Gasing Hill: Explore an Urban Forest Hike near KL
If you've somehow run out of things to do in KL, you can pop across into the adjacent Malaysian state of Selangor. Bukit Gasing (or Gasing Hill) in Petaling Jaya is a rare bit of Klang Valley forest. It was once a rubber plantation; abandoned to nature, the equatorial climate reclaimed it in less than a century, resulting in a pleasant urban forest.
The green spaces of Klang Valley are under constant development pressure. This is why the majority of surviving green spaces and forest pockets are hilly rather than flat. It is a lot harder - more expensive - to develop such terrain.
It's rather sad, if you think about it, that this impracticality is the Malaysian citizen's most effective saviour of green lungs and access to nature. That said, even Bukit Gasing is not safe.
Consequently, Gasing Hill is a very popular forest park, drawing hikers, joggers, ramblers, from miles around. It is very busy on the weekends, less on weekdays. But there will likely still be people then, uncles and aunties from the immediate residential area around it. So it feels safe even if you came alone.
Why Choose to Explore Bukit Gasing Forest Park
If you are visiting Kuala Lumpur and looking for a bit of nature recharge in a real forest, the closest forest is KL Forest Eco Park (formerly known as Bukit Nanas Forest Reserve - which I personally feel is the more appealing name). Bukit Nanas is a real rainforest, despite its tiny size. By that I mean, it is the last remnant of the original rainforest that once covered the Kuala Lumpur city centre.
However, because of the amenities that have been added to make exploring it more comfortable, hiking through it feels less like hiking through a real rainforest. It has the feeling of a public park, even though you are surrounded by original rainforest trees.
Bukit Gasing, despite being 'only' a fairly recent secondary forest, and a former plantation to boot, feels more like hiking in a real forest. Although there are pavement and steps near the entrance, the trails are maintained mostly by frequent passage, but otherwise left to nature.
Another accessible forest is in FRIM, towards the rim of Kuala Lumpur. It is a larger forest, has more amenities (Bukit Gasing has none), and has other attractions besides the hiking. However, between the two, Bukit Gasing is free to enter.
How to get to Gasing Hill
This part of Petaling Jaya is not readily linked to public transportation. The best option is to come by car. Traffic is often heavy between Kuala Lumpur and Petaling Jaya, because it is a key residential suburb for KL workers and businesses. But if you go earlier in the morning it should be ok, because the rush hour traffic is just beginning, and mostly goes the other way.
Hiking in Gasing Hill Community Forest
Bukit Gasing is effectively a community forest. They even have a website, where you can find a map of the trails. However, to be honest, unless you are the type who needs to explore every nook, this is a forest where you don't really need a map.
After the simple archway at the entrance, you encounter the paved early portions of the trail. Soon, it begins to branch away.
When I went hiking there for the first time I was apprehensive, because I did not know which branch to choose. I was not sure if I could find my way back, since there did not seem to be trail signage.
However, Bukit Gasing is very small, and the many trails inside are fairly close to each other, that you'd wander onto another one even if you did accidentally take the wrong fork. One morning was enough to satisfy my initial apprehensions of not knowing which trail to choose.
Unlike some other nature trails, the ones at Bukit Gasing don't really 'go' anywhere. That's why there's no information to indicate the trail names, and its estimated hiking length and time, and what to find at the end. This is a rambling forest.
Trail runners and 'hashers' in Gasing Hill
A common sight in the Bukit Gasing forest, are trail markers left by various trail running groups and hasher clubs. Although generally made of paper, there's clearly a lot of groups that do trail running in Bukit Gasing. One might wonder when the trail markers would start to qualify as litter.
I also saw signs posted on trees which seemed to be more of an amenity rather than ad hoc bills, providing the QR code for the trail map of Bukit Gasing. While not strictly necessary for this particular forest, it was unexpectedly '21st century'.
(In hindsight, it's also probably a better local solution considering the low maintenance culture but high mobile data penetration in Malaysia. A digital map accessed from the internet does not suffer from the elements and requires no physical upkeep).
Humidity in Gasing Hill forest
The terrain in Bukit Gasing is varied. The trails are sometimes steep and sometimes even. It can even descend into little creek beds.
I went on a morning following a night of rain. Malaysia is exceptionally humid generally to begin with (usually over 80%), but the very air was almost wet on the skin within the forest thickets, and especially close to the stream. It dampened the late morning heat somewhat, and I was glad for it.
But it was so damp that my iPhone5 spontaneously shorted.
Now, before the Samsung cybertroopers say anything, this phone had survived a lot of grief from my travels. Despite never having pretensions for adventure travel, it has bravely come on hikes, speedboats, and cave crawling. It survived being kept next to the engine of a quad bike being driven across the searing hot Omani desert, a jaunt that melted the phone case of one phone and damaged a second one kept together with it. It has suffered being held by briny wet hands, due to my penchant for seaside locations. And it has only shorted once before, when I dropped it in salt water on a rainy day in the Maldives, powering back on once it dried out.
I had this phone in my pocket, and it had no contact with water whatsoever. I did not drop it, nor was it even particularly shaken. Just the sheer humidity alone seemed to have shorted it! I dunno, I reckon maybe that morning it was close to 100%?!
Emerging on the back end of Gasing Hill forest
I did not have a particular destination in mind. Despite its name, there isn't really a peak for Bukit Gasing. I suppose there would be a point in the undulating terrain where it is technically the highest. And I guess there's a reasonable view from one of the high ground points. But in terms of the lookout peak, it's not really that kind of forest.
So I simply decided to follow one trail and see if it gets to an end, or lead me back where I came.
But the trail rose steadily, and eventually I came upon a steep but climbable slope.
I wasn't sure if it was passable, and contemplated turning back. But beyond, I could sort of see a kind of low wall. Perhaps this was the other end of the forest. I saw on Google Maps that there was a road running by the forest on that end.
I thought about my dead phone, and considered that I had no means of communication or navigation if I went back in and somehow failed to find my way back out (yep, pretty risk averse back then!). So I decided to climb the slope.
Then, when I got up there, I decided to scale the low wall.
And I found myself transported to the concrete jungle once more.
How I accidentally trespassed on private property
I looked down a long corridor of concrete floor. The top of the embankment I just clambered over, I surmised. It was flanked by a row of cylindrical columns. I had pulled myself up through one of the gaps between them. The road was up beyond another short embankment on the other side.
It was too sheer and tall to climb over, though. So I walked along the path. Eventually the way emerges to road, and I was on the main road that skirts around the forest.
Later, looking at the map on the Bukit Gasing community website, I realised that I had accidentally gone into the utility company's reserve zone. I guess you do need the map for something!
I thought I would walk back to my car by road. Anticipating an easy walk compared to the forest, I was quickly disillusioned.
As you walk down the road in front of the houses, one house in particular has really aggressive dogs, left unleashed. I don't mean that they just bark and growl at you, nor even that they advance threateningly a little bit. Not a situation where if you simply ignore them, and unthreateningly keep a distance from their house, you can pass. They will actually come chase you at your heels.
I sure hope the dogs like the guy's neighbours, at least.
Maybe it's better to return via forest, after all
After two or three attempts, each time the dogs growing angrier, I decided to return via the forest after all. I found a different entry point, and plunged back into the woods onto a different trail.
This is how I knew how easy the forest is. Despite it being a completely different trail than the one I was on, I simply kept walking. Sooner than I thought, I was at a little bridge over the creek, close to where the trails were paved again. And I was back where I started soon after that.
Epilogue: Hiking Gasing Hill Again
I returned to Bukit Gasing because my couchsurfer wanted to go hiking again, and insinuated that I was not able to make useful suggestions. As in, locations he didn't already know about. So I took him to Bukit Gasing.
This time, we took the other fork on the trail. Jason was suitably impressed, until he asked whether the trail leads to the peak.
I told him, there's no peak.
He literally stopped in his tracks in male astonishment that there was a hiking place that was not all about conquering a vantage point. I stopped in female astonishment that he was considering turning back, just because there wasn't a peak.
But he rallied, and decided he would appoint a peak-like destination, and we shall attempt to reach it.
We did, and from that vantage point I could see where I climbed up to the utility reserve, on my first hike.