sign in a cave in Laos

10 November 2007

Terengganu's Kenyir Lake - Brunei Times

Published on The Brunei Times (

Terengganu's Kenyir Lake beckons for a spelunking adventure
Liz Price


Saturday, June 2, 2007

MOST people go to Tasik Kenyir for fishing, but I went there for an adventure of a different kind caving. Tasik Kenyir in ulu Terengganu is the largest man-made lake not only in Malaysia, but also in Southeast Asia.

When the area was flooded between 1978 and 1985 to feed the hydroelectric dam, most of the hilltops and highlands remained above water level, creating about 340 man-made islands. There are more than 14 waterfalls, numerous rapids and rivers. And caves.

Located about 60km from state capital Kuala Terengganu, it covers an area of 369 sq km or 260,000ha, making it Malaysia's largest rock-filled hydroelectric dam. Sharing its border with Kelantan in the west and Pahang in the south, this immense lake also serves as a third gateway to the National Park. The hilly regions of Tasik Kenyir contain areas of untouched tropical rainforest estimated to be millions of years old.

There are two caves accessible to visitors at Kenyir Gua Bewah and Gua Taat. Getting to the caves is fun. They are located at the southern end of the lake, and lie within the National Park. From Pengkalan Gawi (Gawi jetty), the main gateway to Tasik Kenyir, you have a choice of speedboat or slower houseboat.

We went out by speedboat, which took 70 minutes. It was actually quite chilly speeding over the lake, especially as the sun was hiding behind clouds. We returned using the more leisurely houseboat which takes about three hours.

Before the creation of the lake, there were several caves accessible, some of archaeological importance. However, when the area was flooded, most of the caves were lost underwater. Prior to their disappearance, archaeologists had discovered Neolithic artifacts such as kitchen utensils, stone adzes and pottery sherds.

Even a Neolithic burial was found, with broken pottery laid at the foot of the deceased. The Neolithic or New Stone Age era occurred roughly 10,000 years ago. The cave was probably adjacent to two well-known routes used by the aborigines in prehistoric times through Terengganu to Sungai Tembling.

Now there are two remaining limestone hills containing caves that can only be reached by boat. Gua Bewah is the biggest of the known caves. From the floating jetty a steep flight of steps leads up to the entrance situated 40m above lake level.

The cave is basically one huge chamber, with a strong stench of guano marking the presence of bats. As we went in, it took a while for our eyes to adjust to the darkness, and we realised just how huge the chamber is. The roof was high above our heads, and although we could hear the bats, we couldn't see them.

Bats play an important role in the ecosystem, because where there are bats, there will also be other cave fauna. The bats support the whole food chain their droppings feed the smaller fauna such as insects and invertebrates which in turn are food for larger creatures such as small mammals, frogs and toads and even the cave snake.

To the left of the main entrance are various pits in the floor which were dug by the museum department. Unfortunately no mention is made of what archaeological relics were found.

Old sacks of guano bear testimony to the fact that people once entered to the cave to harvest guano for use as a fertiliser. Today the sacks make a convenient staircase up the guano-covered floor. There is solar lighting and boardwalks through the cave.

The back section of the cave is the most interesting, containing an abundance of cave fauna such as crickets, cockroaches and spiders. There are not many stalagmites or stalactites, so although the cave is not pretty in that sense, it is really impressive due to the huge size of the chamber.

Gua Taat is in the hill opposite Bewah and has two entrances. The main entrance is reached by a wooden ladder. The entrance is quite small and low compared to Bewah. Again there are a few pits dug in the floor, and we saw otter pawprints in and around the pits, presumably the animals catch fish trapped during monsoon time when the lake flows into the caves.

A straight tunnel with a flat roof leads to the back, where there is a small stream. The passage then swings round to the left, and there are some nice formations, such as a "Lion King"-shaped stalagmite and an impressive array of "sharks teeth" formations.

Gua Taat was first dug in 1959. Flaked tools from the Hoabinhian period (14,000 to 10,000 years ago) were found, as well as pottery and food remains such as molluscs.

There is a second cave further round, Gua Taat 2, which is basically just a long rock shelter. It is easy to see why Stone Age man used these caves as temporary refuges, as shelter and protection from wild animals and the elements, and providing a good view down onto the lower grounds below.

As Taat and Bewah may hold more secrets of the past, further excavations are now being planned by the Terengganu Tengah Development authority with the cooperation of the State Museum.

After our caving trip we decided to have a swim in the lake as it looked so inviting. A few brave souls jumped in, but the prospect of getting bitten by a toman was daunting. There are large numbers of these fish in the lake.

The next day we took a boat ride up to Lasir waterfall. A short trek led up to a scenic pool which is suitable for swimming, although the water was icy cold.

Surrounded by a lush tropical jungle, the Kenyir Lake is a popular and ideal retreat for nature lovers, anglers, photographers and also cavers.

Activities include fishing, swimming, canoeing, boating and jungle trekking. Accommodation such as houseboats, floating chalets and lakeside resorts are also available to visitors. The Brunei Times


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