RAWANG, Oct 5 — Anak Bukit Takun stands between a natural pond and the landscaped greens of Perangsang Templer Golf Club, popular with golfers from Korea and Japan. The limestone hill measures about 15 metres high and hosts unique cave fauna.
If you think Anak is majestic looking, its “mother” Bukit Takun is even more resplendent at about 20 times the height. This solitary outcrop that sits on a granite base dates back at least a million years and was one of the first rock climbing sites in Malaysia.
Such limestone hills are what one would typically associate with Ipoh or Kedah but is hardly thought of when describing Selangor. Yet there they are in all their imposing glory, part of the view that greets you at Templer Park Rainforest Retreat, a family-owned and run holiday home set out over a four-acre piece of land that’s open for rentals year round.
Guests check into one of four rooms in a two-level house built of Merbau and teakwood, with solar panels to power the water heaters. There are two room types: The smaller one is meant for two and the other can sleep up to six.
All units are fitted with air-conditioners and fans, while the latter is also equipped with a flat screen TV with more than 100 movies stored in a USB drive. Altogether, the retreat can house at least 16 guests at a time, with the capacity for more on foldable canvas beds.
Since receiving their first guests last year, Rainforest Retreat has drawn a steady stream of visitors looking for an escape from the pressures of the city that it is so close to (just 20 minutes by car from KL), yet is a world away from.
Already, their weekends are booked out until the end of the year while advance reservations have been locked in for next March. Airbnb, the vacation rental site where Rainforest Retreat is listed, has named them as a superhost based on their hospitality style and quality of travellers’ experience.
The response surprised owners Saw Kim Hock and his wife Juliet Chew, a retired T-shirt manufacturer and chartered accountant, respectively. The couple and their three sons used to live in Taman Tun Dr Ismail and only moved here about 10 years ago, drawn by the crisp air, serenity and slow pace.
Saw had owned the piece of land where the retreat now sits for a number of years prior to that but didn’t have any specific plans for it.
“We never thought of running a resort, we initially just built a fish pond with a barbecue deck next to it as a place for family and friends to gather,” Saw explains. There are some 5,000 fish in the pond, including prized species such as soon hock (Marble Goby) and wang bu liao (Tor Tambroides). “Then we realised we needed shelter in case it rains, so we constructed a studio apartment-style room under the deck.”
When their youngest son returned from architecture studies in the UK, he convinced his parents that they should open the place to others and share the restful environment. The Saws listed their place on Airbnb at the end of 2013 and almost immediately, visitors began arriving.
At the time, guests could either stay at the apartment by the pond or at the family’s home next door. As their inbox began filling up with more enquiries, Saw realised the need to provide more accommodation options and so right after Chinese New Year this year, they built the guest house.
“Even the weekdays are filling up fast,” Juliet reveals, adding that some guests book at the very last minute, as if they urgently need a respite from the city and their daily lives. “We’ve had people who happened to visit the area, spotted our place from the road and immediately after, they booked a stay with us!” It’s also not uncommon for visitors to return for repeat stays after getting a taste of what the retreat has to offer.
Turning in from Lebuhraya Rawang, you drive past rows of tall trees flanking a small road. Further in, the trees grow closer together, bending to meet in the middle and creating a tunnel-like path with their lush foliage.
Once you reach the retreat, you’ll notice the air is perceptibly cooler. “Since moving here, we have only used our air-conditioner about five times,” says Saw while Juliet reveals how it can get so chilly in the early mornings that they have to rouse themselves from sleep to put socks on!
Bring your car up a short driveway and park at the edge of the lawn fronting the retreat. The open field is an ideal playground for children, dogs (the retreat is pet friendly) and also corporate team-building groups. Juliet, who now runs a tuition centre with her second son, has taken care to provide some games that are suitable for all ages.
Besides water guns and dart boards, there are traditional games like congkak, rubber band jump ropes, and she’s constantly thinking of more childhood favourites to add to the mix.
Next to the guest house is a small semi-open air kitchen where you can cook your own meals or prepare a barbecue. The retreat doesn’t cater any food – except for bread and eggs for breakfast – but provides all the necessary utensils, including grills and tongs.
There’s a smattering of sauces and dips left behind by guests but you need to bring your own food and ingredients; the nearest Tesco is about 10 minutes away.
Enjoy your barbecue at the relaxation pavilion that’s linked by stone paths to the kitchen, an airy space with high ceilings filled with a motley selection of furniture.
Sporting organic shapes and materials, they complement the surroundings perfectly. The centrepiece is three boulders with their tops flattened and the surfaces coated in tiny pebbles. Cool to the touch and large enough to fit a person each, they make great spots for an afternoon lie down.
If you prefer a softer surface, get comfortable on the two hammocks that look out directly over the golf course or settle into one of the unique chairs that are carved from a type of Indonesian wood and shaped like cupped hands.
Tuck into breakfast at the large irregular-shaped dining table, sculpted from a stone slab, with stools to match. Nearby, a jagged white marble-like block with small craters coating its top is the most significant feature here: A chip off Bukit Takun that was unearthed during the construction of the fish pond.
A staircase leads to the upper deck, where wooden swings and gazebos are well placed to offer more chill-out spots and lookout points.
The retreat doesn’t offer any other facilities but it doesn’t need to. Most guests are content to simply lounge around, listening to the chirp of birds and making the most of the laidback environment. Juliet can arrange for a masseuse if you feel a need for further relaxation.
In many ways, the retreat reflects the couple themselves, who are very much in tune with nature. Besides being animal lovers – they have five dogs of their own – they also keep their own chickens and Juliet enjoys making fruit enzymes. A variety of fruit trees grow on their land, including a Taiwanese species of pomelo that’s about the size of a large orange with sweet, pale yellow flesh.
Some species of wildlife call this place home as well, though they tend to shy away from people. The Saws have spotted, among others, otters from the stream that runs parallel to the guest house. At dusk, bats fly along the banks and towards Bukit Takun as they leave their roost to forage for food, returning before sunrise.
Wild boars sometimes dig up the lawn and occasionally, monitor lizard help themselves to fish in the pond, which are actually meant for the family’s own consumption. Fed by natural spring waters – which Juliet also filters and provides as drinking water for guests – the fish are lovingly cared for and have grown to healthy sizes.
“The lizards are known for their huge appetites so we have lost a good number of our fish.” And while it is obviously a source of heartache, they have decided to let it be. “It’s the cycle of life, as nature intended. We take it as a good sign that these wild animals still roam in our land and are able to find food.”
Perhaps the same can be said of the urban dwellers who have found their way to this retreat. As much as we have adapted to the fast pace of modern living, every now and then everyone needs an escape.
It’s certainly an assuring sign that there are such beautiful, unspoiled green lungs within easy reach of the city where one can go to feed, nourish and rejuvenate the mind and soul.
Bukit Takun is located on the edge of Templer’s Park, one of the country’s first natural parks that was bequeathed in perpetuity by the late Sultan of Selangor, Sultan Hishamuddin Alam Shah Al Haj, who declared it open in 1954. The park was named after Sir Gerald Templer, the then-British High Commissioner, who first presented the idea of protecting this forested area of over 1,200 hectares.
Other natural landmarks in the vicinity that are worth a visit are Kanching Falls, Batu Caves and Selayang Hot Springs.
Rawang town is known for tilapia, a freshwater fish that can have an unpleasant muddy taste if not prepared correctly. You don’t have to worry about that here; a number of well-patronised eateries in the town dish up this local specialty in a number of scrumptious ways. Ask the Saws to point you to some of the most popular restaurants where the fish is fresh and always cooked perfectly.