Monday 10 February 2014

Trek To Fraser's Hill By Planes,Trains, Automobiles and Buses

I always look forward to getting away, so when the opportunity came to disappear for a few days to West Malaysia I jumped at it.  My wife was asked to speak at a conference on the environment at Fraser's Hill, so I would tag along to do some much needed walking. 

Leaving Sandakan at 9.40 a.m.  for the 2 hour 45 minute' flight with the aircraft on time was a good start.  I tend to fly Air Asia these days as they are at times half the cost of MAS and apart from their lousy terminal in KL, fine to fly with. 

After an uneventful flight, we looked for a bus to take us to the KL Sentral station - the main meeting of all rail lines for West Malaysia.  So far so good; about an hour later, we're on the KTM Komuter platform bound for Kuala Kubu Bharu, a small town North of KL.  This place as the crow flies or by private car is only  a journey of some 60 kilometres but due to the state of the line, a 2-hour trip and not only that a two-train trip.  Four stations before our destination we had to change trains in Rawang.  Sounds simple but, with my ever suspicious mind I noticed the station markers above the door that flashed red when you have passed a station and green for the ones not reached, showed KKB on the same line.  

"Hmm..."  I thought out aloud.  "Does this mean this train does go all the way to KKB?"   

The last thing I wanted was to get off to discover we could have stayed on the train and saved a half an hour.  My wife had been told by one of the participants of the conference that you needed to change trains, but I wasn't convinced.  I pestered her to ask some intelligent looking commuter whether this was so.  Reluctantly, she did and to my relief, he said the train would continue on to our destination without the need to change.  I had a self-assured smirk on my face. We proceed until just before arrival at Rawang, the train auto voice announced those who wanted to continue to KKB needed to alight and transfer to Platform 2.  Wife 1 me 0.  Of course the train didn’t arrive on the said platform 2 but platform 3; despite that we managed to catch it.

About 4 p.m., we arrived at the KKB station which was nowhere near the town centre.  We had been told there would be taxis here to take us the final 30 odd kilometres up into the mountains, but all we found was a driver with his privately owned car who was willing to do so. 

The final leg up is extremely windy and not for those with a weak stomach.  Along the way, you will see the occasional Pigtailed Macaque scavenging at the side of the road from rubbish disposed by passing vehicles.

Now you might be wondering why this place is called Fraser's Hill.  No doubt you have worked out somebody called Fraser founded it and you will be right. 

Centre of Fraser's Hill

In the late 1800's Louis James Fraser a Scotsman came across the region looking for gold. He didn't find any but did discover rich tin deposits.  With the aid of Chinese miners, he established a series of mines on the top of the hill as well as an opium and gambling den to extract back the wages he payed the workers.  Obviously, he became too successful, for he went missing a number of years later and was never seen again.  

By the 1920's, the hill was established as a summer retreat for the wealthy colonials who revelled in its cool misty climate.

The last 8 kilometres is a one way twisting track that lifts itself from the bottom of the valley onto the top of the thick jungle-laden range.

The town itself is underwhelming, a central clock tower marking the centre with some original colonial buildings, a few ordinary looking hotels / resorts and a nine-hole golf course. 

The real highlight here is not the manmade structures, but the intact natural forest and wildlife.

After checking into the hotel and seeing about the program for the next day's conference, we settled in for a quiet night.  Well, almost quiet if it wasn’t for the room full of men next door who wanted to scream at each other for no apparent reason other than to be noisy and the family with 2 inconsolable children that didn’t seem to appreciate the ambiance of the place. 
After breakfast, my wife went off to her meeting whilst I decided to go bush walking.  Before  she left, I received a stern warning that the jungle was a dangerous place to get lost in, especially this place as it has a history of people getting lost.  Of course, I scoffed at the suggestion this could possibly became my fate as I was a bush walker of some 40 years experience and besides the paths would be well maintained and easy to use as they were open to the general public.

Little did I know... 

To placate my wife, I said I would text her my intended route which in hindsight was an excellent move. 

The first walk I decided on was Hemmant trail just behind the golf course and a short 500 metres long.  The path was relatively flat and wide at first that crossed a number of small streams.  There had been guide ropes in place at some stage but most of these were no longer attached to the post that held them.  Needless to say, the crossing would have been easier with them although not impossible for an able bodied 57 year old to transverse. Feeling confident I pressed on.  I passed an old Japanese communication centre from the last war and saw numerous small birds of various species darting through the dense undergrowth.  The occasional glimpse of the golf course let me know exactly where I was.  In a very short while, I was at the end of the trail so proceeded to find the entrance for my second sojourn.  Starting at the forest, 200 metres up the road from the end of the Hemmant trail was Bishops trail.  It was well signposted giving plenty of information about the area.  A little way in, I caught sight of some leaf monkeys feeding on ( I think) leaves at the top of ginormous tree.  There were other numerous rustling sounds coming from the surrounding jungle although I could not see anything because of the density.  The macaque called constantly to each other in the valley, so it gave me a sense of the primitive.  I was alone in fact during the duration of the walks, I saw no other person.  Man Vs Wild… well not quite but you get the picture. 

Spider hunter

The track after the first half kilometre deteriorated markedly and I found myself climbing over or going under fallen trees and bamboo and it had become a lot more slippery due to some light morning rain.

At this stage, if my wife was with me, I would have had to turn back.  Where I am a little too gung-ho at times, she is much more cautious.  The track was passible but the going was not that pleasant.  Anyway to cut a long story short, I ploughed on and in due course managed to reach the end intact.  

This is where I should have stopped but…

The end of Bishop’s Trail (can’t imagine too many Bishops walking it) was the start of Maxwells.  The small map I had with me was little more than a diagram with little detail.  It told me this walk was about 2 kilometres long and ended at the local Tamil school at the base of the hill I was on.  

“No problems,” I said to myself.  I was a little dirty by now, scummed my knee on a branch of a fallen tree, but most importantly kept the camera intact.

I pressed on like an explorer awaiting his fate.

The track was level and wide at first and except for the occasional fallen tree trunk and bamboo thicket, it was ok.

About the half way mark, things changed.  

Sunlight streaming through the treetop canopy

The track started to descend to the valley floor and narrowed appreciably.  It was very slow going and I found holding my SLR camera annoying as it prevented me from using one of my hands to steady.  The path did have guide ropes on the steeper sections, though almost of all them were not anchored to their original positions. 

At one stage a massive tree blocked the route; too big to climb over and with the gap underneath too small for me to fit, I had to dig a bigger hole under to scamper through.  I was now hot and thirsty having broken rule number one when walking in the wilderness - bring water. 

The track became quite steep with the edges collapsing if my foot got too close. 

You may well ask why I kept going.  A very good question indeed.  I have been known to be a little pigheaded at times and this was one such occasion.  Pride got in the way of common sense and I was determined to finish.

Onwards I pressed until the unthinkable occurred, the path seemed to vanish. I turned around but couldn’t make out any discernible markers.  I ventured another 10 metres hoping to reestablish the route when disaster occurred.

You know the moment when you're on your feet walking forward and without warning, find yourself face down on the earth.  I slid maybe only a few metres down a slope until a tree impeded my decent.  I remember hearing a cracking sound coming from my left ankle and feeling a sharp hot stabbing pain like being struck by a poker that had just come out of the fire.  

Stunned for a second or two, I attempted getting to my feet, but found it impossible.  Panic? Not quite, but a feeling of great unease came over me. 

My wife was having her big day and I was lost and injured in the jungle.  Ohhhh.  What a fool!

Fortunately I could hear cars passing that seemed not too far away and that spurred me on.  I sat for a few minutes and looked at my ankle.  It was swollen especially on the outer aspect, but appeared to be inline with the other one.  I found a vine nearby and used it to pull myself up but as soon as I attempted to walk, I fell down again.  The third attempt, I managed to stay on my feet and discovered I could weight bear a little and with the aid of a small branch I found myself scrambling down the slope looking for a way out.  It became quickly apparent that approach wasn’t going to work.The jungle was closing in the further I went. 

I climbed again with some difficulty and decided to move parallel with the slop in what I thought might be the direction of the descending path.  After traversing a small knoll, there it was.  My heart missed a beat and a sense of relief descended over me.  Five minutes later I hobbled onto the road and slowly dragged my left foot the 2.5 kilometres back to my hotel. 
Wife 2 Me 0.

Fungi growing on a dead log

The remainder of the day, I lay in bed after seeing the local first-aid man who filled me up with medication and bandaged my ankle. 

My wife’s meeting went very well, so I was very thankful I didn’t spoil it for her.  If I had been further up the track or had severely sprained or broken my ankle, then things might have turned out a lot worse.

The remainder of the trip was uneventful and we had a pleasant though short stay in Fraser’s Hill.

I will recommend the place to anyone, but with one proviso - stay well clear of Maxwell's trail.

PS. Just this morning, I read how Maxwell's trail is infestered with leeches, so not too many  people bother to walk it.  Ohhhh if only I had known.


  1. Glass to see you survived to tell the tale Alister :-)

  2. Thanks David, How's life treating you?

  3. We're very good thank you. We may be in Thailand in June if you're around? Be great to see you again, don't think we'll be able to make it to Malaysia. Congrats on getting married! Hope life's treating you good x


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