Saturday, 30 August 2008

Bashing Bentong


One thing that can not be said about the hot springs of Bentong, are that they are difficult to find. They are nearly on the main road from Kuala Lumpur to the eastern city of Kuantan. They are also not too far from Malaysia's capital, so even though it's not the weekend, there should be a couple more visitors. That's more than just myself.

The expansive car park though, only holds three other cars, two of which are parked next to each other and whose occupants have little interest in the soaking facilities. Slightly more encouraging is the occupant of the third car who has chosen to have a quiet lunch while gazing over the springs. But not interested in soaking either.

A dam divide. Opposite somebody enjoying their time here, but he had his own lunch

A tour of the site
The site is fairly big. On the western fringe is a fenced pond which probably contains the main source. A small dam divides this pond, from another large pond. The second pond is intentionally meant for soaking. It is very murky, so maybe it's 30 cm deep, maybe 2 m. From this pool there is an overflow to a small concrete pond which might have been intended to be a kiddies pool. And from here, there's an overflow leading to a stream which flows towards Bentong town.

Kiddies pool with final overflow. Yeah, I know, it looks OK.

Despite the lack of visitors there are otherwise enough tell-tale signs of prior visitors alas, though the undergrowth is also slowly coming back.
But what strikes me most is how deserted and desolate it looks. Clearly some effort has been made to clear the surrounding jungle and create the pools. A huge sanitary block has been added on, as well as another few buildings and some smaller tubs. But not much seems to be functioning.
I'm quite stunned. Obviously quite some public money must, at some time in the past, been pumped in to spruce the site up. Why? To provide recreation facilities. But then, with the monies spent, the site has been left to slowly be destroyed by nature and by the users themselves.

Developed hot springs in Malaysia
Elsewhere in Malaysia, hot spring sites have been renovated for continued public use, albeit at a cost to the same visitors. Wet World Pedas and Sunway Lost Lagoon (formerly known as Tambun hot springs) have been turned into 'thrilling' water parks, with a corner reserved for traditional soaking. While Poring (arguably Southeast Asia's most publicized / well-known hot springs) in the Malaysian state of Sabah has certainly been successful in attracting many tourists without affecting the naturalness of the site. Then again it may just be Malaysia's PR efforts, which manage to sell everything as a 'must see' sight. Or things are falling apart here as well, due to the government management (or lack of it).

The murky waters of Kolam Air Panas Bentong, otherwise known as Bentong hot springs

Experiencing Bentong
But then there's Bentong. Cyberspace nudges at quite the same conclusion; there are hardly lyrical descriptions. Js2smart actually soaked here, though that's nearly 2 years back:
'This was the natural hotsprings, at the ground, it was filled with mud and sand... usualli people using the mud to heal some sensitive skins! As for me, i always go there to refresh myself after the hardwork in college and home! The place was cooling and warming at the bottom of the hotsprings!
After tha bath at the hotspring, we head to a Shell station to change our clothes'.
Fancy that, with all the changing rooms they've built, you have to go to a petrol station to change! Khairi on VirtualMalaysia agrees with this sites opinion it seems:
'The place is dirty with rubbish strewn all over the place. The local autorities didn't seem to care about sprucing and maintaing the place. With a little bit of an extra effort, the place can be wonderful. If you are bringing foreign friends, it can be a BIG embarassment. What a shame'.
Isann has some very recent conflicting experiences:
'We tried the less hot one first. It was disgusting!! ... It was so disgusting that we were outta of there in a minute and hopped into the ‘hotter’ pool. It wasn’t that hot after a while and it felt really really good!'
'... and stop at kolam air panas, Bentong which is not a very nice place to go because of its condition'.
'3:30am. '6 guys, 1 van………total darkness inside the hotspring. We had our torchlights held tight as our guide around the area. The water was warm, but I doubt there was any maintenance down there as I could felt some slimmy slippery stuffs as I step into the hot pool. It felt like……..moss. Eww…'
Ryan Tan:
'Ouch! My dear has a slipped here and she kind of hurt her back a little. Sob sob, but thankfully, she is fine now.
Pretty disappointed with this place though, we expected more, but what we get is a pool full of murky water, unmanaged and we even caught one guy happily bathing with lots of soap in this hot spring. Guess his house has no water heater?'
The waters may be warm, the surroundings green and verdant, but this site is certainly not appealing for a soak. Just skip it. Around Bentong there a number of waterfalls which might offer a better opportunity for a pleasant, but cool soak. Then again there are some opinions who seem to beg to differ....

The large soaking pool

Getting There: The springs are located 7 km before Bentong town on the old road (highway no. 2) between KL and Bentong. Though the exit from Expressway 8 at Genting may be the shortest route, it's way faster to continue to the Bentong exit and drive the 5-6 km back. It's very obvious located on the north side of the road with a large car park.

Soaking Experience: Can't really say, but as the waters seem less than appetizing, can't believe that soaking here would be a positive experience.

Overall Impression: On a scale of 1-10, with 10 being the best soak ever, Bentong would be around 2 or 3. No need to travel up here, not at least if you looking for a warm soak.

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