Saturday February 9, 2013
Gem of a forest
By PHYLLIS HO
It’s bound to be love at first sight at the Belum Rainforest Resort if you’re someone who likes to connect with nature.
AS Dad drove across the bridge that connected Banding Island to the mainland, I stared out the car window at Temengor Lake. Located in the Belum-Temengor area, it’s the largest manmade lake in Perak, spanning an amazing 300,000ha.
We journeyed there from Penang, and it was a three-hour drive to Belum, close to the town of Gerik, near the Malaysia-Thailand border.
The Discover Belum-Temenggor Rainforest package that we signed up for included a trek in the jungle at night, a visit to an Orang Asli village, a stopover to see the famed Rafflesia flower and a salt lick, a visit to one of the many waterfalls around the lake, and – last but not least – bamboo rafting.
Belum literally translates as “before”, as in “land before time”. The Belum-Temenggor rainforest is one of the largest virgin forest reserves in Peninsular Malaysia, boasting over 3,000 species of flowering plants, including the Rafflesia, and 14 of the world’s most endangered mammals.
Lush green trees enveloped every part of the tropical haven that’s the resort. It’s obvious that the architecture was inspired by nature. Thin wooden planks of similar shades lined the external walls, while the interior was decorated with beige-coloured timber.
At almost every corner of the resort, there were long twigs that served as décor. What better theme for a resort tucked amidst a 130-million-year-old rainforest than nature, right?
Our superior room was beautifully furnished, very comfortable whilst conveying a rustic feel. Exploring the resort
We wanted to explore the place, and so we drove out to scour for food. After an hour’s drive, we managed to locate a few mamak stalls by the lakeside in an area where there were also boathouses for rent. When we returned to the resort, my sister and I went for a stroll
The lounge area was a perfect hang-out place. It had a TV set and complimentary WiFi.
If you like plants, then you must check out the Herbal Garden. We ventured further and spotted a sign that said “Banding Forest Trail”. Curiosity led us down a slope and onto a mini jetty where a few boats and a boathouse were docked.
Dinner that evening was buffet-style at the spacious and airy Hornbill Restaurant, where there’s also the option of dining alfresco.
Our nocturnal jungle trek started at nine. First, two guides briefed us, then we were each given a portable headlight and ushered towards the forest just behind the resort.
It was pitch dark in the forest, and the beams from our headlights were the only source of illumination. The eight of us began to form in a line, with one guide leading the way and the other bringing up the rear. Along the way, they pointed out interesting plants – the tongkat ali, for one – and explained their uses to us.
It seemed there were spiders everywhere. These were not your garden variety arachnids; some were gigantic with a body width of three inches!
Some parts of the trail were steep. They were equipped with a rope to help trekkers along. We found trudging up and down slopes, and getting past fallen branches, pretty hard work.
The aborigines of Perak
The next day, we took to exploring by boat, admiring the scenery as we went. After an hour or so, wooden houses on long stilts came into view as we neared the Orang Asli village at Sungai Kejar Hilir.
The settlement had more than 10 houses – one for each family. As the guide tied the boat to a small pole protruding out of the water, the children came out and greeted us with curious eyes. It was splendid that we brought a packet of gummy bears with us because they really took to these after the first bite!
We went around the village, peeping into their huts. According to the guide, the Perak government looks out for the Jahai people of the Negrito tribe, so that probably explained the stove and gas for cooking. Some houses even had a TV and guitar.
The Jahai are thought to be quite shy. In their free time, the women string together grey-coloured beads to make accessories for sale.
Next, we went on a hunt for Rafflesia in the Royal Belum State Park which is said to hold three different species of Rafflesia. You have to obtain a permit at least 10 days beforehand to enter.
Our trek into the jungle included an arduous climb up a hill, and then right before our very eyes the much-talked-about Rafflesia came into view. They were only buds, unfortunately. It was a huge disappointment. We had arrived ahead of the blooming season!
Dismayed, we clambered back down the rock-strewn slope. Once back in the boat, we travelled to Jenut Papan to get a glimpse of a salt lick, a magnet for wild animals. Upon reaching, we had our packed lunch of grilled chicken and sandwiches. It’s funny how a simple meal like this can taste heavenly when you are famished!
Energy replenished, we marched into the forest and came to a small stream. Just a few metres away was the salt lick. It consisted of damp gravel and pebbles. As it was still daytime, we did not see any wildlife.
However, if you stay overnight at the bumbun (small huts on stilts), you may sight wild boar, tigers, bears and more.
Feeding the fishes
Our last stop for the day was the Sungai Ruok Waterfall. Our boat stopped somewhere along the way, and the guide steered us towards a spot with hanging branches, which magically gave way to reveal a narrow opening.
We trod gingerly along the river and caught sight of many fish! The guide tied thick ropes to the rocks for support whenever we came across formidable sections. After overcoming difficult obstacles, we were rewarded with a dazzling view of the waterfall cascading down a rocky slope.
I was thrilled to observe so many fish aggressively gobbling up the pieces of white bread we threw into the water. Dip your feet in the water, and they instantly nibble at your toes too.
Having a cool dip in the waters is allowed – and always refreshing after a day of soaking in sweat.
However, we did not go for it as time was running out. It was almost evening when we disembarked at the resort jetty. The day’s activities had drained almost all the energy out of me, and I literally conked out on the fluffy bed.
After a wonderful night’s sleep, I felt refreshed next morning. After breakfast, we went down to the jetty to build bamboo rafts. Each one required an average of 10 bamboo logs to make,. The paddles were also made of bamboo. We got a genuine shock when the guide informed us that we would be on our own during our raft adventure.
Well, time to learn the trick ourselves!
After strapping on our life jackets, we stepped onto the raft. It was a tough job balancing on it, as the raft bobbed up and down constantly. A bamboo raft can only hold a maximum of three people who are positioned at the front, middle and back to give it stability.
We spent quite some time trying to coordinate our paddling and learn how to steer. Teamwork is essential.
Nevertheless, we had good fun rowing the bamboo raft as evident from the loud shrieks and laughter that must have been heard miles away! We only paddled back and forth close to the jetty, not daring to venture further out in the lake.
I had a lovely time at the Belum Rainforest Resort and would not hesitate to recommend it to anyone wanting a vacation away from the city. Tranquil, pleasing service, scrumptious food, cosy rooms and exciting outdoor activities – it’s just ideal.