- Elevation: 1,825 m (5,988 ft)
- Prominence: 623 m
- Ribu category: Spesial
- Province: Peninsular Malaysia
- Malaysian state: on the border of Selangor and Pahang
- Range: Banjaran Titiwangsa / Main Range
- Google Earth kml
- Other names: Sometimes spelt ‘Semangkuk’ or ‘Semangko’.
Despite Semangkok’s relatively modest elevation, and the relatively high starting point (approximately 1,312m), this is one of Peninsular Malaysia’s most challenging trails. Meaning ‘a bowl’ in Malay, the name amusingly sounds like ‘valley of death’ in Chinese, and indeed does feel like descending into a bowl or valley from one side of a bowl and emerging, exhausted, at the other higher side of the bowl before heading all the way back again.
The trail is around 32km return and starts at Pine Tree Trail on the edge of the old British colonial era hill station of Fraser’s Hill (Bukit Fraser). This is a fascinating spot, especially for British tourists who will feel like they have walked onto a film set of a movie depicting English village life a century ago. It’s a popular area with birdwatchers and even if you don’t do the Semangkok hike this is a unique spot that rewards those patient enough to deal with the narrow, winding one-way road that leads up there from Simpang Gap (and down again via a different one-way route).
Fraser’s Hill was named after Scotsman Louis James Fraser who established a tin mining community in 1890 initially known as Pamah Lebar. The mining didn’t last long and Fraser returned to the UK in 1910 before dying whilst travelling in Europe in 1916. However, in 1919 work began to turn the area into a resort due to its cool climate and it opened to visitors three years later. In the early 21st century, the population of Bukit Fraser is around 1000, and is informally known as ‘Little England’. The place relies heavily on tourism and there are 3 or 4 hotels, several restaurants and a couple of apartment complexes.
There are several trails in and around Fraser’s Hill, of which Semangkok from Pine Tree Trail is undoubtedly the toughest. Unfortunately, in 2023 local forestry have been putting up ‘keep out’ signboards which leads to confusion for many tourists who have also seen the tourism signs in the area promoting the very same trails. It’s a similar story in Cameron Highlands, and the best advice is to make sure you have an official guide with you who knows the latest administrative procedures.
The summit does not offer any views so the best places for panoramic photos are actually at Pine Tree Peak and Twin Peak. Some folk try do indeed to do this as a ‘dayhike’ in 18-20 hours, but it is much more sensible to camp at Sungai Merah. A typical itinerary involves starting before dawn at around 2am or 3am, reaching Pine Tree Peak and Twin Peak for photos at first light, continuing all the way to the peak before descending again to Sungai Merah. On the second day, hike out from Sungai Merah returning the same way – or alternatively descending to Jeriau. Given it takes 8 to 10 hours one-way, the first day is very arduous and tiring. There is a lot of up and down so the return leg normally takes almost the same amount of time as the ‘ascent’. And for those not keen on bagging Semangkok peak, a more leisurely hike to Pine Tree Peak and Twin Peak is a great option for a less strenuous dayhike though you still need a guide.
Just before the end of road about 1 kilometre beyond the Fraser’s Hill food court area, the trail leads from the obvious Pine Tree Trail entrance via a memorable staircase (1,243m) that is utterly exhausting on the way back out, a tree that you can shelter beneath known as Gua Akar (1,269m), Pine Tree camp (1,220m), and then some very steep ropes and ladders (1,410m) up onto Pine Tree Peak (1,455m with a promience of approximately 356 metres). This is a good spot for sunrise but if you set off at 2am you may be a bit early for it. A better view in general is to be found at Twin Peak, about another 40 minutes onward and roughly 4 hours in total from the trailhead.
Shortly after Pine Tree Peak, you may notice on your right the Jeriau trail junction (1,406m) which leads down to Jeriau waterfall (985m) via Hulu Sempam junction (1,235m). The waterfall is currently closed but it is possible to descend to on the way out if you have someone willing to pick you up there or are keen on hiking back up to the centre of Bukit Fraser afterwards. Beyond this you will reach a pleasant opening which is Twin Peak (1,435m). This is the best place on the entire trail to admire the view, including of Semangkok itself. There is also a good phone signal here. One of the many Selangor-Pahang boundary markers on the trail is located here.
The trail then drops down into the bowl, several hundred metres down via Pacak Tepus (1,192m) and a wildlife camera (1,140m) to Kem Sungai Merah (Red River Camp) at around 1,180m. This is the place to leave your camping stuff set up and have a quick snack and wash before bagging the peak on Day 1.
The trail leads up again via a very mossy boundary marker (1,362m), Kem Helipad (approx 1,670m), another wildlife camera (1,700m), the flag peak and army pillar (1,824m) just a few metres before the true peak which is a tree with some summit signs on it in the middle of the mossy forest landscape. After admiring the summit vegetation, you need to descend the same way to Sungai Merah camping area, hopefully arriving before dark for a good, long rest before heaing back out on the challenging second day.
And for those keen on something extra challenging, this hike can actually be combined with Gunung Liang on a multi-day expedition known as Semaliang. This is a major expedition which is rarely undertaken and usually overgrown so finding a suitable and willing guide is not easy.
Once well-rested, if you are keen to do more in the region, see also Ulu or Hulu Semangkok, to the south of Bukit Fraser, which makes a great half-day hike. At 1,394 metres this peak has a prominence of approximately 535 metres , good views, and a yellow beirut at the top. It is commonly hiked via Gunung Gap (1,183m) so you get two peaks from the price of one. The trail leads from the Gap trailhead next to some old wooden parking sheds on the main road (863m) via Gunung Gap (1,183m), a point known as halfway (1,242m), Ulu Tranum view (1,329m), an undistinguished peak with very little prominence known as Ulu Tranum (1,332m), Ulu Semangkok viewpoint (1,392m) and then the summit (1,394m). Gunung Gap has a cement trig pillar and some views but the Ulu Semangkok summit views are even better. It’s a nice trail, straightforward and with a few bits of rope for the more challenging sections but mostly can be considered a trail that is suitable for beginners. There are Selangor-Pahang state boundary markers here too but not cement posts as on Semangkok.
Bagging information by Dan Quinn (August 2023)
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- Getting there: The trail starts in Fraser’s Hill which is about 2 hours from KL. Public transport is almost impossible here so hiring a car is by far the best option.
- Guides and GPS Tracks: Want a PDF version for your phone? Looking for a guide? Need GPS tracks and waypoints? Gunung Semangkok information pack can be downloaded here.
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- Permits: You can register and pay for an e-Permit online from the Forestry Department of Malaysia website though you will need an official guide with you.
- Water sources: Available at a difficult to spot location around 1,240m between Gua Akar and Pine Tree Peak and – much better – at the lovely river at Kem Sungai Merah (1,180m).
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