ECOTOURISM activities have been both a boon and a bane for Gopeng residents.

The town that is some 20km from the Perak state capital of Ipoh, is popular for some of its natural attractions such as Gua Tempurung and outdoor activities like whitewater rafting and camping.

However, the number of weekend visitors has worsened traffic congestion, especially along Jalan Ipoh-Kampar between Simpang Pulai and Gopeng town.

This was identified as one of the primary issues faced by Gopeng folks.

According to residents who spoke to StarMetro, the congestion gets especially bad during weekends and long holidays as the narrow roads will be jammed with cars.

Trader Lok Pei Yee, 42, hopes that the issue can be addressed by the new MP, as the congestion starts as early as 7am.

“During weekdays, Gopeng will usually be quiet and it is easier for locals like me to go around town. We also have customers staying in Simpang Pulai coming over to enjoy our local food.

“But during weekends, the (8km) drive from Gopeng to Simpang Pulai takes hours due to the congested roads. It is so hard to even get onto the main roads because there are many cars as early as 7am,” she said.

Gua Kandu Gopeng is one of Gopeng’s many ecotourism spots that attracts a steady stream of visitors. — FilepicGua Kandu Gopeng is one of Gopeng’s many ecotourism spots that attracts a steady stream of visitors. — Filepic

“Of course, I am happy with the high number of tourists coming into town. While it does help my business, I wish the authorities could widen the roads or perhaps provide an alternative route for us to go nearby towns on weekends,” she said, attributing the congestion to the influx of ecotourism visitors.“Most of the tourists come here for whitewater rafting, camping, and other recreational activities. They also come here for the food.

“I hope the new Gopeng MP will speak up about the congested roads here,” Lok added.

The Gopeng parliamentary seat will have a new MP after Dr Lee Boon Chye of PKR, decided not to defend the seat.

Pakatan Harapan and PKR will be represented by Tan Kar Hing, who will be contesting against Barisan Nasional’s Cally Ting Zhao Song, Bersatu’s Muhammad Farhan Abdul Rahim and Dr Balachandran Gopal from Warisan.

During the 14th General Election, Dr Lee won with a majority of 29,778 votes against Barisan-MCA’s Datuk Heng Seai Kie and Ismail Ariffin of PAS.

Gopeng parliamentary constituency has over 140,000 registered voters and consists of three state seats namely Teja, Simpang Pulai, and Sungai Rapat.

Whitewater rafting is among the popular outdoor activities in Gopeng that attracts many tourists. — FilepicWhitewater rafting is among the popular outdoor activities in Gopeng that attracts many tourists. — Filepic

First-time voter A. Remoshini said she hoped that the new MP would push to create more job opportunities in Gopeng.

“When I finished school, it took me months to find a job in Gopeng. My friends and I went from shop to shop to see if there were any vacancies. We were asked to fill in the forms, but none of them called us back.

“I decided to go to Johor Baru, and within a month, I managed to secure a job as a cashier.

“As I had just finished school, I wasn’t looking for a white-collar job, but even then there were no job vacancies in Gopeng,” said the 21-year-old student.

Remoshini said there was also a need for more government department offices to be set up in Gopeng.

“Right now we have to go either to Kampar or Ipoh just to get things done. The public transportation system used to be quite good before the movement control order but it is not so reliable now.

“Back then, buses would come every 20 to 30 minutes. Now, it takes more than an hour for a bus to arrive and when it does, it is crowded,” she said.

“My friends and I are forced to stand in the bus for hours, as the traffic congestion is especially bad during rush hour and on weekends.

“I am quite lucky that my father has a car so he can drive me to Ipoh sometimes, but what about those who don’t have their own transport?

“Since I am a first-time voter, I am excited. My friends and I will look into all the candidates contesting for the Gopeng parliamentary seat and make an informed decision,” said Remoshini.

“We want an MP who can address our problems and solve them. We need more job opportunities and a better transportation service in Gopeng,” she added.

Many in Gopeng rely on public transportation and they complain that the buses are not regular.Many in Gopeng rely on public transportation and they complain that the buses are not regular.

Restaurant owner Miszuan Ramli, 44, hopes the new MP will speak up about the price hike of essential items.

“From time to time, we will have customers complaining about the prices of our food and drinks.

“They question why a small town like Gopeng charges nearly the same price as the big cities,” he said.

“We have to explain to them about the price hike for items such as curry powder and condensed milk.

“For example, we use 2.5kg of curry powder a month. It used to cost us about RM4.30 per 250g pack, but now it has gone up to RM5,” he said, adding that most items now cost 30% more.

Miszuan said that whoever was elected MP should be always available at their service centre to listen to the residents’ problems and not just drop by occasionally.

On the traffic issue, Barisan candidate Ting said it had been a longstanding problem and a master plan was needed to resolve it.

“The obvious idea is of course to widen the roads, but I think we need to have a wider perspective.“There needs to be a balance and proper planning so that it will not be a waste of money in the future.

“I can get the experts’ opinions on how to make things right,” she said.

Ting also wants to create more job opportunities so that youths will remain in Gopeng.

“It will be a big task but nothing is impossible. There needs to be a starting point and we need to lay the foundations first.

“I feel that the industrial sector is one area that we can look at, by bringing in more high-tech or even robotics industries.

“Graduates no longer just want to be technicians. We need better, quality jobs for jobseekers here,” she said.

“When we have these industries, then it will slowly give a positive impact to more downstream economies and also address the rising cost of living faced by the people here,” she added.

Meanwhile Tan, who is the incumbent Simpang Pulai assemblyman, said Gopeng had different community segments with different needs.

“For example, Simpang Pulai is a newly developed residential area where the focus has been on better town planning, reducing traffic as well as providing basic amenities such as schools and public health clinics.

“As for the Teja state constituency, we have a large Orang Asli community and the ecotourism segment.

“What is needed is a blueprint for ecotourism that will focus on licensing more tourist operators who will help to provide better quality tourism as well as create additional job opportunities.“As for the Orang Asli villages, the plan is to provide better infrastructure like good Internet connection, schools and healthcare,” he said, highlighting that one of his main concerns is also to address the lack of job opportunities in the constituency.

“Areas such as Simpang Pulai, Kampung Sengat, Kampung Pulai and Kampung Kepayang are located along the main road heading to Cameron Highlands, yet those staying in these areas are not benefitting in terms of job opportunities,” said Tan.

“We need to have proper planning that focuses on those located at the state border, and perhaps work on how to tap Cameron Highlands to benefit the people in Gopeng,” he added.

Meanwhile, Dr Balachandran said his primary aim was to turn Gopeng from a sleepy town into a livelier area.

“There is so much tourism potential with the town’s history and heritage.

“With that, jobs can be created and I will try to reduce the unemployment rate among the locals, especially those from rural areas.“Another thing that I want to focus on is to push the government to get an ambulance for the health clinic,” said Dr Balachandran.