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. ;)

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