Discover Gopeng's natural beauty: Perak town is now an ecotourism hotspot

Gua Tempurung is the largest cave in Peninsular Malaysia. — GISELE SOO

The biggest flower in the world, the rafflesia, doesn’t just grow on the island of Borneo. It can also be found in several states in the peninsular, including deep in the jungle of Perak’s Kinta Valley.

The jungle in question is Ulu Geroh, located in the small town of Gopeng. At least this is what Gopeng local Stephen Yaw shared with us. Yaw, a retired administrator, likes to spend his time learning about the history of his hometown, and going on hikes and other adventures in the area.

According to Yaw, Gopeng was no more than a quaint mining town and rubber plantation back in the day. It was very much isolated and merely served as a bypass between Kuala Lumpur and Ipoh.

In the mid-1990s, however, things changed when certain developments started to take place.

“When highways were built, connecting Tapah to Ipoh, Gopeng became more accessible, bringing in out-of-town tourists,” Yaw shared.

The town’s ecotourism flourished when the first nature resort opened up in the early 2000s.

Gopeng’s biggest draw is its natural beauty, and the town is ideal for adventurers who love nature explorations.

Part of natural wonders found in the town is the rafflesia. Known for its parasitic nature, the enormous flower can weigh over 7kg and measure up to 90cm in diameter. It is endemic to South-East Asian countries such as Malaysia, Thailand, Indonesia and the Philippines. When the flower blooms, it produces an offensive smell which many have described as “repulsive”.

The rafflesia is even known as “the corpse flower”.

Other than the flower, Ulu Geroh is also home to the country’s national butterfly – Rajah Brooke’s Birdwing.

“Tourists hike up Ulu Geroh hoping to see the rare winged beauties every now and then. These butterflies wander near the limestone hill next to the river, and feed on the minerals,” said Yaw.

Hike up Ulu Geroh to see the majestic Rajah Brooke’s Birdwing butterfly. — Photos: STEPHEN YAWHike up Ulu Geroh to see the majestic Rajah Brooke’s Birdwing butterfly. — Photos: STEPHEN YAWThe species was first discovered by British naturalist and explorer Alfred Russel Wallace in the 1800s who then named it after the first White Rajah of Sarawak, James Brooke. Today, this majestic species – bearing black wings with green markings – can only be found in a few places, and Gopeng is one of them.

“The nation has over 1,200 butterfly species and I think that the Birdwing is one of the most beautiful I’ve ever seen,” Yaw said.

However, he advises folks who wish to hike in or explore Ulu Geroh to go with a trusted local guide.

“It’s not advisable to explore the forest on your own, and it takes at least three hours to complete the whole trail,” he said.

Adventure time

White water rafting is very well known here too. This all-time favourite local activity is an exhilarating sport, and can be done at Sungai Kampar, which is located in Gopeng.

Generally, rafting comes with different levels of difficulty, ranging from beginner, intermediate to advanced. Yaw said a number of tour agencies and local resorts offer guiding services and there are usually a few packages for tourists to choose from.

Aside from the water sport, the town is famed for spelunking, too, thanks to the many caves that can be found in Perak. One of them is Gua Tempurung, the largest cavern in Peninsular Malaysia.

The 4.5km-long Gua Tempurung is surrounded by beautiful limestone formations. You will find mineral deposits either hanging majestically over the ceiling (stalactites) or rising from the floor (stalagmites), decorating the cave’s interior.

Gua Tempurung has beautiful rock formations. —  GISELE SOO/The StarGua Tempurung has beautiful rock formations. — GISELE SOO/The StarRemnants of mining activities, such as abandoned tin mining tools, can be found in the cavern, too.

“Bats live in Gua Tempu-rung, and if you visit in certain months, you may spot the nocturnal creatures hanging high above the cave ceiling. The ancient cave takes its name after the coconut husk because of its uncanny resemblance to the coconut shell,” Yaw said.

Although the cavern is large, only 1.9km is accessible to visitors.

Yaw also suggests checking out the lesser-known Gua Kandu, which has its fair share of history.

Gua Kandu was a hiding place for the Communists back in the day.

“They sought refuge in the cave; there are paintings on the walls as evidence,” he said.

Located about 10 minutes from Gua Tempurung, this cavern is a labyrinth of chambers. “If they are unfamiliar with the place, it may seem like a maze, so please go with a local guide for safety reasons.”

Apart from these cave, visitors can head to the gorgeous Geruntum Falls, which is tucked in Gopeng’s verdant forest of Ulu Geruntum. The waterfall is also popularly known as Lata Merkor.

“People go there to do abseiling activities or just to enjoy the tranquil atmosphere. There are a few levels to the waterfall, and do keep in mind to wear proper shoes as some parts of the trail may be slippery,” Yaw shared.

Parking spots are available for a fee (RM3), and you can easily walk to the waterfall from there.

Time to relax

If you prefer activities that are less strenuous, there are also plenty of other attractions you can see and experience in this town, like the Hoga Gaharu Tea Valley, where you will find thousands of gaharu (agarwood) trees.

The guide at this tea plantation will share with you its history and some fascinating details of the trees. For example, Hoga is a hybrid creation, made up of various kinds of agarwood trees. Agarwood is aromatic and has long been used to produce incense, perfume and even tea.

Hoga Gaharu Tea Valley is an interesting place to visit. —  GISELE SOO/The StarHoga Gaharu Tea Valley is an interesting place to visit. — GISELE SOO/The StarYaw said: “It takes more than two decades for the agarwood to mature, before it is harvested.”

It’s a nice place to take pictures, too, especially in the agarwood forest. At the information centre, you can buy some agarwood products and sample gaharu ice cream, coffee or tea.

Nearby, you will find the small yet informative Muzium Gopeng. Opened on April 18, 2009 to coincide with World Heritage Day, the museum houses a collection of items that dates back almost two centuries. Among the artefacts on display are household items, photographs and newspaper clippings.

The museum was founded by Yaw’s brother, Bernard, who wanted to preserve Gopeng’s history. Bernard first transformed the family’s ancestral home at the historical Eu Kong Street, into a museum in 2009.

A few years later, the museum moved into a four-storey shop lot, which used to be a stable for racing horses.

“The stable belonged to Eu Tong Sen, the son of Eu Kong, who was a businessman and philanthropist in Perak,” Yaw said.

Muzium Gopeng is only open on the weekends and entrance is free.

Local favourites

Food, of course, is easily available in Gopeng. Yaw recommends that visitors check out Pasar Baru Gopeng before starting their adventures in town. There are many hawker stalls offering a variety of dishes here.

“This is a great place to experience local cuisine, and you can indulge in the delicious spread of Gopeng’s delicacies, which includes coffee,” Yaw shared.

Pasar Baru was once known as Pasar Lama before local authorities relocated the market, providing a bigger space for hawkers and vendors to run their business.

Today, the market is bustling with life, and frequented by many.

“My comfort food is lai fun (a type of rice noodles) served with fish balls and soup. The Hainanese coffee and chicken porridge are especially popular in this part of the state too,” he said.

> For more pictures, check out the image gallery.

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