Thursday, 15 August 2019

Rainforest Treehouse, Kulai, Johor


It has always been a dream of mine to stay in a tree house - perhaps fueled by my love of being close to nature, and influences from movies. There's just something about a tree house that really appeals to me. The thought of being high above the ground, enclosed in this little wooden structure supported by a tree, surrounded by lush greens was something that I yearn for.

Upon googling and researching online, I found that most tree houses or establishment close to nature in Malaysia are either: 

1. priced exorbitantly
2. catered to the luxurious, pampering holiday lifestyle (in other words, GLAMPING), which is nice , but not exactly what I am looking for

I somehow stumbled upon Rainforest Treehouse once upon a time, which is located in Kulai and only about 45 minutes drive from Johor Bahru. After talking to a friend who has visited there, and doing some research online, I realized that this is the place I was looking for - the price was affordable, it provides simple comfort of being close to nature, without being overly extravagant or luxurious :p

I made the booking via their Facebook page.The rate for a 2D1N stay is RM120 (1-3pax) or RM108 (3 pax>). A simple vegetarian dinner and breakfast is included in the price, as well as a short guided jungle trekking on the second day. Upon making the booking and payment, I was sent a brief itinerary of our stay and a recommended list of items to bring. Guests are encouraged NOT to bring any food item, as guests will be staying close to nature and the food might attract animals. This will also produce garbage, which guests have to bring it out from the tree house for disposal. Guests are encouraged to go zero waste, in other words to not to use any items that will result in production of garbage, like mosquito repellent patches. 

Rainforest Tree House also offer various optional (paid) activities and day tours such as day tour to Kukup, abseiling, wood fire oven pizza baking, and so on. You can refer to the packages offered here.
The entrance of Rainforest Treehouse.
Rainforest Treehouse is located in the vicinity of Gunung Pulai. You have to pay a parking fee of RM3 when entering Gunung Pulai. You'll easily identify its prominent bamboo-structure entrance on the left side of the road after you drive pass the parking booth. You can park at the side of the road of the entrance.

Do take note that visit is with appointment only, ie no walk ins! Day trip can be arranged, with a minimum of 10 pax.

The place was abuzz with kids chattering away, offering us sweet potatoes when we arrived - we were told later on that these kids are the students of the Rainforest Classroom, which schools children from age 4-10 there! 

As we set our foot into the grounds of Rainforest Treehouse, my eyes can't help but to marvel at the green surroundings and the beautifully constructed wooden bamboo structures. The sound of cicadas penetrates the air, accompanied by the soothing sound of leaves rustling around the wind. Chickens were roaming freely on its ground, clucking away. 
We were invited into a small hut next to the entrance built on stilts. The hut is one of the common area where guests can lounge around on their hammocks and read books. There were a few English & Chinese titles on the little shelves that were seemingly put together with scrap wood.

We were served with glasses of cool and refreshing tap water. The tap water is drinkable here as the source is from the top of the mountain. The volunteer then proceeded to explain the rules and regulations of Rainforest Treehouse to us - no smoking, leave no rubbish behind (there is only ONE(1) rubbish bin throughout the whole premise, which is at the entrance), keep our belongings in the giant plastic container provided in each treehouse to prevent monkeys from ransacking our belongings and so on.

A woodfire oven lies beneath the little hut.
A 3D model map of Rainforest Treehouse!
We were also briefed about the layout of the premise - There are a total of seven tree houses for guests on its premises. The paths are all uphill so we were lucky that our treehouse is located the closet to the entrance. Hence, less walking :p

There are two common areas, which are the main hall and a library. However, the library is still under construction as of August 2019.
After our briefing, we are all set to conquer about 300+ stairs to our tree house (Tree house #7)! The paths are well marked and shaded all the way, so you don't have to worry about getting lost or going off-track.
Along the way, you'll see different quotes hung around the tree. Take your time to read the quotes, immerse yourself to the surrounding, and don't forget to breath while ascending, as the ascend might be a little straining for some.

Treehouse #7

And finally after 5 minutes of uphill ascend, we reached our treehouse, treehouse no 7 aka Sunset House. This is the only triple story treehouse on its ground. 
Our tree house is named Sunset House, as it is the best location to view the sunset, according to one of the volunteers. The other tree houses are named after villages in Malaysia
Shoes are not allowed in the treehouse! If you think that you're done with climbing once you reach the treehouse, nope sorry....more climbing awaits you! One has to conquer steep ladders up to the rooms. It was fun at first but after climbing up and down just to go to the loo...let's just say that you'd want to make sure you have all your stuff with you when you head down to the loo :p

After a somewhat grueling climb up to the third floor, we were rewarded with a cool breeze and a mesmerizing view.
I was blown away by the strong winds and the view. The third floor of the treehouse is an open-air platform, with lush green sprawled in front of me, a few little huts and lone cell towers scattered around here and there amidst the green, surrounded by silhouettes of mountains in the distance. There were patches of brown at some parts though due to development and clearing of land which was saddening.
The layout of the third floor of the treehouse
Yes, that is a table fan :p Because we are still somewhat at the foot the mountain, the temperature drop at night isn't drastic and it can still get quite warm, according to the volunteers. Hence, the fan. There are plug points on every floor, so you can still charge your electronic gadgets here!

In case you're wondering, mobile signal is pretty strong & stable there!
And the best part is being able to dangle our legs from the third floor, while enjoying the view.

Each guest will get a comfortable folding mattress, a pillow, blanket and a huge mosquito net. Our mosquito nets had holes in it though so we didn't bother using it. But since we took the highest floor, there weren't as much mosquitoes as expected!
In case you're wondering what the ceiling looks like - don't worry, that is a transparent glass panel you are looking at.
One of my favourite photo of my lovely friends basking in the warm sunlight during golden hour.
View from our treehouse during sunset - unfortunately it was cloudy on that day so we couldn't get a better glimpse of the sunset

The Toilets


Yes, there are toilets. No, you don't have to dig your own long drop.

Each tree house comes with their own private, though detached, toilet. Treehouse no 7 comes with three cubicles. The toilets come with a proper functioning flush, a bidet and a shower head. There is no hot water though and the water can be rather cold, especially after the night falls! Eco all-purpose soap is provided in the toilets (and I believe, recommended as water from the shower seeps into the ground. A huge quantity of commercial shampoos might disrupt the pH level of the ground!)

Things To Do

You are free to spend your time however you want here at Rainforest Treehouse. They do provide you with a suggested itinerary, which includes a (self-guided) visit to the waterfall, and helping them to prepare dinner. We adopted the suggested timetable at a very leisure pace.
You'd think that this would be the perfect spot to read a book but nooooo (at least for me). The environment was way too tranquil I accidentally fell asleep after reading three lines. So yaaa.

We visited a waterfall which was about 20 minutes uphill walk from the treehouse. (Note the word 'UPHILL' which was BOLDED. I bolded it for a reason. UPHILL. 30 DEGREE INCLINATION UPHILL. Just thought you all should know.) The waterfall is located inside Gunung Pulai recreational forest - the trail towards the waterfall was a windy tar road so it wasn't the most pleasant trail.
Despite the existence of these signs, there were still plenty of rubbish around - either discarded irresponsibly by the waterfall goers, or left behind by monkeys after they ransacked the garbage bins around. :( If you're planning a visit there, please do bring along a garbage bag and dispose it in a closed bin!
some of the garbage along the way to the waterfall :/
We tried collecting some of the trash with a small plastic bag we had, but that wasn't enough to contain all the trash we saw along the way :/
As it was a Friday evening (note that Friday is a weekend in Johor), the waterfall was rather crowded and I didn't feel comfortable jumping in so we just submerge our feet in the cool water and head back to the treehouse shortly after.

There was also a playground located outside the main hall with handmade swings, obstacles and giant hammocks.

Some of the facilities might be pretty, intense? Play at your own risk! :p

I made my way up to one of the giant hammock, which could withstand up to two adults but because of trust issues, I forbid my friends from joining me. It was a majestic feeling, being high above the tree top, overlooking the huts below :)

Dinner

As mentioned before, a simple vegetarian dinner is included in the rate we paid. Usually, dinner is served at 6.30 pm, at the main hall where most of the treehouses are located. However, as there was a detox camp going on during our visit, so the main hall was operating at its full capacity. Hence, we had to trek all the way down for dinner at the little hut on silts that is located next to the entrance of the treehouse - another 600 steps of uphill & downhill walk for us!
The little hut at night!
 Dinner was Yee Mee (Crispy egg noodles) with assorted veggies soup (cabbage, carrot, eggs, tofu and raddish).
Our Yee Mee and soup loaded with veggies!
 The volunteers joined us for dinner as well which was lovely.
More veggies!
It happened to be one of the volunteer from Spain last weekend here in Rainforest Treehouse and she baked a feast for everyone, including us!
From Left: Carrot Cake & Banana Cake 
The cakes were fresh out of the oven so you
Vegetarian wood fire pizza
The pizza was the bomb! The crust was crispy on the outside, and chewy on the inside! There was a nice, lingering charred taste from the woodfire oven. I'd really go for the woodfire pizza baking session the next time I visit Rainforest Treehouse!

Note that these are not food they typically serve guests....we just happened to be really lucky!


Night Time

As the sun sets and night falls, the grounds of the Rainforest Treehouse descends into darkness, with glimpse of light from every treehouse (every treehouse is equipped with electricity and lamps! Though guests are discouraged from switching it on for long as it will attract insects!) The paths leading to the treehouses will be pitch dark at night as there is no lamps along the way. Guests must bring their own headlamp, or use a torch light to navigate through the darkness.
Do I look like an angler fish?
After our dinner, we bummed around at the hut until the mosquitoes decided to have a feast on our blood, we slowly hiked our way up back to our treehouse.
Us bumming around the little hut

There isn't much to do at night, other than chilling and chatting with friends, or just immersing yourself in the darkness, embracing the cool breeze and the soothing sound of nature.
Our night time activity - colouring!
We are also told to switch the lights off at 10.30pm and guests are advised to keep their volume down after 10.30pm (after all, the treehouses are open and sound can travel easily).

We all decided to call it a day at 10.30pm. I slept at the third floor with the open-air deck. It didn't take me long to doze off with the soothing cool breeze and calming sounds of nature. However, I woke up several time in the middle of the night as I wasn't used to having so much white noises around. It can be a little scary, depending on your level of imagination with the sound of wooden floor board creaking, wind gusting sound, branches scratching against the treehouse and leaves rustling sound. I was also worried that a monkey might just climb in the treehouse as it is an open-air platform...(rest assured, that did not happen). We were strongly advice to keep all our belongings into the plastic container as the monkeys are early risers, and they might be mischievous!


Day 2

I woke up feeling really refreshed, despite my sleep cycle being more disrupted than usual. First thing on the agenda, breakfast!


Breakfast

We had our breakfast at the main hall.

Breakfast was also included the rate we paid. We were served with a simple nasi lemak dish. Coffee, tea and milo is provided too!

Our simple yet hearty breakfast!

After breakfast, we bummed around further at the hammocks lying around the hall. We were supposed to go on a guided jungle trekking straight but...the hammock was calling out to us. So we bummed around until around 10am before dragging our lazy bum out for the guided jungle trekking.

Guided Jungle Trekking

One of the volunteer, Angel, led us for the jungle trekking. She recommended that we go on the trail barefooted. My friends decided to follow suit but I opted to do the hike with my shoes as I feel "safer", it's all up to your personal choice :)

The duration and length of the trek all depends on you and your group - whether or not you would like to do the full trek or just part of it. We only did half the trek, as we were quite tire out from all the hike up and down we did on day 1.

Our lovely friend, Phavanjit, hugging a cinnamon tree
The guided trek was really informative and interesting! Angel showed and explained to us the different types of plants, trees and organism living in the area. She even demonstrated how we could "trick" an antlion (an insects that eats ant) out of its liar - by lightly drawing a circular motion around its burrow using a twig. The light circular motion made by the twig resembles the motion of its prey - an ant. We saw the antlion pouncing out from its little burrow! (No photos though, as the burrow was small and the motion was too fast to be captured on camera!)
Termite tracks
My futile attempt to climb the vines of a tree


After the jungle trekking, we packed up and left - yes, without taking a shower because the water was way too cold and us urban kids need our hot water shower.

Lifestyle, etc

We didn't get to talk to the owner throughout our short stay here as he was busy. We were entertained by their volunteers and full-time staffs, who patiently answered all our questions we had on our mind. We were curious on why Rainforest Treehouse was established, and we were told that the owner established Rainforest Treehouse, in hopes of spreading the love of nature, to enable others to experience life close to nature, to get a breath of fresh air, to co-exists with nature.

Most of us grow up in a concrete jungle, and have not experienced being surrounded by nature, or even seeing a real chicken roaming freely (no, KFC does not count). Our green lungs are depleting, with the current rate of urbanization and development. 

Rainforest Treehouse also tries to advocate a zero waste lifestyle there. Besides encouraging guests to minimize their rubbish, they also use wood ash as dish washing soap!
See the black thingy on the top of the sink? That is the wood ash we used to clean the dishes!
Will I be back? Definitely. I really enjoyed my time at Rainforest Treehouse - you get to be close to nature, yet you still get the comfort of the 'urban necessity' as each treehouse comes with electricity and power plugs, phone signal is still strong and there are proper functioning toilets there. And the price was reasonable too :) I'd love to spend more time there if given the chance.


Rainforest Treehouse
Gunung Pulai, Taman Gunung Pulai, 
81000 Kulai, Johor

Contact Number 012-930 9914

Thursday, 27 June 2019

Gokhon Guesthouse, TukTuk, Lake Toba

A couple of weeks ago, I went on a 4 days 3 nights trip to Lake Toba. When I was googling for places to stay around Lake Toba, most internet forum suggests staying over either at Parapat or TukTuk.

I finally settled on TukTuk because of the seemingly livelier F&B scene and more things to do. There were a plethora of affordable accommodations, but very little hotels - the accommodation are mostly family-run guest house in TukTuk.

I had a tough time deciding where to stay as most of the place looks really beautiful (almost all are by the lake!), the reviews were great, location ws awesome (because TukTuk isn't that big anyway! You can easily go around the whole ofTukTuk with a bike) and the price point was really affordable. 

In the end, I decided to stay at Gokhon Guest House because the reviews suggests that it has consistent hot water 24/7, WiFi seems to be OK, there are two gazebo outdoors for guests to chill out, it is close to some good restaurants and guests have direct access to the lake (Do take note that some accommodation are next to the lake, but there isn't a 'beach' so you can't access the lake easily).

As this property has its own landing point, the wooden ferry from Parapat could drop us off easily here! We were the first customer to be dropped off from that ferry, probably because Gokhon is located right in the heart of Tuk Tuk!
There are only eight rooms (I think) at Gokhon Guest House, four on the ground floor, and another four on the first floor. We read reviews on the internet and many recommended getting the rooms on the first floor for a better view, and a little "more privacy", as there are two gazebos on the ground floor, you would feel a little "less private".
The pathway leading from the landing point to the rooms
We were greeted by the staffs upon setting foot on Gokhon, who kindly showed us to our room. The main office is located opposite of the accommodation block, just across the road.
 There's a library for guests to use. Most of the books are for rent, and renters are require to pay the price of the book in full as a deposit. After you returned the book, you will then receive back a huge chunk (almost 80%) of the deposit back.
Our room on the first floor! It was a double room (IDR 275,000/RM80/23 USD per night) and there is space to add an extra bed (for an extra charge of IDR 100,00/RM30/10 USD per night). All rooms come with an en-suite toilet with hot water 24/7! A very important factor to consider in Lake Toba, as the weather can be quite chilly in the morning and at night.

I thought our room was extremely comfortable - there was no air-cond, only a wall fan but trust me, it gets pretty cold at night so it's alright. There were also plenty of storage & hanging space for your luggage and clothes. Electric kettle was provided upon request. It was pretty awkward using the electric kettles, as most of the plug points were far away from any table/counter top so we had to use the electric kettle in the bathroom. WiFi was acceptable, don't expect your typical smooth and fast connection. Time to time I couldn't connect to the internet, but it's ok, we're here to relax and disconnect anyway.
Our double room comes with a balcony with two sun chair. The views were stunning! The photos here do no do any justice to the view there - it was prettier than what we expected. The walls of the balcony were pretty low, so be careful while hanging around the balcony. We could peep over our next door neighbour easily too!

At night, guests are advised to keep their volume low, as sound travels easily. We could hear some of our Dutch neighbours chatter (but couldn't understand a single word of it LOL!)
View from our balcony on a foggy morning.
Views from our balcony on a sunny day.

There is no restaurant at Gokhon Guest House, hence, breakfast/lunch/dinner is not available. However, there are many restaurant just along the road where Gokhon is located so one will not be deprived of choice!

Gokhon Guest House
Jl. Lkr. Tuktuk No.26,
Tuktuk Siadong, Simanindo,
Kabupaten Samosir,
Sumatera Utara 22395, Indonesia


One of our favourite place for breakfast is Orari Restaurant!
My breakfast at Orari Restaurant just next door! Homemade bread and avocado (IDR 30,000/RM9/2 USD). To be honest, the menu of all the restaurants in TukTuk are almost the same. Price wise as well (there's probably just a disparity between IDR5,000-10,000). But Orari is definitely my favourite among all the place we've tried!

Orari Restaurant
Jl. Lkr. Tuktuk, Tuktuk Siadong,
Simanindo, Kabupaten Samosir,
Sumatera Utara 22395, Indonesia

We tried out another restaurant just next door called Popy's Restaurant & Guest House the other day and these are what we had!
Continental Breakfast - Toast with eggs and bacon, served with fresh fruit juice, and coffee/tea IDR55,000/RM15/USD3.5
Cheese and tomato toastie IDR 20,000/RM6/USD1.5
View at Poppy's

And one of the best thing of these restaurant is you get a picturesque view of the lake :)

Poppy's Restaurant & Guesthouse
Jl. Lkr. Tuktuk No.Kelurahan,
Tuktuk Siadong, Simanindo,
Kabupaten Samosir,
Sumatera Utara 22395, Indonesia
View at Orari

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