Before we begin, let’s find out more about these ‘flies’ and why they are on fire. Fireflies (Bahasa Malaysia: kelip-kelip) are winged beetles that produce light in their lower abdomens as part of their mating ritual. They use the flash patterns to help them distinguish between the opposite sexes.
The light is a result of a chemical reaction called ‘bioluminescence’. Unlike a light bulb, the light produced in this process does not generate heat, so don’t worry if one of them happens to alight on you — it’s not going to burn your skin.
These fascinating creatures are commonly found in tropical areas, especially near marshes.
Kuala Selangor is a small coastal village about 2 hours away from Kuala Lumpur. Its biggest attraction is the Selangor River that is flanked by mangrove trees of a species called ‘berembang’. These trees naturally attract fireflies as their leaves provide food and shelter for the insects. As a result, Kuala Selangor is said to be the home of one of the biggest firefly colonies in the world.
A Brief History
A few decades ago, firefly-watching in Kuala Selangor began as a scientific research by local and international scientists. A boat service was started by a local fisherman to transport these scientists back and forth along the river.
Soon, news of there being a firefly-watching boat tour in Kuala Selangor spread and lured in tourists from other parts of Malaysia. Since then, the villagers of Kampung Kuantan (a tiny village within Kuala Selangor where most of the berembang trees are) started offering boat rental service to visitors. And finally in 1989, a Malaysian utility company collaborated with the local council to build a jetty and a proper ticketing system.
Best Time to Go
There’s no specific time of the year that’s the best time to go. It’s possible to see the fireflies all year long. However, do keep in mind that rain, strong winds, and lightnings may hinder them from coming out. The full moon may also make them less visible. Another important thing to consider is the crowd. If you’d like to avoid long queues, opt for a weekday tour.
Additionally, try not to go too late at night, as the mating ritual would have dwindled by then. Around 10.30 to 11 p.m, they are expected to have found their desired mates and stopped glowing, except for the unlucky few, perhaps, like the last people at the bar.
So, your best bet would be to go on a dry, moonless weekday night before 11 p.m.
How to Get There from KL
Finding a taxi in Kuala Lumpur is not a problem. Whether they want to take you to Kuala Selangor is another matter, because it will be difficult for them to find passengers on the way back. Expect fares to be around RM100 for a one-way trip. However, you might be able to negotiate a better deal if you book a round trip.
In general, I don’t recommend taking taxis in Malaysia. Taxi drivers here are known for overcharging passengers and not using the meter. Or, if you insist on using it, they might deliberately take a longer or more congested route or even go round and round in circles. I feel sorry for the few honest ones, but repeated bad experience with taxis has made me avoid them at all costs.
Now, if I need to go anywhere that’s not accessible by buses or trains, I swear by Grabcar. There are a few other e-hailing services available in Malaysia, but I find Grab the most reliable, as they are pretty strict with their drivers. Any driver with a bad rating from passengers will get banned.
Plus, you know the exact amount you’ll be paying before you confirm your booking. No haggling required.
[No, this post is not sponsored by Grab]
Board Selangor Bus No 100 (previous route no: 141) from Medan Pasar Bus Hub in Kuala Lumpur. The bus hub is about 100 m north of Central Market. To get there from Masjid Jamek LRT, walk 100 m southeast along Jalan Tun Perak. Turn right into Lebuh Ampang and walk another 100 m. You’ll see the bus shelter next to the grey clock tower. The bus departs every 30 minutes, and the one-way fare is RM 9.
The last stop will be Bandar Malawati Bus Terminal, which is 1 km away from Kuala Selangor town center. You can walk the rest of the way or take the local bus/taxi.
Transit in Klang
Klang is the halfway point between Kuala Lumpur and Kuala Selangor. Buses to Klang are more frequent and easier to get than the ones to Kuala Selangor. You’ll see the buses lining up next to Travelodge (previously Hotel GEO) near the Pasar Seni LRT station. The fare is RM3.50.
From Klang, take the Cityliner bus to Kuala Selangor/Bandar Malawati. However, I’m not sure how much the fare is or how frequent these buses are. Alternatively, you can always take a taxi or Grabcar from there. At least, it will be cheaper than taking a taxi from Kuala Lumpur.
Instead of taking the bus, you can also take the train (KTM Komuter) to Klang station. The fare from KL Sentral is RM4.60. From Klang, you can continue the journey to Kuala Selangor with a bus or a Grabcar (see above).
I totally hate it when I try to look up how to get to a particular place and travel blogs keep suggesting car rental. Like, duh, if I knew how to drive, I wouldn’t have bothered Googling how to get there, would I? But yeah, anyway. That’s another option — and the easiest one — to get to Kuala Selangor.
With A Tour
Where to Stay
There are several places to stay in Kuala Selangor, ranging from RM30 to RM200 per night. Most of them come with the usual comforts such as private bathrooms, air-con, and color TV.
My friend and I chose De Palma Hotel Kuala Selangor because we were not on a very strict budget then. The hotel has 48 chalets and 12 villas. Our chalet was RM150/night — not the cheapest option, but with a swimming pool and good WiFi, it was a pretty good deal. Plus, they could also arrange for our transportation to the fireflies center.
Since we went on a weekday, we practically had the whole place (and the swimming pool) to ourselves.
The Firefly Boat Tour
The boat tour was not to start until 8 p.m., so we spent our evening swimming in the pool. After that, using the hotel transport, we were taken to a nice seafood restaurant for dinner.
We reached the jetty of the Kampung Kuantan Firefly Park at 10.30 p.m. By then, there was only a handful of visitors left. A busload of Korean tourists was just leaving as we arrived.
The boat fee was RM50 and it could fit four. Initially, we had hoped for there to be more tourists, so that we may find two more people with whom to share the boat and split the cost. But alas, because of our late arrival, this was not meant to be. So we put on our life jackets and waited for our boat.
Before long, our boat arrived after having dropped off the four previous passengers.
It was strange going on a boat tour at night. The river was dark, yet we could still see the murky water. This didn’t do much in calming our nerves. And right at that moment, the boatman decided to tell us about crocodile sightings in the area. He warned us not to dip our hands in the water, and then laughed at our startled faces.
The boats used in the firefly-watching tour are electric-powered, which means that they don’t pollute the ecosystem with smoke, oil, or noise. Silence is especially important here because too much noise might scare away the fireflies. So do bright lights. Thus, visitors are not allowed to use flash photography.
Soon, we were rewarded with the sight of the famed fireflies. There were trees on both sides of the river that were all lighted up like Christmas trees. The blink-blinks of the lights seemed so synchronized that I had to look closely to be sure they were not just fairy lights. It was magical — so serene and so quiet — we didn’t realize we had been holding our breaths (which was also partly due to terror every time we saw something floating in the water).
Our boatman took us really close to the trees so we could see the fireflies up-close. Unfortunately, no matter how hard we tried, we didn’t manage to capture the moment on camera (blame cheap cameras). It was such a shame that the wonderful sight could only stay in our memories. But then again, perhaps that’s the beauty of it all.
A few of the glowing insects started to get curious and came to check us out. In the beginning, we were a little apprehensive. Beautiful as they were, they were still bugs, and neither of us were big fans of bugs.
But then, we figured we were not going to see this every day, so what the hell. We stretched out our hands and managed to catch one. Too bad we didn’t have a jar to put it in. So, we let the poor thing go.
After about 20 minutes, our little boat tour was over.
Useful Tips for Kuala Selangor Firefly Tour
- Go on a dry, moonless night.
- Try not to go too late at night. The ideal time is between 8 – 10 p.m.
- If you’d like to avoid big crowds, don’t go on weekends or public holidays.
- Be quiet on the boat.
- Do not use flash photography.
- There are mosquitoes. Use mosquito repellent, if you like, but not too much, as it might repel the fireflies too. Otherwise, use light-colored, long-sleeved attire.
Other Things to Do in Kuala Selangor
Now that you’ve done the the firefly-watching tour, what else can you do in Kuala Selangor? Here are a few options:
- Eat seafood – Eat a variety of reasonably-priced seafood while watching sunset on an over-water restaurant by the river in Pasir Penambang.
- Climb Bukit Malawati – Walk or take a tram up the hill to see macaques, the silver leaf monkeys (and their bright orange babies) a lighthouse, the ruins of a fortress, the Royal Mausoleum, the poisoned well and a museum. Oh, and the sunset view is great too.
- Go bird-watching at Kuala Selangor Nature Park – The nature park is made up of mangrove forest and mud flats. It is a sanctuary for many species of birds and other animals.
- Go on an eagle-feeding tour – Sit on a boat, throw chicken entrails into the water, and watch as 30 – 40 eagles circle the sky above and swoop down for the food.