Nodding off to the sounds of water burbling a stone’s throw from your bedroom door happens naturally at the Serendah River Retreat (SRR) in Selangor, where nature bids guests welcome at every turn.
At the heart of this five-acre enclave in Serendah sits the Brickhouse, a charming three-storey building surrounded by towering trees and lush forest vegetation. The terap — a species commonly found in the jungle — thrives indoors too. A number of these trees grow adjacent to the perimeter walls, like trusted sentries. One sturdy trunk stretches straight up from the ground to the top floor, which houses the multipurpose hall, through the ceiling and over the roof.
A footpath on the ground floor, which serves as the dining area, leads to the Sungai Selaru, whose clear, cool waters flow directly from the Serendah Forest Reserve. Hike up a jungle track for 30 minutes from the Brickhouse and a refreshing surprise awaits — a private waterfall where water cascades into a pool deep and large enough to splash and swim in.
According to SRR owners K H Saw and his wife Juliet Chew, the Brickhouse was carefully planned to keep the natural environment intact. “We feel closer to nature this way. We had always wanted to design and construct around the existing forest vegetation,” he says. No big trees were removed in the two years it took to build the structure. Bricks and concrete were used without any plastering or painting so as to blend with the surroundings.
The couple are experienced Airbnb hosts. This is their second property after Templer Park Rainforest Retreat (TPRR), set up several years ago. They met while in government service, then left to join the manufacturing sector. Upon retiring from that, they packed up and moved from Kuala Lumpur to the suburbs of Rawang. “We found the environment so peaceful — with mountains, forest, greenery and lakes — and felt we should share this kind of living with others,” says Saw, who studied agriculture at Universiti Pertanian Malaysia.
A few years ago, he began exploring nearby locations and found a piece of land in Serendah that had a forest and fruit plantation on it, with a river running along its boundary. “The pristine water reminded me of my hiking trips while growing up in a small town in Perak, where nature was untouched. The moment I saw it, I started thinking of the ingredients for a place where people could relax and enjoy themselves. The opening of the Rawang Bypass in 2017 also made Serendah more accessible. The idea of the Brickhouse was born then.”
SRR is a 40-minute drive from KL if you use the toll-free Rawang Bypass. The 9km highway bypasses the congested Rawang town and takes motorists along a 2.7km elevated bridge that cuts through the Selangor Heritage Park, where stunning merawan kanching or giam kanching grows. With an elevation of 58.2m, the bypass is almost level with the treetops of this rare species.
Positive feedback from guests at TPRR and the pleasure the couple got from meeting people from all over the world inspired them to build the Brickhouse, accessed via a bridge made of solid metal I-beam. The 10ft by 60ft structure can withstand 30 tonnes, so cranes and heavy machinery can be brought to the property, which has potential for a lot more facilities.
Saw was hands-on in clearing the land and designing and constructing the place. He was assisted by the oldest of his three sons, HJ, an architect with eight years of experience.
Lazing and gazing are no sweat in Serendah, where balconies look out to mature trees and views of the river. Thick, Indian cotton curtains block out the sunlight for those who wish to sleep in. Big, customised dining tables made from merbau wood is a focal point for those who enjoy cooking — the utensils are all laid out in the open kitchen — and eating together. Groceries are available at a supermarket that is a 15-minute drive away. There are restaurants nearby and some of them deliver.
HJ helms TPRR while younger brother TJ takes charge of SRR, which has six rooms that can cater for four to six guests each. Their mother, formerly an accountant, handles the books. Room rates depend on the number of occupants.
How viable is a retreat that lures people back to nature, away from the hustle and bustle of the city?
“We realise there is a vacuum in services that alleviate the hectic lifestyles that everybody is facing. Over the longer term, this should be viable. Low periods and busy weeks are normal in every industry. They even out,” says Saw.
For now, what is important is that guests can look forward to a private and comfortable stay amid untouched greenery, enjoy a gurgling river by the doorstep and indulge in forest bathing and oxygen-rich air, he adds. “This trend, called shinrin-yoku in Japanese (literally meaning forest bath), is about experiencing a serene environment that will refresh and rejuvenate you. This natural therapy is most suitable for city dwellers.”
This article first appeared on Jan 11, 2021 in The Edge Malaysia.