The Berembun Forest Reserve in Jelebu, Negeri Sembilan, is one of the best wilderness areas nearest to the Klang Valley. Together with the newly gazetted Kenaboi State Park (formerly called Taman Alam Liar Negeri Sembilan), these are two good places in Negeri Sembilan for the intrepid nature lover to explore. While Kenaboi State Park’s main attractions are its geological features including Gunung Besar Hantu and the spectacular Lata Kijang, most people visit Gunung Berembun only to hike up the peak or visit an old WW2 plane crash site. But, there is more to the Berembun forest!
The 20-something thousand hectare Berembun Forest Reserve includes the peak of Gunung Telapak Buruk (the highest mountain in the vicinity) and lower hills connected to it, like Gunung Berembun from which it derives its name, Bukit Tangga, Bukit Lantai, etc. The area is drained by some streams (Sungai Segalek, Sungai Batang Toi, Sungai Batang Penar, etc). The upper reaches of Sungai Batang Penar serve as a water catchment area and the water is treated at the Pantai Water Treatment Plant. All in, the Berembun Forest Reserve is an important water catchment area for dams like the Sungai Kelinchi and Sungai Terip dams (which provides water for Seremban town), and thus has been spared from significant logging activities unlike elsewhere. It is this pristine quality that is the main appeal of this forest.
Although Gunung Telapak Buruk/Gunung Berembun are somewhat isolated from the Main Range (Banjaran Titiwangsa), they are still considered as an outlier of it, and indeed the forest here bears many similar characteristics of the forests along the granitic Main Range, albeit with some rare and endemic species that can only be found here.
Today, the peak of Gunung Berembun (1014m) is a favorite destination for hikers seeking a short hiking excursion nearby to the Klang Valley. To get here is easy. Just drive out from Seremban in the general direction of Kuala Kelawang, towards the small village of Kampung Baru Pantai (Pantai New Village). Upon reaching it, you will see a small mosque on your left, and a police station right ahead. There is a sharp right turn in front of the police station; take it and go straight on, past houses, a Chinese school, and onward for a few kilometers, till you come to a fork in the road. There is a signboard showing “Loji Rawatan Air” (Water Treatment Plant) – take this road and go on straight all the way.
You will come to another fork. Take the lower road; the upper one leads to luxury home-stays and private residences, as indicated by the signboard there. Go straight on and the forest starts getting thicker and the road shadier, until finally you arrive at the Pantai Water Treatment Plant (Loji Rawatan Air Pantai). Right before it is a new ranger station and the path beside it leads to the trailhead nearby. This ranger station was only built sometime in 2017 if not mistaken, and meant to regulate the ever increasing numbers of hikers. Registration fee is RM5 per head.
Hiking to the summit of Gunung Berembun
The hike to the summit of Gunung Berembun takes approximately 4 hours. There is a clear trail all the way to the peak, which initially follows the Sungai Batang Penar alongside its bank. The trail leads to a waterfall crossing after about 40 minutes’ walk, where you will have to ford the stream to continue the trail on the opposite bank. There used to be a fallen tree trunk split into two, which acted as a bridge to the other side, but sometime in 2019, according to recent photos, half of the trunk appears to have since disappeared/washed away. Thus, this “bridge” is no more, I presume.
This waterfall crossing is considered the first “checkpoint” along the way, as there is a large campsite there. It’s a good spot to take a break, camp (with prior permission from the Forestry Dept), or have a dip in the cool and clear waters amidst the lush pristine greenery. All along the way, you might have noticed tall and large trees surrounding you, befitting its status as a Virgin Jungle Reserve. Yes, the forest around the Pantai Water Treatment plant is one of two large Virgin Jungle Reserves (VJRs) within Berembun Forest Reserve, perhaps the largest VJRs in Peninsular Malaysia. This is why it appears more pristine and beautiful compared to many other places!
The altitude up to the waterfall crossing should be roughly 250-300m ASL with the trail mostly flat all the way to this point, but after crossing the Batang Penar stream, the trail starts climbing a little more steeply until you arrive at the Gua Kambing (Goat Cave) “checkpoint”. The cave is really just a shelter formed underneath the overhang of a huge boulder and the ground is uneven, but many hikers over the years have turned this spot into a more comfortable place to relax, by adding tarpaulin roofing, benches, kitchenware, etc. As to why it’s called Gua Kambing, I have no idea. There is a little stream nearby to obtain water; this is the last water point before the summit.
After Gua Kambing, the trail starts climbing very steeply. It is so steep that ropes have been placed along the way to assist with the climb. But cross this steep section, and you will soon arrive at the peak of Gunung Berembun at 1014m ASL. Along the way, you can almost certainly discern the drop in temperature, and notice the forest changing in a subtle way. The trees start looking a little different, and the forest appears brighter and breezier, with a lower canopy. Mosses start becoming more abundant.
Just when you think you can’t handle the climb anymore, the steep section diminishes near the summit. And finally you arrive. The summit is a clearing marked with an old trig station. There is no view to be had from the summit, but you can peek out through the vegetation at certain points a bit lower down from the summit. From the Berembun peak, the trail continues further on to the peak of Gunung Telapak Buruk, some 3 hours away in total. Many people carry on to the WW2 plane crash site which is about an extra hour away from the Berembun summit before returning via the same route.
Flora and Fauna
Since it is classified as a virgin forest, the original flora and fauna of Gunung Berembun is relatively intact, even though there are many signs of disturbance and past clearance/logging, especially nearer the outer boundary (at the water treatment plant). However, as you trek deeper in and as the elevation increases, the forest gets more and more pristine, with intact hill dipterocarp forest clearly obvious from higher vantage points looking downwards.
Berembun Virgin Jungle Reserve presents one of the best sites to study a remnant lowland dipterocarp forest habitat on the West Coast of Peninsular Malaysia. The forest (especially the area centered on Gunung Telapak Buruk), is still home to siamang, white handed gibbons, macaques, wild pigs, panthers, tapirs, and barking deer, among others. There could be larger mammals like tigers or sambar deer living here, although it’s unknown. The bird and herpetofauna of this place also does not seem to be documented comprehensively, and it should be interesting to find out what species of birds, frogs, and snakes are found here. You can either hike up the road on Gunung Telapak Buruk, or hike through the Berembun forest via the Pantai trailhead, but either way, you will surely encounter some of the animals and plants found in this rich forest area.
In 2008, the forest around the Pantai Water Treatment Plant was surveyed by botanists from FRIM who found a number of rare plant species that are rare or not known elsewhere (Botany of Berembun Forest Reserve, Negeri Sembilan, Malaysia, Jan 2009). The unlogged state of the forest means that big trees belonging to dipterocarps like Dipterocarpus cornutus, D. crinitus, Shorea leprosula, S. macroptera, S. ovalis, S. parvifolia, and S. bracteolata are all common and still stand tall here. I also noticed that wild jackfruit trees were quite abundant in the forest and according to my Temuan Orang Asli guide, they still maintain small old orchards deep inside the forest.
The undergrowth has Saraca cauliflora, Syzygium spp, and Barringtonia spp growing by the streamside, in addition to ferns (that may have bluish iridescence) like Diplazium crenatoserratum (called Paku Naga in Malay), D. tomentosum, and Peacock Fern (Selaginella willdenowii), plus small plants like Bemban (Donax grandis) and Bujang Hilir (Peliosanthes teta). The beautiful herb Henckelia crinita was often spotted on the forest floor with its white blooms.
Higher up, hill dipterocarp forest takes over, and above 400-500m ASL, the forest is in good, pristine condition which is now a rarity in Peninsular Malaysia. Giant Shorea curtisii (Meranti Seraya) dominate the ridges and slopes, with clumps of the Bertam palm (Eugeissona tristis), Fan palm (Licuala longipes), Dwarf palm (Iguanura wallichiana), and the spectacular (but very rare) Umbrella palm (Johannesteijsmannia magnifica) growing in patches here and there, and presenting a beautiful sight to behold of the rainforest understory.
Above 800 meters ASL, the forest changes and becomes mossier while the trees get shorter. Tree ferns (Cyathea spp) become more abundant now. There are still giant trees of Shorea platyclados growing here, especially those trees growing up from gullies, which can reach 50+ meters tall. Mists frequently drift in during the daytime, and the moisture/lower temperatures provide ideal conditions for epiphytes and orchids to grow on the branches of trees. Only Gunung Telapak Burok at 1193 meters high provides enough habitat for the formation of a significant area of lower montane forest belonging to the oak-laurel type.
It’s clear this forest is (for now) a paradise for nature lovers and has great potential for more research. There is much to appreciate, even if just for the simple fact that here, the forest trees stand tall here, while outside, everything is simply disappearing.
What is special about the Berembun Forest Reserve?
Maybe you might wonder what’s so special about this forest. Among all the existing forest reserves in Negeri Sembilan, Berembun Forest Reserve is the only one with the most pristine habitat, and this is because of its status as a water catchment area, meaning – no commercial logging. Even the Kenaboi State Park has been logged in the past (at the lower altitude levels where the timber is more valuable), which is why it has old logging (jeep) tracks.
To be specific, the Berembun Forest Reserve is one of those very few forests which contains large Virgin Jungle Reserves (VJRs) that are about 3000 hectares in total, the largest VJRs by far, in Peninsular Malaysia (if we are not counting Bukit Larut at Taiping as one of them). This is in addition to the areas with Protection Forest status within the Berembun Forest Reserve set aside as water catchment zones. Thus, the Berembun Forest Reserve has the most pristine forest habitat in terms of size, compared to other forest reserves on the West Coast of Peninsular Malaysia. This is a significant detail, although the Berembun Forest Reserve per se merely represents a tiny remnant of what was once the norm in Peninsular Malaysia. Imagine the numerous rare plants and herbs found here, most of which are as yet unstudied and unknown (including possible cures for many illnesses).
The sad situation we have today is the result of massive, unchecked logging throughout the whole country, over the past 6 decades since independence. To understand the difference between virgin and secondary forest, please go here.
But lately, the trend has become more disturbing….
Since the past few years, much of the secondary forests in this country that form the bulk of the permanent forest estate (habitat for most of Malaysia’s flora/fauna) have been deforested at a rapid rate and replaced with “plantation forests”. It seems these plantations are being categorized on paper as “forest”; they are anything but forest – such plantation forests are mono-culture estates of either rubber/latex trees or durian, or oil palm. You only need to open up Google Maps in Satellite Mode and zoom in to see the very widespread environmental degradation/destruction happening everywhere, throughout this country.
Eventually at this pace, all that remains of Malaysia’s natural heritage dating back eons of years will only be in old photos and in museums. It’s not a certainty that Berembun Forest Reserve will still remain relatively untouched like this in the future; more likely is that areas will be excised from it and turned into durian plantations or housing areas. It is really up to the people of Malaysia to wake up and demand change from the government. If none bother, then of course there will be no change from the government. Will the people of Malaysia wake up in time?