The hinterlands of northern Pahang hide a network of caves if not discovered by intrepid explorers and pioneers would never be known to the peoples of the cities. ;) The limestone hills housing these caves could be just a hundred meters away but you probably won’t see it because of the thick jungle foliage hiding it from plain sight!
This round, we are off to the fabled Gua Kota Gelanggi, located near the FELDA plantations of Tekam, Pahang. Loosely translated, Gua Kota Gelanggi is malay for City of Gelanggi Caves. Why City? Well, there is a myth that speaks of an ancient civilization that made the network of caves its home. One day, a sorcerer happens to come by and curse its inhabitants, turning them into stone, thus explaining the various rock formations in the cave. Another myth refers to a creature called ‘Sang Kelembai’, some gorgon/medusa-like beast that lives in the area with the ability to transform things it touches into stone.
Well, leaving the fables and legends behind, the Gua Kota Gelanggi network of caves is really an interesting place to visit for those not looking at too extreme an adventure.
Taman Gua Kota Gelanggi, a map to all the caves in the park... click on it for a bigger (clearer) picture... ;)
Introduced by a friend who had been there before, the caves are located within the Felda Plantation of Tekam, the nearest reasonable town being Jerantut, about 20 minutes drive away.
Booking the package is rather easy. All you need to do is to visit the Felda Tekam Resort website here and click your way to the contact tab to get in touch with the staff for reservations. You could book your rooms online should you wish but I prefer the more, ‘human touch’.
Taking the advice from my friend, I chose to go for a 2D1N package which covers a visit thru Gua Sanding and Gua Kelawar with an overnight stay at Felda Tekam’s dormitory that includes a serving of breakfast. I also threw in a serving of dinner for our first night’s stay. Overall cost? About RM90/head! Cheap, cheap! :D
Departing from our meeting point in TTDI, we headed first for breakfast at Kampung Bukit Tinggi at the foothills of the Genting Highlands.
At Kampung Bukit Tinggi. Although the siew yoke/char siew seller has been proven elusive, we still kept our spirits high... :)
Looking for its famous ‘char siew’ and ‘siew yoke’ to eat, we were left disappointed when told by the local stall owners that the ‘uncle’ who sells those succulent meats have a habit of now only dropping by at the place only once in two weeks, the week we were there being the week he is not coming :p. We had to settle for a dish of wan tan mee mixed with a dash of yong tau foo, while we waited for a member whom we had left behind on account of not being contactable and oversleeping way beyond our departure time! :p ;) He paid an ‘idiot’ tax of RM50 for the taxi ride to meet us at Kampung Bukit Tinggi.
Presenting... the payer of his own 'idiot tax'!
With our stomachs filled and our crew complement completed, we headed to Jerantut, on a rendezvous with another group of friends coming in from Kuantan.
Note: Along the way, do take care to slow down between the stretch right after the Karak toll and the toll leading to the East Coast highway. A static and very CONSTANT speed trap camera is located somewhere within the vicinity and more often than not have ‘generated income’ for the local polis in speeding fines! The speed limit in this area is 90kph and the camera doesn’t really care if the roads are completely empty. :p
2 hours later, we gathered at Jerantut’s famous Man Fook Lau restaurant for lunch. ;)
Jerantut's Man Fook Lau Restaurant
Getting to Jerantut from the East Coast Highway requires you to make a turn at the Temerloh exit. From there follow the signboards to Jerantut. The drive will take about an hour over a single carriageway flanked by mostly palm oil estates and an occasional kampong or two.
Recommended by Chelsina (the leader of our Kuantan friends) through a blog (http://thule-food-quest.blogspot.com/2010/01/man-fook-lau-taman-jerantut-jerantut.html), this place offers some surprisingly unique presentations of food for a small town in the hinterlands of Pahang, at a price. ;)
The ever adventurous Chelsina (left) and her husband, Kenn (right) ;)
Ordering Man Fook Lau's signature dishes! (From left: Kwei Fei Chicken, Steam Patin Fish, Yam Pork and a serving of vegetable tou foo)
The taste? Well, really depends on the person. I found it not bad really although some of our crew would not agree. ;) I have to admit that the price is rather steep though. :p We paid RM32 per head.
A closer look at their unique Kwei Fei Chicken, consisting of fish, pork and chicken layered together!
Now with our tanks filled with even MORE fuel, it’s time to do a bit of exercise! However, we have to first check in at our abode in the Felda Tekam Plantation and for this, we need to drive out of Jerantut, heading north. Soon, you’d find signs leading you to the Felda Tekam estate. You’ll also pass by the entrance to the Gua Kota Gelanggi park as well.
Took me a while to figure out the map but I now realize the curious 'box' is actually the Felda Resort itself! Not to scale of course!
The feeling of entering the Felda Tekam Estate itself is like entering a military base. A guardhouse manned by auxiliary polis is located at a rather elaborate gatehouse. On our trip, we didn’t really go through a very detailed check, all we need to do was inform the polis that we are heading towards the resort and they allowed us to pass. Perhaps in more ‘sensitive’ times (like during elections), security would stepped up a bit to prevent ‘unwanted’ elements from influencing the folks inside? :p
It took another 20 minutes to negotiate through well paved roads before we finally reached the resort. More oil palm estates flanked the road in with various large FELDA administrative offices built in between. Signboards leading to the various communities as well as nearby amenities dot each junction. The place feels and is like some mini township!
We arrived at the Felda resort front office around 1pm. Perhaps because it is Ramadhan, there aren’t many people around. In fact, it was very likely that we were the ONLY guest around for the period.
The impressive front office of the Felda Tekam Resort
Presenting the print out of my reservation confirmation and paying what remained of our payment, we received the keys to our dorms which were located about 5 minutes away. Dinner and breakfast will be served in the coffeehouse at the main office.
They do of course have more lavish accommodations for rent as well, some up to ‘hotel’ standard but because we are always aiming for ‘low cost’ trips, I had chosen the dorms as an option. The cheapest would of course be simply ‘camping’ in the premise. ;)
We moved into our dorms, the guys and gals separating to their respective dorms. I am not sure whether gender separation thingy is enforced here although the lady at the counter did mention specifically a ‘male’ and ‘female’ dorm when handing over the keys. They did also want to know many guys and gals were in our party when I made the booking. Fortunately, there were no objections from either side of the gender gulf on our voluntary segregation.
The dorms itself were rather clean though very spartan. There were about 10 double decker bunk beds in each room, more than enough space to accommodate our party with keys to two rooms.
This pic was taken from their website. Needless to say, the presentation is always better there than the actual. Still, it's livable. ;)
Some cupboards had broken doors while you get a very thin piece of cloth as your bed sheet and blanket. Don’t expect to be using the blanket though because the dorm is not air conditioned and the fan is hardly able to stave off the tropical heat of the afternoon sun.
To do our toiletries, we had a centralized wash room complete with toilets and bathroom stalls. For those who are less ‘modest’ there is your typical terrazzo walled water tank where you can scoop out gouts of water to bathe in a more ‘communal’ atmosphere ala ‘kampung’. Don’t seem very practical if you are going to bathe with your clothes on though (even if you’re only clad with a ‘sarong’).
Our guide met us shortly after we checked in and told us to prepare for our first outing to the caves.
Without wasting much time, we dumped most of our stuff in the dorms, strapped on our hiking gear and moved up to meet the guide at a closed ‘coffee’ shop right outside our dorm. Leading us back out the plantation via motorcycle, we drove back to the Gua Kota Gelanggi Park entrance we passed earlier to get to the resort.
Here we realized that there is a token fee to be paid for visitors to enter the park but because we have already signed up for the package with the resort, we don’t need to pay any.
Driving in a little bit away from the guardhouse through a narrow road, we parked our cars at what looked like a natural limestone ‘arch’ named Gua Tongkat which means ‘Cane’ Cave in the Queen’s English. Don’t confused ‘Cane’ with Sugar Cane, because this cane means the stick which generally old people (and some young people) use to walk. :p ;) As with all our trips, it was time to take a group photo.
Our customary group photo in front of Gua Tongkat! Huzzah!
... and a 'solo' one for the books... ;)
Having done that, it was time to venture into the first network of caves. Taking a cue from the guide, we followed him across a short trek of jungle, alongside a limestone face where we found dug out pits.
A very short hike through the jungle... no sweat! ;)
The guide explained that the pits were the result of archeological work, the trinkets and bones found within displayed at the resort headquarters. No archeological work was going on when we came and from the looks of the condition of the pits, not in the recent past or for the foreseeable future.
Pausing before the excavation pits... not sure how long since anyone worked on them...
We met a couple of Singaporeans huffing and puffing heading out from the caves, myself overhearing one of them saying that the trip to Gua Sanding being very ‘tiring’. That sounded most encouraging as I was preparing mind and body to ‘tire’ myself out.
We paused at a cave called Gua Angin (Wind Cave), aptly named for the cool breeze blowing into it from the outside.
A look out towards the greenery of the jungle from Gua Angin...
And took a group photo... ;)
Intrepid adventurers at Gua Angin! :)
Prior to this, we had to walk through a long passageway and having to squeeze through the customary small opening in between. It wasn’t really that bad and unless you are REALLY HUGE, most people shouldn’t have problems getting through.
I felt this customary 'squeeze' in our caving adventures to be a lot easier to go through than the ones in Gua Tempurung and Batu Maloi... so don't worry about it! :)
From Gua Angin, we moved on to Gua Sanding (Marriage Cave). Compared to our hike to Gua Angin, the hike to Gua Sanding is really a very tame affair. No jagged rocks to clamber over nor were there any more nice holes to squeeze through. In fact some in our team was starting to get disappointed at the lack of a ‘challenge’. The chamber within Gua Sanding was huge, dominated by a large opening that showcased the verdant jungle outside.
The cave is so named because of a particular rock formation that is centered at the opening, two mounds of limestone one bigger than the other. They were supposed to resemble a man and a woman standing side by side (in holy matrimony?), with the women erm, about chest height to the man. :p ;) Hmmm…Perhaps she is ‘sitting’?
The two stone 'pillar's that gives the cave it's name, resembling two people... one standing, one sitting(?)
Crystals on a nearby stone... do not touch please!
Hmmm... is it a 'dog' or a 'lion'? You decide... ;)
Undulating shapes on the cave floor formed by millions of years of water erosion...
At this point the guide says it’s the ‘end’ of the trip. It was barely an hour and a half since we left the resort and needless to say we were expecting A LOT MORE. We had been initially told that the caving for this day would last THREE hours with our hopes reinforced by those huffing and puffing Singaporeans! :p Guess not.
Nevertheless, we hung around a bit longer in Gua Sanding, taking more photos before we head out.
Caves and spiders go together... this is one particularly 'large' specimen... :p
Posing by a stack of stones... definitely man made and definitely recent! :p ;) A whole bunch of them are located at Gua Sanding, probably the work of 'bored' visitors?
Haha... I am doing this pose way to often... ;)
At a small shelter close to Gua Tongkat, we asked the guide about the other caves. The guide told us not far away is a show cave called Gua Terang Bulan (Bright Moon Cave).
Seeing that we still have plenty of time to kill, we all took the 15 minute walk along the paved road to the cave. The stink of bat guano greeted us as we reached the mouth of the cave, discouraging some of the ladies from proceeding further. The rest of us mounted the flight of steps up to the mouth before entering through a grilled fence into the cave proper.
In its heyday, the cave might have resembled something you’d expect in the ‘dry’ tour section of Gua Tempurung, with electrified spotlights, cement walkways and white metal railings.
Echoes of Gua Tempurung... except this place is a lot less maintained! The lights don't work...:p
Well, those days seemed to have passed (a long time since) because when we entered the cave, the lights were not working and the railings were crusted with bat guano and other ‘stuff’. :p Using our torchlights we ventured in, passing through a section where the railings were wooden instead of metal and a deep guano filled pool can been at the bottom of a large hole on the right. Overhead, we could hear and see the bats, the culprits that had layered the cement walkway and railings with their excrement.
Slippery steps caused by falling water and bat 'doo doo'... watch out for the cave centipedes! Or at least that's what the guide said, we didn't see any...
We were told by the guide (who didn’t come with us) to watch out for cave centipedes, their sting reputedly to be particularly painful. Fortunately, we didn’t see any hiding between the railings of slithering on the ground but there were quite a large number of spiders milling about instead.
We left this part of the cave via another flight of steps, into a chamber with some flowing fresh air, a relief from the stench of bat doo doo. :p At the end of the walkway, we turned off our flashlights and as we would expect, the ‘moon’ appeared in the darkness formed by slivers of light channeled through a hole from the outside. A few more adventurous members of our party wanted to go beyond the walkway and negotiate up a slippery slope to check out whether Gua Terang Bulan has anything more to offer. They did not find anything because the next chamber was a dead end. :p ;)
Leaving Gua Terang Bulan, we still didn’t feel very much ‘fulfilled’. Therefore we asked the guide (who was waiting outside) for more caves for us to take a look see. We were told of a Gua Balai (Chamber Cave). Asked how far was it from where we were, the guide assured us that it would be about another 15-20 minute walk from Gua Terang Bulan.
This time, our enthusiasm is tainted by a little bit of er… ‘exhaustion’. Despite me being more than happy to make another walk, others weren’t so keen to take up the offer. And so, we got into our vehicles and drove to the next cave which is really where the road ends.
Nice parking below the entrance to Gua Balai
Walking by the signboard...
A large, nice and proper car park welcomed us on arrival. Not far away is a communal toilet. Gua Balai was located a top flight of steps leading away from the car park.
A view of Gua Balai's immense chamber! Definitely fitting it's name...
As its name suggests, the cave is literally one single massive chamber where visitors are invited to set up their tents within. Judging by its size, the space within could accommodate a full busload of campers if not more and with the convenience of the toilet outside, rather comfortably as well.
Aside from this, there is nothing else to see, save some graffiti on the cave walls declaring the staff of a mining company staying overnight at the cave way back in the 1970s! Another large pit can be seen in the cave, which I have initially suspected to be excavated for the containment of water. A large hole punctured on its side close to the bottom shot down that idea... Perhaps it's another excavation dig? Brrr... and to think that people might be sleeping in some ancient burial cave?
Studying the 40 year old graffiti on the cave wall...
Finally exhausted, we headed back to our resort to wash up and replenish our stores with dinner.
The much touted Ramadhan buffet on their website is however non-existent, probably also because we WERE the only guest around. We dominated the coffee house, taking up two full tables.
Dinner itself consists of servings of typical Malay food, vegetables, ‘ulam’, fish, chicken stew and salted eggs, washed down with a jug of Tang-like orange juice. A few of us lamented that the portions were not enough but in the end they found out it was just right. ;)
Fortunately, the orange juice can be ‘refilled’ although I found the second round ‘contaminated’ with some hair(?!) and ants! :p (Protein anyone?)
There was a bit of a ‘surprise’ thanks to Jady, and thanks to Valerie, I almost had my head buried in layers of cake! :p Fortunately, the unexpected ‘facial’ was avoided and everyone got a share of my birthday cake to eat… Happy Birthday to ME!
Happy Birthday to me! :)
Ah... Valerie giving me a more 'personal' look of my cake... fortunately, the damage was 'minor', allowing everyone to have a piece of it to eat... :)
The night is capped off with a round of Monopoly, with yours truly ending up the property tycoon, much to the chagrin of a certain long haired person who swore revenge on our next outing. :p ;)
M-O-N-O-P-O-L-Y... Monopoly, Monopoly!