Published: Monday, 21 December 2020 08:18
It's an ideal place to celebrate a Christmas that approximates a traditional European celebration, writes David Bowden. WHILE our travel wings may have been clipped in recent months, the will to explore the world and enjoy the small delights of life is something we all yearn. The end of the year is a time for celebration, firstly with Christmas on Dec 25 and then New Year's Eve on Dec 31. Often referred to as the festive season, it's a time for giving and welcoming in the New Year, and a period for reflection upon what was and the anticipation of what might be.
No doubt, the celebrations this year will be subdued, but many will join in the festivities in our own way in the hope that the New Year will welcome in change for the better. With the possibilities for my Christmas celebration restricted, Fraser's Hill surfaced on my travel radar for reasons that I think are worth sharing.
TRADITIONAL EUROPEAN CHRISTMAS
Malaysians love to celebrate the numerous religious festivities, with Christmas a time when most can enjoy the holiday and partake in various Christmas traditions.
Most of these traditions are European in origin with a dusting of snow central to the Christmas spirit. The commercialism of Christmas hasn't escaped the attention of Malaysian retailers, department stores and hotels and the visible signs of Christmas are similar to those in other countries. One obvious indication that a Malaysian Christmas is different to a European Christmas is that the weather is hotter than a European winter.
It's a safe bet that the only sighting of ice and snow in Malaysia in December is in a mall with an indoor ice rink. While snow won't fall, there are some higher altitude destinations where the temperature is cooler than the heat and humidity of the lowlands. Temperatures in Malaysia's highlands are between 7°C and 12°C cooler than the lowlands. The coolest day recorded in Malaysia was 7.8°C in the Cameron Highlands on Feb 1, 1978. It's hard to contemplate a temperature so low in Malaysia.
The Cameron Highlands and Fraser's Hill are as close as anywhere in Malaysia gets to a European Christmas setting. While there are no reindeers or snowy expanses, the cooler weather, pine trees and Mock-Tudor architecture can, with a stretch of the imagination, satisfy those pining for a traditional Christmas. At this time of the year and under the current conditions of restricted movement, both sprung to mind with the latter capturing my attention as I had just finished reading a book written by Richard Hale on the person whose name was given to the hill station. Fraser's Hill and Lewis J. Fraser of Singapore (Entrepot Publishing) documents the adventurous and entrepreneurial life of Lewis Fraser (not Louis as he's often referred to) in Pahang in the late 19th century. Through the efforts of pioneering tin miners like Fraser, the area opened up along with the road over Banjaran Titiwangsa from Kuala Kubu (as it was then known) to Raub.
At the end of World War 1, Fraser's Hill was identified as a montane retreat for the rest and recuperation of soldiers, who had just returned from the war, as well as senior public servants and staff working in influential colonial companies operating in what was then Malaya. While reading the book, I was reminded of just how Fraser's Hill evolved in an era of limited mobility. Malaya in the 1920s was neither a time "when everyone could fly" nor go by train over great distances. Roads weren't that extensive and access to a vehicle was limited. Travelling to Fraser's Hill from the Klang Valley or the Kinta Valley where many expatriates were employed, was an adventure. Then, there were few holiday options for the colonialists working in Malaya.
A GAP IN HISTORY
Prior to Fraser's Hill being developed in the 1920s, the Gap was opened up across a nearby saddle over the Titiwangsa range. In 1898, the Gap Government Resthouse was opened with four bedrooms and a restaurant serving meals to travellers. The two-storey, Mock Tudor-style building even had fireplaces to ward off the night's chill. By 1903, the resthouse had developed a reputation as a place to holiday and even to enjoy a honeymoon. I have read that it was indeed the place to holiday in the colony. Henri Fauconnier made reference to the resthouse in his acclaimed novel, The Soul of Malaya, translated from French and published in 1931. In it, he described a visit to the Gap and a dinner setting for the guests who were mostly British: "A resplendent table had been prepared; all the government crockery and silver with the bull's head crest, the whole stock of bottles arrayed like skittles on the sideboard." With the grandeur of this dinner fresh in my mind, I am sadly disappointed when I visit the resthouse. While the shell of the building remains, it's so badly vandalised that it looks beyond salvaging. The venue that was once integral to the lives of many is being enveloped by the surrounding rainforest. It's such a pity that this neglect is allowed to pass unnoticed by the authorities.
IN A TIME WARP
The last 8km of the road from the Gap to Fraser's Hill has always been one way. It once had an up-down system with the direction reversing on the hour but now the road is one-way up and a new road is one-way down. In years gone by, getting your timing wrong meant a restful hour or so over drinks or a meal in the former resthouse. It doesn't take long to appreciate just how slow the pace of life is in Fraser's Hill. It's like stepping back in history and for those prepared to experience life in the slow lane, the experience is most rewarding. Conversely, visitors who need connectivity to the modern world will find Fraser's Hill incredibly frustrating.
I soon discover this upon checking into Ye Olde Smokehouse, the best known colonial legacy of all the accommodation in Fraser's Hill. Fortunately, my book on Lewis Fraser proved to be a suitable replacement for fast hotel WiFi. But Ye Olde Smokehouse is all about slowing down as I appreciate while relaxing in its lounge room that looks like it is straight out of the pages of Women's Weekly circa 1925. A plaque on the wall heralded that the property was originally opened as Red Cross House so that personnel returning from World War 1 could recuperate here.
Deciding to fully immerse me into all that Ye Olde Smokehouse has to offer, I thought it only appropriate to partake in an English cream tea — scones, strawberry jam, cream and a pot of Cameron Highlands tea. While the lounge room is comfortable, a sunny patio beckons and while enjoying the nostalgic experience, I contemplate those who had previously enjoyed the same experience; the friendships made, the plots hatched and the plans made for active adventures in the hills.
After an afternoon stroll and the opportunity to take in the sunset from a nearby colonial bungalow, it is time to adjourn for a pre-dinner beverage in the petite bar. Things can get a little chilly once the sun sets and the staff obliges by lighting a fire for me to fully appreciate the ambience that it creates. Over a traditional English dinner, I ask the staff what would be served during Christmas and am informed that turkey, fruit cake, mince pies and plum pudding would be added to the normal a la carte menu. The similar fare will be available in Scott's Pub in the village square while those seeking something more contemporary can enjoy coffee and cake at The Glasshouse.
Families may want to consider checking into MCM Nature Discovery Villa for its extensive range of family-oriented activities like nature walks, fishing, archery and a comprehensive library. Festive food will also be available over Christmas. Another family possibility is to rent a former colonial bungalow now managed by Puncak Inn. Fraser's Hill has played a unique and important role in Malaysia's history and could well be the place to celebrate a Christmas that approximates a traditional European celebration. While not for everyone, Fraser's Hill certainly appeals to those seeking a quiet and restful destination within a tranquil montane setting.
Hotel Ye Olde Smokehouse Jalan Jeriau, Bukit Fraser, 49000 Bukit Fraser, Pahang
- TEL 09 3622 226
- WEBSITE www.thesmokehouse.com.my
- STAY 16 rooms (eight suites in the original building and six Halcyon Lodges in a newer wing). All rooms are fitted out with heritage furnishings and antiques some of which are original and been there for decades.
- EAT There are one restaurant and one cosy bar. Breakfast is served in the restaurant or in the sun on the patio. Meals are unashamedly British although there are some dishes for those craving local food. The small bar is atmospheric with a fireplace that is lit on the coldest of nights.
- DO The property is big on relaxation. Take time out to read a book in the cosy library or in the sun on the patio. Traditional English afternoon tea of scones, jam and cream is an essential part of the day.
- GO Take a forest walk in the cool air, learn archery at the Paddock, play golf on the nearby golf course or admire the colonial heritage buildings on the hill.
- HIGHS A quaint, relaxing, heritage property that provides an insight into the halcyon heritage days of the 1920s.
- LOWS Heritage is not for everyone, especially those seeking connectivity (fast WiFi) to the outside world and those who expect everything to be maintained with absolute precision.
Source : NST
Published: Thursday, 17 December 2020 09:41
KUANTAN: The Genting cluster in Bentong only involves foreigners in the construction sector and has no connection with the Genting Highlands resort . Pahang deputy police chief Datuk Mohd Yusri Hassan Basri said the foreigners were those hired by contractors for various projects near the popular highlands resort. "The migrant workers including those from Bangladesh, Indonesia and Nepal were outsourced workers employed by a third party or contractor for various jobs at the nearby sites. The foreigners are not on the resort's (Genting Highlands resort) payroll.
"So far, no locals have tested positive in the Genting cluster. The authorities have cordoned off the affected area and carried out mass screening... strict measures have been taken," he said when contacted. The New Straits Times has also sent an email to Genting Malaysia Bhd for comments. However, the company has yet to respond. The Genting cluster surfaced after a Bangladeshi crossed state borders from Selangor to visit his friends in Genting Highlands and ended up infecting them.
Meanwhile, a Genting Fire and Rescue Department spokesman said the migrants workers did not only occupy the wooden workers' quarters in Kampung Semaut but also stayed at the Amber Court and Ria apartments. "Their employers have rented apartment units for their workers who are mostly involved in the construction sector. Some are waiting for the outcome of their test results and if positive, then they will be moved to (the Covid-19 Quarantine and Low Risk Treatment Centre) either in Kuantan or Serdang, Selangor.
"So far two batches (of those who tested positive) left on Dec 11 (to Kuantan) and Dec 13 (to Serdang), and they were transported in buses and vans," he said. However, it remains unclear on the total number of migrants occupying the three places, namely Ria Apartment, Amber Court Apartment and Kampung Semaut, which have been placed under Enhanced Movement Control Order (EMCO) from Dec 10 to 23. Yesterday, Pahang police chief Datuk Seri Abd Jalil Hassan was reported as saying 2,363 residents in the three places gave their full cooperation and complied with the prescribed EMCO rules.
Source : NST