Gunung Raya Forest Reserve spans across a large area of over 5000 hectares. This rainforest spreads over the mountain Gunung Raya which is the highest peak in Langkawi with an altitude of 881 meters. It’s located in central Langkawi with the Lubok Semilang Recreational Park at its foothill.
The rainforest is full of amazing flora & fauna including many amazing animal and bird life. There are over four hundred species of trees & plants, and over 230 species of birds recorded in the forests of Langkawi. As you hike the trails of Gunung Raya, you will be able to experience a large sample of these. The mountain was formed some 230 million years back deep under the earth and then gradually had risen above the surface due to plate tectonic movement of the earth. The peak of Gunung Raya essentially constitutes of granite formations.
Gunung Raya trek is considered a soft trek along a paved road with gentle gradient and most who are reasonably fit should be able to complete this trek easily. There are several types of treks or packages offered by the operators depending on what and how you like to experience the nature here. I shall talk about the best operators later in the section. First about the treks & hikes in Gunung Raya Rainforest:
Morning trek/walk by road
The most common is the soft trek that starts from the peak of Gunung Raya. This is a light trek down a scenic winding road of 13kms which finally brings you down to the foothill at Lubok Semilang Park. The gradient is easy. It takes about 4 hours to complete this trek along paved road. The trail passes through the rainforest.
The trek usually starts early in the morning. The tour operator will bring you up to the summit by car. After having seen the sunrise from the peak of Gunung Raya, you slowly start the downward walk. The early morning walk allows you to see many wildlife on the way.
The Gunung Raya Reserve Forest is home to creatures like the dusky leaf monkeys, macaque monkeys, giant squirrels, Eurasian wild pigs etc that you can see during the day time. The forest is also home to a large number of birds like the Great Hornbills which can be up to 1.3 meters long from beak to tail end, mountain hawk & white belly sea eagles, wreathed hornbills, orange breasted trogons and lot more. You can spot many different butterflies as well.
If you are very fit and used to regular trekking, then you can also walk uphill from the base to the summit. The tour operator can also organize an uphill walk if you so want.
There are lighter 1 – 1.5 hour private guided walks also offered by some operators to explore the rainforest in the morning. The morning walk focuses more on information about the trees, plants, animals, birds and other creatures that can be seen during the day time. The trip can start early in the morning just after sunrise or during the middle of the day.
Morning trek by the stairs
There is a stairway which goes from the foothill up to a point near the peak of Gunung Raya. There are 4,287 steps. The distance along the staircase from foothill to the top is 3.1kms. If you are fit, then you can climb the steps from the base to the peak. It takes about 2 and half hours to climb at an easy pace. But the forest is all yours and you can take all your time for the climb if you are on your own.
Although it is possible to take this route on your own, but in order to spot and understand the various flora and fauna of the rainforest you should take an experienced guide. The tour operators provide such guides as well.
If you want to climb up on your own, then come to the Lubok Semilung Recreational Park at the foothill. You can come by a taxi, otherwise park your rental car or bike at the car parking space near the entrance of the park. Then walk for about 10 minutes to reach up to the stairway. You will find a large blue board at the start of the staircase saying ‘Tangga Helang Seribu Kenangana’ meaning ‘Steps of thousand memories’. There is a similar board at the top end of the staircase as well. If you do not find the way to the staircase, ask a local.
The easier way to complete this route is to take a taxi to the peak of Gunung Raya and then walk down the stairway. You can also ask a tour operator to arrange for this trek. The staircase passes through dense rainforest and you will see many wildlife, birds as in the previous trek and other small creatures like colorful butterflies, caterpillars etc. As you go through the forest, blend yourself with the nature and listen as you walk, you will hear so many sounds of the nature like the tweets of the babblers. And it’s a great cool feel as you walk under the canopy of some very old and gigantic trees. Indeed it’s a journey through the steps of thousand memories.
However note that in some places the staircase is not well maintained. During the rainy season it can become quite tricky to negotiate the stairs that often get covered with weeds and can be quite slippery at places. I would always advise to take this trek during the dry season (November to March). You will however find lots of dead leaves on the stairs during the dry season, but that won’t cause any problem.
Note that there are hardly any amenities at the top. So carry your water and food in a small backpack. There is a resort there and you can dine in their restaurant. You can pay RM10 to access the view tower of the resort and get a great view from the top.
See Visiting Gunung Raya Peak to know about all the facilities at the summit.
Exploring Gunung Raya rainforest after dark
As the dusk sets in, the nocturnal animals begin to make their moves and the forest starts offering a very different dimension of animal life. The guide will bring you to the summit by car before the sun sets. From the peak of Gunung Raya, you will first soak in the panoramic view of Langkawi, the Andaman Sea, mainland Thailand and Malaysia. And then you will watch the beautiful sunset from the peak – an amazing sight.
As the dusk sets in and it starts getting dark, the journey through the rainforest begins. You will walk down the winding road to the foothill of the mountain and through the rainforest. The distance to the base is 13kms and the entire guided walk lasts for about 4 hours. You are likely to spot flying squirrels (red giant or pigmy), flying foxes and the bizarre flying lemurs (colugo) that glide from one tree to the other.
There are also lighter guided evening walks offered by some operators that lasts for about 1.5 hours to explore the rainforests after dark.
Best time for the nature treks
While it is possible to take the guided nature tours/treks in any season, the best time is during the dry season (November to March). The weather remains fine & dry with gentle breeze flowing from the North East. The average temperature hovers around 32 degree Celsius. The wet season is between June to October when you can expect rains. There can also be lightning and thunders. The annual rainfall in Langkawi is quite heavy (about 100 inches).
So during the monsoon time there can be very heavy showers but usually in short spurts. The breeze flows from South West. During the wet season it often remains cloudy so you won’t get much views. The rainforest also gets quite wet and slippery at places.
All through the year, the humidity level in Langkawi remains quite high (about 80%). I would recommend that you wear a comfortable cotton T-Shirt, a hat, shorts and sports shoes when you take the treks. Carry some drinking water and a camera.
The top operators and how to book the treks/walks
The above treks and walks require knowledgeable and experienced guide. If you are a foreigner then you would need a guide who understands and speaks English. While there are several operators in the island who offer these treks, I would only recommend JungleWalla and Dev’s Adventures Tours as the best two for these nature trips. They specialize in Nature Tours with experienced guides & proper amenities. Check out Top Nature Tour Operators to get detailed information about their offerings and also contacts for further inquiry and bookings.
Map location of Gunung Raya