While many enjoy travelling overseas, it's easy to forget the beautiful places that Malaysia has to offer as well.
And what better way to embrace nature than with those who cultivate and know each of these places inside-out.
Daniel Teoh is a Penangite who started Native Discovery in 2019 after working with the Orang Asli for a number of years.
Native Discovery is an organisation that builds businesses with Orang Asli communities by using elements of their culture to boost their livelihoods and give them an avenue to share their stories with the world.
They specialise in community-based tourism, banking on the natural strengths of their Orang Asli partners.
The organisation operates tours in two communities in Selangor – Kampung Serendah and Kampung Gurney Ulu Yam – that are perfect for nature lovers and foodies
"Our Orang Asli partners are amazing nature guides and will take you through trails that only [the natives] know. It's the perfect setting to really get to know the lay of the land and the people who care for it. If you're lucky, you'll also find rare edible plants that urbanisation has erased from our daily lives in cities," the 28-year-old explained, adding that there is no better way to learn about the Orang Asli culture than to get others to meet the people themselves.
"If you're hungry, our Orang Asli partners are also amazing cooks and you'll be able to dig into traditional Temuan cuisine made with local ingredients and techniques."
After having spent several years with the Orang Asli on social projects, Teoh realised that the natives are often culturally misrepresented and misunderstood by many, including himself when he first met them
"It frustrated me that Google searches most yielded just anthropological studies or news about their plight. Where were the stories that showcased what amazing people they were? Who tells those stories? The Orang Asli that I had come to know were hospitable, kind, and inventive. They had shown me so many wonderful facets of their culture and lives, and this was transformative for me. But why was it that society seems to have trapped them in a different narrative?" he lamented.
In saying that, he also acknowledged the reality that many of his Orang Asli friends had limited opportunities for livelihood due to the lack of policy work to help them navigate their circumstances.
Wanting to change things for the better, he founded Native Discovery.
Their goal is to build up Orang Asli entrepreneurs who are able to grow their own communities' economies.
At the same time, he hopes that this will inspire the younger generations to continue this movement.
"Many of the younger community members are no longer part of the process of stewarding their traditions because they are contending with many different needs (like earning an income) and have deprioritised learning from their elders," he explained.
"Our work at Native is designed to position tradition and culture as an asset which can generate a livelihood, incentivising more community members to become stewards once more, and like an asset... it's something that will be eagerly passed down from one generation to the next. My personal goal for Native is to see our organisation progressively be more and more owned and operated by the Orang Asli as we progress on this journey together."
One touching moment that has stuck with him till today is when he overheard a conversation that Jais, one of their partners in Ulu Yam, was having with a guest on a tour.
"The guest asked him, 'How do you feel about doing this work with Daniel?' and I overheard his response. He said that he very much appreciates the work we do at Native, and that we help him dream things he couldn't imagine before because he now feels like he has people to help him be his 'backbone' of support. I think there is no bigger compliment than being told that you have the power to help people see a better future ANDwork towards it!"
Here's how the rakyat can help: By simply joining one of their tours!
You get an enriching experience, exchange stories with your hosts, and take time to understand each other's perspectives, he added.
You'll come to understand that we can only truly be one whole Malaysia when we are all included in shaping our collective story!
As of late August this year, they've launched a bamboo homestay project with their community partners in Serendah.
This is their first-ever overnight option where guests can spend the night in the community. You're able to do activities like hikes and lunches, with additional options to have a classic barbecue and more!
Designed with comfort in mind, the homestay has electricity, running water, and even a hot shower. However, the team ensured to retain all the signature elements of Orang Asli culture — "the building is constructed by the local community and you'll find that you're very close to nature with the building being 100% naturally ventilated."
"We're always adding new activities to our offerings and we have plans to offer night walks, longer hiking expeditions, and even camping grounds in the near future."
"I'd like to invite all Malaysians to spend time with local communities [they] haven't met yet. These are the people who grow our food, take care of our forests, and shape our country in ways that we are oblivious to," Teoh shared.
"Travel can be an enriching experience but only if we take the time to truly understand the people who live in the places we visit, and keep in mind our relationship with them. So, why not start at home? Let's make Malaysia both a nicer place to visit and live with our travel decisions — that's what sustainable tourism is all about."
Book a tour or find out more about Native Discovery here.
All this month, SAYS will be featuring inspiring stories of extraordinary Malaysian changemakers in collaboration with Wiki Impact
Wiki Impact is an online platform dedicated to the impact industry. They share stories and data on issues that matter, highlighting impact-driven organisations and changemakers on the ground. Categories include poverty alleviation, social justice, gender equality, healthcare and education for all, environmental sustainability, animal welfare, impact influencers, and more!