Originally, I thought I might drive north through Pahang, before crossing into Terengganu to Tanjung Jara for my holiday. I remembered the loveliness of Kenyir Lake, from when my ex-husband and I had gone to my friend Salha’s wedding reception. It would be nice, I thought, to see the lake again. And if I was going to make a road trip out of it, I might as well cross into Pahang through Bukit Fraser (Fraser’s Hill). I had always wanted to re-visit Bukit Fraser, but never got around to it.

But then, I caught up with another friend, who was a Pahang native. I told her I would stop by Bukit Fraser, and then I’d pass through Kuala Lipis if I were to go north to Terengganu. But Yana, as a loyal Pahangite, tried to persuade me to do most of my road trip through Pahang. None of her suggestions felt thematic though, until we got to talking about the Pahang river. She said, “Did you know that the Pahang dialect follows the river? It is faster in the fast-flowing upper river, and slows down as you go along it. It’s the slowest in Pekan, on the coast.”

And a theme for my road trip fell in place. I would follow the Pahang river, from the colonial capital Kuala Lipis to the ancient royal capital in Pekan. I’d still start at Fraser’s Hill. For I reckoned, wherever the headwaters of the Pahang are, it must at least in part be there.

Where is Bukit Fraser?

Bukit Fraser is a colonial hill station right at the border between the Malaysian states of Pahang and Selangor. It is about 100km from Kuala Lumpur. While I didn’t know for sure when I did my Sungai Pahang road trip, Fraser’s Hill is indeed a headwater region of the Pahang river. (For that matter, it is also the headwaters of the Selangor river, on the Kuala Kubu Bharu side). Sungai Teranum drains from Bukit Fraser, eventually flowing into the Pahang.

Bukit Fraser was originally established as a mining post by Louis James Fraser, a Scotsman seeking his fortune after the failure of his gold venture in Australia. He then apparently vanished, which led the Bishop of Singapore to search for him. Upon reaching Bukit Fraser, the bishop failed to find Fraser, but decided that the place would make a great hill station for British colonials to retreat from the hot climate that they were not adapted to. A resort area was then developed at the site, which was named Fraser’s Hill (or Bukit Fraser in Malay).

Ironically, at the time of my visit, Bukit Fraser was cooler than Europe, which was suffering heat waves.

A neglected hill station?

Now, some may take issue with my assertion that Bukit Fraser is Malaysia’s best hill station. Why, surely it is not better than Cameron Highlands? Or – Penang Hill!

And I guess, this is a matter of preference. Cameron Highlands has been much more developed since colonial times, as a tourist destination as well as highland agriculture, chiefly tea and vegetables. And Penang Hill has received a lot more investment to likewise become a tourist recreational area and nature site.

By contrast, while Bukit Fraser has maintained a steady level of popularity among Malaysians, and received some development after colonial times, it has been relatively neglected. So yes, many of its buildings have acquired the appearance of ‘genteel poverty’, and it doesn’t have nearly as many tourist attractions and activities.

But it is Bukit Fraser that still feels authentic, like how the hill station would have felt in the beginning. The mists in the mornings and the foggy forest at night. The streets that you can still walk or cycle with serenity. The nearness of the forest, where you could wander onto a trail from all over the roads and fade into the trees straight away. The sense that a local community exists, who know one another. Plant nurseries and stores that are owned by identifiable people rather than corporations from outside. It is in Bukit Fraser that you feel tempted to lease one of the old colonial bungalows and pretend at being a recluse author, spending your days wandering the mossy trails for inspiration.

So my thesis is this: Bukit Fraser is the best hill station, because it is the best at still being a hill station (especially after Bukit Larut is rendered inaccessible by landslide).

How to get to Bukit Fraser

Getting to Bukit Fraser invariably involves driving. From Kuala Lumpur, you could either take the highway across the Titiwangsa range through Karak. You then exit to Bentong, approaching Bukit Fraser from Raub. Alternatively, you could take the old federal road north as I did, driving through the former mining towns of Selangor. This means you’ll approach Bukit Fraser from Kuala Kubu Bharu.

Both ways would lead you to the Gap, where the single-lane road begins that actually goes up to Bukit Fraser. It is also where you would descend to, from the other road that goes down.

Approaching the road up to Bukit Fraser
Reaching the Gap, the original route for crossing the Titiwangsa range.

Most of the time, the Kuala Kubu Bharu route is slightly faster. And I personally recommend this route over the other, if you’re coming from the central west coast states. Not only is it more scenic, it’s also more historically connected to the origin story of Fraser’s Hill, being founded during the tin and gold rush. Ore from the highlands around Bukit Fraser were transported down to Kuala Kubu Bharu where it was then sent to port by rail, and there were even efforts by the British to try and extend the rail line to Fraser’s Hill and across the range to Kuala Lipis.

Things to do in Fraser’s Hill

Bukit Fraser isn’t really a tourism destination. Nor is it any longer a retreat from hot weather, except for the novelty of having to wear jackets and cardigans. Rather, it is a place to retreat from the hustle and bustle of city life, to be among nature in peaceful surroundings. You’re supposed to slow down, appreciate the little things, drink tea, and sit outside or in a cafe somewhere.

However, to give you an idea of the kinds of things you can do in Bukit Fraser, here are some suggestions.

1. Birdwatching

Bukit Fraser is located within fairly pristine forest, which has been successfully defended by its local community, scientists, and nature enthusiasts. Its high biodiversity includes 250 species of birds, which is why it is an Important Bird Area (IBA). Every June, it hosts the Fraser’s Hill International Bird Race, which is maybe the one time in the year when it is filled with people. I learned about this indirectly, as I happened to be there a month or so after the 2022 event ended. Not all the signs have been taken down, and there were still some souvenir fridge magnets about it.

If you’re a birdwatcher, this is one of the best birdwatching places in the country for montane birds. There’s also a Bird Interpretive Centre in the town centre near the clock tower.

Signage in Bukit Fraser informing its status as an Important Bird and Biodiversity Area of the Central Titiwangsa Range
Bukit Fraser is an IBA.

2. Hiking in the montane forest

There are eight hiking trails around Bukit Fraser. They are of varying lengths and difficulty, which are described in this tourism website along with their respective histories. The start of the trails are marked with a large signage arch. Along the trail you can expect to find lots of fungi and mushrooms, ferns and orchids, moss and montane flowers. I even found a spiny orbweaver spider near a road, and a porcupine quill on one of the trails.

Tall wooden arch marking the start of Mager trail in Fraser's Hill
Mager trail, named after the engineer responsible for the initial development of Fraser’s Hill as a hill station.

3. Explore the colonial heritage trail

There are Heritage Trail signages scattered all over Bukit Fraser. At one point, clearly someone had thought to mark the historical points of interest and provide their historical background. Unfortunately, I couldn’t find a map that marks all of the locations. That said, because Bukit Fraser isn’t very big at all, you could just drive all the roads and try to find them all.

With the moniker ‘Little England’, Bukit Fraser’s heritage revolves around its establishment by Louis Fraser, and subsequent development as a hill station. The architecture is mock Tudor, and there are still a couple of classic British red phone booths around town. The town centre has a high concentration of the heritage trail signs, since all the public buildings are historical – police station, clinic, post office. The bungalows of British colonial officers also have similar signs. You can rent some of the Fraser’s Hill bungalows as holiday accommodations, but others are abandoned.

4. Shop for strawberries and house plants

I don’t know why, but somehow in Bukit Fraser, you’re not just surrounded by gardens and vegetation. It also somehow feels like all the plants are… happy. Every place has pots of flowers and cacti that seem to grow effortlessly.

If you want to buy them as house plants, or get some fresh vegetables and strawberries, browse the strawberry farm near Allan’s Water. From the clock tower roundabout in the town centre, this is towards the Smokehouse and not towards Shahzan Inn.

Alternatively, you can also get potted mini cacti at the GlassHouse, located along the road behind Shahzan Inn. The GlassHouse also has an adorable little cafe.

Strawberry farm and edible garden, Bukit Fraser
Strawberry Farm & Edible Garden

5. Play golf

The middle of Bukit Fraser is a golf course. This has nothing to do with the place being founded by a Scotsman. The golf course is from the hill station development, I guess as an early form of mining land rehabilitation, for its location was previously the open pit mine. Today, you can play golf there at the Royal Fraser’s Hill Golf Club. Enquire within the Sports Complex next to the clock tower roundabout.

Morning golden hour over the golf course in Bukit Fraser. There are scattered pine trees in silhouette in the midground.
Fraser’s Hill golf course

6. Allan’s Water

One of the loveliest places in Bukit Fraser is Allan’s Water. Originally a water reservoir for the hill station, it is now a recreational pond where you can feed the resident fish and go paddle boating.

But I discovered that it elevated itself to fairylike beauty, when it rains. The waters disappearing into the river stream, with the jungle trees and tree ferns looming, mist exhaling from them and merging with cloud. Raindrops falling, purifying the air with an ozone smell.

Bring a rain jacket to Bukit Fraser and don’t fear being rained on. Some of its best moods, are when the rain falls.

7. Horse riding and archery

You can also try horse riding at the prosaically named Paddock. This is the one thing that I know I’ve done, albeit a very, very long time ago as a little girl. Unfortunately, you only get to ride the horse around the course, with someone leading, even if you know how to ride horseback. So perhaps this is more enjoyable for children and those who want to try it for the first time. It’s not possible to take horses out to go hacking around the area.

Additionally, you can also try some archery and blowpipe shooting here.

The Paddock is on the Shahzan Inn side of Bukit Fraser, from the clock tower roundabout.

8. Jeriau waterfall

And finally, Bukit Fraser has a waterfall. I didn’t go to Jeriau waterfall, because there were maintenance works near the start of the ‘waterfall road’ (the road is literally named Jalan Air Terjun). However, it seemed popular for picnics and with campers.

Where to stay in Bukit Fraser

There are several options for staying in Bukit Fraser. The most authentic experience is, of course, to stay at one of the heritage buildings. These are the colonial bungalows available for booking, and Ye Olde Smokehouse. The latter was built to be a World War 2 hospice, but has been converted into a boutique hotel. It has a restaurant with a very English menu. I can’t speak for the bungalows, but Ye Olde Smokehouse could use some repairs and uplift, though it’s still a decent stay.

You could also stay at more modern hotels, although ‘modern’ is relative. If you like to be right at the town centre with the photogenic clock tower, there are two options. Puncak Inn is right at the roundabout, with a view of the clock tower, whereas Shahzan Inn is slightly up a hill and rooms on one side look out to the golf course. Both have in-house restaurants. However, Shahzan is definitely overdue for maintenance/uplift investment, and from the online reviews, so is Puncak Inn.

If you’d rather be further from the town centre, you could opt for hotels like The Pines, or apartment rentals like Puncak Inn Apartments and 80Colonie, and apartment homestays. All these options give you family-size apartments.

Finally, there are also car camp sites in Bukit Fraser. Two are near the Pahang bungalow, the visiting palace of the Pahang Sultan. One is near the Smokehouse, where the road to Jeriau waterfall begins.

Guest area in Ye Olde Smokehouse Fraser's Hill
Guest area of Ye Olde Smokehouse
Cecily house old colonial bungalow
Cecily bungalow
Puncak Inn hotel, Bukit Fraser
Puncak Inn

When should you come to Bukit Fraser?

The headwaters of several peninsular river systems come from Bukit Fraser. This means that it will receive the northeast monsoon influence. The weather will be wetter near the end of the year and going into the following year. That said, it is located in the rainforest, and as such, there will still be rain irrespective of the monsoon season. I went in August, and it still rained for part of the time.

If you want to check out the International Bird Race, then aim for June (check the Birdwatching Asia website for exact dates). Avoid it, and Malaysian school or festive holiday periods, if you want to avoid crowds.

Occasionally, there are also arts & culture events organised by FH Events. It could be worth checking their Facebook Page for upcoming events.

Post with two signs marking the Pahang and Selangor sides of the border. A survey level marker is next to the post, both are in a border line corridor between two red lines. A red English telephone box labeled Fraser's Hill is adjacent on the Pahang side.
Border between Selangor and Pahang in Bukit Fraser.

Dining in Bukit Fraser

Apart from restaurants attached to hotels, there are a few interesting dining options in Bukit Fraser.

Special mention goes to Scott’s Pub and the Smokehouse restaurant, which offers the most authentic English pub dining experience, while still serving halal food. In fact, there are some dishes on the Smokehouse menu I’ve never seen elsewhere in Malaysia, but have heard of in England. Highly recommended for homesick Britons.

Aida Daniya teahouse is a charming restaurant with a good menu. The zero milestone of Fraser’s Hill is in its compound, and there is a set of steps that lead down to an adjacent pleasure garden. Hopefully by now the garden has received some trimming.

The GlassHouse is a little nook of a cafe inside an actual glasshouse. It has a small selection of cakes and snacks, to be eaten with tea or coffee. Its main draw is its quirky setting, though the cakes are good too.

For more ordinary and affordable Malaysian cuisine, there is a food court area near the children’s playground. On weekends, there might be food stalls popping up along the road in front of Shahzan Inn.

English style bungalow tea house
Aida Daniya teahouse
English-style dining room in Ye Olde Smokehouse B&B, Fraser's Hill.
Dining room of the Smokehouse

Related suggestions for visitors to Bukit Fraser

If you’re interested in Bukit Fraser, you can consider these suggestions:

Road trip suggestion

Whether or not you’re coming from the Raub side, consider adding Raub to your road trip itinerary. While there isn’t much to see to reflect its gold mining history, there are a few colonial era buildings on its heritage trail. Today, it is famous for durian, particularly the famous Musang King. You can easily get durian in Raub at a good price.

Support the local community

Most people who go to Bukit Fraser observe that it is a gorgeous place that needs help to keep it from falling apart, but without losing its authenticity. Aside from supporting its businesses, and staying rather than day tripping, you could also support the local nature & heritage association, Persatuan Alam dan Warisan Bukit Fraser.

Recommended reading

Soh et al. Implications of climate change for Malaysian tropical montane bird communities discernible over a 14-years interval. Malayan Nature Journal 81st Anniversary Special Issue 2021. 127-136.

Bukit Fraser’s untouched wilderness maintains a high rainforest biodiversity, and a high richness in montane bird species. However, because it is just a hill that only goes up to 1,460m ASL, these species could become threatened by climate change. Warming temperatures are expected to extend the lower forest habitat upward, reducing the montane area and forcing montane species to crowd in a shrinking habitat.
A study detecting potential signs of this phenomenon (i.e., reduced species richness, and more species with reduced abundance compared to Cameron Highlands) can be read in Soh et al., published in the 81st anniversary Special Issue of the Malayan Nature Journal. This journal edition is hard cover and you can buy it on the Malaysian Nature Society online store.

Thinking of going to Bukit Fraser? Save this article to re-read later!

10 Responses

  1. I am not familiar with Bukit Fraser so thanks for teaching me something new. It looks beautiful and I would love to do a similar road trip.

    • Teja says:

      It really is beautiful, albeit needing some upkeep for the buildings. But the contrast between the well-constructed amenities and the nearness of the forest, is quite special.

  2. Emily says:

    Wow, I had never heard of Bukit Fraser. I love that it is not one of the conventional tourist destinations in Malaysia. The strawberries and house plants sound amazing!

    • Teja says:

      It’s well known to locals, but typically not promoted for international tourists (except for niche ones like the birders). I guess partly because there isn’t much tourism to ‘sell’ here. It’s just a little hidden gem amidst the montane forest – but I think that’s the type of places the current generation of travellers are looking for.

  3. Kudos for the off the beaten path article! we need more of these! pinned for my next trip :)

  4. Sonia says:

    The variety of activities at the hill station sounds very appealing. Hiking and waterfalls mixed with golf or horseback riding sounds like fun.

  5. anukrati says:

    Love the idea of a hill station in Malaysia. As a traveler, I would prefer to visit an offbeat place like that.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.