if you have been to Malaysia, you probably heard this usual expression: “belum”. This means “not yet”. However, Belum is also the name of a State Park in Northern Malaysia, in Perak, at the border with Thailand.
The Royal Belum State Park is still one of Asia’s best kept nature secrets and is part of Malaysia’s largest and oldest forest reserve – Belum Temenggor. With contiguous parks on the Thai side, the entire area is one of Asia’s largest biodiversity basins.
Opening up the park to the public entails treading a fine line between ensuring the protection of the local environment, while enabling people from around the world to experience this unique place that gives a true sense of “nature in the raw”.
Tourism is seen as a way to provide revenues for local people in the area but development is carefully piloted by the Northern Corridor Implementation Authority (NCIA). This agency is in charge of developing and monitoring social-economic development in the Northern part of Peninsular Malaysia, covering the federated States of Kedah, Perlis, Perak as well as Penang.
In 2012, the Malaysian government declared the 117,500 hectares Royal Belum State Park a “National Heritage Site”. Next step is now making the park a future UNESCO World Heritage Site. The Government submitted a proposal in 2017. Then the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), is to study the proposal and then makes recommendation to the World Heritage Committee.
Belum Temenggor is one of the oldest rainforests in the world, dating back to 130 million years. In the park, it is possible to observe 14 of the world’s most threatened mammals; among them are the Malaysian Tiger, the white-handed Gibbon, the Asiatic Elephant, the Malaysian Sunbear and Malayan Tapir.
Belum Temenggor is equally an exceptional site for birds. 316 bird species are known here, including Malaysia’s iconic bird, the magnificent hornbill. It may be one of the World’s richest sites in terms of species richness and large population.
It is possible to observe some of those animals around 60 “salt licks”. They are natural mineral deposits where animals in nutrient-poor ecosystems can obtain essential mineral nutrients. These areas are usually covered with all types of animal tracks. The Sambar Deer, the Kijangs, Tapirs, Elephants, wild boars, Seladang and the Malayan Gaur – come down to the licks, usually under the cover of darkness.
Flora lovers will also enjoy discovering some of the 3,000 species present at Royal Belum State Park. They will be able to admire the gigantic rafflesia, whose flowers are the largest in the world. There are about 4 species in the State Park and its vicinity it is represented by four species. But they are also some 46 species of palms, 30 species of gingers as well as rare limestone flora.
Probably, the highlight of a tour into Royal Belum State Park is a meeting with true first inhabitants of the Malaya Peninsula. Far before Malay settled in the area, they were Australo-Melanesian aboriginal people, called in Malay “Orang Asli” (“Indigenous People”).
The orang asli were the first inhabitants of the Malay Peninsula as stated by many of their earliest burial grounds dating back 10,000 years ago. They have been living in the forest for millennia.
Orang asli were traditionally nomadic or semi-nomadic, mostly hunter-gatherers, sustaining their communities with fishing, small farming and trading of medicinal herbs, spices and handicrafts. Semi-nomadic orang asli villages can be found today on some of the islands of Temenggor; they still live in their traditional way in bamboo huts, hunting small mammals using blowpipes, fishing and gathering plants and honey from the forest.
It is possible to visit a village if pre-organised through the local tour guide in advance. It is customary to bring gifts (sweets for the local children etc.), in exchange for a welcome smile by the villagers.
The Royal Belum Park is visited by boat, via the artificial lake of Temenggor, the second largest lake in Peninsula Malaysia with 15,200 hectares. Boats depart from Pulau Banding. The upper Belum is a totally wild, compared to the lower part of Temenggor, since access and human activities are strictly regulated there.
Entry into Royal Belum requires valid entry permits. The Royal Belum Resort or local tour guides are able take care of permits, and their costs are included in the price of day trips, but it is necessary for travellers to submit their passport at least two weeks in advance of any visit.