A Hike Through Malaysia’s Virgin Rain Forest

Anne Bonfert

The pine tree trail

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  • Credit: Anne Bonfert

The sound of thunder doesn’t stop. And it’s still raining. Gently dropping down onto the jungle canopy. Dripping slowly down from the big leaves of the giant trees. I am covered up in bed under my blanket. My legs are not able to move anymore. What a hike we just did!

Just to explain what I am doing. We are in Malaysia on a short holiday. Living in a very industrial polluted area in Thailand we are missing one thing. Fresh air to breathe. The air is really heavily polluted from all the cities around us and we are not used to it. I’m coping a bit better with it, but Dawie really struggles with it.

Growing up in Namibia his lungs are used to very clean and fresh air. And as a breakaway, I found us this little village in the highlands of Malaysia. Very popular by locals on weekends as an escape from the city. It’s just a two-hour drive from Kuala Lumpur but brings you high up into the mountains.

For the last 40 kilometers, you drive up into the highlands through a tiny very winding road. 40 kilometers with not a single stretch of straight road. I'm telling you 40 kilometers is long for a mountain road that just keeps ongoing. It seems like it won’t end, but eventually, you’ll stand in front of the clock tower. The center of little England of Malaysia. That is what they call Fraser hill or Bhukit Fraser.

Very pretty mountain village located 1500metres above sea level. Surrounded by nothing else but this majestic rain forest. It is located in the Taman Negara national park which is home to the oldest piece of forest in the world. The jungle is estimated to be 130 million years old. Despite changing climates all over the world the weather stayed relatively the same over the years and let this forest grow.

Since it is so high in the mountains it is much cooler and less humid here. I would say the perfect climate. For us who have been sweating for the last 3 months 24/7. Now we even had to put our jacket on while having dinner next to the golf course. The temperature dropped after sunset just under 20 degrees.

The night was so calm. No cars. No sound of airplanes. Thousands of people. Not even the sound of the fan or Aircon. Just peace and quiet. And of course the chirping of the cicadas. The sound of the jungle.

The sun is a red fireball at the horizon just above the jungle treetops. It’s a chilled morning in the mountains. Clean, fresh air we’re breathing in. Excited about this hike. The Pine tree trail. It leads over a distance of 5,6km to a peak called pine hill and a second peak called the twin peak.

But it’s not the distance that makes this trail challenging. It’s the elevation gain you’re conquering over this trail. You start at 1500m above sea level and the first peak is located at the same altitude. But you are still hiking 1500 meters in altitude during this trail. The constant up and down is the challenge of this trail. According to my research, it should take us around 7 hours from start to finish (you walk the same way back).

Since you have to expect rainfall every afternoon up here I decided to get up early. It’s a Saturday and a lot of Malaysian hikers will come up from KL to do this hike. We have a 5 min drive from our accommodation to the starting point. A local stops us on the road and guides us to the parking point.

He explains to us a bit about the hike, reminds us to take all our rubbish back (he cleans the path every week with his wife), and tells us to turn around no later than 1:30 pm to make it back before the big rain. According to him, we are the first ones today. It’s 7:30 am. Dawie grabs a walking stick at the entrance where locals put a collection of wooden sticks for you to take on the hike. I highly recommend taking hiking sticks with since you will be going steep paths downhill on the way there and back.

It is quiet and loud at the same time. You can barely hear our footsteps on the floor of the forest. But besides that, you hear no human voice, no car, no airplane. Just the forest. The insects, monkeys, millions of birds singing in different voices, and leaves of the majestic trees clapping in the wind. It’s beautiful. Relaxing. Meditating. We’re listening. Barely talking to each other. Now and then to show the other person something exciting.

The floor of the jungle is covered in fungi and lichens. All variations and all different colors. A huge biodiversity to be found.

I expected it to be cold because I read you should bring long long pants and jackets, but when you’re hiking you won’t need them. Rain jacket yes. Sunglasses no. Barely any sun comes through to the floor of the forest. And you should bring lots of water. No place to stock up along the way. We each carried 3litres of water and did finish it all.

Now and then a little window opens up in the thick forest where you get a glimpse of the surrounding mountains. All covered in forest.

The fog is still hanging low in between the treetops. Only after we’ve climbed over 2 mountains we get to the small tree house which is the half sign. There were already more motivating situations in my life, but let’s keep going. All that we are thinking about is that we still have to go all this way back. And it seems already like a never-ending up and down. We kept the lead for 1,5h before 2 Malaysians overtook us, but kept on walking at our pace.

We are struggling. Once again we’ve been living on sea level for over 5 years now and our lungs have to work hard at this altitude. Especially during this continuous up and down. The path is very easy to follow and well maintained I would say. But if you’re doing a jungle trek you should expect that trees will be lying in your way. Every 100 meters you’ll have to climb over a fallen tree or go underneath it. It’s fun and keeps the path interesting.

Sometimes the path gets very narrow when you’re passing a very thick section of the jungle. I just hope that these are just left touching my face and not other living creatures. We’re prepared against the insects. Mosquito repellent on arms and legs. I’ve tried different sprays over the years, local products and products from Germany, natural sprays, and others. It doesn’t matter which brand or where it is produced, but the only sprays that work for me are the ones with DEET 50. They say DEET is not good for your skin. I say it’s better than getting bitten by millions of mosquitoes and risking getting a disease from it.

More people overtake us now. Seems like we are the only foreign hikers here. Just Malaysians making their way up here. As we’re hoping to be very close by now there is a local guide telling us that we still have 1,5 hours to go. Almost deciding to turn around are we telling ourselves that he can’t be right and keep on going.

And then we see it. The rock climbing section. How it is called on social media. The last part of the trail is the most challenging one where you have to climb up a 30-40 degree slope holding onto ropes. Don’t trust the rock or the roots. They are wet and slippery. But for us it’s exciting. Some fun before we reach the top. Only one person goes at a time due to the holding of the rope.

The view isn’t the greatest due to the haziness but we love it. Proud of ourselves for not giving up and making the way to the pine hill. 3:20h – not too bad in time either. It just felt much longer because there are no reliable signs along the way telling you how far you still have to go. But that doesn’t matter now. We sit down. Breath. Have a little picnic. Watching more and more Malaysian hikers making their way to the top which doesn’t allow many people on it due to a lack of space we still enjoy the moment.

And as we lift our heads again the fog is gone and offers us a breathtaking view over a countless number of mountain ridges. All of them obviously covered in this spectacular rainforest. As far as your eye can see.

Love it. So much excitement in this small spot in the jungle. People are cheering. Singing. Calling friends. Most of them seem to be in tour groups. Local guides bringing them to the top and serving food for them just under the peak.

Just a few meters away from this peak is another rock that gives you a spectacular view of the other side. With again – never-ending mountain ranges covered in forest. Definitely a magic place on earth.

After a relaxing half an hour up here we decide not to hike to the second peak which would be another 45min one way. Looking at the clouds building up on the horizon and thinking about the endless way back we have ahead of us we decide that we are happy with what we achieved and saw and that it is time for the return now.

The first part which was the challenging part with the ropes is even more interesting on the way down. Climbing backward down a rockface while putting all your weight onto the ropes. You gotta trust them…

A lot more people making their way to the top. Very glad we started the hike so early.

The first part is a long downhill trek with a lot of fallen trees on the trail. Don’t remember all of them from the way up.

It is a long way to the halfway point. But finally, we made it. Time for a break and some snacks.

According to our calculations, we still have to hike for 1,5h. The wind starts picking up. It is very dark all of a sudden. We would just like to leave the last climb behind us before the rain starts. It’s a long uphill over very slippery stairs built from rocks. We keep on going.

Listening to the forest. Hearing the first raindrops falling onto the canopy of the jungle. But nothing reaches us yet. About 45 minutes before the end it starts eventually. It starts very loud. The rain falling onto million of leaves makes an amazing sound. We can hear the rain. But we can’t feel it. It’s amazing.

The forest blocks most of the rain. If you look through some windows in the forest you see how heavy it’s actually raining. But not much reaches us on the ground. In some areas where the forest isn’t that thick, you do get a shower. But there are some trees with massive leaves where you can stand and won’t get a single drop. It’s a nice experience. We keep on walking. Careful while stepping onto roots that are now extra slippery.

Thunder. Not the sound you want to hear while being in a forest walking underneath the highest trees you’ve ever seen. But no place to „hide“. So keep walking. Keep smiling.

For the last part, we put our rain jackets on. Quite a bit of rain is falling through now. We’re hoping we’re close to the end now.

After 7,5 hours of hiking in the jungle, we finally reach our car again. Exhausted and tired but smiling because we’re proud of what we achieved today.

Bhukit Fraser is a little piece of paradise in the middle of the jungle. I can recommend anyone doing a trip up there if you’re in Malaysia. There are lots of different hiking trails up on Fraser hill, the easiest one is just a walk around the golf course. The most challenging one is the one we did. And even if you’re not into hiking, just come up enjoy the forest, the fresh air, and the sound of the jungle.

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I am a traveler. Photographer. Writer. Teacher. Skydiving instructor. Adventure enthusiast. Nature lover. And fell in love with the African continent. My stories go around travel, nature and all kinds of adventurous activities.

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