Gunung Pulai seen from the south in Kangkar Pulai
Boarding gingerly the monster vehicle after end of farm tour
Freshly opened chempedak
Close up shot of the pulasan fruit
Fruit buffet for our taking
Admittedly, this is a tour not meant for any typical tourist. One has to love the outdoor, prepared to rough it out somewhat and sometimes, have to get wet to really enjoy the trip. In all there were 42 who joined me for this one day trip up north to Johor. We even had a gregarious lady who flew in from New Zealand to join us. Her name is Alison, a Briton who lives in New Zealand and this is what she has penned after her trip and I quote, "Thanks so much for this great and varied trip Collin. Mountain climbing, pampering, the fruit farm and all the lovely food made for a great day. Thanks for info below Kevin- yes definitely in no rush to eat chempedak again!! Great group and lovely to see so many of you again from previous meet-ups too :-)". Hers is not the only good review, we have received good reviews from many in the group too. But this one makes all the more special as she came all the way from New Zealand to experience our local events upclose and personal with us. Such good reviews only inspire organisers like us to roll out more interesting events. Can't rest on my laurel now, have to think of another interesting event to keep going...sweat liao!
The trip was scheduled on 19 Jan, Saturday. It was our first when Chua from Prima Sierra Holidays, my ever reliable Johor service provider proposed a trek to Gunung Pulai followed by a fruit farm tour at Kangkar Pulai which we then put together after a recce trip. I told Chua that I am not planning a 'siong siong' type of trekking but it has to have some element of sweat, challenge but most importantly, doable by anyone, of any gender or any age where everyone will get to experience it through and through. The program is certainly one of its kind which included return coach transfer, lunch, sumptous seafood dinner, fruit farm tour, guided tour and some shopping, among others.
When I posted out the event on SANL meet-up site, I received overwhelming response. In a span of just few days after the posting, I had confirmed 42 people with some still on waitlist. Have to apologise to those who could not make it for this trip as 42 is the maximum number I can take.
We were to assemble at Marsiling MRT station at 0700 hrs on 19 Jan. I planned to take the train, giving an hour to reach Marsiling station before 0700 hrs from my place. It was still raining on Friday evening and I was hoping for the rain to stop on Saturday. I did not pray for good weather, also not in me to pray anyway. When I got up at 0530 hrs, it was still raining...oh dear.
While still on the train to Marsiling, some texted me to inform they had reached Marsiling and asking where to wait and some texted to inform they would be slightly late. As organiser, I expected all these. I did emphasise that we have to arrive on time as our activities followed closely one after another and we have to leave behind any late comer. After marking attendance of those present and sure enough one will be half an hour late after I made a call to her to check on her whereabouts. We were to suppose to leave at 0700 hrs and now, it was already 0730 hrs, can't wait any further. I apologised to her that we had to leave without her. Had I waited, the entire program would be disrupted and that would make the rest very unhappy.
We left at 0730 hrs exactly, already more than half hour later than our scheduled time but we should be able to make up for it. Even at that early hour, there was slight jam building up at the Singapore side and any later, it will be chock-a-block at the causeway being a weekend departure. It took us about half an hour to cross over to the Johor side, well and safe.
After clearing the Johor side, our assigned guide Carl was already waiting and quickly, he went about to introduce himself to us onboard the coach. He spoke eloquently in a slow and patient manner. He is also very knowledgeable with the local attractions and places of interest. I like him immediately. The ride to Gunung Pulai will take us about 45 mins. We had to travel to Kampung Sri Gunung Pulai in the south west region of Johor state where Gunung Pulai is located. It was still raining, not very heavy though. Expecting to cancel the hike due to the rain, Chua was surprised when I told him we will still be hiking up Gunung Pulai. He didn't offer to join us, preferred to see to our other arrangements for the day. Once a hiker; always a hiker, ye!
I will be the lead while Carl will be the sweeper, making sure everyone is accounted for. All came prepared, donning their raincoats prior to the hike but some brought the umbrellas instead. The youngest member in our group is a young girl, Nadine who came with her parents and she is barely 10 years of age. Gunung Pulai stands at 700 metre high and there is a road that will lead us to near the end of the summit. Why just end near the summit and not the summit? Well, it is a restricted zone, nobody is allowed beyond that point and therefore, hike will end at that point. I had scheduled 3 hours to complete the hike, 2 hours up and 1 hour down. The route is 4.8 km to the furthest end measured from the gate and in all, no more than 10 km. 3 hours is more than suffice.
As the lead, I will have to ensure the last person has to make an U-turn back by 1130 hrs. We needed to manage our time well in order to meet our other activities - no choice.
We started at about 0930 hrs and I moved off first with some of them. Stephan, a German national who has been living in Singapore for some 13 years and Carolyn were with me in the front of the pack. Kevin, my outdoor buddy preferred to take his leisure time stayed at the rear with some. Less than 15 minutes into the hike, I stopped briefly for some others to catch up and ensuring everyone was coping fine thus far. Despite the rain everyone was still in a jovial mood and marching on, no sweat literally.
Though we were walking on hard road, it is going up, up and up. The heart will beat faster and faster and breathing heavier and heavier as we continued to press up. I was walking on a faster pace to catch up with the front pack after leaving them at some point earlier. Some trees felled due to soil erosion and the weather did not make it any better, anyway. I warned some along the way to keep a look out for any sign of falling trees.
When I walked past Carolyn, she told me it was a quite challenging route. She is a regular at Bukit Timah hike. There is a path that turns to straight left somewhere in the midway and it is elevated at about 45 degree. This is the most challenging part of the entire route. We had to bend our body forward and slowly pushed up. I did not stop at that turn, gave Carolyn and some whom I passed along the way some encouraging words and pressed on as I was hoping to meet the front pack.
Finally, I managed to catch up with Stephan, Alison and Jia Jun. We chatted on, sharing our own life experiences and what not. At about 1045 hrs, we reached the furthest point and beyond that, it is a restricted zone. It took the first group to arrive in an hour 15 mins. There is no view at the summit. It was cold, was still raining and misty. It just reminded us that we were not in a tropical country but somewhere in cold Europe now. I decided to station at the summit, planned to leave at 1130 hrs just to make sure everyone was accounted for. One by one, they reached the summit and much to my delight, our youngest member, Nadine made it with her parents too. Her parents must be proud of her feat too though they didn't say, can tell from their expressions.
Finally our sweeper Carl, who was also our guide reached the summit and it was about 1115 hrs. We were well ahead of our intended turn back schedule. I told him I will move off first while he still covered the rear. I decided to jog in bid to catch up with the rest and to see to the next arrangement, lunch that was.
Upon reaching the base, I immediatey contacted Chua who was already making the lunch arrangement at the penghulu home (the village chief). Not wanting to waste much time, I despatched the first batch who had already arrived to the lunch venue while I waited for the rest. Very soon, all of us arrived at the penghulu home and lunch was served. It was a simple lunch, cooked with local flavour and spice was the order of the day. I asked our Briton friend, Alison whether the spicy fish dish was too much for her liking but to my surprise, she said it was alright for her. On the contrary, it was a local member, an Indian lady who said the fish was too spicy for her. Hard to believe, right? I like best the local pineapple.
Our next program was the fruit farm tour at Kangkar Pulai but as it was still raining, Chua proposed we will head to the shopping mall first while waiting for the rain to stop (hopefully). It proved to be a good move. Happily, we headed to Jusco at Bukit Indah area, about 20 mins drive away.
We were given 2 hours to while away our times at the big shopping mall and we were to re-assemble back at 1600 hrs. Kevin, Rene, Noelle and I decided to spend our time at the foodcourt sipping away piping hot 'tea-tarek' and yakking away.
We re-boarded our coach and after making final count for everyone, we left the mall a little over 1600 hrs. It was another 30 mins drive to Kangkar Pulai from Bukit Indah. Where we were trekking in the morning, we were on the north side and Kangkar Pulai is actually on the south side of Gunung Pulai. Kangkar Pulai is a 800-acres farming land which was given to some 120 Chinese farmers after the Malaysia's Chinese political party, MCA has won a local election in the 60s as a promise. The present Kangkar Pulai has a good mix of plantations from fruit farm, oil plantation, rubber plantation, orchid plantation to coffee & coco plantation. There is a nondescript house which attracts swiftlets in and this is where the prized bird's nest is harvested. There is also an arowana rearing farm, among many. It is now an agro-attraction.
Two 'monster looking type' of vehicles were already on standby for us when we arrived at the foot of Kangkar Pulai. The vehicle was an improvised type, seats were hard and reinforced in rows and the chassis was taken from an old truck - a brainchild of Chua. Chua commanded one of the vehicles while his nephew took another. The two vehicles then moved in convoy. It was a jolly bumpy ride and everyone were told to hold tight but nobody seemed to mind a bit with that discomfort. Chua was also our guide, speaking to us through his loudhailer but he was more at ease in Mandarin. Alas, we have some who are non Chinese, how?
We drove past a coffee plantation. Chua stopped the vehicle, jumped off to pluck some coffee seeds for us to taste and smell. He jumped back up, steered through the undulating terrain which drove up our adrenalin rush. Durians were sighted along the way though it is still not durian season yet. I managed to pluck some rambutans from some low laying branches when the 'monster vehicle' whizzed through the path. Everyone seemed excited.
We reached the fruit farm, safely and all limbs still intact - phew! When we first sighted the pulasan trees, everyone went for the fruits. We simply plucked from the trees and gobbled up, went on to pluck some more. Pulasan resembles closely to rambutan, the flesh looks the same and it tastes almost the same too. Why is it called Pulasan? Well, it actually comes from a Malay word, pulas which means twist. To open it, we just twist it with both hands just like what we do with rambutan.
Our foreign friend, Alison likes the pulasan fruit too. But she cannot stand the smell of chempedak when it was deftly prised opened by a helper, let alone taking a first bite. But local girl, Mala was so overwhelmed with the chempedak that she had sworn she will give up dinner for the sake of the chempedak. I can see her grinning away when she took a first bite. Other fruits like rambutan, pineapple, papaya and water melon were also served on the table. It was fruit galore.
After finishing up the assorted fruits, we headed back to the monster vehicles for a 'hellish bumpy' ride back to the base. And from there, we were transferred to an 'Orang Asli Restaurant' for our seafood dinner. We were already full with fruits earlier but we still have some capacity for dinner. The food was prepared by Chinese cooks. It was sumptuous. We had fish, we had crabs, we had prawns but we still managed to clean up each dish.
After dinner, we had to bid our guide, Carl and our coach captain, Rosdie good bye and of course, thanking the two gentlemen for their patience and a good job.