Postcard from the Edge of a Fire

After moving to Singapore, one of the big attractions is to leave my tiny, hot and over-priced apartment (although you are welcome to come and stay) and visit the plethora of other, cooler attractions in Asia. My first trip was a 4 day jaunt to Kuala Lumpur to visit some very old friends (both figuratively and literally). I can hear them cursing me for that comment even now I am back in Singapore.

However, KL (as we in the know call it) was not the main point of the trip, it was a staging point to see the fireflies (and other attractions) in Kuala Selangor, a town about 100km north-west of the city. The fireflies are billed as “the 8th Wonder of the World” (by the Kuala Selangor tourist authority) and is supposed to be one of the biggest existing colonies. I was very excited as I had only ever seen a single firefly a long time ago and the chance to see a huge synchronized display really caught my imagination.

After a night in KL, we rented a car after eventually finding the lady behind the counter and then our way out of the city. We drove through miles of lush palm-oil plantations (bye-bye native jungle) reaching Kuala Selangor early evening. The best time to see the display is about 9 p.m. on a moonless night (I had timed the trip for a new moon). As we had some time to kill, we visited a number of local fish restaurants until we found one devoid of drunken locals and sat back for some superb shrimp, scallops and calamari.

Although I had read the best views of the fireflies were along a particular stretch along the banks of the Sungai Selangor River, we settled on convenience taking a boat from the jetty behind our hotel. Our hotel owner (who we subsequently found out owned the jetty) told us that it would be an amazing sight. It was. Amazingly crap. The 18 seater motorboat spat fumes and farted out in to the muddy water only to stop at a small tree with about 5 fireflies flashing in a non-synchronized, random pattern. I was outraged at the dross experience. The guide was trying to be nice, picking a fly out and letting it run over our hands, but it seemed to sense how disappointed we were and quickly flew back in to the tree, choking on diesel fumes en route.

Getting back on the jetty, I quickly fired up the car and set off to the recommended area – I really wanted to see this. We arrived just after 9 pm and here things were looking up. Tiny, stealthy, non-fume-belching row-boats lined up for our custom and slipped silently from jetty towards a massively pulsating bush. This was more like it. The first stop was a filigree elegance of pulsing light. Thousands of tiny spots pulsated causing the most celestial patterns. It just got better with every stop – this was probably not the 8th wonder of the world, but it was pretty spectacular – and cheaper than the crap tour to boot.
I went to bed a happy boy, and joy of joys, watching a firefly blinking away in the corner of my room. Amazingly, It was still blinking in the morning as I came to realization the green flashing was actually the air-con unit.

The rest of the time was spent on the other attractions in Kuala Selangor, the stone temple (concrete) and the unusual combination of the monkey / fish park, with the “every 20 minute-bus”, that didn’t turn up with any regularity. The monkeys were pretty ordinary, just hanging around chilling, but really moved, well scarpered, when I let off a big sneeze. The fish exhibition was homage to the Golden Arowana, which apparently brings luck and money to an owners household this is due to the species’ resemblance to the Chinese dragon, but at about $10,000 each I think it would be more of a drain.

Returning to KL, we had a few hours to experience an indoor rollercoaster and a fantastic evening meal at a hawkers market before retiring sans fireflies. The following morn it was off back to Singapore on a 5 hour bus drive, and back to the flat. I am planning my next trip in June…

Kuala Selangor

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