Malaysia’s Route 66

Route66

When we hear the words ‘Route 66’ we naturally think of the famous highway in USA, the one where you ‘get your kicks’ according to the 1946 song. That road originally ran for 2500 miles heading west from Chicago through the heart of America all the way to Santa Monica, California.

It is less well known that Malaysia has its own Route 66, in Kelantan, a much more modest affair only 96 km long, running from Jeli to Dabong and on to Kampung Bukit Tebok where it merges with the Central Spine Road.

Malaysia’s Route 66 might be less famous that its American namesake but it does boast some fine scenery and a couple of natural attractions along the way.

Here is the map (click top right corner to enlarge):

IMG_6093
Jeli to Dabong is 51km. Route 66 continues for a further 45km after Dabong before joining up with the Central Spine Road.

The route begins at the small town of Jeli, not far from the Thai border.

IMG_6095

Heading south you soon approach the mountainous landscape of Gunung Stong State Park. I think these are the twin peaks of Gunung Stong (1433m) and Gunung Ayam (1504m).

IMG_6097

The State Park comprises 21,950 hectares of virgin jungle reserve and is intended to serve as a conservation area for rare creatures such as wild elephant, tiger, hornbills, serow and tapir.

IMG_6100

Despite the State Park’s protected status, I noticed some logging activity going on in various places.

IMG_6105

This is the Sungai Balah, a tributary of the Sungai Galas and Kelantan River which eventually flows into the sea near Kota Bharu.

The Jelawang Waterfall (or Stong Waterfall) is estimated to be 300 m high, one of Malaysia’s tallest, and easily visible from the main road at Dabong.

It is a short drive to the Gunung Stong State Park HQ where there is a ticket office, guides for hire, a cafeteria, toilets and accommodation. The resort, known as Stong Hill Resort, has seen better days but appears to offer basic accommodation for adventurous types.

IMG_6120

Termites seem to have eaten this chalet and all that remains are the concrete stilts and a toilet.

I paid RM 2 to enter the park as far as the waterfall. If you want to climb Gunung Stong you need to pay more and hire a guide.

IMG_6119

The waterfall is certainly spectacular although difficult to photograph in its entirety from this vantage point.

A party of local school boys had fun making the rickety suspension bridge wobble while I was walking across it.

IMG_6128

Next I stopped briefly in the quiet town of Dabong. Looking back from Dabong you can see the waterfall with Gunung Stong above.

There is a railway station (Jungle Railway) at Dabong and most tourists wishing to visit Stong arrive by train.

IMG_6136

A short distance outside Dabong is the Gua Ikan Recreational Park. This 150 million year old cave complex includes three caves, Gua Keris, Gua Batu Susun and Gua Pagar.

IMG_6138

I couldn’t find a way into the caves which did not involve getting very wet. The recreational park itself was badly overgrown. If I ever go back to this area I would hire a guide to take me up Gunung Stong and show me around the caves.

Malaysia’s Route 66 is a scenic drive. Let’s hope the logging companies do not spoil the scenery. It seems the forests are losing their battle with loggers but sometimes the trees find a way of striking back!

payback-for-loggers

High Road Across Malaysia – Part 2

IMG_6145b

In this post I continue my coast to coast journey across Malaysia via Cameron Highlands, Gua Musang & Lake Kenyir. See Part 1 for the map.

After a 6am breakfast at Kampar I set out for the Cameron Highlands via the old Tapah road (Route 59).

First stop was a quick look around the Kuala Woh Recreational Forest. It is tucked away in a hidden valley at the foot of the Titiwangsa mountain range. The early morning air was refreshingly cool but the camping, chalet and toilet facilities looked rather run down and there were too many mosquitos around. The river looked clean enough and the whole place smelt of tasty durians since August is the peak season for this pungent fruit.

IMG_5953IMG_5957

Next stop was Lata Iskandar, one of Malaysia’s most accessible waterfalls being located right next the busy road. This place can get busy at weekends and holidays but since it was still early I had it to myself. I climbed the steps to get a good view of the upper cascade. Everywhere was clean with no litter so somebody had been doing a good job.

IMG_5963

From here up until the Cameron Highlands there were numerous roadside stalls selling handicraft items, fresh fruit and vegetables. Most of the vendors appeared to be from the Orang Asli community.

IMG_5965
Ringlet, Cameron Highlands

Where Perak borders Pahang the Cameron Highlands begins with the town of Ringlet, probably the least developed of the three Cameron Highlands settlements (Ringlet, Tanah Rata and Brinchang) at an altitude of around 1100 metres above sea level. My car thermometer displayed a very comfortable reading of 20°C, which is about the average daytime temperature for this high altitude district, cooling to a chilly 14°C at night.

IMG_5968
The Lakehouse Cameron Highlands. Hotel, Restaurant, Bar & Spa

It has been a few years since I’ve been to the Cameron Highlands. The towns themselves have not changed much. For some years they have been rather ugly, sprawling places with too much traffic. Anyone expecting a quaint colonial hill station would be disappointed although there are still some nice parts such as The Lakehouse  Hotel and the manicured tea estates. What has changed in recent years however is the explosion of land clearance for agricultural purposes, some of it illegal, which has resulted in vast swathes of the Highlands being covered in polytunnels (see this close up satellite view as an example).

Screen Shot 2016-08-27 at 6.58.17 PM
The Cameron Highlands are covered with plastic greenhouses and shade netting to protect fruits and vegetables from the elements and insects.

While it is generally a good thing that Malaysia should grow more of its own flowers, vegetables and fruit, the forest clearing and hillside levelling has been done in an uncontrolled way resulting in serious flooding and landslide problems in recent years.

While in Brinchang I took the opportunity to visit the Time Tunnel, an interesting museum crammed with photographs, memorabilia collections and artefacts from days gone by.

IMG_6001
Beware of the tapirs. An endangered species, the chances of meeting a tapir in the wild are close to zero.

At Blue Valley I turned onto the Gua Musang road (185) and soon found myself in Kelantan state. ‘Polytunnel-land’ continued for several more kilometres before finally turning into a more natural landscape as the road began its slow descent from the uplands. It was a good road, partly dual carriageway and elsewhere with frequent overtaking lanes, not that they were needed as there was hardly any traffic. A great road for trying out your new motorbike.

The town of Gua Musang is the administrative hub for the district of the same name which covers a large chunk of southern Kelantan. Until the Central Spine Road (Federal Route 8) was built, Gua Musang was a very isolated place and could only be reached via the Jungle Railway.

During the Emergency, its isolation made it a target for the Communist bandits who attacked the township with a 300 strong force and seized control on 17th July 1948, killing one policeman and capturing another 15. Their aim was to establish a liberated zone from which to extend their grip on the country. A relief force of army and police, supported by the RAF, successfully recaptured the town five days later.

Pontianak-Gua-Musang-Ad

Gua Musang means Cave of the Civet Cats (or foxes). The limestone hills here are honeycombed with holes and the main cave behind the old railway station was believed to be home to a pack of mysterious civet cats, spawning various ghostly legends such as that portrayed in the 1960s comedy thriller film Pontianak Gua Musang.

IMG_6155
Being one of Malaysia’s more conservative states, alcohol is not so readily available in much of Kelantan. This traditional Chinese liquor shop in Gua Musang however had a surprisingly wide selection of spirits and potions.

I stayed overnight in Gua Musang at MyHome Hotel which was perfectly adequate apart from having no window. You can’t expect too much for RM 70 per night. On my receipt I noticed they had written my address as British Indian Ocean Territory. That should confuse Tourism Malaysia’s visitor statistics if they monitor such things.

I’ll continue Part 3 of my High Road Across Malaysia journey in the next blog post.

Gemas

Gemas Railway Station

The small town of Gemas in Negeri Sembilan state is known mainly for being the junction of Malaysia’s west and east coast railway lines. Most train travellers from Singapore or Johore take the west coast line to Kuala Lumpur, Penang or even up to Bangkok. The lesser travelled, but more scenic, east coast line is known as The Jungle Railway and cuts across the peninsula, skirting the Taman Negara national park and terminating near Kota Bharu in Kelantan. From there it is possible to take a bus or taxi, cross the Thai border and from Sungai Kolak continue the journey northwards on Thai railways.

I wanted to experience the Jungle Railway (which I might blog about later) and this necessitated  a short stop-over in Gemas.

Gemas

There is not a lot there (at least not in the old town around the railway station – there is a newer suburb some distance away).

A few streets of shophouses, two or three humble hotels, a couple of modest restaurants.

Pretty facade.

This house has a very elaborate door. It’s a wonder it doesn’t get stolen.

Former post office at Gemas.

The post office is looking a bit dilapidated. Presumably there is a new one somewhere.

While I was walking around taking photos a man in a jeep invited me to take a look at what he was carrying in the back of his vehicle. I was surprised to see a couple of very dead wild boars which he unloaded onto the pavement outside his house. His name is David and he told me he is a professional hunter and that the hills around Gemas have plenty of wild boars. This modern-day Malaysian version of Asterix then proceeded to bring out a chopping board and axe to prepare his kill for the table.

Asterix in Gemas.

When my appetite had recovered I took dinner in one of the few eateries that were open.

Spicy Fish Delight

To be honest I have had better. Perhaps it was the cook’s night off! The beer was good though.

I doubt if I will need to visit Gemas again. I could just have easily caught the train a few stops further north (and more convenient for me) without missing out on the best scenery.

%d bloggers like this: