Kenong Rimba Reserve - Pahang Malaysia



Malaysia's tropical rainforest. What comes to mind? Giant trees, lush green foliage, tigers, elephants, and lots of wild, dangerous animals. But there is much more to it than just that. In the humidity and confusion of the thick forest, one can easily overlook the smaller, harmless and just as important inhabitants. Flying lizards, insect-eating plants, the most foul smelling flower on earth - the rafflesia, swooping squirrels, timid mousedeers, dung beetles, lantern bugs, bats, the slow loris', a variety of birds, primates and many more that exist in this complex piece of land. With a little bit of time and patience their presence and beauty will eventually unfurl itself to their seekers.


Kenong Rimba Reserve is a rare find. Much of Malaysia's lowland forests have been or are in the midst of being cleared for urban development and palm oil plantations. However, there are several splotches of primary jungle that has been retained for the specific purpose of fauna and flora research like those preserved at the Krau Reserve in Pahang and Endau-Rompin National Park that borders Johore and Pahang. Krau Reserve is strictly kept for research purposes and only a small section of Endau-Rompin is accessible to the public whilst Kenong Rimba, a well-preserved lowland forest reserve, on the other hand, is open to everyone (except illegal loggers and poachers! but alas, there are plenty of these groups of thieves and rogues around especially in the reserves)

villagers bathing in the river

Many travellers interested in experiencing the wonders of the rainforest jungle are realising the importance of this relatively untouched, intriguing piece of jungle land possibly with much help from the Lonely Planet, Rough Guide etc. It is not difficult to imagine why. This relatively small (about 128km sq) but significant reserve park shares its northern border with Taman Negara. Thankfully, facilities are kept as basic as possible so that visitors can truly sink into a bit of roughing out at the campsites. There are only 4 basic chalets (2 to each chalet) and a longhouse that can accommodate 60 persons. Water is supplied from nearby streams and there is no electricity supply. So don't bother bringing your laptops and handphone chargers etc. There are also no baggage porters. Each person carries his or her own belongings and food ration enough for the number of days spent in the jungle.

This trip provides the trekker a back-to-basics experience. From the feedback and response of visitors to the park, there seems to be a unified appreciation for the raw, no-frills experience. One can literally feel the pulse of the jungle; the complexity of an intricate ecosystem - everything that lives and dies in the realm of the rainforest jungle.

Shopping for a guide

there are a number of agencies along the main street selling packages to kenong rimba. make your choice carefully

A qualified and registered guide must accompany any visitor entering the park. They are responsible for submitting visitors' forms to the various authorities prior to entering the park. Several years back, visitors were allowed to roam freely within the park and the outcome was disastrous. Graffiti scrawled on cave walls and uncontrolled littering along trails and at campsites were the results. With the presence of guides, there is at least greater control over such vandalism.

There are a several trekking operators in Kuala Lipis specialising in the Kenong Rimba Reserve Park. The tourist information counter at the train station is a private concern run by Encik Tuah. If you find the office closed, it may mean that he has gone off on a trip into the jungle. Do try calling him for arrangements prior to the trip. The 3days 2nights charges are RM200+ per person.

Having failed to make any pre-arrangements, we decided to try other operators around. The Pan Holidays tourist information centre, situated on the ground floor of a building directly opposite the train station, has a number of different packages to choose from starting at day trip and 3day/2night trip . We were informed that an English speaking guide would meet us at the office at 7.00am the next day for a preliminary briefing and we would then board the 7.22 a.m. southbound train to Batu Sembilan. From there we take a 10-15min boatride into the reserve. The package provides stay at the Kenong Persona Resort with 4 chalets or the longhouse at the Kesong camp. Food, train and boat charges, guide services and park charges are also included in the package.

There are two ways of getting there: -

By boat

One way is to take a 1½ to 2 hour boat ride from Kuala Lipis town to the park entrance at Jeti Tanjung Kiara (the Tanjung Kiara jetty).

By rail

the old railway tracks laid down during the British days - still in use

The other way is to catch a train from Kuala Lipis station to Batu Sembilan (RM1), which takes approximately 30minutes. A 5 to 10minute boat ride (RM40 return) from Batu Sembilan (at the Kampung Kuala Kenong jetty) takes you to the park entrance.

After a lengthy deliberation on which package best suited us, we opted for the longer boat ride down the river just so that we could experience what it would have been like for travellers a century ago to paddle down these important natural highways. The other plus point for us was that we didn't have to get up at the crack of dawn to catch the early train. We eventually met with Appu of Appu's Guesthouse. The Guesthouse is situated on the first floor of a pre-war shophouse on the main street just above a restaurant called Low Kuan. Kuala Lipis town is pretty compact so getting lost is the least of one's worries!

Not early risers, Appu's package suited us to a tee! We were told that our transport, a motor powered longboat would be moored down by the river, just a little distance from the guesthouse that was scheduled to leave at 9.30am. (From experience, don't expect that to be on time!). That gave us ample time to spoil ourselves on a hearty breakfast. Looking for food certainly wasn't a problem at Kuala Lipis. There was a wide choice of Chinese, Malay and Indian cuisine all waiting to be savoured. However, it would be difficult to find pancakes and such delights. If you are not a 'breakfast person', toast and coconut jam served at the coffee stalls is delightful and can tie you over till lunch.

Once fuelled up, we were revving to go!

Note: Appu is no longer running the trips. For kenong's trip, try Tuah Travel & Tours located at the railway station. https://www.facebook.com/tuahtravel/

Trekking

The trip downriver

comfortable boat ride down the river towards kenong rimba

There were 7 of us in the group, marching single filed squeezing through the crowded alleyway of food stalls, down the grassy bank of Sungei Jelai (Jelai River) and scrambling onto a rather unsteady, long wooden boat.

Appu had gone ahead to pick up his gear at his village, just a little downriver. We were led by an elderly boatman who smiled a lot and spoke little, realising later that this was because he speaks no English at all. He made a few recognisable signs to the guys seated indicating that he needed help to push the boat off the muddy banks and after a few minutes of shoves and grunts, we were off.

Appu joined us a little while later and we meandered slowly down the river. Fishermen out mending their nets and hauling in their catch, families having their midday bath and sloshing their washing in the shallow waters, kingfishers darting in and out, monkeys leaving their sanctuary high up in the canopy for a cool drink by the river.What a joy to just lay back and watch the world go by.

village life at Kampung Dusun

Before long, we were steered into a little tributary, the Kesong River (Sungai Kesong). We got off at the jetty and walked a short distance of about 10minutes to Kampung Dusun, a little village of a few houses and a shop. Here, Appu topped up our food supply of fresh eggs from the shop. He also took us around the little orchard behind the shop and gave a short demonstration on rubber tapping and showed us a variety of fruit trees found there. We found out later that when not taking trekkers into Kenong Rimba, Appu helps his family tap rubber at their own rubber plantation.

The villagers at Kampung Dusun till the land nearby, planting wet paddy and maize; and tending to their small plots of rubber plantation. The clearing around the sleepy village is a great place for bird watching. For advent birdwatchers, it is possible to arrange a stay at Kampung Dusun. According to Appu, a great variety of forest birds leave their forest cover in search of food around land clearings. Moreover, it is understandably much easier to spot birds out of the enclosed jungle cover. Talk to Appu ...he may be able to arrange accommodation for you. Please c. bird list compiled by WWF Malaysia at the end of the article.

Into the jungle

herbs found around the village

It was already reaching noon by the time we've had a walk round the orchard. The sun was beating down relentlessly on us. To avoid being frazzled we hurried along the village road and onward into the park. As we stepped into the forest cover, the effect was immediate! The cool, damp surroundings engulfed us.. which was a welcome from the intense heat of the sun. Appu showed us an endless list of medicinal herbs along the path. Anything from bites, scratches and gashes to asthma, diarrhoea, fever and even aphrodisiacs - there was one natural medicinal remedy for each sort of complaint. Most of these shrubs and scrawny plants seemed so insignificant to us but to the locals, even the most insignificant has a powerful antidote.

This was the right time to visit the jungle. A number of tree and plant species were in full bloom, breaking the monotony of green and brown hues with a burst of radiant colours. Appu insists that it would be even better during the rainy seasons when the fruiting and flowering is in its full glory. It's not a wonder that there can be wetter days - the tropical rainforests as we have here in Malaysia receives rain for at least 200days or 2500mm in a year!

We were lucky. Our stay in the jungle was not cursed with heavy rains or flash floods. The guides are very particular about the mention of weather in the jungle. For Appu (who treats it like an unmentionable curse!), a mere mention of the word 'rain' meant that there would be sleepless nights of torrential downpours! But do try it, just to irk him a little?!

greater horse shoe bat

There are a number of caves scattered along the way to the first camp (at the base of Gunung Kesong). The guides are rather fond of taking their trekkers to the caves. The first few caves, namely Gua Batu Tangga and Gua Batu Talahup are easily assessable and if you're claustrophobic (a fear of enclosed areas), these shouldn't pose much of a problem.

Gua Tangkup, Gua Harimau, Gua Indah and especially Gua Patung may be a little more challenging. The entrances are much narrower and obscure. These caves require a bit of crawling and crouching through tunnels before entering chambers.

Gua Hijau, on the other hand is a cave showcase. The cave is cut into the face of the limestone mount and a suspended bridge over a stream connects with its entrance. Strong ammonia wafting out of the cave and the resonance of shrill squeaks is an immediate call for protective covering - a hat, poncho or large banana leaves, is handy to shelter from the guano showers. This cave is home to an impressive number of greater horseshoe bats and a couple of cave racers. These racers primarily feed on bats. It can be seen resting on a ledge high up in the cave. Here it lies in wait for evening to fall. As the daylight dims, the bats take flight from their hold. An unsuspecting bat swoops past the ledge. The racer lunges out from its hiding place -- with precision, grabs the bat and quickly recoils into its lair for a satisfying feast.

Activities

The campsite and its animals

cave racers feed on bats

At the Kesong base camp, we had the perfect spot to pitch our tents. Well, actually we didn't have tents with us. The only bedding we had was a straw mat and a flysheet on loan from Appu. Moreover, he only had a limited supply so if need be, bring your own. We brought our own blankets and mat. Whilst the other trekkers from various groups had the privilege of sleeping indoors (Pesona Kenong chalets and longhouse), we had the privilege of sleeping under an overhang of a huge limestone massif. Although it can be a little unnerving at night, Appu pacified our nerves by building a big campfire, which was kept lit throughout the night to keep the animals away. As night falls, the jungle sounds come alive. Many of the rainforest animals sleep in the day to conserve energy for nocturnal hunting. Over the years, Appu has made a few furry friends around the campsite. The civet cat and the porcupines come along late at night to feed on scraps left aside for them. The tapir often drops by for its weekly snuff of salt supply and to snoop around the campsite. Appu is very fond of telling his trekkers the story about 'the Tapir and the Englishman'.

cave scorpion

There was once an Englishman who came to Kenong Rimba to conduct research on wildlife in the park. One night, after a heavy meal and a long day's walk in the jungle, he and his guide had retired to bed early. They were so tired that they had dropped off to sleep without building a fire to secure the night. As the night wore on, a Tapir came along in search of salt and some leftovers. Curious creatures as they are, the Tapir followed its nose on a strange scent, inching its way towards the Englishman. Sniffing happily, the squealing noise of the contented Tapir (thinking that it had found a great big salt mount), woke the Englishman. As his vision cleared, he realised that he was staring right into the nostrils of the huge animal. Frightened out of his wits, the Englishman let out a blood curdling scream and both man and beast fled in opposite directions! The Englishman, his nerves in tatters - kept vigil the entire night. The Tapir too was not about to return that night, for sure! From then on, every guide would keep a campfire burning througout the night.

crossing river

Appu has lots of jungle stories to tell..ask him about the elephants. There are two herds living in Kenong rimba; one of about 20 individuals reside in the north, closer to the Gunung Putih Massif . The herd living around the Kesong campsite are a family of only 4. There is evidence all round of their presence. There's a mudbath nearby, some elephant tracks made sometime back and even elephant dung in one of the caves. The best time to go according to Appu is when there's a full moon. When there's full moon, the elephant sometimes come play at the campsite.

The campsite is also a great place for bird watching especially closer to the riverbanks. The greater racket tailed drongos, ruft necked sharmas, the jungle mynas, a variety of bulbuls and sometimes the greater hornbills can be seen close to water sources. There is also family of Dusky Leaf monkeys residing close to the campsite. Unlike the common macaque, the dusky leaf monkeys seldom roam about on the forest floor. The hunters from the Batek tribe, frequently hunt for food in the nearby areas and monkey meat is their most favoured delicacy.

This is a firefly larvae that glows in the dark

The bateks are hunters and gatherers and they are nomadic. Their movements can be traced to the availability of food in the area. Hunting for small animals such as mousedeers, monkeys, squirrels, jungle rats and birds plus gathering edible tubers and wild vegetation can sustain them for a period of time. The Batek are fond of hunting for the great Argus pheasant. The hunter first searches for signs of its presence, which to the trained eye is not difficult at all!

The patterns are obvious. The Argus pheasant perform mating dances. The male creates a 'stage' for the dance, often he finds a nice flat spot, usually at the base of large buttress roots. He then clears this chosen spot of forest debris. Next he attracts a passing female through a series of loud alluring calls. The hunter usually seeks out these 'dancing platforms'; digs a shallow pit and booby traps them with sharp slithers of bamboo. He then overlays them with leaves. When the pheasant returns to clear his little area, he steps onto the platform. As he does so, the sharp bamboo skewers into its feet, trapping him in this snare of death. The next day, the hunter comes along to pick up the traumatised and dying bird, slings it over his shoulder and returns to camp, a happy man.

The Batek erect makeshift huts surrounding an open fire. There is an abandoned settlement close to the entrance of the park. Appu informed us that they deserted the camp only 2 weeks prior to our visit and have resettled in an area to the east. The Batek tribe roam a big part of the Pahang rainforest but each clan consists of just 10 - 30individuals. Once a year, the Batek tribes from near and far throughout the Pahang rainforest including Kenong Rimba and Taman Negara, get together for an annual festival.

Other camps and the loop

Beyond the Kesong base camp, is another campsite at the seven step waterfall some 4 - 5hours trek northwards and deeper into the jungle. Here tents are provided but again, bring your own mat if you have one. The campsite is just a stone's throw away from the waterfall. Appu knows of this little 'secret' cave at the waterfall, pester him to show you though. There are packages that schedule a day trip to the falls and back but unless you are really fit and willing, the return trip takes approximately 8 hours in total. You may not get to stop along the way to scout for birds or animals.The time schedule is tight and there are at least 14 streams and rivers to cross before arriving at the waterfall.

If you wish to complete the loop, which is seldom done, it's possible to do so in 5days. The trek takes you beyond the 2nd camp at the waterfall, through unkempt trails and more rivers, streams, mini rapids and waterfalls. It is here where there are greater chances of spotting the larger animals such as tigers, elephants, leopards, serow, binturong, cobras, a great variety of birds and even the loris. A lot of patience and perhaps even a pair of night vision binoculars could help you out. Most of the animals mentioned are nocturnal.

cats whiskers

The 3rd camp at Gunung Putih is tougher as hardly anyone ventures into the area. The trails are practically nonexistent and during heavy rains, there may be fallen trees or debris that could block the way. There is a greater possibility of spotting the Serow (our very rare mountain goat) at Gunung Putih than anywhere else in Kenong for these solitary creatures reside high up in the limestone mountains. We were also told that there is a convoluted system of tunnels and caves in the massif that is worth venturing into only if one has experience.

From Gunung Putih, there is another 20km of trekking back to the Kampung Dusun village. Usually another night's break at the 4th camp is recommended. This 4th camp is not too far from the village but gives trekkers a well-deserved break from the gruelling trek.

Summing up a trip

gua hijau

The most beautiful experience that we took away from the trip was that for 2nights, we had the rare opportunity to sleep under the canopy of the rainforest. The thought that each of us only represents a speck in such a wonderfully complex system of interdependency that we call our home. The realisation that we are not alone and there are so many living wonders that seem initially, invisible to us. As we grow accustom to the unfamiliar noises of the jungle, we catch a glimpse of life in its sublime. The sounds of the cicadas resonating through the forest, the call of the Argus pheasant deep in the night, the chattering of monkeys high up on the treetops, the melodic voices of a great variety of birds, the faraway squeals of the gibbons, the hooting of owls and the gentle droplets of water trickling off the ends of the stalactites into a shallow pool below.

4 twin-sharing chalets and a longhouse that accommodates 60people at the Kesong camp - Persona Kenong Rimba Resort. All other camps require putting up of tents

The pure abandonment of joy as we threw ourselves into the icy cold pool nearby. The large natural bathtub at a crook of the nearby river, which we apparently share with our larger friends, the elephants and the tapirs. (not together though!)

The thought of trekking around the park on ancient trails the elephants once used and to our knowledge still uses. That - is the beauty of a primary rainforest.

article written: 14th august 2001

Bird list as compiled by WWF Malaysia. (malay)

Eagles

(helang)

Crested serpent-eagle

Falcons

(falko)

Black-thighed falconet

Partridge

(siul)

Crested wood-partridge

Pheasants

(merak)

Malaysian Peacock-pheasant

Pigeons

(punai)

Pink-necked pigeon Large-green pigeon
Green-winged pigeon
Mountain imperial pigeon

Parrots

(nuri)
(serindit)

Long-tailed parakeet
Blue-crowned hanging parrot

Cuckoos

(cenok)
(but-but)

Chestnut-breasted malkoha Raffles malkoha
Green-billed malkoha
Greater coucal
Lesser coucal

Owls

(hantu)

Collared scops-owl

Nightjars

(tukang)

Malaysian eared nightjar

Swifts

(layang)

House swift
White-bellied swiftlet

Trogons

(kesumba)

Scarlet-rumped trogon
Diard's trogon

Kingfishers

(pekaka)

Rufous-backed kingfisher White-throated kingfisher Black-capped kingfisher

Bee-eaters

(berek-berek)

Red-bearded bee-eater
Blue-tailed bee-eater
Blue-throated bee-eater

Hornbills

(enggang)

Black hornbill
Bushy-crested hornbill

Drongos

(cecawi)

Bronzed drongo

Orioles and bluebirds

(dendang)

Dark-throated or dark-headed orioles
Asian fairy bluebird

Crows

(gagak)

Crested jay
Black magpie
Slender-billed crow
Large-billed crow

Babblers

(rimba)

Malaysian rail babbler
Black-capped babbler Chestnut-backed
scimitar babbler
Abbot's babbler
Short-tailed babbler
Fluffy-backed tit-babbler Sooty-capped babbler Moustached babbler
Rufous-crowned babbler
Eye-browed wren babbler Large wren-babbler
Chestnut winged babbler Grey-headed babbler
Brown fulvetta

Thrushes

(murai)

White rumped Sharma Magpie robin
Chestnut-naped forktail
Blue whistling thrush

Warblers

(perenjak)

Dark-necked tailorbird Rufous-tailed tailorbird Common(long tailed) tailorbird

Flycatchers

(sambar)

Rufous-winged flycatcher Spotted fantail flycatcher Asian paradise flycatcher

Sunbirds and spiderhunters

(kelicap)

grey-breasted spiderhunter Spectacled spiderhunter
Little spiderhunter Purple-naped sunbird

Flowerpeckers

(sepah)
(ciak)

Crimson breasted flowerpecker
Eurasian tree sparrow


best time to go

April to June: To avoid the backpackers' rush.

June till September: Good months to trek - drier months but there are usually more visitors going to the park.

October till May: sporadic rains - wetter seasons.

Please enquire weather conditions from the guides before planning for the trek.

What to bring
  • Drinking water for trek in, prescribed medication, water purifying tablets or salts
  • Lighter clothes, toiletries, toilet roll, towel, poncho, hat, slippers(to walk round the campsite), swimming trunks/costume
  • Straw mat, light blanket, mosquito repellent, stop-itch cream, (tent, sleeping bag - if staying overnight at waterfall and beyond)
  • good torch with new batteries, binoculars, camera with new batteries, preferably ISO 400 films or higher, enough supply of camera films etc.
  • some snacks e.g. biscuits to tie you over till mealtimes, your own coffee if you're fussy
  • Park facilities

    Electricity and Communications

    No electricity, telephone lines, Internet connections.

    Water

    Piped in from a nearby stream to supply the bathrooms, toilets and cooking areas.

    Language

    There are a number of English speaking guides and many more Bahasa Malaysia speaking guides. The boatmen speak little English