Bakun Offer huge tourism potential

The Sungei asap resettlement scheme in Belaga eher the Bakun Hydroelectric Dam is located, can be transformed into one of the best tourist destinations in Sarawak.

It has yet to be fully explored and promoted but most of the tourism-related industry players believe once the facilities are in place, it will become one of the world’s ‘must-go’ tourist destinations.

The Sungai Asap resettlement scheme was set up in 1998 to accommodate some 15,000 people from 15 longhouses who had to be relocated from their original villages in Balui River to make way for the Bakun Hydro project.

Principal Assistant Secretary to the Tourism Ministry Mary Wan Mering said travel agents needed to come up with exciting packages.

“I am happy that the longhouse folks are trying to start homestay programmes to improve their living standard. The ministry is hopeful their initiative will ensure the success of homestay programmes in Sungai Asap,” she said at the recent launching of the Uma Belor Leo Dian Belaga homestay programme.

“Homestay operators in Uma Belor must learn from successful operators through educational visits to Peninsular Malaysia. This will be one of the ministry’s plans.”

Mary hoped the locals would take advantage on what Bakun could offer, especially in ecotourism.
“The potential is there to be tapped. The people must seize the opportunity to benefit from this unique tourism asset,” she said.

Meanwhile, Samuel Chung, managing director of Straits Central Travel & Tour Agencies disclosed at the launching of Uma Belor Sungai Asap home-stay that six travel agents participated in the Bakun familiarisation trip.

“We have been to few longhouses. They are among the best products that can be commercialised locally and internationally,” he said.

Air connection

He suggested travel agents work with the local airline to promote Uma Belor as a transit point.
“With the help of the Tourism Ministry, we have talked to the airline to give us a special fare. I hope this will materialise soon. I have spoken to general manager of MasWing and he has agreed to hold further discussions on the matter.

“We want to concentrate on eco-tourism — the people come here for Nature. We also want to help train local tour guides to protect the interests of the local people. We are fully committed to this,” he added.

Chung also suggested a tourism task group be formed to educate the homestay operators on the tourism industry.

Earlier, during an interview, he described Bakun as a very interesting new product.
“Of course, we have the Batang Ai Dam which is beautiful as well but Bakun dam is something else – it’s one of the biggest in the world. So it’s the job for the tourism people to develop the area as a tourism product.

“We travel agents need new products. Here, we need the government to help us promote these products. If we market on our own, it’s not easy. It’s important to let people know what we can offer. Familiarisation trips can be organised for foreign travel agents to come here and look at our products,” he added.

On the local community, he said their different ethnic backgrounds were attractions in themselves.

“We can combine this with Nature, culture and adventure. If we are to develop this, the locals need to be involved.

“Few other countries have things like pristine jungles, unspoilt flora and fauna as well as agro-tourism. Moreover, we have other beautiful tourism products like natural waterfalls and traditional longhouses, and tourism activities like boat rides and fishing. All these are available in Bakun.”

On the safety of Bakun reservoir, he said there was risk everywhere, not only in Bakun.
“It’s a protected area — there must be guided tours and beyond Bakun, you’ll see the lake and floating chalets — all these are exotic tourist attractions.

“Bakun is one of the attractions in Borneo. It is something tourists do not see in their countries. This is what tourism is all about. We want to see something we don’t have,” Chung explained.

Ho Swee Soon of Minda Nusantara Tours & Travel Agencies Sdn Bhd which specialises in adventure tours, said Uma Belor is a very friendly homestay area, especially the locals who are very hospitable.

“As for tourism products, we have culture, Nature and adventure. In the Bakun dam itself, you can promote a lot of activities — the potential is there. Elsewhere like near the longhouse area, you can still promote Nature activities,” he added.
Ho said to promote a sustainable eco-tourist destination, cooperation in terms of control between the local communities and authorities was necessary.

“Bakun is a nice place because when you talk about Nature, you can see the Nature you want to see. I do understand the Sarawak Forestry Corporation’s effort to relocate the wildlife from the islands to the mainland. European tourists like to experience Nature apart from getting to know the local cultures.

“If you want to develop homestay, the best thing is go and see a successful homestay area in the peninsula. We also have a few in Sarawak.”
He also said the locals should be trained as tour guides, adding: “They need to participate as they know all the areas well.

Tropical Horbill Travel & Tours Sdn Bhd product manager Bob Zakaria said the Bakun area had immense potential to be developed into one of the best tourist destinations in the country.
“The lake itself is one of the biggest in the world with its strategic small islands. The local communities must work with the homestay operators to improve their livelihood and make the programme a success.

“The government can get involved by providing training and funding,” he suggested.
Bob pointed out that the area must be managed properly to preserve the environment. He also called on the locals to come up tourism-friendly products.
“As for travel agents like us, we will help to promote the products by meeting the demands of the local and international markets.

“It’s a collective responsibility involving the government, the private sector, non-governmental organisations and the community itself,” he said.
Nora Igang who is in charge of the Uma Belor homestay, said their vision was to create the best homestay in Belaga.

“We offer longhouse homestay packages, jungle tracking, exploration and various activities. Native folk dancing and musical instruments such as sape are what you can admire. They are part of the uniqueness of Orang Ulu cultural heritage. We also want to contribute more significantly to the development of the country’s tourism industry,” she added.

Ten Wuan Ping, the officer in charge of Bakun Dam Health and Safety Department, said new islands would be created to promote the area for eco-tourists.

He added that with proper planning, more people could be expected to get involved in the tourism sector.

The Bakun reservoir covering 69,500 hectares was the largest man-made lake in Malaysia followed by Kenyir Lake in Terengganu (39,600 ha), Murum (24,500 ha), Temenggor Lake, Perak (15,200 ha), Batang Air (9,000 ha) and Pergau (Kelantan).

Bakun Dam will have the capacity to generate a maximum of 2,400MW. The entire Bakun catchment area along the Balui River, a few kilometres upstream of Belaga town, in the upper Rajang Basin, measures about 14,759 sq km.

“There will be more than 20 big islands with a total size 6,000 ha that is suitable for resort development. The area has great tourism potential,” Ten enthused.
The distance from Bakun to Bintulu is 180km; Bakun to Sibu (390km), Bakun to Miri (300km) and Bakun to Kuching (900km).

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