Nature Escapes

Tasik Chini Freshwater Swamp

"Malaysia's Fragile Wetland Wonder"

Tasik Chini freshwater swamp is one of only two natural lakes in Malaysia. (The other one is Tasik Bera)

Despite the country's great tropical biological diversity, the landscape lacks deep crevices or natural forming pools. That's why the 5,000 hectares of wet wilderness make Tasik Chini a special place, both ecologically and culturally.

A series of twelve inter-connecting water bodies, the lake flourishes with aquatic life and terrestrial animals and plants. Tall clumps of pandanus leaves and foot-high tube sedge grow in green islands throughout the lake.

Rattan, wood, medicinal plants, fruit and wild game are taken from surrounding forests, while the lakes harbour nearly 150 fish species.

Beset by a tranquil environment and beautiful nature scenes, the wetland is home for the Jakun, an indigenous people still dependent on the bounty of these inland waters. Unfortunately, rubber and oil palm plantations and agricultural crops have overtaken much of the jungle areas.

Fluctuating with the seasonal monsoons, Tasik Chini ebbs and flows in size. From November to January, the lake swells to create a fishing haven for anglers. A fantastic location for migratory birds fleeing from northern winters, birding trails traverse different habitats so that both local and visiting bird species are spotted.

Cruising the lake and its narrow forest canopy-covered inlets gives you a sense of its immense territory. Early mornings and late evenings offer photographers opportunities to capture picturesque shots of this liquid landscape. On the surface, lotus flowers bloom into a profusion of white and pink buttons against solid green lily pads.

The open waters, surrounding forests and cultural identity of Tasik Chini combine to give this wetland a mystic quality not found elsewhere.

Wetland Tasik Chini

Tasik Chini Freshwater Swamp: An Ecological Odyssey

Wetlands tend to be sensitive ecosystems. Changes in water flows, water quality and other factors can easily modify natural flora and fauna. As a catchment area for neighboring hills, Tasik Chini depends on feeder streams and backwater flows to maintain proper water levels.

In 1995, Tasik Chini was dealt a near fatal blow in an attempt to increase tourism. A small dam was built at the mouth of Sungai Chini to raise waters levels so that boats, filled with tourists, could navigate the shallow waters of the two-month dry season. As the open waters expanded, there were damaging consequences to trees, fish, wildlife species and the indigenous community.

Thousands of trees rimming the lake died due to inundation. Fish, using the lake to nest and breed, were cut off from the Pahang River. Before the dam, Tasik Chini rose and fell with the seasons, its swollen excess converging in the Sungai Chini to slowly filter out into the large Pahang River to the north.

Wetland Tasik Chini Wetland

Lotus plants carpeted the surface because its seeds easily germinated and roots grew in the soft mud during low waters. Monsoon floods caused the lotus to die off, but not before fertilised seeds sank to the lake bottom. When the dam stopped lake waters from receding, fewer lotus plants grew year after year.

Today, the lake still suffers from pollution, invasive plants and disagreements over proper water levels. In 2000, annual flow patterns returned when the dam was redesigned, plus fish could again migrate. Contaminants from agriculture and lakeside development pollute the lake and drinking wells and use up too much oxygen.

As the lake decays, a waterweed, known as ekor kuching, thrives on the surface to ensnare Lotus seeds and block sunlight for germination.

Tasik Chini deserves to be saved. It not only represents a rare ecosystem with unique attributes on the Malaysian landscape, but it also reminds us of our own folly in dealing with nature. Small changes matter in the web-of-life. And interconnectedness is vital to its simple and complex composition and execution.

The lake is dying but it is not dead. It still has a chance to flourish if the engineers, biologists, boatmen and bureaucrats understand that nature prefers to flow, not to become stagnate.

Tasik Chini Freshwater Swamp: Nature Scenery

Tasik Chini Medicinal Tree Orang Asli Tasik Chini

Tasik Chini, despite its plight is still a nature haven. Any time spent cruising its open waters, walking secondary forest trails or navigating swamp forest waterways eases one into a sense of calm and into a time long passed.

Boat rides lasts a few hours and really showcase the swamp ecosystem. Linger and explore the water plants (sedges, pandanus, lotus flowers) first before heading out to the tree-lined fringes of the shorefront, where high water killed off the spindly Eugenia trees. And get up close as you squeeze through the narrow passageways amid the swamp forests buffering Sungai Chini.

Jungle trekking offers short jaunts or long walks for an entire day. Go out with a local guide or hire a Jakun guide to better understand how local people use forest plants (gaharu, medicinal plants) and trap jungle animals (squirrels, rats).

Spending a day in the forest is a natural education. For centuries, the Jakun passed down knowledge of jungle habitats. Learn how different plants are used to treat ailments, make clothing or poisons, build huts, hold water, cure disease or just spice up food.

Tasik Chini Freshwater Swamp: Wildlife Sightings

Pig-tailed Macaque
  • Banded Langur
  • White-handed Gibbon
  • Long-tailed Macaque
  • Pig-tailed Macaque
  • Crimson-winged Woodpecker
  • Pink-necked Pigeons
  • Lesser-tailed Drongo
  • Orange-bellied Flowerpecker
  • Grey-headed Fish Eagle
  • Blue-eared Kingfisher
  • Orioles & Spiderhunters
  • Bulbuls & Bee-eaters
  • Black Hornbill
  • Giant Flying Squirrel
  • Malayan Soft-shelled Turtle
  • Spiny Terrapin
  • Wild Boar
  • Porcupines
  • Black Cobra
  • Monitor Lizards

  • Tasik Chini Freshwater Swamp: The Legends

    Everywhere you go in Malaysia, there are legends. But its seems that waterfalls and wetlands bring out the storytellers.

    Orang Asli

    Legends and myths permeate Tasik Chini folklore just like the seasonal floods. Where do we start?

    The Legend of the Magical Lake

    Arising from oral traditions and customs of the Jakun ...

    Tribesmen cultivated the land for food crops. The owner, an old woman, found them and scolded them for not asking permission to fell trees and clear the fields. After apologizing, the woman allowed them to continue and marked the boundary with a stick, asking the men to never remove it.

    Black Hornbill

    One day they heard dogs barking and chased them off by throwing sticks. One of the sticks pierced an old log and blood gushed out. Frightened and confused the tribesmen were sure the log was demonic. They returned to the log to find a shallow pool of blood. Suddenly the sky darkened, thunder rumbled, lightening cracked and a monsoon rain fell.

    Scared for their lives they ran away, grabbed their gear and anything else to protect themselves from the spirits. In their haste, one tribesman pulled out the old woman's stick. Water starting blasting out from the hole and did not stop for many years.

    Thus, creating Tasik Chini. The tribesmen did not disturb an old log, they punctured the underbelly of Naga Sri Gumum, the serpent dragon ...

    Storytelling preceded television of course, and like the latter there are may versions (channels) to choose from. Imagine tuning into the same episode of your favorite show each night. Social life centered around the captivating stories of a shaman or elders, so expect variations from the original.

    The Submerged Ancient Khmer City

    Freshwater Swamp

    The tallest hill in Tasik Chini is known as Gunung Chini. According to legend, however, the original Gunung Chini lies at the bottom of the lake ...

    Centuries ago a beautiful city built by the Khmers of Cambodia sat atop Gunung Chini. They reigned over the lake and its nearby lands. Under threat from enemies marching from the South China Sea, the ancient city was flooded to avoid being attacked and ruled by outsiders.

    Now the underwater kingdom remains hidden, along with all its riches ...

    Even today archaeological interest in the lake keeps the mystery alive.

    The Serpent Monster of the Lake

    The spirit of Naga Sri Gumum saturates every story about Tasik Chini and the creatures that lie beneath... Sri Gumum protects the ancient city and may appear as a dragon or crocodile; Sri Gumum left Tasik Chini to fight other dragons at sea, only to lose and turn into Tioman Island.

    Whatever you do or do not believe, Sri Gumum deserves respect as the spirit protector of the lake.

    Today the Jakun community tries to protect the lake and their own livelihood against the consequences of ecological mismanagement of water and lake resources.

    Stopping the natural water outflow not only disrupts fish stocks, cause forest destruction and encourages weed plants, it sucks the spiritual life out of its Jakun stewards and suffocates the Naga Sri Gumum too.

    Tasik Chini Freshwater Swamp: General Information

    What To Bring

    • Good trekking shoes and sandals
    • Torchlight, headlamp and extra batteries

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