The Nearest Mountain from Singapore where You Can Access by Road
It was one of those rare weekdays where the both of us did not have to work. We wanted to do something different for a change so I went through my bucket list and realize that there was something I attempted twice but failed on both attempts. And that was to summit Gunung Pulai, cause it rained the first time and it got too dark on the second.
Gunung Pulai or Mount Pulai is a 654 meter high in the Kuali district of Johor. It barely make the cut to be classified as a mountain (>600m) but it is probably the nearest mountain from Singapore where you may ascend directly to the peak by a bitumen road. This place is both popular with the local and foreigners alike and is especially crowded on weekends and public holidays. There are two ways to the top: Jungle Path or Paved Road. The distance by road is 4.8 km to the peak , for the path it depends on which route you take to the top. If you stick to the bitumen road, you will reach the top between 1.5 hours and 2 hours.
How to Get There
We took the Eastern Dispersal Link Expressway (EDL) from our house near JB Customs and Immigration Complex towards Kulai (see map below) The trip takes about 50 minutes at an average speed of 90 km/h. Traffic is good in our direction but horrendous in the opposite direction towards Singapore. We drove with the windows down after we left the city as the air is cool and fresh The lush green plantations and low hanging clouds covered hills makes beautiful post card photos.
We pass through Kulai and traveled along the long and narrow Jalan Sawah, There are many trucks transport granite from the nearby quarries, Keep a lookout for on-coming trucks moving at high speed.
You Have A Choice of Jungle Track or Bitumen Road
You will know that you found the place when you spot a gantry welcoming you to "Kampung Sri Gunung Pulai". Near the entrance, there sa toll booth where you need to pay RM $3 parking fee. Drive a further 800m along the linear settlement lined with single storey houses before you reach foot of the mountain. It is easy to find parking on a weekday but not on weekends and public holiday. The last time we came on a public holiday we had to park some 400m away from the base of the mountain
You can visit this place any day of the week, but base on personal experience I advice you against starting your walk after 3.30 pm cause there are no lights and you will have difficulty coming down the mountain.
So Up we Went
We started walking at 8.45am. We chose the bitumen road as oppose to the jungle trek. Though I am skilled at jungle navigation (Thanks to National Service + Reservist in a reconnaissance unit) I was not interested to "cheong sua" as the jungle here is as dense as Brunei and not sparse like Lim Chu Kang . Folks, if you are into jungle trekking, do note that there are very few sign board here that give you your map location or direction. GPS positioning does not work as the phone signals are bad, so proceed with caution.
We walked up the shady slope for 15min before we reached a rest area with toilets and an administrative office, the toilets were constructed this year, everything seems spick and span. On the opposite side lies a rest hut, further down flows a river with rapids, the water is clear and cool and there is aquatic life below. If you venture further in,you will see a small waterfall, be carefyl as the surface is very uneven and the rock are slippery, We saw some youths taking a dip in the river. Yes, you are allowed into the water but remember to dress modestly. No bikini, mankini or birthday suit.
While on the Ascend...
The morning sun was at maximum intensity but we only felt the sporadic rays. As with all equatorial rainforest the tree canopy is dense with little sunlight penetration. Further up the mountain we bump into two guy from Singapore observing birds, they were armed to the teeth: cameras; tripods; binoculars; trekking gear and even an audio speaker with sounds of chirping birds. They must be hard core bird watchers.
Around the 50 minute mark, there is a PVC pipe that channels water from the mountain spring. The clear and fridge cold water provides some relief from the humidity that started to increase as it got more and more cloudy. The water is good for cooling your body but I don't recommend that you drink it as you never know if some animal poop or pee upstream.
Hard to Gauge Distance Travelled
It is difficult to guage how far we walk as the distance markers are covered by undergrowth,You need to search either for a yellow rectangle sign mounted on a black and white metal pole or look out for white marking on the road side. The internet connection is unavailable as you go deeper , so you cannot use Google maps and other tracking apps to locate position or measure distance
Do be careful of motorcycles and 4x4 jeeps, there are two telecommunication facility on the mountain guarded by soldiers and the road is also used by them .
Almost at the Top
During the entire journey we encountered stranger greet each other as they pass and everyone seems so friendly. Perhaps the fresh air and morning exercise brightens up their mood.
At the 1 hour mark you will reach a small bridge, and another 4 minutes you will cross a second bridge, these two structures serve as the start point for a steep windy ascend up to 30 degrees for the rest of the journey . Further up is a zebra pattern barrier which is also the 3.1 km mark according to a frequent hiker , a short distance and you will see a long granite barrier with graffiti carving this is the starting of the steepest climb of the entire route. ( Think of the steepest section of Bukit Timah Hill) and the final 700 to 800 meters. The majestic view from the top is block by the vegetation, but there are a few clearings for photo opportunities. We heard thunder and by then the sky was really dark. We quicken our pace but my better half said that her legs were feeling the strain, so we stop at a fork road, one leads to a telecommunications station at the summit while the other to a lower level station.
What a time and place to RAIN
While resting at the fork road, the rain started to pour, to our dismay there is no shelter anywhere and we could not enter the stations as it is a restricted zone. We took shelter under a huge tree for protection from the rain but not the wind and cold. The 25 degree wind battering our wet bodies, it was COLD. We were only a few hundred meters away from the peak, I was determine to accomplish this feat that is incomplete on my bucket list. My better half told me to go ahead while she stay behind and wait for my return, I was half-hearted to leave her along in the middle of no where. So I remain with her till she felt better before we decided to turn back as the rain probably would not not stop anything soon.
Conquering Mount Pulai is till an unaccomplished goal in my bucket list. I was third time unlucky, but we did have a great time and she finally could walk under the rain for hours without complaining or seeking shelter.