The ancient rainforest in Royal Belum, Perak was beckoning and once again my friends and I were drawn into the tapestry of a Malaysian adventure.
The journey from Ipoh city to the jetty of Banding Island, gateway into Royal Belum, was enriching. Pit stops were made at an orchard in Kampung Liman in Kati, Kuala Kangsar and the Lenggong Archaeological Museum.
We took a tour of a stingless bee (known in Bahasa Malaysia as lebah kelutut) farm at an orchard. Samplings of kelutut honey siphoned directly from golden brown hives were savoured. The taste was unique – a mix of sweet and sour, with a hint of fruitiness (this will depend on which fruit season the honey is harvested). Durians and cempedak are normally served to the guests for free in this orchard when they are in season.
Lenggong Archaeological Museum which hosts the complete skeleton of the infamous “Perak Man” is not to be missed. It is an informative museum, but sadly, the place is not well maintained.
At Banding Island, we boarded a houseboat. You would need to pre-book your stay on the houseboat and have a valid permit to enter the river and forest; ask a tour operator to do this for you.
As the boat chugged further from civilisation, we were taken in by a sweeping view of clear blue skies reflected on the emerald-green Temenggor Lake of Royal Belum. This lake is peppered with lumpy limestone islands and evergreen hilltops that surely have many stories to tell.
After two hours, we reached Sungai Tiang where the houseboat anchored. As the sky was turning crimson red, our guides suggested we take a break and enjoy our delightful surroundings. We saw a handful of raptors like the lesser fish eagle and rhinoceros hornbills.
Darkness fell and melodious sounds of the forest orchestrated from beyond. The chirping of crickets, foghorn blasts of bullfrogs and the occasional bellow of a four-legged animal could be heard. Surrounded by water gently rocking the houseboat and with thousands of stars twinkling in the nocturnal skies, it was surreal.
The loud whooping calls of gibbons and chirping of cicadas in the dense forest greeted us at the break of dawn. The air was fresh and invigorating, while the aromatic smells of nasi lemak was wafting from the kitchen.
We visited the majestic waterfall Sungai Kooi soon after. During the 20-minute boat ride, we chanced upon a cluster of tree trunks protruding from the lake. It was like a scene from Jurassic Park except the dinosaurs were missing.
On reaching the inlet of Sungai Kooi, fresh elephant dung and some footprints of wildlife were present but none of the creatures stuck around to welcome us. While trekking into the waterfall, we came across humongous Medang trees with buttress roots spreading out like a gigantic fan. Medicinal plants and lianas dangling from trees were thriving abundantly along the trail, too. After 20 minutes or so of clambering over fallen logs and boulders, and leaping over small streams, we came to a rocky area where the waterfall showers down from a height of many stories. Sadly, it had not been raining in this area for the past few days, thus only a small but spectacular drizzle was seen.
During wet season, this waterfall showers down like a majestic curtain of water!
Near there is a Rafflesia site and if one is lucky, one may encounter the resplendent parasitic flower in full bloom.
After lunch, we searched for more wildlife at the salt lick at Sungai Papan. We made our way there on a speedboat, but later crossed a suspended bridge and trekked into a dense forest where Gaharu trees and herbal plants like Tongkat Ali were found. Splendid coral fungus was growing on dead tree trunks. We also found lanternbugs, but not much other wildlife. We suggest you check out this place in the morning as the chances of spotting wildlife is higher then. There are campsites in Sungai Papan too but our guide said that overnight stays were not meant for the faint of heart.
On our last day, a speedboat from Sungai Ruok (our houseboat relocated!) took us to an Orang Asli village, Kampung Klewang. As our trip was in March – just before the movement control order began but with Covid-19 already spreading worldwide – we were not allowed to disembark. Floating on the lake at a safe distance, we whipped out our binoculars and had a glimpse of the lifestyle of the nomadic, forest dwelling people of the Jahai tribe.
We managed to explore the fish sanctuary of Sungai Ruok before ending our trip. Tucked into a serene and secluded tributary is a trek leading to a pool with cascading waterfalls. Do look out for the Red-Headed Blister Beetles (do not touch them) along the trail. The stream leading to the waterfall was teeming with Masheer (ikan kelah) fry and tadpoles, and the water was crystal clear.
As I happily swam in the company of many fishes and got nibbled by some, all this 60-year-old aunty could think of was, “Royal Belum rocks!”
The views expressed are entirely the reader’s own.
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