Friday, May 20, 2005

taman negara - 06



back on e Ekspres Timuran


you know you are in Malaysia when your train window is filled with this.

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Malaysia's end of e causeway, with e familiar yellow Smiling Bus.


Singapore's end of e causeway. at Woodlands, e Irish & e cat continued on e train to Tanjong Pagar while e rest decided that it was faster to get home or back to work by taxi.


man-maid's block on e left.


road on left leads to Bukit Timah Nature Reserve visitor centre

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stesen keretapi Bukit Timah


while e rest of e lab & e boss who had generously sponsored e train tickets were at work in there....=P

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the end.

taman negara - 05

[020205] back into e world of ringing handphones, blaring radios & noisy TV sets =| unloaded all our barang onto e floor of Lia Restaurant, & exhausted their supply of ice once again by ordering mango shakes....

back at Ekoton chalet, e staff were kind enough to let us bathe there even though we had already checked out e day before. to speed things up, some headed downhill to e green-roofed public toilet that has shower facilities too. while showering, e cat washed a bee out of its hair....have this feeling that e fella had been stuck in there alive all this while, until it drowned on contact with e lethal combination of shampoo+water.

left Ekoton chalet for e last time with a bunch of guys yelling behind, 'Why you leave without me??'


Park HQ + Mutiara Taman Negara Resort jetty. there are signs all over stating e charge of 50 sen per person for e crossing between e Park HQ & Kuala Tahan sides of e river by boat, but none of e boatmen collected anything from us, nor were they seen collecting any payment from anyone else?


to remind drunk tourists where they are?


boats grounded at Kuala Tahan at e end of e day, which explains e next two photos....



playing poker, writing logs & watching TV to pass e time while waiting for taxis to Jerantut, as all boats had stopped running for e day. by now we knew practically everyone in Lia Restaurant who appears in this photo, as well as e fish in their fishtank....

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sun getting low in e sky behind Simpang Tualang


looking down Sungai Tahan, Simpang Tualang on left. perhaps should head down this river to Lata Berkoh falls on e cat's next trip here?


Kuala Tahan beach clean-up crew, which also keeps e grounds of Ekoton chalet relatively litter-free.

two taxis finally showed up on e Kuala Tahan beach after unloading tourists who had just arrived from Jerantut.


got into e taxis, & then got out of them again, as they had trouble making it up this slope leading uphill into Kuala Tahan proper. plenty of oil palm estates & one police roadblock later, we were back at Jerantut station. had 7+ hours to kill before catching e 2.30am train back to Singapore, which were eventually spent at a seafood restaurant with many many cats for company & a lot of cat poison on e table, & then at a kedai kopi with bottles & bottles of Tiger beer. once again, one of e Europeans tried to order beer in a Muslim-run establishment....!?!


how to koon on e edge of a longkang without falling in, as demonstrated by one of e Jerantut train station cats. e cat likes Malaysia because there are cat friends everywhere, & people's idea of making a cat go away is to feed it until it is full & satisfied & moves off to find a place to nap, rather than hitting or kicking it out of e way =)

found some space to sit/sleep on e floor of e station platform - seemed as if e streets of Jerantut were so quiet at 2am because everyone was waiting at e train station. a KL-bound train came & left, & then another KL-bound train came & left....& came back again....for some unknown reason, much to e bewilderment of both e passengers on board & e station staff. before we could find out why, e Singapore-bound Ekspres Timuran pulled in about half an hour ahead of (Thailand) time, & we were finally on our way back, leaving e KL-bound train & its puzzled passengers behind.

Thursday, May 19, 2005

taman negara - 04


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morning sun streaming into Gua Kepayang Besar: for an idea of scale, look for e Irish & Finn guys posing in e first two photos.

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packing up everything including all trash & clearing out, after a breakfast of coffee/milo in stream/bath water & toast.


leaving by e other entrance that leads to e stream. Gua Kepayang Besar is large enough for e elephants that sometimes wander in there. during one rainy season e cave was flooded & e guide had to swim out of this place together with two Dutch tourists....if you believe what e guide says =P he's quite a character....a Cantonese Muslim who has learnt about stem cells & e scientific names of various plants from Google, who learnt to speak Thai during e years he spent hiding in Thailand while on e run from e authorities - he has supposedly been involved in e heroin trade & mafia, spent two years in Amsterdam, been sent to jail, deported from the Netherlands, been in & out of drug rehab four times, & been a guide in Taman Negara for 9 years.

walked out into e morning chorus of gibbon calls & birdsong. thunder had been heard e previous evening, e blanket of leaf litter was damp, & e ground seemed muddier. came across a hornet's nest along e trail, a wood scorpion in a log that we sat on when we stopped for a break, & a few leeches. further on, e Finn offended a bee & got stung on his head & another guy discovered his first kiss from a leech, & so we stopped for another break, only for one of e French to get stung on e armpit by another irritated bee. April-May is bee season & they were out humming in full force today, settling on our arms, fingers, neck, faces, ears, legs (for those who didn't wear long pants) & armpits (for those in sleeveless shirts) to join e butterflies in licking up e salt in our sweat. this is one of e best ways to get e beautiful butterflies & cute fat bees to stay still & capture macro shots of them =)


~2m muddy drop on e right & e little stream crossing leading to bee central - a tiny bee-infested islet where we stopped to cook lunch. for some reason one bee-weary Frenchman was very nervous about catwalking across e logs, even though e water was at most knee-deep. sat down to soak our feet & wash off whatever e rats hadn't licked up off e plates in e stream. a while later e Irish shouted for e cat to get him his camera from his backpack pocket so that he could photograph his new pet leech having lunch on him.


cooked tom yam (cat poison!) flavour maggi mee with e third dose of assorted vege in streamwater soup, which we ate while trying not to swallow any bees by accident. at any one time e cat had a bee parked on each finger plus a ring of tom yam-loving bees on e edge of its plate, & e cat attracts e least bees in e group....unlike e Irish & French guys who became bee airports - e Irishman appeared to walk around in a noisy buzzing cloud =P his cap was hidden beneath a layer of bees & he had to figure out how to pick it up as e bees hadn't left any space for his fingers to hold it. likewise for his backpack....dragging it over to e fire didn't help much - these bees seem immune to smoke & e backpack remained blanketed with bees.

after feeding lunch leftovers to e fish in e stream, e guide said that we were ahead of time & could hang around till 1pm, which elicited a violent protest from e Frenchman who was obviously more than tormented by e bees =P & so we continued on, climbing over many more fallen logs & crossing many more streams, at one point walking along in one. along e way we found a dead tarantula, & e Frenchman somehow tore his pants during one of e stream crossings.


catwalking across e longest log 'bridge' along this trail. a few muddy sections after Bumbun Kumbang, & then we were crossing e last stream of this trek - another ex-bridge where e planks that weren't rotting were missing - & suddenly we emerged from e forest trail onto concrete pavement....e transition was kinda sudden & took e cat by be walking on hard ground again (e floors of e caves had wall-to-wall soft guano carpeting). found toilets that had taps with running water in e ruins of Kuala Terenggan Lodge. e place has been abandoned for 4 years according to e guide.


end of e trail at e abandoned Kuala Terenggan Lodge. once upon a time guests at e lodge lounged on rattan armchairs on e verandah, enjoying e view of Sungai Tembeling & boats getting stuck at e rapids below.


sign that greets those who chose to start trekking from Kuala Terenggan. covered all 5 of these places on this trip.



where e boat propeller was damaged yesterday: e deceptively calm rapids that were strong enough to suck e boat back towards e rocks on e right. on e left is e little channel that we pulled e boat through to get upriver.


loading onto e boat at Kuala Terenggan for e return journey to Kuala Tahan.


pulling away from Kuala Terenggan.

Saturday, May 14, 2005

who else wants to go to Laos?

first plan:

Chiang Mai - Houay Xai - Luang Namtha - Muang Sing - Luang Namtha - Oudomxai - Ban Boun Tai - Phongsali - Hat Sa - Muang Khua - Muang Ngoi - Nong Khiaw - Luang Prabang - Pak Beng - Houay Xai - Chiang Mai

(sometime in Nov-Dec 2005 or 2006 when weather is cool & water levels in rivers are still high enough)

second plan:

Chiang Mai - Chom Thong - Doi Inthanon National Park - Hot - Mae Sariang - Mae Hong Son - Mae Surin - Mae Hong Son - Soppong - Pai - Huay Nam Daeng National Park - Chiang Mai - Doi Khun Tan National Park - Chiang Mai

(sometime in Dec 2005 or 2006)

& of course, e plan to return to Ban Apa in Chiang Rai again =)

taman negara - 03


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morning mist over Simpang Tualang side of Sungai Tembeling.


Mutiara Taman Negara Resort.


just as e cat finished its breakfast of Lia restaurant's heavenly roti canai, a bunch of guys got off a boat & unloaded this BIG FAT FISH =)) e rocks in e picture are bigger than a human foot....Lia Restaurant is a cat's dream come true =P apart from e usual roti & nasi dishes & e highly-addictive shakes (except for e watermelon shake, which tastes more like ais kachang with nothing except sweetened condensed milk), e ubiquitous banana pancakes also appear on e menu of Lia Restaurant, as they do on menus of all restaurants in even e tiniest & most remote of ang moh backpacker haunts throughout Thailand, Laos, Cambodia & everywhere else in Southeast some sort of insidious vector-borne (farang backpacker) disease (banana pancake virus) spreading beyond control....

at 9am there was no sign of e guide. waited. & waited & waited until one of e French asked e staff of Lia restaurant to help us contact him....& e wonderful people called every number they knew using 5 different handphones & sent a boy up on his motorbike to e guide's house to hunt for him! e boy returned with e guide's backpack & e guide followed behind in a truck laden with supplies (canvas sheets, sleeping bags, foam mats, 24X1.5L bottles of water, tom yam-flavour instant noodles, instant bee hoon, rice, sardines, baked beans, tinned curry chicken, dry biscuits, carrots, cabbages, kailan, coffee powder, milo powder, jam, bread, pots, mess tins, plastic plates, tablespoons, candles) for e trek ahead. split up e load between e 9 of us & set off on a boat.


map of e trek: boat from [1] to [26], walk from [26] to [25] to [24], overnight in [23], walk on to [22] to [21] to [20], then boat from [20] back to [1].

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travelling upriver along Sungai Tembeling from Kuala Tahan [1] to Kuala Keniam [26], e start of e trek.


after clearing 7 sets of rapids (Jeram Tabong, Jeram Nusa, Jeram Dua, Jeram Teras, Jeram Pedai, Jeram Panjang & Jeram Terenggan), all seemed calm as we passed by Kuala Terenggan [20]....only to get stuck at e 8th set of rapids a couple of metres upstream, where e water was far too shallow. e boat propeller was damaged when it hit some rock. after pulling over by e river bank & hammering e misshapen propeller back into shape, e boatman tried again, only for e propeller to hit another rock. more hammering, & then we decided it was faster for all of us to get into e water & pull e boat upstream through a narrow channel. e excitement factor was upped by e fact that e Indian & e PRC both can't swim....

finally reached e second river confluence [26], & disembarked at what seemed like an unmarked spot along e riverbank. met two Orang Asli guys as we climbed up a little overgrown path to e remains of Kuala Keniam Lodge, which has fallen into disuse & is in e process of being reclaimed by e jungle.


start of e Kuala Keniam to Gua Luas [25] section of e trek. within e first few metres we came across yellow wild ginger flowers, tiny durian fruits about e size of e cat's fist, & e first of many many (about 23?) stream crossings along this trail....this one involved about 10 metres worth of a few pairs of rotting planks coming loose from e rusted nails that once held them together, about e same width as e canopy walkway. looked like a simple crossing but e guide himself wasn't sure how much weight it could bear & told us to cross only when e person ahead had cleared it completely....kinda unsettled those who suffered vertigo at e canopy walkway e day before, & they took quite some time to inch their way across =P

been some time since e cat has walked through equatorial evergreen forest (last December was 3 weeks in tropical moist forest at +500m to +1200m elevations - mixed deciduous & hill evergreen forest with plenty of teak, bamboo & ferns). happy to experience all e familiar primary rainforest stuff again - shade from e dense canopy, strangler fig cathedrals, lianas, epiphytes, floor & understorey species racing skywards in light gaps created by canopy trees that had 'fainted', rattans, spiderwebs, patches on e ground that had been cleared of leaf litter & picked clean by male Great Argus pheasants (Argusianus argus) for mating displays, termite mounds, tualang, Ipoh & Shorea trees, wild pandanus, leafcutter ants, cauliflowery, shallow extensive tree root systems criss-crossing e trail, beetles, cute mushrooms peeking out from beneath e leaf litter, buttress roots up to e height of e cat's waist, gingers & arums, e whooping of gibbons (some of e calls sounded more like siamangs)....except for e lack of wind, e choking humidity that made e Europeans rather miserable, & leeches. this being Malaysia, we kept coming across 2- to 3-day old elephant tracks & big fat lumps of dried elephant 'pie' too.

after about an hour of trekking, stopped to cook assorted vege sliced with a swiss knife + instant bee hoon in stream water soup by a stream with fish darting about in tannin-stained waters. hadn't rained for about 2-3 days so collecting dry firewood wasn't a problem. plus there was dead bamboo just beside e stream - managed to split it (e guide had lost his parang along e way, else could've made a bamboo fish trap on e spot =P) to feed e fire....learnt from 2+ weeks of keeping e fire in an Akha house going that bamboo burns better & can get a wood fire going pretty strong =)

resumed walking, & e cat started to keep a safe distance behind e bigger people who tend to langgar every single rattan & overhanging branch & vine, after one guy's shirt snared a rattan stem & catapulted it onto e cat =| all e thorns in e forest seem to have this affinity for bigger people - there were plenty of (at times less than polite) sound effects coming from e Europeans walking ahead who kept yelling 'SPIKES!!', while e smaller people passed through wondering what e fuss was all about. on e other hand e bigger people could simply step over fallen logs that e Indian & e cat had to climb across. e forest is fair?

when we stopped for a break, 2 of e guys discovered red bloodstains on their socks - they had made some leeches very happy & satisfied *BURP* funny thing was that all who kena leeches on this trek were those who wore shoes/boots....


finally reached e first cave, Gua Luas, after 4pm.

hurried on to e second cave as there weren't many hours of daylight left.


climbing into Gua Daun Menari [24], which has 2 openings at e entrance - a lower one for those who can climb in, & an upper one for those who prefer to fly.


e black dots on e ceiling of Gua Daun Menari are incontinent roundleaf bats (Hipposideros larvatus).


looking out of Gua Daun Menari.


climbing out of Gua Daun Menari....e ground was slippery due to e thick layer of guano loosened by maurading armies of roaches, millipedes, maggots & worms, & one guy fell on e cave floor. a good thing e place was dark enough that we could hardly make out e creatures swarming around our feet. but despite wearing sandals, didn't get any of them exploring between my toes =) wind is funnelled through this opening & directed onto e plants growing at e entrance, hence e beautiful poetic name of e cave (dancing leaves). e wind also makes e entrance a wonderful spot to rest =) e guy in this photo has devised an 'Arabian' solution to e humidity using his towel - he was sweating so profusely that he had trouble keeping his eyes open!

more rushing along as light was fading, pausing only to gather fallen twigs & branches for firewood, & Gua Kepayang Besar [23] was reached just after 6pm. there were 3 other trekkers already in there together with their guide who had woken up on time, which was precisely why they were there ahead of us....

outside e other entrance to Gua Kepayang Besar was a confusing network of trails, with one leading to a slight above ankle-depth stream where we bathed at twilight....e cat had forgotten to bring its Myojo cup noodle containers on this trip (usually carry 2, one for eating/drinking/collecting water for cooking, one for scooping water for bathing - super lightweight & good to recycle) but we made do with empty mineral water bottles. a little taken aback at some who washed in e stream using e national parks of some other countries only biodegradable phosphate-free soap is allowed, & only at a certain distance from any water source....thankfully all e water for cooking had been collected before anyone had starting bathing!

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preparing dinner in Gua Kepayang Besar [23] - assorted vege in spicy stream water soup again, curry looks-like-chicken, curry I-can't-tell, curry something else, & sardines in baked beans with rice that saved e cat that is highly susceptible to chilli poisoning.


actual conditions, taken without flash.

before turning in, tied up our trash & kept e cooking pots, plates & spoons (e guide had told us not to wash them!) to one side of e cave away from e sleeping area. spotted what seemed like e glow of fireflies (e caves here don't seem to have glow worms) some time after e fire had died out, which brought to mind e almost-full moon Christmas night when fireflies decorated e path back to e cat's hut in Ban Du, Chieng happy =))

later on there was another kind of glow - pairs of eyes of noisy scavenging cave rats sitting in e cooking pot reflecting e light from our torches. by morning they would have done us e service of licking e pot, plates & spoons clean. e guide & e Finn got up to stick a branch into a crevice in e cave wall & hang our remaining food out of their reach.