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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Kiulu Farmstay is surrounded by greenery. The bamboo lodge blends very well into the nature. I saw no big cement structure.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Even first world countries such as Japan and UK send their students to expose to farmstay, to learn the relationship between agriculture and mankind.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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 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.
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.
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:
Tel: +60 88-438300
GPS: 5.975465, 116.302143 (see Location Map)
See more photos of Kiulu Farmstay
Photos taken in Kiulu, Sabah, Malaysia Borneo