ENTER the Mossy Forest of Gunung Brinchang and you will encounter an enchanted forest where thick moss hugs tree trunks from the top to the ground, complete with gnarly roots covered with lichens, ferns and orchids.
The forest is damp, gloomy and chilly. Walking through it, all kinds of feelings emerge, from appreciating its beautiful landscape to feeling spooked at times.
It is uncannily very quiet here, and when the wind blows, it feels as if someone is whispering behind the trees.
I made a trip to Cameron Highland recently to experience Mossy Forest with fellow hikers.
Overall, the hike was surreal.
It is the kind of place that one would imagine as the setting for the moors of Maleficent or Fangorn Forest of the Lord of The Rings.
Mossy Forest, touted to be the oldest forest in Malaysia, is around 200 million years old and is a home to ancient trees.
Locals believe that the forest could have existed during the time of the dinosaurs.
Honestly, I did not know that this place existed until two weeks before this trip.
The initial plan was to visit Cameron Highlands and to go on several short hikes. But when a friend showed me photographs of this mystical-looking forest, I knew I had to go there.
Alas, just a few days before my trip, I found out that the authorities had closed several trails on Mount Brinchang and Mount Irau because of landslides.
Many hikers have come across Mossy Forest while hiking at Mount Irau and Mount Brinchang.
Mount Brinchang and Mount Irau are among seven mountains in Cameron Highlands that are more than 1, 500m high, part of the Titiwangsa Range, the backbone of Peninsular Malaysia.
There are about 14 recommended trails to explore in these mountains.
Frustrated and with limited information on the alternatives routes to Mossy Forest, I decided to contact a local guide whom I had found on the Internet.
Sathur, who runs his own travel agency called Let’s Go Discovery, suggested that I book a morning tour of Mossy Forest which allowed visitors on the boardwalk as many trails were closed.
Whne I told him that I wanted to set foot on the centre of Mossy Forest, he recommended a private tour.
Although I was a little sceptical, I already had my mind set on making this trip happen.
Luck on our side
A day before our hike, it was raining in Cameron Highlands and this made us anxious. However, it turned out to be sunny the next day.
According to Sathur, it was quite unusual for Cameron Highlands to have such weather.
“Usually, it is dry in the morning and rainy in the evening, ” he said.
The first part of Mossy Forest we visited could be accessed by car.
The government had built a boardwalk to preserve the land as there has been an influx of tourists to the area in recent times.
The entry fee for a 200m walk was around RM10.
The elevated boardwalk meanders between trees, under the canopy of leaves and a 50m tall lookout tower.
Prior to starting our walk, Sathur pointed out some interesting plants in Mossy Forest, including the ones that could be used as mosquito repellents and pain relievers that smelled like “tiger balm”.
“These plants are mainly used by the native people in this mountain. Right now, it is estimated that about 400 natives in Cameron are still living the lifestyle of their ancestors while the remaining have chosen city life, ” he said.
We then move on to one of the tea plantations and Sathur reveals that he was born and raised in a tea plantation in the highlands.
“As a local, I believe it is my responsibility to protect the beauty of Cameron Highland. People laughed at me, asking why I wanted to be a kampung boy.
“For me, this place has a lot to offer but it has to be protected at the same time, ” he said.
After lunch, we moved to our second spot in Mossy Forest for a three-hour hike. The trail was located 15 minutes away from Brinchang town centre.
The trail started from a vegetable farm. After about an hour’s hike up, we reached a hilltop which looked almost like Bukit Tabur in Kuala Lumpur, where there are no tall rainforest trees in the surrounding area.
From the peak, we walked down towards a small opening that led us to another trail with one of the most beautiful scenery.
A quick check on my watch showed the temperature to be around 23° Celsius.
The air felt slightly eerie and claustrophobic at some point as the forest was dense and narrow.
“Be careful, there are a lot of snakes and some jungle cats here, ” said Sathur while walking nonchalantly deep into the forest.
At some parts of the trail, we had to walk through the intertwined tree roots that grew above the ground and crawl under tree branches.
Overall, the trail was surprisingly moderate and suitable for new hikers. The forest looked untouched.
Without a guide, we would probably have been unable to find the forest.
“There are actually a lot of spots to see Mossy Forest in Cameron Highland, but we need to protect them. Many local hikers are unable to find them because they refuse to hire a guide. This should change, ” said Sathur.
Protecting the forest
To protect the forest, Sathur suggested that we only walk on the cleared trail.
He explained that the Pahang State Forestry Department was taking measures to protect and rehabilitate the forest in Cameron Highlands.
He added that Mossy Forest has taken a very long time to grow and has a delicate ecosystem.
“Even as a guide, I need to be strict and limit the number of trekkers on a certain trail.”
To climb Mount Irau, one requires a permit from the Pahang State Forest Department and approval could take up to a few weeks.
There are not more than 100 permits issued per day.
Making proper trekking arrangements is important when hiking in Cameron Highlands because there are cases where hikers have lost their way.
For a trip costing RM150 per person, Let’s Go Discovery offers a full day’s trip to Mossy Forest and the tea plantation led by an experienced guide, and this includes a 4WD transfer to the hotel.
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