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Saturday, July 11, 1998

Off The Beaten Track Cemeruh Waterfalls  

Simply out of this world

In the hinterlands of Terengganu, Andrew Sia tumbles down rocky rivers and sits under thundering waterfalls. The Cemeruh waterfalls a breathtaking 305m cascade, thunders of the mountains of Hulu Dungun, Terengganu, inviting all to sample its delight. Even 'waterfall connoisseurs' have fallen swearing that it's 'not something you expect to see in real life.'  
Terengganu's inner beauty    


Saturday, July 11, 1998 Off the Beaten Track 

Terengganu's inner beauty

Story and Pictures by Andrew Sia 

ARE you game for an adventure featuring magnificent waterfalls, bamboo rafting and jungle trekking in Terengganu? The state has long been associated with coral islands and picture perfect beaches but not its freshwater delights. Take a better look inland after your snorkelling or diving holiday and you will find one very good reason to stay on: the majestic Cemeruh waterfalls.  

So when Ping Anchorage, a travel outfit in Kuala Terengganu, invited the WeekEnder along for a look-see, one reporter with travelitis simply had to go. This is the blow-by-blow account:  


THE trip was organised for some 20-odd ODACians (pronounced audacians), a group of 17-year-olds from the Outdoor Adventure Club of Singapore's Raffles Junior College.  

We met up in Kuala Terengganu at the sleepless World Cup hour of 8am, with Kampung Pasir Raja in Hulu Dungun as the destination. The bus took two hours to get there, the latter half of the trip passing through hilly forested roads overlooking the Dungun river.  

Jungle trekking 
Students abselling down a slope with the help of prepared ropes. of course. 

Upon arrival, we trudged in for 30 minutes with our backpacks to Bumbung Raja, a picturesque riverside camping ground. Talk about a luxury campsite, what with toilets, bathrooms plus wood-like concrete benches and tables. All the tents had been set up and best of all, there were even little safari beds!  

While the ever efficient students organised themselves, I dived into the cool waters for some swimming, a reflexology walk along the pebbled riverbed and a spot of body rafting -- drifting face up and feet downstream.  

Bumbung Raja is named after a traditional fishing method where an attap roof is put over the water, attracting fish to the shade. A wall of split bamboo is built around the roof to trap the fish, kelong style.  

"No fishing with nets is allowed here now. Only sport fishing with rods is permissible," revealed Ibrahim Salim, one of the guides. "In the past five years, loggers and others came in by the timber road and used poison to fish. This is now designated as a fisheries regeneration area."  

After lunch, we trekked for some 45 minutes through secondary forests and scrubland to Sungai Pertang, a tributary of the Dungun river. Through gaps in the trees, the sun created patches of translucent jade water, over which butterflies -- orange, blue, mottled green and striped grey -- danced.  

"The waters here are clear because there is no logging upstream," said Ibrahim, who grew up in Kampung Pasir Raja. "But in Bumbung Raja, the water is a bit murky due to logging in the upper reaches of the Dungun river. I can only hope that the authorities will not allow Sungai Pertang to be silted up, otherwise my job as a guide habislah (is finished)."  

While petroleum-rich Terengganu may or may not listen to such pleas, the sing-dollar-spending ODACians spent the afternoon frolicking in the cool waters rushing over the rocks.  

After we returned that evening, camp opulence greeted us once more -- in the form of a first class seafood barbeque with lemang (bamboo rice), all prepared by the cooks.  


IT WAS waterfall day. After a sumptuous breakfast, we set out in two vans and arrived at the Cemeruh forest in barely half an hour. The trees -- among them mighty merantis and keruings -- were gloriously intact.  

Ibrahim and Abdul Rahman, the other guide, were walking encyclopaedias of sorts as far as local plants were concerned. They pointed out the embok tree (like the sago palm, the pith is edible), palas palms (the leaves are used for a type of attap roof), trees with roots used to cure coughs, as well as the condong vine.  

The latter vine has an aromatic pith, and when certain "conditions" are right, it seems four digit punters use it in their "prayers". But the most intriguing sight in this hill dipterocarp forest were the proliferating cups of the pitcher plant spilling down from vines over rocks and earth.  

Bamboo rafting 
Four ODACians trying to stop the raft while guide Abdul Rahman (in the water) is ready to lend a hand. 

The leisurely trek took some two hours and along the way we could hear roaring waters. There were at least five major cascades and up to 20 smaller rapids before the Big One.  

Hills were scaled, valleys traversed and slopes were abseiled (a plus point here: all the difficult stretches have been roped up).  

On the final stretch, we rounded a corner and then ... The Sight hit us.  

A stupendous fall tumbling off the East Coast mountain range elicited spontaneous oohs, ahhs and wah-lau-ehhs from everyone. 305 metres of white water streaked down sheer rockfaces (as a comparison, the KL Tower is 421 metres high) before smashing into a cloud of spray.  

With our faces bathed in natural ionised air and our stomachs hungry from trekking, the nasi lemak packed lunches were elevated to gourmet heights.  

There were lucid glassy pools downstream crying out for someone to take a dip, but everyone, quite understandably, wanted to climb as close as possible to the main falls.  

Even a waterfall connoisseur such as myself, having seen the likes of many, many Malaysian cascades, had to admit that this was surely among the best in the country. As Shirin Kalimuddin, the ODAC secretary, described, "It's like an advertisement. Not something we expect to see in real life."  


NEVER had I slept better, after the sloshy all-nighter. Of a downpour, that is. Today was bamboo rafting day. After breakfast, we trekked downstream to get past the rockier sections of the river.  

It turned into an impromptu know-your-kampung-flora-walk as Rahman and Ibrahim pointed out trees such as duku, jambu and assam belimbing (a delicious fruit that has the consistency of starfruit but the taste of tamarind). And all I ever wanted to know about the differences between jungle and domesticated mangosteen trees, but was afraid to ask, was also clarified by the guides.  

We arrived at the riverside assembly point and everyone was divided into groups of three to storm (okay, to gingerly board) the rafts with their bright orange lifejackets.  

Because of the rain, the river was swift and swollen. But that is not to say that the river was all that menacing.  

When I jabbed in the bamboo pole, most parts of the riverbed were no deeper than one metre, and it was easier to control the raft here than in the tempestuous waters of northern Thailand (where bamboo rafting is a major event on those hill tribe tours).  

However, some of the ODACians were unable to shake off the canoeing mindset and, rather amazingly, asked "Are we supposed to paddle with the poles?" The initial 15 minutes were rather muddled, as the students struggled to get a grip on things, and two or three rafts ended up making 180 degree turns.  

In bamboo rafting, unlike boats with keels, if the front person poles to the left, the rearguard has to do the same, so that the whole raft can clear corners or mid-river rocks in time. And obstacles have to be anticipated very early on.  

The rafting session ended after some two and a half hours, and we flopped down gratefully for our soy sauce chicken rice packed lunch. Then it was time for the Long March back to base camp.  

After 90 minutes we reached a kampung tea shop. Boy, civilisation, in the form of newspapers and and a strong cup of teh ais never felt more comfortably familiar. After being cut off from the outside world for two days, I devoured a copy of Utusan Malaysia only to be shocked to read that Brazil had lost to Norway.  

It was another two-hour trek back but the monotony was broken by the guides pointing out sireh plants and tapioca-like leaves used to wrap tapai (a fermented form of glutinous rice).  


WE were supposed to trek up to a hot spring, but everyone seemed tired so the destination was changed to the nearer Sungai Pertang. An impromptu fishing session with bamboo rods was organised but the pickings were poor and the students eventually dunked themselves into the cool waters instead.  

We returned to camp, dismantled the tents and, much to everyone's delight, the lorry volunteered to take us out to the waiting bus. Like market-bound cattle, we jumped up and then the ODACians audaciously burst out in a loud chorus of Terima Kasih to the smiling guides.  

The self-powered giant skateboard tumbled over rough roads, and the standing herd, with much whooping and cheering, ducked branches and wires while trying to keep balance. It was a fitting finale to our Terengganu adventure.  


CHEN Shiling, the ODAC chairperson, was generally impressed.  

"It was very enjoyable. This is the first time some of us are going to a waterfall. Compared to crowded overseas tours, this one is peaceful amidst nature."  

"I was impressed with the guides' knowledge of trees. They were friendly and explained things to us. I would recommend this trip to other outdoor adventure clubs."  

The facilities for the trip, far from being inadequate, were in fact too luxurious for the students.  

"We were shocked when we arrived and saw all the tents ready," recounted Shirin. "We thought we were going to make our own tents and cook our own bamboo rice."  

(However, according to Ibrahim, the over-hospitality came about because of a miscommunication.)  

Luo Yanyu, the club's vice-chairperson, added that they would have liked to tie their own bamboo rafts. "But we don't know how long the rafts would last on the trip downriver!"  

This 4 days/3 nights package is being offered for RM340 per person. A 3 days/2 nights package minus the rafting is available for RM280. For details, call Ping Anchorage at 09-626-2020 or fax 09-626-2022. 


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