Feb 24, 2008

Bentong known for communality

Bentong known for communality
By Sim Leoi Leoi
Saturday February 23, 2008

BENTONG: Walk along the main road of this small town and one cannot help but notice the abundance of signboards advertising clan houses and associations.

In fact, for its small size – it has some 120,000 residents of whom 53,000 are registered voters – Bentong has a high number of clan associations and houses. At the last count, there are over 60.

There are clan houses for the Lees, Huangs, Cheongs, Leongs, Yongs and Kochows and even one for local merchants.

For MCA Youth chief Datuk Liow Tiong Lai, who has been Bentong MP for the past two terms, it is a sign that people in the town are extremely close knit.

“Bentong people like to get together and participate in communal and cultural activities. The clan associations have been helpful in providing scholarships for students,” he said.

Vibrant: For a small town, Bentong has over 60 clan associations.
Vibrant: For a small town, Bentong has over 60 clan associations.

Some associations concentrated around Jalan Loke Yew and Jalan Chui Yin are nearly a century old.

The Kwangsi Association, for instance, has over 1,000 members and will celebrate its 100th anniversary in two years.

However, with many in the younger generation preferring to work in Kuala Lumpur, which is less than an hour’s drive away, a common complaint among the associations is the low number of youths.

Many of their members are over 40 years in age.

Kwangsi Association chairman Lee Wah Cheen, 73, said: “I have a restaurant here and one of my sons works in it. But my eldest son and two daughters live and work in KL.

“I have thought it and wanted to live in KL, but the city is too busy and getting around for me is difficult,”

If only there were more industries here, rued the sprightly old man.

A local resident, who used to be active in politics, said: “You won’t find anyone young here to interview. They have just come back for Chinese New Year and they won’t be back again for some time, unless they come back to vote.”

Critics pointed out that attempts to pull in industries in places like Kampung Sungai Dua in the outskirts of town had failed to take off, and only had a few factories to show.

Liow admitted there had been some rankle over the lack of industries in Bentong.

“My voters are slowly greying, which is becoming a problem to me,” he said, adding that his plan was to turn Bentong into an agro-tourism hub.

“I hope to attract young graduates into high-technology agricultural practices where they use less land. Bentong is famous for its ginger plantations and hot springs, which we can use to attract tourists,” he pointed out.

Liow said Bentong hoped to catch the spillover effects of economic growth in Kuala Lumpur and the launch of the Kuantan development corridor.

“As Kuala Lumpur continues to extend eastwards, Bentong will benefit. We want Chinese businessmen to pursue opportunities in the East Coast Economic Region,” he said.

Pahang MCA chief and Bilut assemblyman Datuk Hoh Khai Mun said resorts like Genting Highlands, Bukit Tinggi and Tanah Rimba were within the Bentong constituency.

“They attract tourists and course trainees who often stop here to eat and shop,” he said, adding that it was difficult to find parking space in the town during weekends.

For people like Cheong Peng Choy, 62, however, life could not be rosier than in Bentong.

“If life here is likened to my two hands, my satisfaction is represented by nine of my 10 fingers. Only one finger is my level of dissatisfaction. I hope to see more funds for our Chinese schools,” said the chairman of the Wei Neng Association, a Kwangtung subclan house. -- The Star.

Feb 15, 2008

Majestic Hotel reopens (Malacca)

Majestic Hotel reopens
By Steven Daniel
Friday February 15, 2008

MALACCA: The Majestic Hotel has regained its colonial grandeur and sophistication that made it one of the prestigious hotels around in its heyday after a RM30mil restoration and expansion project.

Reopened recently by Yang di-Pertua Negri Tun Khalil Yaakob, the Majestic Hotel is now part of the YTL stable of high-end, world-class luxury five-star hotels and resorts.

Constructed in 1929 as a private mansion for a prominent businessman, it was sold and converted to a hotel in 1953.

Fit for a king: The Majestic Hotel recently underwent a RM30mil renovation project.
Fit for a king: The Majestic Hotel recently underwent a RM30mil renovation project.

It was closed down in 2000 and restoration works on the hotel commenced in October 2006.

In its heyday in the 1950s and 1960s, the Majestic Hotel was one of the most prestigious hotels in the state with a wide ranging guest list comprising Cabinet members, local and foreign dignitaries, as well as artistes and movie stars.

The hotel draws influences from the Portuguese, Dutch, British and Peranakan cultures, with an architectural style that mirrors the state’s multi-faceted colonial past.

During restoration works, the original floor tiles, stain glass windows, roof tiles, reception table and many more items were left untouched so as to preserve the hotel’s mixed colonial past.

In the rooms, four-poster beds are draped in a mixture of rich silks and cool cottons and bathtubs for two provide the comfort and romance required by the discerning modern traveller.

“Like its sister properties, Tanjong Jara Resort, Cameron Highlands Resort and Pangkor Laut Resort, this 54-room hotel on the banks of the Sungai Melaka is set to be placed among the world’s best, providing the quality, service, luxury and the absolute authenticity of every YTL hotel and resort,” said YTL Hotels executive director Datuk Mark Yeoh.

Adhering to the brand’s philosophy of honouring the healing traditions of the local region, the Spa Village is the only spa in the world to base its therapies on the healing heritage of the Baba-Nyonya culture.

Colourful ceremony: Mohd Khalil (centre) cutting the ribbon to signal the reopening of the hotel. Looking on are Chief Minister Datuk Seri Mohd Ali Rustam (second from right) and Datuk Mark Yeoh.
Colourful ceremony: Mohd Khalil (centre) cutting the ribbon to signal the reopening of the hotel. Looking on are Chief Minister Datuk Seri Mohd Ali Rustam (second from right) and Datuk Mark Yeoh.

Malacca’s newly invigorated landmark is expected to provide a unique and memorable experience to visitors who walk through its doors to be transported back to the hotel’s glorious past. -- The Star Metro

Feb 10, 2008

Ever peaceful Taiping

Ever peaceful Taiping
Sunday February 10, 2008

A visit to this lovely town brings much bliss and serenity.

Kuala Sepetang Wildlife Sanctuary

The Matang Mangrove Forest is the recipient of numerous international awards. This mangrove swamp is one of the best managed in the world and noted as an outstanding example of conservation and management of its rich biodiversity and mudflat ecosystems. It is a place no one should exclude from the itinerary when in Taiping

Taiping Prison

Taiping Prison is the first prison to be opened in 1879 and was the first purpose-built prison in Malaya. It remains in operation today.

Taiping Lake Garden

This 64ha garden has been the focal point of Taiping since 1880. Besides a lake created from a former tin mine, it also hosts a recreational park and a Japanese garden and is a stone throw from a golf course and zoo.

Natural Water Bodies

Taiping is home to many pools, rivers and streams that have kept Taiping cool and nice, even in hot weather. Among them are the Burmese Pool, which has a natural water slide; the Austin Pool that has a very deep square granite pool with a waterfall flowing into it; the Taman Suria streams which flow from Bukit Larut; the Coronation Swimming Pool located at the foothill of Bukit Larut and has very cold mountain stream water even on hot days; and the Hot Water Well in Batu 9, off Jalan Trong.

Perak State Museum

Built in 1883, it is the oldest museum in the country and is home to an impressive collection of ancient weapons, aboriginal implements and archaeological treasures, including artefacts from Perak’s rich historical culture and heritage. Admission is free.

Bukit Larut(Maxwell Hill)

It was previously the rest and recreation centre for British high-ranking officials from 1884. At 1,250m above sea level, it reminded most of them of their cool homeland. Up until 1948, the only way up was by sedan chairs. Tarred roads were later constructed. It is still one of the most natural hill resorts in the country and was renamed Bukit Larut in 1979.

Bukit Merah Laketown Resort

One of the premier theme parks in Malaysia, it also includes the Orang Utan Island, where preservation of the orang utan is carried out. The theme park is a favourite with Perak folk as well as those from other states, especially during the school holidays. It is also a popular venue for corporate companies’ team-building programmes. There is an eco-park for those who want to bask in the natural surroundings.

Taiping Zoo

Also known as Taman Mergastua Idris Shah, the zoo is on a 16ha land where in the day it is a typical zoo but transforms into a night safari after dusk. It is home to some 1,300 animals from more than 180 species,all flourishing due to its successful breeding programmes. It is the only zoo in the north of the peninsula.


Taiping is famous for its cheap and delicious food and visitors must have some of these famous delicacies such as: Cendol in Jalan Barrack; Chinese fried kway teow in Taman Sri Hijau, Taman Sungai Mas; Malay fried kway teow at Restoran Doli in Jalan Tupai; Roti Canai at Bismillah Restaurant on Jalan Taming Sari; Popiah at the Prima Restaurant and the Popiah stall in the Larut Matang food court; Nasi Lemak Special/ Mahal/ Orang Kaya on Jalan Tupai; Mee Rebus at the Larut Matang Market, Prima Food Court and the Pokok Assam night market; Steamed Chicken Rice in Jalan Barrack.

Kota Ngah Ibrahim Historical Complex

It used to be the residence of Ngah Ibrahim, who was found guilty of murdering British Resident J.W.W. Birch. It served as the country’s first teachers’ training college called the Matang College and was also the headquarters of the Japanese army during the Second World War. Today, it serves as the Matang Historical Complex.
-- Sunday Metro.

Feb 9, 2008

Capitalising on agrotourism

Capitalising on agrotourism
By Errol Oh
Saturday February 9, 2008

The agriculture sector and the tourism industry may be miles apart in some ways, but both are vital components of the Malaysian economy. The fact that the Ninth Malaysia Plan (9MP) devotes an entire chapter to each area underscores their potential and the Government's aim of increasing their contribution to the nation's growth.

Ngiam: Tourist from Japan and Europe are most likely to visit agrotourism attractions
Ngiam: Tourist from Japan and Europe are most likely to visit agrotourism attractions

As such, where agriculture and tourism intersect, there are surely many opportunities for entrepreneurs to capitalise on the drive for development.

Agrotourism – also known as agritourism, particularly in the United States – straddles these two fields. It essentially involves visits to farms and other agricultural sites to experience the various aspects of farming and the rustic lifestyle at close hand. Often, the farms provide boarding as well.

The definition can be broadened to incorporate elements of entertainment, shopping, education and food.

Agrotourism ties in with the current global emphasis on ecotourism and responsible tourism because when done right, it encourages the appreciation of nature and helps develop rural communities in a sustainable manner. It is a vast arena, and there are many well-established examples all around the world. Tuscany in Italy has been a famous tourist draw for ages, and vineyards, olive groves and farms are part of its scenic beauty. Several other places in Europe also have a similar allure.

Many of the states and provinces in the US and Canada have vibrant agrotourism markets. Among the more prominent attractions are dude ranches (resorts featuring camping, horseback riding and other outdoor activities), u-pick farms (where visitors can pick fruits and vegetables), vineyards and farmers' markets.

Given the importance of agriculture in their economies, it is only natural that Australia and New Zealand are known for their farmstay holidays. In Taiwan, agrotourism – over there, it is known as leisure farming – has taken off in a big way and there is even an association to serve the interests of the operators.

In comparison, agrotourism in Malaysia is not as large and organised. Says Malaysian Association of Tour and Travel Agents (Matta) president Ngiam Foon, “It's a niche market and at the moment, it doesn't have a high profile here. But it definitely has a lot of potential.”

He adds that tourists from Japan and Europe, particularly the younger ones, are most likely to visit agrotourism attractions.

The good news is there is plenty of room for growth and the Government sees the wisdom in encouraging the development of agrotourism.

The 9MP points out that the key to enhancing the distinct appeal of our tourism products and services is to promote the country’s traditional advantages, namely, its cultural and natural heritage. This is especially relevant to agrotourism.

Tourist travel arrival to Malaysia

Furthermore, our climate welcomes tourists the whole year round and a large portion of the population speaks English.

In addition, the Malaysian tourism industry as a whole is robust and healthy. After a bad year in 2003 due to the SARS (Sever Acute Respiratory Syndrome) scare, tourist arrivals and receipts have rebounded strongly to achieve new records.

A main component of agrotourism in Malaysia is the homestay programme, which increases participation of the rural population in tourism-related activities and provides rural households opportunities to supplement their incomes.

During the Eight Malaysia Plan, covering 2001 to 2005, an additional 463 homestay operators were trained and licensed, bringing the total to 1,089 from 79 villages.

The efforts on this front continue under the 9MP. These include farmstays and visits to agricultural parks and research stations, says the 9MP report. Guests will be encouraged to visit handicraft sites and participate in activities such as pottery-making, batik-canting, songket- and basket-weaving.

There is also comfort in the fact that there are some agrotourism success stories in Malaysia to learn from and to emulate.

A shining example is Cameron Highlands, which has been one of the country's top destinations among domestic and foreign tourists. Much of this has to do with its tea plantations and strawberry and vegetable farms. Also, there are a number of farms (ranging from those cultivating tropical fruits to ostrich farms) that cater largely for visitors.

The website of the Agriculture and Agro-Based Industries Ministry (agrolink.moa.my) has a directory of dozens of agrotourism sites, including pasar tani locations. Among the notable places are the Malaysian Agricultural Park in Shah Alam, a honey processing centre in Kedah and a veterinary station in Perak.

Tourist traveling in Malaysia

Entrepreneurs in the agriculture sector are, of course, prime candidates to operate agrotourism projects. However, Ngiam of Matta says it is important to first understand what is needed to create a sustainable tourist attraction.

Ultimately, that means ensuring that the visitor has a positive experience and goes home with fond memories. After all, tourism is a service industry. “It's not just about providing the hardware. The software is just as important,” Ngiam reminds.

In addition, it may be a good idea to adopt the cluster approach in developing agrotourism attractions so as to give tourists more reasons to make the trip. -- Bizweek.