Sungai Buloh Leprosarium

Photo by Els Slots.

Sungai Buloh Leprosarium is part of the Tentative list of Malaysia in order to qualify for inclusion in the World Heritage List.

The Sungai Buloh Leprosarium comprised a self-contained center for treatment with more humane living conditions for the patients. It was built in 1930 and populated by people from different ethnic backgrounds. It was the second biggest leprosarium in the world and it also played a key role in leprosy research.

Map of Sungai Buloh Leprosarium

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The coordinates shown for all tentative sites were produced as a community effort. They are not official and may change on inscription.

Community Reviews

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Stanislaw Warwas

Poland - 28-Mar-23 -

Sungai Buloh Leprosarium (T) by Stanislaw Warwas

Visited March 2023.

I think this could be a nice and interesting addition to WH list where medical institutions are not represented yet.

When you think leprosarium (or leper colony), you imagine an isolated community of people suffering from leprosy (Hansen’s disease) (i.e. Spinalonga, Greece, nominated in 2020, but withdrawn by Greece as a result of a lack of ICOMOS recommendation) – and you can be quite surprised when visiting this site. Today it is in the middle of Sungai Buloh town (and it can be easily reached from Kuala Lumpur Sentral by train and/or mrt, and then bus), in its modern neighbourhood where hospitals, clinics, medical schools and medical institutions are situated – these relatively new buildings (from sixties, seventies and even from the beginning of 21st century) occupy part of the so called Valley of Hope – it is the name given to this leprosy (kusta in Malay language) colony where people suffering from leprosy were not discriminated and isolated – as it happened in other leprosarium, but they were given the opportunity to integrate into the society by work, administration, education and religion. It was the second biggest leper colony in the world (after Culion in the Philippines). That was a very human approach to the disease and to the town planning too – all necessary buildings to serve this community were build in a green, beautiful natural setting – ‘garden city’. Research, experiments and trials in the Valley of Hope made it one of the most important centres for leprosy and led to the development of medical offices, labs and schools around it in the second half of 20th century.

In the past there were more than 600 buildings divided into three sections. The most numerous were the European-style family house with a kitchen annex for four or six persons; some of them were inhabited by married recovered patients. Today you can walk small alleys amongst these cottages – almost all of them abandoned now (even very recently), some turned into garden shops, one being a common place for schoolchildren, two being prepared for becoming part of the museum; the biggest building became an exposition hall (but it is open only on Sundays), some became research center where you can watch a short video about the story of the place; there are some places of cult in the vicinity of the valley – Hindu temple, mosque, church and small temple; in the north of the valley you’ll find a cemetery where crosses, swastikas, crescents and Chinese characters are gathered together…

When you’re in the Valley of Hope, look for a tree Hydnocarpus wightianus; its seed oil is widely used in traditional Indian and Chinese medicine, but also was used in the treatment of leprosy.

More info about the site:

Els Slots

The Netherlands - 17-Mar-23 -

Sungai Buloh Leprosarium (T) by Els Slots

The Sungai Buloh Leprosarium has been added to Malaysia’s thin tentative list only in 2019, so they must have plans for it (although these are already being threatened by yet another highway). Sungai Buloh is a town in the state of Selangor. Its Leprosarium, built in 1930, was a self-contained living and working community within the town.

I got there by a combination of MRT and GrabTaxi from the center of Kuala Lumpur, which took 1.5 hours even though there is a MRT station called ‘Sungai Buloh’ on a direct line to KLCC. The ride was free as they only inaugurated this part of the line the day before (many locals on the train were taking pictures). In the Grab app, I did not find a logical destination to direct the taxi toward for the final 3km, so I just choose ‘Hee Garden’. This is one of the many plant nurseries that nowadays occupy the area.

I visited on a sunny Friday morning and found the area pleasant enough for a stroll. The nurseries directly surround the core area of the former Leprosarium. I expected some gloomy and run-down buildings, caused by the unflattering picture in Zoë’s review, but it all looks very peaceful. There is no formal entrance, you can walk around the streets freely. Only the buildings were closed, some protected by bored-looking security guards. The community hall had a sign stating that it only opens on Sundays from 9-15.

With no interpretation signs present, I had to guess about the use of the various structures. There are tiny houses with vegetable gardens – presumably still inhabited. One of the more outstanding buildings is the pink Hindu temple; the Leprosarium distinguished itself by its multi-cultural approach and there are also places of worship for other religious backgrounds. There is a ‘School of Hope’ and something that looks like an industrial station. A corridor gallery shows photos, but the guard wouldn’t let me in.

So can this ever become a WHS? It reminded me of the Colonies of Benevolence, whose inscription also relied heavily on the background story and less on the physical remains. In Sungai Buloh, the remaining buildings and ‘town’ plan seem authentic and intact and have been protected as a national heritage site since 2011. It does not take much effort however to find stories online from the inhabitants saying that they “want to be left in peace”

Read more from Els Slots here.

Zoë Sheng

Chinese-Canadian - 13-Mar-19 -

Sungai Buloh Leprosarium (T) by Zoë Sheng

My visit was a few years ago so it's not all in my memory anymore. After being added to the Tentative list in 2019 I can finally call it the "trinity of odd inscription attempts" KL has, the Quartz "looks like the back of a dragon" Ridge and FRIM "fake rain forest" Selangor Forest Park being the other two now joined by the "Valley of Hope". I wouldn't have visited if this not JUST next door to the FRIM park and it is somehow recommend by expats in KL. Leprosy isn't exactly the hottest thing to seek out when you are on holiday, but the history of the hospital (built in 1930 by the Brits) and presentation inside the Open Air Museum is quite interesting. I still don't think there is any chance of this becoming WHS though. What worries me more is that the site is using crowdfunding to survive and collect donations for the surviving patients. I don't mean to see I have a cruel heart in any way but the site's inscription attempt is more of a cry for attention, and instead Malaysia could inscribe some of its amazing marine space like Sipadan, Tenggol, Tioman (but obviously not Redang), Bako NP or the turtle reserves.

So what can you see inside the museum? Old equipment, old beds, old replacement limps, old photos. Only a handful of the old buildings have survived, with the area surrounding it now mainly used for garden centers. It's best to have a guide for this I think because just looking at everything seems a little grim and knowing more backstory surely helps here.

Full Name
Sungai Buloh Leprosarium
Structure - Civic and Public Works
2019 Added to Tentative List

Unesco Website: Sungai Buloh Leprosarium
Valley of Hope community

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Sungai Buloh Leprosarium (T)
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