Where the monkeys are the main attraction
Tucked away, not far from the Straits of Malacca, lies a quiet hillock that belies its violent past of civil warfare and gangland fights. Here you will discover the old charm of an era that spanned more than 2 centuries and the beautiful scenery overlooking the coastline on the west and the sleepy town below.
Up on the hill proud and sturdy cast iron canons still point to an invisible enemy. Judging by the size of the weapons they may not have caused too much physical damage - they were probably more of a morale booster to the troops manning the fort. Today more often than not it is perched on by the lone silver leaf monkey surveying the coastline below while taking a brief rest from begging for food from the generous tourists. Daily, carloads of visitors make the short journey up to the western side of the hill to pose and frolick with the grey monkeys and watching their lively antics. They are the lords of the hill now and their population is gradually increasing in size judging from the numerous new births of the golden haired langurs. Strangely, the young ones, usually seen clutching the underbelly of their mothers are born with eye-catching soft golden orange hair before they change their colour to the dull ashen grey hair of the adult monkey within the first few weeks.
The Silver Leaf monkey ( presbytis cristata ) belongs to the langur group which includes the Dusky Leaf, Banded Leaf, Grey Leaf, Red Leaf and White Leaf Monkeys. The usually tame and approachable monkeys are found mainly in Peninsula Malaysia, especially in the coastal and riverine forests where they live on a diet of leaves and take shelter on tree tops.
Sometimes you will come across their cousins -the long-tailed macaques visiting the hill for a spot of easy hand outs from the tourists. These normally more aggressive monkeys are found in abundance all over Asia and you should not mistake them for the more domesticated Silver Leaf. The colour of their hair is more evenly light grey and they tend to show more caution when approaching humans..
The macaques prefer forested areas near water and are found in higher densities along riverbanks, lakeshores and along the seacoast. The hill is not their preferred habitat although they would go there ocassionally for tourist food.
The monkeys seem to like the green long beans sold to the tourists up on the hill by vendors who charge RM1.00 for a small bundle. Some of the more adventurous of the visitors would entice the monkeys to perch on their shoulders for a photo opportunity. The others who are less daring would be too happy to take pictures of of the other visitors who don't seem to mind their pictures taken by strangers. The camaraderie of tourists lends a happy and casual atmosphere to the otherwise serene surroundings..
Take time off to soak in the beautiful coastal scenery which is made even more spectacular with the warm glow of the sunset. The best time to visit Bukit Malawati is about 5-6 pm when the sun is lower and the day is less hot.
Seafood at Pasir Penampang
One of our favourite stops on this route is the seafood dinner by the riverside at Pasir Penampang. For seafood lovers this is a must-do stopover before going to watch the fireflies. We usually time it in such a way that we have time for a leisurely sunset dinner by the river, while the day gets dark enough to watch the fireflies.
Just a short 5 minute drive from Bukit Malawati Pasir Penampang is a seafood haven. On certain days there is also an open market. Can't say which day as we do not go regularly enough to know whether they are regular or not. It doesn't matter as it is only a small market with limited produce but it's nice to visit if they are opened.
Although there are a few restaurants in the area, we always end up eating at the Jetty seafood restaurant (the one on the left). The other one seems more popular but we have learnt to stay away from 'popular' restaurants are we have been disappointed often times by their food value and quality. Perhaps one of these days we will give it a try for the comparison.
So far we have no complains with the Jetty. We even call ahead to book our meals and when we get there the food is served with minimal fuss and quickly. They do crabs in salted eggs rather well and we always have that on our menu. The 'Mantis' prawns are also a must.
Pick/reserve a table by the river and you can watch the sunset while you dine. Since this faces the west you often get beautiful warm glowing sunsets behind the river. somehow we have found that this adds to the experience of the meal.
If you have time on your hands you should visit Bukit Malawati earlier and take your time to visit the various attractions up on the hill. Most tourists go there just for the monkeys and they tend to miss out on the rich history of the people who lived there in the early days.
Entrance is free and they are opened daily from 9am - 4.30pm. (Opening times may change)
There are 2 forts built on the hill, the largest being Fort Altingsberg. Originally the fort was built by Sultan Ibrahim of Selangor in the late 18th century to defend the coastline from intruders. However, it turned out to be a futile effort for the royal family as they were easily overpowered by the Dutch navy with their superior tactics and firepower. But in building Fort Bukit Malawati The Sultan left a rich legacy as the Dutch after taking over the fort renamed it and used it for their home until Malaya was colonized by the British.
Other attractions include:-
- Foundation stones
- Poisoned well
- Colonial houses
- Royal Mausoleum
- Viewing tower
- 200 yr old angsana trees