Located along the Selayang-Kepong highway, about a 45-minute drive from the city centre, the Forest Research Institute of Malaysia (FRIM) is a 600-hectare tropical rainforest filled with thousands of flora and fauna species. As much a recreational park as a forest reserve, its nature trails give visitors an excellent opportunity to learn more about the many plant species in this part of the world.
The Fish Spa Pond
After parking, we are taken to the FRIM Information & Souvenir Centre near the entrance. We don’t pay much attention to what is being sold inside – instead, we all gather around the 'Fish Spa' pond located just outside the centre. Similar to the ones that can be found around Kuala Lumpur, putting your feet into this pond is free of charge, though it comes with a time limit - each person’s turn is supposed to be not more than 15 minutes. The fish inside the pond will then eat the dead skin off your immersed legs and feet, making them nice and smooth.
The Giant Arowana
Our guide for the day, Mr. Amran, gives us a brief speech on the history of FRIM and its ground rules before we start the tour. He takes us to the long lake next to Information Centre, where three giant-size arowanas reside, including one measuring seven foot long. We manage to catch glimpses of the fish from the overhead bridge – gorgeous red, gold and deep-blue scales set against the murky green of the lake.
FRIM Research Museum Gallery
Before starting our nature trail, we are taken to the FRIM Research Museum Gallery. Housed in a beautiful colonial building, the museum is a treasure trove of antiques made of natural resources as well as wood samples, letting visitors see the difference between one type of wood and another. Just outside the museum is a silicified wooden stump which has quite literally become rock-hard due to the absorption of silica and minerals into the wood grain over millions of years.
The Crown Shyness
There are several nature trails to explore, the most popular being the Keruing Trail and the Salleh Trail. Our nature trail begins just behind the museum where we get to admire a huge rain tree and a gigantic bamboo tree. The surrounding forest seems to come ‘alive’ as Mr. Amran tells us more about the plants that we come across.
Further into the forest, we see more interesting species, such as Black Lily, Tongkat Ali and Pokok Karas (Agarwood), nicknamed ‘Black Gold’ due to the fragrant essence produced by the tree called gaharu, which is often used in the making of ultra-expensive perfumes.
We also get to see an amazing natural phenomenon which can only be found in two places in the whole world – here and Irian Jaya – dubbed ‘Crown Shyness’. It’s a mosaic-like pattern formed by the leaves of the trees ‘shying’ away from each other, leaving distinguishable gaps in between the tree crowns which can be clearly seen from below. The trees involved are known as Pokok Kapur (Camphor Tree) which produces an aromatic resin that can be used to make medical ointments.
The last 500 metres leading up to the beginning of the canopy walkway is the most challenging part of the trail, which sees us scaling up man-made steps and over tree roots to get to the top of the hill. One word of caution: before embarking on this trail, make sure that you have on a good pair of hiking shoes.
The Canopy Walkway
Not for the faint-hearted or for those with a severe case of vertigo, the Canopy Walkway is a 200-metre long sisal bridge suspended 30 metres above the ground. You might be afraid of falling into the unknown depths below, or your legs might feel like jelly, but gathering the courage to look down and around you while walking along it is well worth the effort. A breathtaking view of the forest and its surroundings as far as the eyes can see awaits those who dare to. If you look hard enough, you might just see the Petronas Twin Towers in the distance!
The Malay Tea House
After an exhilarating journey across the natural sky bridge, we start our descent, which is decidedly easier than the exerting trek up the hill. Along the way, we pass by several streams and mini waterfalls that are both cooling and refreshing.
For lunch, we head to The Malay Tea House – a restaurant set in a traditional Malay house. Our lunch consists of a mouth-watering spread of authentic Malay kampong dishes, which is served and prepared in a true kampong fashion, right down to the porcelain ware used and waitresses clad in traditional kampong outfits. The Malay Tea House also sells a variety of herbal teas and handmade herbal soaps, as well as local handicrafts.
Our arms and legs feel like they are ready to drop off by the time we get back to the office, but that is probably because we were all so unfit to begin with. All in all, the tour is truly an unforgettable, eye-opening experience; it makes us more aware and appreciative of our natural wonders – well worth the post-tour aches and pains!
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