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
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
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."