Sunday, September 25, 2016

Hike up to Pisang Waterfalls - Gombak

Sunday morning sees myself hurtling once more down the KESAS highway to meet up with a group of mostly first time hikers gathering at TTDI's Hero Market at 7am in the morning. The destination for today's hike will be the famous Pisang Waterfalls in Gombak by the Karak highway. Easily accessible offering a nice mixture of a challenge for a beginner as well as being not too taxing but satisfying to a seasoned hiker, Pisang Waterfall was chosen as a destination for another reason as well. It was chosen to be a site of an impromptu birthday surprise for one of our hikers today. :)

Blindfolded by his newly wed wife, he was brought along in the car thinking that he was going to have a dip at an Olympic sized swimming pool at the end of the trip. Little did he know that at the end of the approximately 45 minute drive, he found himself surrounded by jungle greenery, a cool running stream and eager friends in it on the scheme.
Tim being blindfolded. Still thinks he is going to be swimming in an 'Olympic sized' swimming pool. ;)
Our start point for the hike is at the small parking lot in front of the Jungle Lodge Alang Sedayu off Jalan Gombak, a side road that will actually lead you all the way to Janda Baik, passing by the major R&R at Genting Sempah. A small and occasionally narrow road that zig zags up through the Titiwangsa range, it offers an alternative to the Karak highway in case it gets congested during the festive seasons or if there was a major accident that blocks that major artery between the West and East Coast of Peninsular Malaysia (as I discovered recently when a tour bus overturned, blocking all lanes on the highway and causing a 8km jam from a little bit down Genting Sempah all the way to Janda Baik! Unlighted and lonely when it gets dark, watch out for the cyclists that uses the road to challenge themselves as they pedal up to Janda Baik or the occasional large lorry that for some reason used this non-tolled road to cross the mountain range.
Jalan Gombak. Road less travelled, unless there is another major accident on Karak :p 
As mentioned before, the parking lot in front of the Jungle Lodge Alang Sedayu is very small. At most, perhaps you could get a little bit more than 10~12 cars into the small piece of tarred road.
Parking in front of Jungle Lodge. RM5 for us. How much for you? :p ;) Remember, don't pay ANYONE else!
The small road leading out from Jalan Gombak is narrow with room enough for a single medium sized car (Civic, Altis) to pass through. Today, the parking 'fee' at the lot was RM5. I have read from some blogs from a few years back that some hikers paid RM3. I challenged the guy collecting the fee in front of the establishment on the fee, but he justified it by saying that the fee also allowed us to use their 'toilet' located on a small mound overlooking the parking lot where what looked like a office shed is built. Okla I guess what with GST and all the price hikes recently. :p It was rudimentary at best with our hikers taking turns to use it.

Having made the necessary introductions and securing our cars, we proceed down the road on foot. There is another small parking lot further down and over here there is also another person collecting parking 'fees'. BEWARE of being conned! While I am OK about paying a token fee to put our vehicles on someone else's land, there are people here that would ask money for the most whimsical excuses. In this case, somehow some of our group stopped to chat with the man and came off RM10 poorer paying for 'entrance fees'!

Beyond this second 'parking lot' the road leads straight to a dead end, stopping inside a pump house manned by someone dressed in an Auxiliary Police officer's uniform. I know that because the moment our small group walked pass the boom gate (with a large restricted sign) and toward what last I thought was the way down from the road to the river, he came out and told us to head slightly back down the road, away from the restricted area to find the point of descent. The one I was looking for, where the trek follows the perimeter fencing is already barbed wired off.

It was no problem looking for a trail down to the river, there were many. There was an even slightly serviceable stone stairway a bit back. The difference is just how long you want to get your feet dry, because the moment we are down, we had to wade into the shallow river to find the crossing point in front of the pumphouse. The point to look out for is a small opening in the bushes overlooking the cement barrier that spanned the small river where two large valves are installed,

After climbing out of the river, over a rather slippery rock, you will find a small trail cutting through lalang scrubs flanking your left and right. Follow it until you see a large monsoon run-off on your left. The river would be flowing beneath you on your right with the sounds of passing traffic coming ahead from the Karak Highway in front.
Hiking along the side of the river. Watch out for the stepped monsoon run off (drain) on your left on the way to the tunnel 
Climb up the steps of the run-off and you will find yourself facing the abutment where the Karak highway passes over. Turn right, and follow along the length of the abutment where you will find this unique feature of this hike, the twin tunnels where Sungai Pisang, passes under the highway.
Reaching this hike's unique landmark. Big trees, large boulders... no other hike has a trail that runs through not one tunnel but two! :) 
Again, be prepared to get your shoes wet as you would need to walk inside the tunnel to the other side, from which the jungle trek really starts.
Wading into the darkness.
Now, depending on the weather and your luck, you may encounter leeches as you pass through this part of the hike. Personally, this hiker had not encountered any although other writers had reported leeches here. If yes, I would suspect they are few and far between.

From here, its about another 30~40 minutes walk to the falls and the general rule is to always keep on the right side of the river. This may be easier said than done as in some occasions, you'd need to cross to the other side or wade in the river itself when the path is blocked by large rocks, tree trunks or simply thick jungle.
After the tunnel, always try to keep to the right hand bank of the river (otherwise you may end up at Gunung Buah Bunga, if you are stubborn enough ;))
But where possible, always keep right and if there is a path, stick to it. This is important as you will meet a confluence further up. This confluence is not particularly clear to see for a first timer and many a hiker including this one missed it when he failed to follow that general rule. In any case, always look out for signs of someone else's passing through this well transversed track. Look out for footprints in the sand, pieces of colored plastic tied around trees or even (sadly) rubbish. If in doubt, never hesitate to backtrack until you find these markings.

It is also that this confluence that you'd find a jungle track that runs parallel to the river branch on the right side. Following it would be a lot easier than 'conveniently' sticking to wading in the river as our team discovered on the way back. There were a few giant trees that fell across the river rendering it difficult to continue forward although as yet, not impossible.

Not far along the trek on the right side of the river you'd meet the next reference milestone. The 'big tree'. You'd not mistake it for anything else, it is literally a rather big tree, with a trunk as wide as probably 5 to 6 people standing full abreast.
In front of the big tree! :D 
Keeping to the trek, you'd walked pass a fallen titan, this time a very large tree that almost completely block the river path. We had stuck on the river trek on the way in and seeing this giant sprawled across the river was daunting and a real challenge to get across, with large branches and thick foliage strewn with stinging black ants as well as a few strands of thorny vines to tend to. We have had some help with another group of people that caught up with us. They sort of helped us across although after that we saw them lead their group on the overhead path I had been talking about before! ;) Hmmm... perhaps they discovered it after they got us through the thick branches and ants? 'Sangka Baik'... ;)

In any case, I brought my team up to follow them along the path and soon we found the next checkpoint, the 'split rock'. Well, it's not exactly a rock that was split open but more like two large boulders with the path running between it.

At this point it's barely 5~10 minutes away from the falls. As you get closer, you'll probably have to wade down the river again. Be careful because some of the rocks are rather slippery!

Before long, you'd see the waterfall and it's approximately 20 meter cascade.
Our destination at last! :D
It's more than likely you'll see other people there as well (very likely during the weekends), as there is a large campsite located at the top of the falls, accessible via a steep but manageable climb along a path directly on the opposite side of the waterfall.
A nice cascade, powerful flow and a small shallow pool to swim in. :) Watch out for the abseilers though. 
The pool at the bottom is swimmable and with waters reaching up to chest level (depending on the season). There are also fish in the waters giving hikers the sensation of a fish spa as they nibble off the dead skin from the soles of your feet.
Can you see the fishies? :)
It is worth noting that an adventure company had installed some cables and ropes in the area for people to do abseiling, I am not sure whether they will be around every day of the week but should you find these when no one is around, please don't use it on your own as it can be very dangerous without proper equipment.

At the top of the waterfalls, you'll find a few small depressions for you to dip yourself inside, not swimmable. Again, do be careful when stepping near the edge of the falls as the stones are slippery.

Overall, this trip was nice in that I get to once again meet an old 'friend'. :) The feeling of cold clean mountain water splashing over your back was a refreshing sensation after this relatively easy hike. :)

Monday, May 4, 2015

Apeh Hill Climb - 'Mystery Resolved!'

I was seriously confused between Saga Hill and Apeh Hill. Only up until recently did someone point out in one of my blog postings that the hill I had climbed from Taman Saga to access the waterfall beyond was actually Saga Hill! Like duh... Taman Saga + Jalan Saga. ;) Ah well, so when one of my friends decided to show us the REAL Apeh Hill, I decided to make sure I fall in behind his team and dispel the mystery.

Now, the entrance to the trail that leads to Apeh Hill is located at the end of Jalan Awana 23 in Taman Cheras Awana, a little bit of the road from the Cheras-Kajang Highway. Waze-ing your way there is the most easiest but in case you still need to look at the map, here it the location below.  

Now depending on the season, parking may be a little difficult as this hill is rather popular. Most people park along Persiaran Awana, close to the entrance to the One Legenda bungalows. The road is pretty long and wide and appears rarely used.
You really want to get to this road to know that you are at the right place. Oh yeah, I also obscured the Ah Long phone number. :s
After parking your car, it's then a short walk through the double story houses along Jalan Awana 23 before you see the TNB Sub-Station at the end of the road. Here is where you'll find a small trail that runs pass a tarpaulin shed on the left. Voila! You're on your way up Apeh Hill. :)
The end of Jalan Awana 23, TNB substation on your left, tarpaulin shed selling fruits and drinks in front.
The trail itself is well marked and well developed, at times with ropes stretched between tree trunks to aid hikers along more steeper paths. Not long after starting, the trail splits into two. Either one would lead you to the top of Apeh Hill but most people will take the trail on the left which will then lead you to Hill Station Number One. This is the first of five on the Apeh Hill Circuit.
Hill Station Number One. Sheds, benches and monkey bars!
Like Saga Hill, the residents here must have maintained the place nicely, erecting benches, sheds, monkey bars and even placing concrete mini dumb bells for visitors to use! A small stream runs at the edge of Hill Station Number One, small cement path span over it to lead hikers up the next section of the trail to Hill Station Number Two.
Crossing over the small stream. Nice place to freshen up both going or coming down from the summit. :)
A few meters down the path and it starts getting a bit tricky. ;) This is where the path starts to test the hiker's endurance as it angle upwards, looking a little bit like what it would be like climbing Saga Hill.
Uphill Climb begins...
A little bit more before Hill Station Number Two... add oil! 
Thankfully there were a few ropes stretched down to help hikers and after a about 20 minutes negotiating up the incline, you'd reach a small resting spot where a Chinese shrine has been built. This is Hill Station Number Two, housing perhaps the local 'Dato'. ;) If your sensitivity allows, do feel free to light up a few joss-sticks for the Dato and ask for his blessing to make your trip a safe and happy one. ;)
The small resting space at Hill Station Number Two. The Dato shrine is on the right. 
There is really not much space here for more than a brief stop as often times more hikers would be piling in from below. so it's time to move on.
Another round of steep climbing before reaching the next station. 
After a while, the trail levels back down and soon you'll find yourself at Hill Station Number Three. Nothing much to see here except for more places to rest than at the previous Hill Station. A large signboard announcing this station is nailed onto a rather large tree.
Yes, it's Hill Station Number 3. :) 
Moving on, you'll reach Hill Station Three-A. ;) 4 being a most inauspicious number among the Chinese (cause it sounds similar to the word 'death' brrrrr...), the people at this place has renamed it 3A instead.
3A and not 4? Hehehe, don't worry, the next Station is Number 5. we Chinese then to shun away from the 'death' number, hence the 3A instead. :) 
By now, the trail is now almost level and there are plenty of places to lounge around this Hill Station. The concrete dumb bells now make a return and together with a sturdy pipe anchored between two strong branches for your chin ups, you've got an open air gym up in the hills!
Now, going hiking is no longer an excuse not to forgo your regular weight training sessions...
Wanna get your 'wings'? Do more chin ups... 
Hill Station Number 5 is pretty small, with only one tarpaulin available and a few plastic chairs.
Hill Station Number 5. A small place to pause and catch your breath. It's also where the trail branches off away from the summit track to Apeh Hill Waterfall. 
From here you have two choices. Either go 'x-treme' by taking the trail to the Apeh Hill Waterfall before continuing on towards Saga Hill or head to Hill Station Number 6 which is the summit of Apeh Hill. The hike from the Apeh Hill waterfall to Saga Hill and out to the entrance at Taman Saga would easily take about 1.5 to 2 hours at a brisk pace, the time to trek between Apeh Hill to the waterfall I am not really sure as this time, our team was focused on going up to the summit and then returning to the car park.
Cool and refreshing, I gave the waterfall a miss this time around. 
At the summit, Hill Station Number 6, you'll find more benches, tarpaulin tents, monkey bars and more dumb bells! It took us about 45 minutes to reach the top, inclusive of the stops at the Hill Stations. :) There's even a mineral water dispenser located under a tent with the chinese wording for tea, harking back to those TVB kungfu serials where travelers would pause to take their fill of food and fluids before bandits suddenly turn up and you'd have a wushu fighting scene to watch. Well, there are no bandits here but many friendly yet tired faces up here instead.
The Tea Shed, notice the mineral water dispenser... :) I wonder what does that poster above mean? Hmmm...
There is also a large Malaysian flag spread out nearby, a good place to take a selfie and show your patriotism... Malaysia Boleh! :D
Gosh, I looked like a 'giant'... but then it's because I was standing on higher ground... ;)
For the journey back, we took the 'alternate' route, which turns out to be a much faster and 'easier' way as well! Hardly any steep hills or slopes to negotiate.
Heading back down the 'Alternate' Route to Jalan Awana 23.
We soon realized that our guide, Mr. Justin, deliberately took us along the harder more scenic route to Apeh Hill... hehehe. Or maybe perhaps we were going downhill so the journey was much easier. Well good for him, because most of us needed the exercise and I needed a blog entry to write.
This stream looks familiar, yet different. 
We soon reached a point where the stream passing along Hill Station Number One coursed in front of us. Here too was a cement pathway leading us across and a more wider one at that. We didn't tarry long here because we were starting to get hungry. :)
Moral Guidance on the road - "How to Treat Your Parents"...
A short while later we reached the branch on the road. While pausing to catch our breath, we noticed an interesting printout nailed to one of the tree trunks, its apparently a Guide on How to Treat Your Parents! Hehehe... well, good reminders are always welcomed.

Less than 45 minutes after leaving the summit we are back!
The Fruit and Refreshment Stall is already opened and in full swing...
By now the earlier tarpaulin tent hosts a fruit and drinks stall catering to tired hikers coming down the hill. They also serve an interesting looking fruit which at that time, I didn't manage to try. Hmmm, perhaps I will it the next time. :)

Interesting looking fruit for sale.
For now, we proceeded to our cars and drove off to our breakfast spot, which is Mama and Son Pan Mee. It's supposed to be famous, or so our guide Mr. Justin told us. :) I'll leave it to you to judge if you try.
Mama and Son's Famous Pan Mee. 
Overall, the hike up to Apeh Hill was fun and mildly challenging, a good place for a beginner hiker to start before proceeding to other more 'challenging' hikes. It's easily accessible and like Saga Hill is filled with friendly people and tough 'Aunties & Uncles' who I guess live nearby and go up and down the hill for their morning exercise. For 'veterans' maybe you can try heading towards the Apeh Hill Water Fall from Hill Station Number Five and if you really want to challenge yourself, proceed towards Saga Hill from there. That entire hike may pretty take much more than half a day so be prepared.

For now it's time to head home.

Saturday, May 2, 2015

Singing with the Young KL Singers (YKLS)!

The sound of the audience chattering as they settle down into their seats filter back to the crossover, where you and your fellow performers await for the performance to start. Tonight it's going to be a full house and the audience seats are slowly being filled to the brim. One of your friend looks at you and gives a thumbs up, "Break a Leg", she whispers and the gesture and that often cited word of encouragement echo down among your other members. The lights dim, the chattering subsides and then the standard pre-recorded announcement begins, "Ladies and Gentlemen..." before ending with "and now, sit back, relax... and enjoy the performance..." followed by a GONG to signify the start of the traditional 'buka panggung' performance. Some of your friends move out through the wings, sitting under the spotlight to do the dance, then as soon as it begins, it was over and those friends that were on stage stand together in a circle motionless as they wait the next queue. A loud thump of the drum, and its time for me to step in... "Wuuuuuu-uh!" I sung as a hundred pair of eyes tracked us as we file into formation... 
The Circle of Light
And thus begins my first ever stage performance with the Young KL Singers (YKLS) that was titled Incantations, held at Damansara Performing Arts Center (DPAC) back in October 2014. Nearly 10 months of rehearsals have led to this climax.
Musings in full tribal 'war paint'... ;)
How did I find myself on stage with this wacky, fun and interesting people? Well, it all started off with a performance by the YKLS in the preceding year at KUASH Theatre in TTDI. That performance was given the (rather odd) titled 'Period'. Hehehe... (The conductor later explained that 'Period' was chosen for the type of songs sung which were mainly from the Classical and Baroque eras of music).

A friend of mine was already with the choir and invited me and a group of friends to watch. I have to say that I was really impressed by the choreography, especially when you have to move around, settle in formations, all the while making sure you are hitting the correct notes! The lighting and costumes really do make it look like its a quality performance, very professional. :) While watching, I had thought well, 'I have always been watching a performance from the audience seat all this while and loved musicals... I wonder how it would be like to be on the other side?' ;) I asked one of my friend who watched with me whether he would be interested to join the choir together with me but he declined. That put the plan on the backburner a bit. At the same time, the YKLS went into a hiatus as the year ended as it prepares for next year's performance. I did manage to bump into them again at Publika singing Christmas Carols, again very nicely done.

It was not until Chinese New Year came back in 2014 when my friend who was a choir member asked whether anyone in my group of friends would be interested to audition for the next intake. Throwing caution into the wind, I decided to go and in the middle of February 2014, I was singing my first scale to the 'boss' of Young Choral Academy (YCA) and what I later found out to be a very notable figure in the choir/singing world as well, Ms. Susanna Saw. ;) Judged to be a Baritone, I then took my position in the choir singing the Bass 1 parts.
Rehearsal at YCA. Spot the Maestro... ;)
From then on, there was no looking back as we rehearsed firstly once a week, then twice and by August three times a week, conducted (most of the time) by our most gifted Conductor, the famous Mak Chi Hoe. ;) ;)  In August, we are introduced to our production manager, Ian Chow and choreographer Cikgu Lex. Both work with KLPac and are highly skilled and motivated. ;) The introduction of Cikgu Lex was quite interesting as a week before I had watched a performance of a show called a 'Street Car Named Desire' at KLPac, entirely done without any script with only music and dance to tell the story. Choreography for that show was by Cikgu Lex and boy was I excited to find out that *he* will be teaching us some 'moves' as well for Incantations! :) For Stage Props and Costumes, we have Adrien, a former YKLS member himself providing us with innovative ways to spruce up the stage with visually stunning and yet cost effective options.
If you haven't figured it out, it's toilet paper hung from the ceiling. ;) 
What went on after that was a grueling fast paced series of vocal rehearsals complete with choreography that let to our final 'graduation' performance in October. There was sweat and no small amount of tears shed as well as we rushed to perfect our presentation but in the end the performance was met with three nights of sold out crowds! :)
Jubiaba with our high priestess at the centerstage.
But it was the journey to this final goal that I truly enjoyed. Contrary to popular belief, you don't need to be a full time musician or performer to be in the choir. While some members are indeed performers and music teachers, the majority of the group come from a wide variety of professions, from stiff, conservative Engineers (like me ;)), to stiff, conservative bankers, interior designers, business owners, auditors, students, nurses, aesthetic consultants and house wives. ;) Each bring with them a cornucopia of flavors to the group, making it a vibrant and sometimes explosive mix to the scene... ;) I have made a lot of friends and outside of rehearsals, we go for coffee breaks, play boardgames and go on road trips. :) I've heard, quite a number of members found their 'one-true-love' in the choir as well.
Playing Boardgame... you may occasionally catch me and some of my mates at the All Aboard Gaming Community Center at Damansara Jaya on Friday evenings. 
Now the qualification to join... nothing, save you are not tone deaf. ;) hehehehe...

After the performance at DPAC, the troupe went on to perform a repeat in Penang's PenangPAC before going on a hiatus until early this year. For Christmas, we did a gig for 1Utama, singing Christmas Carols at the Old Wing and New Wing.
Check our choir member's Zhen's Vlog documenting our crazy adventure in Penang for our performance! :) (Incidentally, he is also the brader of famous local celebrity, guess who? ;))
Backstage craziness at PenangPac... :p ;)
Singing in a Christmas Wonderland... YKLS at 1Utama 2014! :D
In March this year, we were given the opportunity to sing together with the Malaysian Philharmonic Orchestra (MPO) for Danny Elfman's Music from Tim Burton's Movies. It was a truly great experience as I was literally standing on the stage along with my fellow performing friends in the presence of the MPO! Marvelous! :)
I am the MPO! Heheh can you spot me? :) Yes, I am the greenish 'Hulk' with the number 3 on my er... arm. ;) 
Coming this year is our next performance at KLPac, titled Illuminations. In contrast to last year's 'tribal' theme in Incantations with rich colors, traditional dance and native looking costume, this year's performance will be held almost entirely in the dark, with only the sounds of vocals and music and the occasional 'illuminating' lights to dazzle the audience. It's going to be an almost magical experience as the audience feels like they are lying down on a countryside grassy hill overlooking a moon lit river in the middle of the night, staring at the Milky Way as the hymm of the universe is brought forth by the winds into the ears, recalling past life melodies. ;)

Well, catch our performance in August or perhaps even join us as part of our troupe. We are always in need of Basses, Tenors and Altos... ;)
Bass 1s... Baritones... we rock! :D
One last thing to take note though, for those intending to join, this is a 'community' choir and like our very much famous cousin in the United States, the Mormon Tabernacle... we literally pay to sing. ;) The payment is actually tuition fees to YCA in exchange for the top notch guidance from our conductors. So if you intend to 'cari makan' singing, you can learn at YCA to 'cari makan' at other gigs. ;) For most of us, the joy of singing in harmony is what brings us back for every rehearsal, performance after performance. In fact to me, the experience is also very therapeutic, considering the stress we get at work. And no, unlike the general conception on choirs, we don't sing religious songs (although I am not counting our Christmas gigs ;), participation for that is optional for members). We sing choir songs composed by talented composers from all cultures.
Do Re Mi Fa So La Ti Do!
So, once again, if you have some spare time (and a little bit of money ;)), come join us, sing with us and make new friends while getting the experience to be literally in the limelight. :) Otherwise, come watch our performance in August 2015 at KLPac.

OUR website:-

To join, come to:-

Young Choral Academy (TTDI)
114A, Jalan Burhanuddin Helmi,
Taman Tun Dr Ismail, 60000 Kuala Lumpur. +6014-624 2733
+603-7733 4691 (TTDI)

Auditions are usually at the beginning of January to about end of March every year.

To watch and buy tickets:-

Kuala Lumpur Performing Arts Center (KLPac)
Tel: 4047 9000

TicketPro Online Ticketing

At the time of writing this blog (2nd May 2015) tickets for Illuminations (the vocal one) have not yet been opened for sale. Check KLPac site again maybe back in late June or July. ;)