Travel Diary (Part 6) – Sukasuka Lake Retreat, Perak

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I grew up in a developing country; unlike western travellers, I know first hand what it’s like to live with the locals – I used to be one. There’s no novelty in roughing it when I travel; I want my creature comforts and I shamelessly seek out 5-star hotels.

Town outside Sukasuka Lake Retreat.

Town outside Sukasuka Lake Retreat.

This is something that’s always baffled my sister Chooi, who prefers to save her money on travel activities. She reasons that your hotel room is really only where you hit the sack when you get back at night so there’s no point in forking out a small fortune for it. I in turn cringe at some of her past accommodation choices – cheap motel rooms in red light districts for instance. Give me the Shangri-La and the Grand Hyatt any day, I always tell her.

Path to Sukasuka Lake Retreat

Path to Sukasuka Lake Retreat

This was my mindset when I was first presented with the opportunity to go on this tour. I imagined I’d tolerate the basic amenities in exchange for some interesting off-the-beaten-path insights.

Entrance to Sukasuka with Pak Aziz

Entrance to Sukasuka with Pak Aziz

I’ve mentioned elsewhere I actually spent most of my childhood in a kampung baru (lit. new village) – we had a chicken coop and ducks and geese and papaya and mango trees in the backyard (we also had monkeys for pets, but that’s another story). The operative word though, is “baru” ie. “new” – a kampung baru (like the one in KL that I just came away from) is not nearly as rustic as the old rural villages you see in Lat comic books and black-and-white Malay warrior movies. Sukasuka on the other hand, is.

Baby Noah outside the main house at Sukasuka Lake Retreat.

Baby Noah outside the main house at Sukasuka Lake Retreat.

We arrive in the afternoon and are warmly greeted by our hosts, Pak Aziz and Mak Asiah. There’s an immediate sense of tranquility in our surroundings; I’m told later that a significant number of returning visitors to this place are city dwellers who just want to get away and de-stress for a few days a year.

There are only about 5 huts in this retreat, and what’s very unique about them apart from the fact that they’re all different, is that they are original kampung huts that Pak Aziz has sought out and bought from different parts of Malaysia and has had them dismantled, transported and reassembled here. These are not glossy recreations of kampung dwellings; they’re the real deal and used to house real kampung folk.

Shaukani points out that to the trained eye, the difference is obvious – the intricate workmanship and the quality of materials used are things that can’t be replicated.

My accommodation at Sukasuka.

My accommodation at Sukasuka.

Our host Pak Aziz jokes that the only thing he forgot to bring along are the toilets – one of the few concessions he’s made is that these huts are equipped with modern bathroom amenities – something I’d imagine not too many people would complain about.

Vista from my bedroom at Sukasuka.

Vista from my bedroom at Sukasuka.

The huts are not likely something you’d find in Vogue Entertaining; even their names (yes, they each have a name) are unglamorous – mine, translated, means “drain”. Speaking of which, there has been a push towards promoting the concept of “homestay” vacations in in Malaysia in recent times. What that involves is for you to stay in a villager’s home and be integrated into their family.

 This is different – this is kampung (village) stay, where you have your own free-standing accommodation – my hut has 2 bedrooms, a living room, a porch and a bathroom – but there’s a “main house” in this retreat, where communal activities like mealtimes take place. To me, it was the perfect balance between personal privacy and engagement of the kampung lifestyle.

With Mak Asiah and Pak Aziz.

With Mak Asiah and Pak Aziz.

We gather in the main house for refreshments and conversation. Like Shaukani, Pak Aziz belongs to the generation of Malaysians who went to school back in the days when English was the medium of instruction; that along with his easy manner and treasure trove of stories and before you know it you’ve spent all evening chatting with him.

 I learn that Pak Aziz in fact used to be a high-flying IT executive and has travelled the world as part of his work. Mak Asiah similarly was in IT administration before they decided to give it all up and move – initially to the island in the middle of the lake across from which Sukasuka is located.

Pak Aziz

Pak Aziz

Most of you would know that I too, used to be an IT consultant; back in my day my IT colleagues almost to a person had dreams about one day giving it all up and running their own B&B or cafe or shiatsu massage place etc.

I was the only one within my circle who did take the plunge; now I’ve finally met a couple who not only did so, but made an even more radical seachange through what Pak Aziz himself describes to have been a Robinson Crusoe existence. It’s one thing to quit your career and move out of KL, it’s another to move to an uninhabited island with no electricity in the middle of a lake in a rural village.

Over the last 11 years or so, they have gradually built on this initial foundation, ultimately setting up the retreat on the mainland facing the lake.

One of many delicious meals I ate at Sukasuka.

One of many delicious kampung meals I ate at Sukasuka.

Mak Asiah takes care of the meals – the fish they cook are often  caught from the lake – and often by their young but very well-spoken son Azam.

Baby Noah instantly takes not only to the setting, but also to the food – I’ve never seen him with such an enormous appetite before or since our two days at Sukasuka.

Noah loves Sukasuka.

Noah loves Sukasuka.

The pictures and video clips I’ve captured of Noah during our stay speak volumes – chilling out in the hammock by the lake, happily sitting on the steps at the entrance of my kampung house, and lazing around on the floor mat in the main house – they remind me of scenes from my favourite childhood comic Lat’s most famous book – Kampung Boy.

Lat's Kampung Boy

Lat’s Kampung Boy

I find out that Lat coincidentally is from Perak and still lives there.  Also, on at least one occasion an overseas guest has booked a stay there after being inspired by the idyllic kampung life portrayed in Lat’s work.

(continues…)

Tour guide – Mr. Shaukani Abbas (two-time winner of Tourism Malaysia’s Tour Guide of the Year Award) Some photos in this series are courtesy of Mr. Shaukani.

Tour Designer – S. Diana Nasution

Tour Company – People Express Travel, KL

Tour Package – 6D/5N Culture, Heritage and Nature Delight

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