Where can a four-hour drive from Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia take you?
Or in my case, a journey into the wilderness of northern Perak to stay on an island in man-made Lake Temenggor.
All aboard the boathouse!
It was a pity my room mate and me had to breeze past historic Lenggong for we were chasing time to get to Pulau Banding jetty by 1:00 p.m. The boathouse was waiting for us by the time we arrived and we were swiftly greeted by the father-son duo of Steve and Tom as soon as we lugged our bags on-board.
We joined a family of five in having a simple lunch of fried rice and the famous Ipoh bean sprouts. Everyone was getting acquainted with each other while the boathouse chugged along to the first adventure of our three-day stint.
Hunt for the Rafflesia
I never have expected to find the infamous Rafflesia in Perak! I always have the impression this stinky parasite can only be found in East Malaysia but apparently Belum-Temenggor Forest Reserve is one of the last bastions of this celebrated flower.
The hike to the Rafflesia hideout took about 15 minutes but the unfit me felt it took forever as we trekked up and down hills and streams. When we finally arrived, the flowers were still budding and unfortunately it will take weeks for the Rafflesia to be in full bloom.
Although we were unlucky to catch a fully-matured one, it was exciting to see this flower in its natural habitat – burrowed in the vines of the Tetrastigma tree.
Lookout Tower – 4,011 feet above sea level
We then hopped on to Pulau Talikail, a nearby island, for a 30-minute hike to Lookout Tower. The tower offers a panorama of the massive Belum-Temenggor biosphere and the view is as far as the eyes can see. I did not really expect the vastness of this man-made lake until I reached the top!
Lake Temenggor was dammed in the late 1970’s in order to generate hydroelectric power for the state. It also acts as a “natural” barrier to prevent guerrillas from escaping through the dense jungles into Thailand during the communist insurgency era.
This lake has quite a colorful history for a nature destination unknown to many travelers.
Island in the sun
After a whole day of trekking, we finally made our way to Belum Eco Resort.
The resort is built on an island and consists of a main deck that doubles as the cafe and a function hall. Accommodations include ‘A’-frame huts, dormitory and boathouse specially catered for fishing trips.
We stayed in one of the huts facing the lake and I was happy with its simple yet comfy vibe. Each hut has a protruding balcony so we were mainly sitting there soaking in the sight while getting our skin massaged by the strong breeze.
On our first night, we were treated with a steamboat dinner! It was really pleasant to hang out at the deck striking conversations with new friends all the while being surrounded by the hoots and hollers of the forest under the glaze of the full moon.
A Visit to the Kampung Chuweh
The next morning we left the resort for Kampung Chuweh, one of the few native Orang Asli villages in the area. The village was quite deserted when we arrived, save for the children who were busy playing by the water and the womenfolk tending their households.
Turns out all the men have been out hunting since daybreak and they would usually be back by noon. We paid a visit to the village head, the Tok Batin, and hung out with the kids for about an hour before boarding the boathouse to our next destination.
It is quite rare to witness aboriginals here in Malaysia still living their rudimentary way of life – houses are made of bamboo and wood while food requires to be caught and snared. It’s a reminder that everything has its roots from mother nature.
A Dip at Sungai Enam’s Waterfall
We then proceeded to a hidden corner of the lake, to a river called Sungai Enam and its tributaries. The Sungai Enam base camp is dedicated for campers but there is a nearby waterfall downstream which acted as a perfect spot for us to spend our afternoon.
The walk did not take long and we found out that the falls have multiple tiers from the calming wading pools to the gush of the stronger drops. The icy cool water was really refreshing and it actually made us hungry pretty fast!
A pleasant picnic lunch followed and it was time to head back to the resort.
We spent the first part of the evening kayaking around the island and surrounding islets. The lake can be so tranquil that sometimes we just stopped rowing and just lay still to hear the sound of silence. We only decided to row back with fear upon hearing the trumpeting sound of an elephant from a large nearby island.
The other half of the evening was utilized by jumping off the boathouse into the lake. I felt a bit scared at first since I could not float in freshwater and the bottom is full of dead tree stumps and giant river fishes. However, the fun of splashing yourself in the cool waters of Temenggor washed all the fear away.
Was three days away from comforts of civilization enough?
It wasn’t, for me. I wish I had stayed longer there and explore as many islands and riverine of this vast complex. I’d love to immerse myself in some much needed isolation away from all the noise of modern life. Lake Temenggor and the fine folks at Belum Eco Resort offered me that escape and it’s a place I would have no qualms revisiting again in the future.
After all, it’s just a four hour drive away.
- To get to Belum-Temenggor Forest Reserve, exit Kuala Kangsar on the North-South Expressway (PLUS) and drive north towards Gerik, the last town to stock up on supplies and cash. Get on the East-West Highway heading east towards Kelantan and the Pulau Banding jetty is 45 minutes from Gerik.
- Advanced bookings are necessary for Belum Eco Resort to ensure the right amount of supplies are prepared beforehand as the resort practices sustainability and tries to reduce as much carbon footprint as possible. For more information, visit their website (link) or connect with them on Facebook (link).