip takes 8 hours.

bus terminal in Kunak
Pic: bus terminal of Kunak, the bus departs as early as 8:00am.

Unfortunately, there is no licensed taxi in Kunak. I rely on their unlicensed taxi (known as Kerata Sapu locally), which is readily available around town (seem like everyone can be a taxi driver there). But be warned, using unlicensed taxi is as risky as hitchhiking. It is quite ok in Kunak, but it is common sense for traveller (especially lady) to be vigilant, no matter where you travel. I requested Mostyn Hotel to get a reliable driver for me, and you can do the same.

There are still a few places such as Salt-water hot spring and 7-Well Waterfall that I want to see, so I’ll visit Kunak again. What do you think of Kunak? Does it have the potential to be a tourism destination? Please share with me if you know other good attractions and food in Kunak.

Photos taken in Kunak, Sabah, Malaysia Borneo

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