Friday, July 24, 2020

Pahang: The Bentong Village Loop

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Pahang: The Bentong Village Loop
Cycling around Bentong Villages - Sunday, 5th July 2020:
Cycling Distance: 12.80 km.          |          Level: Easy
Cycling Time : 7:20 am to 11:30am
Cycling Time Taken : 4 hrs. 10 mins. (including breakfast, ice-cream stops, visiting temple & Bentong Walk street market, regrouping and lots of photo opportunities.

Route Recommendations:
1. The route goes around the new villages of Bentong and other places of interests, most of it flat with only some gentle climbs.

2. Places of interest:
    Along this route were several places of interests, some of which we visited and others we did not for lack of time (note: click on GPS coordinates for directional map to respective places):
    - Bentong Gallery (GPS: 3.52414, 101.90838), a museum showcasing the history of Bentong.
    - Dataran Bentong (GPS: 3.52810, 101.90500).
    - villages of Bentong, such as:
      Kg. Kuala Repas (GPS: 3.53436, 101.90062)Kg. Perting (GPS: 3.51952, 101.90537), Kg. Chamang (GPS: 3.52872, 101.90285), & Kg. Kemansur (GPS: 3.52287, 101.90417).
    - Bentong Walk (GPS: 3.52344, 101.90675) for good Bentong Ginger & Vietnamese Ciku.
    - Kwong Fook Temple (广福庙(GPS: 3.52282, 101.90980).
    - Kopitiam Tong Kee (GPS: 3.52420, 101.90607) for good local coffee.
    - Weng Fatt Coffeeshop (GPS: 3.52126, 101.90563) for good local coffee.
    - Bentong Market #30 Tofu Pok (GPS: 3.51894, 101.90516) (Tel: +60 12-928 2271)t o order/buy good Bentong Taufu Pok.
    - Bentong Tau Fu Sdn Bhd (GPS: 3.52295, 101.9069) for good tau fu fah (soy pudding).
    - Bentong Gibbon Retreat (GPS:3.46749, 101.92198), a glamping homestay within a durian platation.
    - Chamang Waterfalls (GPS: 3.50959, 101.85781).
    - Perting Dam (GPS: 3.50651, 101.89333).
    - Kechara Forest Retreat (克切拉禅修林) (GPS: 3.52227, 101.87511), a Buddhist meditation retreat.
    - Bentong Hot Springs (GPS: 3.40955, 101.8914).

3. Food
    - Afternoon Tea (the day before) : Affogato Coffee & Peach fruit juice at Bentong Gallery (GPS: 3.52414, 101.90838).
    - Dinner (the day before): Tai Chow dishes at a local riverside food court (GPS: 3.52200, 101.90692).
    - Breakfast: Noodles and Yong Tau Foo at Hong Xiang Tian Food Court (三间莊美食中心) (GPS: 3.52321, 101.90525).
    - Morning Tea 1: Local-made double layer lollipop ice-cream potong at Khow Kee Grocery Shop (GPG: 3.52214, 101.90498); top layer is a sweet icee with red beans or corn, bottom layer is a solid sherbet but made with santan (coconut milk).
    - Morning Tea 2: Local-made creamy ice-cream scoops and ice-kacang at Kow Pow Ice-Cream (GPS:3.52234, 101.91087).
    - Lunch: Chinese dishes at Restoran Remember Me 126 (海鲜饭店) (GPS: 3.3508, 101.82495) in Kampung Bukit Tinggi. One can also buy fresh vegetables & fruits from shops around here.
4. Accommodations
    One night double-bed room in Hotel Kristal (GPS: 3.52164, 101.90856) at RM105/-.
    Address: Jalan Chan Siang Sun, 28700 Bentong, Pahang, Malaysia.
    Phone: +609-2232118


It's been a while since I last cycled to Bentong; with my first trip there seven years ago. Back then I was a newbie and the 100km loop from Genting Sempah to and around Bentong, and back was a big deal. The journey there was easy, a 30 km. cruise down-slope almost all the way. But the journey back up that 30 km. taxed my newbie cycling legs; but somehow I managed.

This time round, some Bentong friends had invited us up to their hometown. We had just gone through several months of a lock-down imposed by the government through the Malaysian Movement Control Order (MCO) to arrest the spread of the pandemic Covid-19 virus. Now we are in the RMCO (Recovery Movement Control Order) phase, with the easing of restrictions allowing interstate travel. So we took this warm invitation as a good break for a short holiday (a first out-of-town break for many since the MCO), and also do a bit of cycling. Several of us went up a day earlier so as to enjoy the town more.
And as soon after we had checked in to our hotel, it was time to scratch our itchy cycling legs with a short ride around town, heading for the Dataran Bentong (see photo above). See how happy we are, cycling does bring out the smiles and laughter in us.

We looped back to meet up with other friends at the Bentong Gallery, this is a museum of sorts which showcases the history and growth of Bentong. In one section were cardboard caricatures of the early Chinese pioneers who came up to open the town in the 1800's.
Here I am in a comical spoof, glaring on jealously as Lynne "hugged" one of the pioneers; I have reason to be; see, many of these pioneers became millionaires through their own hard work.
Bentong also does have few places that serves good local coffee, one of them being Kopitiam Tong Kee. We missed out on that one and decided to try the Western coffee served at Bentong Gallery, I had their Arfogotto which was very strong and served with good and thick ice-cream.

Time to go cycle-explore more of the town and look for good eats. Bentong is also renown for good Tau Foo Fah (soy bean pudding), good ones can be found at Bentong Tau Fu Sdn Bhd but unfortunately they were closed (many shops had closed during the MCO and even after that some remained closed due to economic reasons; hopefully for this shop this is not the case). We settled for one from a small corner shop near Auntie Mok Tauhu 莫大妈文冬豆腐 (GPS:3.52254, 101.90707 ). These were not too bad and were serve in nice Ming Blue bowls; one can either opt for ginger-flavored sugar or Gula Melaka.

In the older section of the town were several street art wall murals. Clockwise from bottom left, these were:
1. a copy of the renown Penang "Little Children on a Bicycle" mural by Lithuanian Ernest Zacharevic.
2. "Pandas in a Bamboo Grove", these pandas even have names: a. Yuan Yuan at the Taipei Zoo; b. Le Le (樂樂) and Ying Ying at Hong Kong's Ocean Park.
3. Dorje Shugden, "World Peace Protector" - Dorje Shugden (རྡོ་རྗེ་ཤུགས་ལྡན་) is an entity associated with Tibetan Buddhism. I wonder how Dorje Shugden is connected to Bentong; perhaps there is link through the nearby Kechara Forest Retreat.

Later in the evening we had dinner with our Bentong friends (Lap Hong Wong, Kokhway Chong & David Lem) at stall No. 5 in a riverside food-court patronized mainly by locals. The dishes were simple yet delicious, very home-styled cooking which - stewed pork belly (with thick layers of sinful fat; hopefully we will burn this off at tomorrows's cycling), and my favorite: soft white tofu hiding below sunny-side eggs and garnished with lots of spring onions and lard bits, etc...... and beers sponsored by Lap 😏.



Cycling Route: Hotel Kristal>Bentong Gallery>Kg. Kuala Repas>Kg. Perting>Kg. Chamang>Kg. Kemansur>Bentong Walk>Kwong Fook Temple>Hotel Kristal.
The route goes around the new villages of Bentong and other places of interests, most of it flat with only some gentle climbs.
(Zoom out to see the Bentong Gibbon RetreatChamang WaterfallsPerting Dam, Kechara Forest Retreat (克切拉禅修林)Bentong Hot Springs, & our lunch place in Kampung Bukit Tinggi, etc.)
Cycling Distance: 12.80 km.          |          Level: Easy

7:30am - Happy at roll-off point, the BG..

First port of call..... is port for EATS!
This was at the Hong Xiang Tian Food Court (三间莊美食中心), which is also know as Tiga Buah Kedai Food-court (which translate to Three Shops Food-court; probably this place started with just three stall, but now there are many more). Most of us had a variety of noodles, and Yong Tau Foo that included the renown Bentong Tau Fu Pok filled with mince pork. The stalls in many smaller towns are very generous in their helping, each of these Tau Pok were filled with mince meat double that found in the cities.
Many of our buddies had pre-ordered renown Bentong Tau Fu Pok; on arriving yesterday, we had tried to order but it was too late, they were already sold out (they are THAT GOOD!) Desperate to buy back for friends to try, we bought some from the Yong Tau Foo stall, and the good thing is that the food court owner allowed us to store in his fridge until we finished our cycling - small town locals are like this, always generous and helpful.
(NOTE: the shop selling good taufu pok is called Bentong Market #30 Tofu Pok, call +6012-928 2271 to order)

Also from the Yong Tau Foo stall, were these odd looking stuff, another of my favorites. When I posted this photo at the Facebook World Foodies Showcase food sharing group, many had taught that these were top-grade sea cucumber (hoi som)!
Actually these were pork rind, made into cracklings and boiled till spongy soft! The only difference is that, these were made from the skin of wild boars 😋.

Tummies happy, we kicked off our ride proper, led by Kokhway. I had expected to ride to the Chamang Waterfalls or the Perting Dam, but he took us somewhere even better; he took us on a route around the local new villages. This is a side of Bentong seldom seen by visitors!
It was a good start, riding close to the foothills at Kampung Ulu Perting where even at this time, the air was crisp and cooling.

Crossing a pedestrian bridge over a tributary of the Bentong River led us to shady roads below tall flowering trees.
Often Google Maps won't show these tributaries unless one switches to Satellite View, this bridge is located at GPS: 3.52206, 101.90585.

And then onwards into the new villages of Bentong. This is a side of the town which tourists seldom come to: starting with Kg. Perting, then to onwards to Kg. Kuala RepasKg. ChamangKg. Kemansur, etc.

Most of these houses were built form timber, but slowly over the years parts of the timber structure have been replaced with brickwork.

It is often the smaller houses that are unique and attracted us to stop often to have photos taken.

This one was yellow, and the owner (peeping through the door) had painted cute motifs in pastel blue and red.

This one is a light pastel green and had those interesting half-height swing doors like the ones in the saloons of old western cowboy towns.

Often we also took photos with antiquarian items of the locals, like this pastel blue Honda Cub motorcycle.

As we looped back into town (above collage photo, clock-wise from top right: a cute blue single-storey house, the Perting volunteer fire-brigade, and strong colonial yellow shop house that's almost a century old.

Within the villages are the cottage industries that make the renown Bentong Taufu Pok. And while there, we saw small lorries transporting out the soy bean pulp (that is what's left after the soy milk is squeezed out). This pulp is called Okara, and is usually used as animal feed, but in East Asia this is used for cooking. During a cycling tour of South Korea we chance upon a shop that use this pulp (which the South Koreans call biji) to make very nice Korean Pancakes!

But Kokhway still have a secret to show us, YummY local-made ice-ceam potong - not those that tourists take but one that only the locals know about and which can only be found in a couple of grocery shops in the villages (this one was from Khow Kee Grocery Shop). Instead of cow's milk, these ice-cream were made of santan (coconut milk) which many of us think is better. The ice-cream were chunky lollipops topped off with corn or red beans.

We have finished our village loop and were now back in town pushing our bikes along the Bentong Walk where a weekend market is held with pushcart stalls selling many thing local - mainly foodstuff.

While in Bentong, one should not miss getting the famed Bentong Ginger (which actually should be called Bukit Tinggi Ginger as this ginger is actually grown there!) The soil, climate and hilly terrain seems to be very suitable for cultivating good ginger; and these can grow to quite a huge size, as Winnie above found out!

A day earlier, Jason had posted some beautiful photos of colorful dragons in a temple and our curiosity were piqued. We were fortunate that our cycling route took us to this temple too.
It's the Kwong Fook Temple (广福庙) temple, and it looked like it had been recently refurbished.

On the outside, two dragons curled round the external walls to welcome visitors and at the same time ward off evil spirits.
Their distinct sculpturing and bright colors reminded me of the Temple of the East Sea Dragon King (東海龍王寺),which I saw in Teluk Intan several years ago on an Ipoh to Teluk Intan cycling tour.

The main prayer pavilion of the temple, and it's dedicated to the Xian Si Shi Ye  (仙四師爺) deity. Through its founders, this temple is "affiliated" to the renown Sin Sze Si Ya Temple (), the oldest Taoist temple in Kuala Lumpur.

This temples' link came about because the founding fathers of Kuala Lumpur (such as Yap Ah Loy and Loke Yew) were also the pioneers who came to open up Bentong. Their photos and write-ups on them can be seen on a wall of the temple.

We too added our happiness to the temples - the girls brightening up the already bright red front entrance of the temple .....

And our buddy Sin, looking macho with a couple of painted temple guards!

One last cycling destination before we check out from our hotels, more ice-cream at Kow Pow Ice-Cream. It is indeed most surprising to find that Bentong, athough not renown for cow-rearing pastures, have a couple of shops selling good milk-cream ice-cream. At Kow Pow, we had this combo of five flavours (vanilla, corn, pandan, coffee and chocolate) to share among the few of us. This place is also renown for their ice-kacang.

Even after checking out, our Bentong adventure was not over yet. We drove over to the Bentong Gibbon Retreat situated on at the foothills on the other side of the Karak Highway. Some of our sedan cars could not climb up the rough, un-tarred roads leading up the slopes to the resort, and those transferred over to four-wheel drives, or pick-up trucks driven by others.
The Bentong Gibbon Retreat is operated by David Lem, another of our Bentong buddies, was on our planned itinerary, but most of us were expecting to see gibbons and other monkeys in a sanctuary here; but actually this place is a sort of glamping homestay, with the units located on platforms high up among the trees (see photo above). Probably this area do have gibbons around, but we did not see any apes.

Staying here means living in large tents located on the high checkered steel platforms. The huge tents are four-bedders or two-bedders, and they are tall tents where one can wall without stooping within. At the perimeter, there are no guard railings, instead a netted perimeter prevents people from falling over, and at the same time form a resting "hammock" area!

More importantly, this place is also an old durian plantation, and soon by buddies were feasting away on local favorites like Musang King, XO & Teik Kah.
Me? I don't eat durians and often can't take the smell of them; so while by friends were having a feast, I was sitting a good 20 feet away! Here's the reason why I don't like durians .... it has something to do with snakes too!

As we drove out, David showed us young durian trees planted on the slopes of his plantation. He mentioned that these will be matured for fruiting and harvesting in a couple of years, .... and I could see the yearning in the eyes of my buddies .... That's the effect durians, appropriately called the "King of Fruits", have on aficionados, they will go to lengths just to savor the fruit.
These trees DID distract us, we were suppose to head back to Bentong and visit the Kechara Forest Retreat (克切拉禅修林), but we made a wrong turn and was instead heading down the highway to Kuala Lumpur, and a U-turn point was at least 15 km. down the road. Perhaps next time then.... after all the durians will also be waiting for us 😂.

3:30pm - Enroute we stopped at Kampung Bukit Tinggi for a late lunch, where at Restoran Remember Me 126 (海鲜饭店) we had a lovely lunch that included a good tilapia steamed with ginger, stewed Hokkien-style "kau yoke" (pork belly with yam), and a tasty stir-fried Emperor Vegetable.

May thanks to Lap Hong Wong, Kokhway Chong & David Lem, for being gracious hosts who warmly welcomed us to their home-town and showed us around.

Click here for a video of our ride by our buddy Sin.
Click here for a Relive bird's eye view of ride in Bentong.
(For more photos of our stay & rides, click here)

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