Eco Adventure

Organic rice cultivated at KOREF
My friend Karen, an event organiser, told me that she was checking for suitable sites to organise an annual youth retreat for a school.  Based on the school’s requirement, she should find a place with facilities which young people from the city, will not only enjoy themselves but gain further insight into a more rustic way of life.  When she discovered the facilities at Kahang Organic Rice Farm (KOREF) resort and had the approval from the school board to organise the retreat there, she did not hesitate to invite me along.

Karen made me mark those dates on my calendar because she knew that I was keen to visit the farm again.  This is because many years ago, I visited KOREF in a product tour with Tourism Malaysia when the farm was recognised as the first certified organic rice farm in the nation by the Malaysian Department of Agriculture in 2006.  

You need skills and balance to keep afloat on bamboo rafts
Now I’m keen to renew my acquaintance with Tam Pak Suew, the engineer-turned-farmer who runs the resort, and see how KOREF had developed as a farm and resort.  From what Karen told me, they have new acc0mmodation facilities and more agro-centered activities that are both fun and educational for students and city-slickers who are keen on a farm experience.

Farm Life

While the students and school staff travel by van and coach, Karen and I decide to drive ourselves so that we can start out early and make a brief stop to enjoy a Kluang Rail coffee on our way to the farm.  From Kluang, the signage to Kahang is clear as we pass vegetable farms and oil palm plantations and head towards Mersing.  After a 40-minute drive, the land levels out and I know we should be close so I slow down to spot the sign for the farm entrance.  And there it is!

Youths learning to net fish using seine net technique
I turn off the main road and the car bumped along the laterite trail, winding pass paddy fields – some laying fallow and others planted with stalks of paddy – until we arrive at the resort gates.  Coaches and cars are parked outside but we drive in to the reception for Karen to get further instructions on which dormitory our group has been assigned to in the farm.

I wait in the car while she is making enquiries and notice that the flooded rice field which is used as a recreational pond, is now fringed by coarse sand to create an artificial beach and the field adjacent to the reception hall is dotted by tents which are occupied by a group of young campers.  I see new features like a broad wooden bridge that cuts across the pond to a tiny island with a few double-storey wooden houses – some charmingly thatched by attap leaves.  My observation is cut short as Karen comes back with instructions to drive around and use the second entrance because the youths will be housed in a dormitory next to a multi-purpose hall on the other side of the pond.

Floating traditional houses on the flooded rice pond
As I join them in the hall for the orientation and review of their daily schedule, I can’t help suppressing a smile as I hear the reminder that mobile phones are strictly prohibited during the stay or they risk getting points deducted from their group.  I think I heard a collective groan when the teacher said, “Don’t bother asking for the password because there is no WiFi here!”

Floating Traditional Houses

As the youths start their activities, Karen tells me that it’s time for us to check into our accommodation and pointed to those double-storey wooden houses.  To get there, we must walk across the wide wooden bridge which is also used as a dining area.  As we approach the houses, I privately wish that my room is the unit with the attap roof.  I also notice that the entire bridge and the wooden houses are built with recycled wood materials – rather mismatched in some parts – but altogether rather charming and attractive.  I’m following closely as Karen leads the way but I stop when I see that the houses are actually floating on pontoons and securely moored to the tiny island!

Charming view from the open window
in my room
I’m totally charmed to see how recycled wooden planks from Chinese new village houses are reused to build traditional Malay-style wooden houses on stilts and floated on the flooded rice pond.  Gripping my luggage, I gingerly walk across a tiny bridge that links the floating house to the mainland.  Karen is already half-way up the side staircase, urging me to hand my luggage up to her and I’m overjoyed that we are staying in the unit with the attap roof!

There are two rooms for us upstairs and when I open the door to my room, I recalled the last time I stayed in a traditional wooden Malay house in a kampong homestay that did not have an en suite bathroom.  It was a real adventure when there was a power failure just as I was about to have my evening bath!

But Karen assures me that our rooms are comfortably equipped with running water, electricity and the privacy of our own attached bathrooms.  In typical kampung style, the room floor is covered with sheets of linoleum and built with two traditional floor-to-ceiling windows.  I open the windows to enjoy the cool breezes blowing in from the flooded rice pond.

Farm Stay Fun

Tam [Left] has a daily routine to feed his red talipia fish
I meet Tam who takes me on a farm tour to show me how he is applying an integrated organic farming approach where rice fields are left to lie fallow before being used in rotation for rearing red talipia fish.  

The farm has a wealth of biodiversity, clean air and unpolluted water from the Madek River that flows from the nearby 1,010m high Gunung Belumut.  Tam shows me livestock like ducks, geese and chicken as well as vegetables that are cultivated in abundance.  He also shares his ideas and plans to turn the farm into an exciting farm-stay destination in Johor.

Students enjoying themselves on the obstacle course
I hear the sound of rushing water which Tam tells me is water from the Madek River being directed to the ponds for fish farming, rice planting and to fill the recreational pond.  Various programmes are organised for groups of youths and students who can enjoy outdoor fun in the recreational pond like learning to ride bamboo rafts and to net fish using an artisanal technique of seine netting.

An obstacle course built in a separate pond is a popular choice for visitors to challenge themselves and have fun in shallow water.  Another activity is to thrill to an exciting swing across the recreational pond on the flying fox!

Youths having a splashing good time in the stream
at a nearby recreational forest
Under the watchful eye of a farm guide, youths have their first experience in going into a rice field to try their hand at transplanting rice seedlings.  This activity involves a lot of wailing as the youths pick their way across the rice field and find themselves sinking almost knee-deep into the squishy mud.  This experience gives them an idea of what a back-breaking job it is to be a paddy farmer and hopefully, they will have a better appreciation of the rice we eat.

After this activity in the scorching sun, the guide takes them to a stream in a nearby recreational forest where they enjoy a splashing good time, washing off the mud and grime.

Fast Facts

Kahang Organic Rice Eco Farm is situated at KM43 Jalan Mersing, just a 45-minute drive from Kluang, Johor.  Tel: 607 – 771 3431, 6012 – 720 8158 or +65 – 9239 5077 (Singapore).  Details at

A version of this article was published in The New Straits Times, Life & Times on 18 Sept 2014

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