Some days, staying in the big city can grate on your nerves. The traffic, the noise, the incessant rushing… for those who want to escape from the mad rush of the urban environment for a few days, back to the cool green quiet of the country, one of the most popular holiday getaways for Malaysians is Lake Kenyir, a vast lake located in the northern state of Terengganu.
In a country that has only two natural lakes (Lake Chini and Lake Bera), Kenyir Lake is particularly unique – it is an artificial lake, created when the Kenyir dam was built in 1985 over the Kenyir River. Not only because it is one of the few major bodies of water in the country, but also because it holds the record asthe biggest man-made lake in South-East Asia, covering an area of of 260 square kilometres. To put this in perspective, the Kenyir Lake is larger than the island of Singapore!
Kenyir Lake is located about 65 km away from Terengganu’s biggest city, Kuala Terengganu. Pengkalan Utama is the main gateway to the lake and its many attractions, though an older gateway is located at Pengkalan Gawi. From these points, visitors can get boat transfer to the resorts, book activities, learn more about the Lake at the Tourist Centre ang get a permit for entry and if necessary, camping or fishing. Lake Kenyir also serves as one of the gateways (abeit a watery one) to the Taman Negara National Park in the neighbouring state of Pahang.
One of the more popular activities at Lake Kenyir is fishing. It is known throughout the country as an angler’s paradise and on many weekends, you’ll see boats heading out over the water, filled with fishermen patiently trying their luck. For visitors interested in trying their hand at catching a wily fish, a permit is required (cost RM10 at time of publishing). Some of the fishermen are locals catching a meal, others serious anglers come from as far as the southern states and still others are amateurs trying fishing for the first time under the supervision of a private boat operator.
There is an abundance of fish in the waters, with over 25 known species of fish regularly pulled from its waters, and they range from the placid baung to the vicious toman. Incidentally, the latter is famous locally for its viciousness and aggression, and there are tales of fishermen who carelessly trailed their hands in the water and had a frisky toman bite the tips off their fingers!
Kenyir Lake is located near enough to Kuala Terengganu that those who prefer a more urban environment can visit the lake as a day trip and return to the city at night; but for those who prefer to spend the night in the quiet surrounds of the lake, there are a variety of accommodations available, with most running to the ‘lakeside chalet’ type. Many will offer special promotions and packages, including transfers from the jetty to the resort. For those who prefer more exotic lodgings, houseboats are available for rent, either for day trips or for tours – and some of the more posh houseboats can sleep 12 persons and come with everything, including air conditioning! A houseboat also makes it much easier to explore the 340 ‘islands’ scattered about Lake Kenyir. Some of the resorts are located on the islands, conveniently combining exclusivity and privacy in a lush island jungle setting. These resorts often also offer a variety of outdoor activities, from jungle trekking to caving to water sports, excursion to local points of interest such as the nearby Herb Garden and island hopping.
The ‘islands’ of Lake Kenyir are, like the lake itself, artificial, and are actually the tops of hills or highlands which were inundated when the Lake was first created. There are 340 islands now, and the highest peak is Mount Gergau, which towers almost 855m. For nature lovers, one of the more relaxing activities at Lake Kenyir is to just hire a boat and cruise around the islands, photographing and maybe stopping by to explore the islands and maybe have a picnic onshore. In addition, for those who prefer more cooling picnic spots, there are over 14 waterfalls scattered around the shoreline. One of the best known is Lasir Waterfall, an imposing 500 foot cascade of white water tumbling over permanently wet bronze-coloured rock. The fall is located about a half hour boat ride from Pengkalan Gawi, making it one of the most accessible falls on the Lake. Less showy than Lasir, the Saok waterfall makes up for its lack in height with greater breadth, as a broad sheet of water rushes down over the steep rocks, while the Tembat fall makes do with offering a five levels of picturesque cascades. The waterfall is edged by the green forest, and at each level of the fall there are pools for bathing. These are the most popular ones, but there are many other waterfalls to explore, including Leban, Terenggan and Petuang.
Since Lake Kenyir serves an important function as a reservoir for the state, its water level has a tendency to change over the year. The water level is at its highest during March and April, which is also when the lake is at its most beautiful and crowded, but the locals prefer to come in August, when the water is lower and the fishing is better. Whatever time you choose to go however, the one thing that’s certain is that you’ll enjoy a quiet, relaxing time in the cool green surrounds of the lake!