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SOS Rhino : In the News : Archived News : June 2000 : Idyllic vistas wash away fear of terrorism

Idyllic vistas wash away fear of terrorism

By Julie Schmit
June 2, 2000

KOTA KINABALU, Malaysian Borneo - -- Maurice Lewis, 67, a retiree from Kent, England, looks at it this way: "I have more chance of being run over in England," he says, than being kidnapped by Muslim rebels.

The April 23 kidnapping of 21 tourists, including 10 foreigners, from a dive resort on the island of Sipadan in Malaysia is hurting tourism. Cancellations are running about 10% to 20%, and the U.S. State Department warns travelers to be extra cautious when near Sipadan.

But tourists recently visiting Sabah, the Malaysian state that Sipadan belongs to, had only glowing reports about their travels. "This is paradise," says retiree Brenda Percy, 60, of Newcastle, England.

Sabah markets itself as a "soft adventure" destination for those who appreciate nature but also like modern comforts. It isn't a cheap trip when compared with Thailand, Indonesia or other parts of Malaysia.

But it offers a smorgasbord of delights, especially for nature lovers. Mt. Kinabalu, at 13,435 feet, is popular with climbers of all levels. Sabah's rain forests are home to brilliant flowers, rich bird life and rare mammals, including the orangutan, proboscis monkey and Sumatran rhinoceros.

Many of Sabah's resorts are relatively new, along with its tourism industry. Just 305,000 international tourists, and fewer than 10,000 Americans, visited last year. Hotel occupancies run about 60%.

Still, Kota Kinabalu, the main city, has numerous four- and five-star resorts, including the popular beachfront Shangri-La Rasa Ria. Recently, it offered a walk-in rate for a twin, sea-view room of $ 157 per night, including breakfast and dinner. Sabah's nature resorts, such as the Borneo Rainforest Lodge, have fewer resortlike amenities but are closer to nature. The Rainforest Lodge offers simple but comfortable cabins, ranging in price from $ 92 to $ 180. Meals and guided nature walks are included.

Most Sabah travelers use tour operators to arrange hotels, guides and transportation, which isn't always available in remote areas. In the main cities, taxis and English speakers are plentiful.

When assessing his experience, Victor Lewington, 57, of Essex, England, gave the ultimate compliment. "We would come back."




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