Sunday, 20 October 2013

Tampat Do Aman

A Malaysian Tech-Free Getaway

With mobile technology becoming ever more ubiquitous and new conditions and syndromes being diagnosed to cover the anxiety that accompanies the separation between smartphone and addict, the travel industry is moving more and more towards tech-free getaways that offer opportunities to go cold turkey and detox from modern life. Freeing us from the shackles of Facebook, Twitter and Linkedin is the next big trend in the travel industry.

Hong Kong seems to have a bigger problem than most when it comes to reliance of technology, as the city, with a population of just over 7 million, had over 16 million phone subscribers as of November 2012.

With plenty of options for high-cost, low-tech getaways at sterile resorts that do their best to shelter you from nature by positioning palms in pots around manicured lawns that surround gleaming swimming pools, I am more inclined to go for a low-tech getaway at a more pocket-friendly "resort."

A very interesting cultural exchange on the three-hour minibus trip - the driver stopping at a roadside stall to buy a large bag of fresh, deep-fried banana pieces in batter called pisang goreng - we arrived at the low-tech eco-resort of Tampat Do Aman.

Tampat Do Aman could, I suppose, be described as a resort. But instead of a gleaming pool there is the South China Sea and instead of potted palms there is tropical jungle. The white beaches are deserted and the cool water, which is clear aside from the swirl of fine sand that is churned up with every wave, is the perfect accompaniment to the blazing "spring" sun.

The resort is run by Howard, a former rugby playing, 40 something Englishman, who speaks Malay. The resort consists of a "jungle camp" and a beach-side cafe. The bunks and small huts are a short drive from the beach and cafe, and along with the cold showers (it's Malaysia and it was April so they were very welcome), remind you this is not a resort as you know it. Located at the tip of Borneo, the sunsets are incredible and the food, particularly the aforementioned pisang goreng, kaya (a coconut jam), fresh swordfish and tuna, and hinava (a Sabah take on ceviche) are really something that for most people can play a huge part in making or breaking a holiday.

The Man with the Golden Gun

In the book that preceded the film The Man with the Golden Gun the tri-nippled Scaramnaga is a crack shot, but unlike his namesake on the silver screen his silver bullets were liberal ally sprayed around in the book in an arrogant show of the marksmanship that earned him his moniker. Aside from MI5 agents and anyone who dared to cross him Scaramnaga seemed to have a particular dislike for birds. Both blackbirds and turkey buzzards fell victim to his moods and whims in Ian Fleming’s 1965 novel. It was with these scenes in my mind that I tried in vain to sleep in the hot and humid conditions of Borneo in April. It was these same scenes that came flooding back, and at the same time my sympathy for the birds deserted me, when I was woken just after 3am by the several temporally challenged roosters that are resident at the camp.

The curious incident of the dogs in the night

The wildlife is something to be treasured at these kinds of places, but as the roosters highlighted they do not always work in conjunction with the people. As Tip Top, the beach-side bar and restaurant, is a few kilometres from the camp, a stroll from the beach seemed like a very relaxing, beach-holiday thing to do. The short walk through the bible black Malaysian night was quickly curtailed, however, when a dozen (perhaps I am being dramatic, but it was at least three) barking dogs, concealed by the darkness, prompted an abrupt about turn. Not wanting to walk all the way back to the beach I opted instead to ask a local for a lift, which, like the idea to begin with is something “travellers” do.
A table of Malaysian men who were sat around a rickety table outside a shack of a bar seemed eager to have a drink and offered me the same warm beer several times. They were working men and they were unwinding. After some persuading one of them offered to taxi my girlfriend and me back to our hut. It was on this short trip, in an extraordinarily new looking truck, that was at odds with the rest of the area, I was given a short but pertinent lecture about the man behind Tampat Do Aman. I’m not sure if it was sour grapes, a personal grudge or a legitimate complaint, but from my perspective Howard came across as an honest man who was running a legitimate business and couldn't make millions out of the place and run off in the night even if he wanted to. 

Practical Stuff

Howard has the place well stocked with snorkeling equipment, kayaks, bikes and a car for hire, and he is very accommodating. He also told me that he was heavily invested in the local community and the resort itself runs in conjunction with the locals, with a deal being struck so that the locals get a small cut of his profits in exchange for agreeing to let him build the place to begin with.

And the low-tech part? Well the internet is incredibly slow and the sunsets so amazing that the only thing you will want to get online for is to make your friends envious of where you are and a few minutes of watching the progress bar is enough and you give up and realise why you went to Borneo in the first place. 

There is a lot more to do too and Howard et al are happy to accommodate you if they can. The menu says that with a few days notice the young girls who run the kitchen will be happy you show you how to cook some of the Malaysian items on the menu.They are equally happy to learn something new. 

Receiving high ratings and favourable reviews on Tripadvisor, and a mention in Lonely Planet, the relative inexpensiveness of the place is matched only by the lack of luxury. With camp showers and no frills, like laundry facilities, Tampat Do Aman could be a great base to explore the Tip of Borneo and the surrounding area if you hire a car, otherwise you are somewhat tethered to the restaurant, which as pleasing as that might be to Howard, it could make a longer stay a bit tedious, especially as the beach and lodge are a few kilometres apart. Howard has a car for hire, but hiring a car in Kota Kinabalu and leisurely driving up would be a good idea too.

It was an inexpensive stay overall, coming out at about 100 USD for two people for three nights including a dozen beers, half a dozen soft drinks, a couple of breakfasts, accommodation for two for two nights and an inexplicably expensive transfer to Kudat (30 km for 30 MYR, which was 5 MYR more than the three hour shared taxi that dropped my party of two at the lodge from Kota Kinabalu). 
AirAsia fly to Kota Kinabalu from Hong Kong.

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