NO signal? It’s akin to having life sucked out of your body. The brain suddenly goes into a frenzy and the arms begin to thrust aimlessly and in every possible direction as you try to locate some semblance of connectivity. The “Yellow Man” appears to have deserted me as I make my way through Hulu Langat town. As Waze begins to reroute, it happens! Suddenly, the dreaded red bar emerges on the phone screen - “No Internet connectivity”.
But the sense of alarm soon dissipates, replaced by excitement. The consolation to being disconnected is an entry to the most private and exclusive riverside retreat. Just an hour’s drive from Kuala Lumpur city centre, the recently-opened Tanah Larwina is truly a hidden haven.
Perched on a 12,141sqm agricultural land in the Hulu Langat countryside, this charming retreat boasts an expanse of naturally-manicured land for farm animals and fruit trees. This isn’t your typical eco-resort. It’s a place that celebrates the beauty and rusticity of nature. There’s a sense of “balik kampung”, with goats, chicken, horses and geese roaming freely around in the lush grounds.
Owner Faisol Hussain confides that it took him many years to find this beautiful place. “I started to look for agricultural land after my return from New Zealand in 1991. Many weekends were spent driving around searching for available lots, not just in Hulu Langat but Janda Baik and Gombak as well,” recalls the 51-year-old engineer who grew up in Kedah.
Various factors, he adds, were taken into account including road access, water and power availability, ruggedness of the terrain, surrounding views and, of course, the price. The land transaction was also complicated. Faisol waited for two long years before the land owners agreed to his offer. “That was one of the happiest moments in my life,” he exclaims.
LABOUR OF LOVE
In retrospect, it wasn’t what Faisol saw that caught his attention at first. It was what he heard. “It was the sound of the cascading stream heard from the road. There was nothing much to see as it was an abandoned orchard overgrown with tall jungle shrubs and wild rubber trees. I could only see a small part of the river, and one partially exposed boulder. It was enough for me. I knew I could create something special here,” recalls Faisol.
Working on the farm has been his labour of love for the last five years. The land is a decent size for a nice hobby farm but it’s not easy to maintain the place, shares the father-of-two. “There’s a lot to be done. It’s not a cheap hobby but it’s satisfying and gratifying.”
Earlier that morning (like on every weekend) Faisol, clad in a loose-fitting T-shirt and brown cargo pants had arrived early at Tanah Larwina in his MPV. Very quickly, he changed into his “working attire” - a wrinkled white long-sleeve shirt, rubber boots and a fisherman’s hat. Grabbing a tree pruner, he immediately sets to work. He tends to the trees and “pets” together with the caretaker, Zainal, who’s from Kerinchi, Sumatera.
Zainal does everything on the farm, from clearing the wild shrubs and planting and maintaining the trees to constructing the makeshift farm and stone structures, perimeter fencing and looking after the farm animals. In fact, the caretaker and his wife have contributed tremendously towards the upkeep of this place. “They love the place and are very proud of what they’ve done for Tanah Larwina. It’s a beautiful thing to have them sharing the same passion,” says Faisol, beaming.
The coursing river continues to build momentum, gradually turning forceful. Yet, the entire place remains peaceful. The family of goats and Bella, the mare, graze happily on the grassland. Large river boulders pepper the undulating green landscape, a geological feature harking back to a time when a larger river system may have flowed through the site.
Today, the tributary remnants - Sungai Lui and Sungai Larwin streams - bifurcate the grounds from the forested foothills located a stone’s throw away. The smaller Larwina, from which the retreat derives its name, has a unique on-site lodging known as Rumah Tebing or the Riverbank House.
Harnessing the folding and faulting of the terrain, the simple yet unconventional house makes for an arresting sight next to the river. Unlike the conventional and typical rumah kampung, the Rumah Tebing, which complements the rustic surrounds charmingly, is designed in such a way that it elicits a “wow” reaction as soon as you clap eyes on it.
“The place is naturally nice so it doesn’t do justice if I were to build something conventional. I wanted the design to be attractive and inviting. And I was lucky to be able to work with a talented architect, who’s a good friend, to conceptualise and build the house,” shares Faisol, elaborating on the involvement of his friend Nizar Musa from Qoravant Ideas & Design (QID), the architect behind Rumah Tebing’s design.
Combining Faisol’s expertise in civil and structural engineering, the design features two interconnected glass-and-metal modules, unified under a soaring roof with balconies cantilevering towards the water’s edge. To achieve this, long-span steel structures were used. And where a semi-industrial “I” beam aesthetics may have put-off some conservative home owners, it didn’t for this client-architect team, who’ve seen and utilised such things during their respective years in New Zealand.
It was to take the duo four painstaking years before they could declare Rumah Tebing opened. The flying roof is very prominent and makes for a perfect backdrop for photographs. A covered lanai greets visitors and there’s a courtyard, BBQ and campfire area that look out upon a lovely view of the land. The panorama of the great outdoors extends through the interiors thanks to the use of clear full-height glass. The lodge is spacious and comes with a dry kitchen, separate shower and washroom cubicles, storage facilities and a cleverly concealed queen-sized foldaway bed.
You’ll need to climb a ladder in the centre to get to the loft where there are three comfortable beds that can sleep six adults and there’s ample space for baggage. The view out to the farm and surrounding hills is unrestricted through adjustable glass louvre windows that also contribute to the airiness and brightness of the interior.
Faisol’s love for the outdoors began early. “My father had a kebun (a small orchard) near my kampung house and I used to follow him there on weekends. I enjoyed the outdoor, DIY and creating things. Later when I went to New Zealand to further my studies, I had the chance to live on a farm, which was perfect for me,” he recalls.
It was also easy for him to get his family’s consent to have a farm. While he enjoyed engineering and had done reasonably well in his practice, having a hobby farm was a dream come true. Despite being a city girl, his wife too loves outdoor activities. The couple’s two daughters, shares Faisol, have been groomed from young to love nature too. “They (his daughters) started jungle trekking when they were toddlers!”
Faisol admits that the farm isn’t really on such a commercial scale that it can create a decent return. There’s also not much to be made from selling the fruits or farm produce. That said, he still needs to generate some sort of income to sustain it. Having a one-of-a-kind farm with a unique private lodge would be a great way to make Tanah Larwina more self-sustainable, believes Faisol. And he gets the chance to share his labour of love and this beautiful place with others.
“During the fruit season, between July and August, visitors will be able to enjoy free flow of durians, rambutans, mangosteen, dokong and cempedak, which all tend to ripen at the same time,” shares Faisol. “We treat the fruits as extras but the place is good almost all year round.”
Faisol plans to take his time to improve and organically grow the place into a beautiful retreat. But he’s quick to stress that it’s not an eco-retreat. While others focus on marketing their resorts with a “green” DNA, Faisol prefers to focus on his farm, the plants and farm “pets”.
What most people expect out of this retreat, as they pore over its website photos and Instagram posts, is a casual day out by the stream and seeing farm animals roaming the land. The reality is so much more.
For harried urbanites, and especially city children who’ve yet to experience the real Malaysian outdoors, Tanah Larwina is worth checking out. Here’s where the sights and sounds of the jungle, cascading water, colourful butterflies, and other exotic wildlife, can be enjoyed - in all their splendour.