In 2015, Kampung Mantob was like any other village in Kiulu Valley. Green pastures, rolling hills, and warm country folk living by a pristine river. Seeking to tap into Mantob’s vast eco-tourism potential and provide the villagers with a reliable source of income, Borneo Eco Tours (BET) and Borneo Ecotourism Solutions and Technologies (BEST) Society came up with the Kiulu Farmstay initiative. It was here that the project’s first community-based eco-lodge, the Fig Tree, would be built. Construction began that same year in June.
Named after the species of flowering plants growing prevalently throughout the valley, the Fig Tree is the fruit of collaboration between local community leaders, BET, BEST Society, and local/international volunteers (who flew all the way from UK, Spain, Greece, and Australia!) under Arkitrek’s Design + Build program.
Amazingly, it took them only two months to build a two-bedroom self-contained eco-lodge complete with kitchen, bathroom and dining area. Designed with the Bornean communal culture of longhouses in mind, the Fig Tree features both modern amenities and traditional, rustic vibes. As much of Kiulu’s essence was poured into the building – the Fig Tree is a mesh of bio-crete, locally-sourced wood and patterned woven bamboo panels made by the skilled craftsmen of Kiulu Valley itself.
The Fig Tree was officiated by Y.B. Datuk Joniston Bangkuai, Chairman of Sabah Tourism Board. In his speech he stated that “Kiulu has magnificent landscapes and one of the cleanest rivers in Sabah.” Since completion, two bamboo-bio-crete huts designed by Arkitrek have started construction close to The Fig Tree to provide necessary facilities for day tourist activities. The construction techniques developed by the design team and local builders on The Fig Tree project are being replicated with the intention of carrying them through to the further projects of Kiulu Farmstay.
Since then, the villagers of Mantob have had a tiny bit more spring to their step, more light in their eyes, and more smile lines forming around their sun-beaten features. They’ve been a little busier, working as guides and hosts welcoming the extra company from people curious about the peaceful, off-the-grid experience at Kiulu Farmstay.
As the pilot project of Kiulu Farmstay, the Fig Tree is the first of more community-based eco-lodges to come – encompassing Kampung Mantob, Kampung Dumpiring, and Kampung Pinagon Baru. It stands as a testament to how rural eco-tourism can empower local communities. Many of the farmstay’s attractions are owned and managed by local community members, allowing them to be more involved in the district’s booming tourism industry.
Throughout the years, the Fig Tree and Kiulu Farmstay as a whole has received a significant facelift. Aesthetically-pleasing traditional decorations fill the eco-lodge, while intricately-detailed rock paths lined with beautiful gardens surround it. An obstacle course had been built just a short distance away from the ecolodge, to better accommodate team-building programs in the area. Kiulu Farmstay has also become a hotspot for many scientific excursions, including ones by BEST Society, who are interested in studying rural communities in order to introduce new, sustainable methods to improve the villagers’ lives. A perfect example of such initiative is the System of Rice Intensification (SRI), an innovative rice planting method introduced to the locals which aims to improve their crop yields.
As of 2018, the Fig Tree ecolodge and Kiulu Farmstay remains a haven for adventurous travellers and spiritual wanderers alike, drawing many in with its rustic charm and the warmth of the people who call this land their home.Timeline:
- June 2015: Construction began for The Fig Tree.
- August 2015: The building of The Fig Tree was finally completed and officiated.
- 2016: Renovations were made on The Fig Tree's interior, exterior as well as its surrounding landscapes
- 2016: The Vanilla Hut which is an additional facility to The Fig Tree comprising of a toilet and bathroom was built.