A visit to the Matang Mangrove Forest Reserve will not be complete without stopping by one of the many nearby charcoal kilns. Over 348 charcoal kilns operate in the Matang mangroves, making the Matang mangroves the country's largest producer of mangrove charcoal.

Making charcoal is time consuming and hard work. After the mangrove trees or bakau minyak are harvested from the 40,466ha forest reserve, they are cut into roughly 1.6 metre logs and the bark is stripped to reduce excess moisture. The logs, from the Rhizophora apiculata or Rhizophora mucronata trees, are then transported to the kilns by boat and afterwards packed and sealed into an igloo-shaped kiln seven metre high.

The process of making charcoal is essentially the carbonization of wood through the removal of moisture. In order to do this, the logs are left to bake inside the kiln for eight to ten days at a temperature of 83_C, and then baked for another twelve to fourteen days at 220_C. Finally, the logs are left to cool for another eight days before the kiln is unsealed. This whole process of gradually heating and then cooling takes about a month, depending on the moisture within the harvested logs. The igloo-shaped kiln, which usually can be reused for eight years, is able to produce around ten tones of charcoal from 40 tonnes of mangrove in a single burn.

What was once considered a dying trade due to the popularity of conventional gas cooking, the charcoal trade in Matang underwent resurgence in the form of the rising Japanese market for charcoal. The kilns of Matang themselves have become a tourism attraction somewhat. Tourists and school children on their way to or from the Kuala Sepetang Matang Mangrove Forest Reserve can be seen dropping in for guided tours and explanation and explanations on how charcoal is processed and packaged for sale. Just opposite the forest reserve, the charcoal kilns are a highly recommended visit.


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