Here in Malaysia, we are gifted with an adventure playground. I’m not referring to theme park rides or ersatz jungle tours, but the real thing like the half kilometre-high Julan waterfalls in Sarawak. Or more impressively, the crests and ridges of the Bintang and Titiwangasa Mountain Ranges; they form part of the Tenasserim Hills, a long chain leading to southern Tibet that provides white-water rivers and some of the best rainforest hill walking in the world.
All too many of the tourist adventures are short one or two-day activities in degraded over-exploited areas. By going off the beaten trail you can lift the experience, and as an expat and not a tourist, you have the opportunity to explore Malaysia’s wonders in depth.
Have you heard about the kilometre-high Usun Apau plateau, which was one of the ancient home of the interior tribes of Borneo and has now been deserted? It has three extinct volcanoes, several tall waterfalls pouring off the plateau rim and has only been climbed by about a hundred people since the first expedition in 1956.
And instead of Mt Kinabalu, why not try the Mannan Trail to Malaysia’s second highest mountain, Gunung Trus Madi? This route takes four days and three nights and there is no accommodation, so if it’s adventure you’re after, this will get the adrenaline going.
There are many hiking clubs in KL to join as a beginner or to discover trails near the city. These do weekend walks to the hills around KL, such as the Bukit Tabur Quartz Ridge near Gombak.
Although close to KL, the ridge is a wonderful walk with fabulous views of the mountains, lake and jungle on one side and the expanse of KL on the other. Don’t underestimate it. Reputed to be the longest quartz ridge, it has thrilling vertical drops on both sides so make sure you stay on the centre of the ridge.
Websites, such as ‘Waterfalls of Malaysia’ run by a Dutch expatriate MM2H-er, offer detailed advice and directions to scores of fascinating waterfalls off the usual beaten tracks. Use them to connect to other waterfall enthusiasts and go make your own discoveries. Using Communist-era maps, I found a waterfall unknown to the Mapping Department.
By getting into these places, you are also helping local communities by your presence. It is proven that a frequent presence of casual walkers deters poachers, enabling wildlife to recover from the over-exploitation of the past.
NGOs like MYCAT, which does tiger conservation, are looking for volunteers willing to spend a weekend in a critical wildlife corridor in Pahang. The presence of these volunteer hikers, including this magazine’s writers and staff, has led to a decline in poaching and has enabled wildlife to recover.
For those interested in history, there are fascinating heritage trails. Did you know that you can canoe from the Indian Ocean to the Western Pacific through Peninsular Malaysia? Canoeists can portage their canoes over a 300-metre stretch from the Jempol and Serting rivers and paddle out to the Pacific.
The hills and forests of Malaysia are full of relics of the Pacific War and the Emergency. B-24 Liberator bombers and other crashed aircraft can be found in jungles from Negeri Sembilan to Perak. Historical societies and hikers go for walks and search these locations.
For the truly intrepid, there are the trials of British soldiers such as Freddie Spencer Chapman, who wrote The Jungle is Neutral, and the former rubber planter Bob Chrystal, who spent the entire war behind enemy lines without getting captured.
Chrystal walked throughout the main mountain range, hid in local villages and walked the border between Thailand before coming out near his rubber estate in Sungai Siput. He then singlehandedly initiated the surrender of the entire Japanese troops in the town armed with just his revolver.
So get out there and start exploring!