The Matang Mangrove Forest Reserve is Peninsular Malaysia’s largest surviving spread of mangrove forest, most of which has been extensively cleared for development, or in more manageable quantities for charcoal production (still practised nearby). However, since the 2004 tsunami off Sumatra killed over 200,000 people across Southeast Asia, there’s been a lot of interest in preserving mangroves; the trees’ mesh of aerial support roots form a natural breakwater, absorbing some of the force of tsunamis and thus protecting coastlines from inundation. They’re also rich breeding grounds for small marine creatures from jellyfish to fiddler crabs, mudskippers and archer fish (and, sadly for visitors, sandflies and mosquitoes), meaning plenty of food for larger animals – including rare marine otters and river dolphins.
Over a century old, Matang Mangrove Reserve is reckoned to be a model of environmental protection. Extensive boardwalks lead above the black mud through a forest of tall, thin trunks and mangrove ferns; keep eyes peeled for monkeys, wild pigs and swimming snakes. You can also stay here in basic, self-catering cabins – contact the reserve for details.