Perak state is on the west coast of Malaysia, and often overlooked by tourists despite its wealth of history, heritage sites, and limestone peaks. Additionally, it’s a local open secret that Perak is the de facto adventure capital of peninsular Malaysia, boasting highly accessible caving activities, both black water and white water rafting, and climbing (among others).
Perfect for independent travellers, Perak’s adventure tourism activities are mostly concentrated in the area around Gua Tempurung (Tempurung Cave), which is not far from Perak’s capital – the chic old tin mining town of Ipoh.
- The plan to go white water rafting in Gopeng
- Getting to Gopeng and Nomad Adventure camp
- White water rafting: The adventure begins
- Learning to climb at the Mountaineering School in Gopeng
- Road tripping tips for adventure rafting in Gopeng!
The plan to go white water rafting in Gopeng
I’m not entirely sure how I ended up on a white water rafting adventure in Gopeng. My colleague and I initially intended to do some caving in Gua Tempurung after our team meeting in Kuala Lumpur, since his family came over from Bangkok to join him for the weekend.
We collected a quorum of colleagues for the trip. But, as uncool colleagues began cancelling on us, we adapted the plan to something a bit more adventurous.
We had another colleague who is super outdoorsy, who recommended Nomad Adventure, a pioneer of adventure tourism in Gopeng, and who had solid safety credentials. We picked out a package from their list; the combination of white water rafting and mountaineering school. Then we padded out the weekend with a stay at a trendy boutique place in nearby Ipoh, where we would spend the remainder of the weekend wandering around the old town.
So the day after our meetings, we all piled into my little car, and northwards we went to Ipoh.
It’s important to choose a nature/adventure tourism company that is credible and responsible to the environment. This is especially so in Southeast Asia, where the level of regulation and enforcement over private business is patchy. Plan flexibly, and don’t be shy to walk away if you’re not sure. If they’re not responsible to the natural setting of their business, how responsible would they be to your safety, and how open to your feedback?
Getting to Gopeng and Nomad Adventure camp
Gopeng is one of the many small towns of peninsular Malaysia, and is not a long drive from Kuala Lumpur via the North-South Highway. You can do it within three hours unless there’s a festive season traffic jam due to urbanites going back to their hometowns for the holidays. Depending on how early you’re willing to set out, you can even do this adventure tour as a day trip.
In our case, we were spending time in Ipoh for much of the weekend. So we went to Gopeng first, and then drove onward to Ipoh after the rafting adventure.
Once you reach Gopeng, getting to Nomad Adventure’s camp was straightforward enough. It’s just that the route takes you down narrow country lanes where I usually start second guessing the directions and whether I really should just keep going or have I missed a turn. Don’t do that, and you’ll be fine. There are not that many places to accidentally end up in, in rural Malaysia.
White water rafting: The adventure begins
One thing that I liked about the rafting trip we booked, was how thorough Nomad was with the safety aspects of the adventure. White water rafting is actually a pretty hazardous activity, involving possible risks of concussion and drowning, so it’s important to choose a tour provider who places importance on your safety.
It was my first time white water rafting, and I’m the sort that prefers to know in advance the big ticket things. Not all the details, because I’ll just forget them. But just the important 2-3 things to, well, not die.
Responsible travel tip: See how the tour provider makes the arrangements, whether it’s low impact or high impact to the rural environment, low waste or high waste. Do they respect the natural setting of the activity? Do they talk about it in their briefings?
White water rafting safety: How to use your protective equipment correctly
First of all, Nomad gave a full briefing for how the day would go, and the do’s and don’ts of white water rafting. Then they took us to the equipment shed and we were issued helmets and life jackets.
Crucially, they taught us how the equipment ought to be worn, for instance, how to know if your helmet sizing is correct, and what it should feel and look like if your life jacket has been tightened correctly. They also explained why – like what happens in an emergency if you don’t wear them correctly (like if you feel you’re too cool for this ‘safety crap’).
I mean, I always thought I knew how how to tighten a life jacket, but nope. And they’re right – it does feel better when it’s correctly tight.
White water rafting safety: Overboard and capsize practice
After getting prepped, we were taken to the starting point of the whitewater rafting by pickup truck. The vehicle meandered through narrow rural roads to reach Kuala Razila bridge, where the rafting adventure would begin. Keep your eyes peeled, and duck for the low twigs overhanging the road.
There was a landing by the bridge, where we were let off. Rows of of inflatable rafts were lined up along both riverbanks. We were not the only group out on the rapids that day.
I watched the water, frothing and foaming as it skims – sometimes just barely – over boulders and rocks, spinning and rocketing through the deep middle channels of Kampar River. It’s quite clear how white water rafting can be a hazardous sport. But that’s what training and contingencies are for.
We received the next stage of briefings and were assigned our raft captains from Nomad. After explaining to us the basics of raft handling, we were briefed on practical safety. Then, it was capsize training!
I’ve been trained to capsize before, but only in relatively calm water. So it was good that they made each one of us slide into the current, so we could feel what it’s like being dragged with it. This is so that you’re less likely to panic should you really capsize that day.
We also practiced grabbing the ‘monkey fist’ that Nomad sentinels along the route would chuck towards you if you fell overboard. The river pooled just after the practice stretch, so those of us who failed to catch the monkey fist were fished up there, where the water broke to a relative calm.
Riding the white water rapids of Kampar River
We got a really good captain for our raft! OK, so they were probably all good, but ours took charge, gave us clear rafting directions, and he was quite engaging too. The captain sits at the back, so he could compensate for us if need be. It was fun rafting under his command. Earlier that year I’d gone to Belum Rainforest and been impressed by the nature guides, so I guess it was a good year for being impressed.
The rapids were fairly gentle in the beginning – breaks you in, you know? But then the river got serious.
Angles around boulders led to sudden drops, and then there are those rapids that require some nifty manoeuvring.
That said, it’s not actually that complicated, as all you need to do is basically listen to your captain and do exactly what he says when he says, and pull the oars in when he says. (Of course, I suspect to be the captain, is an entirely different level of difficulty!)
Oh, and enjoy the rush of the water!
I took my own waterproof camera on this trip, securing the strap around my wrist. But, while this means I do have some photos of the experience, you’d really be too busy handling the rapids to take photos during the really interesting bits. Unless the camera is a GoPro, I guess.
This is why Nomad stations their photographers at the really good parts of the rapids, and gives us the photos afterwards. As you can see, most of the photos on this article were taken by them.
The calm stretches of Kampar River
Yes, the river has calm stretches!
In between the rapids sometimes you get to just enjoy the ride downriver. The green river carries you along its run, sometimes spinning you about. The jungle’s green foliage climbs over itself to the left and right, and the birds and insects call and creak around.
Somewhere along the river, we passed by some riverside chalets. Children and teenagers passed by laughing as they went tubing down Kampar River alongside us.
Further on, closer to the downriver pick-up point, the creek opens up to flatter land. The tree cover breaks, and in the distance we could see the limestone hill where Gua Tempurung is located – our original plan.
Maybe next time.
Learning to climb at the Mountaineering School in Gopeng
We went to school for the rest of the day! Mountain school, to be exact.
I didn’t know what to expect from mountaineering school, really. But it was full on! The site was a large clearing with slender trees rising high up above, and high rocks behind. Ropes and platforms and bolts and whatever else that my climbing glossary doesn’t extend to, form the means for instruction and skills practice.
I’m not entirely sure how much I remember from this training, but I do remember some. However, I think the fact that I can’t describe it is actually good; it probably (hopefully) means I remembered it as body memory, which is what really matters for this sort of thing.
I’m an ok climber anyway, just naturally. I probably inherited from my mom, who ironically would never let me climb anything despite the fact that as a baby, I climbed before I ever walked or crawled.
But the afternoon rain put a slight damper on our fun. We retreated to shelter.
Taking the Leap of Faith
When the rain eased somewhat, our instructors suggested that instead of more climbing, we could try the Leap of Faith.
What is the Leap of Faith, you ask? Well, it’s nothing more than a high platform. You’re supposed to leap the platform and try and touch a sepak takraw ball that’s suspended in the air beyond. (You’re harnessed so it’s all safe.)
Sounds simple enough. And yet….
Somehow, when you have to go up there by yourself, voluntarily, and then voluntarily jump into the air… let’s just say it took a while for me to just go for it.
I knew from the moment I hesitated that my chances of touching the ball was not good. It was only a small platform, and you really are just going by the spring of your leg muscles. You need to go with all your heart to have a good chance for it.
I held back. And so my leap fell far short. Read that as a profound metaphor if you like.
Road tripping tips for adventure rafting in Gopeng!
Gopeng can easily form part of an alternative weeklong road trip Malaysia itinerary! If you want to, you could also combine this road trip with Cameron Highlands.
Suggested itinerary from Kuala Lumpur:
- Drive to the Tapah exit on the North-South Highway and proceed up towards Ringlet, or proceed onward to the Simpang Pulai exit to approach Cameron Highlands from the Brinchang side.
- Then head back towards Ipoh for some great Perak food, dramatic limestone, street art, Kinta Valley tin history, and the up-and-coming indie arts and hipster cafe culture.
- Head back south to Kuala Lumpur with a stop at Gopeng, where you can get wet and dirty… rafting and caving!
Inspired to try white water rafting in Malaysia? Pin for later!