With soaring towers, condo complexes and mammoth malls crowding the streets and skyline of Kuala Lumpur (KL), it’s reassuring to know that Mother Nature continues to have a significant stake in and around the Malaysian capital. What other city, for example, has a pocket of primary rainforest at its heart that’s home to a troupe of silvered leaf monkeys?

Silvered leaf monkey mother and child © Serguei Koultchitskii / Shutterstock

KL Forest Eco Park

It was just under 160 years ago that 87 Chinese prospectors paddled up the Klang river in search of tin deposits, thus establishing the settlement that would become KL. If the ghosts of those men returned to the city today, the one spot they would likely still recognise is the KL Forest Eco Park, a lush island of primary forest surrounded by some of the city’s most expensive real estate.

The park occupies 9.3 hectares of Bukit Nanas, a hill that once was the location of a long-gone Malay fort and is so named because pineapple (nanas) trees once grew around its base, their spiky foliage providing a natural defensive wall. Today visitors are very welcome, with a paved road leading to the summit crowned by one of the city’s top tourist attractions and visual icons, the Menara Kuala Lumpur.

Having taken in the 360-degree panorama of the city and its surrounds from the 421m telecommunications tower, don’t rush off as the park is threaded with several short hiking trails. There’s also a new canopy walkway that puts you at eye level with the tops of the soaring trees, such as Jelutong and Merawan Batu, some of which are as old as KL itself.

Go in search of the herbal and orchid gardens behind the Forest Information Centre (located on Jln Raja Chulan at the southwestern base of the hill), and you’re also likely to encounter the resident troupe of silvered leaf monkeys. Watching these animals as they swing between the branches and nonchalantly groom each other to a soundtrack of chirping insects and twittering birdsong, you’ll get a sense of what the area was like when the rainforest stretched as far as the eye could see.

Flamingos at KL Bird Park © Zhukova Valentyna / Shutterstock

Tun Abdul Razak Heritage Park

Nature tamed and shaped into pleasing, tiger-free vistas was what Alfred Venning, Selangor State Treasurer, had in mind when he gained permission from the colonial administration to create a botanical garden around the Sungai Bras Bras stream. That 1888 project resulted in the Lake Gardens, a 101-hectare green district now officially known as the Tun Abdul Razak Heritage Park, after Malaysia’s second prime minister.

At the park’s heart, the Perdana Botanical Garden remains a showcase for local flora and fauna with sections dedicated to multiple varieties of hibiscus and orchid flowers. You’ll also find a small enclosure that’s home to mouse and spotted deer, a boating lake and a creatively designed kid’s playground.

Fanciers of feathered friends should fly straight to the park’s fabulous aviary, the KL Bird Park. Alongside ostriches, eagles, flamingos and parrots, you can also see a pair of rhinoceros hornbill, Malaysia’s national bird. One of them is often found hopping among the trees close by the balcony of the Hornbill Restaurant, a great spot for close-up photography.

Sunrise at Titiwangsa Lake Gardens © tuahlensa / Shutterstock

Titiwangsa Lake Gardens

KL’s second lake gardens park, Titiwangsa capitalises on its setting on the northeast fringe of the city. The views across the mirrored surface of the lake towards the distinctive outlines of the nearby theatre Istana Budaya and, further away, the Petronas Towers and Menara KL, are stunning – particularly at dusk, as the city’s night lights flicker into life. Westwards, there are also grandstand views of The Capers @ Sentul East, a wavy-shaped pair of condo towers which stretch up 40 storeys. Popular with courting couples who come to stroll around the lake edge, Titiwangsa also has a jogging track, exercise area and plenty of options for floating on the lake from regular rowboats to giant transparent spherical balloons.

Canopy walkway in the rainforest, Forest Research Institute of Malaysia © Anders Blomqvist / Getty Images

Forest Research Institute of Malaysia

At Kepong, 16km northwest of central KL, is the Forest Research Institute of Malaysia (FRIM), established in 1929 to conduct research into the sustainable management of the country’s rainforests. Covering 600 hectares, this lush compound includes the remains of an old settlement of the Orang Asli, the indigenous people of Malaysia, arboretums and a pond that’s home to a giant araipama, a South American freshwater fish.

FRIM is a justifiably popular location for casual strolls under the shade of soaring trees, as well as more strenuous hikes such as the one that ascends a steep hill to reach a 200m-long canopy walkway that hangs 30m above the forest floor. To calm your nerves as you traverse the swaying footbridges between the trees, keep your eyes peeled for birds and monkeys as well as the distinctive KL skyline in the distance.

Hikers on top of Bukit Tabur © Abd. Halim Hadi / Shutterstock

The Quartz Ridge

Superb panoramic views of the city in one direction and of the Klang Gates reservoir in the other are the reward for summiting Bukit Tabur, on the northeast fringe of the city near Taman Melawati. The hill is 386m high, but it’s a challenging hike as it follows the world’s longest pure crystal quartz outcrop. Taking around three hours, the trail is not for the unfit or faint-hearted, with potentially lethal sheer drops off the mountain trail into the dense surrounding forest and short sections where you’ll be clinging to ropes to negotiate the steeper sections of rock.

Following a couple of fatal accidents on the trail in recent years, a hiking permit is required from the Selangor Tengah Forest Office, although in practice hardly any hikers arrange this. It is a good idea, however, to tackle the trail in the company of experienced guides or those who know what they are doing: if you go at the weekend – especially on a Sunday – you won’t be alone, as the hike is a highly popular form of exercise. Go early in the morning for the clearest views and the coolest temperatures. Further details about the hike can be found at Hiking at Bukit Tabur (vertical-adventure.com).

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