Monday, 9 July 2018

Day trip to 3 northern lakes: Beris, Muda and Pedu

Wow, it’s been a few years since I updated this blog. There’s actually been quite a bit of travelling in the meantime, but I’ve just gotten so used to the more concise and immediate form of Facebook posts that I’ve neglected this blog. 
I think I need to post more here so will start with a simple one-day drive that Mei and I took just yesterday. Eager to leave the island (Penang lah - I’ve been living here since the end of 2014) and explore a few more lakes to add to the list of lakes we visited last year, we headed north towards Pedu.

Lunch at Sik turned out very well.

We took the highway up to Gurun then headed east along Highway 175 towards Sik where we figured we’d stop for lunch. As it turned out, I needed the loo rather urgently and so when we arrived in Sik, we had to look for a clean enough restaurant or coffeeshop rather than just a tree-shaded gerai. Around the back of a block of shops we found a little place which seemed to fit the bill. The food in the bainmarie was all covered which was a good sign. The shop was also pretty clean and so we decided to stop there.
Rosmani with her grandaughter and her husband is the one in green behind her.
Toilet needs sorted out, we had our lunch and it turned out that the food was not only hygienically displayed, but also delicious. We hung around a few minutes then when I got up to pay at the cashier, the Malay proprietress sat down to chat with Mei. My first thought was that this was going to be fun as Mei’s Malay is virtually non-existent. But then I thought I heard a smattering of English and when I went back to the table, true enough, they were having a jolly conversation in English.

Rosmani was now retired, as was her husband who did most of the cooking. She had been with RTM for 31 years and her husband had been an Inspector in the CID. They used to live in Penang until their retirement whereupon they returned to his hometown, Sik. A catering contract with a school and some government departments provided for them and some family members and when those contracts lapsed, they looked around and finally found this little shop to set up.
As we’ve been in F&B for the last few years too, we found a lot in common with Rosmani and so lingered chatting and sharing thoughts and ideas for some time. She was very keen to get some feedback and was happy we liked what we’d eaten, and also that we appreciated her attention to detail - the cleanliness was something she was especially proud of.
So if you’re ever in Sik, do give her place a try. I’ve included the map and a picture of the storefront. It’s off the main road and facing in so is not obvious.

Lots of Resorts, mostly closed or rundown.

After lunch we headed up north towards the Beris Lake, still on Highway 175. The road was lightly trafficked and very pleasant to drive on. For some reason Mei was quite drowsy so I drove for the most part mainly deep in my thoughts. Beris lake and Dam are only about 12-15 km away form Sik and there are quite a few signs for resorts and chalets here. A few we saw were in some state of disrepair though so proceed at your own peril. At a scenic spot we found what looked like an RnR and stopped to have a look. Some of it was cordoned off and it looked to be generally abandoned though in the same car park, a car was stationary with its engine running, the occupant busy on her phone.
We got out, stepped over a cable laid across a service road and had a look around. Behind us, and along the main road was the RnR, empty and quiet. To our left was a large roofed structure which at some point must have been a dining hall with two stall spaces at the far end. The long side was open to a panoramic view of the lake. Grey green in the afternoon haze, it was nevertheless quite spectacular. An island lay out a little to the right and beyond that on the far shore we could see some structures mid-construction. On our left was a promontory upon which some buildings could be seen. Obviously a resort of some sort.
The hall we stood in had a lower floor, the stairs to which was blocked off by tape and a warning sign. In the open area below was a tarmacked area which could have been a car park or something similar.
At this point the car in the car park was driven off and then we heard a female voice calling to us. It turned out the RnR was not abandoned after all. The lady suggested very politely that we should not go beyond where we were and we assured her we would not. When asked, she explained that there were a few stalls still operating and that they were open at night. Her own stall had Thai food cooked by Thais who’d come from across the border nearby. The low structure was also chalets and I later discovered this was called Tasik Beris Inn. It all looked a little sorry though so I can’t imagine who would stay here. 

We stopped every now and then to take pictures. The old CRV ran very well.

Still, the view was quite nice and if this place was tidied up a bit and made more festive, it would be a very pretty place to sit down for a meal and drinks in the evenings. The lady who’d called to us was back at the front with her husband and both waved to us in a very friendly manner as we drove off so perhaps this place is not a lost cause.
We continued north past the resort next door called D’Puncak Beris Lake Resort. Not even at a last resort I think for it looked in even more parlous a state than the one we’d just seen. 

Small town honesty

A little after passing the next town of Gulau and taking the northeast road towards Pedu, I realised I’d forgotten to fill up at Sik. We’d been so happy to chat with Rosmani we’d just driven off, forgetting our plan to top up. Though I had maybe about 90km of fuel left in the car I decided not to chance it so made a loop back to Gulau and found a small petrol station just as another guy in an old Proton turned up.
This was a tiny 2-pump station which seemed bereft of life. One side of the double glass door to the station office and shop was shut and the other half was blocked by a snacks shelf on wheels. Inside a TV set was screening some daytime cartoon but no one responded to my ‘hellloooo’. The guy in the Proton stepped out of his car and brought out a small plastic jerry can and waited patiently. We both did, then 2 minutes later, a scooter whizzed into the station, a woman on board with two young school-age children. The owner of the station, she’d obviously popped out to pick up her kids from school. Leaving the station virtually unlocked. Small towns are much better on honesty than big ones I guess.
Just as suddenly as she’d appeared, a whole mob of motorcyclists converged on the station. It’s almost as if they knew she’d be away and would be back at a certain time. They all waited quietly in turn and it was quite nice to observe, actually.
Next stop - Muda Lake and Dam. A little road off to the right gave us a view of the small dam and as we proceeded along it and up a slope, a better view of the lake behind the dam. That road ended in a steel gate, a barbed wire fence and an armed guard at the guardhouse next to it. When asked he explained the dam was a regular dam, not hydro and after a quick look, we carefully reversed the couple of hundred meters back down the narrow road.
Another exit a few kilometres further along Highway 175 indicated some sort of recreation area with boating or other water sports. Whether this was still in use is not certain.

The Muda Dam

Rubber Trees look so much better than Oil Palm

And so on we continued, enjoying the sweeping curves along gently undulating terrain with occasional views of lakes to our right or rivers beneath bridges. A really nice road to drive on. Light traffic, hills and mountains and lakes. Agriculture in this part of the country - besides the hectares of rice in the lower plains - is mainly rubber. I’ve always preferred the sight of rubber plantations to Oil Palm. The latter seems to denude the surroundings in a voracious way, whereas rubber presents in a less aggressive way. Well, this is the way I see it anyway. There is a certain beauty and aesthetic quality about rubber that is missing from Oil Palm and I am glad to be living in the northern states where there is less Oil Palm.

There is a road that runs along a long section of Pedu Lake and we drove down this undulating road. Narrow and not well used anymore, it nevertheless remained clear enough to suggest something was at the end.
Along the way we spied a ruined entranceway - perhaps to a resort of sorts - down one branch off the main road. Some other branches were overgrown and didn’t invite exploration. We continued down this long road and eventually reached the end where we faced a closed gate with a No Entry sign on it. To the right of this was a signboard proclaiming it to be the Mutiara Pedu Lake Golf and Lake Resort. The guard house on the left was not currently manned but was clearly still in use.
We could see far beyond, some evidence of the resort but it was clear that like the others we’d seen all around these three lakes, disuse and disrepair were the order of the day.

Far off in the distance you can just make out bits of the resort.
What a strange clump of trees. One has leaned in on the main tree (banyan?) and been absorbed into its trunk. And the main tree itself has a few trunks so you're not quite sure which was the original. 
The lake was bathed in a blue-gray afternoon haze but looked quite inviting nonetheless. I’m not sure why this area’s tourism didn’t take off. Like so many other things, the system is a complex one with many interlocking components and a failure along one branch can lead to the collapse of the whole.
Malaysia’s tourism scene is such that there are no guarantees of success even when the offering is exceptional. There are so many other factors at play. This area has a lot of natural beauty and potential and perhaps there will be a time when it will once again be a favoured destination. It isn’t that far from a major airport and is easily driveable as our day trip shows.

Pedu - all gone bar the fishing

After leaving Pedu, we headed back along the road and nipped in the branch that had the abandoned structures. Right at the end was an abandoned building and a boatslip. A couple of cars were parked here and a few people sat around fishing. They weren’t especially warm so we wandered around this abandoned chalet complex a bit and then headed back out to the main road. Along the way we stopped to take some pictures next to wild elephant dung.

This was not the main road but instead what's left of a network of service roads for the abandoned chalets in this area.

Oooh Poo!

For years I’ve tried to sight these creatures but despite hundreds of kms driving along roads they are frequently sighted crossing, I have had no luck. Yet again I have to be content with evidence of the creatures, but no actual sighting.
We took a parallel course back to Highway 175 and ended up in Sg Petani for dinner. We’d had a wonderful Indian Food lunch in the old part of town some months back and this time as we drove around, we sighted something else ‘Ribs’ and the idea of some pork ribs suddenly seemed very inviting.
This is the rice bowl of Malaysia of course so beautiful rice fields lay on either side of the road for miles and miles. 

We're close to the Thai border and everywhere is evidence of that - including this temple complex we paused at.

We stopped for a cup of tea and a toilet break at a small town called Kuala Nerang. Beautiful riverside facilities.

The river here is very fast flowing indeed.

A sadly frequent sight...
Dinner in Sg Petani. A Rib set for me and a Meatball Spaghetti for Mei. Some weird things happening here but the overall experience was pleasant.

The topiary appears to be a victim of an overzealous pruner.
We circled around and discovered the place was open, but it was a Halal joint and so it would be Beef Ribs. Which turned out rather nice, actually. Mei had a pasta which was quite pleasant in a very local way - strange sauce but pasta done quite al dente.

All in all, a nice day’s trip, capped off with an unexpectedly nice dinner. 

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