Dabong: Eco-tourism treasure of Kelantan


The Gunung Stong viewpoint, where one can admire the breathtaking sight of the Jelawang Waterfall.

This is the fourth article of a six-part series on Tourism Malaysia Sarawak’s ‘Berambeh Ke Lembah Klang & Pantai Timur’ programme, running from Sept 9 to 14, 2023.

WITH the sun casting its golden rays over Kuala Lipis on the crisp morning of Sep 12, my heart swelled with excitement for the adventure ahead.

This was the fourth leg of Tourism Malaysia Sarawak’s ‘Berambeh Ke Lembah Klang & Pantai Timur’ programme, heading to the next destination – Dabong in Kelantan.

After checking out early from Star Well Hotel, we began our journey to Dabong via train from Kuala Lipis, which was exciting as it provided us with a visual feast of Kelantan’s picturesque landscapes.

The ‘Train to Dabong’ experience stands as one of the main draws for foreign tourists visiting Kelantan. This ride offers travellers the chance immerse themselves in the natural beauty of Dabong, a town in the Kuala Krai District that is now an emerging tourist attraction in Kelantan.

We arrived at Dabong Railway Station at around 9.30am, where we received a very special welcome from the representatives of Dabong District Council – complete with cultural performances.

Participants taking a short hike to reach limestone cave complex at the geopark.

‘Wondrous caves’

After that, the programme really kicked off with a trip to Gua Ikan, nestled within the Stong Geopark – specifically the Bukit Batu Kapur geosite.

We all had a light breakfast, followed by storing our luggage at Dabong Resthouse and then, making our way to the limestone cave complex.

Some of the participants posing in front of a stalactite structure resembling a ‘keris’ in Gua Keris.

First to steal our attention was Gua Keris, due to the presence of a stalactite resembling a ‘keris’ (the double-edged asymmetrical dagger used as weapon in civilisations across the Malay Archipelago); hence, the name of that cave.

However, it was a grand prelude to the real hidden gem of Gua Keris, the ‘God’s Light’ – a phenomenon manifested from the sunlight streaming in through an orifice on the roof of the cave.

The writer gets to witness the ‘God’s Light’ in Gua Keris.

The guides informed us that the best time to witness this awe-inspiring spectacle would be between 10.30am and 11am, on a clear sunny day.

The key was timing, and despite almost missing it, we were fortunate to be able to capture the ethereal sight on camera.

We ventured deeper into the cave complex, and reached Gua Gelap (Dark Cave). Here, we were presented with two options to get out: taking a shortcut route, or crawling through a vein that was amusingly, but aptly, called the ‘Second Birth Hole’.

Writer (front, second right) and his team-mates in a photo, taken after having emerged out the ‘Second Birth Hole’.

Challenging myself, I chose the latter and emerged outside with a triumphant sense of accomplishment.

Our exploration continued with Gua Ikan (Fish Cave), situated just across the road.

Photo shows the entry to Gua Ikan.

There was a stream flowing inside this cave, but most likely the name derived from limestone hill housing this cave as well as many stone structures inside it – all bearing uncanny resemblance to a fish.

We spent several hours manoeuvring our way along the nooks and crannies inside, marvelling at the exquisite ancient stalactites and stalagmites within, and the lush greenery outside.

A stone shaped like a fish inside Gua Ikan.

The grand finale of our cave exploration was Gunung Stong Viewpoint, where we got to witness the majestic 305m high Jelawang Waterfall at the Gunung Stong State Park, among the highest in Southeast Asia.

Gua Ikan has a stream flowing inside it.

‘Natural wonders, interesting culture’

Upon returning to Dabong District Council, we were briefed on the significance of Stong Geopark, which further deepened our appreciation for Kelantan and its natural wonders.

I felt that the day’s adventure was not just about exploration, as in between the trips, we got the chance to experience the Kelantanese culture and of course, the cuisines.

With the late afternoon shifting to early evening, we bid farewell to Dabong and embarked on the next leg of our train journey to Wakaf Bharu.

The participants gather for a group photo during the stop at Gunung Stong Viewpoint.

We reached Wakaf Bharu Railway Station around 7.30pm, and upon alighting from the train, we made our way to the Grand Renai Hotel.

This hospitality property sits on the heart of Kota Bharu’s major commercial and shopping district, located just 9.6km from the Sultan Ismail Petra Airport.

Day 4 concluded with a grand dinner at the hotel, where we were joined by representatives of the Kelantan Tourism Information Centre.

The participants joining the representatives of Dabong District Council in a group photo, taken after the briefing on Stong Geopark.

As I mentioned earlier, we got to savour the tastes of Kelantan during this trip and this dinner near-perfectly manifested that experience.

Resting in my room that night, I reflected on the incredible journey that we had set out on.

From the depths of caves in Dabong to the panoramic view from atop Gunung Stong, I felt that Kelantan was ‘unveiling her hidden treasures’ to us.

• The fifth article, to be out next Monday, will be about the activities carried out on Day 5 of this familiarisation programme.