Last year, I had some days off in between jobs. So I made full use of it to re-visit Sungai Lembing in Pahang.
Back then, the urge to escape the city was strong, to close off the world and revel in the stillness of a small town. I’d been to Sungai Lembing once, I knew I was meant to return. Can’t explain why, exactly. It was as if the spirit of El Dorado of the East called, and my subconscious answered.
Shirley my old friend, used to my peculiarities, came along for the ride. It was also right in the middle of the 2015 haze season, so severe that it earned its own Wikipedia page.
We got lucky, the haze cleared somewhat as we reached the old tin mining town. For this trip, we used the trunk roads (5-6 hours from Kuala Lumpur) instead of the highway (3.5 hours). I don’t think I’m in a hurry to do that again, for unlike the East Coast coastal road, the view became repetitive after a while.
It felt like nothing changed since my first visit in 2012. The hundred year old tree in the middle of town, one of the few, stood strong. Though almost bald, no thanks to the haze, it would flourish again, as it always does.
We stayed at Country View Inn in the middle of town. Inexpensive, clean, and you wake up to sounds of people having breakfast and chatting at the market. What’s not to love?
But it was old, and the town itself is full of history. It wouldn’t be too surprising if something spooky happened to us, which it did, individually. But not too scary that I wouldn’t return. I don’t particularly feel like re-telling it now, perhaps another time (or never).
Sungai Lembing background: in the early 1900s, the British, under Pahang Consolidated Company Limited developed Sungai Lembing into a tin mining hub. They dug tunnels long and deep; lucrative but there were many deadly casualties when tunnels caved.
The town flourished until the mid-1980s, when global tin prices collapsed. The company shut down the mines, and suddenly, most folks in Sungai Lembing were out of jobs.
The younger ones left town to make a living elsewhere. Sungai Lembing was almost forgotten, until not long ago when tourism gave it a second lease of life.
Now on weekends and school or public holidays, Sungai Lembing comes alive with tourists flocking to Panorama Hill, Rainbow Waterfall, the underground mining tunnel museum, the time capsule hotel…
But on weekdays, it is a slower, subdued pace of life. It felt like time stood still, to be honest. Local folks go about their regular business. Some shops are open, most remain closed. The only outsiders are people like me, who do not enjoy weekend crowds, who schedule holidays on quiet days.
Which gives locals more time to laugh at people like me, who casually asked if the sole petrol kiosk in town was still working.
The answer is no. But the guy must be fed-up of answering this question, for his ‘no’ came with “YOU TRY AND SEE LA! OF COURSE IT’S NOT WORKING *snigger snigger*.. ”
Then he rode off on his motorbike, most likely cursing at naive tourists in his heart, hahah.
This assembled rock formation has been around for a few years, placed in front of a shop. I never quite understood its purpose. But if someone went through all the trouble of making the rocks stand by themselves, it deserves to be photographed.
Stop and observe, for Sungai Lembing is full of quirky, colourful characters. Like this woodworker, who made no eye contact, and grunted his permission to be photographed.
I stood there for a good few minutes, watching him work as Saloma serenaded us from a dusty grey music player, no doubt a relic from the 80s. Not once did he remove the lit cigarette from his mouth as he hammered and carved a piece of wood to his liking. Ash formed where tobacco used to be, but not once did it fall on his work.
Want to visit Sungai Lembing? Go for it. Spend a few days, feed your soul. In broad daylight, it’s a highly walk-able town. If you visit during the weekdays, you’d get peace and quiet, away from the (much appreciated but busy) weekend crowds.