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November 11, 2010

Tourism drops in tandem with water level of Rajang


BELAGA: The low water level in the upper reaches of Rajang River due to the impoundment of Bakun Dam has taken its toll on tourism here.

Where there used to be two to four tourists visiting Belaga almost every day, there had been none over the past four weeks.

This was because express boats from Kapit that normally ferried tourists to Belaga had stopped operating since the impoundment on Oct 13 caused the water level to drop by more than 4m.

Local tourist guide Husin Ramli, 49, said most of the tourists were Westerners who liked culture, nature and adventure.

"They would spend their time jungle-trekking and visiting longhouses to experience the unique culture of the locals. They also liked to take longboat rides to experience what it is like to live by the river.

"I used to guide a few Westerners almost every day. They arrived in Belaga by express boats from Kapit, but when the service stopped I've been struggling to make ends meet," he told The Star.

Husin claimed that he could easily make about RM100 a day as a guide, but these days he had to chop wood and collect wild ferns to sell which earned him very little money.

"There are many things to see and do in Belaga, but we have not had any tourists for nearly a month. They have gone just like the river," he lamented.

Betty Sati, 44, who sells drinks and handicraft, is also feeling the pinch.

"In a normal month, I can sell handicraft ranging from rattan headbands and bead necklaces to traditional bags of the Orang Ulu community for RM300 or RM400. But business has been very slow because we are not getting tourists anymore," she said.

She said tourists who travelled by express boat to Belaga would go to Bintulu by land before proceeding to their next destination in Sarawak, as recommended by tour agents and guidebooks.

Belaga Hotel and coffeeshop proprietor Tiong Hua Deng, 77, said his hotel's occupancy rate had dropped by 70% in a month.

"My hotel has 15 rooms and I used to have customers occupying eight or nine rooms every day but not anymore," he said.

Tiong was the first person to open a budget hotel here in 1979.

There were five other budget and backpackers' hotels in Belaga. Tourists normally divide their time in Belaga - spending a night or two in the bazaar and another night or two in longhouses.

Tiong said business in general was bad after many villagers affected by the Bakun Dam were relocated to Sungai Asap, but now with the impoundment it was even worse.

"Fewer and fewer people are coming to Belaga now," said Tiong, who moved here in 1957 from Sibu.

Source: The Star



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