By Lloyd Green
There’s so much one can see when exploring the maze of highways that connects rugged and rural Malaysia with the social and cultural hubs of Kuala Lumpur, Penang and Kuantan.
I was fortunate enough to explore the regions of Kampar, Gua Musang and Raub in September and October last year, celebrating Hari Raya Haji with locals and weeks later trekking into the depths of Malaysia’s jungle to visit friends at Orang Asli kampungs at Kuala Betis and Pos Senderut.
My journey began on September 24, Hari Raya Haji. We were off to have lunch with Ain and Nazira in Kampar. A narrow, sandy path which we had turned onto took us past compounds, shacks and gardens, via a large lake that was the focal point of the village and towards a traditional styled home vibrant in pink and green.
There we were welcomed by the younger of the two ladies, Ain. Her beaming smile complimenting her thick rimmed glasses and salmon coloured tudung.
Arriving for Hari Raya Haji lunch in Kampar.
Inside awaited the rest of her family, each taking their turn in greeting us. Handshakes were exchanged as the aromas of the chicken rendang, lemang and curry mee filled the room.
Lunch was a hit. The beef, the chicken, the noodles. All of it was amazing.
By mid-afternoon it was time to leave for a nearby waterhole. Our visit had been rewarding and highly memorable.
We pulled up a short while later next to a river. There was a hive of locals enjoying their Hari Raya Haji celebrations. We happily joined and ventured into the rapids…..no sign of city life, just fresh air and the echoes of children playing in the water.
After a short ride home, we changed and headed to another friend of ours, Cik Mah. She was in her mid-60s and was a living, breathing examples of community spirit.
In between servings of milo ais and curry, Cik Mah spoke of how she considered herself a teacher and leader within the community — having learnt English at the nearby Community Centre — and expressed delight at having people from all around the world (Australia, Spain, Croatia, Poland, Cambodia, Romania, Scotland and England) in her home.
Cik Mah’s banquet was amazing!
For us, it was a day to feel and be Malaysian.
Weeks later I went on another road trip, this time to Kelantan and Pahang to visit friends volunteering in the jungle. We had been at a village near Gua Musang and were now on our way to Pos Senderut.
We collected our fried rice and mee goreng from a local Malay restaurant in Raub and zoomed down the highway in a race against the clock to reach our kampung by nightfall.
As is often the case in Malaysia, clear blue sky can be swamped by violent storms and torrential rain within minutes. This was no different with a series of thunderous clouds rolling in from over the horizon.
We knew the road ahead was treacherous and as such were praying for the rain to stay away. As we veered left and onto the undulating dirt road that snakes its way 35 kilometres into the dense jungle, the heavens opened.
Life in the jungle in Malaysia
The clay-like dirt had transformed into a film of mud with pools of tacky slosh canyoning across the path. The only conceivable way, it seemed, of traversing the passage was by a large 4WD or better still a truck.
Our 13-seater van was now a passenger to the forces of nature with both rear wheels shifting from underneath. First right, then left, with the van eventually coming to rest diagonally across the road.
We jumped out of the van and into the pouring rain to assess the situation. Any further advancement on our position would have us teetering on the edge. A quick reconnaissance mission up the ensuing slope showed that we were only a few hundred metres from the next kampung. We clicked the van into gear and pushed, nudged and guided it up the slippery surface.
Although glad to be out of harm’s way, we couldn’t help but be amused by the undertakings of the past hour.
The condition of the road was hazardous at best.
The village was abuzz with word of our arrival. We had agreed it would be ridiculous to continue
up the road so we arranged to park the van and stay the night. The hospitality afforded to us was overwhelming. Water, blankets, mattresses – and in the morning – tea and biscuits. The sense of community was wonderful.
We left the next morning and set off on the remaining 15 kilometres up to our intended Orang Asli kampung. The half an hour ride had highlighted the true severity of the conditions we’d escaped.
Our destination was located across a ditch, on a plateau, inside a spacious school designed and built by the local villagers. Every strip of wood and bamboo used in the structure was sourced from the surrounding forest. It was a special place.
The school at kampung five at Pos Senderut.
Our friend Joe — part-myth, part-extraordinaire — was surprised to see us. “You did what,” he said, in his thick New York accent. “You took that van on that road…in the rain. You’re mad!”
He sort of made sense. Every other vehicle we had passed that day was either an off-road motorcycle or a 40 tonne lorry. Perhaps we were silly, maybe even lucky, but that sense of adventure and connection to the community was totally worth it.
So, if you ever have the chance to escape the city, make sure you hire a vehicle or venture out with friends and explore the open highways of Malaysia. You won’t regret it!