Naked Tourists Caused Deadly Earthquake In Borneo

Filed Under: Travel

A magnitude 5.9 earthquake struck near Mt. Kinabalu on the island of Borneo on Friday. At least 16 people died, and 2 more are missing, mostly people who were climbing to the summit. As a mountaineer who has been through a life-threatening situation on the side of a mountain, I can empathize with those involved. My thoughts go out to the families of those who died as well as the brave rescuers who saved many more.


Mt. Kinabalu

Now it turns out that the Malaysian government is blaming the quake on a group of tourists who stripped naked while climbing the sacred mountain, thus angering the gods. You can see the offensive picture that was posted to social media here.

From the Daily Mail:

A few weeks ago, the ten foreign holidaymakers stripped naked, posed for a series of photographs and were accused of urinating as the scaled the mountain in the Malaysian state of Sabah. The photos didn’t appear on social media until days before the earthquake. Deputy Chief Minister of Sabah Tan Sri Joseph Pairin Kitingan said on Saturday that he believes the tourists caused the earthquake, according to Buzzfeed. Pairin said that the earthquake was ‘confirmation’ that Mount Kinabalu was sacred and that people ‘cannot take it lightly’, the Malay Mail Online reported….’There is almost certainly a connection. We have to take this as a reminder that local beliefs and customs are not to be disrespected.’

Apparently they now want to charge the five tourists in a native court. The tourists aren’t allowed to leave the country until the case is resolved.

I’m sure there are some wondering why in the world a mountaineer would go full monty on the side of a mountain. Well, as someone with a lot of mountaineering friends, let’s just say that this stuff does happen. Now I’ve never witnessed it first hand (thank goodness!) but I have seen summit photos with friends that were stripped down to their skivvies, or at least close to it. In the winter. On top of Mt. Washington. 

Like this one for example.  Yes, I know some of these guys….   


MITOC group on the summit of Mt. Washington, highest peak in New Hampshire.  (Photo courtesy of Matthew Gilbertson)

Perhaps the thin air at altitude causes folks to do crazy stuff?

That said, I’m not excusing the act in the least. I try to be a culturally sensitive traveler and go out of my way to show a lot of respect for the local customs, especially when I’m in a land that I barely understand.

I was actually on Borneo last December as part of our Southeast Asian Adventure and would have loved to add the Mt. Kinabalu, the highest peak in Malaysia, to my list of country summits. (It’s still a short list.) But I wasn’t in any shape to be climbing a mountain, unfortunately, so we stayed in Brunei. And I definitely kept my clothes on.

What do you think? Should the tourists be charged with…. something? 



  1. Travis, everybody should respect local customs and obey local laws everywhere they go, no matter how silly they seem. I come from a country where I don’t wear blue at certain beaches, and I cover myself when going to temples. I follow these customs, because I want to be part of the culture, not to mock it.

  2. Their actions remind me of an article that I think Lucky posted recently about doing things and going places simply to post it on social media. Getting naked on top of a mountain doesn’t seem nearly as fun if you can’t get a retweet. That being said, it was pretty stupid of them to post-brag their desecration pics before they left the country;there’s a lesson in that alone. As for nudity causing an earthquake, if that were so, then Cologne better prepare for the worst after my Sunday afternoon on the banks of the Rhein. In my defense, I simply did what the locals were doing.

  3. With all due respect, their Deputy Chief Minister sounds like he probably doesn’t know where the sun goes at night.

    But whatever, these tourists came to see the mountain and wanted to act silly. If some culture that squats in a ditch and shoves berries up their nose gets offended, maybe more tourists should bring tiny violins.

  4. On any given random weekday afternoon you are likely to encounter guys walking down Castro Street wearing nothing but flip flops and a cock ring. So that must be why the Bay Area is so seismically active. Thank you, Malasian government for teaching me something new.

  5. @Dani Obviously people should respect local customs but I thinks its a bit much to charge people with manslaughter because you think they angered the gods and caused and earthquake. You shouldn’t impose your gods on others.

  6. Oh, Travis, you too have been lost to the Daily Fail? Authorities were already looking to arrest them well before the earthquake. And if you’re going to take the words of a single regional-level bureaucrat as representative of the entire “Malaysian government”, I suppose the media abroad should start quoting Governor Scott Walker or Rick Perry as representative of the U.S. government as a whole as well?

    Plus, Mount Kinabalu isn’t just any old mountain (you probably know that, but I suspect a lot of people did that). The locals believe that that’s the final resting place of people who’ve passed on. Think about that for a moment. You’ve got people stripping naked and peeing on the local equivalent of Heaven. This is perhaps a few steps above being “culturally insensitive”, a few degrees worse than wearing shoes into a temple.

    Finally, it wouldn’t hurt to state what the tourists are actually being charged with: gross indecency. That seems entirely reasonable, doesn’t it? None of this sensationalist garbage.

    They are not being charged with manslaughter. That’s just baseless rumors.

  7. ummm…yeah. The cultural superiority displayed on this blog by Lucky and now Travis is astounding.

  8. Yay, less insensitive people! If you’ve got nothing to good to say or at least constructive, I’d rather not hear it. Good to see some of those mouths gone.

  9. Hey, This is the main reason NOBODY should read Daily Mail. People says that majority in hell are made up of lawyers. I doubt that. It should be reporters. The Malaysian Government has never ever said that. The Borneo part of Malaysia is rich in different cultures compared to the peninsula. They hold belief that the mountain Kinabalu or the original name Aki Nabalu, is a sacred place. The Minister (a Sabahan) in fact is displaying his own opinion as he is a local there. He hold really strong beliefs regarding the mountain as a sacred place, and so do my friends from Sabah. Never at all the government agree to what he says, but they respect his opinion regarding his beliefs and so did not counter his statements. Please please please stay away from the Daily Mail. It can destroy your brain.

  10. As someone who grew up in KK (the city where the mountain is) and has climbed Mt Kinabalu 5 times, just want to share some context.

    Much of the area around the mountain are village folk who hold on to a lot of primal beliefs and superstitions. If you consider that these sorts of beliefs and superstitions are, essentially, no different from religion, then it is exactly the same as any other country in that urban folk tend to be more agnostic/athiestic, and rural folk tend to believe more in the supernatural.

    So of course when the quake happens so soon after the strip-tease (which, among the local populace is a huge insult and lack of respect to the spirits), the natural conclusion is to jump to the conclusion.

    Of course you might say, but the views of the local villagefolk are one thing, but an official governmental stance is another — this part is pure politics. The ruling Malaysian government actually lost the popular vote in the last election, but still won by a combination of gerrymandering and strong support from the interiors of Sabah (i.e. the state where KK is). So their ‘official stance’ here really is nothing more than pandering to their electorate. Among the villagefolk emotions are running high, this is a HUGE disaster, and it was TOTALLY caused by those naked white men so the government plays ball.

  11. If there is a law against public nudity or indecency, then charge them for that. But charging them for causing an earthquake? I think that it’s a bit harsh.

    That being said, when you travel, you must accept to live by the local customs. Nudity is frowned upon in Malaysia. And Mount Kinabalu is sacred. I think that those travellers should have connected the dots before doing something like that (AND posting it on social media!) with their guide and probably many people around.

    Thankfully the surroundings don’t seem too affected by the earthquake. I’ll be in Kota Kinabalu in two weeks!

  12. @Dimples : There is no ‘official stance’ released by the government whatsoever regarding this. PLEASE DO NOT BELIEVE IN THE DAILY MAIL. MY GOODNESS!!! when in doubt, blame politics without even verifying the source. COME ON! I live in the UK now, and nobody, I mean NOBODY reads the daily mail. except some chavs here. Thank goodness the Daily Mail need to pay legal money to JK Rowling for the garbage that they wrote about here, we need more people to stand up against this stupid newspaper company.

    @Marc : They were charged before the earthquake due to indecency. The minister was relating the incident to this. But they were not charged for causing an earthquake! definitely not!

  13. These tourists are morons, and if there are laws against public indecency in Malaysia, then charge them with that. But to blame them for causing the earthquake is just dumb and moronic. That government official has got to be one of the stupidest people in the history of stupid. Anyone who buys that crap is just as dumb as these tourists, if not dumber.

  14. @Zacky — The Sabah Deputy Chief Minister (i.e. 2nd in command in the state government) actually *did* come out and say that. So yes, technically you’re correct in saying there was no “official government stance,” but the Daily Mail and other reports aren’t entirely without basis either.

  15. Tourists misbehaving is nothing new.. And these Canadians/Europeans obviously disregard local culture as much as the previous Chinese tourist scandals did. Guess bad behavior is truly universal. And if they broke local law, be it gross indecency or vandalism, they do deserve their legal punishment. With no whinging of whether or not it’ll be acceptable “back home”.

  16. So, you have the Ground Zero Memorial in New York, and on it is your father’s name. Today, some Arab muslim from Afghanistan flew 10,000+ miles to New York, and the first thing he did on “trekking” to that memorial was to go naked, showed his butt to those names, and then peed on your father’s name – a deliberate act that he did despite his tour guide pleading with him to cover up.

    Tell me, would you like to see this man charged for gross indecency? Do you think someone on capital hill will come down and make some political gain out of the situation? Would you be as outraged if this was done by your fellow American, local to DC, someone who got drunk…?

    Many people in Asia have not forgotten the humiliation, insults and cultural genocide that they suffered when their countries were “colonized” (or should we call a spade a spade and use the proper word: “invaded”) by the white men. Actions of cultural insentivity by descendants of these white men (or as the local call it: “red hair devils”) are viewed much more harshly. You can call it racism, but many Americans would behave like that too, in the ground zero memorial analogy I gave above.

    So, yes, please show some cultural sensitivity when visiting the sacred burial ground (or resting place of departed spirits of family members, in this case) or graves of dead American veterans (Arlington war cemetry?) – especially if your grandpa (or his generation) has killed and lorded over the grandpas of the current local generation!

    A good start would be to recognize that the Ground Zero Memorial is not just some concrete or building material to the Americans – it holds great symbolism to Americans. Similarly, Mount Kinabalu is not just a mountain to the locals – it has great symbolism: the resting place of spirits of family members. Another good start would be to read up, prior to the trip, what your grandpa’s generation did to that country and then bear in mind that because of that, you will be held to a higher standard (or prejudice, or racism) due to the “sins” / war atrocities (“colonization” is an euphemism) committed by your grandpa and his pal.

  17. On a lighter note to what I said above, if you do not commit any atrocious act, you will be treated like a king, as if you are somehow way superior compared to local men, by the local women… simply by virtue of the “status” held by your grandpa and his generation, when they lorded over the locals <100 years ago. Visit the local clubs and you will be amazed how many women want to have sex with you – for free – thanks to your grandpa and his buddies. Singapore is a good place to start and many expat men wrote about that on many online forums, and can vouch for it.

  18. I’m a Malaysian and just came back from a hiking trip in Sabah week ago. The earthquake hit Sabah on Friday, 5th June 7.15am; I was there climbing, in fact, near the peak on the same date and time just one week before. That said, I’m very lucky and grateful. I’m deeply saddened by what happened.

    Travis and the rest, thank you for being a culturally sensitive traveler and show a lot of respect for the local customs. I really appreciate that. 🙂

    Regarding the climbing, it’s actually not that difficult as you think, really. It’s not easy but with a little bit of training before the trip, you’re going to be fine. I’m nowhere near to “fit” either. Welcome to Malaysia and I hope you’ll have chance to visit Mt. Kinabalu in the future.

    Regarding the naked tourists, yes it’s off to do that in Malaysia or any Muslim country, let alone a place like Mt. Kinabalu. But blaming them for causing the earthquake? That’s too silly. 🙂

  19. “Tell me, would you like to see this man charged for gross indecency?”

    Yes. That’s not the issue. The issue would be some idiot politician blaming him and his act for a NATURAL disaster.

    “Do you think someone on capital hill will come down and make some political gain out of the situation?”

    That’s what politicians do. That’s not the issue, either. The issue would a politician blaming a HUMAN for a NATURAL disaster.

    “Would you be as outraged if this was done by your fellow American, local to DC, someone who got drunk…?”

    Yes. Occasionally some moronic Americans do things like this to American monuments. And they are mostly ripped for it, as they should be.

    “Many people in Asia have not forgotten the humiliation, insults and cultural genocide that they suffered when their countries were “colonized” (or should we call a spade a spade and use the proper word: “invaded”) by the white men.”

    That does not excuse a moronic political hack from blaming HUMANS for causing a NATURAL disaster.

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