Of course if you are in Taiping you absolutely MUST make a visit to the amazing Kuala Sepetam – a fisherman’s village that will make your camera so hungry that you will find it hard to satiate it. It’s pretty similar to many other fisherman’s villages, I must admit. It’s just that the journey from Taiping as well as other sights around the village make it a bit more fun. That’s why I couldn’t include it in my post from Taiping. It deserves a stand alone.
Setting off at 6am
I was so excited before this trip that I couldn’t fall asleep. I liked Taiping but something was telling me that Kuala Sepetang would be even more unique. And of course the bus terminal was waiting for me, no wonders the adrenaline was pumped up. With a 5am wake up dozing off at around 4.15am was really rather a tough cake but I sprung up full of energy regardless and in a matter of minutes was striding outside, surrounded by darkness and incredible stillness. Except for a few blokes getting ready for an early morning on the market, there was no-one. Closer to the bus station, which I approached with a lot of anticipation and zeal, I found another brave early riser selling traditional pastries.
My brief, positive shock inducing visit to the Taiping Bus Terminal the day before had me equipped with all the necessary information. I knew Kuala Sepetang was serviced by a blue bus, which was already a huge anomaly since all the other ones were red as you know from this post link. ‘Bas biru,’ I repeated in my head enthusiastically, still recalling the communication success of the previous day with the ticket man and drivers.
It was 5.57am and I was just almost approaching the terminal’s gate, taking time and looking around. When I suddenly saw a blue bus violently emerge from the opposite corner, making its way through the gate before me, I panicked. ‘What if they leave on time?!’ I thought. ‘Time to run, Sonia!’ I shouted silently and rushed to the bas biru spot. When I swished around the main terminal corner, I could see from the small distance that the bus and the driver were well there, eager to take me towards my little adventure. But this amazing prehistoric terminal had more surprises up its sleeve.
The happiest dude in Malaysia
The driver, smiling from ear to ear probably at my funny morning run, created an incredible impression on me quite instantly. And the feeling was probably mutual.
“Tunggu, pemandu, tunngu!” I urged the driver to wait as I was reaching the blue bus platform.
This made the man cracking up and I only accentuated his already way too positive spirit by keeping the conversation going “Bas biru ke Kuala Sepetang, korek?” I asked loudly which was rewarded by even more enthusiastic displays of excitement. Not only was I the only passenger, but I was also a white woman, and speaking Malay. I think the driver had a second birthday celebration on that day. It almost looked that the ride would be a private party but shortly before the departure another man, completely struck by what’s happening between us, got on. He sat somewhat reluctantly in the front seat but often turned his head just to check me out. He must have been very confused because it seemed that the driver and I were just best mates.
The bus ride started on a great note and I was clicking randomly. ‘Low light conditions and my camera are not great buddies, but practice makes perfect,’ I thought. The driver and I kept conversing in a very simple way – a word or two just to keep the giggling vibe alive and the other passenger puzzled. The road was empty and it was really quiet, except for the loud roars of the engine of course. Apart from the bus, there was not much to photograph. In the middle of nowhere and with seemingly no buzz about to slowly emerge from the corners.
Suddenly though, a huge beam of light penetrated the bus’ windows and the driver was ordered to halt. ‘What’s going on?’ I wondered. I didn’t need to wonder for long. Once the bus doors opened two sturdy police officers entered, pointing a torch at me. ‘Police check??? Here? In this end of the world? Seriously???’ I couldn’t but wonder. The robust officers noticed me instantly (obviously – there was no one else to notice) and came forward. “Passport,” they said in unison standing over me and scrutinising me. There is one rule I remembered from travels and short stays abroad – don’t ever try to be smart with police officers and certainly do not attempt to speak the local language. Play the dumb and shut up. That’s all I knew.
Here, however, it somehow felt okay, and I was still pretty much going with the vibe we had kicked off with so I was like what the hell, I might as well give it a try.
“Sebentar, sebentar,” I said as I was looking through my pouch.
“Oh kamu bercakap Melayu?” both policemen went, totally smitten by my ability to speak Malay. They smiled, I kept smiling too because I found it all anecdotal from the beginning anyway, and we ended up having a quick chat. My work, residence, country of origin but most importantly whether I was married with kids. That’s a very typical question here and I’m more often than not tempted to answer ‘Why? Do you want to propose?’ but here it seemed too much of a risk so I just said “Tidak” with a huge smile to confirm that I was perfectly single. This satisfied the officers and they slowly left the bus, probably also as shocked as me that something like that had occurred during their most likely boring shift on this abandoned stretch of the road.
And the driver?
Once the bus front doors lazily shut and the happiest dude in Malaysia pushed the vehicle some 50 meters forward, I just pierced the brief silence by a plain “haha” as if to say ‘this was fun’. The minute I said that the driver burst into an incredibly audible, roaring laughter. It had him cracking up to an extent I had never ever witnessed in this somewhat ‘better hush hush’ country. It was so contagious! And because I am a mischief too, and because I wanted to see more from this incredible character, I prepared my sentence and shouted loudly to make sure he heard me over his limits breaking laughter “Passport control di Kuala Sepetang pukul 6 pagi! Saya tidak percaya ini! Tapi apa itu?” expressing my surprise and disbelief over being checked at such an hour and in such a place.
It was indeed incredibly funny to me because except for the airport or boats I had never ever been asked to show my passport during the entire time in this country or any other country in the region for that matter. So I can only imagine what effect it must have had on the driver. My words catapulted my ecstatic friend to a universe of inexplicable joy and he burst out laughing so hard I almost peed myself as I laughed along. “Wuuuuuaaahhhhaaaahhaaa wuuaaahhhaaaaaaa, buuuuaaaahhhhaaahaaahaa” he went incessantly. He said also something in Malay which I couldn’t catch. But I got the meaning anyway. No explanations necessary. I had just found my Malaysia hero-of-the-day and I knew I would never in my life forget this encounter. My jaws and midriff were hurting from laughing. It had NEVER happened to me here with a local person.
Everybody was surprised
The passenger in the front seat was totally flabbergasted and clearly didn’t know who to look at first and what to do. His head was turning in two directions – me-driver, driver-me – even more quickly than before and I could see his head processor was working inexplicably hard. ‘Who are these lunatics?’ he must have thought. I certainly didn’t want to get off the bus, but such experiences are best lived that way – brief and powerful.
We reached Kuala Sepetang some 10 minutes after the peculiar police block and it was time to get off. I confirmed times for the return bus and patiently waited for him to leave back to Taiping this time being full of uniformed school kids. We waved goodbye vigorously, both very high from the short but unforgettable ride, and I set off to explore the village.
Like I said, it looks like most fisherman’s villages but the tiny roads and architecture are very quaint. Just walk around and enjoy the blue hour or perhaps sunset. Observe life unfolding before your eyes, as locals go about their day-to-day duties. Soak up the atmosphere with those who just seem to nonchalantly exist on their porches seemingly uninterested in the outside world. Watch school kids swoosh by on motorbikes as they rush to school or just take a discreet sneak peek in a fisherman’s house as they pray to god before the day breaks out.
Port Weld Scenic Bridge
This is the main bridge that separates the village from the mainland and a great observation point too. It’s just great to hang around, watch villagers and boats pass by and take loads of photos. You can also admire villagers and their creativity from here. You remember I told you Taiping was a rainy town, right? Well, villagers here found a brilliant way of getting around that problem by attaching umbrellas to their vehicles be it a motorbike or a bicycle. It’s incredibly cute as well as practical. In fact, it was raining while I was there too.
Boat rental, Fireflies and Kuala Sangga
As much as I enjoy solo travel, some activities may simply not work out if you are alone. Sunset and evening river cruise around the mangroves to spot fireflies is one of those. Usually you can read how inexpensive renting a boat is but once I reached, it was available only for groups. Perhaps there would have been a way and I wouldn’t mind paying extra penny for a ride to the nearby Kuala Sangga village, but the veil of lockdown and covid still seemed very much on, as if subtly suggesting I should perhaps come another time. And so I heard my instinct and let the idea dissolve in the hot humid air.
Mangrove forest reserve
When it comes to fireflies, I could have tried my luck in apparently the best preserved mangrove forest in the world, protected by UNESCO. This would however involve waiting some 10 hours and missing the last bus, so another no-no, I wasn’t that keen. But maybe you could, if you drive. The forest is about a 10-minute walk from Kuala Sepetang, on the main road to Taiping. The entrance cost MYR15. It was nothing more than a nice, quiet walk on a wooden path. So I guess it’s the UNESCO that makes the price so high.
Just as you walk back to the main road a few metres further down the road lies a charcoal factory. This is another spot you shouldn’t miss if you are in the area. It’s all dark and gloomy. Of course! Soot and smoke are omnipresent and you can’t avoid them. Apparently you can take a tour with the owner, but I didn’t see him there. Either I was too early in the morning or I should blame the covid again. I just walked a bit in the area. It’s actually interesting and I think if you come here, you shouldn’t make the mistake I did and leave too early.
As I penned this post I realised that I didn’t really go inside the main building to check it all out thoroughly and see the kilns as well as the process of making charcoal. It seemed pretty dead though and quite honestly I was knackered, so I guess I’ll have to really come again and do it properly. Nevertheless, even if I didn’t spend too much time there, it was still enough to catch the smell of charcoal all over my body. A good souvenir to take away.
The best part was that instead of having to walk back to Kuala Sepetang and wait for the bus, I just spotted it as I entered the road. I waved to the driver and got on the bus like a celebrity. No wonders, behind the wheel was the man from the ticket booth at the terminal I talked to the day before. ‘This is fantastic,’ I thought as I climbed the stairs of the bus and greeted the driver. ‘Everything works like a charm here,’ I continued raving on the inside, full of new impressions, conversing enthusiastically with another hero of the day.
As the bus made slowly but surely its way back to Taiping and I devoured the scenery outside, observing passengers get on and off, making it seem that Taiping-Kuala Sepetang was a busy line after all, my head finally gave up, leaned gently towards the window and I finally fell into a short, well-deserved sleep.
So voilà. That’s it folks. There is more to do in the area but it’s better accessible by car. If you need more information, just get in touch and I’ll gladly help you. See you soon Kuala Sepetang:)