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MYS: Sungai Lembing

Around the World, Day 8/80

Tin was the original aluminum. For a long time, disposable metallic things were made from tin, because purifying aluminum was expensive and tin is resistant to corrosion. As a result, everyday items that we still use today, such as tin cans and tin foils, were named after tin. In the 19th and 20th century, British Malaya was one of the world’s leading exporter of tin, where they are found in the mountains of Peninsula Malaysia. Sungai Lembing, a small village deep in the mountains, is one such mining town. These days, only the elder generations continue to mine; the rest of the aging population supports the growing local tourist industry.

Stairs to Panorama Hill
Sungei Lembing
Gua Charas
“Blue ridge” mountains
On top of Panorama Hill

Due to the location of the town, one could observe roll clouds across the horizon on top of the Panorama Hill. The town itself is located in the valley of a few large hills, as Panorama Hill lies a few steps next to the downtown area. Most people attempt these 1000-ish steps hike just before dawn breaks to observe the sea of clouds on top of the hill (~300m above sea level). However due to our schedule, we tackle this hill just before dinner time. As a result, there is not a crowd. The only person we see is an elderly man who is on his daily routine down the hill – he did it in 20 minutes. The steps are rather steep and uneven, and the afternoon humidity does get to those who aren’t acclimated to this climate. It takes me around 25 minutes to get to the top, whereas my parents take close to 40 minutes. The view without the clouds is fine – most of the surrounding area is flat, but there is a granite hill a short distance away. In the distance, the Titiwangsa mountain range (I assume) forms the dreamy blue backdrop similar to those of the Blue Ridge Mountains along the Appalachian. There is no water, bathroom or chairs at the top, so we head back to the town for dinner.

Dinner in Sungai Lembing

Everyone in town told us this place is expensive and awful. They were the only restaurant open and to be honest, it was good.

There is a reason we skipped Panorama Hills for the dawn hike – we are heading to the famous Rainbow Waterfalls. I did not do research on the area, and assumed that the fall was located just outside of the town. Man I am in for a ride, literally. We are picked up by a driver/guide in a modified Toyota Tacoma pickup truck. The bed is fitted with 3 rows of seats, a little tight for 12 people but plenty for 3. Our hotel is dead except for a lady from France who is camping outside; she gladly take the ride with us into town. We zoom to the food court in town at 5:30 am, and see another 3 dozen people who are also embarking on the same trip. I’m glad there are relatively few people; there were 800 people during its peak just weeks ago. There isn’t much to eat, so we have some coffee before riding to the Lembing Sunrise Hill.

Iced kopi -o -kosong
Sunrise View. Except no sunrise and no view.

Technically, Panorama Hill isn’t the only place to see roll clouds – it is just the most convenient and located in town. The second stop on the way to Rainbow Waterfalls in Gunung Tapis Nature Park is Lembing Sunrise Hill, supposedly a place with a similar cloudy view. We might have arrived early, and there might be no crowd, but the sun has got to show its face. Unfortunately, it was all clouds and mist; the visibility remain low even after sunrise. We throw in the towel after everyone else have left, and head towards Rainbow Waterfalls.

Scary Mushroom

Unlike fancy national parks, the only way to get to Rainbow Waterfalls is by private tours. The reason it remain out of reach for most is due to the remoteness and the condition of the “road”. The unpaved dirt road is filled with large rocks and potholes, thus making the ride unpleasant and requires a 4WD vehicle with high clearance. The tours cost about RM 60 (USD 15), and it is worth every cent – you wouldn’t want to use your pretty sedan for this ride. And the ride is bumpy, for a whole hour. There isn’t much elevation change but the road is wild. There are a few bumps so large that I fly out of my seat – hello kampung roller coaster ride. There is actually a gated entrance deep in the jungle that is manned by the national forestry, which collects our entrance tickets. Moreover, a modern fully equipped bathroom is located at the parking lot next to the trailhead for the waterfalls. It might not seem weird to many, but we are deep in probably virgin rainforest, not close to either civilizations or oil palm plantations. The combination made this is a very rare sight.

The bottom of the falls.
Instant Ramen

The 1km hike from the parking lot to the waterfall is rather casual, but one might spot interesting trees and animals. The trail runs parallel to the stream from the waterfalls, but there is no access point to it. As we approach the waterfall, the trees parted and we can see the towering flat mountain face. Orang Asli (indigenous people) knew of the place, but tourism only started after a rainbow was spotted over the tall waterfall by a Chinese Malaysian photographer. Not a clue how he found this place deep in the mountains. We are the last to arrive at the small rocky area around the base of the falls. Our guide quickly take his spot to prepare coffee and instant noodle. The wait begins.


The waterfall is very tall – well, it feels very tall because I am standing right beneath it. Due to the lack of rain, the flow is kind of weak. There isn’t much standing area, so the little rocky area is crowded. Seeing that a few people venture into the water, I follow suit. The water is warm and too shallow for a dip. Rocks above the water are mossy and slippery, while the ones below the surface are pointy and painful. The walk to the exact bottom of the falls is treacherous and unrewarding, but I got to see little diamond water droplets falling onto my face. The waterfall itself is very grand and beautiful, which can be observed on the lakeshore. In the end, we did not see any rainbow. By 10am, the sun is still blocked by the cloudy sky, and we head back to civilization. The hour bumpy ride out is still crappy, and I wonder if more could be done to improve the conditions of the road. Well, at least we do not have to hike those 10-ish miles.

I’m going to throw in my 2 cents about deforestation here, as these rainforest are at the frontier of being converted to oil palms plantations. Even if mass deforestation is not occurring, large and valuable timbers are log for profit. Many, especially the climate concern citizens living in developed countries, have been protesting and boycotting oil palm plantations as the main culprit of deforestation in these rainforest. Personally, it saddens me to see virgin and old rainforest being replaced by acres upon acres of plantations, but I have not been the kind who would refrain from eating palm oils simply because of logic and economics. It is easy to point fingers at this exact moment at those who are cutting down rainforest, but many who live in privileged nations have little forest cover simply because they have converted them into agriculture decades or even centuries earlier. Even the United States continues to be deforested (legally and illegally) at an alarming rate, but they aren’t being covered in news stories. Here is a thought experiment – we can always convert the land used to grow soy and corn back to forest, which could yield millions of acres of additional tree coverage. But at the end of the day, it comes down to resources, and it is always easier to blame the other side. Unless a significant amount of resources (rather than boycott) are provided by those who are in favor of saving the last bits of rainforest in the world, there is little reasons why trees shouldn’t fall to provide income for thousands of people. After all, everyone is trying to survive, and nobody is willing to be the scapegoat for the welfare of the next person.

River in the town.
One of many river crossing in the town.


Date: June 19, 2019.

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