Thursday, March 31, 2011

Taman Negara - Day 3 - Lata Berkoh & Rainforest Resort

Day 3 promised of more adventures and is our final day in TNP for this time round, the kids were asking for a 4D3N package but there is no time luxury and we had to contend with this 3D2N arrangement.

Same routine woke up early morning for solat before we sat outside sipping hot tea while enjoying the morning air….many of us continued their sleep after solat since we were only supposed to meet Pak Lah again at 9 AM for an excursion to Lata Berkoh. Lata Berkoh is on Sg Tahan, 8 km away into the TNP.

[Info from] - The Taman Negara park basin is drained by the Sungai Tahan, which originates at the foot of Gunung Tahan massif, and by the Sungai Keniam and Sungai Sepia. The pristine rivers in Taman Negara boasting waterscapes from mirror-still reflections to wild rapids and scenic waterfalls. With exotic names such as Tembeling, Tahan, Trenggan and Relau, these sungai or rivers including the tributaries and streams together number in the hundreds. Their waters range from crystal clear to coffee brown from the natural soil sediments. Rainforest rivers like these, which flow from peat soil virgin mountain forest catchments with no major human settlement or cultivation alongside, are now rare in the world.

On this trip, we had to take smaller boats (4 seater) so we ended up in 3 different boats. Ibu, Abah, Adik and Pak Lah were on one boat while Faiz, Dini and Uncle Ap shared another and Pak Long’s family on the other. Each boat has a pilot and a co-pilot who sits right in front of the boat tip…I thought this is even more challenging and the degree of difficulties kept increasing from one activity to another!!

The boats sped across Sg Tembeling into Sg Tahan….we could see the water level is high….initially the river was calm and the flow was slow, but it kept building up as you move further upstream. The river got winding with more rapids and faster water gushing through tight openings…again the boatmen was simply superb and skillful in their boat handling. After about 45 minutes, the boat couldn’t go any further and they would be parked at a very nice river bank (normally a feature photo of TNP). You could tell, feel and smell that this is virgin jungle inside TNP…it is as it was since its creation. The weather was a little overcast but it did not rain.

We disembarked and continued trekking for the next 1.2 km to Lata Berkoh. The path is not so difficult and mostly flat, mainly on the river bank. After a few minutes through nice jungle and debris from recent flood, we reached Lata Berkoh….beautiful place but the water is just too high. Lata Berkoh is a tight opening where Sg Tahan had to flow through creating the rapids…with brownish water gushing through heavily, evident of heavy rain upstream last night. The rapid gave out a roaring sound and downstream is a very deep pool (claimed to be more than 9 m deep and death had occurred in the past here)…so this place can be dangerous if you are not good at swimming.

So we relaxed, enjoyed the surrounding while some of us played at the edges of the rapid…it would have been safer during dry season. After a while, the kids wanted to swim in the river so we had to move back downstream to a safer place for swimming…..impossible to tell without the knowledge of an experienced guide like Pak Lah (of course there is a warning sign saying that river activity is at your own risk). So the kids enjoyed their safe swim while Pak Lah showed some swimming and swinging skills. Pak Lah also shared some 100% washable tattoo drawing skills using small coloured stones from the river bank….yellow, red, grey, bluish…so colourful and nice when you paint it on dry skin.

Satisfied with the swim, feeling cold, tired and hungry as always…we slowly trekked back to the boat….again learning one or two new things about the surrounding flora and fauna from Pak Lah. One of it is a plant with fruit like chilly, which is claimed to be able to give a relief from asthma. When we arrived at the river bank where the boats were parked, we saw the boatmen were entertaining themselves with a game of chess…and I saw that a few times at Kuala Tahan too. Chess is a favorite game for the boatman and perhaps that’s how they maintain their high level of confidence in handling their boats in tricky waters.

The sun has now emerged from the clouds and the air got warmer. So we continued our boat journey downstream towards Kuala Tahan. Although we planned to stop at the Kelah Sanctuary along the way, we cancelled the plan due to the high water, low chances of seeing the fish….so the boat just zoomed past the sanctuary, perhaps next time during the dry season. We reached Kuala Tahan at 1 PM, already late for check out from the resort. So we quickly went back, pack our bags and refresh ourselves before we checked out and said goodbye to the Rainforest Resort…have no complaint of the place.

We were back at the jetty at 1:30 PM for lunch and some souvenirs. At 2 PM, we finally board our boat and bid farewell to Pak Lah…of course normally you’ll give some additional tip for all that he has done, a wonderful guide, teacher and host indeed.

It was hot and sunny during the boat ride downstream….meeting more boats heading upstream with more foreigners. The boat suddenly stopped in the middle of the Tembeling river at one point after the engine ran out of fuel….that woke up everyone from sleep. But the boatman filled it up with the fuel brought in a separate container…while the boat slowly moves following the water flow. After a 2 hour journey we reached Kuala Tembeling jetty….crossing the Sg Jelai again before docking at the jetty….Sg Jelai was also still high with ‘teh tarik’ color. We quickly disembarked from the boat and ran upstairs to the toilet….although you could ask the boatman to stop for toilet break!

Our cars were there safe and sound….so we said goodbye to Pak Long and we went separate ways. We headed to Jerantut town then on to Temerloh and on to the East Coast Expressway….stopping by at Lanchang rest area for solat and break. We then drove straight home, reaching at about 6:30 PM. Alhamdulillah and we had dinner at home and sent Uncle Ap back home later that night….everyone was happy and everyone was tired…but everyone is safe and everyone had learned something.

We would like to thank Firdaus and Pak Lah for all the services rendered and we were very satisfied with the whole arrangements. It was a worthwhile trip for the family and we’d like to encourage many other families to do the same….go out there and see the country, to know Malaysia is to love Malaysia.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Taman Negara - Day 2 - Rapid Shooting & Visit to Kg Orang Asal

We were supposed to meet Pak Lah again for the next activity at 4 PM. Firdaus had to leave due to some other matters but he assured that all have been taken care of. We bid farewell to Firdaus.It was a bit cloudy but the rain cloud seemed to have moved to a different direction, towards Mount Tahan which means the upstream of Lata Berkoh! There goes our hope…. At 4 PM, we again gathered at the lobby (although some were finding it very hard to wake up), for a lift down to the river jetty. When we arrived, as usual, Pak Lah is already waiting (he always bring a red Ocean Pack bag with him). We are going for a rapid shooting activity. We hopped on the 12 seater boat and headed upstream Sg Tembeling….a different gentleman by the name of Jamal was piloting the boat with Pak Lah sitting in front of the boat. In a way it gives more confidence to people like us having 2 experienced people on board...and not knowing how bad is the rapid shooting going to be. Sg Tembeling forms the eastern border of TNP.

Boat Ride at Sg Tembeling

Ready for the rapids

The strong rapids

As the boat sped upstream, you can’t help but keep admiring the skills of the boatman in negotiating the rapids…some rapids have very strong current with this water level, some rapids are long and some rapids are short, some rapids are in the form of a bend …..but whatever rapids, the boat moved through them without much problem…smooth and safe, better with a 12 seater boat but of course our adrenalin was pumping hard when we see new rapid approaching in front of us…’ll get wet in this activity. 30 minutes later and after shooting 7 rapids, we came to the last rapid known as Jeram Dedari, after which the boat will make a turn and stop a very nice beach for a visit to the orang Asli/orang Asal village on its banks. Further upstream, the boat could not negotiate the rapid further…you could see from afar that the rapid is on a climbing trend.

We disembarked the boat and walked up the river bank to the orang Asli/Asal settlement. These are from the Batek tribe, one of the tribes in Peninsula Malaysia but the main and only tribe in TNP. We met a few of the family members headed by a leader called Bemban (his name came from river Bemban, a place where he was born), a nice gentleman, probably in his 50s and able to talk and understand Bahasa Malaysia. Bemban knows Pak Lah very well and he has high respect for Pak Lah too….they were friends since younger days!!

Kg Dedari, orang asal batik

House built by foreign film producer when they were filming the place

During our stay there, we learnt how to make fire from rotan and wood plus dried palm leaves and bamboo skin….less than 2 minutes, you’ll get a fire! We also learnt how they make their blowpipe….looks simple but it comes with lots of technicalities & knowledge such as the use and selection of a suitable type of bamboo (buluh semeliang which has ‘ruas’ of more than 1 meter), use of bamboo silencers on the blowpipe, use of tree as natural glue, use of animal skin to make its dart, use of poison (getah Ipoh), use of Pulai tree’s root (strong light weight material) and many more….Bemban would have been a PhD doctor with his survival skill, his knowledge of the jungle and maintaining the sustainability of the jungle ecosystem. But his life is here in the jungle where PhD doesn’t really matter. We also learnt about their belief system and according to Pak Lah, they believe in God, Heaven and Hell, but their God can appear in the form of trees or stones or anything in the jungle….and that is why they treat the jungle very well…taking only what they need and not what they want. If a child dies, they will bury the body in the ground but if an adult dies, they will normally place the corpse on a tree and let the animals consume the dead…I didn’t know that earlier.

Bemban showing off his skill

Process of making fire

Demonstration by Bemban

Pak Lah explaining about the Batik Tribe

New and interesting knowledge acquired


Adik the sharp blower!

Bemban's hut

[Info from] - Bronze aged artefacts have been recovered from Tembeling valley, between the Sungai Yong and Sungai Sepia. Archaeologist consider this to be one of the richest prehistoric sites in the country. The latest findings is at Gua Bewah and Gua Taat which is believed dating back to the Neolithic Age (400 BC).

After spending 1 hour at the site and trying our blow piping skills and dropping some food for the orang Asli kids, we headed downstream back to Kuala Tahan through the rapids again….but going downstream is not as bad as heading upstream. We reached Kuala Tahan jetty at about 6:30 PM and had our dinner (nasi goreng and mee goreng basah) at one of the floating restaurants there. Once back at the resort, everyone wasted no time to refresh and relax. Some went straight to bed after solat and some went to have more dinner at the café (nasi goreng ayam or roti canai or hokkien mee with nicely fried delicious spring rolls). At 10.30 PM, everyone was deep in sleep. What a hectic day it was!

Back to Kuala Tahan

Tea at the floating restaurant

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Taman Negara - Day 2 - Bukit Terisek & Canopy Walk

We woke up early in the morning for Subuh to the sounds of azan (there’s a mosque nearby) and sound of the jungle…insects and the birds. It’s always the best time in a day i.e early in the morning…things are calm and cool after a well deserved sleep last night. We had breakfast at the resort’s cafe, a different place from last night’s café and it is a wonderful place indeed. We had simple nasi goreng with some bread and fruits to fill up the stomach. Once done, we again hopped onto the pickup truck and headed down to the jetty. We were supposed to meet Pak Lah at 8:30 AM at the jetty for a few more challenging activities including climbing Bukit Terisek and go on the canopy walk before we come back for lunch. Today is a beautiful sunny and warm day with a light wind. It did not rain last night and that made the condition even nicer, with less chances of coming into contact with pacat (the ladies hate this creature!). We met Pak Lah at the jetty (he’s always ready and on time), crossed the river to TNP entrance (took a photo at the main entrance) and ready for the 2.5 km walk to the peak of Bukit Terisek.

On the boat to Taman Negara

Mutiara Resort - jetty to Taman Negara

Group photo at the entrance to Taman Negara

Inside Mutiara Resort

The trek initially brought us through the Mutiara Resort where many bird lovers were either watching birds or snapping photos…there is a cherry tree (‘ara burung’) where birds in various types and species like to come and enjoy the fruits. Further on, we passed through flat land, huge tree roots and then hilly and challenging terrains. We passed through 2 junctions (to the canopy walk) where you can decide whether to continue climbing to the top. Climbing was quite challenging in certain sections of the trek….it was a huge struggle for Ibu and Adik but others was okay….both almost gave up from reaching the peak but they eventually gathered enough strength to conquer the hill and conquer themselves and their perceived limits. The trek brought us through a diverse and beautiful flora (daun tapak kaki hantu, majestic Meranti tree etc) & fauna (we saw white faced monkey & rhinoceros hornbills among others). Although it was very tiring, it was indeed an excellent exercise and a rich learning session.

Route Map to Bukit Terisek

Entrance to Bukit Terisek Trek

Pak Lah & Daun Tapak Kaki Hantu

Tree loving Chef

Junction uphill

Liana Tree -squeezed to death

Pak Lah sharing valuable info on Meranti

Taking a breather...steep climb

At the junction, 1km more to the Peak!!!

The alternative way up - the steps (too defined!)

Conquering Bkt Terisek...344m

They too... Icha, Mak Long and Dini

Briefing on Mount Tahan

[Info from] - Malaysia is one of the 12th mega biodiversity areas in the world and Taman Negara's tropical rainforest indeed is one of the world's most complex and rich ecosystem. The park is home to about 14,000 species of plants and trees more than other forest in the world. There are more than 2,400 species of flowering plant, 200 species of mammals, 350 species of birds, 67 species of snakes, 55 species of frogs, 80 species of bat, 30 species of rats and 109 species freshwater fishes (15 species endemic to Taman Negara).

The vegetations is primary rainforest and can be classified into four main groups:

• Lowland dipterocarp forest (where we were)

• Hill dipterocarp forest (where we were)

• Montane oak forest

• Montane ericaceous forest

The tualang trees (kompassia excelsea), the tallest tree in South East Asia are mostly found on the plains along with a variety of hardwoods such as meranti (shores spp.) and keruing (dipterocarps spp.). Epiphytes such as ferns and rare species of orchids are abundant here, while oaks, laurel and conifers are found on the intermediate slopes.

The peak of Bukit Terisek is not the main interest of the climbers but rather an opening on the side of the peak, a slight descend from the top, is the main target…this is where we can take a view of Mount Tahan during clear days or perhaps very early in the morning (when the sun has not risen from the horizon, similar to viewing Mount Kinabalu).

We brought 4.5 litres of liquid (9 bottles of 500 ml drink), every dropped was consumed when we reached the top…and there was no water left on the way down!!! Another lesson….control your thirst during jungle trekking and double your supply….remember there is descends after a climb!After an arduous and hard climb, descending was another challenge….if you have used up all your strength and energy to climb, your muscle and knees will suffer on the way down…shaky legs!!! It is always important to take the right step when jungle trekking/walking in the jungle….do not step on the same spot twice or using both legs…you’ll lose balance and your speed will be very slow. Again Ibu and Adik were complaining of leg pain, tiredness and thirst on the way down… It is also important to remember not to throw anything in the jungle….keep all empty bottles and bring them back for reuse or disposal and for smokers, do carry a portable ashtray with you (to keep the cigarette butt which you can empty them when there is a proper waste bin). As the TNP saying goes….’take nothing but photos and leave nothing but footprints’.

Halfway down, we came to the Canopy walkway entrance….and the best part was that the place sells cold drinks!!!!! Well they knew it already after all these years…human behaviors never change!! We climbed up the canopy walkway and off we went…one after another, maintaining a distance or 5 – 10m each….this is the longest canopy walkway in the world (2 more canopy walkways are in Poring in Ranau and FRIM, Kepong). It was another challenging activity…..high above the ground, suspended from tree to tree…stopping occasionally at wooden platforms…fantastic view and fantastic experience. After crossing several suspended walkways, we finally came to the end of it….feeling satisfied with the experience of conquering the fear of height. Refreshed and reenergized with the drinks, we continued our walk downhill following the edges of the hill with the river on your left back towards the Mutiara Taman Negara jetty. The Chef claimed to have met Orang Asal who was hunting (he has a photo of him and he was the only one that met him!!) while Ibu had a scare when a monitor lizard was blosking her walkway...and staring at her!!! But it we got nearer...

Uncle met this orang Asli from the Batik Tribe and he asked him

if he saw any monkey ;-)

Briefing before going onto the canopy walk

Canopy walk 40m high

The entrance to canopy walk..sells cold drinks!

The opening hours

An exit..if you decide not to climb further

Abah capturing the moments

The do's and don'ts

Along the way, Pak Lah continued to wait for slow walkers, assisted the weak and tired and continued to educate us about the jungle….we saw 3 birds enjoying their bath in a water puddle having no regard of people watching them. Having reached the jetty, we met a Chinese man, a hardcore bird lover for the last 20 years, complaining of the difficulty in finding ‘water duck’, a type of migratory bird, in TNP….and he had just returned from Lata Berkoh. According to him the water was not too bad (we will be heading there tomorrow and hope there will be no rain tonight and the water keep improving tomorrow).

As usual, we hopped on the boat and crossed the river to Kg Kuala Tahan, with the pickup truck waiting to fetch us home to the resort. Everyone was very – very exhausted by now and it was already 1:30 PM and we hoped our lunch will still be there. Indeed there was, a specially made lunch consisting of white rice, tomyam, eggs and vegetables….just enough to generate more energy for more activities later in the day. After lunch, everyone took a rest…some slept and some just relaxed while performing solat (again Jama’ Qasar).

The best lunch...when everyone was starving

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