It felt too long between road trips, so colluding over coffee one afternoon we decided we’d head north (sort of). Into the interior. Richard, April and I. Bentong-Raub-Bentong-Janda Baik-Bukit Tinggi. It was a lot of ground to cover but we had no plans to rush. We’d play it loose. Bentong for breakfast, Raub for lunch and Bukit Tinggi for for dinner.
Loose summed up this trip. Shooting the breeze over breakfast, we missed out on Mrs. Mak’s freshly baked pineapple tarts which she sells at the Bentong morning market. Taking our time wandering the streets meant the tofu factory in Raub was closed and the Portuguese Egg Tarts at the town’s teahouse were sold out. And by the time we made our way to Janda Baik, Purple Cane Tea House had shut its doors. But why dwell on what we didn’t get to do when this is what we did do?
Richard and I had explored Bentong before and there were a few things we missed out. April hadn’t been, so this was a good opportunity to revisit those lost opportunities. Our first stop in Bentong … breakfast.
It was 10am when we arrived. Pumped to get stuck in, we made a beeline for Yuen Kee, an unassuming corner lot kopitiam tucked just behind the wet market. Everything looked so scrumptious.
We ordered up wan tan noodles (minus the char siew aka roasted pork) from Hooi Ji and stuffed tofu from the neighbouring yong tau foo stall . Both were winners. Thoroughly mixed in, the thick sweet soy sauce and spring onions were a perfect complement to the fresh springy egg noodles, and the tofu was light and satisfying. Thank you James Tan for the great tip (you can read Motormouth From Ipoh‘s account of Bentong here).
There were a smattering of stalls still open when we emerged bellies full of food and laughs. The freshly baked tart stall had packed up for the day but we could still stock up on Bentong ginger. Big in size and reputation, this rhizome is sought after for its fiery flavour. I’m all for fresh out of the ground but convinced by the stall holder after some well placed sampling, we grabbed a few bottled of the dried stuff to take home – no sugar added and no preservatives. Yay!
After a quick wander around the town, we grabbed an old school coffee at Cheong Fatt kopitiam and headed to Raub via the old trunk road. Being a Monday the route was quiet and the drive through the durian orchards past resorts like Caravan Serai, Tanah Aina Farrah Soraya and Casabrina, and towns of Kampung Baru Sang Lee, Tranum and Tras, was undisturbed except by the occasional 4×4 and local bus. Interesting to note, some of these towns were created in the 40s and 50s to combat the communist insurgence.
I had passed through Raub countless times on my way to Merapoh for my volunteer CAT Walks, and each time I’d spy a large white bungalow perched on a hill. With a destination to get to I’d drive on by but not this time.
The colonial bungalow looks well preserved on the face of it – painted white, fixtures intact, black bamboo blinds hanging in the windows upstairs. Converted for use as a sales office for a property developer, it must have once belonged to somebody important as its location provided a vantage point of the old town and surrounding hills and mountain, albeit now disrupted by the sight of rooftops. It was now surrounded by luxury homes.
I wondered what had been here before and wished I had satisfied my curiosity sooner. The sales person assured us that the building would remain even after all construction had been completed. But for how long? The flooring inside the office had been replaced with tiles and the paint had begun to peel from the walls due to the damp.
Hungry despite the ample breakfast, we sat down at Ratha for lunch. I had just been a few days before with a MYCAT Cat Walk group and my Instagram photo had set off Richard’s tastebuds. Set on the corner of Jalan Tun Razakas you enter the old part of town, this local institution is unmissable.
Their specialty is fish head curry, and at RM52 nett it’s a pretty expensive dish, but we had come this far. Sharing (the RM52 nett portion is good for 2-4 persons) worked out to RM23 per person with rice and drinks. No regrets because it was pretty damn delicious – strong and spicy and laden with lady’s fingers, aubergine and tau foo pok.
You could be hit with a sense of deja vu when you explore Raub, after doing the same in Bentong. Both towns bear a lot of similarities – the old parts set on two parallel streets of pre-war shophouses with five foot ways, occupied mostly by hardware shops, banks, bakery supplies stores and dentists and clinics. Oh and Secret Recipe.
Unlike Bentong which was built on tin mining, Raub was built on gold mining. Founded in the 18th century, ‘Raub’ is the Malay word for scoop and describes the amount of gold that would be found in every pan worked by prospectors. There must have been lots of it as gold mining still persists today.
Having explored both streets and the area around the padang we made for the old guesthouse. Although it looks inviting sadly its potential appears to have been squandered.
If you’ve ever stayed or visited YTL’s Cameron Highlands Resort or Majestic Kuala Lumpur, you could easily imagine Raub’s Old Guesthouse as a smaller scale version. I doubt there’d be much of a market for that here, nevertheless some restoration to its former charm and some tastefully chosen soft furnishings wouldn’t go amiss.
When we walked in it was to a company celebration being held in the reception area, which felt odd. Still the hotel staff were polite and graciously let us use the bathroom.
With the sun starting to take its toll on us it was time to head indoors. Kim Fah Tea House was still open but as it turned out the very items we wanted to try, like the Portuguese egg tarts and kaya puffs, were sold out for the day, and only the meat-stuffed pastries remained. Oh well. Must remember to come earlier next time.
Clearly a local favourite, the place was busy – the turnover of tables high and the counter was repeatedly inundated with people picking up pre-orders. Not to be discouraged we settled for some chee cheong fan and kaya toast with coffee and tea and chatted with the lovely ladies that ran the place.
Evening now, we set off in the direction of Janda Baik by way of the scenic Old Gombak Road so we could make a pitstop at the hot springs. There were murals on the walls now depicting sea life, which was funny since sea life would certainly not survive in the hot freshwater springs. Both pools felt hotter than I remember and curiously the untiled pool was clear. For the first time I could see the cement stairs and moss covered logs littering the bottom of the pool.
A sign on the makeshift changing rooms made a plea for donations to upgrade the facilities. As non Bentong-Bukit Tinggi-Jada Baik residents, we appreciated that we were able to enjoy the springs and were keen to make a donation. Unfortunately the man who comes round for collections is only intermittently here. If only they used Kickstarter….
Going on the recommendation of Kim Fah Tea House’s staff, dinner was at Restoran 126 , one of the largest and nicest looking eateries in Kampung Bukit Tinggi.
They were out of green dragon beard veg so we ordered the next best thing, garlic stir fried watercress, along with ginger steamed fish, salted egg yolk battered mantis prawns and four emperor vegetables (minus the belacan).
Apart from the mantis prawns (I prefer the one at Restoran 98 in KKB) the meal was satisfactory. The young man who attended to us was incredibly friendly and obliging and assured us that our order would be budget friendly; at RM66 or RM22 per head, it certainly was.
April and Richard purchased bags of fresh fruit and vegetables at a stall on the way out before heading home with plans to return. This was a familiarisation trip, now we were acquainted, I was looking forward to getting to know Raub better and soon.
We took the Karak Highway (E8 – the one that goes to Kuantan) and exited at Exit 808 onto the Old Gombak Road (68). Take a right and just after the Shell petrol station hang left onto Highway 8. This B-road is the main artery servicing the towns of Bentong, Raub, Lipis, Merapoh and Gua Musang.
You can take the 8 to get to Raub from Bentong but we headed off piste by turning left onto 218. Signs at this intersection should point to Fraser’s Hill and Casabrina Vacation Villas. At Tranum the 218 meets the 55 at a T-junction. It’s left to Fraser’s Hill and right to Raub. The road will intersect again with the 8 just before Raub. Just turn left.
Bentong is approximately an 1 hour drive away from Kuala Lumpur. It should take 45 minutes to travel from Bentong to Raub.
Yuen Kee Kopitam 57 Jalan Chui Yin, Bentong, 28700, Pahang.
Restoran Ratha 82 Jalan Tun Razak, Raub, 27600, Pahang. T: 09 356 1651. Open: 6.30am-9.30pm. (The restaurant also has branches in Gohtong Jaya, Genting Highlands and Damansara Uptown, Petaling Jaya.)
Kim Fah Tea House 28 Jalan Dato’ Abdullah, Raub, 27600, Pahang. T: 09 355 1182. Open: 8am-6pm.
Restoran 126 Kampung Bukit Tinggi, 28750, Pahang.
Caravan Serai 3159 & 3160, 12 3/4 mile Jalan Tras, Bentong, 28700, Pahang. T: 60 16 213 7387 F: www.facebook.com/caravanseraibentong
Tanah Aina Farrah Soraya 8 Jalan Tras, Bentong, 27600, Pahang. T: 60 3 5512 1006 W: http://www.tanahaina.com/farrah-soraya/
Casabrina 1460 Jalan Tras, Bentong, 27600, Pahang. T: 60 9 361 5242 F: http://www.facebook.com/casabrinavacationvillas W: www.casabrina.net