We tend to think of a treehouse as something for kids to hide in and spend a lazy afternoon reading. Do you know that there are traditional people who spend their entire lives staying in treehouses? We visited a place in southern Malaysia with treehouses for adults (and kids alike). It is located at the foot of the mountain Gunung Pulai.
Previously, I wrote about the traditional Malay houses of Malaysia. They are typically constructed with wood and built on stilts with pitched roofs. Contrary to the simple aesthetics, the house is highly sophisticated and designed to handle the climate of the humid tropics to keep inhabitants as comfortable as possible without the need for energy-consuming technologies like air-con.
Treehouses have existed in Malaysia for a long time as well, probably even way before the traditional Malay houses. They are the traditional houses of the Orang Asli (literally “original people” in Malay language). The Orang Asli are hunter-gatherers and reside in the rainforests of Malaysia. They can put together a treehouse with nothing more than a parang (machete), a saw, a hammer and some nails. The materials (wood, bamboo, and palm fronds) are all taken from the forest.
Why do the Orang Asli bother to go through the effort of building houses up in the canopy? Well, we got a clearer picture after a few nights sleeping in the treehouses in the rainforest.
- Firstly, it is much more comfortable being up in the treehouse because of ventilation. There is not much of a breeze in the dense rainforest and humidity is much higher at ground level. You can feel quite sweaty and “sticky” on a warm day. When it gets too humid mould and fungus would also start to grow. During our time there, it was shaded and cool in the canopy during the day. At night, there was a slight breeze and we did not need to turn on the fan.
- Another important factor is the protection that the treehouse provides. There are animals like tigers, elephants, snakes, wild boars that can be dangerous if you are sleeping on the ground at night. Even smaller insects like mosquitoes and centipedes can be a disturbance. During my army days, I had a friend who was sleeping on the forest floor and woke up in the middle of the night to find that he was right smack in the path of army ants!
The treehouses at Rainforest Treehouse were built by a young Malaysian by the name of Ah Yao with the help of some Orang Asli. The treehouses are located in the mountain and takes a short climb up a steep slope to reach. There are 6 treehouses for guests, each unique and designed according to the existing trees and landscape. They are all double-storey (!) and each took only 3 weeks to construct. The treehouses are actually built on living trees, using them as pillars. You can see these trees penetrating through the roofs made of palm fronds.
Other than the 6 treehouses for guests to sleep in, there is also a bigger treehouse that serves as the main hall for gatherings and meals.