Monday, October 3, 2016

Backpackers Guide To Gunung Stong State Park, Malaysia

Gunung Stong State Park (GSSP) is a forested area, totaling 21,950ha with several prominent mountain peaks. The area is of outstanding beauty and is home to one of the highest waterfalls in Malaysia, the seven-tiered Jelawang Waterfall. 

The rugged landscape of GSSP offers many exciting adventures for anyone who loves nature and the great outdoors. GSSP not only has important eco-tourism values but also serves as a significant conservation area with rich flora and fauna diversity. 

Animals such as the Asian elephant, seladang, great argus pheasant, Malayan tiger, serow and tapir are known to roam the forest in Stong. With the assistance of a qualified and knowledgeable trekking guide, your exploration of GSSP will be made more meaningful as interesting aspects about the biodiversity of the area are pointed out. 

The Bogo Rock Shelter, a cave- like formation, is a suitable resting point on the way to the summit of Gunung Stong, which can be reached within four hours of trekking. Meanwhile, Gunung Ayam, the highest peak in the area at 1,504m, is an ideal spot to catch beautiful sunrises and sunsets. 

A campsite is available for overnight stays. Visit the breathtaking 225 million-year- old limestone caves at Dabong that house several bat species and rare flora, including an endemic balsam.

Last week I wrote  of my trip to Gunung Stong State Park. Well, as I mentioned, I had no intention of originally going. It’s much less traversed than some other nearby national parks, which is part of the appeal, but resources to plan a visit are hard to come by and the Lonely Planet doesn’t help much either. For this reason, I’ve decided to help out the budget traveling backpacker looking to get off the main trail and make a stop in the jungle. Here’s what you need to know.

Train to Dabong

Your main base to visit the park will be the small city of Dabong, a conveniently located stop along the jungle railway. From the north, a trip from Kota Bharu (The station’s in Wakaf Baharu, a few km outside town) will only cost you 4 RM and take about 3 hours. From the south, you can connect from Kuala Lumpur or Singapore in Gemas or jump on anywhere along the way, as there are regular stops. Prepare to sweat though as there’s no air con on this train as it rumbles through the jungle, but for the price, you can’t really complain. Stand by the doors to get a breeze if it gets too far past comfortable.

City of Dabong

Upon arrival, you’ll realize there isn’t much to Dabong. You can skip the town altogether and get to camping right away, but if you’re taking it slower or want to see the caves just outside town, there is no frills budget accommodation available. Directly across from the train station and to the left, you’ll see a small restaurant. It has fan rooms available at an affordable rate of 25 RM for the night. If you’re dying for some wifi, ask the local boy, Wan, who works at the restaurant. He’ll take you to the free government sponsoring wi-fi hotspot a few blocks away in exchange for a Facebook friend request. Thanks Wan!


Before rushing to Gunung Stong, you can and should check out a few caves just outside of town. Contrary to other sources, you do not need a guide for most of them as they are easy to access. The only hurdle you may come across is being able to locate them. Lucky for you I’ve done it. First get a ride from Dabong, which should run you a few Ringgit for both ways. It’s a few kilometers and could also be a doable walk if you’re over eager. Fish Cave, or Gua Ikan, is a little further down from the park entrance road, but is sadly covered in graffiti. A far better option is across the road. Crossing the street directly opposite the park turn-off, walk along the road to the left until you spot a path heading away from the road and toward the limestone cliff. 

This path will take you straight to the first cave. With trusty flashlight by your side, navigate through the narrow passage until you reach what seems like a dead end. It’s not. You’ll have to crawl under a low hanging rock (a large person may not even fit). Once through the tight passage, it’s only a few more meters until the cave exit. Once you’re out, head to the right, along the side of the limestone wall. The trail was pretty clear during our visit and takes you straight to Stepping Stone Cave. A huge cavern with an impressive system of tiered steps that look like they would fill with water after a heavy rain. Once you’ve had your fill, head out the back of the cave, opposite the way you came in, which takes you out and back to the original road. The whole trip can be done in an hour, but can take longer if you’re taking creative pictures. Kris Cave is further on and you will need a guide if you plan on going for a visit.

Gunung Stong and Jelawang Falls

Now you should be ready for the Jelawang Jungle inside Gunung Stong State Park, the main attraction. You can use the park for a day trip or camp a night or more at the top of the waterfall. Catch a taxi from Dabong (10RM) and pay the park entrance fee (7 RM). From there you’ll walk past a resort that looks like it hasn’t been used since before I could legally drink and look for a set of rudimentary steps to the left of the river. Take these up for about 15 minutes until you’re able to step out onto the rocks and view the falls. After taking a second to enjoy the view of 305m Jelawang Falls, continue up and across the rocks. You can either head to the base of the falls and take a dip in the small pool or continue to the top of Stong. If you choose the later, look for a path with a rope hanging down it on the opposite side of the falls (right side if you’re facing the falls). The path is well maintained a takes about 40 minutes to work your way up through the jungle. An intersection will point you to Kem Baha Camp or to the summit. The campground is located at the top of the waterfall and provides huts for 10 RM (ask for a sleeping bag), a small kitchen area for cooking, a smaller waterfall to cool off in and an awesome view (word of mouth says it’s best at sunrise). If you’re feeling real adventurous, a trek to the summit of the Gunung Stong (1422m) takes 3-4 hours of solid inclined walking. Be forewarned though, the view isn’t to die for and largely blocked by trees. A much nicer spot is about half way up the trail. It’s a few boulders pushed together forming a peaceful semi-enclosed area with the creek running through it. If you have your own bedding, you could actually stay the night here.

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