Bukit Tabur, Malaysia: 7 Secrets of The Dragonback Trek
January 1, 1970
by Jonai Republica
Not all travelers are the same. Each one travels for different reasons. Traveling cliches include to find myself, to prove myself, to find the one or to forget someone. Some, though, were just really called and born to do it… traveling just for pure adventure and love for nature. Whatever our reasons for traveling may be, we all have the similar chances of getting the best benefit out of it: experiencing unforgettable memories and people. The more we risk, the greater experience awaits.
Getting to Know Bukit Tabur (Tabur Hill)
This article is written to recommend Bukit Tabur to and help other adventurers foreign to Malaysia who want to do an adventurous hike. When I was researching for information, it was hard to put pieces together so now I’m doing it for you. 🙂 I took some exciting risks when I visited Malaysia last August 2016. I have always loved climbing mountains and right after I booked my Airasia flight from Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, I googled “mountains to climb near Kuala Lumpur.” I found Bukit Tabur as the most popular result of my search. It’s a limestone ridge popular to locals due to its short proximity to the city, day-hikeable and with a breathtaking view of the sunrise. Even other travelers and backpackers stopping by Malaysia has it on their itineraries. However I found other blogs boasting about accomplishing the Dragonback trek. The name suggests a challenging trail so I also put it in my possible to-do’s. Upon searching however, I found out from bloggers that they did the Dragonback trek with tour agencies like Open Sky Unlimited which could cost RM200 ($50) per person. Since the trek sounded difficult and dangerous, it would make sense to hire a guide to help you keep safe. But there’s no way that I would spend that big for a day hike! Another thing that baffled me was the pictures of Bukit Tabur and Dragonback when searched separately gives the same view. So I started to think, “Could these two names actually refer to the same mountain?” I have tried to find answers but never saw any at that time. So to answer those two problems (cost and confusion), I posted an event in Couchsurfing and Facebook group Hiking & Camping Around Malaysia hoping to find some Malay local/s to (1) clarify if we can hike tehe trail without a tour guide, (2) verify that bukit tabur is the same as dragonback and (3) simply make a new friends. That’s when I found Joe, a local climber who has been a great help during our actual climb and providing most of the information in this blogpost. He had also been an awesome companion during 5-day outdoor adventures in Malaysia which I will detail in another post. Our climb would probably not be awesome as it was if not for Joe.
Secrets of Bukit Tabur
I’m sharing the awesomeness our group experienced by listing down some tips you probably would not find anywhere else from the internet. Again, credits to Joe for the information and some pictures.
1. Bukit Tabur’s 5 peaks.
There are not just 1 nor 2 but 5 trails to Buk it Tabur: West, East, Far East, Extra and Extreme. During the time that I was researching about this trail, I never got the idea that there were different peaks to Bukit Tabur. Thanks to Joe for his patience to explain the plain truth to me. All of the trails however are considered Dragonback because of the similar steep limestone terrain. If you’re craving for adventures, this trek will satisfy you. But if you’re not used to taking risks, then this is an opportunity to push yourself to exceed your limits. Below is a brief illustration of each:
Peak 1: Bukit Tabur West
Tabur West is the most popular trail of all. The entire loop takes about 3-4 hours for a group of 13 people. However, just around 30-40 minutes into the trail is a viewpoint overlooking the dam at the left side, which is more glorious if you catch the sea of clouds just before sunrise, and the city on the right side. From this viewpoint is a lot of dangerous and intense boulder crossings toward the peak of 446MASL. This is the trail that our group completed.
Peak #2: Bukit Tabur East
The entry point to the East loop is only minutes away from the West loop entry. Tabur East peak is at 275MASL, making it the shortest among the 5.
Peaks #3,4,5: Tabur Far East, Extra and Extreme
These peaks have different jumpoff points but somewhere along the way, their trails meet as they share the same loop. Extreme peaks at 396MASL while Far East is at 357MASL, and Extra at 303MASL. That leaves Tabur West as the highest peak of this mountain range. I found this photo to best describe it. (Credits to the owner nadzirahata.blogspot.com, written in Malay)
2. Tabur West Hike can be done without a guide.
As mentioned previously, other blogs from non-Malay hikers accomplished their Bukit Tabur experience with a hired guide. During our climb, we also had a local guide, only that he was doing it for free. However, the trail to the summit can be pretty obvious. Even when there was a fork, you can take either way and end up in the same trail after. There are times when you would ask yourself whether you are on the right track because the next boulder in front of you is too steep and on your right and left are dangerous drops. But don’t panic because that wall in front of you would actually be the correct trail 🙂
3. It’s not at all expensive to climb Bukit Tabur. It’s actually almost free.
The only thing you have to spend on if you didn’t hire a local guide is your transportation going to the jumpoff and your trail food or packed lunch. For our group, some arrived by motorbike, some by Uber, some by car. You can park your vehicle just in front of the jumpoff safely. No registration fee nor environmental fee to pay.
4. You can do it without the permit
This is the only annoying part of my preparation to climb. You know those gray areas of the law when it’s okay to disobey it but be warned? Other blogs would warn you to get a permit because it is REQUIRED. So I, being a faithful follower of foreign rules attempted to get for my group. Thanks to Joe for joining me to do the attempt. However, when we got to the office, the person who needs to give the permit for our climb (which was happening the next day) was on leave! Heck the permit, we decided to climb without it! My itinerary wouldn’t be ruined just because a person did not report for work, would it? The good thing was, we were scheduled to hike very early at 5am to catch the sunrise at 7:20am. So whoever was appointed to check permits would probably be still sleeping at that time. lol. So my advice: Don’t bother with the permit but hike early! You get a nice view of the sunrise if you do 🙂
5. Tropical fruits are abundantly available
Typically, it’s all downhill and easy when you reach the peak. It’s the same for Tabur West and some more! You will find fruit-bearing trees like Rambutan, Langsat and Mangosteen which you can climb to enjoy its fruits. I’m not just sure if it’s in season anytime of the year, but if you do it on August, you can experience this abundance. These fruits are just so refreshing and hydrating!
6. A mystical natural pool awaits
When hiking, the summit is always a reward to the struggle of going up. Another reward awaits however for Bukit Tabur west and east hikers as you can dip into a refreshing natural pool after your descend. To go here, simply find the stairway path from accross the the jumpoff going down to this natural pool. It’s not at all deep but you can play, jump or simply soak to enjoy its cool waters.
7. It’s an avenue to expand your connections abroad
I mentioned earlier that I posted this event on Couchsurfing and a bunch of equally adventurous travelers and locals joined the event, making the hike even more memorable. Our group was composed of travelers from the Philippines, Malaysia, Germany, Canada, USA, Egypt, Slovakia and India. My group The Wanderwalkers have been climbing mountains as well and meeting joiners through Couchsurfing. It’s fun to have a memorable experience with new friends!
Dragonback Trek Sample Itinerary
05:30 Assembly at the foot Tabur west (you can go here by car or uber)
06:00 Start trek
07:00 ETA to viewpoint, watch the sunrise and take photos
08:00 Continue ascent to the summit
09:00 ETA at the summit
12:00 ETA at the foot of the hill, time for swimming!
13:00 ETD back to KL
13:30 ETA at KL to have lunch
(Time provided is Malaysia time GMT +7)
What to bring when hiking the Dragonback:
If you are planning to hike Bukit Tabur, you would have to have the following with you:
-Sun and rain protection (depends on the forecast)
-hand gloves to protect your hands from being scratched by climbing the rocks
-head lamp to light the way when climbing before sunrise
-At least 1L of water, trail food
-Change of clothes after for after swimming in the natural pool
Hope this helps anyone planning to do a challenging hike to the Bukit Tabur aka Dragonback Trek. Feel free to post comments for questions and suggestions! 🙂