Since my Gunung Kinabalu climb was off, and the week was wide open, Matt decided to whisk me off to the wonderful wilds of The Dusun for a night.
Located on the fringes of Seremban in Negeri Sembilan, The Dusun (the malay word for fruit orchard) is less than an hour away from our home and relatively easy to get to via the Lekas highway. Once we exit, a road sign labeled Pantai tells us we’re getting close. We keep our eyes opened for the turnoff just after the mosque in Kampung Pantai.
A kuih stall, open in the late afternoon, is located at the intersection where we need to turn in to and having passed it before, I resolve to stop and satisfy my curiosity. And my appetite.
There are at least 10 types of kuih sold, savoury and sweet, stacked up in tupperware, and a batch of pisang goreng (banana fritters) frying in a small wok. I pick out some choice favourites to snack on later. A few locals are gathered round doing the same, which is always a positive sign.
The quiet, winding road onwards, passes two schools then narrows after the Kampung Kolam Air junction. We continue heading up.
The lane leading to The Dusun is on the left and once through The Dusun’s resort gates and up the steep slope, we grab a parking space in front of the reception area. There’s also parking lower down on the hill, or if you are hesitant about the incline you can park at Perling House. It’s pretty hairy looking though entirely navigable.
The lovely Asma is there to welcome us and show us around the facilities: The Patio where meals are cooked and breakfast is served, laundry facilities (for long stays), the salt water infinity pool and neighbouring Berembun House, and the other (ionised water) infinity pool next to Perling House.
Matt booked us into the Japanese-theme Sora house, the largest and most modern of the 6 villas. It can accommodate 5 adults or 4 adults and 2 kids, but tonight it’s just the 2 of us.
It’s located right next to one of 2 kids playgrounds, the other being a set of swings located on the other side of the house.
Sora means light in Japanese and the space is both large and open in concept, with high ceilings and windows that reach for the roof and let the jungle and the sky in.
There are no doors, windows or blinds separating the living room from the deck and the grounds beyond, which is both a good and bad thing, depending on your perspective. More on this later….
As The Dusun is located next to the virgin rain forests of Berembun Forest Reserve, the verandah is the perfect spot to kick back and birdwatch. Apart from the yellow flash of a pair of sun catchers excitedly zipping back and forth, we hear the loud flapping of a pair of hornbills. Not bad for people who aren’t even trying.
Like the rest of The Dusun’s villas, Sora House is fully equipped to self-cater. The kitchen has a stove, microwave, toaster, kettle, full size fridge-freezer and all the crockery and cutlery you need to throw on a full scale meal. It also has a barbecue pit on the balcony that can be fired up in the evening.
Since it’s just Matt and I, the master bedroom downstairs has been made up for us. It’s spacious with a comfortable double bed, wardrobes, and an attached bathroom and sunken bath (not pictured) that lets the outside in.
The bathroom is stocked with full-size Indochine shampoo and body wash which smells divine.
The loft holds a double and a single mattress. It’s a little hotter up here than downstairs but like the rest of the house, there are an abundance of ceiling and floor fans.
Loft-dwelling guests will have to share the house’s one shower and bath (in the master bedroom), but there is a spare toilet at the bottom of the spiral staircase.
Okay so back to open concept that all Dusun villas share. There are certain compromises to be made when you live close to nature. To start, there’s no air conditioning.
With no physical boundaries between the indoors and outdoors, air conditioning wouldn’t make much financial or practical sense. So as a result it can sometimes feel a little sticky indoors, even with the fans on. If you’re lucky nights here can be cool, and the The Dusun’s location, 800 meters above sea level and next to abundant green helps.
Bird watching, wildlife spotting and even fresh air are the obvious upsides of living outside-in but the downside is that some of your house guests might be the uninvited kind. Mosquito nets and electric vape matts keep the mossies off, which is essential as The Dusun doesn’t fog (for environmental reasons), but at night lights will attract flying bugs, that in turn will attract lizards and geckos (our resident gecko said hello to us), and anything they leave behind (like dead insects and poop) will attract ants. If all those insects and reptiles creeping and flying about freaks you out then a stay at The Dusun will be out of your comfort zone. However if you can embrace nature and it’s quirks, then bully for you. I suggest you turn off the lights, grab a drink, sit on the balcony and let the moon be your light.
Ok house tour over. Time to tuck into those local Malay delicacies I bought earlier. Not pictured are the curry puffs and tahu sumbat aka vegetable stuffed tofu. I was weak and unable to stop myself from scoffing them.
At any rate I only dropped RM4 on all of it. The portion sizes are small (that’s a saucer in the picture not a plate) but that’s a plus – just a tiny treat to sweeten the afternoon. With the exception of the kuih keria, which was a little oily, the teatime snacks were superbly made and absolutely delicious, so if you drive past, do stop.
With the sun a little gentler now, we venture out of Sora. The landscaped gardens around The Dusun’s public areas are lush and wild, something I love about the place, and we are never far from the sound of burbling water. Water plants sit in squat plant pots swimming with tadpoles and little fishes and we spot signs of wild boar – roughed up patches of turned up soil under the trees. Some of the garden herbs have been sign posted and Sora house is itself buffered from it’s surroundings by tall bamboo stalks offering protection and privacy.
Once a rubber small holding, the family replanted the 12 acre grounds with durian seedlings about 30 years ago and now they and the locals who profit share from the collection and selling of these stinky bundles of gold reap the benefits.
Last I was here the durian were a mere fist size; on this return visit they’re swollen with sweet creamy fruit, but alas not quite ripe yet. Gah. I can smell them but won’t get to taste them for another month. That’s when they are rounded up in a basket and left for guests to help themselves to. Guess that’s reason enough to return.
As we meander further down the concrete trail, we come to the deer park enclosure. It’s home to 4 deer – 2 male and 2 female – who stop to stare at us before deciding we’re of little interest and go back to munching grass. We’ve just miss their 5pm feeding, which animal lovers and kids can participate in – just ask at reception.
The deer are located directly below Emas House, a charming traditional Malay house with pretty carved panels and shutter windows.
Like Sora House, Emas House has a double bed and a loft with one double and one single mattress and can accommodate 5 adults or 4 adults and 2 kids.
We wander up the hill to catch up with our friends Haanim, Cee and their gorgeous son Hansi. Haanim’s mum Helen runs The Dusun and both families stay on site. The last time Matt and I both visited them, they had yet to move here and Hansi was not yet born.
By the time we return, just as the sun is setting, our evening meal is laid out on our kitchen counter. Served at 6pm, as staff leave for home at 7pm, dinner must be pre-ordered and is a choice of pasta, barbeque or Minangkabau sets. As they say, when in Rome …. so we opt for the Minangkabau set. Not the pasta. Even though they eat pasta in Rome.
Home-cooked style, it’s a fiery ayam masak lemak cili api (chicken in a spicy turmeric and coconut curry), a piquant kerabu epal (apple salad) and a flavoursome sayur-sayuran masak udang (stir-fried mixed veg with prawns) for dinner tonight. And there’s enough of it to serve 3 to 4 people that I end up packing the leftovers for tomorrow’s lunch.
The next morning we wake up to sunlight streaming through the windows and the reassuring hug of lush green from the trees outside.
It’s 9.30am and we hurriedly get ready for breakfast at The Patio. The kitchen is serving fried rice with a fried egg accompanied by a choice of tea or coffee, and watermelon juice.
Matt resists but I change for a quick dip in the upper pool after. The water piped in to this salt water pool is from a mountain river and is cold and invigorating. What a refreshing way of waking up the senses. The view of the Mantin Hills is not too shabby either.
We return to Sora to relax and Haanim pops by for a visit before we have to pack up and leave – Haanim and Cee for work and Matt and I back home. As we roll down the hill post-checkout, towards the highway, big round spiky fruit hanging above our heads like a carrot on a stick, I know I’ll be back at The Dusun.
Things you should know It’s very important to set the correct expectations, so to avoid disappointment you should know that:
1. The Dusun is not a full service hotel. If you’re expecting high touch service and gilded luxury then this is not for you. There are no turn downs, chocolates under the pillow (that would attract ants), 24-hour room service, or service staff at your constant beck and call. Think of The Dusun like an Air Bnb – you can get help when you need it but by and large you will be left on your own, which is perfect if you’re independent and relish your privacy.
2. The Dusun is pet-friendly. It even has a resident dog, Maya, who is absolutely lovely and very well behaved. Most villas accommodate the family furpile although there are rules to comply with. Sora House, Perling House and The Patio Kitchen area are off limits to mutts. So yeah, it helps if you don’t have a fear of dogs.
3. It also helps if you don’t have a fear of insects, reptiles and amphibians. The villas as I mentioned are open concept (villas don’t even come with keys), so when I say commune with nature I don’t mean it figuratively. Some encounters may be closer up that you are ready for but try to remember how rare and special that is.
4. The Patio kitchen is halal.
Will appeal to Families with children and groups of friends who want to escape the city; couples seeking quiet time; nature lovers on a quick getaway; and budding authors who might want to hole up here and write their next Malaysian novel.
Recommendation Stay 2 nights or 3. This is not an environment that benefits from your rushing.
Add ons As we were only at The Dusun for 1 night, there wasn’t enough time to enjoy all the surroundings had to offer, but next time I’m back I will be:
1. stuffing my face with durian,
2. jungle trekking to the waterfall with local guide Ah Kau.
Birders might also like to go bird watching with the Chairman of the Bird Conservation Society of Malaysian Nature Society Rafi Kudus and his wife Angela. The couple happen to be The Dusun’s neighbours.
Dinner. Pre-book if you don’t want to cook.
More details here.
Rates The published rate for Sora House is RM1100/night weekends and public holidays, RM950/night weekdays with breakfast included. There are further deals the longer you stay. Matt snagged the villa for RM600/night on the site as part of the Last Minute Romantic Getaway package. Rates for all villas here.
How to get there Located 1 hour to 1 1/2 hours away from the capital, we took the Lekas highway (it has 5 tolls) and turned off at exit 2106. The Dususn is only a 15 minute drive from there.
The Dusun, Kampung Kolam Air, Mukim Pantai, 71770, Seremban, Negeri Sembilan. W: www.thedusun.com.my
This article was corrected on 13 June to reflect that the infinity pool next to Perling House is an ionised water pool rather than chlorinated water pool as originally stated.