In Search of Gunung Stong: A Play by Play

What follows is an account of my trip to Gunung Stong State Park and our search for the summit. I had no original intention of even paying the park a visit, but after meeting Julian, an over-eager budget traveler from Germany, I was convinced to check it out. Since the trip was a series of small events, I decided to give you all of it, a play by play if you will. This is an experiment so let me know what you think.

8:05 am – Julian and I peel open our eyelids. Our 25 Ringgit room in the small town of Dabong consists of a full size mattress and a wall mounted fan. We were supposed to be leaving at this time, but, eh. We’re traveling and its hard to sleep with the combination of a high powered fan and the humidity.

9:10 am – Our driver still hasn’t shown and our host, Wan, says he’s probably still sleeping. Luckily, some Malaysian men hanging out nearby offer to drive us the 5 km for 10 RM. For some reason, everyone is coming so we squeeze in and share some small talk with our “close” Malaysian friends.

9:48 am – Without any common language, we’ve managed to pay the park entrance fee, but did not happen to get a trail map or any semblance of directions. With 3 separate options for trail heads, we take a best guess and start walking.

10:06 am – After hundreds of steps, we emerge from the woods and walk onto the river rocks only to crane our necks way back to take in the huge waterfall before us. It’s still hundreds of feet up to the base, but this perspective is humbling. A large portion of the mountain is one solid rock with a stream of water rushing down. Eagerly we jump back on the trail and head further up.

Jelawang Falls

10:49 am – Allergic hives flair up all down my arm. They itch like crazy. I decide to keep a close eye on them.

11:28 am – We’re lost. The trail has slowly disappeared on us, becoming less and less recognizable. Going up leads to a dead end as well as going down. Completely drenched in sweat and dejected, we start to head back the way we came, deciding that we must have chosen the wrong trail early on, and also noticing our stomaches rumble.

12:13 pm – Not wanting our trip to be for not, I begin to scale the face of the rock wall using the vines dangling down its side. Thirty feet up provides a good view of the falls, but I realize that a vine losing hold of the rock would lead to serious harm of my body. I return to semi-stable ground.

From the side of a big rock

12:25 pm – Deciding the spot we first saw the waterfall would be a good place to grab a bite, we head out onto the rocks. Attempting to cross some fast flowing water, I slip and begin to ride the river/waterfall. Luckily, I’m able to stop after a few feet and some soaked shoes and shorts, saving myself from a long ride down to the nearest pool. As I regain my footing, a local Malay helps me by holding my camera, which is also thankful I didn’t take a bath.

12:27 pm – We decide on a spot to eat lunch while my adrenaline slows down and ask the helpful Malays about the trail to the summit. They promptly point to a path leading into the jungle on the opposite side of the river. Looking at the time, we wonder if we still have time.

12:53 pm – We’ve arrived at Kem Baha Camp, the top of the waterfall, and are assigned a hut for the night. It consists of… a mat, on the floor. It also strangely has no back door. Deciding to figure it out later, we unload some items from our backpacks to lose some weight. The “ranger” asks us if we’re headed to Gunung Stong and tells us it’s 4 hours to the top. We think we can do it faster and decide to go for it.

One Comfy Jungle Hut

1:48 pm – We come across two 50 ft boulders wedged against each other with water running between them. They form a cave of sorts and bats are visible “hanging out” for the day. It’s quite picturesque.

Penthouse for bats?

3:06 pm – The trail continues up and up. Completely drenched in sweat, I hit my head on a branch so hard my head feels fuzzy.

3:57 pm – We’ve finally reached the summit, a boulder sitting on top of the mountain. Unfortunately, it’s extremely anti-climatic as trees block most of the view. I ring my shirt of what seems like a liter of sweat and make a peanut-butter and jelly sandwich. Julian gets some beats going on his phone and we relax.

4:13 pm – A brave squirrel attempts to steal some food. I walk over to relieve myself and the curious squirrel follows. The squirrel takes a golden shower.

Too Curious Squirrel

6:08 pm – Down, down, down. My knees hate me, but conversation is good, helping pass the time.

7:05 pm – Back at camp after 6 hours of walking, we head to a smaller rock slab waterfall near our hut and jump in for a bath. Its an amazing feeling washing the sweat from my skin and I, quite incorrectly, feel as clean as I’ve ever felt.

Clean(ish) and relaxed

7:46 pm – I’m able to obtain a sleeping bag and pillow from the ranger and situate myself on the hut floor.

7:47 pm – Julian shrieks as a jungle rat tries to go to bed with him but runs off once the light comes back on.

7:48 pm – We hang our remaining food from the ceiling. Ironically, I proceed to have the best nights sleep in weeks.

7 am – I groggily realize we overslept sunrise, which is a real bummer. On a more positive note, I’ve slept for eleven hours and go back for more.

10 am – We finally arise and head over to the top of the waterfall to check out the view. It’s only about 50 yards from our hut, but in our rush to the summit, we didn’t take the time to check it out the day before. The view is worth the entrance fee alone. The river and rock we stand on slowly gain steepness as they disappear over the edge and out of view. Taking a seat, we eat our remaining food and take it all in.

Top of the Waterfall

11:38 am – Back at the park headquarters, the place is deserted and we don’t have a way back to town. Luckily a local offers to taxi us to Dabong via his motorbike.

Gunung Stong from the back of a motorbike

11:45 am – Apparently, we misunderstood him as he only takes us to the nearest major road. It’s alright though as Julian sticks out his thumb and hitches us a ride. Our driver is friendly but his car smells like unburnt gasoline.

12 pm – Back in Dabong and ready to catch the train. I chalk the trip up as a success and part ways with Julian. Maybe our paths will cross again.

6 thoughts on “In Search of Gunung Stong: A Play by Play

  1. Great story and pics. Sorry if you posted this before but what camera(s) are you using on the trip?


    • Thanks Mike, I shoot with a Nikon D5100 and the stock 18-55 lens. I also recently added a Travel Gear page that’s explains some of my decision making if you want to check it out.

      • Yea, saw it. Great job! I’m going to HK tomorrow for a visa run and am looking for a camera but will probably wait and order it online from a US company. The Nikon is a little above my budget for a camera but it looks great.

        • Yea, I’ve found that quality brand name items are cheaper in the US and online than in any of the major Asian cities. Good choice

  2. Hi Mike, my wife and I live in Jeli, Near Gunung Stong and it’s takes only 10 minutes to go there. Stong is a wonderful place but be sure to pack a lot of food. Haha, it’s quite tiring once we reached the summit or base camp. Didn’t see a lot of foreign traveller nowadays there- Hilmi

    • I agree, bring plenty to eat. The summit is quite the trek. And yes, this spot isn’t overrun with travelers. Still a quiet gem that’s often overlooked.

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