Celebrated early 20th-century interior decorator Elsie de Wolfe famously praised the virtues of eating outdoors, citing how “it makes for good health and long life and good temper. Everyone knows that”. As the person who cemented interior decorating as a professional occupation, she pioneered a bright and refined sense of décor that was the antithesis to the prevalent drabness of the Victorian style of the times, counting illustrious names such as magazine publisher Condé Nast, composer/songwriter Cole Porter and the Duchess of Windsor among her clientele.
Besides, who are we to argue with De Wolfe — one of modern history’s great tastemakers — on the many benefits and joys of eating, to borrow an artsy phrase, en plein air? Although it is infinitely more comfortable to lounge outdoors in a temperate climate, tropical Malaysia is not without its fair share of spots for a splendid picnic.
Upping the ante way beyond the mere unfurling of a mat, unpacking of a plastic lunch box and a Thermos of iced tea is Afifi Ishak, a photographer-videographer who also conceptualises events for Puncak Rimba, a stunning 12-acre estate in Janda Baik, Pahang. Studded with stunning unique villas and surrounded by orchards, Puncak Rimba has long proven to be a popular spot among holidaymakers who come for peace and quiet as well as the venue of choice for wedding parties and corporate events.
Ever since the Covid-19 pandemic put paid to large gatherings, Afifi has had to think long and hard about how to reposition Puncak Rimba, ensuring people still find their way to the estate for weekends and special occasions. “The idea of a picnic came to us at random,” he says. “We knew hosting big events was out of the question for a while. Whatever we proposed had to be intimate, on a small scale and yet still attractive. So, there I was, tengah borak (chatting) with my events designer, Firdaus Othman, when the idea of having a picnic just popped up.”
For those who have not been to Puncak Rimba, it is set near the hillside village of Janda Baik, just over an hour’s drive from the heart of Kuala Lumpur. Surrounded by jungle and with a slightly cooler climate than the hot and muggy Klang Valley, it offers perfect respite, be it for a few days or a few hours.
There are several villas on site, each boasting Nusantara design sensibilities and architecture. If time is of the essence, Puncak Rimba’s half-day picnics make perfect sense. You do not even need to jumpstart your day with breakfast or a caffeine jolt prior to setting off. Leave your house at 8am to arrive bright and early at the estate for a welcoming cup of coffee and a nasi lemak buffet all ready and waiting. Mats and towels are provided as are facilities for changing and showers while a station offering freshly split coconuts lies just farther down the path.
Guests are welcome to stake out their perfect picnic patch, be it on the lawn, around tables and chairs under a shady gazebo (ideal for those who are not as limber) or even right by the riverside, where huge boulders make excellent perches for setting one’s food and drinks on.
Depending on the season, the highlight of the picnic may range from a free-flow of durians (there are no less than 300 durian trees on site) to a whole host of luscious tropical fruit, as Puncak Rimba is also planted with 200 mangosteen trees, as well as rambutan, langsat, guava, jackfruit, cempedak and rose apple. With two picnics successfully under his belt, Afifi is currently toying with the idea of substantiating the spread with kambing golek (spit-roasted lamb) or even hosting barbecue evenings. “Our first two picnics revolved around durians,” he says. “We started with 45 guests for the first event, which was held in late June. Our second one, on July 4, had over 70 people. We hope more people will come for our future events.”
If sunbathing is not your thing, the rushing river offers several spots for unwinding, depending on your mood or inclination. A rocky pool under gushing water serves as a natural Jacuzzi while further downstream are sandy patches, ideal for children to play and dig about safely. Smooth rocks also serve as an ideal clambering spot or slide from which to plunge headlong into the river. It does not take long before the vision of lolling about in swimmers — pandan-scented coconut in one hand and an ulas of creamy durian in the other while immersed in the water and with birdsong as the chosen playlist — begins to completely flood my thoughts.
From the stunning architecture of the ornate villas to the soaring trees of the verdant forest and with butterflies and dragonflies hovering about, Puncak Rimba is indeed a sight for sore eyes. In the Malay language, there is a phrase — sejuk mata memandang — or pleasing to the eye. You would find it slipping easily off your tongue after a few hours here.
For more information on the next Puncak Rimba picnic, email [email protected].
This article first appeared on Jul 13, 2020 in The Edge Malaysia.