The parents support group at my son’s school organises a father-son bonding trip every June. The trips are usually to somewhere in Malaysia, and this year, it was to Kota Tinggi. My elder son went on such a trip with me a few years ago, and we were looking forward to the younger sibling joining us this year.
The theme for this trip was all about “wet”, because there were wet activities on every day of the three days two nights trip. This isn’t the typical kind of family holiday. The kids are supposed to “rough” it out in a sort of adventure camp with lots of outdoor activities. However, with kids ranging from Primary One to Primary Six, the activities aren’t too tough.
(This particular trip was quite easy-going, walk-in-the-park type, compared with previous trips. Last year’s highlight was climbing Mount Ophir, with accommodations in tents.)
The school is all boys, and although it is labelled as a “father-son bonding” trip, some mothers, and indeed whole families with daughters, do join in too.
Day one started with a bus pickup at school. We had to make some adjustments due to a big jam at the causeway, which we originally intended to take to get to Malaysia, and instead went by the Second Link. This still caused some delays in our overall programme, changed our breakfast stop, and we had to skip our shopping for
junk food provisions, in order to make up for lost time. It would still be better than getting caught in the Causeway jam.
Right off the bat, there was a good lesson for the kids. Whatever plans we make, we must also have a Plan B, and be ready to make adjustments as we go.
Our first day was going to be spent at the Kulim Eco-Trail Retreat, located somewhere in Kota Tinggi along the upstream Johor River. This is a nice place, but it is no hotel.
We were originally meant to do some river activities, but due to our late arrival, the tide at the Johor River wasn’t in our favour. Hence, we started with activities on land. That, too, ended up being interrupted by rain, and we broke for lunch.
There were a few outdoor activities that afternoon, including two high-element activities: tree-climbing and leap-of-faith.
The kids were taught a tree climbing method that used a blake’s hitch knot. This climbing method doesn’t harm the tree, and can be performed solo without assistance. Of course, since the kids were inexperienced, they were watched by adults. My more adventurous elder boy made it up all the way to ring the bell at the top. In fact, he hit the bell so hard he brought it down.
In the leap-of-faith, the kids were supposed to jump off a platform to catch a hanging bar, sort of like a trapeze. The problem is that the bar is so far, I think even adults would have trouble reaching it. The challenge, of course, is having the courage to even leap off the platform.
My elder son lept, but he didn’t catch. Brave attempt though.
There was also slacklining and other activities for the kids to do. Or, they could just chase each other around the property. Parents like me look on in amazement at the amount of energy the kids had. They just go on and on and on. Good thing that they could keep themselves occupied, because otherwise waiting in line for the high-elements could be quite boring, as the putting on and taking of safety harnesses took quite some time.
Dinner was at the Firefly Valley Leisure Park, and it was sumptuous. Before that, the kids had a short tour around the show farm in the premises.
After dinner, we went on a boat ride along the river to see fireflies. Google’s Night Sight does an amazing job, but unfortunately, it won’t work on a moving boat with fireflies that won’t stop flying. The best I can do is to show you the boat in the Johor River that was shrouded in almost complete darkness.
We did get to see quite a lot of fireflies. They twinkled like Christmas trees.
Day one ended back at the Kulim Eco-Trail Retreat past 11 pm, way after the bedtime of most kids. They were exhausted, but we still had to make sure everyone bathed before hitting the sheets.
The next day, I woke up to a very beautiful morning view out of my room. This photo is straight out of my Google Pixel 3 XL without any adjustments, apart from 3:2 aspect ratio cropping and downsized for web view.
That is the Johor River in the background.
After breakfast, we went for our river activities, which we missed on day one. There were two things we could do: kayak or stand up paddle, or both.
The stand up paddle is something new to most people. Basically, you stand on a board a little larger than a surf board, and use paddles to move yourself around. It sounds simple, but sometimes just standing up and staying up can be a challenge. Fortunately, this wasn’t too hard with the calm Johor River waters. Falling into the river was just fine for the kids. The boys are, after all, from a school where everyone swims.
My elder boy was quite keen to try. We got another father to go with him (because my younger boy insisted I must stay with him) initially, but in no time he could handle himself independently without any help.
My younger boy, meanwhile, was trying to kayak. He didn’t manage to move the kayak much. He says it’s because I’m too heavy.
Several people, kids included, changed from stand up paddle to kayak or vice versa. Some just wanted to be in the water.
After the river activities, we cleaned up, checked out, stopped over for our
junk food provisions shopping, headed to our next accommodation at Wan Family Kampong Stay, had lunch, and prepared for our waterfall trek.
Instead of going to the Kota Tinngi Waterfalls where most people head to, we went to Pelepah Waterfalls. This would be a very interesting trek, for many reasons.
Right from the get-go, we would already get our feet wet because we had to go under a bridge and cross a river stream. That aside, the first part of the trek is rather easy as we were walking through a plantation.
As we moved on, however, we had to navigate rocky ground. It’s easy for adults, but we had to watch the younger children. We don’t want anyone slipping or twisting their ankles in the middle of nowhere! Fortunately my elder boy could handle himself without any assistance from me.
Rocky ground soon gave way to deeper, rocky, riverbeds. It’s still not too difficult. You get just more wet. We were prepared to get wet. Our guide had told us to get good trekking sandals, which is what most of us did.
It soon gets hard enough that adults also need to be cautious. The rocks were quite slippery, and we need to be careful about our footing.
At some points, we actually had to climb, and we needed ropes to assist us. It’s not that hard for adults, but the younger children would require some support. There are some steep slopes up, and there are some slopes down as well. This is comparatively easy relative to our Gunung Lambak trip previously.
We eventually got to the second pool of the waterfall. Our guide doesn’t recommend going beyond due to the difficulty for the younger children. We stopped here, and some folks jumped into the pool to swim and frolic around. Others had a snack feast. We couldn’t stay long though, as bad weather was approaching.
The trek back was made far more challenging because of the heavy downpour that erupted over us. They had to brave the heavy rain for about 45 minutes or so to get back to the road. Our kids are so sheltered back home, the most wet they get is like just from dashing across a road, that this is totally breaking new ground for them.
The rain didn’t really bother me. We were already wet from the river. Some were swimming earlier, so the rain didn’t make them wetter. However, some of the younger children were quite bothered, especially with the thunder roaring above us. There was also the problem of leeches. Oh yes, I think a dozen of us got bit by leeches, myself included. Some of the kids were cold too. One of the fathers had to carry his boy.
The trek back, braving the rain, the cold, the leeches, and also a wrong turn, is perhaps an experience the kids will remember for some time.
We returned to Wan Family Kampong Stay, quickly cleaned up, and got ourselves warm and comfortable. Wan Family Kampong Stay is also a real home, though the owners now only stay on the properly when they have guests. Some of our group had rooms in the main bungalow building, while others, like me, were put up in chalet units close by.
It was free and easy that evening. The kids found numerous ways to entertain themselves. We had a good BBQ dinner that night. Some kids went to bed early. Others stayed up as late as the adults.
The next morning, after breakfast, the kids were brought on a tour around the property. The owner grew many fruit trees, including durians. There were also a variety of farm animals. I didn’t join the tour, as I had lots of packing and wet clothes to deal with, but I did roam around the properly at day break, before most people were up.
The highlight of day three was the Desaru Coast Adventure Waterpark. We were to get about four hours or so in the park. We couldn’t spend the whole day because we didn’t want to get caught in any jam heading back to Singapore.
Desaru Coast Adventure Waterpark is not unlike, say, our RWS Adventure Cove. They also have a Hard Rock Hotel, with an artificial beach, but theirs is integrated with the park itself. There were practically no queues for anything (lull period, apparently, being a weekday in the Hari Raya week).
Sadly, a heavy downpour led to the closure of many park attractions, though not before we had some fun. We ended up spending the rest of our time on an extended lunch, and musing over plans on getting to our rendezvous point clean and dry.
The rain, in a strange way, was also a blessing, because since there wasn’t much left to do in the waterpark, everyone was at our rendezvous point on time. Then, despite taking a slightly longer rest break on the way back to Singapore, we got across the second link and arrived back in school a little ahead of schedule. Home sweet home.
This has been a very enriching learning journey for everyone. This isn’t something that I or most parents would have planned on our own, so we have to thank the parents support group, the school, our guide, and also the parents for making the trip possible.
The kids had a great time interacting with many new friends. The high-element activities were probably the first for many boys, and similarly, the river trekking to Pelepah Waterfalls was likely a new experience for most of them too. The rain on all three days, particular severe on two days, wasn’t a letdown to me. Instead, I think it added a valuable lesson: challenge adversity (trekking back from Pelepah Waterfalls in heavy downpour), and dealing with disappointment (missing out fun at Desaru Coast Adventure Park).
Although I had two boys with me, it wasn’t too difficult to handle them. They lasted three days without asking for a smartphone or tablet to play. I think I had limited success in getting the elder boy to step up to take care of his younger sibling, but it was a good try.
We’re looking forward to another such trip!
PS: All photos in this post were taking with a Google Pixel 3 XL, cropped to 3:2 aspect ratio, faces blurred out where needed, and downsized for web view. Some photos were also “auto enhanced” in Google Photos. The Google Pixel 3 XL has become my favourite travel camera not just because of its great photo capabilities, but also because with IP68 rating, I needn’t worry about taking it into the rain, pool, and rivers.