Hiking in Malaysia: Best Options for Seniors

Hiking in Malaysia: Best Options for Seniors

Malaysia is fortunate to have huge swathes of rainforest, both on the peninsula and in its eastern states of Sabah and Sarawak in Borneo. Adventurous senior travellers may want to spend time walking in the forests. There are many options that are within the range of older travellers, without putting them at too much risk of overtiring themselves.

According to the World Wide Fund for Nature, nearly 60 percent of Malaysia is covered by forest. By no means all of this is pristine, and the country’s deforestation rate is among the highest in the world. But the forests continue to provide plenty of opportunities for hiking. 

The country’s hill stations, with their cooler climates and mountain scenery, offer some of the best nature trails. The largest of these, Cameron Highlands, lies about three hours north of Kuala Lumpur by road. It has many hotels, which should be able to advise you on hiking trails to match your age and level of fitness.

Hikers traversing a tea plantation in the Cameron Highlands.   Image: Fonthip Ward

There are many trails to choose from, including some that lead you to the hill resort’s tea plantations. One of the easier and most popular is the Parit Waterfall Trail. It takes about 30 minutes to reach the falls, or longer if you choose to do a little exploring along the way.

Smaller, less developed and closer to Kuala Lumpur is Fraser’s Hill. It has several walking trails. Some are short and have steps constructed in places for easy walking. Among the easiest is the Hemmant Trail, a 20-minute walk along the side of the golf course. Longer and more difficult is the Pine Tree Trail, which stretches for 5-6 kilometres to the top of a hill and is best walked with a guide. The trails are usually closed from November to the end of January during the wet season.

Trekking Malaysia’s ancient rainforests

Malaysia’s vast national park, Taman Negara, is a three-hour drive northeast of Kuala Lumpur and has much to offer visitors wanting to explore its rainforests, which are said to be the oldest in the world. It’s not easy to reach on one’s own and the best option is probably a package tour with one or two nights in or just outside the park.

The jungle treks on offer range from a few hours – best for most older travellers – to a few days for the fit and adventurous. As with any jungle walk, you’ll want to stop regularly to take in the sounds and colours of the forest. The park also has a canopy walkway that runs for more than 500 metres, and guided night jungle walks.

A guide at the Habitat on Penang Hill.   Image: © Alan Williams

The Habitat’s walking paths are easy for seniors.  Image: © Alan Williams

The island of Penang has good hiking trails too. A relatively new attraction is The Habitat, created in a large area of rainforest along the spine of Penang Hill. It features a long nature trail through the forest. You can walk with a guide or on your own. Along the way, through breaks in the forest, are good views of George Town below and the Andaman Sea beyond.  There is also a canopy walkway stretching 230 metres and reaching up to 15 metres high, and a treetop viewing platform offering 360 degree views of Penang.

Penang National Park in the island’s northwest corner also offers hiking trails, some difficult, some relatively easy.

Among the best hiking areas within easy reach of Kuala Lumpur is the Forest Research Institute Malaysia (FRIM). It’s a government-owned forest reserve and scientific research station, and is open to visitors who want to experience a rainforest at first hand.

Hikers on a guided rainforest walk at FRIM.   Image: © David Astley

It covers more than 200 hectares and has a visitor information centre and hiking trails. However, it has become less attractive to visitors after permanently closing its popular canopy walkway in June 2017 because of the poor condition of some of the trees supporting it.

If you’re pressed for time, a reserve in Kuala Lumpur itself that does have a canopy walkway as well as nature trails is the KL Forest Eco Park, also known by its former name of Bukit Nanas Forest Reserve. It’s in the heart of the city, near the KL Tower.  

One of the ultimate hikes in Malaysia is climbing Mount Kinabalu in Sabah, Malaysia’s highest mountain. The climb to the 4,095 metre summit and back usually takes two days, with a night spent at a rest house high on the mountain. Even novice climbers can do it and no specialist equipment is needed. It’s not beyond the reach of senior travellers but they should be very fit; it’s steep and tiring in places. The best option is probably a climb package with an experienced guide.

Mount Kinabalu is Malaysia’s highest mountain.   Image: Kate Baucherel

A less exhausting alternative is to spend time hiking on the nature trails in Kinabalu National Park below the mountain. The park’s rainforest is known for its rich plant life; UNESCO has designated it as a Centre of Plant Diversity for Southeast Asia. After collecting a map from park headquarters, you’ll have several trails to choose from, and can combine them for longer walks. Day trips from the state capital, Kota Kinabalu, are easily arranged, and comfortable accommodation is available in the park if you want to stay overnight.

Whatever walk you decide on, come well prepared. It’s important to bear in mind that Malaysia is hot and humid all year round, and even highland areas are warmer than they used to be. Carry water, energy-rich snacks, a hat, sunscreen and insect repellent at all times. If you’re doing a longer hike, antiseptic cream and bandages are a good precaution. Wear comfortable walking shoes; trainers are suitable for most walks. And know your limitations.

Header image: © Hongqi Zhang | Dreamstime

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