Return to Titti Wangsa

Leaving behind Tamra Negara before dawn I ignored the temptation of a return boat ride. Instead I took the quiet roads south along the banks of the river Tembeling. Rushing south over the hilly landscape through isolated Kampongs and Orang Asli settlements. Stopping at a banana stand a cheeky older woman helped herself to one from my bunch with the arched eyebrow, incomprehensible innuendo and insistent stare of a practiced flirt. Inevitable palm oil encroachments followed as I closed in on the main road west from Jerantut.

Heat rose, humidity cloyed, but no solace from mid day sun was sought. Gripped by a mad dog's longing I pressed onwards unwilling to stop before I had retraced the Lipis river road section I had ridden two days prior.

With sweat stung eyes noticing afternoon shadows stretching I veered into one of the small road side cafes that dot Malay roads and rewarded my westward dash with shade and a cold drink. Touching the ice filled glass first to my forehead and then rolling it across my abdomen a sharp pain fired. Muscles knotted oddly under the glass and I became dizzy. The moment passed but I resolved to take a little more time over cooling off. 

Fortunately my race was almost run and I was a mere 25k from my planned destination. Returning to my earlier strategy of scuttling from shade to shade it was not long before I rolled into the shabby chic of Kuala Lipis.
  The already colourful Chinese frontage downtown, enhanced by New Year preparations. 

A once thriving gold mining town, and briefly the state capital under the British. Lipis is a mid-west prom queen of Nowhereville. Approaching her dotage and maintaining herself in the face of advancing irrelevance. While lacking wow the brightly painted facades are faded but the civic roadside plantings charm.

The muddy might of Sungai Lipis meets the Sungai Jelai beside the town.

I took a room at a rundown guesthouse, not at all influenced by the prospect of a having access to a TV to watch Liverpool play Tottenham, and busied myself with unglamorous necessity: Washing clothes in the sink, clipping toenails and a trip to the supermarket. 
The grocery run was surprisingly enjoyable. At the risk of descending into banal exclamations of 'ooh look dear they have different brands here' it was exciting to see the piles of dried fish stretching for aisle upon aisles in an otherwise so familiar setting.

A post match walk through the towns quiet evening was given a hitchcockian flavour under the covered sidewalks. 
Starlings and swallows perch ominously on exposed wires and under every awning.

Occasional staccato bursts of recorded swallow chirps playing abrasively from the blacked out windows of second floor windows to entice swallows and disconcert gweilos adding a further twilight zone ambiance.

Leaving Lipis the next morning plantations stretched for miles and miles. A desert you can feel and hear. 

Hot and silent.

Perhaps again I stray into orientalism. After all the palm oil plantations are at root acres upon acres of trees. A carbon sink and important employer. The English countryside, all idealised visions of hedgerows, seas of cereals and splashes of rape seed, too covers land that once existed as complex and productive eco-systems. Yet the brutality of vast mono-culture hacked through swathes of pristine forest has happened so swiftly here that not even the lip gloss of animal adaptation has had time to be applied.

It was with relief that the morning passed and I emerged back into the cool forests of Pahang.

Thrusting Karsks enlivening the landscape

Even the renewed cool from the forested hills couldn't alieviate the noon day sun and as the mercury hovered around 39° I sought the shade.

Animal assaults both welcome and painful commenced as I dozed and eventually persuaded me to push on with the sun still high.

A rewarding decision as I descended to meet the confluence of Sungai Bertau and Keciv and found the charming Kampong Saran. Revived by ice tea and a quick paddle in the river I set off again only to find myself drift to a halt not five kilometers up the road. Body and mind had spoken, Too tired for the afternoon leg I u-turned and rolled back into the Kampong and was allowed to camp in the pretty gardens of a small business just outside the main hut huddle.
Impressively large spiders hung from the trees all around and after a languid late afternoon stroll to chat with the locals I returned to my digs by torch light and marveled at the diamond strewn lawn studded with the shinning eyes of hundreds of smaller arachnids.
A delightfully foggy morning followed as I set about the delayed task of climbing back up into the Titti Wangsa range via the Bertram Valley en route to the Cameron Highlands.

Does the road wind up hill all the way?
Yes to the very end.
Will the journey tak the whole long day?
From morn to night my friend.
~C.G Rossetti

Looking at the map I'd envisioned a quiet, untouched, verdant valley in which to make my assent. This turned out to be a lesson in unhelpful expectation despite the pretty Orang Asli villages clinging to the steep sides of the lower reaches. A large damning operations and intense cultivation combined with steady traffic meant I could focus on the task of climbing unencumbered by conventionally pretty views.  

Saturday meant the vegetable and flower growers were out in force as visitors from the lowland cities crowded the streets

01:00 ticked around and I had covered 50kilometers of remorseless gradient. I was closing in on my prize when a friendly gent pulled over and offered me a lift. Part of me was keen to finish the climb but there are few things more resolve sapping than recollections of a lift turned down. I was now the cycling equivalent of an hitherto un-contacted tribesman; corrupted by the sight of easy living and unwilling to return to previous ways. I hopped in the back. Good thing too. I was Exhausted.

10 minutes later he pulled into Ringet and I jumped out looking forward to a less taxing last leg through the highlands into Tanah Rata. Once again hopeful expectation was foiled as, after a cruelly brief decent, I found myself climbing again. There would be no let up.

Fortunately the views here were more than enough to distract me from my toils. 
The famed tea plantations of the Cameron Highlands.

You will I hope note the blazing inconsistency in my mooning over this cultivation while bemoaning the palm plantations. But then it will come as news to few that in the presence of a pretty thing with gorgeous curves my mind fairly turns to mush.

I mean really, it is rather gorgeous

Naturally I stopped to sample the wares but inexplicably the tea cafe is closed on Saturdays. So I made do with a brief sojourn in their shady terrace sipping water and drinking in the views.

I dragged myself away and ground out the last of the acent

The Camron Highland's colonial heritage means mock tudor reigns supreme on old and new buildings alike.

Arriving in Tanah Rata I was pointed towards a camp on the outskirt of town by two friendly Malay cyclists. On arrival I was greeted by a dutch bicycle tourer and a very friendly owner. 

Two Ringet a night was more than reasonable for such a pretty secluded spot but in any case my efforts to pay were met with a smiling shake of the head.

A cool running stream and the urgent calls of cicadas provided the background music for a night of stories shared around the camp fire. 

The sloughed exoskeletons of the upwardly mobile cicadas

Cicada molting animated-2.gif
In action

The glorious forest treasures required exploration.

 I spent the next two days walking the trails alone and with my new dutch friend.

These highland forests had a completely different feel and texture to the lush lowland jungle and secondary forests of the hills. Fecund and decaying in equal measure these mountaintops had a web of life all of their own.
Moving forward the mossy floor became impossibly deep like waking on clouds of shag carpet. Inches of give and spring under each step.

Fallen trees, drifts of leaf litter, tangled roots and fungi matted together with moss to create an elfin landscape above the soft carpet with jutting detritus spires on all sides like pillars.

Peering down through holes in the moss catacombs revealed themselves. The city streets of swamp built cities like Chicago have subsided down to become the foundations of the buildings above. Here a hidden underworld throngs with insects weho thriving in the decomposing remains of previous forest tenants.

The glorious cool and enchanting architecture of the forest was irresistible. Sit, listen, read and snooze in the soft mouldy chairs

So I did

Overview: Days 1: circa 110km
                 Day 2: circa 45km
                 Day 3: circa 90km
                 Rest day

* routes are made using googlemaps autocomplete. Accuracy may be less than perfect


  1. I've watched that cicada five times now - fab!
    You really capture the colours,mighty, sounds and humidity of wonderful Malaysia.
    Thank you Tom. Juliet x

  2. Fabulous post! Loved it! What an adventure you are having. :)