At almost half the size of Singaporem, Kenyir Lake is Southeast Asia’s largest manmade lake. Situated in Peninsula Malaysia in the state of Terengganu and bordering Kelantan to the west and Pahang to the south, Kenyir Lake was constructed in 1985 by damming the Kenyir River. The water from the lake feeds into Sultan Mahmood Power Station and also helps abate some flooding in the area.
The creation of the lake in the 1980’s caused quite a stir in Malaysia as it involved a massive clearing out of 260 km² of jungle and the resettlement of villagers and Orang Asli (lit.”original people”, ”natural people” or ”aboriginal people”)
One can still see a lot of tree stumps on the edges of the lake as not all could be cleared before the waters started filling up the area.
Today, the lake is a tourist destination mostly for local travellers looking for an affordable, beautiful and peaceful getaway. Kenyir Lake’s 340 islands are actually hilltops, and several resorts have mushroomed upon these islands. The government has also put in infrastructure to make the area accessible. Other than for rest and relaxation, Kenyir Lake is very popular for fishing with its many species of freshwater fish. There are also more than 14 stunning waterfalls from smaller rivers that feed into the lake.
Having visited Kenyir Lake in May, 2016 I can attest to the beauty of the lake. I stayed there for four days and three nights, an ideal amount of time. Some “must-do” activities are, visiting the waterfalls and the Kelah Fish Sanctuary. Even those who are there for the fishing only, should consider these two rendezvous.
The two waterfalls we visited were the Soak Waterfall and Lasir Waterfall. They are easy to reach; only a short hike away on well-made paths. The water is cool and refreshing with many pools to dip into and you can also opt for a water massage by going under the waterfall! Pack some snacks so that you can stay longer and enjoy the sound of rushing water and soft sunlight streaming through the trees.
The highlight of our trip was a visit to the Kelah Fish Sanctuary. The kelah or empurau fish (mahseer in English) is extremely sought after, and in Malaysia is sometimes known as the “King of Freshwater Fish”. Costing up to about $480 per kilo live, these fish are bred at Kenyir Lake. The Kelah Sanctuary requires a permit to visit but is well worth the trouble.
As we approached the river bank at the Sanctuary, hundreds of fish began to gather in the shallow waters to greet us. Thankfully, we had purchased some feed for them. The guide encouraged us to go straight into the water to feed them and what a mighty shock it was. As we threw our first handful of feed into the water, there were fish everywhere, even jumping out of the water, at times eating out of our palms in a frenzy.
All in all, Kenyir Lake is a refreshing, idyllic and exclusive Malaysian tourist destination. There is something for everyone. You can camp on the islands, or book a house boat with friends and spend a few days idling on the iridescent waters of this manmade wonder.
From Vientiane to Kuala Lumpur: Air Asia thrice weekly.
The journey, from Kuala Lumpur, should take 4-6 hours. If driving, get on the East Coast Highway and head for Terengganu. Turn off at Ajil and go to Kuala Berang to get yourself to Pengakan Gawi for your boat. Alternatively, fly to Kuala Terengganu and rent a car or hire a driver to Pengkalan Gawi. There are also buses to Kuala Terengganu.
Where to stay:
Choose from any of the resorts on the islands which range from dormitory-style rooms to family bungalows. If you are a large group, rent a house boat and live on the lake. These come equipped with satellite TV, air conditioning and even a cook.
When to go:
Anytime from March to October is good. If you don’t mind the rain, you could still visit during the monsoon season November – February.
MALAYSIA Truly ASIA
The Malaysia, Truly Asia advertising campaign gives us just a faint idea of why this country is rated a top tourism destination. With over 200 events and festivals this diverse nation is a place savvy travelers can’t afford to miss.
Penang is where East meets West in a fascinating balance. The capital, George Town, with its carefully preserved buildings is a World Heritage Site. It’s also a foodie’s fantasy come true. Take any of the numerous walking tours to step back in time.
Batu Ferringhi, a suburb of George Town is famous for its soft white sandy beaches, its mouth-watering street food and wide range of accommodation.
Melaka (Malacca) is about two hours south of Kuala Lumpur. A World Heritage Site, it’s the perfect place to see remnants of Portuguese colonialism that pre-date the arrival of the British.
Langkawi – an archipelago made up of 99 islands on the west coast, its turquoise waters with its magnificent marine life are a diver’s dream destination. Like all places in Malaysia it’s a place to eat and eat.
By Air: Daily flights from Vientiane to Kuala Lumpur three times per week.
Nasi Lemak – widely considered Malaysia’s national dish – is fragrant rice cooked with coconut milk in a pandan leaf.
Otak-otak - a perfect example of cuisine from Peninsula Malaysia, it is a blend of fish, coconut milk, chili paste, galangal, and herbs wrapped in a banana leaf.
Beef Rendang - spicy coconut beef.
Bella Vista Waterfront Resort & Spa Langkawi
Persiaran Mutiara, Dagangan Kelana Mas, Kuah, Langkawi
Tel: +60 4-966 2800
Chulia Heritage Hotel
380 Chulia Street, George Town
Tel: +60 4-263 3380