Recently, I paid a visit to Sungai Menyala Forest Reserve, a most interesting site for nature lovers to explore, especially since it is located so near to an urban area, i.e. Port Dickson. The entire forest reserve used to sprawl over a large area in the past, but today consists of an isolated patch totaling 1300 hectares of mostly old secondary lowland forest, surrounded by oil palm plantations, an army camp, farms and villages.
Sungai Menyala is highly important from the conservation aspect because it is one of the few remaining patches of West Coast lowland dipterocarp forest in Peninsular Malaysia, and sits on slightly undulating land (highest altitude point is just 41 m asl), just about 5-6 kilometers from the coastline. Its low elevation means that freshwater swamp forest is quite prevalent in the forest too, comprising about 15% of the total forest area. Within the forest reserve, there are a few patches of true virgin/primary rainforest, the sites of long running plots monitored by FRIM (Forest Research Institute of Malaysia), some of which date back over 60 years.
Recognizing the potential of Sungai Menyala as a nature-tourism education site, the Forestry Department has designated the forest reserve as an Eco-EduTourism Park, and built accommodation facilities there, including lecture halls and a museum featuring aborigine culture and forestry specimens. Previously, the forest was only open for researches; however now, it is open to the general public.
How to get there
Getting there is simple – Just take the Seremban-Port Dickson Highway and it is straight all the way for about 30 km until you arrive at the 4-way intersection with traffic lights. Take the left turn and drive on for about 2 km and you should see the entrance on your right, with an archway over it.
What can you see there?
Sungai Menyala preserves some of the last remnants of lowland dipterocarp forest on the West Coastal plain of Peninsular Malaysia. The forest is classified as Red Meranti-Keruing forest, based on the preponderance of timber trees belonging to the Red Meranti (red Shorea) and Keruing (Dipterocarpus) groups.
Due to most of the forest being logged around 1950, the stand today is a regenerated forest. The signs of past logging and regeneration are very evident if you can recognize the signs. There are numerous trees with kinks in their trunks and a distinct absence of large trees over 1 meter in diameter, the largest being 70-80 cm diameter at most. There are also pure stands of “light demanding” dipterocarps like Shorea leprosula and Shorea parvifolia, which normally regenerate the fastest after the original canopy has been altered by logging activity.
There is a very large tree in Sungai Menyala though, a Jelutong (Dyera costulata). The tree appears to be about 45+ m tall, and has a bole/trunk diameter of 1.90 meters. According to the rangers, the tree’s diameter has increased to 1.90 m from 1.88 m when they last measured it. This tree is believed to be the biggest (known) Jelutong tree in the entire state of Negeri Sembilan, and therefore, one of the main attractions at Sungai Menyala.
There is of course a network of trails in the park, one of which takes you across a freshwater swamp area, which has a boardwalk over it. Such freshwater swamp forest is full of thorny Kelubi ( Eleiodoxa conferta) palms, and observing them, it is clear where the notion of “impenetrable swamps” came from. Kuala Lumpur was like this, once upon a time. But nowadays, such swamps are a rarity, and only exist in low lying conservation areas such as at Sungai Menyala.
A tip – Make sure you bring along an insect repellent, as just like FRIM in Kepong, mosquitoes can be quite plentiful in the forest up to 6 pm; this is probably due to the past disturbance caused by logging, and the isolated nature of this small patch of forest. Leeches can also be quite abundant in wet weather.
Due to its small size and exposed nature, tree fall is common in Sungai Menyala. The forest is one giant mosaic of stable, mature forest, and gaps, and regenerating areas. Faunal life is naturally sparse, but small life-forms still thrive, especially the insect life. Overall, the forest has some similarities with the nearby coastal forest of Tanjung Tuan. If plans to build a canopy walkway or tower actually come to fruition, this will be another added attraction of the park.
In summary, Sungai Menyala Forest Reserve is good place to get a firsthand look at a tropical forest ecosystem for the uninitiated, and I can see its potential for corporate “team building” events (and also as a family outing). The accommodation facilities are at the time of writing, new, and it is nearby to an urban area at the same time. If you are planning to visit Port Dickson, do consider paying a visit to Sungai Menyala.