Drops of rain from the night sky furiously slap the thin raincoat that is my sole shield from the cold weather. In the background, the beating of drums from the surrounding lush vegetation grows louder with each step taken.
“HALT!” someone at the front of the crowd shouts out through the darkness, prompting our group of nervous travel writers to stop dead in our tracks. “Watch your step, we will be crossing the Bridge of Luminosa now.”
I peer through the transparent plastic of my raincoat and catch the sight of a wooden archway decorated with peculiar indigenous-like symbols and patterns that glow in the dark. Above the arch, two words shine mysteriously: “Luminous Forest”.
It looks like we are about to enter an enchanted tribal village. The reality is I’m within the grounds of a theme park – the Lost World Of Tambun in Sunway City Ipoh, to be exact.
This latest attraction in Perak is certainly a great idea for a school holiday trip. Other family-friendly activities nearby include mural spotting in Ipoh’s old town or exploring cave temples such as the Sam Poh Tong Temple and Kek Lok Tong.
Outside of Perak, some cool family-friendly places to check out are the Tabin Wildlife Reserve in Sabah, Tropical Spice Garden in Penang and Petrosains in Kuala Lumpur.
The Tabin Wildlife Reserve is home to endangered species such as the Borneo pygmy elephant and Sumatran rhinoceros. Meanwhile, the Tropical Spice Garden offers some relaxing trails. As for Petrosains, it’s a great place for kids to discover awesome stuff focused on science and technology.
Talking about science, the Luminous Forest employs some scientific method to bring the attraction to life. Each of the steps within the elevated attraction is meticulously painted with complex patterns using a water-based UV paint.
Walking deeper into the “jungle”, visitors will be greeted by several illuminated fibre optic light installations that vaguely resemble jellyfish tendrils.
Closer to the entrance, guests will discover Mother Sophea, an automated talking tree not unlike Grandmother Willow from Disney’s Pocahontas.
Elsewhere, the bioluminescent landscape is populated by carefully curated lights and shining installations that lend an ethereal vibe to the attraction.
The utilisation of state-of-the-art devices here are nothing short of impressive. But science and technology is only part of the equation when it comes to bringing the venue to life.
Wrapped in fantasy
The magic of Luminous Forest can also be attributed to the fantasy that’s articulated through the impeccable storytelling incorporated in the guided tour.
Mother Sophea, we’re told, is a 400-year-old tree that has a magical connection with all living creatures. The story goes that the Malayana tribe who dwells in the forest believes that the tree spreads magical seeds to illuminate the forest.
“This forest was created by Mother Sophea to give a home to Makalani, an elder from the Malayana tribe,” our guide enthusiastically explains.
There’s also Lake Falls that carry a glittering substance that Makalani uses to produce healing elixirs. Meanwhile, the Garden Of Light is home to flowers in various shapes and sizes that glimmer in the dark.
Just be wary of the Shadow-fang as you make your way through the space. The 4.8m-long centipede is a gruesome being that protects the forest from those with ill intentions.
Taking a stroll further in this celestial land brings me to the Malayana Throne, where the mighty Chief Kukuntalu resides.
“I am the leader of the Malayana tribe. And this person right here is my wife,” Chief Kukuntalu declares in a booming voice as he diverts our attention to a slender woman on his left.
“She’s a little wet and cold from the rain, but still beautiful,” he adds humorously. If anything, the theme park actors are not short of improv comedic skills.
All night long
Created as an expansion to the Lost World Of Tambun’s night park, Luminous Forest is open from 7.30pm to 10pm (Wednesday to Monday. It opens daily on school holidays). It joins existing attractions such as the hot springs and spa, petting zoo, Ipoh Street and Tarantula Alley.
Despite the heavy rain, many visitors could still be seen wading at the hot springs. A fellow travel companion tells me that the hot springs are very popular among locals as well as tourists as far as the Middle East who throng the park at dusk, especially during the weekends.
Expanded and renewed in 2015, the hot springs and spa section boasts 12 pools with varying degrees of water temperature. Within the vicinity are also thrilling slides that will delight both the young and young at heart.
And over at the night petting zoo, crocodiles, bearcats and many other nocturnal animals await visitors. If arachnids are your thing, then Tarantula Alley – which features some exotic creepy crawlies – is not to be missed.
There’s certainly no shortage of things to do after dark at the night park.
And now with the Luminous Forest, guests might even learn a thing or two about the importance of preserving the environment. It’s fantasy with a strong underlying message.