Friday, March 5, 2010

Day 1: Train Ride, Caves and Jelawang Waterfalls

8:00pm, February 25th, 2010, KL-Sentral: I find myself shuffling through a crowd of people at the local 7-11 buying up a couple of bottles of isotonic drinks to stuff into my already overloaded knapsack. The rest of the gang has already gathered at KFC upstairs with the exception of Yee Wei, whom last I heard was still hurtling down the tracks to our meeting point here before boarding our overnight train to Kelantan. Yup, it has finally been realized, our much anticipated and numerously postponed trip to Gunung Stong-Jelawang Waterfall in Kelantan and not even a bout of diarrhea, two days before, is going to stop me from boarding this train tonight! This is really not the 1st time I am heading to the mountain. I have in fact gone there 3 years before with another group. However, I couldn’t really recall ever scaling to the summit, remembering only that one of my team members had a sprain on the way up and the entire expedition had to turn back. The fact which dawned on me later as I hiked up the summit was that I have actually reached the top the last time and upon surmounting it, only then did I realized just why I actually forgot I reached it. ;) But more on that later. Planning for the trip really started mid 2009 and with a few searches done on the internet, I managed to contact KB-Backpackers (, the tour operator which I had gone with the 1st time I was there. I had tried to contact the guide which took us to Kenong Rimba as well but he responded a tad bit too late. The package I had chosen to opt was the same as before with the widest range of experiences to savor, the 3D2N free and easy package with the option to night beneath a gigantic overhang called Gua Bogor. Prices really depends on the number of participants going and despite putting the event up on Trail Trackers, I only managed to garner one short of a dozen people to come (Linus, Wei Han, Vincent, Fei, Pui Voon, Ching Li, Sum, Henry Lye, Kam Keong, Yee Wei and myself).

As for the mode of transport up to Dabong town, which is the closest significant town to Jelawang, we had initially thought of driving there. However, the prospect of spending more than 6 hours in the dark negotiating corners in the mountains on the same roads used by giant timber lorries seems daunting, so I opted to propose that we take a more ‘romantic’ train ride instead.

A 'romantic' ride on the train anyone?

Booking the train tickets however, needs to be done early, especially when the trip is going to be done on a public holiday. We got the return tickets via the internet through KTMB’s website ( at RM96/person for a place in the air conditioned 2nd class bunks which were arranged in an almost ‘catacomb’ like combination. We boarded the train at about 8:30pm, finding our bunk in the 2nd coach closest to the train engine after a ‘rushy’ KFC dinner.

Staking out our bunks in the train...

Thanks to Carol’s last minute (non-refundable ;)) pull-out, we’ve got a ‘free’ bunk for us to put up our super huge knapsacks. We settled into the train pretty quickly and soon found ourselves trying to occupy our anticipated 12 hour ride with cards games, idle chatter and attempts to ‘explore’ the train with the main objective of finding out where the galley (and food) is. Facilities in the train were marginally ‘habitable’. I found a few crumbs of crackers left over by my bunk’s previous occupant underneath the mattress which I used to tease Wei Han who slept underneath. My bed sheets and pillow looked clean although a number of us did complain their pillows looking a tad bit ‘dirty’. At this point, I would like to draw some attention to the length of the bunks. They appear to be built with Asians in mind, so that if you somehow swing a little bit out of the bell curve (I am saying taller than 6 feet :p), you’re going to find that you’ll have to scrunch your long legs to fit into the bunk. I had passed ‘under’ a few gwei los during my exploration of the train, noting that a couple of them were well a head taller than myself. It is times like these that I thank the heavens that my genes didn’t make me taller than I already am :p.

Vincent seems 'comfy' in the limited space of the overhead bunk ;)

The toilets appear reasonably clean, although with all that rocking, I wonder how anybody could actually squat/sit/stand to do their business. They open up to the tracks underneath so guys and gals, if you’d think of taking a stroll down the railway tracks next time, think again. You might risk stepping on someone’s excrement dumped from a passing train! :p The food in the galley was simply EXPENSIVE. Anything in a polystyrene box will set you back RM4 while a bottle of mineral water cost you RM2. There are also not enough seats in the galley and considering the inherent instability of a moving train, you’d most likely find the tables covered with the spilt contents of food and drinks, the waiters hardly able to cope wiping them off in time. In fact, you’d have plenty of chances to gage the extent of your ‘patience’ because often times the waiters will either gruffly tell you to wait in your attempts to order food or just plain ignore you. By 1030pm, it was time for me to switch off for the night, the intensity of the corridor lighting dimmed by the shift of my bunk’s curtain. Nothing can really be done about the constant banging of the sliding coach door though, its pneumatics busted leaving it unhindered as it swung open and close with almost every hard bump of the train.

A night in the train

Despite the constant booming of the door, I managed to get a modicum of sleep, waking up a few stations before Dabong. We were informed that we’re arriving at the station by KTMB staff, revealing a system of noting down each passenger’s destination and verbally informing them prior to arrival at their destination. It was a system to compensate for the poor condition of their PA system whose announcements were easily drowned by the noise of the moving train; nevertheless I am thankful for it. We reached Dabong at around 9:30am, 2 hours behind schedule.

Dabong at last! :D

The group on arrival at Dabong station

Our guide, Dek was already waiting at the station. Having identified ourselves, we were then introduced to the local stall for our morning breakfast consisting of local mixed Malay rice with some kerabu on the side.

Savouring the local delicacy...

Local Delicacy: Rice with Beef Curry mixed with a dash of kerabu

There were 2 other large groups at the station as well which we rightly guessed will be going to the same destination we are heading. Having finished our breakfast, we proceed to fulfill the first item in our itinerary, that is to visit the surrounding caves in the area.

Linus (the one on the right), with the local fauna at the station :)

Leaving our heavy bags at the local KB-Backpackers office, we boarded our van for a short drive down to the entrance of Gua Ikan recreation park. Along the way, we were greeted with our first sight of Jelawang Falls, waters tumbling down 305m above the jungle floor. We paused at the side of the road to take some pictures before continuing our journey.

Jelawang falls from a distance with the mountains in the background

Dismounting our van at the park and crossing the lonely single carriageway into leech infested bushes, we made a short dash to Gua Gelap. As its name implies, it is extremely dark within, the glare of our flashlight dispelling some of the gloom to reveal its primary residents, bats. Of noted significance however is this very, very tight crawlway which we all have to get through on our bellies, bringing into mind a similar experience I had at Gua Batu Maloi in Seremban.

Kam Keong through a tight squeeze in Gua Gelap

But if our 95kg+ Wei Han can squeeze through, heck anybody can I guess (unless you are a Sumo wrestler or something). The exit of Gua Gelap led us into a path up to Gua Keris, so named for a rock formation which resembled the Malay dagger.

Standing next to the cave's namesake in Gua Keris

Group photo in Gua Keris

Here, we were introduced by our guide to the usual stalagmites and stalactites, other than interesting rock formations carved out by water over the cave’s limestone.

The view of the Gua Keris outward...

Inside Gua Keris... beautiful isn't it? ;)

Crystals embedded in the stalagmite. "DO NOT TOUCH!"

We were brought to Gua Pagar next, where we were shown the ‘trap-door’ spider’s network of webs. Unfortunately, no spiders are home the day we came because triggering the webs did not reveal any of its hosts.

Our guide trying to provoke a trap door spider to show itself... Nothing came out

It was almost mid day when we finished our cave tour, finding ourselves at a drinks stall at the mouth of Gua Ikan park after a brief scale down the limestone hill housing the caves and quickly wading through the leech infested patch of bush to the road. We started our hike up the top of Jelawang Waterfall at 2:30pm, our guide doing the usual park registration and stuff for us. I took note of the rather well taken cared for toilet at the entrance to the park before leaving, knowing that I will be performing ‘desludging’ operations in 2 days time :p.

Ready to move out! Spirits are high... ;)

We passed through a series of wooden chalets at the foot of the falls, some of them appearing functional, some of them looking abandoned. A flight of steps guided us up along the side of the waterfall, a trek I found to be different from the one I took the last time I was here. Immediately, the full impact of my more than 16kg load begins to bore down on me. I was surprised how so tired I quickly became! We were barely a portion up the waterfall when the guide halted us to allow us a breather. I was tired and the welcome invitation of dipping into the cold waters of the falls is too much a temptation for me!

The author... already 'knocked out' after barely 20 minutes into the hike?!

The gang at the foot of Jelawang falls

We rested for about 10 minutes before we trudged on, scrambling along the rocky sides of the falls. About 20 minutes later we encountered a wooden hut by an uphill trail, the ‘official’ way up from the base camp. It now appears that our guide had taken us on an alternative route, a more scenic albeit more challenging route up to the top of the falls. I was dog tired, panting heavily and drinking gulpfuls of 100 Plus already. Man, I didn’t know I have been so out of shape!

"A picture says a thousand words". Ladies and gentlemen, can you imagine how tired I am looking at this picture?

A European lady came up then and we chatted with her for a while before continuing up. Soon, I found myself among the stragglers consisting of Linus, Sum, Henry and myself. The rest had parted and went ahead. From here, we advanced very slowly, pacing up a few steps before halting for a breather. The fact that the track up is almost 45 degrees angled or more wasn’t really helping either. Finally, Linus suggested to go ahead, trying to find the end of the trail and if possible, call for help from the others who had arrived to support us. Sum, Henry and I continued on.

The half hidden sign close to Baha Camp, proclaiming the area as 'Jelawang Jungle'. I was too tired to even notice it :p

But thank goodness others still had the energy to record the beautiful flora of the jungle. Above is a species of colorful flower.

Lichen... at higher elevations, it gets cooler...


We then reached a fork in the road, one trail framed by a wooden arch heading downhill, while the other heading up. It would have been helpful if the arch still had the signboard affixed to it but as our luck goes, it did not. Logic argued that we should continue up, but my residual memory of the place nagged me to take the track downhill through the arch. Linus hasn’t come back. I told the rest to let me go ahead, leaving my ‘oh so heavy’ load behind to reconnoiter while they waited at the fork. Sure enough, it was the way to Baha Base Camp not more than 10 minutes away! Pui Voon, Ching Li, Kam Keong and Yee Wei came up to meet me as I went down offering help. I returned to where Sum and Henry were, hefted my bag and passed some loose items to the ‘rescuers’ and headed down to Baha Camp. It was about 4:45pm when I arrived.

Happy and RELIEVED people arriving at Baha Camp ;)

Immediately I have had the temptation to jump into the cool water of the stream running through the camp but I was cautioned by the guide not to do so for fear of cramping my muscles. I heeded his advice and picked my way to the rocky outcrop where the waters of the stream plunged down to form the falls. Wei Han, Vincent and Fei were there.

Magnificent view atop Jelawang Waterfall

Another view of the edge of Jelawang Falls

Resting our tired legs in the cool running stream... Ahhhh... :D

Ice cool water running down the sides of Jelawang falls

Cool runnings...

Taking a brief view of the surrounding plateau, I returned back to where we had all unceremoniously dumped our heavy burden to find out from our guide where would we be setting up camp for the night. We were told to camp near this ‘chalet’ aptly labeled ‘Kedongdong’.

Setting up camp, in the shade of a 'chalet' called Kedongdong... ;)

Scattered throughout the area by the stream, the chalets had seen better days. Although I noticed some to be surprisingly inhabited, they are generally dirty and run down. A few of them seems to be still supplied with what once were ‘mattresses’, now little more than blackened moldy fungus farms. It would have been a much better option living in our much cleaner tents than risk becoming a ‘bio-weapon’ when we reach home. There is what I would describe as an ‘outhouse’ nearby, represented by a thin wooden roofed structure with a sheet of canvas as a door. Inside was an aroma that would wake a comatose ox, emanating from once a dug out hole which is now completely filled to the brim with sloshing, pulsating s**t. :p Even if I had the nose and nerve to squat over the hole, risking being splashed with living excrement as I ‘bombed Tokyo’, the gigantic spider nesting right over the hole was enough deterrent not to. :p I resolved to do a ‘Saiful’ and keep it for the toilet below. With our tents set up, it was time to prepare ‘lunch’. We dug into our bags and gathered our food, resolving to first help ourselves with our generous stocks of Instant noodles. Each person was allotted 4 packages for them to cover 2 meals, I opting to have only 1 for now (also to ensure enough storage of ‘waste’ for two days).

Portioning out our food. It's actually a science trying to make sure everyone is 'properly' (and not necessarily well) fed. :p

Others with no such qualms went for two, supplementing their meal with helpings of pickled Chinese vegetables in cans. We also prepared some hot soup, our hungry chef (Wei Han) not bothering that the paste he was dumping into the mess tins were of different types of soups (mushroom, cream etc). For drinks, we boiled some water and dumped in satchels of milo and Nescafe which resulted in a new concoction they call ‘Nes-lo’. Well, beggars can’t be choosers so I helped myself with portions from the communal pot as well.

'Chef' Wei Han touting his cornucopia of MIXED food (Neslo/Assorted Flavor Soup). Guess when you are hungry anything goes huh? :p

Lunch over, we headed up to the waterfall upstream from Jelawang, a short 5 minute walk among the chalets, pass other campsites of people already there before us. It was a riot. There were so many people at the falls. Without much energy left except to wash myself, I did just that and returned back to camp for some much needed rest. Night came fast in the jungle and when I awoke, it was getting dark. I headed back towards the rocky outcrop at the edge of the waterfall. The crowd, consisting of elements from three other large concentrations of people numbering between 10 to 30, was already there to catch the sunset and slowly leaving. My group and I lingered, wisely reserving our seats for the next spectacle… moon watching! :D The moon was a huge white ball that night, almost full being shy of 2 days from Chap Goh Meh. Appropriately, we played a few rounds of werewolves with yours truly being the gamemaster for more than a few rounds.

Care for a round of werewolves anyone? ;)

Nobody seems to want to take that role except Linus and as the clock struck 10:30pm, we decided to call it a day and head back to our tents. Our thoughts focused on the hard climb up Stong mountain on the next day.

Full Moon over Jelawang Waterfalls... Auuuuu!


  1. the brightly-colored red plant is not a flower. it's a ginger species. ;p

    great to hear you guys enjoyed the trip. more to come aye? :)

  2. it's still a flower lah....a ginger plant can have can most fruit trees mind u....

  3. Haha thanks for the vote of confidence, Linus! :D But then again, all comments are welcomed! ;)

  4. hi! thank you for sharing your experience. it has been a really good read and makes me keen to do the same ^^ can you please share your guide contact ? as well as the contact for the van transportation? thank you^^