Kuala Lumpur is a pleasingly green city, in terms of public open spaces and abundant foliage, if not in genuine eco-friendliness. But you are never far from the noise and air pollution that comes with modern urban life. Fortunately, KL has a great resource on its doorsteps where it is possible to immerse yourself in nature.
The Forest Research Institute Malaysia (FRIM) oversees Malaysia‘s largest secondary forest, near the township of Kepong, on the northern border of KL and Selangor. The primary purpose of the institute, ever since it was established by the British in 1929, has been to conduct research into forestry. But a happy by-product of this work is a huge publicly accessible slab of greenery.
FRIM is a living museum, with six distinct types of woodland and abundant bird, animal and insect life. It has four main walking trails running through it, as well as jogging and mountain biking tracks, wildlife watch-towers, traditional Malay wooden houses, botanical gardens, picnic areas, and even spots to go for a dip.
The biggest single attraction is the Canopy Walkway, an 150m-long series of suspended bridges, 30m above the forest floor. Unless you suffer from vertigo, then the walkway is well worth doing. Although it is not tiring in itself, the hike there from the One Stop Centre where you buy your tickets requires a decent level of fitness. An even more energetic (and rewarding) option is to do the walkway as part of a looped 2-3 hour trek (see map below).
The walkway is open 09:30 to 14:30 daily except Monday and Friday. Last tickets are sold at 13:30. Weekends can get very busy, so if you have the option, Tues-Thurs is the best time to visit. For safety reasons, it is closed during heavy rainfall (and for two hours afterwards).
For any walk in FRIM, it’s worth wearing proper shoes, and plenty of insect repellant. If you have leech socks, wear them over your trousers. Take lots of water with you, and stick to the marked trails. The earlier you can set off the better, as the steaminess builds up throughout the day.
It’s hard to believe much of FRIM was scrubland when the first trees were planted more than 80 years ago. At least, that is the official, somewhat sanitised version. In truth, the area had enough wildlife and forest produce to sustain a community of Orang Asli (the indigenous people of West Malaysia), before they were evicted to make way for the institute.
FRIM substantially increased its prices at the beginning of 2012, particularly for foreigners. While the basic entry remains five ringgit for tourists (one for locals), the adult cost of the canopy walkway has doubled, from 10 to 20 ringgit. For children under 12, it has increased even more sharply, from one to 10 ringgit. The rates for Malaysians are five and three ringgit respectively, part of the growing trend for discriminatory pricing.
For those who would like to stay longer, FRIM can still make for a handy weekend trip, with its campsite to the north a popular spot to host group activities and short trips.
Perah Campsite boasts camping facilities including a kitchen, restrooms, picnic benches and a designated area for fires and barbecues. The site provides seclusion and a natural jungle camp experience without having to compromise on basic necessities. From the entrance of the campsite, terraced slopes lead to the picnic tables and slightly further down are around 10 plots that can hold up to 300 campers at a time. Male restrooms are labelled “Tongkat Ali”, for a tree native to Malaysia where the infamous Asian Viagra is derived, while “Kacip Fatimah” (traditionally used for the same purposes for women) indicates the women’s.
Tents, sleeping bags and other necessary equipment can be rented directly from the Perah office, but camping is usually reserved for groups. Individuals can however rent basic huts on the campsite for 50 ringgit per night. For those who aren’t used to the jungle chorus that usually accompanies a night in Southeast Asian nature, these are the best option anyway. The main hut area is built a few metres away from the campgrounds, connected by a short, suspended walkway through the trees — so you’ll get a similar experience to the canopy walk without any stamina required. Kids will love it, as will fully grown men, as I discovered during my trip. A single hut can easily accommodate two adults with accompanying luggage, and each one comes with a wall fan and power socket. Whether for camping or use in the huts, sleeping bags can be rented for 30 ringgit — they’re necessary as temperatures drop during the night.
For families with kids, camping can be arranged with the caretaker of the campsite who will arrange activities for two days. Wood shaving, scavenger hunts, bamboo rice making and night walks are part of an educational programme that they can provide, as well as food and drinks.
If you’re visiting under your own steam, food isn’t an issue if you’re not planning on cooking at the campsite. A picnic area is located next to Sungai Kroh, where a cafeteria serves pre-cooked meals. At the centre of FRIM on Jalan Foxworthy, just as the walk to the Canopy Walkway entrance begins, is another canteen that serves a variety of simple Malay dishes with rice. Cost of a meal and drinks is less than 7 ringgit.
As well as mountain-biking and trekking, less arduous activities like visiting a Malay tea-house, Malay traditional houses and taking a dip in the numerous waterfalls that dot the reserve can all be enjoyed. Rumah Terengganu was relocated from Pulau Rusa (in northeast Malaysia) and reconstructed in FRIM without a single nail; the collection of traditional houses is to be expanded over time and currently includes just two, with the other from Melaka.
A short walk into the jungle across the main road from the picnic area leads you to a hidden waterfall, a favourite among kids and adults for a refreshing dip. This is one of the easier waterfalls to reach but just as shady and fun as the others.
Something that should not come as a surprise is that FRIM is a pain to get to by public transport. RapidKL runs a bus (U13) from Medan Pasar (in Chinatown) to Taman Ehsan, which is a short walk from the entrance, but still 10-15 minutes away from the One Stop Centre. A better option is to take a KTM Komuter train to Kepong, and a taxi from there. Another possibility is to combine FRIM with a trip to Batu Caves, as they are less than 6km apart.
By Pat Fama
Last updated on 27th February, 2015.