Tracing Selangor's Forgotten Railroad

Cyclists living in the Klang Valley know it’s not easy to get a nice training route to work on their cadence and pacing. Sure there are some highways where the road cyclists like to put in their mileage, but let’s be honest, there’s really nothing much to see along these stretches.

With this in mind, I’m always on the hunt for off the beaten path rides that win equal points both in terms of scenic views and good quality roads for training.

Selangor’s rural countryside is playground for many outdoor enthusiasts and not just cyclists, thanks to an abundance of greenery, a rich heritage, and the fact that it is in fairly close proximity to the city. The key to finding hidden gems in the state that is an extremely underrated tourist destination, is to find a good guide with knowledge of the local history as well as the best routes and food stops.

Our mastermind for the day was none other than Radzi Jamaludin from the Malaysian Heritage and History Club, who previously took us on a shorter ride through Pulau Carey. Easygoing and equipped with a wicked sense of humour, he is definitely one of our favourite ride buddies out of the Cycling Plus Malaysia regular circle.

For the day, he’d planned a route of the old railroad from Klang to Kuala Selangor, which ran for 50km. “99% flat,” grins Radzi, with the customary twinkle in his eye.

We set off bright and early from in front of Restoran New Harvest in Klang, where there is plenty of parking, a small Chinese kopitiam that opens early if you need a bite beforehand, and a mamak down the street for a cool down drink after the ride.

The location is also right at the edge of the city, meaning you don’t need to cross the busy areas of Klang at any stage of the ride. From our starting point, we headed northwest along an inner road called Jalan Keretapi Lama, the first sign of the route’s historical value. The road runs roughly parallel to Jalan Kapar or Route 5, but with significantly less traffic.

We crossed through kampung territory for 10 kilometres until we reached our first checkpoint, the remnants of a railway bridge at Sungai Puloh Batu 5. If you do a bit of cybersleuthing online, you’ll find pictures that show the wheels on the post of the bridge are essentially the watergate to control the water level in the river that come in from the sea.

The other portion of the bridge is hidden under a big tree. You can see how much the ground level has changed when referring to old, grainy, black and white photos from the collection of George Dearie Russell, who was an assistant, engineer and later Managing Director of the Federated Engineering Company in Malaya in the early 1900s. The company was the first to bring cars into Malaya, and to build the first road bridge over the Klang River.

I was somewhat disappointed to find that the tracks are nowhere to be seen and there are no signs that they were once there, save the signs marking Jalan Keretapi Lama. Unfortunately, the tracks were removed in the 1930s once the railroad was not needed after coal shipments ceased.

This means that for most of the sites, anyone walking past could miss them completely if not told about their historical value. After the customary documentation snapshots, we continued on for another 15 kilometres to our first major pitstop of the day, the small town of Kapar.

While the town itself is nothing to shout about and has no real attractions besides small businesses and a wet market, it provided a good place for our group of five to grab a bite. Our choice of watering hole was Restoran HM, which had a great spread of scrumptious Malay dishes.

Rice and the accompanying side dishes are prepared early, so you can have a decent power up even before hitting the brunch hours. It’s a wise idea too, because the return trip from Klang to Kuala Selangor would be slightly over 100km.

Before long we were on our way once again, pushing further past Kapar to Jeram, specifically Kampung Simpang Tiga. Having grown up there himself, our guide Radzi had some heritage spots that he wanted to show us.

After zigzagging through the small roads we reached a school, which Radzi proudly declared was where he and his mother both had their primary education. Right in front, were big blocks of red clay bricks sandwiched together with cement, but strewn haphazardly on what appeared to be an empty lot.

These were the remnants of a dismantled train station from the days of the railroad, lying there forgotten, but accessible to those who know what they are. Doing a rough mental calculation, I realised then that the blocks were indeed a century old, since most of the Kapar to Kuala Selangor line was built in stages in 1913 and 1914. It was somewhat mind boggling, considering these sites have been around for more than a hundred years.

Continuing further on we took a small bridge crossing over Sungai Buloh to avoid the large main road crossing. We were heading to Assam Jawa, where we rode through a fair bit of plantation land, mostly oil palm of various years of growth.

At one point Radzi stopped and led us off course through a short diversion somewhere in Kampung Api-Api, a path of packed red earth and gravel nearby a small Hindu temple. There, we found the remains of yet another bridge, its metal weathered and brown-red from rust. This was what was left of the Pasir Tuntung Bridge that goes over a small stream or ditch, it was hard to tell which.

From then on, it was roughly 9kms left on the main road to Kuala Selangor, which was busy yet fairly safe for us cyclists. We arrived at Bukit Malawati, climbing up the short and winding road to the top, where a fortress was built in the late 18th century to defend Selangor from attacks.

The fortress was destroyed during the Selangor Civil War, but a majestic lighthouse that was built in the year 1907 is still standing. There are also foundation stones, cannons, a poisoned well and colonial houses there. A nice reward was getting to enjoy the panoramic views of Sungai Selangor flowing into the Melaka Straits.

Up there you can also see the perfect example of the urbanisation of wildlife, where silver leaf monkeys and long tail macaques will take food from tourists and even pose for a photo or two. It’s a pleasant ride up, since there are 200-year-old angsana trees that provide shade.

For those without bicycles or strong legs, there’s a colourful open air tram that can take you up for a small fee. Take note that the tram only operates on weekends, although private cars are allowed up on weekdays.

After coming back down we ate a relaxed lunch at Auntie Kopitiam, which alongside the much more hipster Auntie Foo’s Cafe both boast a long culinary tradition that dates back to the 1930s. Auntie Kopitiam may not have wifi and the modern amenities its sister cafe has, but it still had the old world kopitiam feel, and the Hainanese chicken chop was a favourite of Radzi’s.

Soon it was time to push off again, since we still had to cover 50km back to our starting point. We set off for Pantai Remis some 20km away, despite lunch and drinks sloshing around in our full bellies.

At Pantai Remis the water was muddy and murky, in addition to it being low tide. However, Radzi tells us that you can find clear waters if you make a visit to the small islands that can be seen from the shoreline.

There is a food court there but we opted for a quieter part of the beach to enjoy a dessert of Milo shaved ice topped with chocolate syrup and sprinkles, with crushed peanuts hidden within the layers. It was a nice spot to sit and take advantage of the sea breeze, but we had to keep moving considering we still had 30km to go.

We started the ride that morning in overcast conditions and a sprinkling of rain to cool us off, but the sun had started to peek through the clouds after about 10km from the beach. We were forced to pick up the pace once the tentative rays of the sun gathered strength, and soon enough reached our parked cars, tired but satisfied that we’d thoroughly enjoyed our gran fondo for the weekend.