Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Back to Nature and a history lesson too!

Kuala Sepetang: Back to Nature and a history lesson too!
By Opalyn MokJanuary 4, 2014

Fishing boats lining the jetty by the river at Kuala Sepetang – Pictures by KE OoiKUALA SEPETANG, Jan 4 — Already known as the place to head to for a spot of fresh seafood or a day trip to see mangroves and fishing villages, Kuala Sepetang has much more to offer visitors.
Fishery and breeding activities at the fishing village in Kuala SepetangJust only an hour’s drive from Penang, it consists mainly of fishing villages and its economy is driven by related industries such as fish farms, shrimp breeding farms, boat building and also charcoal kilns.
Now, it is slowly becoming a popular eco-tourism spot for those keen on a walk through the Matang Mangrove Forest, some bird watching at the Kuala Gula Bird Sanctuary and naturally, a river cruise to visit some fish farms, catch a glimpse of the Indo-Pacific Humpback dolphin and after sunset, be enthralled by the magical blinking lights of the fireflies.
As you drive towards Kuala Sepetang, which is also about an hour’s drive from Ipoh, drop in at the Matang Historical Museum to acquaint yourself with the local history.
Located at Gantang Hill in Matang, the building was formerly known as The Kota Ngah Ibrahim Historical Complex.
The mansion was built by Ngah Ibrahim, who was the son of Cek Long Jaffar – the first Malay to open tin mines in Larut, Matang and Selama back in 1840.
Though it was built as a home, it eventually doubled up as a fort and administrative centre before Ngah Ibrahim went into exile in Singapore and the fort became the British administrative centre.
The Matang Museum that used to be the Ngah Ibrahim’s home, fort and administrative centre back when it was built more than 150 years agoThe building was then used as the Matang Malay Teaching College before it was used as the Japanese Army’s headquarters during the Japanese Occupation in 1941.
After World War II ended, the building once again was converted into a school before it was turned into a museum in 1985.
The Matang Museum has over 300 artefacts telling the local history of MatangThe history of the building, facts on its former owner and more than 300 artefacts are displayed within the building with scenes of a school room, a court room, an office, a bedroom and even a jail cell set up in different rooms throughout the mansion to depict its past uses.
After a visit to the museum and a history lesson on Larut, Matang and the fort, it is time to move on to something very rarely seen.
Charcoal kilns at the charcoal factory in Kuala SepetangA charcoal factory with traditional charcoal kilns.
Charcoal is made from wood and here, in Matang, the charcoal is made from greenwood (kayu bakau minyak) that has been harvested from the mangrove forest reserve here.
One of these charcoal factories offers a tour of the factory coupled with explanations of how charcoal is made; Khay Hor Holding Sdn Bhd’s factory was simply named “Charcoal Factory Kuala Sepetang”.
The factory guide, known as Mr Chuah (on the right), explaining the charcoal making processSince the factory uses greenwood harvested from the mangrove and these trees are transported by boat, it is naturally located next to a stream that connects to the river.
The factory guide assured visitors that for each tree that is cut down to be processed into charcoal, a young sapling is planted as replacement so there is no danger of depleting the mangrove forest entirely.
Be careful when stepping into the factory as everything is soot black. Be prepared to have soot on your shoes, your feet and even your hands if you happen to touch anything inside the factory.
The charcoal factories in Matang are next to streams with boats that will bring in greenwood from the mangrove forest during high tide (left). The Matang Mangrove Forest (right)The factory does not look like a modern, high technology factory with assembly lines but instead, it has a row of charcoal k
ilns – beehive-shaped clay structures.
Each kiln serves as an oven to smoke the wood until all the moisture is drawn out before it turns into charcoal.
This process takes days, up to a week, before workers check on the charcoal through a small slit on the sides of the kiln by taking a whiff of the smoke billowing out to determine if the wood is “dried” enough.
After the informative tour, time to head on to some greenery to see the trees before it becomes charcoal.
The Matang Mangrove Forest has the best managed sustainable mangrove ecosystem in the worldSlap on some insect repellent and take a walk along the man-made wooden walkway winding across a small portion of the Matang Mangrove Forest which is touted to be the world’s best managed sustainable mangrove ecosystem in the world.
Inside the forest, it is surprisingly cool despite the hot weather and if you walk slowly and watch closely, you may be able to find mud crabs, mud skippers and other wild life including migratory birds in the wetlands especially nearer to the river.
Eagle watching is one of the highlights of the river cruiseThe final and probably the most anticipated part of a visit to Kuala Sepetang is the river cruise that includes watching a sunset while crusing down the river, observing eagles and egrets that are plentiful along the river especially when the guide throws some chicken skin into the river for the eagles and finally, fireflies watching.
Of course, if you’d prefer, it is also best to take in a meal of fresh seafood at any of the many seafood restaurants by the river before going on a cruise that could take a few hours from sunset to about 9pm.
Kuala Sepetang is well known for its fresh and delicious seafood at any of its seafood restaurants lining the riversideThere were supposedly pink dolphins at the river mouth too but we were not lucky enough to catch sight of any due to heavy rain just before we went on the cruise so instead, we settled for the eagles and the fireflies.
As we cruised deeper upriver and the skies darkened, all passengers are told not to switch on any torchlights so that their eyes get accustomed to the dark.
At first, the first flash of small blinking lights on the Berembang trees (sonneratia caseolaris) by the river could barely be seen but as we went further upriver, the whole scene takes on a magical feel as we came across tree after tree full of tiny flashing lights.
The fireflies here are of the Pteroptyx species and this tropical species are particularly noted for their light displays that will self-syncrhonize until you can see all the fireflies on a tree flashing to a similar rhythm.
The finale to a day tour is the magical blinking lights of thousands of fireflies by the riverside as dusk creeps into nightThe guide explained that the beetles on the lower trees by the river are males while all the females are up on the higher trees at the back and this is when we looked up and realised the top of the trees behind also sporting Christmas-tree like lights.
You will be tempted to demand that the guide let you just sit there and admire these lightning bugs at their best but after an hour or so, it is time to head back to land.
Even if you don’t take in the other attractions in Kuala Sepetang, the night river cruise of magical blinking lights is the best finale to a day trip to this local town and an absolute must-visit.
This story was first published in Crave in the print edition of The Malay Mail on January 3, 2014
- See more at: http://www.themalaymailonline.com/travel/article/kuala-sepetang-back-to-nature-and-a-history-lesson-too#sthash.c7k7ZPfq.dpuf

This story was first published in Crave in the print edition of The Malay Mail on January 3, 2014
- See more at: http://www.themalaymailonline.com/travel/article/kuala-sepetang-back-to-nature-and-a-history-lesson-too#sthash.c7k7ZPfq.dpuf

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