Not too far from the sweltering heat of the city, lies an ethereal land high above the sea - peaceful and calming. Morning dew settles on the fronds, reflecting rainbows of the sun like windows on soap bubbles floating on a breeze. Low, lingering clouds envelop the rolling hills sweeping in chilly air and thin frail mist in the wee hours of the morning.
About 103km from Kuala Lumpur is an area of seven hills originally named Ulu Tras just coming down the Titiwangsa Range. This range is the backbone of Peninsular Malaysia which runs from the Thai border all the way down south, ending in Negri Sembilan rarely dropping below a height of 1000m.
Some hundred years ago, when the hills and mountains on the Titiwangsa Range looked too daunting to even contemplate climbing even by the British army, Scotsman Fraser was already recruiting a handful of guides and coolies to take him on his expedition to explore the upper ridges for gold and other precious metals.After hacking his way up the last 300m (height) to the top, he came upon an enchanting forest in the clouds. The moist environment creates a sublime forest of moss-draped trees and filmy ferns. The forest looks prehistoric, feels prehistoric and even smells prehistoric.
After years of providing mule transport service between Kuala Kubu Bahru and Raub, Fraser finally found a home, 1524m up a hill and away from the gossipy colonial community down below. The reclusive Scotsman travelled to Australia in search of gold at the peak of the gold rush and yet some change of destiny brought him to Malaya.
the golf course where Fraser's mine used to sit
Perhaps the same dream of striking gold in these hills was the reason for his coming. Gold he didn't find but instead he found rich tin deposits . He stayed on and opened a mine in the 1890's and employed Chinese miners to work the area. The tin ore was then transported down a perilous route on mules, winding down the side of the range to the nearest town, Raub. To lift the spirits of his Chinese workers, Fraser operated an opium and gambling den at the camp. This shrewd method of retaining his wealth certainly worked well.The wages paid out to the coolies would more often than not find their way back into the Fraser's ledgers through these dens.
Despite his newfound wealth and status, Fraser mysteriously disappeared without a trace some 25 years later. He left behind everything he had worked hard for over the years. A search party was sent by the C.J Ferguson-Davie, Bishop of Singapore to look for him. The camp and mine were found deserted. They never found Fraser. Instead they discovered the perfect place for a hill station- a retreat from the heat of the lowlands. The British authorities had always been fond of hill stations where they could build little villages reminiscent of those in their beloved homeland.
The Bishop's house; a beautiful sprawling bungalow. Now derelict and in desperate need of repairs
Besides, the ongoing war in Europe had made it difficult for these expatriates to go home on leave. Upon his return to Singapore, the Bishop wrote a report to the government indicating that Fraser's Hill was ideal as a hill station for it could cheaply and quickly be developed. In 1919, work started on the access road to the hillstation from the Gap and by 1922, the hillstation named Fraser's Hill was opened to visitors.The hill station covered 140 hectares of land and had over 50km of jungle paths. In a 1927 'Handbook to British Malaya', it mentioned that there were 9 government bungalows for the use of government officials, 4 houses built with the help of Red Cross for ex-servicemen and women, 3 private homes, a 'country club', a golf course, and water supply was complete and of course a post office.
old clock doubles up as a roundabout in town
Fraser's Hill still retains its old colonial charm and should not to be missed. It is almost as if time has stood still for the 1,000 or so residents. They go about their same old ways throughout most of the week, waiting for the weekend to bring in a trickle of guests and visitors. Most of the old stone cottages previously owned by colonial traders have withstood the weather well. In the years of the British Empire, the British families retreated to the cool hill stations during the hot seasons. The cottages here resemble those found in their English villages, equipped with a cosy fireplace and meticulously cared for garden plots. An afternoon of croquet with friends was followed by afternoon tea and evening cocktails.
Hainanese people were employed to run their kitchens and to maintain the cottages when not in use. The Hainanese are a group of Chinese people who originate from Hainan Island in Southern China. They were taught to cook English cuisine and serve it the English way. Fiercely loyal servants, the Hainanese remained in their employment until the British finally departed. Out of employment, these people later opened the now famous coffee shops found in KL and other cities. They continued to practise their culinary skills passing on their expertise to their next of kin. A few families remain in Fraser's Hill maintaining the traditions of providing exquisite service and excellent English fare.
The police station built in 1919
The outpatient clinic just across the road from the police station
This hill station was also built for another reason. The British army believed that there be a place for their injured soldiers to convalesce. The Red Cross set up a little rehabilitation centre there. It has been converted into a hotel called Ye Olde Smokehouse. Instead of hospital bunks, the interior is now decorated with eclectic furniture and collectibles, some of which seems to be leaning a little toward bric-a-brac items. With open wooden beams, log fires and lithographs of the old Fraser's Hill, the place exudes fading elegance. English Tea and scones are served at the patio or in the restaurant. The rooms each with its own with individual characteristics are worth a stay in, if only to experience a little of the past.
Below are just a few of the many private bungalows on Frasers. A few of them are owned by companies that do rent out to the public. The Glen bungalow is available for rental and is owned by KTMB, our national rail corporation. So, if you know someone who knows someone who can make arrangements for you to rent, its worth the experience....
army bungalow aubyn bungalow cottage cottage
glen bungalow guthrie bungalow lion bungalow maybank bungalow
Update on The Gap.. 2015, Apparently the tender has been given out and has been approved by the government to "restore, repair and renovate" the Gap resthouse at a cost of an astonishing RM20million. Work has yet to start ....
At the foot of Fraser's Hill is the Gap - a colonial resthouse and one of the remaining few in Malaysia. A short rest at the Gap Resthouse is a welcomed relief..for those who suffer greatly from motion sickness.. A chance to stretch your legs, take big gulps of fresh air and smaller gulps of coffee at the restaurant does wonders. One of the last remaining Resthouses built during the heydays of good old fashioned, unhurried travelling, the Resthouse is a well preserved relic of colonial architecture.
The reputation of this resthouse in the early years surpassed itself. Henri Fauconnier, a reknown novelist even mentioned the Gap resthouse in his 1930's prize winning novel, 'The Soul of Malaya'. The novel describes its characters as arriving at the Gap one evening for dinner to a display of splendour."A resplendent table had been prepared; all the government crockery and silver with the bull's head crest, the whole stock of bottles arrayed like skittles on the sideboard...cocks, ducks, a suckling pig were laid before us." The extensive menu has sadly now reduced to a limited menu of orders of fried noodles, fried rice and eggs.
on the way to the gap, this almost insignificant plaque indicates the spot where Sir Henry Gurney was gunned down by local communists during his tour of duty.
Bird watchers prefer to walk up the hill in their own time. However, one has to be really careful walking along the road especially round hairpin bends as there are no pedestrian tracks.
One of the main attractions at Fraser's Hill is bird watching. There are a great variety of birds residing in the area and because Fraser's has been gazetted a protected area for a while now, the birds have become more approachable. Quite often birds like the silver-eared mesia would go about happily foraging in a shrub just a few feet from humans. The long-tailed sibia too are extremely common and tend to move in groups of 6 or more, they are often seen hopping across from branch to branch rather than flying. They're curious birds and may come down to investigate the scene. The fire-tufted barbet can be seen picking on the fruits of the palm tree just by the corner of the children's skating rink. This is the place of many memories for many. The childhood memories of 30years ago, whirling round and round what seemed to be an enormous rink then, only returning to the cottage for tea and scones with delicious homemade strawberry jam and rich clotted cream, feeding the ponies and trekking through old jungle trails. On returning, the nostalgia overwhelmed. The place has lost none of its charms. The paddock with ponies for hire are still around, although these ponies don't seem as happy as the ones then. There are public tennis courts now, a bit of paddling is possible on Allan's water- a pond at the edge of the hill, and an archery field is set up to entertain the public. Another private golf course sits some distance away from the village (approx.9km from town) close to the Jeriau Waterfall. A new road has just been completed, cutting through parts of the forest, causing minor landslides in isolated areas. Realising that developing areas along slopes has been the cause of many unfortunate disasters, the government has imposed a moratorium on such developments.
Once a year, visitors from around the world descend upon the village for the Annual International Bird Race. No, it's not a pigeon race, nothing of that sort! It's a race to spot as many bird species as possible within the hill top area in a given time. Sometimes, watching these participating individuals can be rather entertaining and comical. Ever seen birdwatchers hanging out of car windows, trying to spot birds, moving at speeds of 50km/hr? (Speed of 40km/hr is an accepted standard at Fraser's).
At last count, 254 bird species were found on these hills, either having taken up residence or passing through. Although we happened to have arrived, by chance at Fraser's during the Bird race weekend, we were happy just to amble and not get flustered with the idea of a 'race'. Even without participating in the race, we managed to spot numerous varieties seldom seen in the lowlands.
Every road we took, we saw birds. Two streathed spiderhunters were found hovering on a flowering tree opposite the entrance to Ye Olde Smokehouse. A Chestnut-capped Laughingthrush was perched at the entrance to Bishop's trail, one of the many nature trails snaking into and around the residential areas. A white-throated fantail hopped about the bushes close to the Temerloh chalets where we stayed on my first trip back to Fraser's (as we affectionately call this hill station) after a 10year absence. The hexagonal shaped chalets were built as extensions to the existing Temerloh bungalow, originally known as Wray Bungalow. They sit on a slope facing a vast open valley and offer a glorious view.
Since the light was fast fading and evening setting in, we were advised to take the Henmant trail, just to the back of the cottage.
Along this short trail lies the remains of a tiny communications centre built by the Japanese Army during the Second World War. The high hills were a strategic location to set up a communications centre . This gave them wide radio coverage of the lowlands below. Under the dense canopy of the forest, it was difficult for the Allies to detect them. About 8m from the little cubby-hole where the centre was, is a small vault where the Japanese soldiers stored important documents, sensitive materials and artillery. At the end of the trail, we reached the 9-hole golf course situated in the middle of the town. Few people actually realise this but the golf course used to be the site of Fraser's old tin mine. This is exactly where the miners bored, shifted, loaded and washed tonnes of sand for tin ore! Just over a hundred years ago. The trail took us some 30minutes to complete. With some energy left to, we signed up for a night trek on the Abu Suradi Trail. A fee of RM10 each for the guided trek seemed reasonable. Little did we know that we were to join some 40 teenagers on a school excursion for the trek. Despite the endless chatter of the school party we did get to hear the Scops Owl calling in the distance. A Japanese couple we met on the same excursion had been in Fraser's for 2 weeks. Having fallen in love with the place on their first visit the previous year,they had come this time for 3 weeks to indulge themselves in bird watching, trekking and just soaking in the atmosphere. FHNEC had been taking good care of them and taking them on trails, identifying weird and wonderful fauna and flora.
FHNEC is a good place to start for anyone interested in nature. It is a joint project between the Fraser's Hill Development Corporation and WWF Malaysia (World Wildlife Fund), the office is managed by young and enthusiastic staff members of the WWF education division. They are extremely helpful and can arrange treks for you. Carell, the education officer stationed at the centre can give you a good run down of the place. She can also give you a preview of the education centre at Cameron Highlands. The centre has leaflets to take away with you as guides to the various nature trails around. For more information on the trails especially the much-needed directions to the trails, you can also visit WWF Malaysia at www.wwfmalaysia.org/ There are lots of leeches along the trails so bring a can of 'baygon' to spray your shoes with but if you feel that this is not environmentally friendly then you could always opt for the leech socks which are available at the centre.
Tours for short treks are only conducted for groups of minimum 6 - 10 persons and arrangements must be made with FHNEC in advance.
For more information, you can get in touch with the officer-in-charge at:
NATURE EDUCATION CENTRE, 49000 FRASER'S HILL
Phone: 09-3622517 ; Fax: 03-7035157
A word of caution: Although the trails are mapped out and may seem to be easy treks, there have been several occasions where trekkers or even strollers have managed to get lost for days , wandering the forests - unfamiliar and disorientated. So, make sure you keep to the path and if there are forks in the path and you may be unsure of your bearings, just turn back down the path you came from.
crested honey buzzard, black eagle; little cuckoo-dove, imperial pigeon; red-billed malkoha, nightjar; fork tailed swift, little swift; red-headed trogon, great hornbill; fire-tufted barbet, speckled piculet, greater yellow nape; long tailed broadbill, white throated fantail; lesser racket tailed drongo; green magpie, oriental magpie-robin, white tailed robin, black & crimson oriole; large cuckoo-shrike, brown shrike; Malayan whistling thrush, grey-chinned minivet; Little pied flycatcher, rufous-brown flycatcher, grey-headed canary-flycatcher; Blue nuthatch; Barn swallow, pacific swallow, striated (red-rumped) swallow - Yellow-vented bulbul, black & white bulbul, mountain bulbul, ochraceous bulbul, Mountain tailorbird, Arctic warbler, chestnut-crowned warbler, eastern-crowned warbler, Chestnut capped laughing thrush, chestnut crowned laughing thrush, pygmy wren babbler, golden babbler, grey-throated babbler, silver eared mesia, white-eared shrike-babbler, black-eared shrike-babbler, blue winged minla, mountain fulvetta, long-tailed sibia, mountain fulvetta, orange-bellied leafbird, sultan tit, tree sparrow, fire-breasted flowerpecker, blue-throated sunbird, streaked spiderhunter
If you like to try other outlets for food, there are a few places to explore. There are a few eateries just off the roundabout where the clock tower stands. Puncak Inn is the cheapest place to stay but has no view and basic rooms. On the ground floor are a row of shops including an office where you can book your accommodation, a souvenir shop, a mini market and a Malay restaurant.
Jutting out on a corner at the end of this row is the Scott’s Pub & Restaurant, a place where you can indulge in some western food and beer. Open: Mon – Sun: 11.00am – 10.00pm
A slow stroll up the winding road from Scott's takes you to another place where Satay and other local food are served. The Nasi Lemak and the Roti Canai here is pretty good. Apart from these places, there are also little stalls set up by the road leading to Silverpark resort.
Also where the roller skating rink and paddock used to be, there is now a foodcourt serving breakfast, lunch , dinner and snacks at reasonable prices
Ye Olde Smokehouse is also another place you can indulge in a bit of the old English tradition of afternoon tea and scones or a hearty meal of roast beef and yorkshire pudding or a stew. Open: Mon – Sun: 8.00am – 10.00pm
The siamang. this is one of the larger primates of the gibbon family. Gibbons are distinguished from the monkeys by the black skin of their faces, palm and soles. They have no tails and have long slender limbs, their arms longer than legs. They are seldom seen but often heard about 1½ hours after sunrise. The mated pairs normally travel together, occasionally accompanied by a few immatures. The male usually practises his 'scales' first. A short 'whoop', then another slightly longer 'whoop' followed by a succession of short 'whoops' each note going up the scale. This ends with a chorus from his admiring female companion and his entourage with a last piercing yelp to end the verse.
The rafflesia flower, world's largest flower can be found in areas around the Hill Station.
Activities on the Hill Station:
The paddock has a stable of horses and visitors can pay for a quick ride around the paddock. Led by the stable boy, this is a good opportunity for young ones to interact with the resident horses in the safe hands of the staff.