Sometime in November 2013, I decided to go on my first-ever photo tour to Sungai Lembing with 13 other photo enthusiasts from Singapore.
Sungai Lembing is a small town in Pahang, Malaysia, that used to be the richest tin mine in the world in the 1940s. Until today, Sungai Lembing has not really kept up with modernization. It could be this very reason that this little town has made a name for itself as a tourist spot for urbanites who want to experience authentic village life, enjoy unspoilt tropical scenery and savour cheap and good local food. Sungai means “river” in Malay, and Lembing means “spear”. Legend has it that the village head at that time saw a vision of a spear in the nearby river and decided to name this town after it.
Charas Cave (Gua Charas)
My first stop was Gua Charas (Charas Cave), a 400-million year old cave inside a limestone hill. The cave is a holy site for both Hindus and Buddhists. It was quite a steep 20-foot climb up the metal staircase to reach the cave.
On reaching the top, however, it was liberating and exhilarating to take in the magnificent view from above the tree tops!
Story has it that a Buddhist monk climbed up the steep slopes everyday to pray. He loved the spot so much that he decided to turn the cave into a temple. Today, Charas Cave is visited by both Buddhist and Hindu devotees. The main chamber inside the cave is spacious, cool and airy. But it became progressively darker as I walked deeper in. Thankfully, spotlights have been installed to light up the uneven way. There are shrines, statues, artifacts and symbols along the uneven ground, as well as a 30-foot sleeping Buddha at the far end of the cave.
Pandan Waterfall is one of those waterfalls that allows you to climb on the rocks to get really up close. I would have definitely liked to stay there longer. Unfortunately, it started to rain heavily about 30 minutes into arrival, and we had to run for shelter to protect our camera gear!
Roast Pork for Supper
After a thoroughly satisfying barbecue dinner at the resort, the group boarded the coach again in search of supper. Sungai Lembing boasts of roast pork that’s done to perfection. The char-siew (roast pork) shop turned out to be a family home, with the rear of the house serving as a roast pork production area, complete with hooks, cutting utensils, chopping boards and a roasting pit dug deep into the ground.
We bought 2 huge packets of roast meat and headed for a 1940’s-style coffee shop (were you expecting Starbucks?). We chatted, laughed and exchanged stories over aromatic coffee and the tastiest roast pork ever! However, the rain continued to pour outside the coffee shop, and I was worried that it would not stop in time for us to catch the sunrise at Panorama Hill.
As the night went on, my worst fears were realised when the storm showed no signs of abating by 4am. We were forced to abandon our plans to climb Panorama Hill.
Sungai Lembing’s Sunday Market
The Sunday market at Sungai Lembing town was bustling with life by the time we went for breakfast at 7:30am. By then, the rain had stopped. I ordered Sungai Lembing’s famous yong tau foo and tomato noodles which are said to be made from water from the nearby mountains, giving the noodles a smooth texture. After breakfast, the group decided to make a delayed climb up Panorama Hill.
Panorama Hill is famous for its magnificent view of the natural surroundings, and is especially well-known for its spectacular sunrise above the sea clouds. A point to note on the supposed 45-minute climb. This may be true for those who are young and fit. There are certain parts of the trail which are quite steep and have no steps. Sixty to eighty minutes uphill is a more realistic estimate for those who don’t exercise regularly!
Looking on the plus side, I was not under pressure to make it to the top within 45 minutes to catch the sunrise. I took some short breaks during the climb to regain my breath and savour the fresh air, beauty and tranquillity around me. Mother Nature had also played a part in making this photo trip a little different from what I expected. I got a taste of what the residents face during the monsoon season – like having to make my way on foot to town because a tree had been struck down by lightning and was blocking the entire road, making my way gingerly across the thorny branches to get to the other side and feeling my way around in foot-deep flood water.
What a great time!