Travel Weekly editor at large Nadine Godwin, a city dweller by
inclination, nevertheless seeks out small towns and villages for
their tourist appeal. Her report on one such day trip in Malaysia's
state of Sabah follows:
he world's small places are
excellent additions to tour itineraries. They are easy to take in
on short visits, and the people are usually friendlier than city
folks and may be more colorful in their clothing styles and
Besides, to the extent that visitors go outside the population
centers, they spread tourist dollars around.
For reasons less altruistic -- curiosity and a wish to collect
another experience that is unique in a travel career -- I
contracted with a local ground operator, Exotic Adventure, based in
the Sabahan capital of Kota Kinabalu (K.K.), to take another
journalist and me to the fishing village of Kampung Penambawan.
We drove less than an hour north of the capital -- where our
hotel, Shangri-La's Tanjung Aru Resort, was located (see room key
below) -- to a river town called Serusup.
Here we boarded a small motorized boat for the 10-minute ride to
our destination. We had the best spaces, on the floor at the widest
point in the middle; our transport accommodated the boatman, our
guide and two hitchhikers aiming to get home.
Getting out of that rocking boat was a precarious enterprise but
a fitting prelude to walking a city-block-long pier that was 3 to 4
feet wide and bound on both sides by nothing but water that seemed
to reach forever.
It was good training for walking in the village of about 1,000,
where the wooden, stilt-supported "sidewalks" wend their way among
the houses and stores.
Fishing is the on-site business -- naturally -- made apparent by
the boats and the tools of the trade here and there.
Cats are not exactly tools of the trade, but these fish-eaters
are everywhere, bobtailed about half the time.
Overwater housing requires stilts, but stilts are a land-based
tradition, too, to stay clear of animals and water, to better
circulate the air and, in the bad old days, to thwart headhunters
by pulling the staircase into the house.
One guidebook calls Penambawan a kind of Venice, but I wouldn't.
At least there is some land in Venice. Here, everything is over
water, except for the school that sits on land abutting the
But the people -- who are of the Bajau ethnic group and Muslim
-- are not exactly backward. Some commute to jobs in the
information technology industry, but there are no places to plug in
The children are studying English; I heard youngsters serenading
us with a Peter, Paul and Mary folksong.
Happy to see us, they ran on those overwater paths (falling in
probably isn't the issue for them that it would be for me) and
happily practiced language skills with me. They were glad to pose
for photos, as well; one small boy rushed for his baby brother,
then dived in front of me to be sure he was included. It
Because of the heat, it is best to arrive early at the village.
After taking a soft drink on the shaded porch of a small shop in
Penambawan, we walked the long pier again and were in Serusup well
For the return to K.K., we took a more inland route through
territory distinguished by mountains, river valleys in daunting
ravines and the suspension bridges that make travel by foot among
villages practical. They cross the Kiulu River, which is used by
local tour operators for river-rafting trips.
These days, the bridges, which sway at an altitude well above
the top of a New York walk-up apartment building (more than five
stories), are hung on steel cables.
We walked on sturdy planks and were comfortingly enclosed, up to
the shoulder-height cables, by netting.
They are good enough, in fact, that locals even drive their
That would be a unique experience, wouldn't it?
Room key: Shangri-La's Tanjung Aru RESORT
Address: Locked bag 174, 88995 Kota Kinabalu,
Telephone: (011) 60-88 225-800
Fax: (011) 60-88 244-871/217-155
Manager: Mark Heywood
Head concierge: Abdul Lasid Imao Sid
Number of units: 254 in Tanjung Wing; 245 in
Kinabalu Wing. The total includes 40 suites.
Renovation report: Property dates from 1983, the
newer wing (Kinabalu) from 1994; rooms in older wing (Tanjung) set
for upgrade and expansion.
Rates: From $127 per room, single, or $140 per
Room amenities: Ironing board and iron; cloth
bathrobe; hair dryer; safe; skirt hangers; minibar; detergent in
amenities kit; U.S.-style phone jacks and U.K.-style electrical
outlets; 24-hour cable TV news; 24-hour room service.
Facilities: Six restaurants; swimming pools,
tennis courts, nine-hole golf course, water-sports facilities.
Business facilities: Fully equipped business
center; Horizon Club providing free breakfast and other amenities;
Noteworthy: Beautiful beach setting, though
limited sand; more beach and sand on nearby island national park;
waiters deliver to the outdoor Sunset Bar on bikes; appealing
mini-art gallery displaying carved items, some old traditional
tribal goods, some new and based on the old.
Not worthy: Could not tame the air