Tag Archives: homestay

Malubang, a beautiful fishing village in Pitas

stargazing in Pitas

When I was on a quest to explore the legend of Supirak, I found myself another wonderful seaside vacation at Malubang Village (Local Name: Kampung Malubang), a remote fishing village in Pitas near the tip of northern Sabah. Spend a few days there and you will experience a simple village life without electricity, Wifi, water heater, air-conditioner, asphalt road, etc.

Malubang Village (Kampung Malubang) in Pitas, north of Sabah

Malubang Village (Kampung Malubang) in Pitas, north of Sabah

Kampung Malubang (Malubang Village)

Malubang Village is located at a beach in Marudu Bay. Most villagers are Sulu people who mainly work as a fisherman. Every morning you can see their fishing boats depart for fishing trip.

Every house owns a boat in Malubang Village

Every house owns a boat in Malubang Village

Malubang is facing Kudat town and Tip of Borneo is clearly visible at the horizon. In fact, Kudat is less than an hour away by boat, and Banggi Island takes about 20 minutes.

A fisherman repairing his fishing net

A fisherman fixing his fishing net

a well in Malubang

Some houses are still using well for water supply

Though tourists seldom come here, the friendly villagers are ok with outsiders taking a stroll in the village. They are shy but smile a lot. It’s a small fishing village with about 30 houses. Foreigners would find the fence-less stilt houses there interesting.

A house with colorful hanging clothes in Malubang

A house with colorful hanging clothes

During my visit, there was an open house wedding reception (of Mizrul and Mastura) in the village. They were kind to invite me to have lunch with them and watched them dancing and celebrating.

Married couple Mizrul and Mastura

Married couple Mizrul and Mastura

Group photo with the shy and friendly village girls

Group photo with the cute village girls who dressed up for wedding function

This village is a close community, in contrast to city. I confess I don’t know most of my neighbours and never visit their home too. May be it’s not only me.. Nowadays kids in same neighbourhood don’t mix around. In old days, I went cycling, fishing and climbing tree with my young neighbours, so Malubang brings back memory.

I enjoyed every moment in Malubang. The only thing I don’t like is that a lot of rubbishes washed up to the shore there.

Supirak Legend

Supirak Island and its surrounding legendary rocks are the main attractions of Malubang (as well as Pitas district). Legend says Supirak Island was a ship turned into a rock due to a curse by mother to her ungrateful son.

Cruising around Marudu Bay

Cruising around Marudu Bay

At Malubang, you can charter a small boat easily (for less than MYR80) to visit these island and rocks around the bay, as every villager owns a boat (life vest may not be provided).

Rocks and wells of Supirak legend

Rocks and wells of Supirak legend

Besides Supirak Island, there are many other places of interest in Pitas, to name a few, traditional fishing platform named Bagang, long-nosed monkey in mangrove forest of Bengkoka River, and Esplanade Bengkoka. Due to limited tourism facilities and lack of promotion, Pitas isn’t a popular destination.

Accommodation

Malubang Homestay is the only accommodation in Malubang Village. At the edge of Malubang, the lodge is a longhouse style accommodation with 6 Rooms. The rate is MYR40 to MYR50 (about USD$10 to 12.50) per room per night. It could be fully booked during peak season such as school holiday.

Malubang Village, the Malubang Homestay is under the yellow pointer

Malubang Homestay is the blue building under the yellow pointer

Rooms of Malubang Homestay

Rooms of Malubang Homestay

Each room is big enough to fit a group of 3 to 4 people, and it comes with attached bathroom cum toilet, beds, and fan. You can cook in common kitchen area, but you need to bring your own cooking utensils.

food served in Malubang Homestay

What we ate in Malubang Homestay

Please note there is no restaurant in the village. You can request the lodge to prepare the meals for you (Fee per head: Breakfast MYR4.00, Lunch MYR10.00, High Tea MYR2.00 and Dinner MYR10.00).

Enjoy meals with sea view

Enjoy meals with sea view

Everything in this lodge is basic. Power supply is only available from 6pm to 6am (by power generator), which provide lighting and sufficient electricity to charge your phone and camera.

The view in front of Malubang Homestay

The view in front of Malubang Homestay

But hey, the nice sea view makes up for it, and beach is less than 20 Meters away. Some beach resorts want guests to pay thousands for such view. The little rocky island at the left is Bum-Bum with a half-completed jetty (lack of fund to finish).

Malubang Homestay and its beach

Malubang Homestay and its beach

There was no mosquito net in the room. To prevent mosquitoes eating me, I had to position the standing fan to point to my bed to blow those buggers away.

Malubang Homestay in Pitas

Malubang Homestay in Pitas

For booking, you can contact Mr. Moktar at cellphone: +60 19-8212597 (Whatsapp available). Moktar is Orang Sungai married with 5 kids. He starts the lodge in 2008. The GPS location of Malubang Homestay is 6.956184, 117.060140 (see Location Map). Moktar also can arrange the tour and boat transfer to visit the attractions nearby.

Crab feast, a treat by Moktar!

Seafood feast, a treat by Moktar!

Most guests are families from Pitas and Kota Marudu. Moktar will be happy to receive some international tourists. He understands that his lodge could be better, so he plans to improve his accommodation.

Fat crab with juicy meat

Fat crab with juicy meat

When we were ready to check-out, Moktar was missing in action for nearly an hour. Then he suddenly showed up and brought a covered plate, with mysterious smile on his face. He cooked us a big plate of yummy and steaming fresh crabs. Thank you Moktar! You are such a nice guy.

Sunset

Malubang Homestay is facing west, so you can enjoy watching giant yolk sinks into sea every day. I need not to say more.

Beautiful sunset at Malubang

Beautiful sunset at Malubang

Magic hour of Pitas

Magic hour of Pitas

After dusk, the brightest thing at night here is the city light of Kudat at the horizon. Power line hasn’t reached this village yet.

Fishing

You might think that this peaceful fishing village becomes even quieter after nightfall. Wrong. Many villagers, both young and old, are busy fishing at the jetties at night. FYI, Malubang Village is famous for fishing giant squid (Sotong Gergasi), which can weigh up to 6 Kilograms and abundant from Oct to Feb every year. Now I understand why every visitors brought a fishing rod.

Local anglers got busy after sunset

Local anglers got busy after sunset

Malubang is so lucky to have 3 jetties that extend a few hundreds Meters to the sea, so the people can fish anytime, even during low tide. I didn’t bring a fishing rod, so I was just busybody and check out what they caught. There were mainly stingray and fishes, some are over 2 Kg, quite big.

anglers and the caught

Many locals come to Malubang for fishing holiday during weekends

FYI, my Maxis mobile phone got one bar of signal at the end of the jetty, enough for me to check Whatsapps and emails.

Milky Way

It’s quite windy in the evening. I felt so relax laying on the platform of jetty and enjoyed the sea breeze. The sky was full of stars and shooting stars appeared almost every few minutes, some are quite big and last 4 or 5 seconds.

stargazing in Pitas

Pitas is a good place for stargazing

That’s crazy that by 7:30pm I already could see Milky Way spanned across the sky like a silver belt. I didn’t know Pitas is an excellent place for stargazing.

Kampung Pansuran

I also walked around Kampung Pansuran (Pansuran Village), a smaller fishing village about a stone’s throw from Malubang Village. Most residents there are Bajau Sama people.

View from Kampung Pansuran Village

View from Kampung Pansuran Village

Visit the water village of Kampung Pansuran

Visit the water village of Kampung Pansuran

The villagers there are also equally nice and friendly. They were busy with fish caught and dried some of them under the sun to make dried seafood.

A young fisherman in Kampung Pansuran Village

A young fisherman in Kampung Pansuran Village

Dried fishes on boardwalk of Kampung Pansuran Village

Dried fishes on boardwalk of Kampung Pansuran Village

They still use traditional fishing methods such as fishing net and fishing line. Pitas is famous for its dried seafood.

Dried stingrays and fishes

Dried stingrays and fishes

Talking about village life, you might visualize I become a shirtless muscle guy playing soccer and laugh with the local kids, a cliche scene common in many movies. No, I didn’t do that, LOL.

Mondou Hill (Bukit Mondou)

To make sure I didn’t miss out any attraction near Malubang Village, Moktar took me to Bukit Mondou, a small hill only a few minutes drive from the village.

Mondou Hill (Bukit Mondou) in Pitas

Mondou Hill (Bukit Mondou) in Pitas

Though Bukit Mondou is the highest point in Malubang, it is less than 80 Meters high, and it took us less than 30 minutes to reach the top. The trail is mostly flat and not challenging at all.

Climbing Mondou Hill (Bukit Mondou) in Pitas

Climbing Mondou Hill (Bukit Mondou) in Pitas

However, the trail is not tourist-friendly and covered by long grasses. Please don’t go there alone.

view of Berungus from the top of Mondou Hill (Bukit Mondou)

You can see Berungus from the top of Mondou Hill (Bukit Mondou)

The view on top of Bukit Mondou is nice, as you can see Supirak Island and have a panoramic view of Malubang and Marudu Bay.

How to get there

From Kota Kinabalu City (KK), you need to drive about 5 hours to reach Malubang Village. The first 3 hours drive from KK to Pitas town is on 140 KM of paved road in good condition. The last 60 KM further north from Pitas to Malubang Village will be a bumpy 2-hour ride on gravel road.

road trip from Pitas to Malubang Village

The distance from Pitas town to Malubang Village is about 60 KM

Therefore, you need 4-Wheel Drive to enter this remote place. Though small sedan such as Kancil also can make it, it’ll be a pain to move around the potholes, mud ponds and uneven surface. The GPS Coordinates of Kampung Malubang is 6.956184, 117.060140 (see Location Map).

Gravel road from Pitas town to Malubang Village

Gravel road from Pitas town to Malubang Village

It’s advisable you stop by Pitas town to have lunch and fill up the gas tank. For first timer, avoid to drive there at night because there is no street light along the way. Please also note that Uber and GrabCar aren’t available in Pitas district. Internet and mobile phone coverage are limited in most part of the journey.

Moktar pointing at Kudat town

Moktar pointing at Kudat town

Shopping for dried seafood (e.g. dried shrimps, salty fishes) in Pitas

Shopping for dried seafood (e.g. dried shrimps, salty fishes) in Pitas

Btw, one the way home, you may buy some dried seafood from the roadside stalls around Pitas, for great bargain.

Photos taken in Pitas, Sabah, Malaysia Borneo

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Sunsuron Homestay in Tambunan, the Valley of Bamboo

cultural performance of Sunsuron Homestay

Tourism is defined [1] as “…the activities of persons travelling to and staying in places outside their usual environment…” Oh yea, travelling should be an extraordinary experience. If we go sightseeing like a typical tourist, everyone would see the same thing and go home telling the same story. Probably the only interaction between most tourists and the locals is waving hands to each other to and from a tourist bus.

Group photo with Tambunan Valley in the background

Group photo with Tambunan Valley in the background

Therefore, instead of staying in a hotel that looks no different to other hotels in your hometown, you may consider homestay. In hotel you are just a guest, in homestay you are a friend. Don’t just leave your footprint on a foreign land, leave a wonderful memory between you and the local people.

Sumazau dance by Dusun Tambunan people

Sumazau dance by Dusun Tambunan youth

Last month I decided to live like a local in homestay of Kampung Sunsuron (“Kampung” is Village in Malay word) in Tambunan, a remote town 80 Kilometers away from Kota Kinabalu (KK), the capital city of Sabah. The mountainous landscape, cooling climate and scenic greenery earns Tambunan the nickname Switzerland of the East.

Sunsuron Village & Homestay

Tambunan is on a highland with average altitude of 750 Meters, so it is refreshing and can be quite chilling at night. Besides, it’s a land uninvaded by McDonald’s and Starbucks, where you can appreciate more authentic cultural experience and village lifestyle.

One of the houses of Sunsuron Homestay

One of the houses of Sunsuron Homestay

More than 130 years ago, the Sunsuron area was uninhabited, because it was a hot zone of headhunting and tribe wars. In 1885, British North Borneo Chartered Company established police base in Sunsuron to end the unrest.

Bamboo trees and shrubs in Tambunan

Bamboo is everywhere in Tambunan, and this is not by accident.

Thanks to Taliban and the bygone British colonial government, Tambunan is also known as the Valley of Bamboo. When peace was restored in 1930s, flourishing agriculture and development created huge demand for bamboo, which caused over-harvesting and led to more shortage of bamboo.

Guests enjoying the traditional dance performance

Welcoming traditional dance for the guests of homestay

Therefore, OKK Taliban, the first Native Chief of Tambunan, worked with Peter Lupang Tingkalus from Tambunan Forestry Department, to implement a policy requiring everyone to plant ten bamboo for every bamboo cut [2]. This worked so well that thriving bamboo has became an icon of Tambunan.

Welcoming gong by villagers

Welcoming gong by villagers

The name Sunsuron is the slip of the tongue over time from the Kadazan Dusun word “Sunsuyon”, which means bridge. There was a bamboo bridge for the villagers to cross the Sunsuron River at that time. The host of our homestay is Mr. Peter Gatulik and his wife. Peter is a retired police officer and his children had grown up and live somewhere else, leaving some empty rooms that he is happy to offer to traveller who wants a home away from hometown.

Gastronomic Adventure

Homestay in Sabah means more than cheap accommodation. You live like part of their family. It’s not a hotel where you can find bellboy or your favorite sweet-and-sour food.

traditional food as dinner

“We have everything except pizza and muffin. Please make yourself at home.”

You eat what they eat. No salad but tuhau; No salmon but basung; No red wine but lihing. None of our exotic food tastes like chicken. Enjoy the acquired taste!

Traditional appetizer (from left): Serunding Tuhau, Tuhau and Bambangan

Traditional appetizer (from left): Serunding Tuhau, Tuhau and Bambangan

In Sabah culture, food is important for building friendship, so your host will make sure that you are well-fed. For traditional appetizers, you would be given hinava (fish slices marinated in lime juice), tuhau (a type of wild ginger) and bambangan (pickled mango-like fruit).

Feast on local food

Feast on local food

Hinava is a “safe choice”. For first timers, tuhau can either taste like stink bug or food from heaven to them. No matter what, Tambunan is famous for Tuhau, so at least take a bite, or you can try Serunding (Deep-fried) Tuhau, a less potent version of tuhau.

Meat soup with banana trunks

Broth with wild banana stems (umbut pisang)

You are lucky if it is the season for getting Borot (a type of small freshwater fish) and Birid (horn shell) from local river. Both are delicacy only available in rural area. Our traditional dish could be a bit of culture shock to you, but just be open-minded. You don’t travel a long way to Sabah just to eat hotel food right.

Linopot: rice and food wrapped in tarap leaf

Linopot: rice and food wrapped in leaf

Just for fun, they also serve linopot, which is rice wrapped in big leaf. In the past, farmers and hunters brought linopot with them to the field and used the leaf as a plate.

Steamed Tilapia fishes

Steamed Tilapia fishes

Tambunan is an agricultural district, so the meals of homestay usually comprise fresh and organic vegetables from local plantation. You would find that almost every house in village has a mini-farm and fish pond besides garden.

Lihing (left) and Tapai (right), rice wines of Sabah

Lihing (left) and Tapai (right) are rice wines of Sabah

The villagers are very friendly, so it’s quite likely you would be offered a couple of drink. You may love the idea of warming up your body with locally brewed liquor in the cool evening, or you can politely decline if you don’t drink, no problem at all.

Beer and banana fritters

Beer and banana fritters as our breakfast lol

Normally beer and wine are not included in homestay unless you request. Anyway, you would be invited to wedding or festival celebrations if there is any nearby, so be prepared.

Turtle Rocks

Village is an excellent source of folk stories about strange things, but I was surprised that there is a weird “treasure” in the front yard of my host. Interestingly enough, it’s a rock, not gold or gem.

A pair of turtle rocks that look like carapace

A pair of “turtle” rocks that look like carapace. It’s Ms Bibiana beside them.

More than two decades ago, Peter was on duty and patrolled around Pamol, Sandakan. A contractor was digging the ground to build a house near to a river, and pair of strange rocks were unearthed. Peter found the rocks very beautiful because they looked like the carapace of a turtle. Since nobody wanted them, he took them back home and left them at the staircase.

The turtle rock is quite heavy

The turtle rock is quite heavy

The amazing rocks generated a lot of curiosity and the news spread. The rocks were even featured in Mystic magazine. Then a Chinese from Peninsular Malaysia offered RM30,000 (≈USD$7,300) to buy the turtle rocks. Even though the offer was irresistible, Peter cherished such serendipity and decided to keep them.

Turtle Rocks

The value of these rocks is almost worth a car!

Before leaving, this buyer was kind to advise Peter that it’s more auspicious to place these rocks near the water. Probably this has something to do with Feng Shui, as tortoise or turtle is a sign of longevity and water symbolizes wealth.

Bottom of the Turtle Rock

Bottom of the Turtle Rock

Therefore, Peter put these rocks at the fish pond in his front yard. OMG I can’t believe he just leaves the RM30,000 rocks laying around like that. The whole village knows about these rocks, but for 20 years nobody steals them. Btw, Peter also welcomes anyone to study these rocks and tell him why they are so special.

Anyway, Bibiana, the daughter of Peter showed me more unbelievable things in Kampung Sunsuron, when we toured around the village later.

House of Skulls

In the past, the people of Sunsuron practised head-hunting to defend their territory. The skull was kept as a war trophy which locals believe was endowed with supernatural power and would protect the owner. Some said whenever their enemies approached their village, these skulls would shout to warn the people.

Checking out the House of Skulls

Checking out the House of Skulls

Most of the 35 skulls were the followers of Mat Salleh and collected during his last battle with British at Tambunan plain in 1900. These skulls were used to be hanged or placed in a wooden hut that didn’t last and always required repair, so a concrete head house was built, next to Spiritu Tobitua Church and a burial ground, in June 1959 by Y.N. Gampin to house the skulls.

Head House next to Spiritu Tobitua Church of Kampung Sunsuron

The Head House is next to Spiritu Tobitua Church of Kampung Sunsuron

The locals call this head house Sunsuron Guritom. Guritom means black people in Kadazan Dusun language, because Mat Salleh’s followers had darker skin than Sunsuron people. One of the skulls belong to Sambatangan, the most-wanted hero of the enemy, whose head is said as big as a bucket. The head house is still standing today (GPS Location: 5.742147, 116.377498, see Location Map or Street View), but the skulls are gone (a local says some of them are buried under the head house) because somebody stole them for use in black or white magic.

photo next to head house of skulls

The plan of head house is almost square (about 1 Meter in width and height), and the roof is in the form of pyramid, with an apex surmounted with a concrete image of a skull.

According to a research [3], at least half of the skulls were female, the majority being either young or very old, while some 10 percent of the remainder are adolescent boys.

An old skull belongs to a headhunter (now kept by Sabah Museum)

An old skull belongs to a headhunter (now kept by Sabah Museum)

In early days, you must ask head-house keeper to take you to visit the head house. If you go alone you must pay 2 dollars sogit (fine) to the village. People who disturb the skull would become sick, insane, or worst, die.

Inscription on the Head House of Kampung Sunsuron

Inscription on the Head House

The elder villagers would tell you that the village used to perform ritual to feed and appease these skulls annually. Villagers were required to contribute some money to share the cost of buying food such as buffalo. If the ritual was postponed, people would hear the noise of chattering teeth from the skulls, it was freaking scary when there was no lamppost at night that time. However, villagers were too poor to feed them, so the last ritual was performed in 1970s, with Bobolian (native priest) declared to the skulls that there would be no more feeding.

Watu Tinuridung the Bulletproof Stone

Just a stone’s throw away from the Head House is the historical Watu Tinuridung Stone (GPS Location: 5.742725, 116.378539. See Location Map). According to oral tradition of Kampung Sunsuron, this stone was found in late 19th century, the time Mat Salleh revolted against the British ruling.

Watu Tinuridung stone was used as bullet shield by the rebels in old days

This menhir is 2.13 Meters high with an average thickness of 23 cm.

In 1898, Mat Salleh agreed to ceasefire (Palatan Peace Pact) with British North Borneo and stayed in Tambunan. However, Mat Salleh was hostile to Kampung Sunsuron, and he raided the village. Mat Salleh was more well-equipped with weapons such as cannon, so Kampung Sunsuron was asking for help from British government.

Watu Tinuridung stone

This Watu Tinuridung stone was part of a 40-Meter circular defensive site. I found no bullet mark on the stone though.

The men of Sunsuron also prepared to defend themselves by digging a circular hollowed-out area, which has a circumference of 40 Meters, and used the earth to erect ramparts around it [4]. The excavated area was deep enough to hide standing men behind the wall. While digging they saw this large and flat stone and thought it’s an excellent shield for firearm. They erected the stone to make it stood.

Mat Salleh was killed by the British in 1900

Mat Salleh was defeated by the British force in 1900 with the help of Sunsuron warriors (Actually he was shot by a Maxim machine gun)

In local dialect, the action of erecting something is called monuridung hence this stone was named Tinuridung. Then two priestesses (bobolian) performed a ceremony to invite the spirit to reside in this stone as a guardian to keep the village away from any sickness and harm.

A car shields itself from sunlight with Watu Tinuridung stone

A car uses Watu Tinuridung stone as a shield to sunlight haha

Until today, some villagers believe a friendly spirit is still living inside Watu Tinuridung. Probably for this reason they don’t remove the stone, and it also becomes a memorial to commemorate the brave Sunsuron warriors who perished in the war.

Traditional Tambunan House

There is a traditional Tambunan house beside Watu Tinuridung Stone (GPS Location: 5.742818, 116.378591. See Location Map). This house was a real residence but now vacant after it was gazetted by Sabah Museum as a heritage house.

A traditional Tambunan house in Sunsuron Village

A traditional Tambunan house in Sunsuron Village

The bamboo house is raised on hardwood stilts, sometimes large river stones are used instead. Though the window is small, the translucent quality of bamboo allows enough light to get inside the house.

Photo behind the Tambunan traditional house

The double pitched roof made entirely of interlocking bamboo shingles is the main characteristic of Tambunan bamboo house [5]

The beauty of this house is it was first constructed without using any nail. The wood, bamboo and poles are lashed together with rattan strips. However, after the ongoing maintenance, some nails are added to the structure.

Explore inside the Tambunan house

Sirang is main part of the house, where residents eat and entertain the guests

This is a 100% wooden house, and most of the floor and wall are made of bamboo. There were many taboos in house building. For example, bamboo should not be taken during the time of full moon, and it’s bad luck to orientate the house entrance to the path of the setting sun, which is associated with death.

Chamber for young girls

The top is where the girls sleep, or is used as a storeroom (dumpang)

For safety reason, young girls overnight in an attic (Linimput), a small platform built above the house’s main cross-lintel, and parents would remove the ladder that accesses their room. The rattan knots that bind the wood together are already an art. I wonder how many people can tie these knots nowadays.

Wood and poles bind by rattan ropes

Wood tied by rattan. Note how they join two poles together in photo at the left.

Sunsuron is awesome huh? Currently, there are 18 families participated in Sunsuron Homestay (Muslim host available). The standard rate of accommodation (with 2 meals) in homestay is RM85 per day (≈US$21/day). You can request your host to organize more activities (additional fees applied) such as visiting Mahua Waterfall, Mt. Trus Madi, Mt. Wakid, Batu Gong Rock and Rafflesia Information Center, biking, birding, fishing and hiking.

The following is the contact of Sunsuron Homestay. You are advised to book the tour earlier instead of walking in:
Facebook: ValleyOfSwitzerland
E-mail: sunsuronstay@yahoo.com
Sunsuron Homestay’s Coordinator: Ms Bibiana P. Gatulik (Cellphone: +60 14-6792148)

References

  1. Definition by World Tourism Organization (UNWTO)
  2. Source: Bamboo Planting in Tambunan, by Rahim Sulaiman
  3. For further reading: Head-hunting and the Magang Ceremony in Sabah, by Peter R. Phelan, published by Natural History Publications (Borneo), ISBN-13: 978-9839638158
  4. See Traditional stone and wood monuments of Sabah, by Peter R. Phelan, ISBN-13: 978-9839722031
  5. More Info: The Tambunan Bamboo House in Local and national History, by Richard Nelson Sokial, Vol 23 – The Sabah Society Journal – (2006)

Photos taken in Tambunan, Sabah, Malaysia Borneo

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