Malaysia is blessed with abundant rainforests all throughout the country, and with it comes gorgeous waterfalls. On my recent visit to the old mining town of Sungai Lembing on the east coast of Peninsular Malaysia; I decided to join a local tour that promised to bring me to one of the most magnificent waterfalls in the country. The unique feature of this waterfall is that from 9-10am every morning, the sun hits the falling water at the base of the falls and creates a beautiful rainbow. People come from all over the country to make the one and a half-hour journey to get to the falls, just to see this beauty of nature.
It is called the Rainbow Waterfall.
From the Malaysian capital of Kuala Lumpur, the journey to Kuantan, the capital city of the Pahang state, takes about 3 hours along the East Coast Highway. From Kuantan, it is another 45 minutes drive to reach to the small mining town of Sungai Lembing, the base to get to the Rainbow Waterfall.
Visitors who intend to visit the falls usually stay the night before, as the guided tour to the falls begins at 6am in the morning. If you prefer, you can also make the trip to the falls yourself; but due to the uneven roads and paths through the jungle, you will need a 4X4 off road vehicle and perfect timing to see the rainbow. So I say, better leave it to the local experts, and just go along for the ride. Most resorts in town can help you get bookings done the day before. It costs RM50 (US$13) per person, inclusive of the RM10 forest reserve fee.
Start of the Tour
I was up by 5am in the morning. The sky was still dark, and I got dressed in my shorts, t-shirt and slippers for my journey to see the Rainbow Waterfall. I talked to the guide (his name is Simon) the day before, and he assured me that I could easily make the trek through the jungle in my slippers.
By 6am, Simon pulled up at the Time Capsule Retreat (read about it here) in a modified Toyota Hilux. He had added extra benches at the back of the truck that could fit 12 extra people into the vehicle. Everyone clamored in, though I was a little wary of the safety of these seats. No proper support and no belts– all we had were the rails to hold on to.
We joined a whole bevy of other trucks (approximately another 10 similar looking vehicles from different companies) and visitors at the town market for a quick breakfast, before heading off in a convoy to begin our journey into the jungles of Sungai Lembing.
Watching the Sunrise
Our first stop of the day was a small clearing on top of a sandy hill in the jungle. All the trucks drove up and gathered here; and the visitors were ushered down to wait for the sunrise. The sky was still dark, but there were gentle rays from beyond the clouds that blanketed the canopy of trees beneath it.
With cameras and phone-cameras in hand, the crowd gathered at the edge of the hill to watch the sun slowly peek out from under the clouds. The sun was a little too far in the distance so it seemed pretty small, and there were just too many people crowding around to get a good view. Despite that, watching the sunrise was a lovely start to the tour.
The Off-Road Adventure
With the sun up in the sky, it was bright enough to begin the ‘real’ journey into the jungle! The 4X4 pickup trucks made their way pass muddy uneven roads through the jungle; crossing small streams and lush greenery, as well as passing by jungle resorts and some logging activities (sadly, to make way for oil plantations) along the way. Simon later explained that the Rainbow Waterfall was actually discovered by the British (who had control over the mines in Sungai Lembing in the 19th and 20th century), and they were the ones who carved the paths through to the jungle to get to it.
The ride towards the start of the trekking trail took us about 45 minutes. During the return trip (another 45 minutes) I dozed off from exhaustion, only to knock my forehead on the truck’s metal bars when it hit a bump on the uneven road. Suffice to say, that kept me awake the rest of the journey back. Best to stay alert on such rugged trails with so little safety precautions.
Trekking Through the Forest
Our trekking trail started with a river crossing. One by one, we made our way across the river by stepping on the rocks that formed a path towards the other side. From there, it was an approximately 45-minute (about 1 km) hike through the jungle. The walk was relatively easy, with a few uphill slopes and narrow crossings. At certain points of the trail, there were ropes available for us to hold on to.
The trickiest part of the trail has got to be the rocky portion towards the end. The climb up the rocks to the base of the falls is made easier with ropes, but because some of the rocks were sharp and slippery, we had to be very careful and watch where we stepped. There were a couple of older visitors who gave up half way, but the ever so excited children were just effortlessly making their way up. Almost everyone was wearing slippers (so you can tell it isn’t a difficult climb), though I would have preferred to wear proper hiking shoes.
I later asked my guide, Simon, whether there have been any incidents involving people falling down and getting hurt– and he said that thankfully, there’s only been some minor sprained ankle cases.
The Rainbow Waterfalls
The reward at the end of the jungle and rock trail was one of the most beautiful hidden waterfalls I have ever seen. I arrived at the falls at about 9 in the morning, just in time to see the gorgeous rainbow at the base of the falls. It stretched from one end of the falls to the other, with its colors so vivid and distinct. The waterfall itself is pretty tall, with gushes of water from the top thinning into light sprays once it reaches the bottom. The water is crystal clear and icy cold– it is the perfect place for a dip after the trek through the jungle.
Some of the visitors brought change and were happily swimming and wading in the cooling waters. I didn’t want to get wet so I was satisfied with just dipping my feet in, while enjoying the complimentary cup noodles and iced milo– and of course, admiring the magnificent view in front of me.
By 10am, the rainbow at the base of the falls started to thin and eventually disappeared. That was the cue to slowly make our way back the trail, onto our trucks, and back to Sungai Lembing town. We reached our resort at about 12pm; just in time for a quick shower, and check-out.
I find it amazing that even after traveling to many countries, sometimes in search for the most beautiful falls in the world (like the Niagara Falls); I can still be mesmerised by a simple waterfall back home. I love how my Malaysia continues to surprise me with its beauty– and I enjoy finding out and learning about new places to see it.
The Rainbow Waterfall might just be another waterfall in the rainforests of Malaysia, near the sleepy old town of Sungai Lembing (where hardly anyone really visits), but it is one you should definitely visit. The journey there itself is an experience (bumpy ride, a short trek, questionable safety issues); but at the end of it all, the falls and the rainbow are sure to leave you in awe. I am glad I took the effort and made the trip.