The relationship between Singapore and Malaysia has sometimes been described of that as a pair of Siamese twins, so intertwined due to geography, history, politics, culture, and economy factors. Just like any sibling rivalry, there are certain tensions that have arisen in the past due to jealousy and the need to outdo each other.
We have seen it in the cases of a territorial dispute, land reclamation work, and even in petty issues like football league representation.
Like any blood brothers, it has usually worked out amicably in the end. In the last decade especially, when the new leaders on both sides took on an attitude of mutual understanding and how to complement and build on each other’s strengths, we have seen less of the “I can do better” ethos.
Singapore, in its quest for rapid economic development, has lost much of its history, authenticity, and rustic lifestyle. This explains the throngs of weekend queues at the Causeway for food and shopping in Malaysia. There are growing numbers of outdoor adventurers who go north in search of quests that include waterfall exploration, spelunking, and mountain hiking.
With this in mind, 30 members from the Singapore Adventurous Nature Lovers meetup group travelled to Fraser’s Hill, a resort situated in the highlands of Pahang. We were hosted by 8 Malaysian hikers. Our objective was to summit Pine Tree Hill (1500masl) via the Pine Tree Trail – the most difficult and challenging trail among the 8 trails offered in Bukit Fraser.
We started the 5.5km trail that morning with a gentle shower that soon fizzled out. The ground, however, was quite wet and muddy. The rain brought up a cooling temperature of 23C and generated a somewhat mysterious mist at the start of our trail. This only heightened the feeling of anticipation and excitement among the mood of the hikers that morning.
The altitude reading on my device read 1211m at the beginning of the trail. On paper, it seemed like an easy hike gradient of 300m over the 5.5km distance to the highest point of 1500m to the summit.
It would not be what it seemed to be,
There were quite a number of uphill climbs, followed by steep, slick downhill terrain to overcome. Coupled with the challenge of navigating one’s body over branches that have been uprooted, foot placement would become extremely important.
Trekking through Lianas, or affectionately known as “Tarzan’s Ropes.” A typical characteristic of the southeast Asian tropical rainforest, a liana is any of various woody vines that are long-stemmed and rooted at ground level. They use trees for vertical support to get the light they need through the canopy of the forest.
As the trek continues on, the trail becomes engulfed in the midst of a thick canopy with tall trees forming a natural umbrella above one’s head. A mysterious aura descends upon the hiker amidst the low lights and the sounds of nature become distinct, clearing the mind of any distraction.
Rich details of the rainforest jumped out, one by one. To me, such are the efficacious relief for a physically tired soul.
Nearing the summit is a rope section where the hiker has to practically haul themselves up the 20m slope. This is where the action slowed to a tortoise pace because everyone had to find a steady foothold before moving onto the next step with the help of ropes.Thanks to the slick muddy terrain, overcoming this rope section was a difficult challenge for many team members. With our friends from Malaysia helping everyone out, however, the whole team were soon on top of this obstacle.
A mossy trail soon greets guests at the end of the rope section. It is an enchanted forest.
We reached the Pine Tree Hill summit 1505masl at 12.50pm and commemorated this event with a loi hei (Chinese New Year Prosperity Toss) culminating in an exchange of National Flags. The atmosphere was euphoric as we posed for pictures with one another.
It was indeed a very special afternoon spent with hikers from both sides of the Causeway.
While it will take 3-4 hours for most hikers to reach the summit of Pine Tree Hill, it will take them 5-6 hours to trek on the same trail back to the trailhead. The return journey was arduous, perhaps knowing subconsciously that the highlights of the day were over and it was time to return home. You could feel the strength of the hikers ebbing away by their heavy footsteps and deep breathing.
You tend to meet different personalities whenever you are on a trekking trip. You will find the Achievers who want to challenge themselves by making to the summit and back in their swiftest time. You also come upon hikers who want to immerse themselves in nature, enjoying and taking in every moment that the rainforest has to offer them. There are also those who just want to spend a quiet moment with a friend, hiking and enjoying the company of each other in the solitude of nature.
To each their own, as there is no “correct” definition of how a model hiker should be or behave. The human race is one body, but with many parts. Without these differences, we do not have the same strength.
This afternoon, I enjoyed hiking and chatting in the company of my Malaysian counterparts. Understanding their way of life and picking up interesting myths and legends about the forest and mountains of Malaysia was a beautiful experience. I now know why one should never bring or consume pork when up on a mountain. Or at night, the reasons why one should never call out to teammates by using their names, but should instead imitate monkey howls to draw their attention.
To earn great rewards, one must be willing to take great risks. Sometimes that means forming relationships with a nation that may not have always been a friend. At other times, it means grabbing the ropes while in the mud to use your last bit of strength to climb to the top, unsure of what will be found.
On Bukit Fraser, I found deeper friendships in the amazing cathedral of Mother Nature.