Batu Arang means 'charcoal' in Malay. It was for this reason that the jungle that was Batu Arang was turned into a bustling industrial town by the British in the early 20th century . The hard-labouring Chinese and Indian workers, imported by the British from China and India, were known to work under unjust conditions and minimal wages, toiling 24 hours a day, under 8-hour, three-shift regimen. The workers played a vital role in contributing to the economic and infrastructure development of Kuala Lumpur between 1915 and 1960. At that time, Batu Arang was so important to the energy needs of the country that it was believed that whoever controlled Batu Arang would have a stranglehold on Malaya’s future.

Just by looking at the signs of Batu Arang's colonial past peaking out throughput the landscape, no one would be able to guess that it was not only the engine of the development of Kuala Lumpur (Malaysia's capital city), but also the hotbed of revolutionary spirit. In 1937 disgruntled workers of the Malaysian Collieries (operated by the British) took over the town for seven days, and founded “the first Communist Soviet in modern Malaysian and Singapore history”. Needless to say, the insurgence was crushed by the British High Commissioner, Shenton Thomas, with the aid of 250 policemen and 200 Malay Regiment soldiers. Subsequently, in 1948, the Malayan Communist Party seized the town's police station, killing one, as well as holding people at the local railway station hostage. Due to its hilly terrain, which gave the communist guerillas advantage in launching ambushes and hiding away after such attacks, Batu Arang was a hotbed of communism and is mentioned in school history books as the the last town in Malaysia to be declared 'Communist Free'.

More info on the colourful history of Batu Arang:

Rekindling the Spirit of Batu Arang

Batu Arang Still Boasts of its Rustic Charm

A Step Back in Time (10 Min video)​


These days, Batu Arang is a far cry from the hussle and bustle of its illustrious past. The pace of life here is uncannily slow, for a township situated just 50 km away from Kuala Lumpur. The townfolk, many of whom are retirees who witnessed the heyday of Batu Arang, have resigned to a simple, quiet life. There has been negligible infrastructure as well as industrial development over the past 50 years, as there seems to be a new kind of resistance, a resistance against unscrupulous, metropolistic development and consumption, which was ironically fueled by this very town to begin with.  

With a population of about 20,000, boasting an equal mix of Malaysa, Chinese and Indians, the main industry in Batu Arang are the ammunition and explosives factory, an army base camp, as well as agriculture. There are several lakes around the town, which are old mining pools. Swimming is hence prohibited for safety reasons. However, there is a nearby mining pool 15 km away, in the adjacent town, Kundang, which is open to swimmers and water sport enthusiasts. ​​