We speak to Natasha Mohammad, the Marketing Director of Balung Plantation. The plantation and Eco resort located in Balung is about 6000 acres in size. The Plantation started by her grandfather has been in Natasha’s family for decades. We get an insight into her family, and how she spent her time in Balung as a child. Natasha has helped grown the family owned plantation into a recognized brand of locally produced tea products.
1. Did you visit Balung as a child?
Yes, I visited Balung as a child since as long as I can remember. Most of the family was overseas when we were growing up, but every holiday we would make it a point to go back to Sabah and visit our grandparents. My grandfather will make it a point to visit Balung with his children and grandchildren. He wanted us to be close to nature, and appreciate the plantation which he built for the family.
2. What are some fond memories of Balung you shared with your family?
The plantation is something my grandfather built from nothing, to where Balung is today. He always wanted us to learn and appreciate what he had built and what he was giving us. He wanted us to understand the dynamics of the business and how it works. He didn’t just take us for a visit, but he would make us understand the whole ecosystem of the plantation. One of my fond memories in Balung would be learning to drive a tractor; we were around 10-11 years old me and my cousins.
Every day after breakfast at 8am, we will follow our grandfather and do our rounds around the plantation. It will take about two hours to visit the entire plantation, after that we would rest, have lunch and do our own activities. At around 4pm, we would do another round, we will check out the factories, look at the plants and talk to the workers. I remembered that my grandfather would always make us hug the trees, since we were young, then he would say see now you can hug it, in another three years it will be too big and you won’t be able to hug it. He would always teach us in his own way, so that we can feel the growth of the trees as time passes by, because sometimes you can’t remember it, but once you hug it, it stays instilled in your memory. True enough the trees grew over the years, and we can no longer wrap our arms around the trees. This plantation is passed on to the family. That is why my grandfather wanted us to know as much as possible about this plantation because he said that one day it will be yours.
3. How much of a role does Balung Plantation play in producing tea products?
Balung products are grown, produced, manufactured and packaged in Balung. From the plantation to the factory, it’s only a 5 minutes’ drive apart. Everything is done in Balung. The whole family runs various roles in the plantation, I head the marketing of Balung tea products. We export the tea to China, Japan and the UK. What I am trying to do now is break into the Malaysian market.
4. Tell us about the Balung Eco Resort?
The Balung Eco Resort was created by my grandfather; it started off with the family needing a base every time we visited Balung. We needed somewhere comfortable to stay the night. He loved having his family, grandchildren and friends over in Balung. So he built a house there, and then it continued on to an Eco Resort. The architecture of the Resort is very unique; some of the accommodations are built using river rocks which he collected from the nearby rivers. It’s eco-friendly; there is a fish pond, a restaurant and swimming pool made from river water.
THINGS TO DO IN BALUNG
• Relax at the mini-waterfalls of the natural riverside spa, get a massage after a day out jungle trekking.
• Witness how aromatic oils are distilled from vetiver and patchouli, the base scents for hundreds of perfumes.
• Learn how they cultivate teak and agarwood trees sustainably, so fewer old-growth rainforest trees are cut down.
• Go birdwatching in the jungle for a glimpse of wonderful treeswifts, babblers, loras and kingfishers.
• Watch how the famous Balung teas are hand-picked, manufactured, and produced for consumers.
5. What activities are there to explore in Balung?
It’s back to nature and there are so many activities on offer. You can learn how things are processed, for example you can see how honey is made or you can watch and learn how the workers do rubber tapping on trees. You can follow the process of the tea products from farm to having a cup of tea. You can go fishing, jungle trekking, explore the various species of plants, swim by the river and take in the beautiful scenery. Being in Balung allows you to go back to nature and enjoy the simple things in life. The telephone networks aren’t very good so you will be disconnected from social media, which will force you to communicate with the people and its surroundings.
6. With the recent healthy eating movement, do you think people are more open to trying herbal products?
I think recently people are becoming more aware of what they are consuming, and what it does to their body. People want to know if the foods they are consuming are beneficial to their health or not. I think it is easier to market Balung products now than before, because people are now taking a conscious effort to be healthy and try to consume products that are beneficial to their health. Balung products consist of tea, what I’m trying to do is to educate people to drink Balung tea instead of normal tea which brings you no health benefits. It tastes almost the same as normal tea, so you might as well change to Balung tea as there are health benefits. It shouldn’t be a product where people consume only when they have a health issue like bloating. It should be a lifestyle, and consumed daily. We have 3 different types of tea, lemongrass, Misai Kuching and Agarwood tea.
7. How does Balung Plantation give back to the society?
In Balung Plantation we have our own community; we have our own mosque, football field and public areas for residents. We also have a building dedicated to the Humana Child Aid Society, which houses a school for the children of the people who work in the plantation, and also serves as a school for those without proper identification and certificates to apply to a school. The Humana Child Aid Society provides basic education to more than 12,000 children in plantations and other remote areas.
Balung Plantation produces three types of tea, each with its own unique health benefits.
Balung Agarwood Tea or Teh Gaharu (Aquilaria malaccensis)
A very rare tea made from the leaves of the famed agarwood tree. Its delicate, sweet flavor makes agarwood tea ideal for sipping after dinner or a special meal. And because it’s caffeine-free, agarwood tea won’t keep you awake at night.
• 100% pure and organic herbal tea
• Grown using sustainable farming methods
• Exotic alternative to traditional herbal teas
• Mild laxative with no side effects
Balung Java Tea or Misai Kucing (Orthosiphon stamineus)
Java tea plants are known for their delicate white-and blue blossoms that look like cat’s whiskers. But Balung Java Tea is made from the leaves, which contain more health-boosting nutrients.
• 100% pure and organic herbal tea
• Mild diuretic that helps flush away kidney and urinary tract infections
• Clean smooth taste
Balung Lemongrass Tea or Serai Tea (Cymbopogon citratus)
Start the day with a cup of refreshing lemongrass tea and you’ll start the day with a smile.
• 100% pure and organic herbal tea
• Famous for its warming citrus flavor
• Exotic alternative to peppermint and camomile teas
• May aid digestion
• Mild diuretic action helps flush out toxins
HOW TO GET TO BALUNG PLANTATION
From Kuala Lumpur take a flight to Tawau, Sabah. The airport is about a 30mins drive to Balung Plantation. Transport
arrangements can be made with the resort.
Winner of the Sabah Tourism Best Nature Attraction Award 2003. Balung River is surrounded by the virgin rainforest of Tawau Hills Park. It is the first eco-resort set within a working tropical plantation, and balances opportunities for learning and relaxation. With 3,000 acres of volcanic soil, 32 species of sustainable plantation crops, clean river waters, and the vast Borneo rainforest all around, Balung River Eco Resort gives visitors an authentic taste of Sabah.
ROOMS AND RATES
There are a variety of accommodation options in Balung Eco Resort. Pitch your tent at our camping site by the Balung River, stay in the selfcatering chalets or enjoy the comfort of an en suite room. Room rates start from RM110 including breakfast.