It has been some time since I’ve done any hiking in Malaysia. Having a soft spot for those waterfalls and pools, and considering it was the long weekend, it was hard not to say yes. What more, I was promised the company of the very cheerful duo – Sucan and Sara. Sucan and Sara – very cheerful hosts indeed – had their own ways of stirring up excitement pre-trip even through whatsapp. It was days of light entertainment watching them fuel the flames for the gradual formation of anti-durian alliances. As we gathered on that Friday morning, I finally had the chance to put a face to all these durian-lovin’ and durian-hating people.
Rise and shine! Falling in at 6am, all 18 of us ready to set off.
We were expecting a sizeable crowd due to the Hari Raya long weekend, but fortunately, clearing immigrations was pretty much a breeze. By 1030am, we were in Bekok – a little town in Johor with an old school charm. It was easy to feel like we were in a place that was beating to its own unrushed rhythm. We took some time to wander down the street and each alley, striking up conversations with friendly locals who seem so warm and ready to share. Some old school kopitiams dot the street, with some cosy eateries selling simple fare like chee cheong fan, wanton mee, and butter toasts.
Murals and street art that lined the walls and roads lends a touch of character and colour to the place. Aunties sipping tea at a table nearby promoted the tiger murals earnestly to any one who would bother to listen, offering to take us through the back doors of their shops so we could see the murals.
During our time there, we spotted some bicycle rental shops too. With the relatively flat terrain and light traffic, exploring the town on two wheels does seem like a lovely way to soak in all the feels.
After our early lunch at Bekok, we caught up with our guide, Nelson, at the park office. There, we found our rides for the next leg of our journey to Selai, the western gateway where we will enter the 80,000 hectares Endau Rompin park.
The 4WDs rolled effortlessly along the very well-paved road, lined on both sides with oil palm plantations, and the occasional houses and schools which seems to be part of the re-settled Orang Asli villages. The midday sun was just a little harsh, but how often do you get to be on the back of a vehicle enjoying some fresh air? Messy hair, don’t care! For me, the trade-off was worth it, but poor Matt ended up sunburnt.
After awhile, it seemed like the lot of us who willingly parked ourselves on the back of the 4WDs got used to the heat, the wind and the cruising. We needn’t have to worry too much about getting bored on the 1 hour journey because when the wide expanses of oil palm estates gave way to denser forests, we came to several close shaves of getting slapped affectionately in the face by overhanging leaves and branches. Didn’t waste too much time getting into a game of duck-the-branches. Old-school arcade-type cheap thrill – checked.
Finally, after reaching our Base Camp at Lubuk Tapah, we checked into our rustic wooden huts by the river. Imagine bright yellow huts nestled the woods, with a beautiful stream flowing by in the front.
Time check: 2.15pm. A quick briefing from our local guide about where we are headed and off we go - our first walk in the park!
The hike started gently undulating, though it quickly picked up pace, with the occasional large rock faces and steeper slopes that had to be navigated with ladders and ropes that were already set up. A little huffing and puffing as the hike kept us guessing, and our hands and feet occupied. It was an interesting hike with the presence of the river or streams occasionally by our side.
Endau Rompin – one of the oldest rainforest in the world – teeming with life
After about an hour of hiking at a steady pace, we arrived at Takah Pandan – our first waterfall!
Looking up at the waterfall, we spied a huge and conspicuous pandan-like plant nestled between some huge rocks at near the top of the waterfall. Is that where the name of the waterfall came from?? Are we swimming in pandan water? Being typical Singaporeans, the conversation very quickly took a predictable turn, “Maybe someone should open a chicken rice stall here.”
With the path already familiar to us, our hike back seemed to go by much faster; there was less water on our backs, less food in our stomachs too. We were so hungry…. And very fortunately, Nelson – our local guide who also doubled up as chef for those 2 days – read our minds. We came back to a pot of very yummy green bean soup.
With the sun almost setting, nature all around, the gently flowing river as backdrop…perfect way to wind down as we look forward to dinner.
With the typical cooking essentials, our next few meals were well taken care of thanks to Nelson. Side note and for future reference: next time need to ownself bring chili!
What was really heartening for me was also that we were all encouraged to bring along our own non-disposable utensils, cups, bowls for meals. Small steps and little victories like that, even when we travel, do make a difference for the environment!
Following dinner, with full confidence in our local guides, we went traipsing into the forest on a night trail. Was it me? Or was the air filled with tension? Barely 5 minutes from the starting point, the guide slowed down and asked us to squat in a row. Being so close to the ground, I was a little nervous about striking the leech or scorpion lottery. Slowing down, and as our eyes adjusted in the dark, we begin to notice how some leaves and branches around us were emitting a faint glow.
Our sharp-eyed guides were always constantly spotting large spiders and insects, pointing out interesting critters to us. I was constantly in awe at their knack for spotting these animals. It was during this night trail that I saw some of the biggest trees I’ve seen in the park since morning. Standing by the roots of these giants was indeed humbling. We also got a glimpse into the lives of the Orang Asli people – the indigenous people of and the oldest inhabitants of peninsular Malaysia – learning about the animal traps they make out of natural materials.
Day 2 started really nicely with good weather and we set off in good spirits on our hike.
The trail took us to Takah Tempa’ang, another waterfall that is popular among hikers who visit the park. Our guide told us it us a gentler hike today, with slopes that are less steep. What he didn’t tell us, was that we will be getting our feet wet. A lot. Some of us eventually caved in and stopped trying to make sure our shoes stayed dry. Others who had on the very famous kampung adidas, were surely feeling secretly triumphant…
Along the way one of our guides pointed out a camera in the forest, saying it was used by the military to monitor wildlife in the forest. “what animals in particular?” I asked out of curiosity. Without hesitation, Sucan said, “I heard tigers”. I remembered holding my breath for a bit. Fingers crossed.
Some of us who were game to get wet even more went tubing down the river. We were really lucky because apparently the water level was too low the day before; a group of Singaporean daytrippers we met came for tubing but the trip was in vain. It took quite abit of skill, maneuvering the rocks. It was all about getting stuck, learning how to get unstuck, and then going with the flow – bite-sized life lessons delivered on a weekend getaway.
Shortly after packing up, we left the park and headed back home the same way we came back, with conversations and stories flowing naturally. Frankly, for someone who doesn’t visit Malaysia much, I was surprised at how little it took to just pop in for a weekend in nature, and return feeling recalibrated. I see myself coming back for more!
Written by Lim Sixian
Sixian is currently on a sabbatical to explore her gifts, while experimenting with different ways to live her life out. She has a crazy affection for water and feels most at home barefooted. She believes in stories, and in kindness, amongst many other things. Almost never says no to coffee and long walks.
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