With the reckless urbanization of the Klang Valley proceeding apace, worthwhile excursions from KL are becoming increasingly rare. The most obvious attraction is 13km north, where limestone peaks rise up from the forest at the Hindu shrine of Batu Caves, one of Malaysia’s main tourist attractions. Nearby, the Forest Research Institute of Malaysia (FRIM) encompasses a small but surprisingly thick portion of primary rainforest, where you can see birds and a few animals within an hour of downtown KL.
Further northwest of KL, the quiet town of Kuala Selangor offers the chance to observe the nightly dance of fireflies, while northeast, Fraser’s Hill is one of Malaysia’s many hill stations, set up in colonial times to allow government officials an escape from lowland heat. The most surreal day-trip you can make from KL is to the very Chinese fishing village on Pulau Ketam, off the coast near southwesterly Pelabuhan Klang, which hardly feels like Malaysia at all.
Batu Caves and Pulau Ketam are easy to reach on public transport, but you’ll need a car or taxi to reach FRIM. About the only package trip widely offered by KL’s accommodation and tour agents goes to see the fireflies; you can do this on public transport, but it’s a bit of a slog and requires an overnight stay at Kuala Selangor.Read More
The Forest Research Institute of Malaysia sits amid a fifteen-square-kilometre reserve of rainforest and parkland, threaded with sealed roads and walking trails. A popular spot for weekend picnics, appealing to birdwatchers, joggers and anyone after some greenery and fresh air, it has the added attraction of a short canopy walk between the treetops, providing views of KL’s skyline. It also makes a good warm-up for wilder affairs at Taman Negara. A couple of hours here is plenty of time for a walk around; for a full day out you could always continue to the Batu Caves and Orang Asli Museum.
Taxis deliver to the gates; pick up a map and follow the main road 1km into the park, past open woodland and lawns, to the One Stop Centre, where you can book the canopy walk and seek general advice. A small museum nearby, strongly biased towards the timber industry, gives thumbnail sketches of the different types of tropical forests and the commercial uses of various woods.
For a good walk, follow the clear “Rover” walking track past the mosque and uphill into the forest; there are some huge trees, birds and butterflies here, and a rougher side-track to the canopy walk, a single-plank suspension bridge across a deep gully. You may see monkeys too, and can join up with a couple of other tracks that bring you back to the One Stop Centre in about 90min.
- Batu Caves
Orang Asli Museum
Orang Asli Museum
Run by the government’s Department for Orang Asli Affairs, the Orang Asli Museum aims to present a portrait of the various groups of Orang Asli, former nomadic hunter-gatherers in the jungle who are now largely resident in rural settlements.
A large map of the Peninsula in the foyer makes it clear that the Orang Asli can be found, in varying numbers, in just about every state. That surprises some visitors, who see little sign of them during their travels. Besides collections of the fishing nets, guns and blowpipes the Orang Asli use to eke out their traditional existence, the museum also has photographs of Orang Asli press-ganged by the Malay and British military to fight communist guerrillas in the 1950s (see The Emergency and the Orang Asli). Other displays describe the changes forced more recently on the Orang Asli – some positive, like the development of health and school networks, others less encouraging, like the erosion of the family system as young men drift off to look for seasonal work.
The head carvings
Hidden in an annexe to the rear of the building, examples of traditional handicrafts include the head carvings made by the Mah Meri tribe from the swampy region on the borders of Selangor and Negeri Sembilan, and the Jah Hut from the slopes of Gunung Benom in central Pehang. Around 50cm high, the carvings show stylized, fierce facial expressions, and are fashioned from a strong, heavy hardwood. They still have religious significance – the most common image used, the moyang, represents the spirit of the ancestors.
- Kuala Selangor
The moment you set foot aboard ferries to PULAU KETAM (Crab Island) you’re in a kind of parallel universe: this is Chinese day-tripper land, with videos of Chinese karaoke clips or soap operas blaring from the on-board screens. Ketam’s five thousand inhabitants are Teochew and Hokkien Chinese, who traditionally live almost entirely by fishing from their low, flat, mangrove-encrusted island. Every house is built on pilings above the sand, and practically every street is a concrete walkway or boardwalk raised in the same fashion. Aside from the chance to eat tasty, inexpensive seafood, you’d visit mainly for a slightly surreal break from KL’s pace, with a couple of places to stay if you like the quiet.
From the jetty, walk past the mosque and into the village main street, lined with grocers, general stores, and stalls and restaurants selling seafood – including, of course, crab. Beyond a shop selling Buddhist paraphernalia is a sort of central square where you’ll find the Hock Leng Temple, as well as a small grotto containing a representation of Kwan Yin, the Goddess of Mercy, looking decidedly Madonna-like with a halo of red electric lights. On from here, you come to a residential area of concrete and wooden houses, nearly all with their front doors left wide open. There’s plenty of refuse littering the mud flats beneath, unfortunately, but more appealingly you’ll also see shrines outside many homes and occasional collections of pans made of netting containing seafood products being left out to dry.
- Fraser’s Hill (Bukit Fraser)