Thursday, October 7, 2010

Belum (Or Sudah?): Day 3: Kelah Pond and Home

Day 3, Belum. The last day's attraction was perhaps the best out of all we have visited so far. The previous day's excursion (the trek to nowhere) was a disappointment (especially when I don't get to swing around my ferocious parang at stray branches, vines (and maybe a leech or two) ;)) and I wasn't really having high hopes that today's destination would be getting any better. Fortunately I was wrong, because we were brought to this very nice waterfall whose flowing waters filled a pond swarming with Kelah fish! ;) This was after we have packed up our stuff and left Sungai Papan campsite one last time. From there, it took another 45 minute boat ride to reach the landing point with a large signboard proclaiming the place as 'Lata Kelah' and a 15 minute hike to arrive at the pond.
The landing point outside the Kelah filled lake...

Fishing is allowed in the park for a fee (no fish bombing or trawling allowed though), but it is definately not allowed in this Kelah Sanctuary. We took to the water, swimming in it's cool waters.
Fish spa anyone? ;) Swimming with the fishies...

The guide insisted that we wear our life jackets while we swam, although later on, one of us decided to roll the dice and swim without it (guess who?) ;). With nothing else to do, we spend almost an hour here, taking photos and generally having fun.
Frolicking around the Kelah Pond...

A few of us swam to the bottom of the falls at the far end of the pond, although midway the water could get a little deep. At lenght I got back onshore, only to discover that my shoes had become a haven to some insects, including a very large spider! :p Shooing them away, I got my foot wear back on, joining the rest of the group heading back to our boat.
Racing home! :)

We returned to the army checkpoint to de-register ourselves. The sight of guns pointing at us no longer inspired much dread, especially after we passed a number of boats packed with soldiers heading into the reserve for which we waved and were waved back ;). We reached the jetty at close to noon, the sun beating the top of our boat's canopy, our stomachs grumbling for good and proper food! :D
Land Ho! The end of our Belum adventure?

Bidding our guides goodbye, we moved on to Grik town, stopping at the Belum resort on Pulau Banding to take a look see on more luxurious accomodations. ;) Tarrying there for not more than our hungry stomachs can allow, we moved on, finding ourselves in a Chinese restaurant along the road having our typical post trip lunch! :D
Well not before our customary post trip meal! :D

An order of fish, some meats and vegetables satisfied our hunger and soon we were joining the multitude of post holiday makers crowding the North South highway, all with one destination in mind... HOME! :D The verdict for this entire excursion?

Overall, the trip was a little bit 'too easy' for me. Touted as a 'pristine virgin jungle', it was perhaps a little too 'civilized' for my liking. Maybe another round of hard hiking and camping ala Kenong Rimba or Teluk Batik might soothe the adventurer in me... but then, that's for another time. ;)

Till the next adventure, over and out! ;)

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Belum (Or Sudah?): Day 2: Walking along the banks of Perak River

Day 2 of Belum begins slowly, the coolness of the night lingering into mid-morning. Some of us had already woken by the time I stepped out of the tent, preparing their morning breakfast which was NOT included in our package. :p I've brought my simple meal of Indo Mee and some satchets of milo. Linus, Carol and Sum did not. ;) Of course seeing our fellow adventurers 'without food', some of us with excess generously donated ours to them ;). Wei Han and Jiun Hoe had another round of 'oriental' meal, while Kam Keong and Cheah also had their share of instant noodles.
Breakfast at Sungai Papan campsite

At close to 9:30am, we moved out of camp, prepared and ready for our next 'adventure'. That 'adventure' was a conveniently short boat ride ACROSS the river. We landed by a large rock, a small trail leading out along the riverside. Apparently, this appears also to be a frequent camping site for the Malaysian Army, courtesy of the many discarded satchets of sugar, creamer and sorts strewn about the rocky outcrop, all marked with 'Kementerian Pertahanan Malaysia'. We continued along the track, single file, hugging the side of the river pass tall grasses filled with those thorny seed pollens that sticks to your socks.
Riverside flora...

Again there was little use of my 'parang', although I did take a few swings just for show. ;) I wondered where were we heading, hoping that we would make a turn soon into the cool comfort of the jungle canopy, away from the heat of the rising sun. More discarded satchets led the way to another camping site, this time a shaded clearing with evidence of wooden makeshift shelters and camp fire pits. We paused here for a while, dipping our feet in the cool waters of a nearby stream that crossed our trail.

We moved on, following a pause of 15 minutes, still hugging the side of the river. After an hour of walking the guide motioned for us to stop and unceremoniously declared that 'this is the furthest' we can go! I looked around taking in our 'destination' and was disappointed. :p Aside from a shallow riverbed sprinkled with water logged tree trunks here and there, there was nothing else!
The end of the road?! @_@

I guess, if it was to just swim in the river waters, we could have just as well done the same at the campsite. The 1 hour plus walk was really for nothing except to burn our exposed flesh in the hot sun! :p Unconvinced, some of us asked the guide whether this is truly the end of the trail and whether this is 'all' that there is offered for the trail.

The guide's answer was unsurprising, we couldn't venture anywhere from the trail because the whole area is in an army zone and we cannot wander anywhere else :p. GREAT! Therefore, we put down our small packs and made the best out of what we have, taking a dip in the river waters and frolick among the fallen tree branches.

Making the best out of what we have... 'mandi lor'... :p

We spent about 30 minutes there before we turned around. We paused at the stream close to the army camp site for another dip, seeing that there is really nothing else to do except to 'wash' ourselves.
A nice shallow stream with fast running water for a welcomed dip!

The stream here was a better 'wash' point compared to the end of the trail, with a small cascade located not far from where it connected to the river. Lured by the cool, clean, running waters as well as the cool tree shaded surroundings, we spent about an hour here to soak ourselves.
Cool jungle shade, running water... what else does Tarzan and Jane need? ;)

We took a number of photos while some (Sum (pun intended) and Jiun Hoe) delved in more 'imaginative' activities...
Jiun Hoe bravely (or more likely unknowingly) putting the 'acorns' over his eyes after Sum placed it somewhere over his 'nether' regions... :p Hahahahah!

It was a little pass noon when we got to our boat, the guide ready to take us back to the our camp site across the river. I guess we had still plenty of time to kill because we were back in the waters again floating down the gentle river current. Linus had the wonderful idea of giving Sum a chance to get on an Orang Asli river raft to take photos to which we asked our guide to enquire the community down river whether we can borrow it for the shoot.

Not surprisingly (again :p), such 'facilities' weren't free. As we were still floating in the water, the guide returned to tell us that the use of their simple bamboo raft would make us poorer by RM100.00. Wow! Even a ride in Sunway Lagoon won't cost us that much! :p Most of us were immediately cool to the thought but Linus asked for the guide to negotiate. They went off and returned, this time the price dropped to RM75.00. ;)

At this point, some of us had made up their minds that the price for Sum's photo op isn't really worth it and the answer we gave back to the guide was a firm 'NO'. We were still floating in the water when the guide came back one more time, with an offer of RM28.00 for the raft! A 400% discount (from the initial RM100.00)! Gosh, I guess even in the depths of the jungle, there are still people trying to pull the wool out of our eyes! :p Thank goodness no one took up the offer.
An Orang Asli. Despite living in the jungle, they can be pretty entrepeneurial!

After floating about for perhaps an hour, we moved onto that boulder sticking out close to the middle of the river, for a moment to sit around as the river water dripped off our bodies. We made some idle chatter before attempting to explore the depth of the sand bed around the boulder. Yeah, we were THAT BORED. ;)

Finally, I decided that I've had enough of soaking and swam back to the river bank. Some followed while some others lingered on. We prepared our lunch soon after. For the rest of the evening, we loitered around the camp site, the overcast sky threatening another bout of drenching rain.
Loitering the afternoon away...

A few boats packed with soldiers passed by and we waved at them. Most probably they were headed to the trail we hiked earlier, to conduct their patrols. Soupy Ginseng Noodles was on the menu tonight, which was another of Wei Han's discoveries from his Tahan trip. Yummy... ;)(Ok, I am being sarcastic :p Sorry ;)). Thank goodness we had some freshly fried eggs to supplement!

As night fell, we took refuge beneath our 'pavillion', Linus challenging me to a game of Chinese Chess while Kam Keong, Wei Han, Cheah and Jiun Hoe tried to outsmart one another with 'Chor Tai Tee'. Looks can be deceiving though as our very 'banana' Mr. Linus is a secret 'expert' in the Art of War. ;) After being defeated the first round by yours truly, he won the 2nd round (although not after he was checkmated, the game brought back a step or two before continuing again to its unexpected conclusion) and the third which he decisively won over me. :p Admittedly I do not declare myself an expert strategist when it comes to Chinese Chess, but I had thought I would have easily beaten the long haired fellow. I was wrong. :p ;) I retired for the night shortly after, giving in to the demands of my tired and sun burnt body over more challenges from Linus in his unexpected role of Sun Tzu(?). ;)

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Belum (Or Sudah?): Day 1: A 'Civilized' Excursion into the Jungle

I have to admit that I have been rather 'absent' from the blogging scene for quite some time now. Getting lazier and lotsa 'changes' going on in the interim. ;) But I do love blogging, it's sort of my way of recording interesting events for posterity and future reference. Also, I am equally happy that there are readers that benefit from my recommendations and comments on the places I have travelled. ;) I try my best. ;) This time's blog is focused on my recent trip to that supposedly unexplored, uncharted and pristine patch of Malaysian jungle situated in the northern portion of the peninsular, the place aptedly called but not exactly 'BELUM' ('Belum' in Malay means 'Before' for those uninitiated in the Malay language).

Suggested and organized by Mr. Wei Han, my initial impression of the place based on what I have seen in the advertisments and travelling brochures is that the place is somewhat undeveloped, more likely any adventures or trips in this area would be something that might require a little bit of 'hacking and slashing' of jungle undergrowth with a trusty parang (aka machete) ;) not akin to what I heard from Danum Valley in Sabah.

Settling to go during the long Hari Raya Holidays, we left Klang Valley for our 5 hour drive up to Grik, Perak in two cars, our initial complement of 9 hikers short of 1. ;) That '1' enjoyed himself a little too much the night before and when we discovered him slumped over his car's steering wheel (battery dead, I meant the car. Yeah, his batteries were sort of dead too :p) in front of his house at 5:00am in the morning, we knew we had no choice but to let him continue in his 'alcoholic' dreams... :p

Our 'lost' member of the team, deep in alcoholic dreams... :p

Looks like the village is out to celebrate? ;)

And so for the trip, we had 7 gentlemen and 1 brave lady to join us (the enigmatic Wei Han, his hometown friend and solar topee wearing 'botanist' Jiun Hoe, straight as an arrow Kam Keong, silent and steady Cheah, ever entertaining and possibly clinically 'mad' Linus, his 'exotic' girlfriend Carol, his spade carrying sidekick and new convert to the church of 'anti-leech' Sum and of course, yours truly ;) I shall keep the identity of the 'ONE' secret ;)).

Signboard on the way to Grik (a long way more to go) :p

The morning Raya dawn traffic on the North South Expressway wasn't really as bad as I had initially thought and we made good progress, getting on the Kuala Kangsar exit at close to 730am. We had initially thought of stopping by at Ipoh for their (over-rated) dim sum but due to the earlier 'drama' that consumed a little bit of our travelling time, we decided to continue up the byroads to Grik for breakfast instead. Reaching Grik at about 8:45am, we found most of the shops closed. Whether this is symptomic of a 'sleepy' Malaysian backwater town or the fact that the day we arrived was a public holiday, I am not really sure.

Regardless, a few quick questions to some locals directed our attentions to this food court where a number of Chinese stalls were open. Apparently, most of the visitors and passerbys have been given the same location as the place was packed! We sat down and ordered our share of dim sum, wan tan mee, chicken rice, served with freshly brewed coffee. There were other fares as well, among which are some 'chang' (glutinious rice wrapped in pandan leave), porridge and yong tau foo. We left to continue our journey north towards the Malaysian-Thai border ending our journey at the parking lot with a long bridge overlooking Temenggor lake.

A stopover for many an adventurer, the famous bridge spanning Temenggor Lake

Our guide hasn't arrived yet, so we wandered about the lakeside taking pictures and helping ourselves at the toilet located at a store nearby. This being Hari Raya, the store itself was closed, thankfully the toilet wasn't. ;)

Rules and Regulations... the place is highly guarded area ;)

About half an hour after we arrived, the guide came, whisking our organizer over to the army camp with him to obtain our permits. Security seemed tight along the Malaysian-Thai border, permits need to be obtain to enter certain areas, not all areas are accessible. :p After about 45 minutes, Wei Han returned, permit in hand. With this, we boarded our speedboat, taking us to the first army checkpoint. The sun was bright and the overhead roof our boat offered much needed shelter from the heat.

Pirates of Temenggor Lake! :p Luckily the army didn't see us otherwise we might be misidentified as a splinter group of Abu Sayaff! :p

We arrived at the army checkpoint along the riverside under the muzzle of a machine gun. No photographs are allowed here and with live ammunition potentially pointed at us, we all remained gravely quiet as Wei Han and the guide went up to the guardhouse to present our papers to the officer in charge. Tense moments pass before they reemerged and we are to continue our journey into the park. The 1st destination was to an island to watch the Rafflesia flower, one of the biggest flower in the world with a reputable 'smell'. ;) Mostly renown for growing in the jungles of Borneo, it is surprisingly found also on the Peninsular as well. The boat ride took about close to 45 minutes before we arrived at the island. We hopped ashore and hiked up a small gulley for 15 minutes.

Disembark! Our group of landlubbers starting our very short hike to the Rafflesia flower...

Lo and behold the Rafflesia! :p Not really the hack and slash expedition I was expecting though. This particular specimen we are to behold now was rather 'smallish' with a piece of broken petal.

The not so very elusive Rafflesia!

We took a few photos around it, observing the insides and out and was told by our guide that that was the end of this particular journey! :p Apparently, we cannot venture further into the island. Our permit did not allow it and we have to move on to our campsite from here. Well, scratch one item in the itenary I guess. We got on the boat and zoomed across the lake for another 30 minutes.

Boating in the sun...

At this point, I was beginning to think that really, our trip is going to be more of a boat ride than anything else. We arrived at the Sungai Papan jetty with a nicely set wooden pavillion in the background.

Brandishing Dennis's parang. Too bad there ain't nothing to do with it except cut some stray grass on this trip! :p Wei Han?

The grass around was cut and the place looked overall well maintained. A row of decent looking shetlered toilets were located behind the pavillion. In a distance was a large suspension bridge. We got down, took photos and proceeded across the bridge for another 15 minute trek.

Linus doing a dance with the guide on the suspension bridge...

We were headed towards an animal 'salt lick' and when we arrived, we were told that we 'just missed' a herd of deer at the same spot by a few minutes. As we examined the vague hooveprints in the sand, we heard a gasp from the guide. Putting as pale a face over his darkened features, the guide told us that there was a 'tiger' about :p. Wow! I instantly grabbed the hilt of Dennis's parang. ;)
Shh... them there 'Maybank' tracks! :p

Of course, the chances of a tiger attacking us humans is rather remote, since us being such 'ferocious' creatures, they'd prefer more regular 'prey' than us. Still, if a tiger were to be injured, we would sometimes end up on the menu. :p The guide told us that the tiger was most likely trailing the herd of deer and there was nothing much to worry about. He showed us the observation hut located a distance from the salt lick, dangling the prospect that the tiger might return here later in the night. That tweaked Linus's curiosity but not enough to convince the majority of us to spend our first night without mosquito coils, light and minimum heat in the hut. :p

The observation hut in the jungle...

The hut itself was rather luxuriously equipped with a toilet inside, again a hint of how relatively 'developed' this park was compared to the other places I have been. All of us could fit into the hut comfortably if we didn't mind the hard wooden bunks for beds. :p We returned to the wooden pavillion, satisfying our hunger with the chicken rice we bought in Grik. We contemplated setting up camp in this deserted but very well maintained spot but ended up opting for the alternative campsite close to the orang asli village in the next destination. Getting on board our boat, we headed into the blue yonder again, surprisingly bumping into a group of very familiar and long lost faces on another boat heading into the site we just left!

In a typical 'tak jemput pun' scenario, it seems like our old hiking 'buddy', Patrick, is on the loose and together with his OTHER friends were also on the area doing their own tour. ;) Another 30 minutes boat ride and we found ourselves standing on the banks of Sungai Kejar at yet another well developed campsite.

Arrival at the Sungai Kejar campsite...

Aside from a very well built wooden pavillion for 'group' activities and very nice toilets with running water, the 'tent sites' also had roofs with a solid elevated concrete platform as well! Talk about luxury! ;) After a brief discussion, we decided to pitch camp in the pavillion itself. There was no one else around anyway in the vast campsite.

At Sungai Kejar...

Once we have finished, we moved on to the nearby Orang Asli village to visit 'their' waterfall. It was a sweatless hike of 10 minutes before we reached it's cold running waters. We bathe there for close to an hour before returning to our site, dodging a few dogs owned by the Orang Aslis. Our guide paused amidst their village to confer with one of them, we surmise to pay them for our 'passage' thru and the use of their 'facilities'. ;)
Bathing in the compulsory waterfall! :D

As dusk approached, we took the little time left of daylight to cook our dinner, recipes our Mr. Wei Han had learnt from his recent trip to Gunung Tahan. Admittedly very oriental from our regular fare, we were presented with rice, chinese sausage, luncheon meat and fried egg for dinner. Rain fell as we settled in for the night giving us a cool and refreshing environment for a nice nap. ;) We played some 'chor tai tee' with some Chinese Chess on the side, eschewing our regular session of 'Werewolves'. :p Well, apparently, the game was starting to get a little 'tired' for a few of our members :p. Lights were out shortly after midnight as we all drifted into blissful sleep lulled by the soft pattering of rain over the rooftops. ;)