Miles and miles of thick unexplored rainforests, an abundance of flora and fauna, a vast man-made lake that provides the livelihood of the Malaysian indigenous people in the region; and if you delve further into history, it was once a battlefield between the Malaysian security forces and communist bandits — that’s the Royal Belum Rainforest. After visiting it for the first time a couple of years ago, I had the opportunity to once again, head back to admire its beauty and envelop myself in Malaysia’s wilderness.
I was recently invited to join Mini Cooper (Malaysia)’s MINIscape, a yearly affair for the local Malaysian owners of the MINI to gather and convoy to a specific location for a fun-filled weekend getaway. This year (2017), it was at the Royal Belum Rainforest; and what’s more exciting was that I was given my very own MINI to drive the entire way there! I just couldn’t resist such a thrill, and because I had such a great time (my friend Priya came along on the trip with me, which made it all the more fun), I’ve decided to write about my experience.
And also because… the Royal Belum Rainforest is really one of Peninsular Malaysia’s most beautiful untouched natural wonder — and I was equally excited to go again!
The Royal Belum State Park
The Belum-Temenggor Rainforest dates back over 130 millions years ago and is believed to be one of the world’s oldest rainforests. It is located in Northern Peninsular Malaysia’s state of Perak, and stretches all the way towards Southern Thailand. Divided into two parts; Belum Valley, and the southern part of Temenggor — the Royal Belum State Park is located within a section of the extensive forest complex.
Tasik Temenggor, the vast 15,200 hectare man-made lake, lies within the forest area. It is dotted by many islands — with Banding Island being one of it, where we were gonna be spending our getaway at the Belum Rainforest Resort. Honestly, after witnessing all the beauty around me during the retreat, it is sad to think that the only part of the Belum Valley is protected as a state park (it is not a national park), and the rest is open for future development. So much more could be done for our beautiful rainforests.
The MINI Convoy Begins — Getting There
From Kuala Lumpur, the Royal Belum Rainforest is approximately 370kms away, about a 4 to 5-hour drive towards the north of Peninsular Malaysia — taking the North-South highway towards Ipoh, exiting at Kuala Kangsar, and heading towards Gerik. The MINIscape convoy began in the early morning at Colosseum Events at the Hicom-Glenmarie Industrial Park — where almost a hundred Mini Coopers were lined up and ready to begin the journey!
The ride to Belum was a fun one, as the convoy was anything but mini. I have never seen so many MINIs zooming pass the highway together in a straight line — the aerial view must have been quite a sight. There were times on the drive that Priya and I felt like we were the only lone car and probably got left behind; but then we’ll spot another MINI in the distance and try to catch up with it. That definitely kept us awake! About 2 hours into the trip, we had a pit stop at Laban Rata for some refreshments and to top up our tanks; and then we were off again, arriving just a little after noon at our final destination — the Belum Rainforest Resort.
Belum Rainforest Resort
The 4-star Belum Rainforest Resort is located on Banding Island in the midst of the Royal Belum Rainforest, midway between the east and west coasts of Peninsular Malaysia. It is totally secluded and away from the hustle and bustle (of any town at all), and is the perfect place to rest, unwind, get close to nature and be completely alone — exactly how I would love to spend a few days. But of course, I was here in a large convoy, and there were many activities prepared for the weekend!
The resort offers all-inclusive packages; but the MINIscape had everything covered for us, even the personal care package (repellent, drinks, t-shirt) in our room. We stayed in the gorgeous ‘Tualang’ 1-bedroom traditional chalet — and with a spacious balcony overlooking Lake Temenggor and a huge stone bathtub to soak in, it really can’t get any better than that. I was all ready to immerse myself in nature… and total luxury.
Lake Temenggor Cruise
There were two activities planned for our weekend stay at the Belum Rainforest Resort — cruising and trekking. Everyone on the MINIscape were divided into two teams, and the first activity with my team was a cruise along Lake Temenggor. The team was rather big, so we were divided into 4 groups — 2 on the smaller speedboats, 1 (with children) on the houseboat, and I got on the bigger speedboat with my group. We put on our life jackets and sped off for some wind in our hair, and lots of stunning scenery all around.
Our speedboat took us pass the many islands of Lake Temenggor and the whole circumference of Banding Island. I heard the smaller speedboats could make it into some of the smaller paths through the islands (we did the Banding Island round instead) — either way, the views of the lush rainforest against the blue skies were just as beautiful, and I will always love the feeling of being on a boat.
Banding Forest Walk
The second activity that we did during out weekend getaway was jungle trekking in the forests of Banding Island. We were guided on the trail by a local guide who knows the place like the back of his hand — he belongs to one of the aboriginal tribes in the area. Our first stop along the trail was at an abandoned pillbox that’s been converted into a mini museum. The gallery showcases the history of the Belum Valley — mainly the fight between Malaysian soldiers and the Communist during Malaysia’s state of emergency in the late 1940’s.
We then ventured deep into the jungles on the Banding Forest Trail. The path was pretty well marked and easy to follow — it only took about 45 minutes to enter and exit the moderate trail. After the short trek, we made our way back to the resort where we were given a brief introduction of the resort’s Stingless Bee Farm. It was pretty hair-raising to see a group of bees gathered together (especially when they are buzzing around and squeezing into tiny holes), but it was educational nonetheless. The resort cultivates the honey and sells them at their in-house store.
The Sunset Rooftop BBQ
There’s nothing like ending the day on a high with a Rooftop Party, complete with entertainment from songstress Atilia Harun; and fire performances from Psycusix. The view from the rooftop of Belum Rainforest Resort is absolutely stunning, and apart from the neverending rainforest around me, it is a great place to watch the sky turn colors as the sun go down. And for dinner, I stuffed myself with lots and lots of BBQ meat and seafood — think prawns, crabs, beef, lamb and satay; and I got to enjoy them with ice cold beer. Yum!
We ended the night with a few rounds of Twister. I haven’t played the game in such a long time that it was actually pretty stressful (yet fun) to be entangled in my own limbs — and getting stuck in the most awkward positions. Other than the jungle trek, it was the most sweat I got out of this relaxing trip. I guess it made up for not waking up for Atilia’s morning yoga session.
My Experience and Thoughts
When I visited the Royal Belum Rainforest the very first time, I was told about the many supernatural stories that surrounded the area. I was a little afraid then, but learned to accept that all forests and jungles around the world come with their own tales — there are things we should and shouldn’t do in the forest, and as long as we respect that, there is no need to fear. Coming back again this time, I was reminded of that; and always kept and adhered to the values of the forest.
The MINIscape was a much needed escape from the stress of the city, just to be surrounded by nature for a couple of days. The Belum Rainforest Resort provided such a lovely sanctuary amidst the Malaysian rainforests, and I also had a great time trekking the jungles and cruising the lake just to admire more of its beauty. A big thank you to MINI for inviting and having me on this year’s MINIscape, and for the most awesome car to drive for the weekend.
More Things To Do at the Royal Belum Rainforest
When I first visited the Royal Belum Rainforest a few years ago, it was for a (travel show) shoot and I did a couple of other fun activities in the area. Here are some of the memorable jungle experiences I had (that you can also do while staying in Belum):-
Visiting the Orang Asli Village
Deep in the Belum Valley, there are many Orang Asli (aboriginal) villages on the many islands and along the banks of Lake Temenggor. During my visit, I dropped by one of the small villages named Kampong Chuweh, made up of only 32 people. My group and I brought some gifts along with us; bread, junk food and of course, rice — and in return, the village chief showed us around their small village.
Looking for the Rafflesia
Rafflesias can be found in the Royal Belum Rainforest. It is called the biggest flower in the world, but the rafflesia is actually a parasite (that’s why it stinks!). I did a short hike up one of the hills in the rainforest during my visit and found a rafflesia — unfortunately the flower was in its final days of bloom and the petals were already starting to break off. I guess it was better than nothing because I can at least say I’ve seen one!
Bamboo Rafting on the Lake
A fun traditional activity to do on Lake Temenggor is bamboo rafting. The raft is made out of really long bamboo shoots found in the surrounding rainforest and tied together with strings — even the paddle is half a bamboo shoot. It can support 3 to 4 people, and is the main mode of transport of the aboriginal people who live in the Belum Valley. Be careful when putting your feet in the lake though, it is said that fishes here are bigger than humans!
*She Walks the World was on the MINIscape 2017 to the Belum Rainforest Resort on the invitation of MINI Malaysia. However, as always, all opinions and suggestions stated here are my own.