Gunung Pulai is a 654 meter high hill near the city of Johor Bahru. Although “Gunung” means “mountain or Mt.” in Malay, it is technically not high enough to be regarded as a mountain. It might be regarded as a mountain because it is the only major high point in an otherwise flat region; however, here I will call it a hill. But what makes this place special is because it still contains substantial primary rainforest cover since it is a water catchment area for nearby Johor Bahru and Singapore, and it also has a spectacular waterfall, although it is under serious threats as well – which I will get to in a moment.

Getting there

Gunung Pulai is easily reached by the North South Highway, and turning into the Kulai exit, after which you would need to detour underneath the highway by following a signboard to your right just after exiting the toll plaza. Follow along the road, passing oil palm estates and a quarry that are both eating away at the hill for about 5 or 6 km, until you reach a village called Kampung Sri Gunung Pulai.

Mount Pulai

Mount (Gunung) Pulai is a major geographical feature of this part of Johor. Notice the telecommunications towers at the summit.

The road that runs through this village leads all the way to the entrance of a recreational forest that has long since closed down after a fatal landslide occurred there some 10 years ago and took some lives. You will need to park your car at the start of this 5 km road that leads all the way to the summit (on which sits some telecommunication towers), and proceed on foot. A few hundred meters in, the road splits into two, one going up to the peak, and one going down to the picnic/waterfall area, and you will see the archway to the now defunct recreational forest.

Gunung Pulai Recreational Forest

The archway to the former Recreational Forest, long closed down and abandoned.

Reaching the top of the hill is a straightforward climb up the tarred road, which takes roughly 1.5 to 2 hours. Most hikers only climb part of the way. There are 3 telecommunications towers at the top, two on the summit, and one a little lower down. A couple of viewpoints provide breathtaking views of the rainforest that clothes the hill.

Gunung Pulai road

The 5 km road that winds its way to the peak of Gunung Pulai.

Impressive virgin rainforest

Most people have absolutely no idea that at least part of the forest that clothes Gunung Pulai is one of the most magnificent unlogged dipterocarp rainforest anywhere in Peninsular Malaysia. There is a very high proportion of large timber trees in this essentially untouched rainforest, most of them a meter or more in diameter for bole/trunk size, and almost all of them have very well formed, and dense crowns. A majestic sight to behold today, since these forests are all but gone.

Virgin rainforest

Beautiful, magnificent virgin rainforest in its unlogged state, with giant, mature trees.

This forest is classic lowland and hill Malayan dipterocarp forest on granite-based soil, which used to cover the Titiwangsa Range extensively, but virtually all of them have already been decimated by logging and are almost all secondary (degraded) forests now. Gunung Pulai is one of the few virgin fragments left, and probably spared (so far) on account of being a major water catchment area.

Primary rainforest

This is rainforest that has not been subjected to logging or clearance, notwithstanding the oil palm that surrounds it. How much longer will it stay this way is anyone’s guess.

What is quite unique about this forest is the high proportion of that ubiquitous dipterocarp that grows on hill ridges – Meranti Seraya or Shorea curtisii, which grows almost at sea level here, even at the foot and on the slopes (whereas elsewhere they normally grow higher up on ridges, not usually on slopes). Large individuals of seraya trees can be seen literally everywhere in this forest.

Shorea curtisii

Mature seraya (Shorea curtisii) trees. These trees are likely to be averaging 100 years or more old.

The forest here is also very rich in other dipterocarps like Dipterocarpus, and Anisoptera. Other large species found here include kempas (Koompassia malaccensis) and merbau (Intsia palembanica). Emergent trees often reach heights of between 40-50+ meters tall here. The sugar palm, Arenga pinnata appears to be very common in the lowland forest understory here, and dominates in patches, while Licuala fan palms grow scattered here and there on the forest floor.

Arenga pinnata

The fruits of Arenga pinnata, a sugar palm related to Arenga westerhoutii. Both palms are common in Malaysia.

Koompassia malaccensis

A towering tree of kempas (Koompassia malaccensis). Kempas is related to the mighty tualang (Koompassia excelsa), and loves moist soil.

During my visit, I noted the calls of gibbons, but they seemed to be rare and confined to a few individuals in just one location. This could be due to hunting pressure on the gibbons and/or habitat destruction. In fact, I saw some people setting up traps in the forest (possibly to catch civet cats), so you must assume that as far as wildlife is concerned, there is very little of it remaining. There may be tapirs and barking deer still roaming the few thousand hectares of forest here, but I believe most of the fauna in the Gunung Pulai forest has already been wiped out.

Apis dorsata

Honeycombs of Apis dorsata, the giant honeybee, hanging from the branches of a tree. They have to make do without tualang trees here (their favorite tree), as these do not grow in southern Peninsular Malaysia.

The invertebrate fauna here is still rich though, like some rarer ant and termite species found here that are not usually found elsewhere. The Common Tree Nymph butterfly (Idea stolli) is often seen flitting around the road area during daytime. I have not encountered these butterflies as frequently elsewhere as I have at the Gunung Pulai forest. Cicada calls were quite loud during the day, a good sign as well.

Nepenthes rafflesiana

Aerial pitcher of Nepenthes rafflesiana. Pitcher plants typically have aerial and terrestrial pitchers which may differ in appearance.

Nepenthes rafflesiana

The unopened pitcher of Nepenthes rafflesiana.

Selaginella willdenowii

The iridescent blue leaves of Selaginella willdenowii. The leaves lose their blue hue if exposed to stronger sunlight.

Dipteris conjugata

Dipteris conjugata, a fairly common fern found in exposed/sunny areas on hilly terrain in Malaysia.

Pitcher plants are also common along the roadside from about halfway up. These belong to the Nepenthes rafflesiana species, I believe, although spotting their pitchers is not so easy unless it is in forest off the road. The lack of visible pitchers is probably due to constant plucking by visitors and hikers. The selaginella ferns are also found in abundance (there are several species growing here).

Gunung Pulai waterfall

The spectacular waterfall of Mount Pulai (main tier). The main fall is probably 40-50 meters high. The entire waterfall consists of many tiers. Unfortunately, rubbish mars its beauty.

Gunung Pulai waterfall top

The beautiful view from the top of the main fall. Untouched primary jungle all around. Will it stay this way with all the increasing rubbish?

An interesting observation is that Gunung Pulai lacks a well developed riparian zone bordering the waterfalls. The waterfalls look a lot like a landslip waterfall, and this type of waterfalls are relatively young, which means that a distinct riparian zone did not have time to develop along the fringes, and this youthful waterway is also reflected in the aquatic fauna (seemingly few species of fishes which are themselves low in number).

Pulai waterfall lower tier

The lower tier of the Pulai waterfall. Even here, there was rubbish that I had to remove prior to taking this photo.

I do believe that there are next to zero studies done so far on the forest flora or fauna here in all these years, even though the forest (away from the road and human presence) seems to be of considerably high quality, from every perspective of a mature, unlogged lowland rainforest. The lack of interest in conserving this patch of forest (apart from its water catchment status) means that it will likely continue to suffer from encroachments like quarrying, illegal logging, illegal clearance, hunting – and littering.

Major threats

Right now, the spectacular waterfall and the road to the peak serve as a magnet for nearby residents to either have a splash or get a good workout. Every day, rain or shine, come weekends or not, there are always people here. Unfortunately, there is NO maintenance of the recreational forest here, and that also means no rubbish bins.

Gunung Pulai litter

Now for the ugly. Trash is everywhere you look, especially around the waterfall and stream area.

Gunung Pulai rubbish problem

Styrofoam lunch boxes,plastic bottles, junk food packets, you name it, it’s strewn everywhere.

But even if there were, no one would empty the rubbish bins once they get full as there is no maintenance of this place at all. The result is tons of rubbish (wherever humans set foot), but especially along the lower stream below the waterfall, and along the jungle trail next to it. And people continue to bathe in the water even with all the stinking rubbish that lies scattered around them!

Gunung Pulai rubbish problem

Gunung Pulai is turning into a rubbish dump!

Once in a while, I noticed some civic minded visitors will voluntarily remove some of the rubbish (kudos to these people) but it is a never ending task, as long as people continue to litter and not make it a point to make an effort to take out their rubbish with them. All this littering is appalling. I’m sure these people would not litter their own homes indiscriminately, but outside, they just don’t seem to care or make the slightest effort to not litter.

Oil palm threatening Gunung Pulai

Oil palm plantations continue to eat away at the fringes. A little here, a little there….it’s only a little bit, boss.

Another (very) major threat is quarrying. There is a quarry that has already denuded a sizable portion of Gunung Pulai, and you can see this enormous scar from far away, even from the North-South highway. I really don’t understand why quarries always like to carve up nice forested hills, in this case, a virgin forested one, when there are so many hills with degraded vegetation cover/belukar for them to conduct their operations. I hope this quarry has only a limited concession for a limited time, as it is more than capable of destroying the entire hill!

Gunung Pulai quarry

The mother of all environmental destruction – quarries/mines. Here, the quarry at Gunung Pulai has already devastated a large part of the hill forever.

Gunung Pulai needs conservation

Johor should be applauded for gazetting the most number of state parks within its borders, compared to all other states in Peninsular Malaysia. They have 6 state parks currently, and you can see the list at their state portal. Now, how about adding Gunung Pulai into the list?

Gunung Pulai vista

The nice view from one of the viewpoints on Gunung Pulai. On a less hazy day, the view extends all the way to the coastline.

Gunung Pulai panorama

The view from another viewpoint near the summit. A dam which probably supplies water to Singapore can be seen in the distance (top right), as well as housing areas around Skudai. Notice the huge track running through the forest and the many dead trees along the fringes of it? Apparently the forest on this side of the hill has been damaged.

Gunung Pulai is just about the only area with unlogged dipterocarp rainforest left in that region of Johor. It has all the potential to be a major tourist attraction, since it is so near to Johor Bahru city, and also Singapore. It is really baffling to me why the authorities have seemingly abandoned the area, and basically left it to rot (under all the rubbish), and get eaten away (by the quarries) and why nature lovers and students have mostly overlooked it. I don’t get it.

There seems to be NO management plan for the area, no rubbish bins, and next to no interest. What is odd is that Gunung Panti/Kota Tinggi forest reserve receives much more interest from nature interest groups compared to Gunung Pulai, even though Gunung Pulai has old growth primary rainforest cover which is just simply more biodiverse and beautiful, whilst Gunung Panti has been logged before.

Dipteris conjugata new leaf

Attack of the flying jellyfish? No, just a young leaf of that exotic looking fern, Dipteris conjugata.

We just have to look at Gunung Ledang. Despite having a lot of visitors to its waterfalls, it is not suffocating from rubbish, and this is the difference between having a proper conservation and management program versus having none at all. Conserve Gunung Pulai by cleaning it up, turning it into a proper nature park, and putting into place a structured management plan for it. Shall we get the ball rolling now?

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44 Comments to “Gunung Pulai in Johor”

  1. KoutaR says:

    Excellent report! And a beautiful site – I wish the forest is still intact when I have possibility to come to Malaysia.

  2. Yi Han says:

    Wow! Sounds like a really special place. I’ll go check it out!

  3. Jimmy says:

    hi! May I know when was ur last visit of this place? can show me the entrance or the car park area? Intended to go in this month. Thanks

  4. JungleBoy says:

    @ Jimmy

    The entrance is at Kampung Sri Gunung Pulai. You drive straight all the way in and you will see a closed gate and there is some space for parking car by the side (need to pay money). The gate shuts off the road (for cars), which continues on to the summit. Visitors must proceed on foot through an entrance by the side of the gate.

  5. Dezedine says:

    Hi! My group of friends plan to climb Gunung Pulai in end Sept. Instead of the tarred road, is there another hiking trail that we can climb? Many thanks for your reply!

  6. JungleBoy says:

    @ Dezedine

    There is a hiking trail to the top, but it is not well known except to regulars or residents who live nearby. In fact, there is likely to be a network of trails (more than one), some of which are obscure and not advisable to be used except with a guide. There is a “interpretive” trail opposite of the defunct recreational forest (across the road), but I do not know where it leads to. Probably, you can make arrangements with the villagers for any sort of guide service.

  7. catherine says:

    Hi, Jungleboy,

    very nice to see yr website, i intent to hike this mountain by this month. Do i need any assist guard for this hiking?

  8. JungleBoy says:

    @ Catherine

    If you are hiking via the road, you don’t need any guides. The road leads all the way to the summit. Good luck with the hike.

  9. sabina says:

    it needs maintenance indeed

  10. mila zainal says:

    i have few concern here. do we need to get permit from Jabatan Hutan Malaysia? since we only use the tarred track to climb up the hill.. this coming friday, we are going in large group (21 pax) to Gunung Pulai. some say need the permit.. and some say no need. do you have any idea on it? since its is official team building, some are suggest to pay RM150 just to get the permit.. sigh~

  11. JungleBoy says:

    @ Mila Zainal,

    Since there is no maintenance of the place, I think you should not be encountering a problem with walking up the tarred road. Besides, the lower waterfall area is/was designated as a Recreational Forest, and technically, you do not need a permit to enter a Recreational Forest.

  12. Suzy says:

    Great review indeed!
    I’m from S’pore and visited the place with my family on 14th Oct 13. The beauty of the nature and the tranquility that it provides is simply amazing.
    I really wish that the government would do some maintenance and conservation to save the place.
    As for the people who goes there, needs to be responsible for their own rubbish!

    And people pls be extra caution gg up there as you may get lost.

  13. Dominik Nugara says:

    This is a great article and you are completely right about the rubish and it should be preserved as a primary forest is a rare thing in between all these oil palms.
    We are from Germany and we went there once, but at the end of the hike there is unfortunately just a military station at the top and therefore no good view over the area wich is really sad.
    Is there a way to get to the lake or another way to experience the forest?

  14. JungleBoy says:

    @ Dominik Nugara

    I believe some houses in the village that all visitors pass through at the entrance (Sri Gunung Pulai Village), provides a cultural homestay type of experience for tourists. The lake is a reservoir and is off limits to visitors.

  15. Dave Taylor says:

    My wife and I visited this forest today. We were both totally appalled at the amount of rubbish left strewn by the waterfall, the deplorable condition of what was once nice buildings housing various amenities. Why has the state of Johor abandoned this beautiful place. Come on Malaysia you have some of the most beautiful scenery in Asia — Please start to appreciate it and look after it. If not it will vanish and never be appreciated by future generations. If Malaysia wants to be a real player in the tourist industry it must act NOW.

  16. JungleBoy says:

    @ Dave Taylor

    Thank you, Dave!

  17. Heidi says:

    Hi,
    Great info, any chance you know how to reach this area by bus? my husband and I will be in the area looking for hikes, but will not have a car. Any information would be most welcome. thank you!!

  18. JungleBoy says:

    @ Heidi

    You might try looking for buses that go to, or pass through Pekan Nenas from Kulai. It depends a lot on where your original start point is. If you can get to Kulai, you probably can get a bus that passes Gunung Pulai, on the way to Pekan Nenas. But I’d rather take a taxi from Kulai since Gunung Pulai is rather near (Malaysian bus transportation is at best, unreliable and sporadic in rural areas).

  19. cchin says:

    Thanks for this article. Yes the hill and forest should be protected. Any tree that is fell will have long term impact on the immediate eco-system.

  20. Alsong says:

    Hi, can someone tell me how much is the carpark at the foot of Gunung Pulai if I go on a weekday? Thanks.

  21. JungleBoy says:

    @ Alsong
    I think it’s several ringgit.

  22. simon ooi says:

    Hi everyone, i have climbed Pulai mount several times. No doubts is a good track with great forest giving the green lung which enjoy pretty much. But as compare from the place i came from that is Penang, i can confidently said there is no comparison. Mount Pulai consist of great rain forest has everything similar to the mountains in Penang other than the tar road up,it has little to offer to climbers.
    The mountains on Penang island as well as those on main land Bkt Mertajam have everything a climber expert to have. Besides the tar road they have resting huts at various spot along the path, have many well used trails up and to various scenic spot that more serious climbers will enjoy, there are many waterfalls as well. Also the parking facilities and toilets and some teahouse, cafeteria at the base are excellent. Although i dont need that many facilities at least there should have some good trails up there but till now i am still seaching. Anyone can offer some help?Thanks for keeping this site active for.sharing.

  23. Ting C. H. says:

    My group of friends and myself from Singapore, are planning to visit some Chinese Temples in Pontian, and thereafter to the Pulai Waterfall with a picnic, during the month of April 2014. Anyone interested.

  24. johan says:

    is gunung pulai still open?

  25. JungleBoy says:

    @ Johan

    Yes, Gunung Pulai is open. Although the main gate at the old entrance is closed, hordes of people still visit, especially on weekends.

  26. JOHAN says:

    thanks for the info jungleboy, im from kulai, is there a way or road from here or i have to take pontian road-pekan nenas.

  27. JungleBoy says:

    @ Johan
    The fastest and most direct way from Kulai town is to use Jalan Sawah, heading to the direction of Pekan Nanas. The distance should be less than 10 km from Kulai. The turn-off to Jalan Sawah is just before the Kulai toll gate (if you are coming from Kulai). There is a signboard showing Gunung Pulai as well. You can’t miss it.

  28. NW says:

    Hi JungleBoy
    Thanks for the nice and helpful information. Are you able to link me to a nature guide who can guide a small group of 2 to 4 persons to trek up to the summit via the jungle way (no the tar roads). Thank you.
    regards
    NW

  29. JungleBoy says:

    @ NW
    You can check with the villagers of Kampung Sri Gunung Pulai (at the foot). I do not know of any nature guides, but I spoke to a few villagers there and they definitely know their way around the forest.

  30. Kok Tuck Sing says:

    Can we do something about the rubbish? Perhaps organize a clean up day?

  31. JungleBoy says:

    @Kok Tuck Sing
    I was wondering the same all along. Environmental groups need to do something. But understand it’s a short term solution. To really solve the problem, it really requires a major “shift” in attitude, outlook, and mentality of people.

  32. Shon says:

    I have been there before it is a very beautiful place indeed. Instead of taking the tar road I hike up using the river path. Beware it is very dangerous there are sharp slippery rocks but because not many people dare go that path. Thus the water and enviroment is very clean. You will find challenging obstacles like climbing big rocks or even jumping from boulders to boulders but generally it is really fun and challenging for those who seek a challenge.

  33. shine says:

    Hi JungleBoy,

    Is there any alternative way to reach the summit instead of tarred road, as I am a runner myself, and I would like to do some trail running inside the hill area. Any trail criss-crossing the hill’s range?

    thanks.

  34. JungleBoy says:

    @ shine
    Yes, there are trails going up the hill, but I think there are branches to it and unless you know which is the right one, you might get lost. The trails are not really suitable for “running” though, because I don’t think they are all that wide and clear.

  35. des says:

    is it safe to go up for solo female traveler?

  36. save our forest says:

    A good and informative write up,which will help create awareness.

    Hope you can do a write up on the virgin forest as we drive past Pagoh . that s pretty scenery.. also if some can write a piece on the mangrove forest along Permas which is disappearing and leaving the wildlife with no home.. if only the Johore tourist board or some private tour agency commercial upriver boat trips the mangrove vegetation can be better preserved.

    Keep the reports coming…

  37. save our forest says:

    Would be great if you could add a sketch map of the road up and duration of the hike.

    Keep it up Jungle Boy…

    Can some do a write up on paddling or boating up the river up Permas .. lots of mangrove forest disappearing for construction and its sad to see destruction of such habitat which could be great tourist dollar spinner

  38. JungleBoy says:

    @ des

    I really cannot answer that question. But if you stick to the lower levels, you should be ok, while still getting a good workout. But it’s always best to go in a group.

  39. JungleBoy says:

    @ safe our forest
    The forest we see after Pagoh along the Plus Highway is secondary forest. Gunung Pulai is one of the very few areas where the forest is virgin in its original state. Even then, maybe half of it has been logged already.

  40. aj182 says:

    can we ride motorcycles up to the summit or do we park where the cars do and walk up also?

  41. JungleBoy says:

    @aj182

    Unless you’re one of the staff of the maintenance boys for the telco towers, I don’t think you are allowed to take your motorbike up. And anyway, why pollute the air and ambience of the environment there by bringing a motorbike up?

  42. lis says:

    jika kita ingin membuat aktiviti kemasyarakatan contohnya aktiviti mengutip sampah disana, adakah kita perlu memohon kebenaran dan membuat proposal..? jika perlu, pada siapa kah kebenaran itu perlu dipohon..?

  43. JungleBoy says:

    @ Lis
    Anda boleh menghubungi Jabatan Perhutanan Johor Selatan – Tel : 607-2243048, kalau hendak bergotong royong membersihkan hutan lipur itu.

  44. adijb says:

    Gunung Pulai is indeed beautiful. And there were numerous attempts to reopen it. Unfortunately, countless studies done over the years deemed it as unstable especially in the raining seasons and could cause landslides as what happened many years ago that caused it to be closed in the first place.

    I personally feel that the nearby quarry is the caused due to the explosives used.

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