WITH Malaysia emerging as the most favored getaway for Saudi tourists in recent years, most visitors would have covered Kuala Lumpur, Penang, Genting, Malacca and Johor Bahru more than once, what with these being the Southeast Asian country’s most popular package-tour destinations.
But with word getting around that pleasant, hassle-free Malaysia is not quite all about the peninsula where the capital Kuala Lumpur is located, a lot more Saudi tourists are setting out this summer to discover another amazing side of Malaysia.
This eastern part of Malaysia lies across the South China Sea, where two of Malaysia’s 13 states, Sarawak and Sabah, are located in the northern portion of the island of Borneo.
Sabah, say travel agents in Jeddah, is the destination of choice for many Saudis heading for Malaysia this season. The main factors motivating Saudis to visit Malaysia are Islam, the English language, and the beauty of nature in the equatorial region of lush rain forests, the agents say.
Besides, they add, the Malaysians are a particularly friendly lot.
"Malaysians have a strong desire to communicate with people from other countries, especially Saudis. Most of them speak English and are Muslims," said Emad Morsi, director of the Al-Zaer Company for Travel and Tourism in Jeddah.
Visiting Malaysia is inexpensive and convenient as Saudi tourists are issued a visa upon arrival. Cost and convenience aside, there’s also new interest among Saudis to experience other cultures. On this score, Malaysia, given its strong Islamic moorings, has an edge.
“Saudis prefer to visit non-Arab countries because of their desire to communicate with various cultures and learn more about other countries’ traditions,” added Morsi.
Sabah, known romantically as "The Land Below the Wind,” is in the world’s third largest island (Borneo) with a coastline of 1,440 km (900 miles), fringed by the Celebes Sea on the east.
The second largest state in Malaysia after Sarawak, and sharing a border with the Indonesian province of East Kalimantan in the south, Sabah reportedly attracts close to one million tourists per year, who are drawn to its top-end beach, jungle or mountain resorts, year-round cultural events, nature treks, adventure tours including river trips, water sports and gold courses among several other attractions.
"Sabah is totally unique,” said Peter Cantwell, director of the Langkah Syabas Beach Resort. “It is one of the few places in the world blessed with beautiful birds and animals, pristine beaches, lush jungles, majestic mountains, and exotic rainforests.”
Sabah’s rainforests host a diverse array of plant and animal species. Its Kinabalu National Park is a World Heritage Site because of its richness in plant diversity and unique geological, topographical, and climatic conditions.
Sabah’s most popular wildlife attraction is undoubtedly the Orang Utan but few know about or have seen Borneo’s indigenous proboscis monkeys that can be found in Sabah’s Labuk Bay Psanctuary in the center of the mangrove forests of Sumawang. The remarkable male proboscis monkeys sport big dangling noses, reddish flattop hairstyles, white tails and markings, and pot bellies. The females on the other hand, are much smaller and have up-turned noses.
Other important wildlife regions in Sabah include Maliau Basin, Danum Valley, Tabin, and Sepilok. These places are either designated as national parks, wildlife reserves, virgin jungle reserves, or protection forest reserve.
Sabah has scenic beaches and beyond its coast lie a number of islands and coral reefs, most of which also have a well developed tourism infrastruture.
The western part of Sabah is generally mountainous, varying in height from about 1,000 meters to 4,000 meters. Its most prominent mountain is Mount Kinabalu at the height of 4,095 meters – the highest mountain in Malaysia.
Among Sabah’s spectacular cultural shows this month in Sabah Fest 2008, which includes and the Festival of Football and special events at Sabah Museum’s Heritage Village and by the National Symphony Orchestra.