Hot springs, rapids and the worldâ€™s biggest flower added up to three days of fun for a group of schoolchildren from Kuala Lumpur. JOHN TIONG went along for the ride
IT was a school outing with a difference for 37 lower secondary pupils of the Wesley Methodist School in Sentul, Kuala Lumpur. They travelled some 400km by bus and truck and spent a few days in some of the most interesting and challenging nature spots in Perak.
They had three objectives â€” to look for the worldâ€™s largest flower, the rafflesia, to help the Semai Orang Asli paint their church and to rubber-tube down a stretch of rapids along Sungai Geroh.
The first stop was the hot springs park at Sungai Klah, Sungkai where the children had a splashing good time. Refreshed, they continued on to Gopeng where they boarded trucks for the Gopeng Nature Resort (now renamed My Gopeng Resort) in the hilly region of Ulu Geroh. This was where their real adventure began.
Sungai Klah Hot Springs Park
The hot springs park, the largest in Malaysia, is spread over 15 acres of beautifully landscaped gardens. The schoolchildren had a great time running from pool to pool, both small and large, set among oil palm trees, colourful flowering shrubs, giant ferns and herbs such as tongkat ali and misai kuching.
There is an irresistible charm at the hot springs with the Titiwangsa Range in the distance. A boardwalk near the entrance gives one a view of the source of the hot springs and how the water is fed into the various pools.
White vapours rise and curl along the boardwalk around oneâ€™s feet. A pavilion serves as an open spa with hot vapour rising between the floor planks.
The park, owned and managed by Plantation Resorts, is popular with not only the locals but also foreign visitors, including those from Japan and Korea.
Its marketing and tour executive, Razali Hassan, fascinated us with a story of supernatural beings taking baths at the hot springs. â€œBelieve it or not, there are staff members who have seen these things here,â€ he said.
The childrenâ€™s favourite spot was a large, knee-deep mountain spring pool with refreshingly cool water. Here, a giant, man-made octopus with a slide between its huge tentacles was the main attraction.
There is another large pool where one can relax in hot spring water. The pools have varying temperatures with some running between 40Â° and 50Â° Celsius. Some stretches of the natural hot spring are a little more than 100Â° Celsius and you can even boil eggs here.
There are six family-oriented spas â€“ two superior and four regular â€“ for those who prefer some privacy. The superior spas can accommodate 10 people and cost RM50 an hour. The regular spas (RM25 an hour) can accommodate seven people.
Hot springs are promoted as part of health tourism as the mineral-rich waters are said to help people with skin problems and rheumatism.
The park also has a reflexology walkway with sharp pebbles in hot spring water. Various forms of Malay, Thai and Chinese massages are also available. Itâ€™s most relaxing to indulge in a massage, surrounded by singing birds and mountain air.
There is a cafe built over a pool where fish are reared for the menu. Burger stalls can also be found in the park.
Sungai Klah Hot Springs Park is open everyday between 8am and 10pm. Entrance fees are RM3 for children below 12, RM5 for adults (12-59 years old), RM4 for senior citizens and RM1 for the handicapped.
There are five villas for those who want to stay over. Three units have single rooms while the others have double rooms. The best thing is that these have individual hot pools. Plantation Resorts plans to build 64 chalets by August to meet the increasing demand for rooms. For details, log on to www.plantationresorts.com.my
How To Get There: On the North-South Expressway, get off at the Sungkai toll exit and turn left. Just 1km down the trunk road, turn left and follow the signs for 16.5km or 20mins. The park is after the Sungai Klah Felda village.
The lane leading to Gopeng Nature Resort is narrow and on a hilly slope, making it necessary to travel on trucks rather than buses. The 12km stretch can be a nerve-racking experience especially when a vehicle is just inches away from a ravine. But for the schoolchildren and teachers, standing in the back of the trucks was fun and exciting.
The next day, we joined the Semai during service at the Shalom Church. We exchanged presents with them and helped them paint the church which stood by a crystal clear river with plenty of boulders.
Hunt For Rafflesia
After all this fun came the hard part â€” looking for the rafflesia. The toughest part was the climb up the leech-infested trail of Bukit Kinta Forest Reserve.
It took an hour to trek through the jungle and another hour to climb a steep slope before we found a brown flower that was about to wither. So, some of the students decided to go further and they finally found a fresh red rafflesia.
The rafflesia blooms for only a few days. When it first opens, it is a bright orange-red in colour and emits a stench similar to that of a rotting carcass to attract insects. There are 20 species of rafflesia in Malaysia and that found in Ulu Geroh is the Rafflesia R cantleyi.
Our Semai guide had a vast knowledge of herbs. He said the Orang Asli women used the rafflesia to help them get back into shape after giving birth. He also had keen eyes for insects and quickly dipping his hands into some leaves, he pulled out a rickety â€˜stickâ€™ insect about 1ft long.
To help climbers, ropes are tied from tree to tree but on some stretches, there were no ropes and some of us struggled to find our balance. It was also slippery because of an earlier drizzle. Unlike us city folks though, the young Semai girls seemed to skip along the slopes with ease.
One schoolgirl was in tears but she finally decided to go on, motivated perhaps by the schoolâ€™s deputy principal, 58-year-old Goh Kai Lian, who picked herself up when she slipped and continued without complaining.
Our disappointment at the fading rafflesia was somewhat dissipated when we came across a host of Rajah Brooke Birdwing butterflies skimming the water near the river. It was a lovely sight indeed.
The most enjoyable part of the trip was the time when the students braved a choppy stretch of Sungai Geroh astride a giant rubber tube. The challenging ride lasted only two minutes before the churning water flowed into a calmer stretch. Sungai Geroh joins Sungai Kampar and some parts are suitable for kayaking and rafting.
Guards were posted along the river just in case the children could not control their ride and got swept into a more treacherous part of the river.
Where the water was calm, some of the students swam while many were content with just a dip. Others played by the riverbank and one boy even buried himself in the sand.
How To Get There: Exit the Gopeng Interchange of the North-South Highway near Ipoh and drive to Gopeng town. Gopeng Nature Resort in Ulu Geroh is about 30 minutes away.
The writerâ€™s trip to Sungai Klah Hot Springs Park and Ulu Geroh was arranged by Grandlotus Travel Agencies Sdn Bhd. Tel: 03-2070 0300 or visit www.airlotus.com