Exploring nature outside of the city doesn’t have to take much time or money. Kampung Kuantan, where colonies of fireflies put on a glowing light show almost every night on the banks of the Selangor River, takes you back to a simpler period and lets you experience a sampling of Malaysia’s ecotourism offerings.
A pleasant 45 minutes by car from Kuala Lumpur, the journey is half the experience as you find the landscape abruptly changing from skyscrapers to palm oil and rubber plantations. Stop at old agricultural villages to take a couple of snapshots of traditional kampong (village) houses and picture what it must have been like during the heyday of these towns when Malaysia was a British colony.
You’ll reach Kampung Kuantan, one of just a few places in the world where you can see fireflies in such great numbers, about nine kilometres past Kuala Selangor. The special species of mangrove tree responsible for luring the fireflies is known as berembang; the Selangor River provides these trees with a damp, swampy environment to thrive in which in turn provides abundant food for the fireflies.
Appearing almost every day except when there’s a full moon or it’s raining, the activity of course has to take place under cover of darkness. Hire a sampan at the local jetty for 40 ringgit (or 10 ringgit per person) to float by male beetles as they turn their abdominal bulbs on and off every couple of seconds to attract females. While the females kelip-kelip (twinkle) too, it’s only the males that pulse in unison. The boats should run 19:00-23:00.
Boarding wooden boats that seem to have slipped by safety regulations will have you gladly donning the lifejackets they hand out on the floating platform. Once you’re settled in, it’s time to get your eyes acquainted to the dark and admire the twinkling insects and stars. While the activity might get old a bit quickly for some, for others it will be a relaxing outdoor journey into the unusual.
While Kampung Kuantan offers an easy and unique night out in nature, ecotourism here has proven to be a better marketing tool than actually anything that’s been good for the environment. If you visit, you’ll notice unsightly garbage floating past you from plantations and factories upstream; to add to that, the fireflies attract more than 2,000 tourists a month, which may benefit local communities but the boats create noise pollution and damage the production of young berembang trees. As a result, the number of fireflies have significantly decreased over the years and sadly it’s not certain how much longer they’ll be around in significant numbers.
While the tour used to last up to an hour a decade ago, in 2012 it lasts between 15 and 30 minutes. The time span not only indicates the number of tourists the operators now try to squeeze into boats in one night, but more worryingly, that the number of locations up and down river to view the fireflies are declining. If you make the trip to Kampung Kuantan, combine it with a fresh seafood dinner in Kuala Selangor or a visit to Kuala Selangor National Park to make the drive worthwhile.
By Sarah Hishan.
Last updated on 8th February, 2017.
The Travelfish newsletter is sent out every Monday and is jammed full of free advice for travel in Southeast Asia. You can see past issues here.