A once-in-a-lifetime experience as humans and fish interact in a way quite unlike anything one could find elsewhere.

Malaysia’s Kelah fish (Tor Tambroides) – otherwise known as the Malaysian mahseer, has two particularities. Firstly, it is known as the “king of fish”, as it is renowned as the tastiest of all river fish from the region. But secondly, when encountered in one of several sanctuaries, the fish are totally unafraid of humans, leading to what can only be described as a truly unforgettable experience.

Kelah 3.jpgIn Terangganu state, one such sanctuary can be found in Sungai Petang, approximately 45 minutes from Pengkalan Gawi jetty, open to visitors from March to October. Gazetted for the protection, preservation and reproduction of the Kelah, all angling activities are strictly prohibited at the sanctuary, to maintain the natural spawning grounds.

At the entrance to the park, visitors are able to purchase bags of pellets with which to feed the fish, giving them the possibility to swim with, catch by hand, and have their feet nibbled on by schools of Kelah.

Reaching the site requires taking a first boat ride from the main pier of Lake Kenyir to its source – around 30 minutes’ trip. Following this, one is required to take a second boat up the river – for around 10 minutes to a point from which one has to trek around 45 minutes to reach the point in the river where the fish are to be found.

Over the years, as people fed the fish, it was discovered that the Kelah had absolutely no fear of humans, and will, when enticed with food pellets, arrive at lightning speed and swarm over the generous donors, nibbling painlessly on their toes and fingers in their “feeding frenzy”. Indeed, the Kelah have no teeth, and thus are totally harmless, however the encounter is very surprising and exciting for those who have taken the time to come to this place.

Kelah 2.jpgA similar experience can be had at Taman Negara, as one of the park’s latest tourism products is the Kelah Sanctuary in Lubuk Tenor.  This site has a research and conservation centre for the Kelah. Visitors can also view schools of kelah fry swimming in the crystal-clear waters.

It truly is an unforgettable “immersion” in nature – in more ways than one!

Short travelling drone sequence of Sungai Petang trail to Kelah Sanctuary (above Kenyir Lake)