Story and photos by YOON LAI WAN
There’s more to Perak than the cosy foodie city of Ipoh, as this Perak resident points out to relatives from across the seas.
LOOKING for a shoestring budget tour where you can enjoy the tranquillity of rural landscapes without having to bother about exorbitant entrance fees? Then look no further than Kinta Valley, Perak.
A fusion of the old world charm and modern amenities makes this picturesque valley appealing. Tantalising food, enchanting landscapes, heritage trails and evergreen rainforest are some of the things that make for a memorable experience.
Many people stop by Ipoh, the capital of Perak, on a daily basis en route to the north or south.
But do they know what they are missing by confining themselves to the city?
I became the accidental tour guide when my cousins from England visited. I decided to take them off the beaten trek. Together with my hubby, I thought it would be nice to show them the sun rising over Kinta Valley.
We dragged them up at an ungodly hour and drove to the township of Menglembu, the gateway to Kledang Hill.
The hill stands majestically at 800m and is part of the Kledang-Sayong Forest Reserve. The air here is fresh and invigorating, and wild flowers and nepenthes abound. This hill is popular with Ipoh folks. People of all ages come here to walk, run, cycle and trek in the jungle.
Senior citizens form their own exercise groups and they can be seen dancing their hearts out to different beats and performing tai chi.
There are many trails leading up to the hill top, namely the paved road and the many jungle treks like 4-2, 4-3, 4-9, Round The Mountain (RTM) and even Botak Hill trail. Armed with torches, we slowly made our way up Botak Hill, through the most scenic and gentle of the trails.
We could feel the cool mountain breeze gently caressing our faces, and listened to the sound of insects orchestrating the night and leaves rustling in the wind.
After 20 minutes of climbing, we reached the apex of Botak Hill. We were not alone! A group of shutterbugs, was already there to capture the breaking of dawn. While they busied themselves setting up the tripods, we too looked for strategic spots to savour the magical moment.
The landscape was surreal and beautiful. With mist still shrouding the valley and the majestic limestone hills of Kinta Valley in the background, one feels as though transported to the Mesozoic era. Soon, silver lining could be seen bursting out from behind the clouds – lo and behold, the glorious transformation from darkness to iridescent shades of crimson and indigo.
Cameras were busy clicking away, and my cousins were spellbound by the beauty of the spectacle. It was like a slice of heaven on earth.
Food glorious food!
Our next stop was to get breakfast. We made our way to Buntong, a township adjacent to Menglembu.
Ipoh is synonymous with good food, but have you tried the traditional South Indian food here?
Located next to Buntong police station is Esther Catering – a rustic establishment which has been there for more than a century. The owner, the eponymous Esther, has been running this place for 27 years and is the fourth generation in her family to operate this lovely home-cooked joint.
Here, you can opt for takeaway or dining alfresco under a few shady trees. You will be spoilt for choice from the assortment of scrumptious food displayed on the glass shelves. Esther offers traditional South Indian food for breakfast and lunch. Local delicacies like the nasi lemak, fried noodles and other savouries are also freshly prepared.
We tried the uppma, puli paniyarem, apom, tosai and more. My Mat Salleh cousins finished every morsel of their food!
With our bellies thoroughly filled, we headed south to Kinta Nature Park (KNP). Following a 5km sandy track from the entrance of Kg Pisang, Batu Gajah and driving with the skill of a demolition derby driver – to avoid all the potholes along the way – we managed to reach the nature park in one piece.
KNP, home to at least 130 species of local and migratory birds, is surrounded by former mining pools, greenery and flora and fauna. Even the beautiful orchid, Vanda hookeriana or locally known as Kinta Weed, thrives around the mining pools.
As we headed in, the melodic chirping of avian friends from the canopy of giant raintrees made us whipped out our binoculars.
We aren’t avid birders but a glimpse of colourful feathered friends always adds vividness to our lives.
There were kingfishers and woodpeckers. As we ventured near the mining pool, grey heron, purple heron and cattle egrets were seen by the dozens either perching on tree branches or spreading their majestic wings in the blue sky.
There was a small island in the lake which was bursting with nesting activity. It was a huge heronry, and the trees there were dotted with hundreds of noisy herons perched on different levels of the branches. With the help of the binoculars, we managed to see the fascinating cycle of life – eggs, hungry nestlings feeding and adult herons collecting nesting materials.
The lake, which teems with fish and aquatic plants, is also a paradise for otters. Yes, otters. We spotted a family of adults and juveniles happily swimming in the water. Those wishing to have an aerial view of the surrounding landscape can climb up the observation tower.
Wait, there’s more
It was almost noon when we left KNP for Gopeng. The journey was an interesting one as we stopped by an Indian temple to snap photos of the statue of a white man on the roof alongside statues of Hindu gods and goddess.
Yes, it was the statue of William Kellie Smith of Kellie’s Castle fame! Kellie’s Castle, a popular local tourist attraction was just a few hundred meters from the temple.
Since tin mining is one of the oldest industries in Malaysia, I just couldn’t resist sidestepping the usual tourism sites, bypassing Gopeng to show my cousins the hidden gem of Perak – the palong (open cast mine).
Located near Kampar, this mega-structure once contributed to the wealth of Kinta Valley. Just a glimpse of the palong’s silhouette was like stepping back in time, unravelling an era gone by. We felt as though we were walking in the footsteps of our forefathers.
We then headed back to Gopeng, a rustic town which tin helped built. Gopeng is just a stone’s throw from Ipoh but what a world of difference it is. Gone are the days when this town was a hive of activity due to tin mining; it had lain dormant for a while but now, because of its enchanted evergreen forest and resorts up in the hills, Gopeng is once again in the limelight.
As we turned into to the town centre, we were greeted by a roundabout with replicas of Rafflesia, one of the biggest flower in the world, which can be found in these parts. A map of interesting sites of Gopeng is also set up here.
With evergreen hills and mountains in the backdrop, Gopeng is where one can just sit back and observe life passing by. The orang asli can be seen bringing their jungle produce like durian and petai for sale.
Adjacent to the roundabout is the Gopeng Museum and The Heritage House, and 2km away is a gaharu or agarwood plantation.
What fascinates me about this plantation is a wall built to resemble China’s Great Wall surrounding it.
I think it’s safe to say that Perak has so much more to offer than just Ipoh and its delicious food.