Jungle kayaking on Lake Kenyir
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Jungle kayaking on Lake Kenyir

By Gordon Lethbridge

THE heat and humidity were stultifying. Our clothes clung to our bodies, rivulets of sweat dripped down our foreheads and myriad insects buzzed annoyingly around our heads. The smell of damp vegetation mixed with the sweet scent of flowers assaulted our nostrils. Fallen and rotting trees were steaming in the late morning sun. A 10 metre high waterfall crashed into a deep shady jungle pool. Dappled sunlight played on the water and was reflected in an animated light show on the underside of the jumble of boulders each the size of a small house.

It was the perfect place for a dip and lunch, particularly because you do need to find somewhere shady to sit out the humid heat of the midday Terengganu sun. The jungle pool was therefore perfect and well worth the short climb from the inlet where we had tied our canoes to a dead tree stump.

Looking over Lake Kenyir. Pic: RoB, Wikipedia.

Lake Kenyir, or Tasik Kenyir, was created in 1985 by a huge hydroelectric dam in the mountains close to Taman Negara National Park in the northern part of the Malay Peninsula. The lake covers 369 square kilometres and has more than 340 islands that were created as the rising water surrounded peaks and highland areas. There are hundreds of streams and a few rivers that feed the lake. Many of these cascade into the lake as waterfalls. Before the water levels rose these were inaccessible except for more intrepid jungle explorers. Now however, canoeists willing to scramble their way over rocks and push their way through virgin jungle can reach them.

Some waterfalls are more accessible and attract visitors in boats or the ubiquitous houseboats that ply the lake. Air Terjun Lasir is the most spectacular but development is minimal; there are no kiosks just a pathway, viewpoints, picnic tables and toilets as the emphasis is on eco-tourism and efforts are made to ensure development does not adversely affect the environment.


Many of the larger waterfalls are easily accessible. Pic: amrufum, Flickr.

In places “forests” of dead trees rise up out of the water—a result of the rising water levels—and are a real hazard for all but canoes and kayaks. This makes these inlets accessible only by paddle craft so we decided to explore here.

The dead trees provided great perches from which fish-eating birds could watch their prey. They towered above us as we paddled through. We hardly spoke; only the dipping and dripping of our paddles broke the silence.

Drab birds with great songs and colourful birds that only squawked could be seen and heard in the forests as we drifted by. Every so often we would hear the unforgettable whooping of gibbons and occasionally see them swinging among the treetops. The sickly sweet smell of rotting vegetation occasionally drifted across the water mingled with the powerful perfume of some unidentifiable flower.

The inlet narrowed, the sides grew steeper and the dead trees disappeared giving us a clear view. At the far end a huge boulder the size of a lorry blocked our view but we could hear the unmistakeable sound of crashing water. Edging around the boulder we discovered a tiny beach of coarse sand littered with fallen rocks, rotting trees and other jungle detritus. Above us jungle plants with cascades of yellow and white flowers clung to the sides of the ravine.

Already the sun was at its midday zenith so we decided to explore and, hopefully, find a cooling jungle pool. We secured the canoes to fallen trees and scrambled through the shallow water and over a mini jungle obstacle course on the beach. The sodden and rotten logs were steaming adding yet more moisture to the humid atmosphere.

After a short climb we found what we were looking for. Just above a waterfall was a wonderful jungle garden in dappled shade surrounding a pool. There were butterflies everywhere. Some were tiny and almost unnoticeable while others were more in-your-face with their iridescent wings.


Kayaking on Lake Kenyir takes you to parts of the lake other watercraft cannot reach. Pic: Tourism Malaysia.

On our return we drifted past a steep-sided, jungle clad headland. High in the trees above us a troupe of Macaques were feeding. They leapt from the tree to tree in seemingly impossible feats of acrobatics. After this display of treetop gymnastics we floated on silently and caught a glimpse of a cloud leopard; so called because its spots resemble clouds. What a thrill.

Asian elephants and moon bears as well as gibbons and other varieties of primates have also been seen around the lake. Canoeing allows you to approach the wildlife without them taking flight.

For those with an adventurous spirit Tasik Kenyir is the perfect place to take the… road less paddled.

If you enjoyed this article and would like to find out more about travelling to Malaysia, please visit the Tourism Malaysia website


About the author…

Gordon Lethbridge (UK)
Gordon is a freelance travel writer, blogger and photographer based in the UK who has articles published in numerous publications. He has also written or updated guidebooks to France, Austria, Singapore, Madeira and Birmingham for Michelin and Thomas Cook.  His writing is also featured on his website www.travelunpacked.co.uk

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