BAT6 arrives in KK on final leg of journey

BAT6 stopping in front of Sipitang Esplanade for a few minutes taking in the beautiful view of Sabah coastline.

BAT6 stopping in front of Sipitang Esplanade for a few minutes taking in the beautiful view of Sabah coastline.

KOTA KINABALU: After 12 days of gruelling journey on the road from Kuching till our planned final destination – Kota Kinabalu yesterday, our BATmobile—the sturdy and efficient Isuzu MU-X— has clocked some 2,200km and about RM300 in fuel consumption. Along the way, we have stopped by and spent the nights in 10 major towns and cities in the two states of Sarawak and Sabah.

From day one, BAT6 has been highlighting issues starting with the Selantik coal mine in Pantu, Lachau as an important stopover hub, water woes in Sri Aman, Nabau stone in Engkilili, PKR oriented Krian voters in Seratok, the declining business in Spaoh and Debak, the Kanowit bridge, Samalaju Industrial Park, haphazard development in Bintulu, lack of basic infrastructure and basic necessities in Tubau, the booming oil palm in Niah, the success of cottage industry especially the ‘tahai’ in Sundar and Awat-Awat, the vices in Lawas, the fascinating towns of Sabah along the road from Sipitang to Beaufort and finally Kota Kinabalu.

Since BAT1 was launched in 2011, it has been a great and enriching experience for us as the annual trip has brought us to almost all the nooks and corners of the State including parts of Sabah.

In this sixth edition, we have discovered that the State’s only trunk road stretching from Kuching to Kota Kinabalu is quite a smooth ride except that we still have to pass through Brunei twice, to reach Limbang and Lawas. This trunk road will be upgraded, albeit in phases under the mammoth Pan Borneo Highway project worth a staggering RM16 billion to implement and is expected to be completed by 2022.

By then, it is hoped that the present single lane trunk road will be upgraded and improved into a double-carriageway. When that day comes, the highway will offer motorists a much smoother ride from Kuching to Miri. And hopefully, we can bypass Brunei via a link trunk road from Miri to Limbang and Lawas. A strange tale that has surfaced in both Limbang and Lawas is that some people have been transporting dead bodies by road via Brunei by making sure that the corpses looked alive by putting dark sunglasses to cover their eyes. But with improved connectivity in the near future, we hoped that such tale would be a thing of the past.

According to Minister of Infrastructure Development and Transportation Tan Sri Datuk Amar Dr James Jemut Masing, plans are afoot for the present logging road from Miri to Bario and Ba Kelalan to be further improved under the ‘Jiwa Murni’ programme, implemented by the Army so that the road would link both Limbang and Lawas.

“That part of the Pan Borneo Highway has not been finalised yet. But we hope we can improve that stretch so that we can have a good road connectivity to both Limbang and Lawas,” Masing told BAT6 yesterday.

The news from Masing is indeed music to the ears for frequent road travellers who ply the two states. With better connectivity, there would definitely be better communications between peoples of the two states. And even now, people from Sabah and Sarawak and even Brunei already enjoy cordial relationship that ensures the people from both states and even the governments could have better bilateral ties. This will surely bring benefits to all sides in terms of trade and commerce.

However, there is a need to strengthen the border areas to prevent cross-border smuggling. This is especially so in Lawas where the smuggling of goods and vehicles are rampant, especially between Ba Kelalan and Long Bawang in Kalimantan.

Some parts of the road from Bintulu to Miri has double carriage highway, convenient for motoring travellers out there.

Some parts of the road from Bintulu to Miri has double carriage highway, convenient for motoring travellers out there.

A source in Lawas said many stolen vehicles in the small Indonesian town are smuggled through either Sindumin, Sabah or Lawas. He alleged that a new FWD vehicle could be sold as cheap as RM40,000 over the other side. This is one area where the Malaysian authorities really need to buck up and tackle the issue head-on. This could be achieved more efficiently with the completion of the proposed Customs, Immigration and Quarantine (CIQ) complex which is currently under construction at Ba Kelalan.

During BAT4, we had noted that the route from Ba Kelalan to Long Bawang was indeed like the Mexican-US border where drugs, contraband and even 4WD vehicles could easily change hands through the porous border. At the Sabah side too, there is an urgent need to improve security along its border with Sarawak.

From Lawas to Kota Kinabalu, it took BAT6 more than three hours because we needed to stop at Sipitang and Beaufort to take a peek at the towns of Sabah.

Being the second and third entities in the formation of Malaysia, there are many similarities as well as differences. One major similarity is that, one truly feels the harmony between all races in Sabah like Sarawak. And the ordering at traditional coffee shop is still the same – kopi o, kopi o kosong, kopi and ice lemon tea…

The major difference, however, perhaps is the language. There is some distinctive difference between local Sabahan bahasa Melayu and that of Sarawak. Apart from that, in terms of city development, we were told by a penghulu of Lawas that he found Kota Kinabalu more “city like” than Kuching. We were shocked at what he said.

However, upon entering into Kota Kinabalu, we somehow agreed with him. Kota Kinabalu does feel to be more metropolitan with tourists speaking different languages roaming on the streets under the hot sun. The chaotic traffic along Kota Kinabalu downtown where businessmen, bankers and tourists congregate give the city an even more cosmopolitan vibe.

BAT6 team leader Peter Sibon (right) and Wilfred Pilo (left) giving a thumbs up for the nice driving experience given by their BATmobile—the Isuzu MU-X—throughout this journey.

BAT6 team leader Peter Sibon (right) and Wilfred Pilo (left) giving a thumbs up for the nice driving experience given by their BATmobile—the Isuzu MU-X—throughout this journey.

Kota Kinabalu definitely is more vibrant than Kuching. However, like everything, there is always the other side of the coin. And for this resort city, it is the cost of living. One incident was that we were seated comfortably at a coffee shop along the five-foot way.

We were just there for a cup of coffee for brunch. Then the picture of food on the wall caught our sight. We started to think twice after sitting down for half an hour. We pointed at the topmost picture and ordered the dish – noodles with an assorted meat type – chicken and barbecue pork, vegetable, duck and fish cake. It looked deliciously inviting on the picture. And for such a plateful of delicacies, it costs only RM8.00.

The dish came as it was portrayed on the picture on the wall. After savouring it, the BAT member ordering it rated the taste a six out of ten scale. However, when it came to payment, we were a bit shocked. Instead of RM8, we were charged RM18 per serving! We laughed out loud upon seeing the bill! Well, it was an experience and we wondered how many from Lawas shared the same experience as us.

What is strange to see is that in the downtown of this commercial, financial and tourism centre of Kota Kinabalu is that the durian here are being sold inside the shops.

Seeing a durian shop brought us back to our stop at Trusan in Lawas where we savoured a feast of durian. Strangely enough, this is only midyear, but durians are already found in Northern part of Sarawak as well as Sabah.

Liaw and Fong giving BAT6 a treat of durian in Trusan.

Liaw and Fong giving BAT6 a treat of durian in Trusan.

In Trusan, Penghulu Liaw Soon Teck and Kapitan of Sundar Fong Saw Fong had so kindly treated us to laksa and durian where a stall had already been set up.

“Trusan has been famous for its durian. It is something that you must try,” said Liaw. While we were still talking about Trusan’s development, Fong had already bought 10 durians and

opened them on the wooden table situated on the outside of the coffee shop.

Though it was still not the main season which is normally at the end of the year, the durians here did taste sweet and creamy with its pleasant fragrance lingering around our mouths even long after we had finished eating.

For us, travellers, Trusan might have left a wonderful experience and a sweet after taste, but for those staying in the area, Trusan is much more than durian.

“For us in Trusan, what we want is to be able to be directly connected to Miri and this is not impossible. Presently, the highlands of Bario and Ba’ Kelalan are already connected by road. The government only has to upgrade these roads into motorable roads and we will be connected,” suggested Liaw.

Liaw said that Brunei has been making plan to link the two parts of its country without having to pass through the Malaysian immigration checkpoints in Lawas and Limbang where a bridge is under construction at Temburong.

Siaw said since Miri is already connected through dirt road to Bario Highlands while Ba’ Kelalan is connected to Lawas, by upgrading these road stretches into proper tar-sealed road, Miri would be properly linked to Lawas.

Overall, the road connectivity in Sabah needs urgent improvement especially the stretch from Beaufort to Kota Kinabalu. The present road is just a single lane and is too twisty. If a vehicle in front is crawling at 40km per hour, then the whole traffic queue behind would snake along.

Thus, with the proposed Pan Borneo Highway, that particular stretch of road would be improved and the situation would provide a smooth flow of traffic from Kuching in the south of Borneo Island right up to Kota Kinabalu in the north.

Besides roads, there is also an urgent need for the government to improve both broadband and telecommunications in Sarawak. It has been very challenging, and at times frustrating, to say the very least, to get connected while on the road, even though we have been assured of 4G coverage when we signed up with our telcos! But seemingly, Sabah is more advanced than us.

On the political front, most Sabahans are envious of us in Sarawak because we are still being governed by state-based political parties.

“Sarawakians are a lucky lot because the people in Sabah now have realised that under the Umno administration, the population of Sabah has been overtaken by foreigners with some 3.7 million people. Perhaps more than half of them are foreigners with legal travel documents and perhaps, also having the Mykads,” claimed a former college mate of one of the members of BAT6.

Thus, it is fervently hoped that under the administration of Chief Minister Datuk Patinggi Tan Sri Adenan Satem, Sarawak’s interests would continue to be strengthened through the ongoing talks on devolution of powers with the Federal Government.

 

 

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