Sungai (river) Lembing (spear), a name given by a local ruler’s vision as per local legend. It is an old tin mining town closed in 1986. Since then the town was in decline and in shambles evident by the crumbling of the unoccupied tin sheet and wooden houses. Located about 400km from Singapore with just about 5.5hrs of continuous ride (based on Google Map). The current economy relies solely on domestic group tourism, mainly family and school excursion from the cities. Most lured by the ‘Rainbow waterfall’ as the name suggest, on a good day, you see a rainbow formed by the fall, and a Bukit Panorama (Mount Panorama) again as it suggest, a panoramic view from the peak. These tourist centric names are a hint of attempt to prolong the life of the town, in a good way.
But I was not here for any of the attractions. I see it as a distraction from the essence and history of the town, though it has lived out it’s hey days. Of what is left in this sleepy old town, is a living archive for time traveling visitor, without its glamour.
Sungai Lembing (林明) is one of my favorite stopover in the eastern part of the Peninsula Malaysia. Whenever I am traveling up to Thailand via the east coast of Malaysia or just overnight cruising within Malaysia, and if I prefer to stay away from the concrete jungle of the other popular stop, the city of Kuantan, which is just 40km away. It is also connected to the E8 East Coast Expressway which will leads you to Kuala Lumpur or northward bound up to the state of Terengganu at present. The future phase will connect E8 to Kelantan – the northeastern state bordering South Thailand.
Wake early and head to the market (pasar) , and you get to experience what it’s like to have a morning breakfast back in the 60s-70s of Singapore. By noon most of them will closed their stall and head back to their daily lives within their enclosure. A little section of the ‘wet market’ cater to the remaining residents supply the need for the rest of their day. During holidays, horde of weekend tripper will provide more bustling to the ambience.
Just step into one of the coffee shop as a customary afternoon tradition. Seat are usually aplenty. No whipped cream and no misspelled name required. Menu are universal, at least in this part of the universe. kopi or teh (kopi-o or teh-o for without milk) or kopi-c or teh-c (for evaporated milk or for easy reference – c for carnation milk). Complimentary to your caffeine fix will be two half-boiled (soft-boiled) egg, as a dipping sauce for your toast spread with kaya and butter. This set menu are the original hipster endorsement. The others are simply pretentious.
Chill around a little longer and random conversation will strike among the patrons wirelessly across the tables. The usual formality of questions of where we are from and why are we here will follow. When the ice is broken, I’m in awe by what follows. “顶摆這搭是雞寮來的，樓頂攏咧房間。查埔囝上私合‘. [‘This used to be a brothel, all the rooms are upstairs. the men’s favorite place‘] in a mixed colloquial Hokkien. How did our conversation lead to these in less than three sentence? I must have a face of a John. ‘對面嘛有幾間.’ [There used to be few more opposite.], he added. Though we didn’t do a keyword search, his wiki-worthy information was insightful. But we are a generation too late for his vice tips, or just his chatter was frozen in time in his most glorious memories.
The presence of such raunchy service provider of primal needs. in the middle of the forested settlement, reaffirmed the abundance supply of wealth that can be shared among the seekers.
The neighborhood are degenerating among the many unoccupied properties. Though the timber and tin houses stood the test of time till date, it looks fragile but still glowing with charm. The community is still striving at least. With a large school for its population and complete with basic living and worshiping infrastructure. It will last as long as my riding days ahead. I have yet to visit the museum and the tin mine to learn more about the history. A little more excuse to revisit on my next eastern route.
The beauty of Sungai Lembing, as the beholder of my eye.