The Lata Berembun (Lata means “waterfall” or “cataract” in Malay) is widely considered as one of the best natural treasures of Pahang state. And you have to visit the waterfall in order to comprehend this statement, like what I did recently. All this while, I always wondered why people would take all the trouble to visit this hard-to-reach waterfall, even coming all the way from Singapore, when they have nice waterfalls much nearer and easier to get to; well, now I know why.
Only after spending a night here with a group of friends, would I comprehend why it is well known amongst nature lovers and waterfall connoisseurs in Malaysia. Lata Berembun is located deep within the Benom range, and is not too far from the borders of the Krau Wildlife Reserve, one of the most important conservation areas in Peninsular Malaysia (unfortunately off-limits to most people as it is not a national park). From the waterfall, which is at an altitude of around 800 m asl (if not mistaken), the trailhead to Gunung Benom (2107 m) begins. The trailhead starts some way before the last bridge to the falls, marked by signboards, and involves 4 days ascending and descending in all.
Due to its relatively high altitude and untouched surrounding forest, Lata Berembun is never too hot during the day as the trees keep out the scorching sun. However, getting there is another story. The only way to get there is through modified 4WD vehicles, or a grueling overnight trek (at the very least). Two thirds of the way is nothing but massive deforestation; all the original forest cleared for oil palm and orchards. It’s a very stark reminder of the constant impact of mankind upon the earth.
The road to the waterfalls is mostly laterite, which gets really muddy and quite impassable during wet weather. On the other hand, during dry weather it is REALLY bumpy. Either way, getting there is half the fun, as they say. There are traces of a concrete sealed road nearer to the falls, which are most likely from an earlier time, when the waterfalls were first designated as a recreational forest area. The entire distance to the waterfalls from the starting point, which is the village of Sungai Challit, is about 10 km, and you will need to cross two narrow bridges in total, of which the last one I mentioned above.
The water flow of Lata Berembun is powerful and chilly, and the entire falls is a series of 7 or so cascades, 3 of which which can be reached by braving a perilous trail along its side, with steep drop-offs in places. In between the main fall and the upper falls, there are a couple of natural “water slides” that one can have fun with. The pool beneath the main fall is large and deep though, and life jackets are a must, even for those able to swim.
What’s interesting about Lata Berembun are the numerous Chengal (Neobalanocarpus heimii) trees found in this area. Being such a valuable heavy hardwood, these dipterocarp trees are much sought after by the timber industry, and consequently, are rare everywhere. In fact, I was surprised to see so many Chengal trees growing at this altitude. Luckily, the logging (and land clearing) activities appear to have stopped at the area of the waterfalls and beyond, although the forested hills all the way in have not been spared from the chainsaw; they would have been a sight to behold. I guess, at almost 1000 meters above sea level, durian and other tree crops won’t do very well. Beyond the falls, the undisturbed hill and montane forests of the Benom range beckons – and I hope it stays this way.
The area of the waterfalls was surprisingly quite clean of rubbish (a problem TYPICAL throughout Malaysia), but I suspect this is due to regular clean-ups by some visitors. Even then, wine and whisky bottles can be spotted stashed at the bases of trees, leftovers from drinking and karaoke(!) sessions at this popular waterfall.
The rainforest surrounding Lata Berembun is probably of the Upper Hill Dipterocarp forest subtype at its lowermost limit, which soon transitions into the Upper Hill Dipterocarp subtype proper above and beyond the main cascade, and is noticeable if one scrambles up the side trail alongside the waterfalls. The trees and even the ground soon start to be festooned with mosses, which become noticeably thicker and more abundant the higher one ventures. If you climb above 1200 m asl, you will find yourself in the oak laurel montane forest zone, where the dominant trees are no longer dipterocarps, but oaks and laurels.
To get there, you can use the main trunk road to Raub (from Bentong), and turn right at the turn off to a village called Mempaga (there will be a signboard along the trunk road pointing you to Mempaga). Follow the signboards to Kampung (Village) Sungai Klau, and when you arrive there, there is a left turn to a small village called Kampung Sungai Challit. Follow this small road until you spot a signboard pointing you to Lata Berembun. From this signboard, it is 10 km to the waterfalls. It is advisable to book a 4WD service early beforehand, as there are many visitors/daytrippers going there and as such, transport may not be available all the time.
Latest Update (June 3, 2020)
Unfortunately, as of now, Lata Berembun is no more the beautiful and pristine waterfall that it once was. Apparently, there was logging and clearing in the catchment area of the waterfall, and this caused sedimentation which resulted in some kind of massive overflow that has destroyed the natural swimming pool below the falls.
This video below (courtesy of Puan Sri Sabrina Syed, President of PEKA, an environmental NGO in Malaysia) shows the latest APPALLING condition of the waterfall. Basically, the waterfall has been destroyed and the water is now murky as you can see from the video. What a shame!
Yes folks, this is the new reality in Malaysia. As you can see from earlier photos above, that whole Sungai Klau place has long been a major area for durian plantations, but lately in the past few years alone, durian planting has boomed up A LOT due to China Chinese catching the durian bug, and so now, there is a durian planting craze in Malaysia.
Since durian grows best on fertile hill slopes, and most of our remaining forest reserves are on hills (including water catchment protection forests) it can be assumed they are no longer safe and the temptation is always there to clear and convert them into durian plantations (or some kind of “plantation forest” aka hutan ladang). Notwithstanding the fact that we are even risking our own water supply by destroying the very water catchments that we rely on. Even as I write this, the Ulu Muda forest in Kedah which is the main water catchment for millions of people in the Northern region of Malaysia is again under the threat of logging after the state government changed hands.
I have a lot more to say on this durian menace, but suffice to say – if nothing is done to curb the massive GREED that has infected the world and we carry on this way, it will soon be the end of the world (as we know it). And perhaps of ourselves.