The last stop on my Grand Tour of Peninsular Malaysia was the charming little settlement of Sungai Lembing which is located about 40km inland from Kuantan.
There is something attractive about this place. Maybe it is the mineral content of the earth which seems to have this flutter of butterflies excited.
In fact it was the minerals that brought development here in the first place. It is difficult to believe now but beneath the surface of this sleepy town was, until 1986, the world’s largest, longest and deepest tin mine and Sungai Lembing was the Malay States’ equivalent of Eldorado for a time.
The Deal of The Century
The British recognised the potential of the tin deposits in this area and in 1888 they signed an agreement with the Sultan of Pahang for a London-based mining company, Pahang Corporation Limited, to be given a 100 year concession to mine tin covering 2,500 acres for the grand sum of 1 cent per year. In 1925 the concession was taken over by Pahang Consolidated Company Limited (PCCL). From 1906, when intensive mining began, until 1986, when the mine was closed following a collapse in tin prices, the mine yielded 150,000 tons of pure tin worth a cool $2 billion. A good deal from the shareholders’ point of view!
Sungai Lembing was very much a company town and all the inhabitants were dependant on PCCL in one way or another. At its heart was the Padang which was used for cricket and other games.
At one end was the ‘Asian Employees’ clubhouse and at the other end was the cinema.
There were around 40 bungalows in the hillier areas around town for the British managers and their families. One of the best houses , belonging to the company’s tuan besar or General Manager, has been converted into the Sungai Lembing Museum.
This is one of the better museums in Malaysia, with interesting exhibits on tin mining and the lives of the miners and managers. The disused mineshafts and tunnels themselves are unfortunately not open to visitors due to their unstable condition with frequent flooding and cave-ins.
This lady, Nona Baker, was the sister of the General Manager during WWII. They both hid in the jungle during the Japanese invasion and were looked after by Communists who were resisting the Japanese. She had to endure terrible hardships but she survived. You can read her story in Refugee from the Japanese by Dorothy Thatcher.
Sungai Lembing Today
After the mine closed the town went into steep decline. Many of the former miners left for greener pastures or switched into agriculture or logging. But thanks to its unique heritage it is starting to attract a few tourists. Apart from the museum, the towns’ attractions include old style wooden shop-houses:
Some historic touches:
Three ‘hanging bridges’:
Then there is Bukit Panorama – a small hill which, as the name implies, gives good views over the town and, on the opposite side, a vista towards Kuantan. Most people time their climb of this hill so that they arrive to see the sunrise. I got up at 5.30 am and walked up in the dark. It took less than half an hour. The path has concrete steps and a handrail so it is easy to climb in the dark provided you have a torch. Here is a short video from the top. As you can hear from the soundtrack there were other parties who had made the climb.
The unusual shaped hill you can see in the distance is Bukit Charas where a temple cave called Gua Charas is located, containing a Reclining Buddha statue.
After my climb I went to the Chinese food court and tried to order a coffee and some Mee (noodles). Due to my poor language skills the old lady gave me a coffee and an iced Milo (MeeLo) instead. Luckily I was thirsty. I got some noodles in the end.
I had stayed the night before in the Pollock View Resort, a small lodge with 9 rooms and an outdoor reception cum bar. Judging by the photos on the wall the place is popular with the Hash House Harrier crowd.
The room was simple and clean and they lent me one of their bikes free-of-charge to explore the town.
Overall I enjoyed my visit to Sungai Lembing. These cats outside my hotel sum up the feeling of the place.