It’s crazy to think that Pahang, the largest state in Peninsular Malaysia, isn’t more of a tourist destination, or at least it isn’t always the top choice when looking for holiday spots in Malaysia. Penang island, Langkawi, Malacca, Ipoh, and even Johor seem to top the lists for local vacations. But what about all the natural treasures that Pahang has to offer?
This huge state is not only strategically located and connected by six other states in the Peninsular, but it also boasts bountiful travel destinations across the state. While you may be familiar with - or even been to - some of these nature-rich destinations, there might still be a place or two that you didn’t know existed. Free yourself from the hustle and bustle of city living with these destinations, where there are no traffic jams, no project deadlines, no punch cards; just you and nature. Bliss.
IT’S A BEACH LIFE FOR ME
In mid-2016, I wrote a travel piece on this hidden gem, Pulau Tioman, and needless to say, it is worth mentioning again. This beauty is ideal for nature lovers like me who want island holidays to be all about nature, preserved as much as possible, where the only development are the hotels.
Sure, if you’re one of those who loves living on the fast lane and needs to have something to do or see 24/7, Tioman might not be the place for you. That does not however mean that the island is boring or mundane, far from it actually.
From turtle sanctuaries to jungle trekking and island hopping, to its many neighbouring mini islands, there are enough things to do and see to fill up at least three full days, especially if you’d like to take it slow and have a splashing good time.
IS THAT SQUIRT THE TURTLE?
If you’ve watched Finding Nemo or Finding Dory and simply loved the turtles in the movie, the Cherating Turtle Sanctuary is a must-see. The turtle hatchery will definitely wow the little ones or grown-ups who are as easily amused by green turtles. If you’re lucky, you might even spot leatherback turtles! The best time to catch a glimpse of the turtles is between April and September.
Be sure to plan ahead as they aren’t always open, and if you plan to watch the turtles lay eggs in the evening, bookings are definitely needed. Go the extra mile while you’re there and make it a memorable one by participating to release baby turtles back to their homes. Not everyone can say they have done that, especially of an endangered breed!
If the Turtle Sanctuary isn’t what you’re looking for, perhaps hours of sun-soaking by the beach will be a good idea for the grown-ups. Chendor beach, where the sanctuary is located, is a natural extension to Cherating beach, and since it’s less known to many, the beach is generally less crowded too.
Since Cherating is basically a small, laid-back fishing village, you can be sure to meet genuinely warm and welcoming locals during your visit, and perhaps that is why it is very common for backpackers to make their way there too.
GET THIS PARTEA STARTED!
Sugarless, milk-less, flavourless – you name it, I’ll drink it as long it’s tea! If you love drinking tea as much as I do, the tea estates in Cameron Highlands are a must see! Whichever tea plantation you choose to visit (Boh or Bharat), you will end up with a breathtaking view of a plantation, with the smell of tea leaves filling the moist, dense air around you.
The tea plantations, located strategically in Brinchang and Tanah Rata, are amazing not only for tea lovers, but it’s a perfect place for photography too. So if your partner isn’t as keen on tea and doesn’t want to join you in tea leaf plucking, let them wander and shoot photos instead as the scenery itself is amazing, landscaped like a huge stadium with rows upon rows of tea plants.
Alternatively, if you have a dominant sweet tooth, you can check out the many strawberry farms in the area. While the farms may not be as pleasing to the eye or as great for photography, you can always make the most of it by handpicking your own strawberries to go.
Imagine heading home and telling people the strawberries you brought them were actually individually handpicked by you. Now that’s a gift that comes from the heart and goes a long way.
A ROLLING STONE GATHERS NO MOSS
Ever wanted to have a fairy-like picture in an enchanted forest without the help of Photoshop? Well look no further. A mystical-looking forest which looks like a cross between the movie sets in Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter, the Mossy Forest in Brinchang is heaven on earth. It’s almost hard to believe that the forest is real, let alone located in Malaysia.
With a large number of wild orchids, ferns, liverworts, pitcher plants, rhododendrons and not forgetting mosses, this jungle is ideal to be explored in the cold breeze of the highlands. To thoroughly soak in the Mossy Forest and Mount Brinchang in all its glory, there’s a Lookout Tower about 700 metres away for a view so picturesque, you won’t want to miss it.
EARLY TO BED, EARLY TO RISE
Do you just love mornings and everything that has to do with it? If so, the sunrise at Panorama Hill, Sungai Lembing is not one to be missed. If you are as unfit as I am, it is advised to start your way up the trail latest by 5.30am, just so you reach the top and secure a nice spot to view the breathtaking sunrise. The trail takes about 30 minutes or so, depending again on how fit you are. While the trail has cement steps and steel rails, it doesn’t make it any less challenging to reach all the way up.
The place is usually packed during the weekends and public holidays, so it is advisable to head there on weekdays instead, especially if you’re one who loves taking photos. It is also best to check the weather forecast before making plans, as many end up seeing nothing but clouds due to bad weather.
However, if you’re up early but Mother Nature decides to pull a fast one on you anyway, when the sun feels a little shy to peek through the clouds, you would still leave with a whimsical view of the morning fog enveloping the village below. Be sure to head up the trail with a torchlight, some water, and a positive attitude! If you happen to bring food, be wary of the monkeys that hang around.
SOMEWHERE OVER THE RAINBOW
Located near Sungai Lembing, Rainbow Falls is another alternative if the sunrise hike up Panorama Hill isn’t your thing. While this beauty requires you to wake up early and involves trekking as well, most of the travel is done via a 4WD. Transportation can be arranged in town, or if you own a 4WD, that works too.
While a guide is useful to have, they are not needed. Rainbow Falls is about an hour’s drive from town to the trail head, followed by a 45-minute trek to the waterfall itself. Alternatively, get a guide to drive you instead of doing it yourself, which is also the safer option as the trail can get a little bit tricky.
Rainbow Falls is a rather tall waterfall, and the water that sprays from it is the reason behind the famous rainbows. If you’re really lucky, you can even catch a double rainbow!
OLD BUT GOLD
This virgin rainforest is over 130 million years old and truly is nothing short of an amazement. Taman Negara is a little piece of heaven, full of character and heritage, filled with plenty of different species of flora and fauna, not to mention, the local orang asli or aborigines in the area! How cool is that? If you love being active outdoors, this place will surely excite you.
With more than 30 exciting places to explore, it is no wonder Taman Negara is a must-visit ecotourism destination for nature lovers across the globe when visiting Southeast Asia. Here are some of the many activities you can experience while you’re there: jungle trekking, canopy walks, mountain climbing, visiting Aborigine settlements, fishing, boat rides, animal and wildlife observation, camping, cave exploration, bird watching, or even waterfall exploration.
Taman Negara has pre-set packages to make things easy for you, but should you feel the need to customise your own tour, that is an option too.
While most view the Kuala Gandah Elephant Orphanage as merely a tourist attraction, it does play its role in raising awareness and safeguarding elephants that are losing their homes due to rapid development. If you aren’t a fan of zoos due to their enclosures but love elephants, this elephant sanctuary is a lovely way to spend the afternoon.
Since 1989, orphaned or injured elephants have been brought here to recover and are given shelter to provide them with a better chance at surviving. The sanctuary has been a hit because people get to go face-to-face with these gentle giants. Who wouldn’t want to get down and dirty with the world’s largest land animal, right?
From elephant feeding and bathing sessions to watching a National Geographic documentary, you’ll have a new love for elephants when you leave. While the activities are highly based on the water levels in the area, it is a remarkable experience, albeit one that needs to be carefully planned as there are very specific time slots at which the activities are hosted.