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By Shanti Gunaratnam

TOURING "Mystical Borneo", the land of wonders and diverse cultures, is going to be very interesting and affordable, especially for those who enjoy the "Fly and Drive" concept.

Imagine flying to Kota Kinabalu, hopping into a four-wheel drive vehicle before proceeding to Ranau to enjoy the offerings of the Kinabalu National Park.

The park towers over the oldest rainforest in the world. It is 1,500 metres above sea level and the bastion of Sabah's tropical flora and fauna. Some 20,000 tourists visit the park each year.

One the way back, visitors can pay a visit to the Sabah Tea Garden and see for themselves how Sabah tea is processed. Limbang in Sarawak the next day offers tours to longhouses, the Buddha Cave or simply walking around the small town famous for buffalo races held during the harvest season.

Textiles plus vegetables and seafood are also very affordable in Limbang, the town nestled between Sabah and Brunei.

From Limbang, head to Miri or the "Oiltown". It is from Miri that many tourists fly on to Mulu, home of the Mulu National Park.

This park is one of nature's most spectacular and the "jewel in the crown" of Sarawak's expanding network of national parks. With the Kinabalu park, they are the only two World Heritages Sites in Malaysia.

If you are one of those who would rather spend your vacation shopping, then the duty-free island of Labuan, dubbed the International Garden Island of Borneo, is the place to hunt for bargains.

Labuan also has some places of interest. One is the Japanese Surrender Point at Layang-Layangan where the 37th Southern Army surrendered to the 9th Division Australian Imperial Forces on Sept 9, 1945 which led to the end of World War II.

Another is the Labuan War Memorial which is Malaysia's largest war grave. Some 3,905 soldiers mostly Australians, British and Indians are buried there and every year, on the Sunday closest to Nov 11, a memorial service is held, attended by war veterans, families of war victims and others paying their respect to the fallen heroes.

Last year, Tourism Malaysia organised the Cuti-Cuti Malaysia Borneo Mega Drive 2002 tour of Borneo to show off the various tourist destinations in Sabah, Sarawak, Labuan and a little bit of Brunei.

The seven-day tour began in Kota Kinabalu on Oct 10 and ended in Miri on Oct 16. Expedition members comprised the media, those in the travel trade, non-governmental and youth organisations, and government agencies.

According to Tourism Malaysia's Sabah director Edzuar Zar Ayob Azari, this "listening" and sightseeing tour was held to get feedback from the Press and those in the travel industry on how to package the "Fly and Drive" tours to Borneo sometime in the middle of next year.

"We are also in the midst of getting feedback from tourists and travel agents as to what visitors coming here want to see and do while in Sabah, Sarawak, Labuan and even Brunei," he explains.

"The package will first be introduced to Malaysians, especially those in the peninsula who have yet to see picturesque beauty of East Malaysia and Brunei, before extending it to foreigners."

The target market for this package is small families looking to spend from four to seven days in Borneo.

"This sort of holiday will be suitable for couples with either two or three children and those who cannot afford luxury tours. The pricing for the package will be very competitive."

The tour will be flexible with participants getting to choose what they want to see and do while in Borneo.

"The Kinabalu and Mulu National Parks are great places to visit. Many Malaysians, especially those from the peninsula, have yet to see and enjoy the beauty of these places," says Edzuar.

Edzuar is optimistic such a package will be a hit with visitors from the peninsula because flying to Borneo is very affordable these days with airlines offering fantastic discounts.

Annually, 900,000 tourists visit Borneo with some 450,000 from West Malaysia.

Expedition leader and event manager for the Borneo Mega Drive Frankie Teo says some 1,500 km were covered during the seven-day tour which saw 22 cars, comprising 4WDs and a Volkswagon Beetle ferrying expedition members to the various destinations.

Initially, the expedition was supposed to have been held over a period of almost two weeks sometime in May but it was postponed to October because of World Cup soccer.

"We had wanted to do quite a bit of off-roading. But this time around, we decided to scale things down to allow members the chance to enjoy the various tourists destinations in Borneo. At the same time they can experience both air and road travel in this part of the world," says Tan.

Source: Travel Times, New Straits Times

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