Kuala Sepetang

This article is part of my 2018 Taiping and Kuala Sepetang trip series.

A 20-minute drive to the west of Taiping leads to the charming village of Kuala Sepetang (十八丁). Situated at the estuary of Sungai Sepetang, the fishing village was formerly known as Port Weld (威砵). It was named after Frederick Weld (1823-1891), the British Governor of the Straits Settlements.
During the height of Taiping's tin-mining days, Port Weld served as Taiping's link to overseas markets. The British administration built Malaysia's first railway line between Port Weld and Taiping. Although the railway track has been removed, the train station's signboard and ticket booth are preserved to this day.

Kuala Sepetang Curry Mee (十八丁咖喱面)
Jalan Trump, 34650 Kuala Sepetang, Perak, Malaysia
(+60) 12-505 1475
1:00pm-10:00pm, closed on Monday and Tuesday
Further reading: Port Weld Hawker Centre

There are several hawker stalls near the former train station. One of the popular stalls here is Kuala Sepetang Curry Mee (十八丁咖喱面). Its specialty is that the curry contains fresh prawns. Also included are pig blood curd (猪血), bean sprouts and tofu puffs (豆腐卜). This tasty dish is only available after 3:00pm and may be sold out quickly on weekends.

Port Weld Prawn Fritters (十八丁大街虾饼)
Jalan Trump, 34650 Kuala Sepetang, Perak, Malaysia
(+60) 16-527 4278
Further reading: Port Weld Hawker Centre

Another popular stall here is Port Weld Prawn Fritters (十八丁大街虾饼). The deep-fried snack is made from flour batter, prawns, bean sprouts, onions and scallions. Served with chili sauce, the fritters are best enjoyed while they are still hot from the wok

Across the river is a smaller village of Kampung Seberang (过港). Until several years ago, Kampung Seberang is only accessible by boat. However, the recent construction of a 110-meter bridge now allows pedestrians and motorcyclists to cross the river.
Kampung Seberang consists of a narrow road with wooden houses on both sides. Like Kuala Sepetang, most inhabitants here are fishermen. Kampung Seberang does not receive many tourists as it is off the beaten path.

Charcoal Factory Kuala Sepetang
Jalan Taiping - Kuala Sepetang, 34650 Kuala Sepetang, Perak, Malaysia
(+60) 12-573 9563
1 hour

At the outskirts of Kuala Sepetang is the famed Charcoal Factory Kuala Sepetang. Nestled in a mangrove forest, the factory is blessed with abundance of wood for producing charcoal. Logs are transported to the factory via a small river, which is navigable twice a month during high tide.
Having operated since the 1940s, the charcoal factory has dozens of charcoal kilns. Each kiln is over 5 meters in height and is built from bricks. Hundreds of logs, weighing over 100 kilograms each, are lugged inside by hand. Once the logs are loaded, the main opening is sealed off with cement.
The kiln is heated by firewood through a small opening at the base. Contrary to popular belief, charcoal is produced not by combustion, but by the removal of water from wood in the absence of oxygen. It takes more than 20 days to turn wood into charcoal. Most of the charcoal produced here is exported to Japan and South Korea.
The factory allows self-guided tours but it is advisable to arrange for a guided tour for better explanation. Tours are free of charge but only available by appointment. During the tour, visitors are given charcoal-roasted Japanese sweet potatoes as snacks.

Kuala Sepetang Port Weld Eco
152A, Tepi Sungai, 34650 Kuala Sepetang, Perak, Malaysia
(+60) 11-2955 8118
4 hours

Another way to explore Kuala Sepetang and its surrounding areas is by sea. Kuala Sepetang Port Weld Eco is one of the major boat operators at the jetty. I suggest that you go for the full package which only costs RM55.00 per person. A minimum of 6 persons is required, but this is usually not a problem as there are many tourists every day.
Each boat is staffed by a helmsman and a tour guide. In general, the waters around Kuala Sepetang are somewhat calm. In the unlikely event that you get seasick, cast your eyes at distant objects. Life jackets are provided to all passengers for safety reasons.
Exploring Kuala Sepetang by boat provides a different perspective of the fishing village. Many of the houses here are owned by fishermen. Most fishermen work at night, so you can see many fishing boats docked next to their homes during the day.
Beyond Kuala Sepetang is an intricate network of water channels surrounded by vast mangrove swamps. The forest supports a complex ecosystem of plants, reptiles, birds, fishes and insects. If you want to explore the swamp on foot, check out the Matang Mangrove Forest Reserve.
There are several fish farms at the estuary of Sungai Sepetang, including Kuala Sepetang Puffer Fish Farm at which the boat pays a visit. The farm raises fishes that thrive in brackish water such as grouper (石斑鱼), red tilapia (红非洲鱼) and catfish (白须公). Green pufferfish (Dichotomyctere fluviatilis, 黄金娃娃) and mangrove horseshoe crab (Carcinoscorpius rotundicauda, 马蹄蟹) are also raised here.
The wilderness around Kuala Sepetang is also home to the white-bellied sea eagle (Haliaeetus leucogaster). Chicken leftovers are tossed into the water to attract their attention. Watch as these splendid birds swoop down gracefully to grab food. We were also told that humpback dolphins (Sousa chinensis) are sometimes spotted here. Unfortunately, we did not encounter any of these shy creatures today.
Kuala Sangga (老港) is a remote village at the river mouth, approximately 15 minutes by boat from Kuala Sepetang. A pirate was rumored to live here in the 1960s and 1970s but I suspect this is just a myth. Most residents today are fishermen or operators of fish farms.
A narrow walkway connects the entire length of the village. There are no guard rails on the sides, so keep an eye on younger children. There is no need to walk the entire length of the walkway as most points of interest are located near the pier.
Most houses in Kuala Sangga are built on stilts over water. As the village is not connected to the mainland by land, it has neither electricity nor running water. Therefore, most villagers rely on portable generators and rainwater instead.
Even for a small community of around 30 households, Kuala Sangga has 4 Chinese temples in total. The one nearest to the pier is dedicated to Na Tuk Kong (哪督公).
St. Anne's Chapel is another prominent place of worship. Although the last Catholic household has left Kuala Sangga 20 years ago, the chapel continues to be maintained by the remaining villagers. They believe that Saint Anne protects them from natural disasters.
S.R.J.K. (C) Poay Chee (培智国民型华文小学) is the most peculiar school that I have ever encountered. Built on solid ground, it is connected to the walkway by a small bridge. There are currently 11 students enrolled here. Despite its small size, the primary school has its own basketball court and library.
Kuala Sangga has a single eatery near the pier. This is where most villagers gather. Since there is no tap water, the drinks here are prepared using rainwater. Don't worry, the rainwater has been filtered and boiled beforehand.
There are two special drinks here. Hor Ka Sai (虎咬狮, RM2.80) is a mixture of black coffee and Milo. On the other hand, Sai Ka Hor (狮咬虎, RM2.80) consists of black tea and Milo. In my humble opinion, the former has better aroma while the latter has more soothing taste.
Also included in the RM55.00 boat ride package is firefly watching. The boat sets off after sunset around 7:30pm. Fireflies (Pteroptyx tener) are found several kilometers upstream from Kuala Sepetang. Congregating at pokok berembang (Sonneratia caseolaris) on the river banks, the glowing insects are best viewed with your own eyes. Flash photography is prohibited as this will harm the insects.

Back in Kuala Sepetang, there are several popular seafood restaurants in town but we did not manage to try any this round. The fishing village has several dormitories for visitors to spend the night. But if you are looking for a proper hotel, Novotel Taiping is just a 30-minute drive away.

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