Kiss of Fishes from Tinopikon Park of Moyog River

Water is the source of life. However, keeping a river clean and thriving with lives is one of the most challenging tasks. Nowadays, most rivers are polluted and their ecosystem is unsustainable, as most people is only interested in being a taker. You will see how nature rewards “givers” when you visit Tinopikon Park (Tagal Taman Tinopikon) next to Moyog River, located in Kampung Notoruss, a village 12 Kilometers away from Donggongon town (see location map).

Pic: a friendly village dog welcoming me at the hanging bridge

Tinopikon Park is less than 50 Meters away from the road and highly accessible. Last week I drove about 30 minutes from Kota Kinabalu city, parked my car at the roadside, walked 5 minutes, crossed a suspension bridge and the park was right in front of me.

Pic: Tagal Taman Tinopikon at Moyog River

Most of the population in Kampung Notoruss are Kadazandusun (largest indigenous group of Sabah) and Murut (headhunter tribe in the past).

Tagal = No Fishing Zone

On the bridge, I noticed something astounding in the river. There were dozens of big fishes swimming near the shore. Due to over-fishing, river teeming with fishes is really rare in Malaysia.

The secret word for this success is Tagal, which means “prohibition” in Kadazandusun language. The river is managed by local community / village and fishing is prohibited. You will be fined if you are caught fishing in Tagal area.

Pic: Besides me, there were other visitors who were also impressed by such view and came by the river for a closer look.

Tagal system is a simple concept initiated by a few riparian communities of Babagon in 1997, fishing and littering are prohibited in protected section of river so it allows the fishery to flourish. Villagers are also not permitted to cut the tree and extract stones around the river. As a result, the fishes came back after 2 years and the river was restored to near-pristine condition.

Pic: fishes went frenzy when children fed them with fish pellets

Tinopikon Park covers an area of 15,000 Sq. Meters, all the fishes here know that they are safe and not afraid of human. Instead, they all swam to us wanting us to feed them. To be practical, Tagal area is divided into three 1-KM-long zones, namely, Green Zone (fishing is allowed for own consumption), Orange Zone (fishing is permitted at an interval set by Tagal committee) and Red Zone (as generator of fish stock, fishing is totally prohibited).

Tagal is such a successful conservation and rehabilitation project that Sabah Fisheries Department also implements 511 Tagal zones in nearly 200 rivers in 17 districts of Sabah since 2000! This is a perfect example of how local people can manage and protect the natural environment. Sadly, Tagal never takes off in Peninsular Malaysia.

The fishes are so tame that you can touch and even catch them by hand. When seeing swarm of fishes coming to them like piranha, some visitors were scared at first. Then they found that those fishes are toothless Pelian (official name of Kelah fish in Sabah, a type of Mahseer. Species: Tor duoronensis). The fishes suck our skin with soft mouth, so it is like kissing us. Soon everyone walked into the water to enjoy the “fish massage”. Pelian fish only lives in clean river and it tastes really good, so it is also known as the Gem of the River.

Below is a video showing us having fun with the fishes:


After we were busy feeding the fishes, the villagers also prepared a lunch buffet to feed us. Everything we experienced in Notoruss Village is 100% “kampung” (village) style. The people are from local community and not actor. They are very friendly villagers and soon we mix well together.

The villagers cooked some delicious food consisted of rice, fresh meat and vegetables. They used firewood so the food has nice aroma, the smell and taste that reminds me of the food cooked by my grandparents in old days.

Pic: traditional food served in coconut shell.

Pic: lunch buffet near to Moyog River

Pic: my food in coconut bowl. Note the rice is hill paddy, more healthy.

Pic: enjoying fresh food, fresh air and fresh water next to river.


With so much energy to spend after lunch, we tried some traditional games such as blowpipe and lastik (slingshot).

Pic: blowpipe was used to be the hunting tool and weapon of headhunters

We also walked 20 minutes on a nature trail to a waterfall nearby. The village is surrounded by lush forest so itself is a park. When I was a boy, I was used to explore the wood with my cousins like “wild kids”. The big nature was our playground, in contrast to young people today, who spend most time exploring virtual world with fingers.

Finally we reached Tombokou Waterfall. Frankly the scale is not impressive, but the waterfall pond looks so inviting. During hot day, it’ll be really refreshing to soak myself in this pond and enjoy a couple of beers with friends. The villagers told me that there was a big waterfall named Wasai Waterfall about 15 minutes away from this pond. They will open the trail soon.

Experience Kampung Life

We also toured around the village and visited some houses. It is a very peaceful place and our presence is welcome. All houses here are build on high stilts to avoid flood and prevent unwanted animals to enter. Most villagers are farmers and many work at office in town too. Every house has a piece of land and I don’t see any fence, a typical Sabah village but foreigners would be surprised.

Pic: The rats in village are so big that they need a giant mouse trap. Just kidding, it’s a trap for squirrel. To you, squirrel is cute. To farmer, squirrel is a pest which can drill a big hole in Durian.

Pic: rubber tapping demo by villager. The white latex from rubber tree was the “platinum blood” of Malaysia in the past.

Pic: pineapple and sugercane from the village. The villagers let us had a taste of their fruits, when we moved from house to house lol.

I drool whenever I see the photo of this green pickle fruit. It is super sour with a slight taste of fresh grass, best if taken with a bit of salt or belacan (shrimp paste). I strongly recommend you to take one if you feel sleepy in a meeting, sure will wake up all your senses, haha.

Want music? Just hit the gong. From the expression of the locals, we know we need more practice.

Dancing Sumazau would be easier. Sumazau is a Kadazandusun dance that imitates the movement of bird in flight. Master it and you can call yourself a half-Sabahan.

Relax & Swim

Moyog River is one of the most beautiful rivers in Sabah, so I spent some time checking it out. Despite the hot day, the tree shade and cool breeze at the riverside make this a nice spot to relax.

The big rocks on river bank indicates that this is an upstream river. Note the water is a bit greenish due to the natural minerals, a sign of clean river.

The river further upstream at Tinopikon Park is shallow (up to chest level) and suitable for swimming. It is like a huge swimming pool with running water, but without Chlorine.

There is a section with cascading mini waterfalls, where you can sit and enjoy the natural Jacuzzi.

Thank you Janice and Hock Song for inviting me to this wonderful trip.

AJ Best Travel is the authorised operator who offers this 3.5-hour experience (9:30am-1pm) to be a kampung folk at Tinopikon Park. The tour will be available in April 2014 and you may contact AJ Best Travel for detail (see contact below):
Address (office): Lot 7, 2nd Floor, Block SH9, (MDP SH9-7-2), Taman Suria Shop Apartment Phase 1B, Jalan Penampang 88300 Kota Kinabalu, Sabah, Malaysia.
Tel / Fax: +60 88-702878
Mobile Phone: +60 17-8623833
Facebook: ajbesttravelsb (many nice photos)

The fee is RM160 (≈USD48) for adult, RM140 (≈USD42) for child and free for 4 years and below. The program includes entrance fee, Fish SPA, Kampung games, visit kampung house, trekking to waterfall, kampung meal with sumazau dance performance.

More Photos

You may check out my photo album if you want to see more pictures:

Photos taken in Penampang, Sabah, Malaysia Borneo

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