I left Kuala Lipis to continue my road trip along Sungai Pahang. But though the Jelai river is navigable, the villages were still not necessarily by the riverside. It wouldn’t be until Beluan that the old road begins to hug the river more consistently.

The way passes through plantations of oil palm, mixed with secondary forest and bush lands. I stopped for breakfast at Alvin Curry House, where you can still buy snacks by weight, stored in old school metal tins out front.

Detour into a village

The old road barely fits two cars in parts. You have to make the satellite navigation pass through the small villages on purpose, as it would constantly try to get you back onto the more optimal roads even though you’ve switched off the setting for ‘faster routes’. I made a detour to an even smaller road to Kuala Kenong Village, wondering if it was riverside.

Along the way, I passed under an elevated rail line, supported by brick pylons. It was part of the British line from Kuala Lipis to Gemas. I caught a glimpse of the ochre river down below. Of course. The villages aren’t riverside because the terrain by the river is higher in this section.

The signage at the junction pointed to Kampung Kuala Kenong, yet the village I came upon was Kampung Batu Sembilan. Perhaps Kuala Kenong village is even more remote, and I just didn’t know how to get there from Batu Sembilan. Eventually, I came upon the old Batu Sembilan railway stop. Getting out of the car, I wandered around to get a view of the Jelai river. Finding nothing else of interest (aside from the local fertigation project), I continued on my way.

Small British era railway stop at Kampung Batu Sembilan, Pahang.
Perhentian Batu Sembilan

The jetty of Kuala Tembeling

Returning to the old state road, the drive to Kuala Tembeling passes through similar landscapes as before. Within an hour, I came upon the next landmark along Sungai Pahang.

Kuala Tembeling is where the Jelai and Tembeling rivers merge, and become the river formally known as Sungai Pahang. The Tembeling river flows south, from the hills at the border between Pahang and Terengganu. Crucially, it passes through Taman Negara, thus Kuala Tembeling is the main jetty access to the rainforest park. I have to admit that there’s a certain added ambience to entering Taman Negara on a river boat. The more typical access is by road from Jerantut to Kuala Tahan.

There is ample parking at Kuala Tembeling jetty, and restaurants. So I stopped for lunch and a wander down to the jetty. Looking across to Sungai Tembeling, I noted a rise of sand on the far bank. And it occurred to me to wonder, is that… Pasir Tambang?

The confluence of the Jelai and Tembeling rivers at Kuala Tembeling. The jetty's floating waiting area is down on the river, with a dark red rood. Narrow river sampans are moored next to it. On the far bank is a natural rise of sand called Pasir Tambang, the site of many feudal battles and murders.
Kuala Tembeling jetty and Pasir Tambang in the distance

Pasir Tambang’s surprisingly bloody history

It was here that I felt my road trip flow backwards into Pahang history. For this river confluence was also the confluence of the feudal and modern eras of Pahang, and unlike Kuala Lipis and Fraser’s Hill, the histories of the land were no longer dominated by the colonial period.

I happened to have recently read Hugh Clifford’s In Court and Kampong prior to making this road trip. Recently enough, that I remember the description of this sand shoal at Kuala Tembeling, wide and flat so that you could make camp on it. It was the site of at least two bloody encounters in Pahang’s pre-colonial history. Both were related to typical feudal problems of the king trying to assert authority over his furthest feudal dukes, who occasionally acquire ambitions of kingship.

Feudal control was exerted along Sungai Pahang. The furthest ducal* territory was Jelai, so it’s not surprising that Jelai often felt independent of the king, which the king would obviously consider treasonous. I mean, his title was Orang Kaya Indera Perba Jelai, but it used to be Sri Maharaja Perba – you can see how this duke might get dreams of grandeur. And if you wanted to pick a place to throw down with the Duke of Jelai, I guess it would be at Kuala Tembeling, at the edge of the Jelai feudal territory.

This was also the site of the Jeram Ampai battle between the British colonial forces and the freedom fighters/rebels (depending on your point of view) led by Mat Kilau. The British prevailed, and the insurgents retreated into the jungle.

The ochre-coloured Jelai river glimpsed through riverbank vegetation.
Sungai Jelai

Sungai Pahang in Jerantut

The road curved with the river from Kuala Tembeling, but I didn’t often see it. I drove past the town of Jerantut, knowing that my friend Anim was teaching and couldn’t meet me.

Past Jerantut and near the road bridge across Sungai Pahang, I saw a brown signboard for ‘Feri Waterfront’. Intrigued, I turned in to see it. The asphalt lane led me down below the road grade. There I discovered an open tarmac area on the upper riverbank. A shop building with amenities was on one side, and a small stage was on the far end.

The shops were shut, as the movement controls had only just been lifted. But from the signs and banners, it seemed like this was the local recreational space, with bicycle rentals, and a barrel train for kids, as well as river boat tours. That said, there were also signs advertising a cycling event a few months earlier, which was sponsored by Tourism Pahang. I guess there was some effort to revive tourism activities quickly after the pandemic.

Past the pink stage was a grass lawn with airy, Malay-style gazebos. In one of them was a grandfather, taking his little granddaughter out. Down on the riverbank was a floating pontoon jetty. I guess it was where you take the ferry.

I felt pleased to discover that there were such spaces in rural Pahang. It felt owned by the community. There’s some retail – because where in Malaysia wouldn’t have food? But the place isn’t there for profit-making. It’s simple and not overdone, and I think that’s a good indicator of progress. After all, lifting quality of life across the nation, and having time for hobbies – isn’t that the point of economic development?

Sungai Pahang beneath the Jerantut Ferry bridge. A roofed pontoon jetty floats near the riverbank and a green river sampan is alongside.
Feri Waterfront jetty in Sungai Pahang

Detour to Galeri Mat Kilau

At this point, I realised that if I wanted to continue tracking close to Sungai Pahang, I would first have to cross the river and take a road that doesn’t. The way passes through Pulau Tawar before approaching the river again. This suited me just fine. My friend Yana, who gave me the idea for this road trip in the first place, had urged me to see a gallery dedicated to Mat Kilau. It was located in Pulau Tawar, where he was born.

It was a small gallery, and I wish it had better lighting inside. But there were lots of documents and exhibits related to the folk hero. It’s a good stop if you’re interested in Pahang history from the perspective of its natives.

The front of Galeri Mat Kilau in Pulau Tawar, near Jerantut.
Galeri Mat Kilau

Pro tip: If you’re here, you’re also near Gua Kota Gelanggi. These are ancient cave complexes dated at 150 million years old. Believed to be the site of a lost kingdom, the caves are steeped in myth and legend. It’s best to explore the caves with a guide.

Mat Kilau (the movie)

At the time, the movie Mat Kilau had just finished smashing Malaysian box office records, earning nearly RM100 million in 40 days. An unexpected runaway hit, it continued showing in theatres for weeks, shoving aside even Hollywood films for cinema space. I had gone to see it with Yana and her family before my trip. We even considered coming in traditional attire to join the phenomenon, but didn’t in the end.

As a film, I personally found it very literal and kind of preachy (narrative arcs are what attracts me). I thought it didn’t flow well. However, it was also the first Malaysian history-themed movie set in the colonial era. I guess, the period when the Malay states actually fell to colonisation had been too touchy to put on film. As if to underscore that, this first attempt attracted a lot of controversy.

But though it was not my kind of movie, I could tell that the mere fact that this part of history was finally on the silver screen, and wasn’t terrible, was cathartic to Malay people. The movie is not even actually historical, merely history-inspired. (Do not look to it for perfect accuracy.) But it did mark a watershed moment. For we didn’t have to talk about that part of history from only the colonial-friendly point of view anymore. Subliminally, it meant we were no longer a young, poor state still dependent on the good graces of our former colonising power.

And Yana’s husband had a good point. It was really more in the kungfu genre, and no one expects such movies to be historically accurate, or even logical. Indeed, Mat Kilau looks great, with cool action scenes that didn’t worry too much about whether it really happened!

The movie did look cool, never mind the script…

Mat Kilau and the Pahang uprising

We often think about the Malay states as having the same experience of colonisation. On the surface, the states mostly fell under British rule in much the same way, the resistance from native chiefs had similar friction points, and so on. But they were not exactly the same, not even the states in the Federated Malay States. For you see, Pahang was a lot more feudal than Perak or Selangor^.

This was probably lost on the British. Initial rebellions from local dukes aside, they got more co-operation from the sultans of Perak and Selangor, who had their own calculations for allying with the British (even if it turned out they arguably miscalculated and found themselves colonised). So perhaps, the British expected to replicate the formula when they went into Pahang in 1887.

Map of Lipis district of Pahang and its sub-districts. Viewed in Galeri Mat Kilau.
Lipis district

They probably continued to think so when Mat Kilau rebelled in 1892, backed by the Earl of Semantan (later promoted to Duke of Temerloh), and his father, Tok Gajah**. After all, the rebellious Perak and Selangor chiefs were successfully pacified.

But the Pahang uprising persisted until 1894, and wasn’t over until 1895. I guess they didn’t realise that the Pahang rebellion was led by the very same military chiefs who had helped Selangor defeat the rebellious dukes there. And they didn’t reckon on the Pahang Sultan being a reluctant vassal, secretly helping his dukes.

Later, the insurgents were captured by Siam in Kelantan, except for Mat Kilau and his father. Mat Kilau was presumed dead, but dramatically re-appeared in 1969. Escaping into the jungle, harboured by Kelantan, faking his death, and multiple identity changes? Now that should have been the movie!

Hugh Clifford was sus… but not in a bad way.

In the gallery, I read through excerpts of British reports during the uprising. They documented Mat Kilau’s attacks, and British reprisals. And then I came to a report of Hugh Clifford’s expedition into the jungle to chase after the insurgents, following the battle of Jeram Ampai.

Wait… Clifford spent three months chasing them in the jungle? I read the excerpt more closely. It seemed straightforward enough, quoting and summarising Clifford’s report. He went with over 200 men, took three months, and returned by sea without success. But it was the details, the oddly specific details, that piqued my corporate reporting spidey senses. Because it sounded like it was a ‘cover your backside’ report.

The report emphasised that the jungles they traversed were unexplored. He apparently provided a lengthy explanation for why they were not successful in capturing the rebels. And then he immediately changed the subject and offered a map of the jungle and valuable geographic information, to demonstrate that the expedition was not without result, and that it had been a unique opportunity to obtain such a map.

Now, Hugh Clifford had lived with the Ulu Pahang Malays, initially with no other European around, since he was 21. He had met both Tok Gajah and Mat Kilau, finding the latter ‘easy to deal with’. So I couldn’t help but wonder if he made the chase look good, then took his time in the jungle, and just spent it meticulously mapping the terrain instead to buy forgiveness for his team^^.

Visiting the tomb of Mat Kilau

The tomb of the man who stepped up in 1969 and claimed to be Mat Kilau, is not far from the gallery. An investigating committee set up by the state of Pahang found sufficient testimony to accept the claim. Unfortunately, he died soon after. Nonetheless, he hung on long enough for the investigation to conclude, and was buried with state honours as a resistance hero of Pahang.

I didn’t have to go out of my way to visit his tomb. So I made a quick stop, and paid my respects.

Signboard for the tomb of the warrior, Mat Kilau.
Signboard for the tomb of Mat Kilau

Stopping in Temerloh at the wrong temple

Yana had told me about a temple near Temerloh, but not in Temerloh. She said that devotees from the temple would walk barefoot all the way to another temple in KL. So I decided to see if I could find it.

For some reason, I assumed it was a Chinese temple, and thought the most likely one was this Fa Long temple. It took some finding, since the approach wasn’t obvious. But the temple looked unstaffed and it was raining. So I decided to abandon the idea and move on.

I told Yana about it later. And it turns out that it was the wrong temple! She still doesn’t know the name of the correct one, but it was a Hindu temple***.

Entry arch of the Temerloh Fa Long temple

Temerloh could have been an interesting stop. After all, it was also an important confluence, as it was where the Semantan river merged into Sungai Pahang. But as far as I know, none of the historical sites of the Pahang uprising are marked.

Nowadays, it just looks like a normal town with suburbia. And since it was already late in the afternoon, I decided to press on, because I planned to reach Pekan that night. I thought, perhaps I ought to have stolen a day from my Tanjung Jara holiday, and allowed myself a night in Temerloh. If it had been a Sunday, I might have done it. Temerloh has a day market on Sundays, which is known as Malaysia’s longest day market!

Pro tip: Near Temerloh there is a quirky attraction. Titik Tengah Semenanjung is the calculated midpoint of the Malay Peninsula. Malaysia’s Department of Survey and Mapping came up with it after various calculations considering mass, topography, and geometry. It is not along the way of my Sungai Pahang road trip since it is further west along the old East-West road. However, I did make a stop on my way back.

Pit stop at Bera Waterfront

I crossed Sungai Pahang again, at Temerloh. For the road that hugs the river and goes all the way to Pekan was on the other bank now. I didn’t plan on any more stops, aiming to make up for lost time, for it was slow driving the rural trunk road from Jerantut.

That is, until I approached Bera.

A row of stalls selling snacks next to some roadside parking drew my attention. It looked properly done-up, and I deduced this was the Bera Waterfront on the map. I made a pit stop to look upon the river at its southernmost point. It was noticeably wider here. Soon, it would be wider still, enough to have river islands in the middle.

A view of Sungai Pahang from Bera waterfront. The Bera sign is visible on the far bank.
Sungai Pahang from Bera Waterfront

Here, I also noticed a floating guesthouse. Turns out, you can stay on raft houses along Sungai Pahang. It seemed like you can only book these accommodations by phone. Or alternatively, just wander up and see if there’s room, I guess. Something for the adventurous, off the beaten path traveller?

Pro tip: Along the road in this stretch, you will find a lot of roadside stalls selling fresh farmed river fish, specifically patin and tilapia. If you’re making a self-catering road trip, you can plan to buy fish along the way and cook at your accommodation.

Glimpses of Sungai Pahang

The landscape along the drive is rural. Again, it was oil palm mixed with bush lands, but no longer forest. Occasionally, you pass cattle and goats, and water buffalo. Sometimes, you have to let them cross. Past Bera, the road is a lot closer to Sungai Pahang, and closer in height to its level. There are flood gauges by the road side, marking green, yellow, orange, and red flood heights. Obviously, this part of Pahang floods seasonally.

Periodic breaks in the shrubbery along the riverbank reveal glimpses of Sungai Pahang, making this stretch among my favourite drives in Malaysia. For while Sungai Pahang isn’t particularly anything but big, you get to see it from Bera onwards on a satisfyingly long drive. I don’t think there’s another such drive in the country.

I drove through Chenor****, where the roadside trees grew high and lovely, in between rubber smallholdings and village homes. And lovely views of the river, when the road comes back close to its banks, all the way to the royal capital in Pekan.

Grey muddy kerbau (water buffalo) by the roadside.
Water buffalo by the roadside

My best friend Suraya has Chenor heritage, though her parents have decidedly become city people now. I sent Suraya one of the drive videos, asking her why she never mentions Chenor. And of course, it’s because she doesn’t see anything special in it.

I thought about that, about how our parents’ generation who were first to leave for the big city bring a memory of rural areas that is outdated, and the next generations inherit that memory without update. But the villages are not impoverished anymore, and its streams and rivers, fields and forest, is a kind of wealth on its own.


Notes:

* The feudal system of Pahang divides the state into four territories governed by the Orang Besar Berempat (the “Four Dukes”). Their title is ‘Orang Kaya’. These four lords gave allegiance to the Bendahara of Pahang, the heir of the old Melaka-Pahang lineage, and representative of the Johor king, the heir of the Melaka empire. Later, the Bendahara took on the title of Sultan; I guess when people gave up all hope that Johor could revive Melaka’s glory. The Orang Besar Berempat were the most powerful chiefs of Pahang, hence I translate them as dukes. Below them are eight lesser lords (~earls), and below them are another sixteen minor lords (~barons).

It’s kind of funny that the highest nobility title in Pahang, Orang Kaya, literally translates to “Rich Man”. It’s so honest and on the nose.

** Born Rasu bin Shahrom, better known as Tok Gajah (“Elephant Chief”). He received Pulau Tawar as his fief, along with the title Orang Kaya Imam Perang Indera Gajah (“Marshal of the Elephant Senses”), for his military exploits while leading the Pahang reinforcements to Tengku Kudin in the Selangor Civil War.

*** As I write this article, I saw a tweet about this pilgrimage on foot. The temple is probably the Sri Marathandavar Aalayam temple. And the temple is not near Temerloh, but near Maran. So it wouldn’t have been on my route after all.

**** Chenor, being almost halfway up the Pahang river, was once a common river stopping point for Pahang royals coming upriver. There is still an area in town called Kampung Raja (“Kingsville”) where royalty still live. Chenor is also known to be a martial people. The men who marched to reinforce Tengku Kudin in Selangor were mobilised from Chenor.

^ Pahang was a lot more feudal than Perak and Selangor

Whenever you wonder why Pahang is less Anglophile than Perak or Selangor, despite all three having been British Protectorate States almost at the same time, or why some are so stubbornly loyal to certain politicians, this should be a clue that there’s something different in their identity. Personally, as a rule of thumb, I prefer trying to figure out what it is, rather than blaming the odd one out for not being the same as others. I don’t pretend that I am above the temptation, but it’s my aim in rational moments.

Though they all had native peasantry stretching back to the beginning of history, the Perak and Selangor sultanates are younger, being previously Melaka territory. Their lands also faced more invasions, because they came to be after the Melaka empire collapsed, with the resulting power vacuum implications.

Selangor’s sultanate is the youngest on the peninsula, founded by Bugis royals descended from exiles who came to Johor after their own lands fell to the Dutch. They established themselves in Selangor after helping Johor push out Minangkabau rival claimants from Sumatra. Perak’s people had to put up with raids from Siam and Acheh, the latter having a strange tendency of kidnapping their royals but then sending a prince back now and then. Geographically, the west coast alluvial terrain is also not as difficult as Pahang’s.

Consequently, both kings could more easily command their people and feudal lords. Both also had more motivation to consolidate power – a common trend in feudalism when the nation comes under external threat, as we can see in the histories of places like Europe and Oman.

Pahang, on the other hand, is more ancient. Even when it was conquered by Melaka, the Melaka king married a Pahang princess and returned their son to rule Pahang. Its territory had always been large, so its dukes were more independent. And while Pahang was not uninvolved in colonial era events, this mainly involved them sending out military assistance, not asking it themselves.

Also, as you can see in this ‘Malay Game of Thrones’ history summary, the sultanate suffered a lot of drama. But the dukes were more constant. So if you’re a peasant in the remote territories, I guess it makes sense to prioritise your own duke.

^^ What exactly was Clifford’s position during the uprising?

Although Hugh Clifford is the most well-known Pahang Resident today, he was not the Resident at the time of the Pahang uprising. In fact, he didn’t seem to have a position in the colonial administration in this specific period, and only this period.

Arriving in Perak as a cadet at 17, Clifford was sent to Pahang at 21 to negotiate the protectorate agreement with the Sultan. It was during this time that he met Mat Kilau and his father. Presumably he was successful in his mission, for the Sultan signed it a year later in 1888. He then became Superintendent of Ulu Pahang in 1889.

But then, there seemed to be a career gap between 1889 and 1896. He only became Resident in 1896. You’d think maybe he went back to England, like Swettenham was prone to. But no. The Pahang uprising happened in this period, and he was in Kuala Lipis when it was attacked by the insurgents. He was also present as ‘political advisor’ with the British forces that mobilised to retaliate at Budu.

He then managed to be tasked as the one to chase after Mat Kilau, despite not being put in charge up until then. And he somehow spent three months in the jungle doing so. He did not return with any of the rebel leaders. And while he was away, the British didn’t send anyone else.

Now, I’m not saying that Clifford let Mat Kilau have a head start. But maybe, he didn’t try as hard as he could have? And maybe at some level, it was not wholly unintentional. For in spite of his ‘white man’s burden’ beliefs, he also genuinely seemed to like the people of Pahang and even romanticised its feudal ways.

Sympathising with Hugh Clifford as a corporate employee

In this scenario, it would make sense why the report also said that the Malays on Clifford’s expedition were in good humour, despite having to live in the jungle for three months and not even getting paid. Sure, they were not Pahang Malays, and maybe didn’t mind hunting down Mat Kilau, but still – they weren’t being paid! Alas, the British are experts at writing reports that say true things while masking the truth, so that you can’t tell the difference. And since all we have are the reports, we’ll never know.

And what if the uprising happened in the first place, because the Resident didn’t listen to him? Maybe, after gaining access to Pahang and its riches, more senior administrators flocked to the state and sidelined the young man who came first and had the actual cultural knowledge. That would explain his odd career gap. So instead of replicating their success in Perak and Selangor, perhaps the British ended up replicating the arrogance of Birch in Perak.

Or maybe these thoughts are fanciful, coloured by my personal experience in a multinational corporate structure. Then again, British colonisation is actually a lot easier to understand if you think of it like a multinational corporation. So maybe, I’m not too far off, after all.

For being sidelined by senior managers and their ‘golden boys’ for the rewards after doing the actual hard work, is a common phenomenon in corporate life. Trying to explain the relevance of local cultural nuances and being ignored by your Western boss (or his boss), happens a lot. And trying to do the right thing when you’re not allowed, disguising it in reports as meeting a KPI that your manager wants – it happens more often than you think.

Recommended reading

Hugh Clifford. In Court and Kampong. Silverfish Malaysian Classics Series. 2016 (reprint; original published in 1897).


The foreword for In Court and Kampong finds its tales more offensive than Swettenham’s in Malay Sketches. But where the editor found fault in Clifford’s phrasing, having read a lot of Saki, I mainly just perceive a wry sort of Edwardian upper class humour.
Instead, I take Clifford’s own preface at his word. His motive was to get his fellow Europeans to understand the native point of view. Thus, it’s understandable that he would have curated tales that make the differences distinct. And besides, people’s most memorable experiences when they travel, are the culture shock ones. So I find his honesty more authentic than Swettenham’s affected detachment.
Secondly, while the tales are meant to illustrate difference, he also intended to tell them so that his fellows understood that this worldview made sense nonetheless, and not totally unrelatable. That one should learn to see its value to native people; therefore to judge them by their standards rather than European ones.
So, even though the remainder of the preface asserts his conviction that British influence is ultimately positive for the natives (i.e. the “white man’s burden”) – even if it would result in the regrettable loss of the native worldview – at least Clifford wished to persuade from the native’s own viewpoint, which he was willing to learn well. This is rare, even today.
You can guess why he wrote this when he did. I suspect the Pahang uprising was due to the administrators who came after him making a mess of it after he had nicely set things up with the sultan. I think he was flexing his superior knowledge of Pahang here, and demonstrating that such knowledge and respect is necessary for colonial administrators.


Mohamad Rashidi Pakri. The Fiction of Colonial Malaya. 2014.


This seminal study on colonial-era literature related to Malaya is a handy companion to the book above. The writer, a Malaysian academic specialising in colonial history and literature, discusses the fictional literature written by several colonial officers to Malaya, including the Residents Swettenham and Clifford. (Apparently, aside from writing memoirs and “travelogues”, they also dabbled in creative fiction.)
I am by no means well-read in colonial literature. In part this is due to the prevalence of insufferable themes of colonial superiority, which must have been very flattering to its intended audience, but not so much to the ‘native’ in the stories. Those written by the Europeans who actually really did know us (and therefore even if some depictions are unflattering, they are at least true in the way that your neighbour generally knows your least flattering habits), are a distinct minority in the genre. One can only tolerate so much vanity.
I won’t pre-empt a thorough reading of Rashidi’s work, which is worthwhile to illuminate the clash of ideas that were taking place during the time that the authors lived, but my insights are that firstly, the selected authors were not completely like their peers whose worldview of ‘the East’ extended no further than imperialist tropes. And secondly, even among these, the difference between their fiction works and their ‘travelogues’ is basically the colonial era prose version of ‘Instagram vs reality’.



6 Responses

  1. Anja says:

    I love the book recommendations that come with the blog posts! I am not going to Malaysia any time soon, but if I would, I would pick up one of these books. As someone who loves to read, I will take inspiration for any future posts. I also like that you don’t link to the ubiquitous monopolist bog internet book store

    • Teja says:

      Hahaha I immediately knew which internet book store you mean!
      I don’t always do serious reading before my trips, but sometimes I just get in a mood for it – and then I read some pretty obscure books!

  2. Lisa says:

    Wow thank you for this post. I am actually going to go and find these books after this to read more. And then in amongst all of this, the natural beauty stands out – the caves would be intriguing. Thanks again, now I have more reading to do.

    • Teja says:

      They certainly provide a glimpse – even if not necessarily balanced – of a different time, that was only 100 years or so ago. When you read Rashidi’s book though, there’s one bit that I felt is important but I think he missed. He touches on Swettenham’s views on Malay custom-bound marriage vs Western romance (Swettenham held the second one as superior of course), but it’s probably important context to know that Swettenham’s *own marriage* was heavily custom-bound as well, he wanted to divorce her, but since it was illegal in England until late in his life, he shut away his wife. Kind of changes your impression of his views, if you had this bit of information.
      And Gua Gelanggi has some really amazing chambers – although I went to see them long ago on a caving expedition, and can’t remember which chambers were the easily accessible ones.

  3. I don’t know that I would ever do this but I learned some fascinating history here. As we have now covered so much of the globe, we are always looking for “backroads” and cultural experiences. This would be fascinating.

    • Teja says:

      I know what you mean, although you’ve definitely covered much more of the globe than I have.
      It’s one of those trips that are very niche, isn’t it. I think I can only do this type of article for my own country; there’s no way I’d be able to have depth of context otherwise. And even then, it’s only possible because I have friends from many of Malaysia’s states – some of these themes cannot be appreciated if I only considered my west coast/ urban POV.

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