Monday, 11 August 2008


Elusive tranquility: the hot springs source reflects the palm oil trees nearby

Where am I?
How had I come to sitting at this table was a long story. Opposite me was the patriarch, his family crowded behind him. We were somewhere just above a stream in a palm oil plantation, somewhere north of KL, Malaysia's capital. He offered me some durian.
Obviously they don't see real tourists that much here, but that fact I had already established on this seemingly un-endless goose chase. On the other hand I knew I was near the hot springs; I had already asked a local laborer at this palm oil plantation twice, with differing answers but with the assurance that it was just one km away. But where?

Nearly there?
The first quest brought me to a five way crossroad of plantation tracks, all similar in size, none clearly indicating where they would end. My second effort, leading in a different direction, ended at an enclosure, surrounding a small stream. From the outside it was obvious that this area had been enhanced, so thinking that the hot springs must be here, I jumped the fence. Unfortunately once inside, the stream waters were cool. Some dams had been made and with the stream bed made of white sand, it certainly was a nice place for a picnic, but not what I was looking for.
At the far end of the enclosure I could see a motorcycle parked. I strolled over there, discovering a void in the fence and downstream, a young lady in a flowing and colorful dress was scooping up water out of the stream. I asked her for the directions and in excellent English she managed to communicate that
  • a. yes, she knew where the hot springs were,
  • b. they were not here,
  • c. she was useless in giving directions and
  • d. let's have a chat with her father, he knew the place.
So that was part of the story of getting here.

Hulu Tamu was the name of the hot spring I'd been on my way to. My info had narrowed down the search to the Hulu Selangor district, Selangor state. The day preceding, while looking for a good map in one of the un-endless shopping malls of Kuala Lumpur, I'd been able to find a map of Pahang state with an overview of Genting Highlands, showing a hot springs near Hulu Yam Baharu. Having pinpointed the hot springs on a map, it should not seem too difficult to find the place.
Hulu Yam Baharu is located just off state highway 1, north of Kuala Lumpur. About 30-35 km from the city center. After some weird procedures, the hotel enabled me to rent a car and this morning ten-ish I believe, I left the sprawl of high rises behind me.
And now, I was, what seemed to be the middle of a palm oil plantation, ever so near, but still not near enough, to see this my first hot spring of Malaysia.

Sungai Sendat
The trip up to Hulu Yam Baharu had gone brilliantly. On the map I also saw a named waterfall nearby so I decided to visit this as well; if only because it was sign posted.
The waterfalls of Sungai Sendat are relatively easy to find. Continue down the main street of Hulu Yam Baharu coming from the north and continue through a small neighbourhood ensuring you have the river on your right. After leaving the village the road becomes a little steeper and you'll be going through rubber and palm oil plantations. These give way to rainforest and the tar-sealed road turns into a dirt road. Eventually after about 3-4 km's beyond the village center, the road leads to a bridge, with a security gate across it. You can park here, I mean before the bridge.
Continue past a guard post and within 200m, you can see the main fall with a big pool in front.
At the moment of my visit, construction work was under way; they are looking into sprucing the site up, so it seems. It did look a bit desolate, but the enormous amounts of refuse were ample evidence of recent visitors, so clearly the customers must have been satisfied. It being a week day, evidently meant that I was the only visitor.
If you climb up above the main pool, there are a number of other deep pools and falls, a really beautiful area, now why on earth would visitors trash the place?

Sungai Sendat: a great place to trash? ignores this last issue and concentrates on describing the waterfalls as follows:
'Paddling, swimming, picnicking - if that sounds like fun to you, then head for the Sungai Sendat Waterfalls. The falls are surrounded by greenery and kissed by sunshine; truly a place for relaxing and rejuvenating yourself'.
Well, if the Sunday crowds turn up, you might be just unlucky.

Back on the road
Leaving the falls site, I asked the guardsman for the way to the hot springs, to which he replied, turn right in the village. That means the road to Genting Highlands. After taking this turn, 500m out of the Hulu Yam Baharu, I take another turn right leading to ... well somewhere (There's a sign to Amberstone Eco Resort).
I continue up the road for about 3 km's, but obviously it's not leading anywhere. After some hand and foot work, a local manages to communicate to me that I should return and turn right to the Bundoora Estate (or is it Bindoora?). It being a narrow lane with no side roads, the turn to Bundoora is obvious. There's even a sign post. Five hundred meters up this road and you are entering the palm oil estate. And that's where it gets tricky.

Made it
With some translation by his daughter, the man opposite me now knew where I wanted to go. Fortunately he did not ask why. He set off trying to explain where it was, but translating this proved tricky. "You with car?" "Um, ...yes?", I replied. "Well, let's go!"
With that, we crossed the stream back to where I had parked the car and he had parked his motorcycle. He jumped on the motorcycle and I followed in my Proton Wajah. We returned to the earlier five way cross road, roughly 1 km beyond the plantation entrance. I don't recall which of the five we took, probably the most left, it leads across a stream from where you should take the next track right. The road is rocky and the Wajah is (still) scratch free. Therefore, I park the car here and follow the motorcycle for another 50 m on foot.
It's all pretty obvious though, there's only 1 stream and the waters of which originate from the hot springs. My guide shuts his motor at a small, foot high dam in the stream. "Air Panas" and stretches his arm. I feel the water. It' hot alright. There's also some trash around, so this must be the place.

The source of Ulu Kalong: in the middle of a palm oil plantation

Ulu Kalong hot springs
I proceed to follow the stream to it's source. There's another small dam, 20 m upstream with an overgrown pool close by. A further 20-30 m upstream, I come upon the source itself. The water flowing from a caved in gap in a 50 cm high wall is hot. Very hot. The pool itself is very tranquil. No bubbling.
After taking a few pictures I return to where the motorcycle is parked. My guide has just finished soaking his feet, strips to his underwear and takes a full body soak in the 30 cm deep water. Having no underwear on and unwilling to cause offense, I limit myself to a foot soak, hoping my host might leave me alone sometime soon.
After 15 minutes, it's clear that that's not going to happen, so I thank my guide who takes this as a sign for ending his soak and our paths diverge. I to return to the hustle and bustle, he to return to his hut on the beautiful river.

A futile attempt at developing the springs? About 5 m out of the hot springs stream bed, a large bath tub has been constructed, but is now filled with earth and partially overgrown.

So what's it called?
I hoped that this was Hulu Tamu hot springs, but my informer mentions it as Ulu Kalong. My map refers to it being "hot spring". Well, that's not much help. What I should have done on forehand was to look more carefully on internet.

Wikipedia's entry on Ulu Yam, refers to no less than 3 (!) natural hot water pools (if only I had known). The pictures to Hulu Tamu hot springs certainly don't reflect what I visited. Kerling, another hot springs in the area, it's not either.

This description of an ANZAC day run describes the location correct and refers to it as Hulu Kalong and the springs to be called "Ladang Jasmin (Air Panas)"; the Air Panas translates as "hot water". The plantation company is referred to as Bindoora. And somehow that's all the info out there. And now this. Elusive no more?

Getting There: From Kuala Lumpur take the old road to Ipoh and turn off this road, roughly 30 km after leaving Kuala Lumpur, towards Hulu Yam Baharu. (or Ulu Yam Baru or any variations of this). Entering the village from the north, turn left in the center towards Genting Highlands and turn right, 500m up this road, well before the main road to Genting Highlands starts. Follow this lane for 2 km, turn left (signposted Bundoora Estate).
After entering the estate take the dirt road right, more or less straight on from where you are coming from. Stay on this main track for another 800m leaving an abandoned building ('No trespassers') on your left. You'll come upon a five way crossroad. Follow the track (left?) crossing the nearby stream and take the first track right, after the stream. From here it should be easy to see the stream originating from the hot springs.

Soaking Experience: Well, what it lacks in depth, it makes up in naturalness. And though, the surroundings point to quite a bit of rubbish, the waters themselves are clean.

It's clear: a soak is required. The main soaking area, about 50-60 m below the source.

Overall impression: Truly a find. Despite the small quantities of refuse, the area is very tranquil. It being a palm oil plantation one would not expect it to be so 'natural', but only little has been enhanced in the springs themselves. You could hear birds jibbering and jabbering and I managed to spot a Kingfisher proof enough of a worthy visit. Let's hope it stays like this!

No comments:

Post a Comment

Related Posts with Thumbnails
Copyright 2009 © Soaking in Southeast Asia. All rights reserved.
No reproduction or republication without written permission.