The beauty about living in Malaysia is that as a multicultural society, we have loads of holidays for each of the major ethnic groups/religions in Malaysia. So even though I don’t celebrate the Muslim festival of Eid-al-Fitr (or Hari Raya as it’s known colloquially), my office still gave us a three-day break. Plus the weekend, I had five days off – plenty of time for some R&R!
The Hubs and I did not plan to go to the usual tourist places like Penang/Malacca, as the highways were extremely congested – but we did a short day trip to Kuala Selangor, where we got into some… monkey business. Literally.
Located about 70km from Kuala Lumpur, Kuala Selangor, or “Estuary of Selangor”, lies at the point where the Selangor River meets the sea. Surrounded by forest and mangroves, it was once the capital of the Selangor sultanate in the 18th century, thanks to its strategic location. Today, the town oozes a sleepy, laidback vibe, but is well equipped with facillities, including major banks, a school for sciences, a firestation, and places of worship.
We arrived a little after lunch and hopped onto the tram (a modified vehicle with carriages attached to a tractor). For RM5 (locals) and RM10 (foreigners), it ferries you up to the top of Bukit Malawati. Along the way, you’ll pass by large boulders on the hillside – all that remains of the ancient Malawati Fort.
Built during the Malacca Sultanate in the 16th century, the fort offered a strategic vantage point, with its steep hill face and surrounding mangrove swaps acting as natural defensive ramparts. It fell to Dutch invasion in the 18th century, and they renamed it Altingburg, fortifying its walls and strengthening the fort with cannons. They also built a lighthouse on top of the hill. A year later, a surprise attack by Selangor sultanate forces drove the Dutch back to sea. It remained under Malay rule until the late 19th century, when British gunboats pounded the walls to smithereens.
These days, people come for more than just the history: they come to see monkeys! A colony of silverleafed monkeys (and a couple of macaques) call the hill summit home. Because the hill is a tourist attraction, the primates are used to humans, and are reliant on them for their source of food. There are peddlers here selling food like bananas and fruits that you can feed to the animals, but beware because the animals will climb onto you to get your food.
The silverleafed monkey, or silvery lutung, is an Old World ape endemic to the forests of Sumatra, Borneo, and Peninsular Malaysia. They are categorized as vulnerable, with populations declining due to deforestation and loss of habitat. Like their namesake, they have silvery fur, although babies are golden with pale skin.
The summit of the hill is the highest point for miles around, affording visitors panoramic views of the river winding towards the sea. There are a couple of canons here as well, but I’m not sure if they are well preserved originals or just replicas.
Also here you will find the Baitulhilal, a moonsighting pavilion, which I believe our Muslim religious authorities use to sight the moon on the eve of Ramadhan, which would then signify the beginning of the holy month.
Another prominent landmark here is the Altingsburg Lighthouse, built by the Dutch and spruced up by the British almost a century on. Unfortunately you can’t access the buildling, but the views from the outside are still great, and it looks well maintained. Within its grounds is a museum chronicling the history of the fort, but it wasn’t open during our visit.
We spent some time enjoying the sea breeze under the cool shade of the trees while watching the monkeys. It was fascinating to see them interacting with each other; relaxing on the branches, playfully chasing one another, jumping across branches, fighting, grooming – very human interactions.
If you’re up to a walk around the area, there are a couple of interesting historical attractions to see, including a Poisoned Well, where traitors were apparently lowered into a mix of poisonous latex and juice from bamboo shoots, undergoing a slow and painful death. There’s also a large stone slab, where legend has it that a palace maiden was beheaded for adultery.
We spent about an hour on the summit, before returning to town and driving 2 minutes away (the weather was scorching, it wasn’t coz we were lazy lol) to Auntie Foo, a cafe in the middle of town. Only outdoor seating was available as they told us the inside was ‘reserved’ (we came and went, but no one showed up though) – so we had to sit on the verandah. It was still fairly cool, as are most of the old shophouses. Perhaps something to do with the design and materials used in the old days?
Auntie Foo serves mostly Western and Asian fare. We already had lunch, so we got some dessert to quench our thirst and cool down from the sweltering heat. The cendol was nice but the portion was small; the Hubs gulped it down within two mouthfuls. The Ais Kacang, on the other hand, was humongous, topped with a dollop of sweet vanilla ice cream, crushed peanuts, rose syrup, and other goodies.
The cafe also sells souvenirs and handicrafts.
Aside from visiting the hill and its monkeys, there are a lot of other things you can do in Kuala Selangor, namely firefly watching at night on the river, and taking photos at the Sasaran Sky Mirror beach (which is often dubbed the Salar Uyuni of Malaysia, because the beach appears like a mirror at certain hours of the day). You can also go eagle feeding, or take a hike at the Kuala Selangor Nature Park.
As our trip was kinda spontaneous, we were content with just visiting Bukit Malawati and enjoying the relaxing drive. If you like the laidback vibe of small towns, history, and nature, it’s worth the drive for a daytrip, or even an overnight stay as there are plenty of homestays and boutique hotels around.
Kuala Selangor is best accessed by car. Driving along the North-South Highway, exit at Sungai Buloh and follow the signs towards Kuala Selangor. There are buses plying the route as well, but I wasn’t able to find updated information online.