FRIM Canopy Walk will be closed from 30 June 2017.
This was back in May 2017. An environmental group that I follow on Facebook was passing on the Forest Research Institute’s announcement. That was how I heard about the closure of one of KL’s top attractions.
I shared it on my own wall.
FRIM’s canopy walkway hike is something I had done a couple of times before. Each time, I had taken someone whom I considered significant. But, after the second time (which was not successful because we happened to go during the walkway’s thunderstorm damage closure period of 2015-2016), I had not gone again.
It’s one of those things you keep ‘meaning to do’. But you don’t, because you assume you’d have the chance always. Until you wouldn’t.
It would be Ramadan soon though – not really a hiking sort of month. And by the time Eid comes around, the canopy walkway would be retired already. It was too late. I felt a little bit sad because I would not be able to go there, one last time.
Or so I thought.
The first of many good challenges
Looks like we have to go! Jason responded, upon seeing the post. He was referring to when he would arrive in Kuala Lumpur soon, when we agreed he could couchsurf at my place for a bit.
It was the opposite of what I was thinking. And for that reason, his remark made me re-visit my mindset. Why could I not hike in Ramadan?
It’s not like after years and years of fasting practice, the hunger and thirst truly still bothered me – not after the first few days anyway.
I remember when I was a navy reservist under training, they still had us run morning exercises when I was a cadet. And I knew the hike was a light one, from having done it before.
I probably could do it. And if it turned out I couldn’t, well, I learned my limit. Good to know. I was learning to be a lot more tolerant with making mistakes.
And that was how I took someone to the canopy walk for the third time!
Getting into FRIM
FRIM is the first and most venerable research institute in Malaysia focusing on forestry science, to which its spacious grounds and rainforest acreage are dedicated. Sited adjacent to Bukit Lagong Forest Reserve, it is also a Malaysian Natural Heritage Site, as well as on the Tentative List of UNESCO World Heritage Sites.
Yet it is just about 1/2 hour to an hour away from Kuala Lumpur city centre.
Green spaces are precious and constantly threatened by development throughout the Klang Valley. So it comes as no surprise that any natural site left around KL attracts the recreational public.
Although actually devoted to research, FRIM opened much of its grounds for public access and use, allowing activities as varied as hiking and mountain biking, birdwatching and camping, and even wedding photography.
The best way to get to FRIM is by car. Note that it isn’t a particularly easy place to hail a return taxi, even if it is easy to get one from the city centre to go there. So if you don’t have your own car, it might be best to get the taxi to wait, or try and GrabCar it.
Entrance fees for entering FRIM
There is an entrance booth where you will pay the applicable charges. There are two kinds of charges: the access fee (to enter the grounds), and a fee if you’re bringing in vehicles and equipment.
The access fees are nominal; just RM1 for Malaysians, and RM5 (about $1) for non-Malaysians. Fees are waived for people with disabilities, whether Malaysian or not.
If you are bringing in a car, that’s an additional RM5. Motorbikes and mountain bikes are RM3, and a DSLR camera is another RM5. Full table of fees can be found here.
Back when the canopy walk was still open, there would be another charge for hikers who want to go up onto the walkway.
Registering to hike to FRIM canopy walk
It feels a bit strange to write about an attraction that is no longer open. But it was iconic; if you were to mention ‘FRIM’, the first association would be ‘canopy walk’.
Back in 2007, when I took the man who later became my husband (and who later became my ex), it was all quite laidback. You show up and sort of guess which building would have people who can tell you where the canopy walk is. When you find them, they’d give you a rough trail map of sorts, and just sort of wave you on. At most, they’ll tell you to stick to the trail.
Eventually, you got to the walkway, there would be people manning it. These guys sort out who gets to go up next, so that there’s never too much weight on the walkway spans at any one time.
By the time I went with Jason in 2017, you had to wait for a nature guide to take you. When we arrived, there were a bunch of other tourists who had booked a slot in advance, and we were absorbed into their group.
Our guide exchanged communications with his peers within the forest who manned the walkway, looking slightly worried. The sky was clouding over, and it had begun to drizzle. No one is allowed on the walkways, if there is a storm.
“Sometimes it rains here, but it is calm there,” he explained. Higher up on the hill, the forest has its own climate.
He decided it was safe to go, but emphasised that he could not promise anything. The weather could change, after all. And if it did, we would not be allowed on the canopy walkway, and would have to return empty-handed.
Hiking in Ramadan is actually quite doable
The hike was as light as I remember. The high humidity and coolness of an oncoming storm probably helped. I don’t think anyone could tell that I was fasting.
It was as I preferred it. Foreigners invariably assume that this thing that is merely not-easy, has to be impossible or dangerous just because they couldn’t do it. If I miss only lunch, I’m desperate! or something to that effect, is a very common thing I hear. So I was pleasantly surprised that Jason never said such things. Never. Not even when we hiked an even longer day much later, in Cameron Highlands.
In fact, that day when we went to FRIM, because I did not eat or drink anything, he sort of didn’t either. It was very unusual and frankly I thought it was quite impressive for an Australian. But maybe that’s why he didn’t ask. He assumed that it was quite a feasible feat and not that big a deal.
That is it. Your body responds to prepare you for exactly the thing you believe.
Up in the rainforest canopy
However, there was another thing that I was apprehensive about.
The last time I went on the canopy walkway, I was rather scared. I tried to get the spans over with as soon as I could, and didn’t really stop midway to look around. Even on the intermediate platforms, I stayed close to the trunks of the trees.
Since then, I had gone on other canopy walkways. Chief among them was the one in Taman Negara, when I technically travelled solo for the first time.
Since then, I had taken a scuba diving license in Redang. I had swum with whale sharks in the Maldives. Would I still be afraid?
Stepping onto the first plank, I found out. No.
From the rainforest canopy, the view of the KL skyline is often dusted with smog. But it was still fine.
A new canopy walk for FRIM?
The closure of the canopy walk was final. The trees had suffered injury, and needed to heal. They cannot now bear the canopy, as they once did.
It is said that FRIM are reviewing routes for a replacement walkway, but that the new walkway may be made of aluminium. ExpatGo has written about it, albeit in a slightly entitled tone and forgetting that the original canopy walkway’s primary purpose was research, which is why the fee charged was so nominal. And so, if there is no actual research need for a walkway anymore, funding a replacement is harder to justify.
Today, there are other canopy walkways in Malaysia. They are all for recreational purposes. In fact, in the heart of KL, inside Malaysia’s smallest forest reserve of Bukit Nanas (the hill that KL Tower is on), there’s one.
They’re typically made of metal, sturdy and unwavering. They last longer. They can bear more weight, more people.
Who will the new walkway be built for?
But it’s not the same. These metal walkways are invariably supported by pylons, which had to be constructed within the rainforest. They have the feeling of being too obviously made for people. For visitors. For tourism. The kind of thing you build, and expect to get a return on investment for.
The FRIM canopy walk, on the other hand, was entirely composed of narrow planks suspended by a rope lattice construction. The walkway was so narrow that you can’t really spread your legs apart. Trees were carefully chosen for the route through the tree line as well as being capable of bearing the bridges. The entrance and exit towers blend into the background.
When you walk upon them, your shoes thud softly against wood planks, the bridge bobbing slightly up and down with your step. Not the sing of sole scraping against metal, no metallic squeak of steel cables shifting, shearing across the living chatter of the forest.
This canopy walkway could only have been made by people who intimately knew and cared about forests and trees.
I hope FRIM does build a new canopy walkway. And I hope that the design and siting is left completely up to them and their expert opinion, whether it’s rope or aluminium, because I can trust them to put the forest first.
But I would rather they do not build a replacement at all, if the replacement has to be funded with the expectation of profit. What was lost was not just ‘a’ canopy walkway. Not just a pile of rope and wood.
It was this canopy walkway – along with all its intangible values.
What to do in FRIM besides the canopy walk
Even without the canopy walk, FRIM is still a good place to visit for the nature-inclined. Although not yet a World Heritage Site, it’s not just anywhere that can qualify to be considered in the first place.
You can still do general hiking in the forest. There is a wetlands zone, various botanical gardens and arboretums, and a picnic waterfall. People come to cycle and jog by the lake, enjoy birdwatching (182 species counted), and there’s even a collection of traditional timber houses.
Perhaps I’ll go again, for these other things, next time.
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