Tourism Malaysia

Selangor’s rustic delights

Tour guide Rashid Hisham putting the finishing touches on a scarecrow in a padi field in TanjongKarang, Selangor.Tour guide Rashid Hisham putting the finishing touches on a scarecrow in a padi field in Tanjong
Karang, Selangor.

A homestay programme offers community living, sustainable agro-tourism and a whole lot of merriment.

STANDING in knee-high grass under the blazing afternoon sun, Rashid Hisham takes a step back to survey his handiwork on the figure.

“This doesn’t look quite right. She needs something to make her look more ayu (demure),� he says, whipping out a white headscarf from a bag of clothes and throwing it over the scarecrow’s coconut head.

“Ah, I need a woman to tie this on her. I’m not very good at it,� the 53-year-old confesses with a grin.

If there is one thing to learn from this man, it is that scarecrows are meant to keep the birds away, but they should not scare people.

We are in a padi field in an idyllic village tucked away in Tanjong Karang, Selangor, where the United Federation of Travel Agents’ Association (UFTAA) congress        delegates have gathered to try their hands at harvesting rice with traditional hand-held harvesting tools.

Rashid, a tour guide with Agrotourism Sungai Sireh, says he feels absolutely at home in the rice fields. Padi planting and harvesting is his specialty, and he often brings visitors to the area.

As it is padi-harvesting season, the delegates are shown a method of hand-threshing after their padi field expedition, which involved beating sheaves of rice stalks against a hard surface to separate the grains from the stalks.

On this post-congress familiarisation excursion hosted by Tourism Selangor, they are given a crash course on the community’s culture and rural lifestyle – a sneak peak into what visitors to the Agrotourism Homestay Sungai Sireh can expect to experience during their stay.

Despite it being their first time, a few of the delegates prove rather adept at ketupat-weaving as well.

The United Federation of Travel Agents’ Association (UFTAA) congress delegateswere taught how to weave ketupat at the Agrotourism Homestay Sungai Sireh.— ROUWEN LIN/The StarThe United Federation of Travel Agents’ Association (UFTAA) congress delegates
were taught how to weave ketupat at the Agrotourism Homestay Sungai Sireh.

The humble rice plant, common as it is here, is a novelty to many of them and they are quite delighted to reap the fruits of their labour. Placing a few stalks of rice carefully into her bag, Nevin Ozkan from Northern Cyprus says she intends to bring them home to her grandchildren.

“I would like to show them these rice stalks as it is nothing they have seen before. Back in Cyprus, we don’t have padi fields like you do here,� she says.

Ahmed Nor Osman from Somalia describes the rice harvesting experience as “very nice, very interesting.�

Wiping the sweat from his brow, he says, “But I didn’t expect it to be so hot here; it is just like in Somalia.�

All for one

Launched in April 1995, the homestay programme is a community-based agrotourism project. The main operation site is located in Sungai Sireh, but there are several other neighbouring villages involved.

Sixty homes have taken on the role of host family to visitors, and the number is growing by the day. Full board is offered (there are different packages available) and visitors can join in the daily activities of the community for the duration of their stay.

Global Environment Centre (GEC) senior biodiversity officer, Nagarajan Rengasamy, explains that GEC is collaborating with the homestay folks to help develop eco-tourism and agro-tourism products and programmes.

“We also advise on how to make use of resources in a sustainable way,� he says.

Depending on the time of year, visitors can participate in different community activities, including fishing, kayaking or fruit picking.

“We sometimes bring the visitors to the padi fields to catch eels with their bare hands. These eels burrow in the soft mud, make a hole in it, and then live in it. Some tourists are a bit apprehensive about using their hands, so we give them a fishing rod,� relates Nagarajan.

And catching the eel is only half the fun; the cooking and eating after that makes up the other half!

“The villagers will show them how to make soup with eel. They believe it is a nutritious tonic, very beneficial for one’s health,� he says.

Most evenings end with merry-making, complete with dance and song accompanied by traditional musical instruments.

Past and present

According to Nagarajan, some 8.000 visitors participated in the homestay programme last year. Of these, around 2,000 are foreigners, mostly from South Korea, Japan and European countries.

“The irrigation system in the padi fields are from the days of the Japanese occupation in the 1940s,� he shares. “So the Japanese in particular have a special interest in coming to visit the villages as we are still using the same technology that they introduced here.�

For visitors who have the means to return frequently, the homestay programme offers a little incentive out in the fields: an opportunity to monitor your crops.

A small site in the padi fields has been set aside solely for visitors to work on.

“They plant the padi and then can return as often as they like to check on the progress of the plants,� says Nagarajan.

“Four to five months later, it is ready to be harvested. Some people actually come back to harvest the rice they planted!�

One of the largest remaining contiguous areas of peatland in the Peninsula is accessible from these villages. Most of the peat swamp forests in the country have been logged or degraded, and this peat swamp forest, covering an area of 70,000ha, has been identified as a conservation site.

Nagarajan describes the North Selangor peat swamp forest as “really big – it is the size of Singapore!�

And lest you think that community living in the village is routine and perhaps dull, Nagarajan discloses that surprises are aplenty: just last September, around 500 Asian Openbill Storks descended upon the padi fields, where they remain until today.

These migratory birds, usually found in Sri Lanka, India and Thailand, are not commonly seen here.

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Tourism Malaysia

Stories From The Hills [SFTH]

November 23, 2011 at 2:25 pm

The greatest treasure that travellers carry home from their journeys are not exotic items and artifacts from faraway lands, nor are they precious metals and gems from the four corners of the world. No, the most valued treasure a traveller accumulates are the stories of the places he has been and of the people he has met. The most famous traveller of them all, the legendary Marco Polo, knew the truth of this, and till this day, he is remembered because he knew how to tell a great story.

The view of the Titiwangsa Mountain Range from Casa Brina, Pahang

And so, in the spirit of Marco Polo, we now share with you, our readers, some of the stories we came across during the Kembara Cuti-Cuti 1Malaysia Pahang 2011.

Chapter 1: “I never looked back ever since”
The story of Mr. Francis, the best tour guide in Malaysia and how he started on this amazing journey

Chapter 2: “A journey of love back to nature”
The story of how a lady saved a river and turned it into a little piece of paradise

More chapters will be added in the upcoming days, so stay tuned.

Check out the candid photos we took of the trip at our facebook page here


Tourism Malaysia

The Best Tour Guide In Malaysia [SFTH1]

November 23, 2011 at 2:26 pm

“I never looked back ever since”

Mr. Francis Loh, arguably the best tour guide in Malaysia

On our journey in Pahang, we were led by Mr. Francis Loh, a man who laid claim to the title of the Best Tour Guide In Malaysia. You could sense that he was proud of bearing the title, even though it might carry with it a hint of self grandeur. The truth, however, is that he deserves the title. Hailing from Balik Pulau, Penang, Mr. Francis has an almost encyclopedic knowledge of all things tourism related in Malaysia, and like many other people we met in Pahang, carries nature close to his heart.

Mr. Francis leading the Kembara Cuti-Cuti 1Malaysia Pahang group to the village of Janda Baik, Pahang

The many spots that we passed along our journey in Pahang came alive through his vivid descriptions and explanations. The anecdotes he shared with us flowed freely, allowing us a glimpse of the beauty of nature, as things that might have been ordinary were revealed as precious and rare treasures. A master storyteller, he kept us all enthralled and in awe of the richness that surrounded us.

The view of the Titiwangsa Mountain Range from Casa Brina, Pahang

His own story of how he began as a tour guide is no less compelling and dramatic. Quite a while back, he was part of a weekend trip to a waterfall near Janda Baik, Pahang. Due to some unforeseen circumstances, the rest of the group had gone ahead, leaving he and his family to catch up with them when they could. The trek into the jungle meant that Mr. Francis and his family would need to navigate across a waterfall, one that plunged around 90 feet down into a deep pool. Mr. Francis did not make it across that day, instead he slipped and went over the falls.

The next thing he knew, he was in the pool, looking up at the rushing water, at the very bottom of the waterfall. And he was alive. He made his way back to his family, and what followed was a soul searching journey for him that set him firmly on his current path – as the best tour guide in Malaysia.

This is the first article of Stories From the Hills, the feature series on Kembara Cuti-Cuti 1Malaysia Pahang 2011

Check out the candid photos we took of the trip at our facebook page here

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