Tourism Malaysia


As city dwellers, we are used to demanding for things to be done “yesterday.” We are so used to listening to the scripted customer service dialogue at fast-food counters that we’ve learned to tune it out. We are used to the mass-produced “nutrition” in polystyrene boxes. And no matter how much we “communicate” on our hi-technology gadgets, truthfully, we are actually distancing ourselves socially from more meaningful inter-personal connections.

Seriously, city life has become the bane of our existence. And I, too, have become a sad part of it! But at least I have learned to recognize it and done something about it.

My pill for life – which I pop whenever I feel I’ve become too stressed out, too deep in work, too “out of the loop,” irritated at the world – is a quick getaway. By that, I mean “get-away-as-far-from-the-city-as-possible-and-do-it-fast!”And it’s not just to any fancy resort of a certain star-rating. These places I go to are hardly rated at all. In fact, they’re not made of glitzy perfection; they don’t have turn-down service, butlers lurking at every corner nor room service.

But that hasn’t stopped them from offering the warmest and most welcoming hospitality I know. I’m talking about the more than 3,000 kind families scattered around Malaysia’s kampungs who have graciously opened up their homes to total strangers like me looking for a genuine Malaysian experience. They call it the Malaysian homestay programme. I call it first-class hospitality.

In my escape of the clutches of city-life, I have ventured to several Malaysian kampungs that have taken part in this national tourism venture, meant to give the rural population a piece of the tourism pie. The programme has actually been well-received and today, 15 years after it was first introduced in Pahang, there are more than 200 villages listed under the programme.

They have all been pleasant experiences to remind me that a satisfying life is more about being in the present moment rather than in the pursuit of the next promotion, the next big gadget, the next sleek car.

I felt this most when I was making my way to Kampung Pantai Suri in Kelantan. We had to abandon our car for a more eco-friendly transportation. From the Kok Majid jetty, we glided slowly down the Sungai Kelantan estuary on a long boat (it was the only way to get to the village). Along the way, we passed sandbanks, wooden bridges, and the sight of young boys diving off a tree into the river in wild abandon. The splashes, their gleeful laughter, the friendly teases exchanged among them reminded me of a life less cluttered.

But it’s not just the children who know how to enjoy life. Even the elder folks have a deep sense of appreciation for the present. They know that they’ve worked hard, and they know that their bodies deserve a good respite. Despite the urban dwellers high-flying life in the cities, it is these folks in these older parts of Malaysia who lead much more enriching and full lives.

At the end of my stay at Kampung Pantai Suri, I was rushing off to board the boat home. On the way, I passed by a group of elders joking and laughing away under the shade of a huge mango tree. It was high noon and the heat was searing but the shade beneath the tree was a cool place to relax. These folks were sitting around hacking away the tops of coconuts to get to the juice and fleshy insides.

They saw me in my rush and called me to slow down and join them. Not wanting to miss my boat, I hesitated, but finally, their jovial demeanour and cheery calls won me over. “If you miss this one, you can take the next boat,” they said. So I sat with them as they selected a coconut for me to drink. It dawned on me that we sometimes lead our lives with clock-work precision that we forget to stop and drink the coconuts, so to speak.

This was as natural as it gets. The wind to cool me off, instead of the air-conditioning; a leafy, shady tree overhead, instead of a zinc roof; and fresh coconut juice in my hands, instead of those mocktail glasses with the little umbrellas stuck in them.

The kampung folk’s hospitality is legendary in Malaysia. When you check in at one of the homestay kampungs, you’ll notice that it’s like coming home to your grandparent’s home for Hari Raya. Some people may find the idea of staying at a stranger’s home rather awkward, but whatever they say about Malaysian hospitality being genuine and warm is true – in fact, they could possibly put public relations agencies to shame! It doesn’t take long to bond and you’ll immediately feel like part of the family. Many “host families” and their guests have parted ways in tears at the end of their homestay duration. I know I have…!

Another thing in abundance here in these traditional villages is time. Things around here move at a slightly slower pace than in the city. An entire morning can be dedicated to the preparation of lunch. On one occasion, the womenfolk who were neighbours with each other congregated at their friend’s kitchen and commenced their preparation of the day’s meal. Amid their twittering gossips, teasing banter, the peeling, cutting and slicing of a variety of herbs, leaves and spices, and the steaming pots of what-not from the stove, lunch slowly took on the form of a feast! Just another example of teamwork at its best!

Despite being in a kampung, you’d be surprised at the variety of things to do. Each kampung is unique, has its own traditions and cuisine heritage (depending on its location in Malaysia) and lifestyle. Some of the villages are set near jungle, others may be by the sea or river. Some may be surrounded by paddy fields or fruit orchards.

A host family at Kampung Haji Dorani has their own paddy field and during the harvesting season, I had a chance to help them out in gathering the crop. I considered it as my little contribution to alleviating world hunger, and took great pride in it! They also happened to have a small fruit orchard and many an evening was spent on the patio of the house peeling away the skin of the mangoes to reveal the juicy, golden flesh beneath. There’s just something so satisfying about picking your own fruit, harvesting your own rice and catching your own fish for the night’s dinner. This is exactly what they’ve been saying about the farm-to-table concept, and there I was living the life!

The afternoons are usually my favourite time because that’s when I get to spend time with the village kids. At Kampung Batu Laut near Banting, Selangor, the children would rush down to the beach after school and practice their sailing skills. These kids are being groomed to be the next sailors and sea captains and some of them have excelled so well as to compete in sailing competitions worldwide!

Despite the age difference, there’s a whole lot to be learned from these kids — about creativity (fashioning kites from bamboo) and teamwork (building a raft made of old tires). It was way better than those corporate training sessions in hotel meeting rooms!

The Malaysian homestay experience may have some similarities with the bed and breakfast concept in Europe, but I dare say that we’ve perfected it. It’s not only a retreat for those wanting to escape the city, it’s a lesson in life about humanity, patience, and for us, Malaysians, our heritage and traditions.

So if you find yourself stuck in life, corporate meetings, a 4×4 cubicle, traffic jams, or whatnot, perhaps it’s time to take a little drive back to our kampungs and learn to enjoy the simple pleasures of life again.

Malaysia Travel Guide

A Visit to the Annah Rais Longhouse

A Visit to the Annah Rais Longhouse

A Visit to the Annah Rais Longhouse

As a frequent traveler, and especially all over Sarawak in the last 10 years, I have to admit that I have never been to the popular Annah Rais Longhouse. This is one of the most popular longhouses that a majority of travellers would visit and is sold by local travel agents.

I have been to traditional longhouses deep in the interiors of Sarawak, at places like Lemanak and Batang Ai, which are easily five to seven hours traveling, but not to Annah Rais in the main Padawan area. In October 2017, I finally managed to visit this Bidayuh Longhouse which is just an hours drive from Kuching city.

A Visit to the Annah Rais Longhouse

Everyday life at Annah Rais longhouse in Padawan

Some people claim that Annah Rais is on a more commercial side, due to the proximity being close to Kuching city, hence the dwellers here are more modern and up to date. This was one of the reasons that over the last decade, I choose to visit other longhouses in the remote areas.

Annah Rais village is predominantly Bidayuh, with an exception of cross marriages to other races. The village is estimated to be over a hundred years old, and has expanded in all directions throughout the century.

A Visit to the Annah Rais LonghouseA local Bidayuh man goes about his daily chores at the longhouse

A Visit to the Annah Rais LonghouseA wooden bridge connecting the main longhouse to the communal hall and football field

Ever since the tourism boom in Sarawak, the Bidayuh community here had turned this traditional home into one of the most popular tourist attraction just out of Kuching. Visitors from the world over are seen doing day trips here whole for those who want to experience staying here, there are 9 registered local homestay programs available.

Driving about an hour from Kuching, I made my inaugural step into this fascinating culture where you actually get to walk around and see the Bidayuh people going about their daily lives.

A Visit to the Annah Rais LonghouseSkulls on display in a cage of the Skull House at Annah Rais

The massive longhouse is interconnected by a wooden or bamboo walkway, which is the main common area where families would sit around and talk and kids play. Annah Rais is so huge that it seems like one entire village is connected together with home run restaurants, grocery shops and the local homegrown products.

The first unique feature I came across was a headman’s house or skull house where I was intrigued by a collection of traditional skulls that were in a cylinder wire cage. I believe these were the invaders of the longhouse where the Bidayuh people caught and beheaded.

A Visit to the Annah Rais LonghouseOne of three murals that Ernest Zacharevic painted at Annah Rais

Walking along the main route, two wall murals from world famous Lithuanian artist Ernest Zacharevic is spotted on the walls of certain homes. He was invited to paint some of his murals here at Annah Rais in 2014.

At the far end of the longhouse, there is one unit called a Bidayuh Show House where I saw what a traditional Bidayuh home looked like back in the day. It displays simplicity and basic living by using natural resources.

A Visit to the Annah Rais LonghouseLocal Sarawak black and white pepper sold here

A Visit to the Annah Rais LonghouseFor those wanting to sample the local rice wine or Tuak, they are also available here

Souvenirs can be found sold by a number of homes, which are usually traditional Bidayuh items such as beads or woven baskets or mats. For fans of the world famous black gold or black pepper, you can buy the Sarawak black and white pepper in packets here.

And for those wanting to sample the famous local brewed rice wine or Tuak, this can be done here too. I also noticed that bottles are also for sale from some of the homes here at very reasonable prices.

A Visit to the Annah Rais LonghouseOne of the older wooden houses at Annah Rais

A Visit to the Annah Rais LonghouseAt the entrance, a glass of Tuak is served after purchasing your entrance ticket

Annah Rais is one of the most popular tour packages that can be booked from any of the travel agents in Kuching. Alternatively, many also use private taxi services to get here by them selves or even rent a car to self drive here.

For tickets, there is a RM8.00 entrance fee before entering the longhouse and I recommend you go before 10.00 AM. A glass of rice wine or Tuak is also served to non Muslims when you purchase your ticket.

Photos by David Hogan Jr

Malaysia Travel Guide

Visiting Merarap Hot Spring Lodge in Lawas

Visiting Merarap Hot Spring Lodge in Lawas

Merarap HotspringFor the adventurer, there is a hot spring lodge located deep in the Lawas district in northern Sarawak. Operated by a local Sarawakian, this very rustic and basic lodge can only be accessed via 4WD. From the town of Lawas, it is around 70 kilometers drive through old logging roads and thick secondary rainforest.

Once here, the warm Lun Bawang hospitality is seen as the owner is very passionate about his place. The natural hot spring water is pumped into his man made pools from a source about 100 meters away.

Merarap Hotspring

The owner poses in front of the Merarap Hot Springs

Lodging is as basic as can get, a homestay style accommodation with traditional local food served. Visitors can also request for trekking or hiking around the hilly area here.

A class four or five rapid runs along the Merarap hot spring lodge, but there are no water activities allowed as it is quite dangerous on the Trusan River. However, the natural landscape Is just beautiful, especially in the mornings.

Merarap Hotspring

Entrance to Merarap Hot Springs

Merarap Hotspring

Basic accommodations at the lodge

Merarap Hotspring

Merarap Hot Springs in Lawas

For travelers heading to Bakelalan in the highlands using the original way by road, this hot spring is one of the recommended places to make a stop and spend the night. Your experience here would surely be something out of the ordinary.

This place is also popular among the 4WD and biker clubs from around the region, especially those traveling in convoys. Bruneians also love to visit here for the weekends.

For inquiries or bookings, head over to the Merarap Hot Springs Facebook Page (link:

Photos by David Hogan Jr