This ride takes you through gorgeous mountain scenery along the East-West Highway and past Stong Hill State Park in areas that don’t see many tourists, at least until you reach the Cameron Highlands.
You’ll see monkeys, wild boar and – with luck – an elephant!
The riding is quite tough by times, so if you’re a newbie plan accordingly and add in some extra days. A tent will come in handy here, especially if the weather surprises you with rain and you can’t make your goal for the day.
Duration: 6-7 days
Terrain: Varies between moderately challenging and very difficult. There are some long climbs. You’re never very long without rolling hills. Between Gua Musang and the Cameron Highlands is desolate with repeated ascents and descents.
Accomodation: Hotels in Gerik, on Pulau Banting at the Temengor reservoir, in Jeli, Jelawang, Dabong, Gua Musang and Tanah Rata. There’s a strong chance you’ll need to camp between Gua Musang and Tanah Rata and possibly between Gerik and Jeli.
Highlights: The East-West highway is beautiful, as is the waterfall at Jalawang in the Stong Hill Resort.
Lowlights: Relentless hills and desolate stretches (no shade or cafes) after Gua Musang.
Tips: Bring camp food and a tent for the last section to the Cameron Highlands. Be prepared to hitch a lift with a friendly truck if you get too tired. Take warm and waterproof clothing for rainy and misty weather high in the hills.
Section 1 – Gerik to Jeli (125km)
This journey is best done in 2 days, although it’s feasible in 1 day if you’re a strong rider, not too heavily loaded and don’t run into bad weather. There are a lot of ‘ifs’ so backup camping gear is a good idea if you don’t plan to stop at the Temengor reservoir – also known as Tasik Banding – where the only hotel is located.
The route starts from downtown Gerik, where there are plenty of restaurants and hotels. The Great Wall Hotel has clean rooms for 35RM. The IMAX internet cafe, in the same building as KFC, charges 2.50RM/hour for an excellent connection.
Cycle uphill out of Gerik, going right after about 2km at the roundabout. Signs point to Kota Bahru. This road shortly joins the East-West highway. Rolling hills dominate for the first 15km. It’s not too strenuous. There’s a rest stop and a number of restaurants where you can get a coffee or pick up a packed lunch. After this initial stage, it’s desolate until you reach the reservoir.
Once past the first 15km, the road gets more challenging until you reach the long descent to the reservoir, about 34km into the day. A luxury resort appears at 43km, your only accomodation option before Jeli aside from camping. Just 1.5km after the resort there’s a rest stop at the foot of the second causeway. It has a restaurant, toilets, showers and signs indicate it’s fine to camp here.
The real climb of the day starts once you leave the rest stop. It’s all uphill for the next 30km, until you reach the peak near the 75km mark. There are a couple restaurants on the way to the top and plenty of monkeys in the trees to distract you from the climb. At the peak, there’s a lookout point, a restaurant and toilets. Some cyclists have camped here but the only patch of ground we saw was near the toilets – not very appealing.
Once you reach the peak, it’s downhill almost all the way to Jeli. Be prepared for a change in weather at the top. A cloudy day turned into a rainstorm as we came down the other side of the mountain and we were forced to end the day by tenting behind a mobile phone mast just beyond the peak. It was too wet and dark to continue safely.
The first rest stop after the peak is around kilometer mark 90, just beyond the border dividing Kedah and Kelantan provinces. Cyclists have reported camping next to the restaurant here. The restaurant appeared closed when we passed in the early morning. The first cluster of open restaurants came about 21km before Jeli. The descent starts to taper out here and the last 10km into Jeli returns to rolling hills.
The town of Jeli is nothing special. It’s tiny and we heard reports that the sole hotel here was hugely lacking and overpriced. We didn’t even bother trying to locate it. We just stocked up at the market and carried on.
Section 2 – Jeli to Jelawang (Stong Hill State Park) (45km)
Head south from Jeli towards Dabong on Route 66. The pleasant country road leads through more lush jungle and villages. There are small restaurants all the way along the route.
This route goes gradually downhill overall but there are a few small hills breaking up the descent to keep your muscles working.
After about 40km you reach the village of Jelawang, just before the road does a sharp turn towards Dabong. There are several restaurants and a cyber cafe. Look towards the mountains on your right and you should see a huge waterfall cascading down. This is Jelawang Waterfall, the highest in Southeast Asia at 303 meters. Your home for the night will be at the base of it.
Grab whatever you need for supper in Jelawang, then take the right-bearing turn for Gua Musang and shortly afterwards the first right onto a narrow road leading to Stong Hill State Park. Go about 1.7km down this road to the park entrance.
It’s 2RM to enter the park. There’s a hotel with dorms and private rooms at the foothill of the park. It may be closed but with a gentle smile you should be able to get the officials to open a room for you.
Camping is free. There’s no official campsite but you’re welcome to pitch a tent anywhere there’s room. There are a couple options near the entrance or you can leave your bike and bags with the park security and hike a little ways into the park to find a more secluded spot. A two hour trek will bring you to Baha Camp at the top of the waterfall. With 24-hour security to look after your bike and belongings, this might be the ideal chance to go off into nature for a day or two without your wheels.
Either way, the pools formed by the waterfall make a great al fresco shower!
There’s a hotel in Dabong if you don’t fancy the wilderness option. Dabong is a stop on the jungle train, which might be an option if you’re tired of cycling.
Section 3 – Jelawang to Gua Musang (70km)
After your night next to nature, return to Jelawang for breakfast or carry on down Route D29 to Gua Musang. You’ll find plenty of cafes until you pass the lumber mill, about 7km into the day. After this point, things thin out a bit but there are still chances to fill up on iced tea every 10km or so. You can make friends with the truck drivers.
Watch out for the logging trucks, which tend to pass a little too close for comfort! Otherwise, traffic is light and it’s nice scenic riding.
The day’s one prolonged climb comes around the 15km mark. The rest is made up of yet more rolling hills until you reach the surprisingly small town of Gua Musang. There’s a market, a grocery store, several restaurants and two internet cafes, although both were closed when we visited.
Hotel Gua Musang has very clean rooms with TV and air conditioning for 40RM.
Section 4 – Gua Musang to Tanah Rata (135km)
This section is a killer. The scenery is beautiful but the riding is very strenuous, with repeated rolling hills that are often steep and never really let up. Before you leave Gua Musang, get a packed lunch and emergency camp food. Take lots of water.
Follow the signs to the Cameron Highlands out of town and onto a small road. Traffic is light and after tackling the first of the hills, there’s a reasonably easy stretch through some oil palm plantations. Not long afterwards (around the 15km mark), you go left at a junction. It’s signed for the Cameron Highlands and there are a few cafes at this corner – the last you’ll see until the end of the trip.
From here on in, it’s desolate. There is one mosque shortly after the junction where you can fill your water bottles but after this there’s really nothing for at least 60km. No houses. No restaurants. Nothing. It’s also hard to find shade so start looking for a place to rest from the sun before it gets too hot. You’ll probably need to take a break over midday.
The hills roll up and down successively. It’s a case of 10 minutes getting up one side, 30 seconds down the other side and repeat. Sometimes you’ll see a small stream or spring by the side of the road. Use these to cool down and refill your bottles. You may also see the very occasional dragonfruit plantation or camp for construction workers and these are also good places to pick up water.
Around the 75km mark, there’s a logging camp and over the next few kilometers there are a few tiny Orang Asli villages but no shops. As you get closer to Tanah Rata, there are two very long climbs and many greenhouses covering the previously forested slopes. It’s not all that pretty but it is an interesting look at modern agriculture. Strawberries, corn, cabbage and all kinds of other vegetables are grown here.
Eventually you’ll come to a junction for Brinchang and Tanah Rata. There are restaurants here but no hotels until you reach Brinchang. You can camp at a campsite near the end of walking trail 4. There are proper places to pitch your tent, covered gazebos, toilets and showers.
Some general tips: If you’re planning to camp, consider taking a spot slightly earlier in the afternoon than you normally would. Spots aren’t all that common (there are many steep, heavily forested slopes) and if you wait until dusk, you could find yourself at the bottom of a valley with a climb ahead, little light and nowhere to pitch a tent.
Also, don’t worry about getting caught out. Many trucks are returning home to the Cameron Highlands in the evening, after delivering vegetables to Gua Musang. It’s quite easy to hitch a lift if needed.