Float with Fireflies: Malaysia’s Most Enchanting Light Show

Cherish Broker

Washington, USA

Just an hour outside of Kuala Lumpur, one of Malaysia’s most enchanting sights is tucked away on the banks of the river Selangor. If you don’t know it’s there, you might just miss it. Kampung Kuantan Fireflies Park is home to a sparkling light show that fills the night sky, produced by a rare species of firefly. At night, they can be found along the riverside, clustered together on the berembang trees. The sky shimmers like it’s straight out of the pages of a fairytale.

The Kampung Kuantan Fireflies park itself is not much to see: there’s a mysterious playground that makes very little sense for a place whose main attraction only comes out after dark, a tiny café, and some toilets. Some boys set up a stand selling small bottles of mosquito repellent, and if you don’t have any on you when you get there, get one of those bottles and shower in it. There’s a ticket office on your right. It costs 50 Malaysian ringgit for one boat which can carry up to four people (but is absurdly romantic with just two). The boats are the highlight of Kampung Kuantan; the two other tours that take you along the river use motorized boats, which are noisier and harmful for the fireflies because of pollution from their motors.

Kampung Kuantan Fireflies: Sampan boat
Sampan boat, Kampung Kuantan Fireflies Park, Selangor, Malaysia.

At Kampung Kuantan Fireflies Park, you ride in a sampan, which is a traditional wooden boat, rowed by a local guide. It moves almost silently through the water, except for the soothing sounds of the oars, and is able to get up close to the berembang trees. Picture rowing by low, bush-like mangroves, where the fireflies are glittering (without disturbing them). The sampan takes you along the river for about half an hour, rowing you softly down one river bank and then up the other so you can see the fireflies.

The fireflies in Selangor, adorably called “kelip-kelip” in Malay, are a species called Pteroptyx tener, and they live off of the nectar of the berembang trees, which are a special kind of mangrove that grows along the Selangor river. When night falls, they all cluster on the trees to eat.

What sets the fireflies apart from most other species is that their flashing synchronizes, so when you approach a berembang where they’re settled, it really is like you’re looking at Christmas lights until you get close enough to see them moving around and floating from branch to branch. It’s an incredible sight, made more incredible by the fact that the sampans can get so close that the fireflies will occasionally float down and land on you hang out for a while. Seeing them in the air and on the trees around you, maybe even alighting on your arms or hands for a moment, you can understand why people would have believed in fairies.

View from the boat, fireflies light up the night.

Adding to an already ridiculously romantic atmosphere, depending on the time of year, the mosques nearby sing the muezzin, which is the Islamic call to prayer, a little after 8 pm. There you are, floating lazily down a river in the dark, the only light coming from flashing berembang trees full of dancing fireflies, the only sound coming from the oars as they dip into the water, and a song begins to play in the distance, rolling over the water. Cut to your sweetheart sitting next to you, soaking in the moment, fireflies landing on your skin and blinking ecstatically. It’s a scene that will stay with you forever.

Visiting the Kampung Kuantan Fireflies Park is the perfect romantic evening getaway from the hustle and bustle of Kuala Lumpur. Take the trip, you’ll thank me later.

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