Fraser’s Hill trails for beginners

I love Fraser’s Hill. A leisurely 1 hour drive from Kuala Kubu Bharu, Fraser’s Hill is cool, uncomplicated and quiet. It also has 7 terrific trails that are suitable for beginners. Here’s how to hike all 7 in a single day and still scoff scones.

You have arrived!

Located in the highlands of the Titiwangsa range, many visitors to Fraser’s Hill come for the cooler climes that attracted the British administration to transform this 19th century mining outpost into a hill station some 100 years ago. Others come for its quaint English charm and colonial architecture.

One of the many beautiful bungalows of Fraser’s Hill.

Compared with that other former colonial hill station, Cameron Highlands, Fraser’s Hill has not been ravaged by mass tourism and unchecked development, and its forests, which are home to indigenous and endemic species, have not been felled for illegal farm lands.  In fact, concerned about this, the Pahang government undertook to freeze development of its virgin forests in 2010, though vigilance remains essential.

Over time Fraser’s Hill’s popularity has waxed and waned, but it’s on an uptick right now. Weekends see it descended upon by birders, hikers, cyclists, super bikers and families, yet as a day trip or weekend destination it remains pleasantly unencumbered.

One reason for this is its walkability. The lack of heavy traffic, its compactness and connectability, and its fresh mountain air and abundant tree shade makes Fraser’s Hill a joy to explore on foot. It also has a variety of short trails that cut through its forests.

Quiet roads are a hallmark of Fraser’s Hill, particularly on weekdays.

Most were bridle paths that came into existence as a convenience to Fraser’s Hill’s early residents, and connected bungalows with each other, or to the local mission or town. Each has an interesting tale of how it came to be.

I’m particularly fond of how the Maxwell trail came into existence – created not for residents but by workers compelled by unfolding world events far from these Malayan shores. The website of the Hill’s budget hotel, Puncak Inn, carries particularly vivid descriptions of each trail’s origins, if history fascinates you. Just cycle though the jungle trekking options.

The advent of affordable private vehicles like the car and motorcycle, saw the shortcuts fall out of favour, but they’ve since been adopted by hikers, nature lovers and birders.

A portion of the Abu Suradi trail – typical of most trails here it’s wide, leafy and easy to follow.

There are 7 such trail to explore on Fraser’s Hill: Kindersley, Rompin, Mager, Abu Suradi, Hemmant, Bishop and Maxwell. Suitable for beginners, most are wide and all are signposted. They can also be accomplished in a single day.

Older maps include a Wray trail, which is purported to be 1 kilometre long and connects Taman Sungai Hijau, Temerloh Bungalow (now Aida Daniya) and Bishop trail, but it doesn’t appear on newer maps and I didn’t manage to locate it.

Most descriptions of Fraser’s Hill trails also include Pine Tree trail but this is a peak trail as opposed to a connecting path. It’s also long, requires a minimum of 4 hours there and back, covers a total distance of 11 kilometres, and has a particularly technical section to overcome just before its apex. For this reason I haven’t included it here.

(WWF’s Guidebook to Fraser’s Hill carries the map shown below and is an excellent introduction to the local flora and fauna. You can download it here.)

Image from awsassets.wwf.org.my

So how to put away 7 trails and still do scones? Grab breakfast at 8am and set out at 9am. You can complete the trails in this order: Mager-Abu Suradi-Hemmant-Bishop-Maxwell, finishing up with Kindersley, which is on the way back into town from Maxwell, and ending with Rompin after lunch or before afternoon tea. The loop not only links up naturally but (with the exception of Kindersley and Rompin) handily works up from easy to more challenging as your muscles warm up and your confidence grows.

According to local police a permit is required to hike those trails (apply here). That seems impractical as some trails are 3 minutes long, but it’s best to err on the side of caution especially if you are alone, a novice or have children in tow. At the very least inform the police and your hotel of of your plans.

Woop! Woop! Sound of da police….

Some trails have side paths that have been blocked off to the public; these are usually to private residences, so don’t be confused by their presence. Wild boar prints are abundant, and the leeches are incessant, particularly on the Bishop and Maxwell trails, so come prepared.

Most trails had signs of wild boar indicating a lack of apex predators.

I’ve listed the 7 trails detailed in ascending order of length. All times given are actual times walked by me at a leisurely pace.

Kindersley trail (Flower trail), 110 metres, 5 minutes

The Kindersley trailhead located behind Glasshouse.

Named after Richard CM Kindersley who was instrumental in the development of Fraser’s Hill as a hill station, Kindersley trail is entirely uphill or downhill depending on your approach, from behind the Glasshouse or just below the Methodist Mission house.

This short trail is quite unkempt with leeches present.
A combination of stairs and dirt trail snakes its way up towards the Methodist Mission house.
The other end of the KIndersley trail, located at he bottom of a very large garden with a basketball court and the paved road leading towards the Methodist Mission house.

The brief trek consists of a zig zagging mix of stone steps and unkempt narrow dirt path with slopes of between 15 to 30 degrees. A shortcut that provided an easy way for the British to get to the Methodist Mission to attend service when first built in 1919, it still makes significant time savings, particularly if you’re coming on foot from Jalan Richmond.

Rompin trail (Lianna trail), 160 metres, 5 minutes

The old Rompin trail sign.

The Rompin trail is the most recently constructed and the least used. Built in the 1980s for the commuting residents of Taman Sungai Hijau, it begins off Jalan Sungai Hijau overlooking the flats and exits on Jalan Semantan just before Rompin House, after which it’s named.

The disused Rompin trail – steep, slippery and trecherous.
Midway down is a flat section.
The shelter marking Rompin trail’s halfway point.

Mid-way is a shelter and a short flat stretch but otherwise Rompin trail, which has been built into the hillside, is steep and almost entirely made up of concrete steps rendered treacherous by passing time and Mother Nature. Cracked, uneven and covered in moss, slipping is a distinct possibility especially in the wet. Still, nature lovers may want to risk it in the hope of spotting some exciting arachnids including Trap Door spiders and  Tube Web Spider. Ugh…..

Mager trail (Wild Pepper trail), 310 metres, 10 minutes

As the old sign at the Mager trail entrance overlooking the access road into Fraser’s Hill puts its length at 1000 metres, I had braced myself for a long hard slog, only to find my effort curtailed 310 metres later, where the Mager trail meets the Abu Suradi trail.

Older maps show Mager continuing for another 20 minutes from  Maybank Lodge on Jalan Ampang towards Jalan High Pines, but as this wasn’t evident to me at the time and contraindicated by newer signs I simply ended it there.

Beginning just outside the abandoned MCA building, three quarters of the Mager trail is uphill.

The trail evens out as you approach its end….

Despite the snafu, Mager is the perfect introduction to any exploration of Fraser’s Hill trails, as it’s short, wide and a gentle 3/4s uphill. Named after FW Mager, the British engineer and surveyor whose job was to identify suitable locations for roads and residences, Mager was also the man behind Gap’s road and its curious alternating one-way traffic system,

Abu Suradi trail (Lichen trail), 350 metres, 10 minutes

Where the Abu Suradi trail meets the Mager trail.

In 1899, Abu Suradi was the first local to be issued a mining lease for Pamah Lebar, now the location of the golf course. This trail cut an unhurried path from where his home once stood (near the present day Maybank Lodge) to his former mining operations.

This pleasant trail begins on a flat.

Attempted from the point at which the Mager and Abu Suradi trails meet, it starts out wide and flat before meandering downhill towards the Sultan Mahmud Mosque on Jalan Genting. For something more rigorous, try it the other way round.

Hemmant trail (Pitcher plant trail), 1000 metres, 25 minutes

The perfect trail for absolute beginners and children.

If you can do only one trail, I recommend the Bishop trail for its varied terrain and wildlife sighting opportunities. However, if you are an absolute beginner or travelling with young children, Hemmant is the one to do.

The trail is mostly flat, and any ascending is done by stairs.

Hemmant is characterised by a flat, broad trail which skirts around the Hill’s 9-hole golf course.

Dating back to 1920, it’s named after Frank Hemmant, the architect who designed the Hill’s 9-hole golf course; he used it to survey progress on the course’s development. As such, elevated views of the greens are a given.

Birdwatch or animal spot from the shelters and rest areas along the route.
At the Jalan Lurah end of the trail, the path consists of a covered boardwalk.

Running between Bentong bungalow next to the Sultan Mahmud Mosque and the bottom of Jalan Lady Maxwell, the trail is flat, broad and easy. Any ascents are minor and there are few obstacles. But what I relish most is that every twist in the trail is another hidden corner from which to linger to spot wildlife or listen to the forest’s avian chorus.

Bishop trail (Fig trail), 1500 metres, 40 minutes

Are you ready to bash your way through the Bishop? Hur, hur….

It was 2 years after Louis James Fraser (after which Fraser’s Hill gets is name) disappeared in 1915 that the Bishop of Singapore, CJ Ferguson-Davie led a trek to look for him. Ferguson-Davie came up empty, but he did recommend the area for development. When the hill station opened, he was subsequently offered a plot of land by the British government. The  narrow bridle path that he carved out to connect his cottage (The Retreat, later Bishop House) with bungalows on Jalan Lady Maxwell is commemorated with his title.

Whichever end you begin from, the trail starts downhill.
A pleasant walk in the woods, but beware the blood thirsty leeches.

Its undulating path begins with a descent, whichever end you start out from. Within 5 minutes of setting out from Jalan Lurah (Valley Road), less than 100 metres from the Hemmant trail, is its first stream crossing.

The 1st stream crossing.
The 2nd stream crossing.

Look out for a lek hidden on the other side where male birds dance and show off their plumage. 5 minutes later the first of 3 shelters come into view, rapidly followed by the trails second stream crossing.

The final shelter along Bishop trail, just before the right turn towards its exit.
The final 200 metres to the trailhead on Jalan Lady Maxwell.

The final shelter is preceded by a signpost indicating right up a stepped slope towards the exit and Muar Cottage, where the trail ends 200 metres later without ceremony.

Maxwell trail (Palms trail), 1800 metres, 1 hour

The more prominent exit/entrance onto Maxwell trail, hidden to the left of SJK (Tamil) Bukit Fraser. The other begins at Bishop trails’ final shelter, where the two trails intersect.

The longest and wildest of the 7 trails, Maxwell trail is best attempted by hikers with experience and proper attire. No leisurely ramble, it is a full blown jungle trek, and fallen trees, broken bamboo and tangles of scrub are common obstacles, particularly once you’re on the other side of the pylons approaching the SJK Bukit Fraser exit.

The trail from Bishop trail begins harmlessly but gradually the first becomes more dense and damp with many obstacles and lots of leeches to contend with.

Most of the fallen tree trunks have been notched so you can climb over them, but a parang (machete) should be packed anyway as blocked trails can confuse a novice hiker and send them off course. I had mentally remembered but physically forgot to pack my parang; fortunate the trail was not overgrown and all the obstacles encountered during my recent visit were passable.

An example of a fallen tree which has been notched to enable hikers to overcome it with ease. 

Tangles of liana and fallen bamboo make the going tougher.
Over, under, through. You’ll likely emerge with dirty pants given the methods you’ll have to employ to overcome obstacles on the Maxwell trail.

Unlike the other trails which were created for the benefit of Fraser Hill’s residents, this one was first used in 1919 by local workers as a means of getting from Labour Lines (location of Pines Resort) where they lived to Whittington bungalow (now Guthrie House) . There they would gather around the hill station’s only wireless radio to listen to news of the war (WWI).

The clearing where the pylons run marking the half way point of the Maxwell trail.

The trail is named after Sir William George Maxwell, the Chief Secretary of the Federated Malay States (Maxwell Hill is also named after him),  who was also notable for his contributions to education.  As mentioned, one end is located next to SJK (Tamil) Bukit Fraser, the hill’s oldest school; the other end intersects with Bishop trail at the sign directing hikers to the Muar Cottage exit; and the clearing where the pylons run marks the trails halfway point.

 

Pre-hike fuel up
Dining options are limited on Fraser’s Hill and are a little more expensive compared with the neighbouring towns of KKB and Raub. Many operate on weekends only and some for only half a day.

With the exception of drinks, it’s self service at Kedai Makan Hamzah.

Fuel up for breakfast at Kedai Makan Hamzah next to the Sultan Mahmud Mosque where you can help yourself to crispy roti canai and curry (avoid the dhal) and tasty nasi lemak. Just make sure to get there early as only a limited amount is made.

Kedai Makan Hamzah Jalan Genting, Fraser’s Hill, 49000, Pahang. 

Dhal to die for at S Darshini Indian Food.

S Darshini Indian Food at the Food Garden makes, hands down, the Hill’s best brekkie, and caters to vegetarians. Yay! Run by a young couple,  the stall has puri and appam ready to go, and roti canai, capati, idly and thosai that is made on the spot. Be prepared to wait up to 15 minutes on weekends when it is mobbed – it’s worth it though.

S Darshini Indian Food 8 Food Garden, Jalan Pine Tree, Fraser’s Hill, 49000, Pahang. T: +60 19 955 4634 F: http://www.facebook.com/pg/S.DHARSHINIINDIANFOODFRASERHILL Open: Daily except Wednesday, 7.30am-12.30pm

Post-hike treat

Afternoon tea and cream tea at The Smokehouse.

There’s nothing like a spot of cream tea in the afternoon in the Malaysian highlands. We tried Aida Daniya Teahouse at the top of Genting Road which serves the standard 2 scones, tea, and unlimited vistas of the mountains for RM19. Nevertheless, the scone champion remains Ye Olde Smokehouse. A storm took out two trees so it’s a lot less shady sitting on the verandah, but its scones and jam are unbeatable, even if pricier at RM28/set.

Aida Daniya Teahouse Jalan Pine Tree, Fraser’s Hill, 49000, Pahang. T: +60 9 362 2015 F: http://www.facebook.com/aidadaniya.teahouse Open: Daily except Friday, 11.30am-10pm

Ye Olde Smokehouse Jalan Semantan, Fraser’s Hill, 49000, Pahang. T: +60 9 362 2226  W: http://www.thesmokehouse.my Open: Daily, 3pm-6pm

Coffee and cake at Glasshouse.

If you’re (deep breath) not a fan of scones, Glasshouse near Shahzan Inn, run by Fraser’s Hill native Sean Yap and his wife, serves a burnt cheesecake that is dense, moist and delicious. It  goes down a treat with their coffee, which is the best on the Hill.

Glasshouse 1494 Jalan Lady Guillemard, Fraser’s Hill, 49000, Pahang. T: +60 12 207 9455 F: http://www.facebook.com/Glasshouse-Frasers-Hill-283192858883949 I: http://www.instagram.com/glasshousefrasers Open: Fri-Sun, 10am-6pm.

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