Malaysia, land of rainforest, beaches and… hamlets? David Lavoie journeys to Bukit Fraser, a lesser-known highland.
High in the hills of the Titiwangsa Range, straddling the Pahang-Selangor border, is the tiny town of Bukit Fraser. It is named for an early Scottish buccaneer, Louis James Fraser, who in the 1890’s hacked his way through the hills searching for gold and other precious metals. What he found at the summit of the hill now named after him was tin ore and tranquility. Quickly establishing a mine, he hired Chinese coolies to work it and then shrewdly provided an opium and gambling den to relieve them of the burden of the wages which he had paid for their grueling work. A quarter of a century later, Fraser mysteriously disappeared leaving everything behind him.
A search party from Singapore found the camp completely deserted, but soon realized the potential of the site as a hill station. By 1922, Fraser’s Hill was a popular destination for those seeking relief from the clammy heat and humidity of the lowlands.
Even today its peaceful tranquility, quaint Tudor charm and walks in lush, primitive rainforests are all balms to the city-battered spirit. So is the temperature. At 1,260 metres above sea level, the temperature ranges from 17–25 celsius. The air is humid and it’s often foggy, especially in the late afternoon, but that is part of the magical atmosphere.
Although it’s generally acknowledged that Fraser’s Hill is still a sleepy hamlet, it’s not without things to do. It’s possible to cycle, ride horseback, boat, jungle trek, and even practice archery in this private paradise. For the less adventurous, there are places such as The Smokehouse, or Scots, a genial tavern, to sit, chat and nurse a chilled beer or three. For accommodation, apart from Ye Olde Smokehouse, Fraser’s Silverpark Resort, Fraser’s Pine resort and the Puncak Inn, there are several government bungalows open to the public. We stayed at Ye Olde Smokehouse and can heartily recommend it. The hotel is situated in a building constructed in 1924 partly by the Red Cross and partly by The Order of St. John of Jerusalem in England for the benefit of the men of Malaya who served in the war of 1914–1918.
It is charmingly old-fashioned and full of stuffed furniture, pressed-back chairs, tiny tea tables and paintings of long-skirted ladies showing a bit of delicately turned ankle as they waltz. The dining room is famous for its English style roasts. Each of the hotels has a restaurant of course, but there are at least two other welcome choices. “Scots” is a pleasant tavern in the centre of town which serves quite good western-style food. Near the children’s playground on Pine Tree Road is a food court which offers a variety of Asian cuisine should that be your desire. Also be sure to have tea at Ye Olde Smokehouse. You’ll love the freshly baked scones served with clotted Devonshire cream and homemade strawberry jam.
Good meals require some exercise to work off their effects and there are a number of walking trails perfect for this purpose. The short Abu Suradi Trail starts near the Jelai Resort and drops with some steepness at the end to the main road. Across from it The Hemnant trail running from the mosque to Ledegham road near the golf course is a pleasant walk with only a few moderately steep sections. It’s a favourite for bird-watchers. The Bishop’s Trail which contains a number of fairly steep sections and is not so well maintained as The Hemnant Trail.
Two other trails worth being noted are The Mager Trail and The Rompin Trail. The latter is simply a set of steps leading down a steep slope from the start near The Olde
Smokehouse, but it affords some lovely views of the different flora of the rainforest but do bring along a pair of leech socks (available from the Malaysian Nature Society www.mns.my).
About it all is a sense of the history of Fraser’s Hill. Even the street, road and trail names echo the past; Lady Guillemard Road, Bishop’s House, Abu Suradi Trail, Allen’s Water, Muar Cottage, all recall people who helped shape this marvelous place. The bishop, for instance, was C.J Ferguson-Davie, Bishop of Singapore who sent the search party to look for the missing Fraser and so quickly recognized the potential of the place as a hill station. Abu bin Suradi was an entrepreneur who was issued a mining lease in 1899 and constructed a bridle path from the golf course to his home near the present Maybank Lodge to transport his ore. The bridle path, now a trekking trail, still bears his name.
Crawling up the winding road to Fraser’s Hill, one can only wonder how Fraser, and the other early settlers, did it. What struggles must they have endured even to get here? How did they find this piece of heaven? Did they know that they would leave it for us to find too?
Although the town now boasts some excellent hotels, it does not otherwise seem to have changed its isolated nature since those early days and the reason is simple; Fraser’s Hill is singularly hard to reach. The gateway to the Gap Road which leads eventually to Fraser’s Hill is the town of Kuala Kubu Baru. From the town on up the road is a hair-raising series of narrow, twisting turns. Given the speed of some drivers, it is imperative to approach all hair-pin curves with extreme caution. From the Gap Road, the turn-off to Bukit Fraser proves even more daunting for the faint of heart. The road twisting to the summit of the hill is so narrow that it can be used in only one direction at a time. Going up the Fraser Road is open to traffic on odd hours (7:00. 9:00 etc.) and going down it is open on even hours only. The first forty minutes of each hour allows traffic to proceed through a green signal in the appropriate direction. Since the journey of eight kilometers takes about twenty minutes either way, this systm assures no unwelcome surprises when travelling in either direction.
Places to stay
Hotels & Resorts:
Check out www.pahangtourism.com.my/accomodation/fraser.html
All of these hotels can also be booked at www.journeymalaysia.com/ highfraserrezab.htm
Fraser’s Pine Resort: 09.3622 122
Ye Olde Smokehouse: 09.3622 226
Fax: 09.3622 035
Puncak Inn: 09.3622 201
Silverpark Resort: www.frasersilverpark.com
Bungalows: Fraser’s Hill Development
Corporation; 09.3622 044
Source: The Expat December 2010
This article has been edited for ExpatGomalaysia.com
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