Royal Belum, Perak's Crown Jewel Beckons

ituated in the heart of the Royal Belum Forest Reserve, Temenggor Lake sparkles in the morning, creating a mesmerising spectacle.

The manmade lake offers a serene and picturesque setting, taking visitors away from modern world distractions. With its crystal clear waters, steep mountains, vibrant greenery and unruffled scenery, it’s no wonder Temenggor Lake is one of the most beautiful locations in the country. 

This writer woke up in the morning with the cold breathing on the face; I could feel the waves as the houseboat moves. It was an exhilarating and calming experience for this writer  and others in the media fraternity who were recently taken on a cruise onboard a houseboat called ‘Casuarina’ along the Temenggor Lake. The lake gives you a breathtaking panoramic view of the lush, green rainforest.

Among the activities that can be done in Temenggor Lake are riding a bamboo raft, bathing at the waterfall and fishing.

Originally built to facilitate the Temenggor Dam project in the 1970s, the 15,200-hectare lake - Malaysia’ s second largest manmade lake after Lake Kenyir in Terengganu -  is one of the country’s most prized possessions and also Perak’s pride and glory. It is also listed among 12 tourism icons in the state.

 The Royal Belum, which is located within the huge Belum-Temenggor Forest Complex, is believed to have been in existence for over 130 million years, making it one of the world’s oldest rainforests, older than both the Amazon and the Congo.

The tropical rainforest is recognised as a hotspot for biodiversity in Malaysia as it hosts diverse ecosystems and habitats for many exotic species of flora and fauna, many of which are endemic, rare, fragile or threatened.   



Royal Belum has a ‘black history.’ Based on historical records, the entire forest of Belum and Temenggor was considered a ‘black area’ and was placed under a state of emergency from 1948 until 1989.

During the insurgency led by the Malayan Communist Party (MCP), the communist insurgents and their underground agents were active in the city and new villages as well as in the jungle. Peace has since reigned over the area after signing of the Haadyai Accord in 1989.

Covering 117,500 hectares, The Royal Belum State Park is part of the larger Belum-Temenggor Forest Reserve, one of the largest blocks of forest in Peninsular Malaysia.

The Royal Belum State Park was officially gazetted under the Perak State Park Corporation Enactment 2001 by the Perak State Government on April 17, 2007. It was conferred a Royal status by the Sultan of Perak on July 31, 2003. Royal Belum is now the second largest park in Peninsular Malaysia after Taman Negara National Park which covers an area of 434,351 hectares.

Royal Belum is home to over 3,000 flora species, 64 species of ferns, 23 types of freshwater fish and three species of the gigantic Rafflesia, the largest flower in the world.

The park, which borders along Thailand to the north and Kelantan on the east, is also home to 10 species of hornbills, which are synonymous with Sarawak dubbed ‘Land of the Hornbills’.

The hornbill species that nestle in the forest of Royal Belum have a hard protrusion on its beak, and is one of the largest forest hornbills in the tropical rainforest in Southeast Asia, including large flocks of the plain-pouched hornbill (Rhyticeros subruficollis) from Thailand, flying over Temenggor Lake during the seasonal migration period.

Among the species at Royal Belum are Wrinkled, Wreathed, Great and Rhinoceros in addition to Helmeted Hornbill. Categorised as endangered species, the helmeted hornbill is listed under the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List of Threatened Species.

Royal Belum boasts more than 300 bird species and is touted as the only place in Malaysia where one can spot all 10 species of hornbills.  

Thousands of various hornbill species flock and fly across the Temenggor skyline from May to September in search of food.  Most hornbill species feed mainly on fruits, especially fig species and lipid-rich fruits.

The hornbills, especially plain-pouched, are a big draw in Royal Belum among bird aficionados as  flocks of birds are seen making dawn and evening flights during the seasonal migration period.

 “Visitors to Royal Belum would usually carry various types of cameras to capture the best shots of birds-in-flight for their photo collection,” said houseboat owner, Mohd Azman Mat Isa, 53, who has been running the business for 20 years.

Visitor arrivals to the park, which is managed by the Perak State Parks Corporation, reached an all time high of 30,000 in 2019.



Malaysian Nature Society (MNS)’s Senior Conservation and Project Manager, Yeap Chin Aik, said that the forest reserve of Royal Belum-Temenggor Complex has more Hornbill species compared to Sabah and Sarawak, with only eight.

However, for the people of Sarawak, especially the Dayak, the hornbill is considered as a bird of importance and it holds strong cultural symbol. 

  “Overall, there are 57 Hornbill species globally with 32 in Asia. Thailand and Indonesia have the highest number of Hornbills with 13 species while Malaysia has 10 species that can be found in Royal Belum and Ulu Muda, Kedah.

 “The fact that 10 out 32 species are found in our country goes to show that Malaysia has supported one-third of the diverse Hornbill species in Asia, drawing bird lovers to the site,” he said.

Birdwatching at Royal Belum is different from other places such as in Sarawak given that here, it can be carried out on a boat, with excellent views of hornbills on their daily migrations to fruiting trees scattered throughout the forest.

  Hornbills are best spotted both in the morning and during sunset especially when they pause to preen in the rain forest canopy on its way to a fruiting fig tree.

The Jahai tribe's Orang Asli village that resides in the Temenggor Lake area, Royal Belum Perak.

Our Royal Belum experience would not be complete without a stopover at the Orang Asli village. The smiles of the Jahai people of the Negrito tribe and their ancient song of welcome to the rhythmic beats of bamboo shoots (Sewang) would certainly warm every visitor’s heart.

They are easily recognisable by their black woolly hair, dark skin, short stature, rounded face and wide nose that largely resemble the people in Papua New Guinea.



About 105 people from 45 families are living near the river, which is the main source of livelihood for the Jahal Orang Asli community at Kampung Sungai Tiang, said Tok Batin Zamberi Lebis.

 “The Jahai community are the original settlers here and most of them are primarily engaged in fishing to generate income as well as other agricultural activities, besides hunting, selling of herbal medicine, producing handicraft, as well as taking part in traditional performances such as Siwak dance as tourist attractions.

 “I hope more tourists will visit our village which would bring a long way in providing the people here with additional income,” he said, adding that among the faiths practised among the villagers are Islam, Christianity and animism.

Having spent the late afternoon at the Orang Asli village, we were brought back to the houseboat for some leisure activities. After a hectic schedule, we had the opportunity to experience the rejuvenating power of nature as we swam in the refreshing waters of Temenggor Lake. Some of us took a ride on a bamboo raft down the river and experience a rustic way of life.

Some women of the Jahai tribe gathered to welcome tourists to the village.

 A must-visit for visitors is a trip to the Sungai Ruok Waterfall, one of the most beautiful waterfalls in Royal Belum State Park. It is also a freshwater fish sanctuary.

 “Our boat trip from Tasik Banding jetty to Sungai Ruok waterfall took us about two hours, and subsequently, we had to trek with the help of a tour guide who helped navigate us through. Dipping your toes in the water and feeling the fish gaze past you while enjoying your meal is an experience no one should miss. You can feed the fish while you’re here.

 “But, fishing in this area is prohibited as visitors will be under the watchful eyes of the CCTV which have been installed by the Perak State Parks Corporation. Anyone caught fishing here will be arrested by the enforcement officer,” said skipper, Afzainizam Lepen, 18.




Ecotourism is the trend for now, with Royal Belum attracting visitors who are largely nature lovers.

Citing a survey on domestic tourism in 2022, Gaya Travel Magazine Chief Executive Officer Mohd Nor Mohd Diah, said Perak took the fourth spot with 14.6 million visitors.

For Ummi Najjiah Mohd Sazali, 29, her vacation to the rainforest was a once-in-a- lifetime experience as she had an encounter with wild elephants near Temenggor Lake.

 “Perhaps for some people, you can get a closer view of elephants at the zoo but this is different as what I saw were wild elephants.  During our boat cruise, we came across a herd of wild elephants near the lake, and everyone was thrilled to see the animals, forcing the skipper to steer the vessel towards them.  

 “We were however advised to stay still and not make a sound if we wished to get a closer view of the elephants. According to the skipper, we were lucky to have spotted the elephants there as they were rarely seen near the lake, except by the roadside,” the social media writer shared.

For this writer, indulging in the magnificence of the renowned Royal Belum Rainforest is an experience like no other. This untouched wilderness, existing for centuries, beckons visitors to embrace its enchanting allure and breathtaking splendour. It is no wonder that Royal Belum is known as ‘Perak’s crown jewel.’

 Royal Belum is one of the last frontiers of the world’s dwindling tropical rainforest.  We should take pride in its existence and continue with efforts in protecting the environment and conserving the biodiversity as they help create a future for our planet and generations.Youth awareness and engagement in environmental sustainability are also crucial as they are the future game-changers.


Translated by Salbiah Said


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