sign in a cave in Laos

30 December 2008

Tambun rock paintings & Naga Mas fossil (Star)

Star
Metro North

Monday December 29, 2008

Art of our ancestors

Story and photos by ANTHONY LAW


Delicate lines: Paintings showing a herd of deer. One doe appears to be pregnant.

THE prehistoric rock paintings in Tambun, Ipoh, may not be the only ones in the area.
Archaeology student Noel Hidalgo Tan believes the rock paintings are clues to show that there are other similar paintings yet to be discovered.
This, he said, was because prehistoric paintings were always found in clusters.
Tan, 30, who is currently doing his thesis on the Tambun prehistoric paintings discovered by the British army in 1959, was in Ipoh to take part in a guided tour of the Tambun caves organised by Perak Heritage Society (PHS).
Tan added that the limestone paintings in Tambun were of archaeological importance.
“I believe these are the only prehistoric iron oxide paintings in Malaysia,” Tan said of the paintings located several meters high on limestone walls.
Tan said he believed the prehistoric people used scaffolding to paint a dugong, a catfish, a turtle, a flying fox, a tapir and a herd of deer on the limestone walls.
“I will conduct an inventory of the paintings, none has been done so far,” Tan said.
He said his research would include determining the age of the paintings by carbon dating and conducting a chemistry test on the material used in the paintings.

Seashells found scattered nearby the prehistoric rock paintings.

The site of the prehistoric paintings was once under the sea, judging from the presence of seashells found scattered on the limestone hill which is at least 30m high.
Perak Heritage Society president Law Siak Hong said the paintings were not cave paintings as they were not found in caves but on the face of limestone rock.
After viewing the prehistorical drawings, the society members travelled south to Naga Mas near Gopeng to see the fossil of a mammal embedded in a cave wall.
“The bones belong either to a leopard or cat,” said Liz Price who has written many books on caves.
The bones, though high up, have been vandalised and need protection as there are people who are trying to remove the bones, believing that they have supernatural power or potential for the practice of black magic.

21 December 2008

Bantimurung: Butterflies and blue pools - BT

Published on The Brunei Times (http://www.bt.com.bn/en)
Bantimurung: Butterflies and blue pools


Breathtaking: The Dreaming Cave is 500 metres long and full of stalactites and stalagmites. Bantimurung is a protected area with beautifully-coloured butterflies as souvenirs.Picture: Courtesy of Liz Price

Liz Price
MAKASSAR

Sunday, December 21, 2008

THE pool was such a milky turquoise colour that it didn't seem real at all. It reminded me of the blue school uniforms worn in Malaysia, although was slightly paler in colour, as if mixed with milk. The through a wooded gorge and then it plunged 15 metres down the Bantimurung falls. Once it reached the bottom of the waterfall it had lost its blue colour. Unfortunately it was dry season so there wasn't much water, and the rocks supporting the waterfall were hardly covered. The bottom of the fall was a sea of people; it was a Sunday and this area is very popular with Indonesian day- trippers.

About 45 kilometres north of Ujung Pandang at the Bantimurung waterfalls are set amid lushly vegetated limestone cliffs. Bantimurung is crowded with Indonesians on weekends and holidays, and at other times it's a wonderful retreat from the congestion of Ujung Pandang. Ujung Pandang (Makassar) is the capital of Sulawesi, the octopus-shaped island of Indonesia. To get to Bantimurung from the city, we took a bus for Maros. Local passengers asked where we were going. We found all the Sulawesi people to be very friendly, they are a mix of Makassarese and the Bugis Muslims, and the Christian Minahasans.

Before the bus I took reached Maros, it stopped, and we were told to get off. We were a bit puzzled and were wondering what was happening, then someone shouted at a microlet driver. We were bundled onto this, and without saying anything, we were taken to Bantimurung Waterfall Park. I suppose it was obvious to the lcoals where we wanted to go. The road passed under a giant monkey, which was waving with one hand and scratching its head with the other. It was as if it couldn't decide whether to welcome us or not. Apparently this 6 metres tall statue is of a lutung, which is a black, long tailed leaf monkey indigenous to Sulawesi and Kalimantan.

The road ended at the park, so we paid the driver then entered the park, paying a small admission fee. That was when we realised we had made a mistake by coming at a weekend, as there were people everywhere. We headed straight for Gua Mimpi, or Dreaming Cave. Bantimurung lies at the southern end of a limestone outcrop which houses a series of caves and rock shelters. There are many caves, but Gua Mimpi is one of the best, and is equipped as a tourist cave.

The cave consists of one long passage, maybe 500 metres

long, and is full of stalactites and stalagmites. Some were white in colour, others varying shades of cream, yellow and brown. In addition some looked like large chandeliers hanging from the ceiling. There was a wooden plankwalk all the way through the cave, so presumably the floor is covered by a river in the wet season.

We came out at a smaller backdoor, so decided to walk back through the cave. As we emerged, several Indonesians asked to have their photo taken with us. I suppose they don't get too many European visitors to this area. To the left of this entrance is another cave, Gua Istana Toakala. There was no plankwalk in this cave, but we went in, and again it had some great stalagmite formations.

We went back down to the river and followed the right bank up to the waterfall. Several times we were stopped and had to have our photo taken with the locals. Steep steps lead up the side of the tufa waterfall and onto the gorge with the blue river. It reminded me of the Bei Shui river which flows through the Jiuzhaigou Nature Park in Sichuan province in southern China. It must be the tufa which gives the milky blue colour.

The pool looked inviting but no one was in the water. All the water was resurging from a cave. We were curious so went in to have a look and found a dry passage above the water. However the cave was very short and we soon popped out on the other side. There was another beautiful blue pool, with the water seeming to come out of yet another cave.

We then made our way back downstream, and we followed some steps which led up to another cave. Here some enterprising men had lanterns for hire so we went in to the cave, but it was quite short and nowhere near as nice as the two caves we had explored earlier.

The Bantimurung Nature Reserve covers 1000 hectares. There are many other caves in these cliffs but apart from the scenery the area is also famous for its beautiful butterflies. The naturalist Alfred Wallace collected specimens here in the mid 1800's. Among all the butterflies that he caught was the Papilo Androcles, one of the rarest and biggest, with a tail like a rare swallow. Today entomologists still come here to look at the butterflies and other insects. It is certainly a beautiful area, with white falls and bright butterflies.

Nowadays Bantimurung is a protected area, but there are still kids besieging visitors with beautifully coloured butterflies as souvenirs. The best time to see living butterflies is when the sun appears. They form a riot of colour as they fly.

According to a tourist leaflet, Bantimurung means a tranquil place for getting rid of sadness (membanting kemurungan). It would be difficult to be sad in such a beautiful place.

The Brunei Times

----------------------------------------------------------------------------

Source URL:
http://www.bt.com.bn/en/en/life/2008/12/21/bantimurung_butterflies_and_blue_pools
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© Liz Price
No reproduction without permission

5 December 2008

Naga Mas - Heritage News

Gopeng: No protection for ancient cave fossil

Heritage News, July - Oct 2008, Vol 5, Issue 4&5 , p11

The fossil of a mammal embedded in the cave wall at Naga Mas was found in 1992. It is thought to be a leopard or other cat. No tests have been done, but concrete steps leading up to the cave are overgrown, and the signboard erected by the Dept. of Museums and Antiquities is missing. -- Liz Price

23 November 2008

Cave dwellers of modern times - BT

Published on The Brunei Times (http://www.bt.com.bn/en)

Still living down to earth as modern cave dwellers

One of the region's oldest human settlement (Top): A replica of the Perak Man dig site. Far from the crowd: Even today some people still choose to live in caves. (Above and Middle) In Malaysia, there are some people that have chosen a nice small dry cave and converted it into a home. Pictures: Liz Price

Sunday, November 23, 2008

WHEN humans first started walking on this planet, they used caves as shelters. Caves were ideal places as they provided shelter from the natural elements such as rain, storms, cold or heat. Often the caves chosen were on high ground or on hill slopes in valleys.

These provided a good view over the surrounding plains and countryside. From here the inhabitants could see any predators in the form of wild animals or other humans, and also see animals which were suitable for hunting.

At that time humans were hunter gatherers. These people belonged to a society whose primary subsistence method involved the direct procurement of edible plants and animals from the wild. They foraged and hunted and probably lived a nomad lifestyle. They possibly hadn't started the process of domestication of plants or animals.

Traditionally men were the hunters of wild animals, and women the gatherers of plants for food, medicines and handcrafts. This way of life was in existence for some two million years, from the early Hominids during the Paleolithic or Old Stone Age, through the Mesolithic or Middle Stone Age until the start of the Neolithic or New Stone Age.

During that time people had stone tools. These were used as arrow and spear heads, and as cutting and scraping implements. So they were able to hunt large animals, and then prepare the carcass for various purposes. None of the animal was wasted as what couldn't be eaten was used in other ways, such as the skin for making clothes, and the sinews and bones used to make tools.

Man knew how to use fire, so was able to cook the meat and other foods, and later on could improve some tools by heat. It was a simple existence and probably quite comfortable if they had chosen a good cave.

Evidence of this lifestyle has been found by archaeologists from caves all over the world. Digging in caves has revealed plenty of remains of these ancient people.

Some caves show existence of prehistoric burials, others have remains of fire and food items. There might be old tools buried as well as jewellery used by those people. All these items can be dated to reveal how long ago people lived in those caves.

Cave man also spent his leisure time drawing paintings on the walls. Often these scenes depicted hunting parties and the animals that existed at that time. The oldest known cave paintings are in Europe and date back some 30,000 years.

Jumping forward to the present time, we find that humans still use caves. One of the most common uses is for religious purposes.

Temples and shrines are built into caves and provide peaceful places for worship and meditation. This is particularly common in caves around Southeast Asia.

Some caves are also used as homes for hermits and religious people who want to escape from the modern day world. Caves have been used as factories and stores and hideouts, especially during periods of war.

Today caves might be used as wine cellars (for storage), or for growing mushrooms or aging and storing cheese and wine, as they have a relatively constant temperature and absence of natural light.

Many of the more beautiful caves have been turned into commercial sites and fitted with electric lighting and walkways so the general public can enjoy the beauty of the underworld. These show caves are particularly popular and some really stunning examples can be seen throughout the world.

And even today some people still choose to live in caves. In Malaysia I've seen a few examples where people have chosen a nice small dry cave and converted it into a home. However more commonly people use cliffs and rock shelters; they build wooden houses in front of the cliff, using the natural wall as the back of the house.

There is a danger of course from rockfalls and there have been some tragedies in the past where cliff dwellers were killed by falling rocks. But over time people return and build new houses.

Of course today these cave dwellers don't have to hunt their food, they can simply go to the local shop or keep their own livestock and crops.

They even have an electric supply so can enjoy modern luxuries such as refrigerators and televisions. I've even seen a barber shop built into one cliff face and with the walls painted white, it provides a unique setting to have a hair cut.

Caves have been an important part of Man's existence since prehistoric times, and will probably continue to be used by people in the centuries to come. The Brunei Times

Source URL:
http://www.bt.com.bn/en/en/travel/2008/11/23/still_living_down_to_earth_as_modern_cave_dwellers

26 October 2008

Gua Naga Mas - letter WildAsia

No protection for ancient cave fossil
on Wild Asia's Message Board


In a cave known as Gua Naga Mas in Perak, Malaysia, there is a fossil of a mammal embedded in the cave wall. It was found in 1992. No real tests have been done, but the fossil is thought to be a leopard or other cat, and may date to the Pleistocene, 1.8 million to 10,000 years BP.

Even though the Dept of Museums and Antiquities erected a sign board at the base ofthe steps leading up to the cave, no stringent form of protection has been enforced. From her very first visit to the site in 1996, Liz Price was disheartened to see that pieces of the fossil have been unscrupulously removed over the years in her subsequent visits.

In Oct 2008, Liz went back to the cave again but discovered that the signboard had completely disappeared, and the steps were totally overgrown and were not to be seen. Also a factory has encroached right up to the hillslope.

-------------------------------------------------------------

Original URL: http://www.wildasia.net/main.cfm?page=msg&messageID=2405

Published: 22 October 2008


© 2008 WILD ASIA
All Rights Reserved

Isaan area, Thailand - Star

THE STAR
Lifestyle > Features

Saturday February 12, 2005
Life in Isaan
Story & Pictures By Liz Price

THE village street consisted of about 10 houses, and yet there was a hive of activity about the place. Women were going about their daily chores, which included making handicrafts. Animals lazed around.

The men were conspicuous by their absence. Obviously, they were taking time off, leaving the womenfolk to do all the work. Maybe they were working in the fields, although from what we had seen earlier, it seemed to be mostly women who were planting padi and attending to the corn. The men were sitting on the tractors watching!

This area of Khon Kaen is in the heart of Isaan country, Thailand. Isaan is a general term for north-eastern Thailand, from the Sanskrit name for the medieval kingdom “Isana”, which encompassed parts of Cambodia and north-eastern Thailand. The area is less developed than the rest of Thailand and has comparatively fewer tourists. There are many archaeological sites scattered around the 18 provinces which form the region, famous for its silk and cotton.


Among the work women do here is spin cotton.

The best silk in Thailand is said to come from the north-east, especially around Khon Kaen, Khorat and Roi Et. There are several silk-weaving towns and the finished products are cheaper than in other parts of Thailand. As we travelled round some of the villages in the rural area, we stopped at one small village where we could watch the whole weaving process. One lady was spinning the cotton, teasing out the knotty strands and winding them neatly onto a large spool. Although the cotton is still grown locally, and they still harvest silk from the silkworm cocoons, much of the materials used nowadays are bought from the town of Loei.

Other ladies were weaving the yarn on looms. The white cotton thread was wound around the large framework of the loom, and coloured yarn was woven in, according to the pattern. It was a laborious process requiring much patience and concentration. I was surprised to see one lady using green string to form the pattern of her material. This looked like the plastic string used so commonly in Malaysia and Thailand. I imagined this would give a rough feel to the finished product.

There are actually two methods: tie-dye, and ikat, in which the cotton is tie-dyed before the weaving. Many of the ladies wear the traditional skirts and blouses as part of their everyday attire. It reminded me of the Indonesian ikat. Most common is the geometric, diamond-grid pattern.

Some women were laying out chillies to dry in the sun; others were attending to the livestock which were relaxing under the stilted houses. It was all very peaceful. The children were obviously at school as there were none to be seen.

One villager came out with some sticky rice wrapped in leaves for us to try. I was still full from breakfast but I had to be polite and sample the offering. I enjoy trying the rice packets in Thailand as you never know what you’ll find inside – sometimes it’s sweet, and sometimes savoury . . . so it’s a pot luck affair.


Open stalls selling desserts.

We wandered down to the nearby river and it was quite busy with traffic, mostly of the non-vehicular kind. White ducks were paddling quite hard in an effort not to get swept downstream. The river was swollen from the previous night’s rain, and the water was brown, darker than kopi tarik. I wondered how the ducks stayed white.

Ladies were crossing the river with empty baskets on their way to the fields. Then a man came to the water’s edge with a small herd of cows. At first the cows looked reluctant to enter the water. They obviously knew it was deeper than usual, and were unsure of their footing. The one leading was persuaded into the swirling water and the rest followed suit. They looked quite comical swimming diagonally against the current.

Next to entertain us was a tractor with a few workers onboard. The tractors in these parts consist of a wooden platform which forms the trailer body, and then 2m-3m long handles lead to the tractor with the engine. It reminded me of the long-tailed boats so commonly seen in Thailand. We were in the heart of farming country.

By now it was time for lunch. Luckily, the Isaan have good food, the specialities being chicken and sausage. In fact, Isaan food is known for its pungency and choice of ingredients. We stopped at a series of roadside stalls, which were all selling spicy chicken. The chicken pieces were flattened and stuck onto bamboo skewers and grilled by the roadside. One enterprising lady had some skewered pieces of chicken and was standing at the roadside waving to entice passing motorists.

It worked, because we stopped. The chicken looked no different from the chicken sold at street stalls all over Thailand, but the taste was good. We ate it with glutinous rice and chilli sauce – simple, but delicious.

Later that day, we tried the som-tam, a spicy salad made with grated papaya, lime juice, garlic, fish sauce and fresh chillies. As the combination of tastes hits the palate, it is a shock to the system and makes the mouth tingle. But soon you warm up to it and tuck in.

That afternoon we found ourselves driving along the Wang Saphung to Udon Thani road. My guidebook mentioned a famous cave, and as it was only 2km off the road, we decided to have a look. There are signboards at the turn-off, but in fact you can clearly see the cave from several kilometres away. A large seated Buddha is at the entrance, which is high up the cliff face. Tham Erawan is one of the most famous caves in this area.

It is located by a wat (temple) of the same name. Having seen how high up the cliff the cave was, my two friends decided to stay in the car, leaving me to tackle the steps alone. Of course there was no mention of how many steps there were. The signboard only told of the legend of the lady with scented hair.

I began the climb and found that the flights of steps were interspersed with gentle slopes. As the trail wound around, it was impossible to see how much further I had to go as the cave was hidden from view. After much huffing and puffing I was relieved to reach the entrance with the huge sitting Buddha. Buddha gazes out over the plains and across to the other limestone hills in the distance.


The men here seem to take things easy, while the women do all the work.

The cave is huge, and there is an enormous chamber which slopes downwards. Luckily there was some electric lighting as I had stupidly left my torch in the car. There were a few very large stalagmites, and the roof was some 30m above my head. It was worth the effort of the climb as the cave size was so impressive. I wondered how many foreign tourists come here? Not many I imagine.

After we left the cave, we drove through very heavy rain, almost monsoon-like. Once the rain stopped, we were treated to a spectacular sight of a double rainbow. We thought this was wonderful. Later we were able to see the entire arch of one of the rainbows. We stopped the car and took many photos, but we were too near to get the whole arch in the viewfinder. It was quite a spectacular end to our day in Isaan country.

Getting there

MAS and AirAsia fly to Bangkok. Within Thailand, there are lowcost domestic airlines flying to Khon Kaen, Udon Thani and Nong Khai. Buses and trains also serve these towns, departing from Bangkok. Khon Kaen is considered the “gateway”.

Driving is easy, as signboards are in English. The highways are also good.

The north-east is one of the drier places in Thailand, and the dry months are from Dec-May.

Compared to the rest of Thailand, the pace of life here is slower. People are friendlier in the Isaan provinces and although few speak English, travelling is easy.

Accommodation is easily available, from budget to top-end in the larger towns.

--------------------
© Liz Price
No reproduction without permission

Isaan area, NE Thailand - BT

Published on The Brunei Times (http://www.bt.com.bn/en)
Venturing into the heart of Northeastern Thailand


Isaan country: A woman weaving silk. Picture: BT/Liz Price

Liz Price
KHON KAEN, THAILAND


Sunday, October 26, 2008


THE village street consisted of about 10 houses and yet there was a hive of activity quietly taking place. Women were going about their daily chores, some were making handicrafts. Animals lazed around. The men were conspicuous by their absence. Maybe they were working in the fields although from what we had seen earlier, it seemed to be mostly women who were planting rice and attending to the corn. The men were sitting on the tractors watching!

This area of Khon Kaen is in the heart of Isaan country. Isaan is a general term for northeastern Thailand, from the Sanskrit name for the medieval kingdom Isana, which encompassed parts of Cambodia and northeastern Thailand. The area is less developed than the rest of Thailand and has comparatively few tourists. There are many archaeological sites scattered around the 18 provinces which form this region, which is also famous for its silk and cotton.

The best silk in Thailand is said to come from the northeast. There are several silk weaving towns and the finished products are cheaper than in other parts of Thailand. Many of the rural villages have cottage industries and we stopped at one to watch the weaving process.

One lady was spinning the cotton, teasing out the knotty strands and winding them neatly onto a large spool. Although the cotton is still grown locally, and silk still harvested from the silkworm cocoons, much of the materials used nowadays are bought from the town of Loei. Other ladies were weaving the yarn on looms. The white cotton thread was wound around the large framework of the loom, and coloured yarn was woven in according to the pattern. It was a laborious process requiring much patience and concentration. I was surprised to see one lady using green string to form the pattern of her material. This looked like the normal plastic string used so commonly in Asia and I imagined this would give a rough feel to the finished product.

There are actually two methods, one is the tie-dye, and the other is ikat in which the cotton is tie-dyed before the weaving. Many of the ladies wear the traditional skirts and blouses as part of their everyday attire. It reminded me of the Indonesian ikat. Most common is the geometric, diamond-grid pattern. Some women were laying out chillies to dry in the sun; others were attending to the livestock which were relaxing under the stilted houses. It was all very peaceful. The children were obviously at school as there were none to be seen.

One villager came out with some sticky rice wrapped in leaves for us to try. I enjoy trying the rice packets in Thailand as you never know what will be inside, sometimes it is sweet, and sometimes it is savoury, so it's a pot luck affair. We wandered down to the nearby river and it was quite busy with traffic, mostly of the non-vehicular kind.

White ducks were swimming, paddling quite hard in an effort not to get swept downstream. The river was swollen from rain, and the water was brown, so I wondered how the ducks stayed white; I imagined the muddy water would stain them!

Ladies were crossing the river with empty baskets on their way to the fields. A man came to the water's edge with a small herd of cows. At first the cows looked dubious about entering the water, they obviously knew it was deeper than usual, and were unsure of their footing.

The lead one was persuaded into the swirling water and the rest followed suit. They looked quite comical swimming diagonally against the current. Next to entertain us was a tractor with a few workers aboard. The tractors in this part of Thailand consist of a wooden platform which forms the trailer body, and two to three metres long handles lead to the tractor with the engine. It reminded me of the long tailed boats so commonly seen in Thailand. We were in the heart of farming country.

By now it was time for lunch. The Isaan culture has good food, known for its pungency and choice of ingredients, the specialities being chicken and sausage. We stopped at a series of roadside stalls, which were all selling spicy chicken. The chicken pieces are flattened and stuck onto bamboo skewers and grilled by the roadside. One enterprising lady had some skewered pieces of chicken and was standing at the roadside waving her wares to entice passing motorists. It worked, because we stopped. The chicken looked no different from the chicken sold at street stalls all over Thailand, but the taste was good. We ate it with glutinous rice and chilli sauce as an accompaniment.

Later that day we tried the som-tam, a spicy salad made with grated papaya, lime juice, garlic, fish sauce and fresh chillies. As the combination of tastes hit the palate, it is a bit of a shock and makes the mouth tingle, but soon you realise how delicious it is. That afternoon we stopped at Tham Erawan, a famous cave off the Wang Saphung to Udon Thani road.

You can clearly see the cave from several kilometres away. A large seated Buddha sits in the entrance, which is high up the cliff face. Tham Erawan is one of the most famous caves in this area.

About 600 steps lead up to the cave. After much huffing and puffing I reached the entrance with the huge sitting Buddha which gazes out over the plains and across to the other limestone hills in the distance. The cave is huge, there were a few very large stalagmites, and the roof was some 40m above my head.

Luckily there was some electric lighting as I had stupidly left my torch in the car. It was worth the effort of the climb as the cave size was so impressive.

After we left the cave there was monsoon rain and we were treated to a spectacular sight of a double rainbow.

There were two rainbows, side by side. It was quite a spectacular end to our day in Isaan country.

The Brunei Times

--------------------------------------------------------------------------

Source URL:
http://www.bt.com.bn/en/en/travel/2008/10/26/venturing_into_the_heart_of_northeastern_thailand

23 October 2008

Gua Naga Mas letter - NST

NST Online » Letters
2008/10/21

Cave exhibit: A fossil of a cat is going to the dogs
By : LIZ PRICE, Kuala Lumpur




IN a cave known as Gua Naga Mas in Perak, there is a fossil of a mammal embedded in the cave's wall. It was found in 1992. No real tests have been done, but the fossil is thought to be a leopard or some other cat, and may date back to the Pleistocene, 1.8 million to 10,000 years BP (before the present era).

The Department of Museums and Antiquities erected a signboard at the base of the steps leading to the cave. My first visit to the site was in 1996. On subsequent visits over the years, I could see that pieces of the fossil had been removed. It is disheartening to find that unscrupulous people have been removing these ancient bones, and that nothing has been done to protect them.

This month, I tried to get to the cave and found the signboard had completely disappeared, and the steps were totally overgrown and were not to be seen. Also, a factory has encroached right up to the hillslope.

This fossil is thought to be the only one known in Southeast Asia. It is really sad to see that the authorities have done nothing to protect this site.

20 October 2008

No protection for ancient cave fossil (Sun, NST)

This was published on the letters page, p16 of THE SUN , 20th October 2008

No protection for ancient cave fossil
In a cave known as Gua Naga Mas in Perak, there is a fossil of a mammal
embedded in the cave wall. It was found in 1992. No real tests have
been done, but the fossil is thought to be a leopard or other cat, and
may date to the Pleistocene, 1.8 million to 10,000 years BP.

The Dept of Museums and Antiquities erected a sign board at the base of
the steps leading up to the cave. My first visit to the site was in 1996.

On subsequent visits, by comparing my photos over the years, I could
see that pieces of the fossil have been removed. It is very
disheartening to find that unscrupulous people have been removing these
ancient bones, and that nothing has been done to protect them.

In Oct 2008 I tried to get to the cave and found the signboard had
completely disappeared, and the steps were totally overgrown and were
not to be seen. Also a factory has encroached right up to the
hillslope.

This fossil is thought to be the only one known in SE Asia. It is
really sad to see that the authorities have done nothing to protect
this site and to promote it's importance.

I hope someone from the Museums or Tourism Depts will read this and
take some action to preserve such an important piece of Malaysia's
past.
                                                                 Liz Price


The letter was also published in NST on 21 Oct 2008

NST Online » Letters
2008/10/21
Cave exhibit: A fossil of a cat is going to the dogs
By : LIZ PRICE, Kuala Lumpur
   IN a cave known as Gua Naga Mas in Perak, there is a fossil of a mammal embedded in the cave's wall. It was found in 1992. No real tests have been done, but the fossil is thought to be a leopard or some other cat, and may date back to the Pleistocene, 1.8 million to 10,000 years BP (before the present era).

The Department of Museums and Antiquities erected a signboard at the base of the steps leading to the cave. My first visit to the site was in 1996. On subsequent visits over the years, I could see that pieces of the fossil had been removed. It is disheartening to find that unscrupulous people have been removing these ancient bones, and that nothing has been done to protect them.

This month, I tried to get to the cave and found the signboard had completely disappeared, and the steps were totally overgrown and were not to be seen. Also, a factory has encroached right up to the hillslope.

This fossil is thought to be the only one known in Southeast Asia. It is really sad to see that the authorities have done nothing to protect this site.

19 October 2008

Canoeing around Phang Nga Bay - BT 2008

Published on The Brunei Times (http://www.bt.com.bn/en)

Eco-tourism: Let's go canoeing around Thailand's Phang Nga Bay

A not-to-be-missed adventure: Tourists that went canoeing exploring Phang Nga Bay will be rewarded with a great day and a fascinating experience. Picture: BT/Liz Price

Sunday, October 19, 2008

HAVE you ever tried to take a photo of a moving bird whilst you are bobbing up and down in a canoe? It's not easy. The sea was a bit choppy, and as I paddled out of the cave, an egret was wading in the shallows of the cave entrance, looking for its lunch. It was a good opportunity to take a shot of a bird at such close quarters.

The views of the nearby limestone islands were stunning. The karst towers rose from the Andaman Sea like stately sentinels, and the reds and browns of the rocks were quite a contrast against the blue sky and the green sea. It was a picture postcard scene. The National Marine Park of Phang Nga Bay in southern Thailand is full of magnificent limestone islands.

I had a window seat as the plane flew over this amazing bay on its approach to Phuket's International airport, and I saw dozens of islands dotted around, some large and some small, and all surrounded by water of different shades of blues and greens.

Numerous boats take tourists daily to this area, in particular to James Bond Island, Ko Phing Kan, which was made famous when used for filming The Man with the Golden Gun.

I booked to do a sea canoe trip to the cave hongs. "Hong" is the Thai word for "room". These hongs are inland open-air tidal lagoons, surrounded by sheer limestone cliffs. The only way in and out is through the caves. If the cave is quite low, the route through may only be open for about 20 minutes a day, during low tide. Once the tide is high, the cave, or certainly the entrance will be underwater.

I was picked up early morning from my hotel and taken to Por Pier on the eastern side of Phuket. Here I joined the other paddlers and we were given a brief introduction before joining the boat. During the hour's journey to our first destination, we had coffee and fresh fruit whilst being given an explanation of the things we would see during the day. The guide was very knowledgeable and showered us with lots of details, and there was a large file of information and photos which we could browse through at our leisure.

It was surprisingly chilly as the boat sped along and I was a bit dubious about having to get into the water. I needn't have worried as when we arrived at Hong Island the sun was shining to welcome us and the beauty of the place kept me busy with the camera. As the guides launched all the yellow kayaks into the sea, they looked like a lot of bananas which had broken loose from the bunch. My guide manoeuvred the kayak to the steps of the boat so I could get in, and then we were speedily paddling to the cave entrance.

After the initial low entrance, the cave roof rose high above our heads. The water lapped against the cave walls causing an eerie sound in places, and I could see why legends tell of cave monsters. My torchlight picked out some stalagmites and stalactites. Ahead of us the roof suddenly lowered and the walls closed in leaving a gap not much larger than the kayak. I had to lie flat on my back in the kayak to avoid scraping my nose on the roof.

We popped out in to a wang and gasped in wonder. It was beautiful. We were surrounded by sheer limestone walls that rose 100m above our heads, capped by green vegetation. It was like a secret garden, except the floor was covered by sea. Plants clung to the precipitous walls. A few birds called, but otherwise it was silent. A lost world. We paddled around the hong, admiring its beauty, before returning to the pitch black of the cave.

The next hong we visited was possibly more beautiful as there were mangrove trees inside. It was fun paddling around the mangroves with their serpent like roots. We saw a young monitor lizard basking on a rock. It was obviously used to seeing humans paddling around its terrain and took no notice.

The third cave contained some beautiful stalactites, and a glistening white cascade of calcite crystals resembling a frozen waterfall. In the secret lagoon, we spotted a troop of young macaques. They were playing in the branches just a few metres above the water so we were able to paddle right underneath them. This was a mistake as the monkeys let loose a golden shower. I could imagine them laughing to themselves and wondered if they did this to all the visitors. There was no sign of the adults, maybe they were watching from some higher vantage point.

We returned to the boat and had a scrumptious lunch of fresh fish, chicken curry, Thai soup and tempura. I was afraid to overeat in case I sank when I went swimming. We were not the only ones to enjoy the meal, as the cook threw scraps of chicken overboard and suddenly the sky was full of Brahminy kites.

They appeared from nowhere and soon there was a dozen or more, mewing and eyeing up the feast. They began swooping down and plucking scraps of meat from the water. It was an amazing sight to see so many of these birds at such close quarters.

Our next cave was appropriately called Bat Cave as deep inside were a few colonies of insect eating bats. They seem oblivious of our presence, which is a good sign as it means that the human visitors don't seem to disturb them. There are several tour companies running these kayak trips daily, but they all take note of the ecotourism rules and do their best not to damage the environment.

We then had some free time for swimming and kayaking. However most people lazed on the boat, still full from the huge lunch. I tried swimming but the current was very strong. It was fun being swept along with the flow but was hard work swimming back to the boat.

When we got back to Por Pier the tide was out, so we had to walk the last hundred metres through gooey mangrove mud to reach the jetty. Luckily there was fresh water to rinse our legs before boarding the transport back to our hotels. It had been a great day and a fascinating experience.

The Brunei Times


27 September 2008

Caves in Battambang Province, Cambodia - WildAsia

Caves in Battambang Province, Cambodia

Little is known about the caves and karsts of Cambodia. LIZ PRICE joined a German team on an exploratory expedition to Battembang Province.

Published on Wild Asia



















There have been very few caving expeditions to Cambodia and until recently little has been known about the karst and caves there. Reasons Cambodia has not attracted spelaeologists include the instability of the country resulting from wars, the Pol Pot regime and also the dangers from landmines.

Pol Pot's insane regime during which thousands of Cambodians were killed only ended in December 1978. A civil war then followed for the next 20 years. Thousands of mines were planted, along roads, in rice fields, in fact almost everywhere. Thousands more Cambodians died from the fighting and from the landmines. Peace only resumed in 1991 when King Sihanouk returned.

At the end of 1995 a German expedition looked at caves in Kratie and Kampot. In 2004 I went to Cambodia as a tourist and went to the "Killing caves" at Battambang.In June 2008 I joined a small scale expedition to explore the caves and karst of Battambang province. The team consisted of 2 Germans and myself.

In 14 days of caving, 65 caves were registered, and 54 of those were visited and 45 of them mapped. A total of 4,253 m of passage was surveyed. This was pretty good going.

In Battambang province the limestone extends from west of Battambang town and continues west towards Pailin on the Thailand border. The landscape from Battambang to at least Sdao is totally flat with the karst hills rising up to 300m from the plain. All the caves we looked at were dry, even though it was the rainy season.

The studies were conducted in cooperation with the Ministry of Culture and Fine Arts in Phnom Penh, and the Museum of Antiquities in Battambang. We hired a vehicle and driver and each day drove to the hills and asked the locals for caves. At first we were only taken to temple caves and other caves containing Buddhas, until we made it clear that we wanted all caves, not just religious sites.

However we soon found that the caves at the tops of the hills were generally small, sometimes they were just cavities. As it was so hot and sweaty to get to these caves, we then asked only for foothill caves.

The road No 10 from Battambang to Phnom Sampeu was in terrible condition in 2004. I hoped it would have improved by 2008, as it leads to the Thai border, but if anything it was worse. It took almost an hour to do the 14 km to Phnom Sampeu. Phnom Sampeu is the famous hill all the tourists visit, as it contains the killing caves and has some wats on top. I found in the 4 years since my last visit, a lot of money has been donated (mainly from overseas) to make new shrines, stupas, Buddha statues, signboards etc. Yet a lot of Cambodians are lucky if they live on $1 a day.

Some of the caves we visited were so full of bats we couldn’t enter, because of the stench of guano (and possible histoplasmosis). At one cave the smell was like pure ammonia, produced by the resident free tailed bats (Tadarida spp.).

It was good to see the bats in the caves however, because in the caves in northern Laos, most of the bats have been caught for food, and we were lucky if we saw just one or two bats. Bats support the rest of the food chain in caves. The caves in Battambang were home to a few invertebrates, such as centipedes, long legged centipedes (Thereupoda), crickets, millipedes, spiders and whip spiders (amblypygids). We found a snake in one cave, a striped kukri (Oligodon taeniatus), but this was probably an accidental visitor.

On 3 caving expeditions to northern Laos, it is obvious that the locals (mainly Hmong minorities) eat any wildlife they can catch. The markets each morning were a great place to take photos of wildlife, there were rats, squirrels, moon rats, porcupine, bats and many types of bird. In Cambodia's Battambang province, I found no evidence that the people eat the wildlife, and unlike in Laos, we saw birds flying around.

Laang Spean, Bridge Cave, is an archaeological site dug in the 1970s. Finds include stone tools from 6000-7000 BC and pottery from ~4290 BC, as well as animal bones. We visited another nearby cave and found some pottery, bones and stone tools, which were taken by the Museum guys.

A full expedition report will be published in due course, and another article will appear in the British caving magazine Speleology in Autumn 2008.

© Liz Price - article may only be republished with the author's permission.

21 September 2008

Tin dredge, Perak - Brunei Times

Historical tin dredge gets facelift to attract visitors




Dredging up the past: (Top to Bottom) The 4,500-tonne tin dredge at Tanjong Tualang, Perak. It was opened in February 2008 to the public for tours. During the heyday of the tin mining industry, Malaysia was one of the world's leading producers of tin. Picture: BT/Liz Price

Liz Price
PERAK, MALAYSIA


Sunday, September 21, 2008


AS we approached the dredge, it looked like a colossal metal monster sitting in a pond, like a relative of a dinosaur. It looked too big to possibly move, but these massive dredges devoured swamp and jungle as they searched for tin deposits.

Tin mining is one of Malaysia's oldest and most successful industries. In the 1600s, this industry was beginning to thrive in Kedah, Perak and Selangor.

Over the centuries tin was extracted in huge quantities, from both open cast and deeper mines. Dredges were commonly used.

Today there are only about three old dredges left in Malaysia, and this one at Chenderoh, near Tanjong Tualang, Perak, has been preserved. In February 2008 it was opened to the public for tours.

Walking onto the tin dredge was like stepping back in time. The cavernous interior was strangely silent, but I am sure that when this dredge was in full operation the noise and vibration would have been almost unbearable. This huge metal monster is a relic of the past, a reminder of the once bustling tin mining industry which thrived in Malaysia.

The dredge, TT No 5, was given a US$30,000 ($42,819) face lift by the company Osborne and Chappel, and Steven Ng is the man responsible to renovating this giant.

Osborne & Chappel was started by British engineers in Malaya in the 1890s and developed the alluvial mining industry in Malaysia. TT5 was built in 1938 by WF Payne and Sons (UK), and modified 1960.

We walked onto the dredge and I realised just how big it is. The pontoon is 75m long and 20m wide and three storeys high.

It is essentially a floating factory where buckets on a chain scoop earth deep from the pond, these buckets are then transported up to an area high in the body of the dredge.

Our guide opened a hatch in the wall and revealed the buckets on the ladder which takes them to the top of the dredge. It looked like something from a bizarre fairground ride.

Each bucket is huge, made of manganese steel and the edges are reinforced to endure the damage done when scooping up the earth containing the tin.

There are 115 buckets on the ladder and each one can hold more than 600 litres. The maximum digging depth of this dredge was 31 metres. At the front end we could see the buckets where they come out of the water before beginning the long ascent to the top of the dredge. We were able to go up to the upper levels to get an overall picture of how the dredge worked. The dredge weighs 4,500 tonnes and was moved by means of a 1.5-kilometre long cable, worked from the control area.

At the top of the dredge, we had a literal birds' eye view over the surrounding ponds. I was surprised to see a few birds nesting in the dredge. There are three ponds in the vicinity and the one TT5 sits on has been surrounded by paths and earth embankments.

Fish have been stocked in the neighbouring ponds which will hopefully encourage more birds in the area.

From the front end of the dredge we walked along the narrow walkway on the roof and entered the next area where we had a close up view of the buckets as they ascended to the very top.

Further on we could look down on the jigs. Leaving the buckets the excavated material is broken up by jets of high pressure water as it falls on to the revolving or oscillating screens.

The large stones and rubble are retained by these screens and the tin bearing material passes to the jigs.

These are vibrating trays, and water is forced up from below, pulsing up in a wave, so the heavy tin sinks down and the lighter hematite floats off.

From this primary separating plant, the tin goes down to the palong below and into a big container ready for transportation.

The waste goes out via a disposal shute at the tail end of the dredge and is dumped on the banks. These tailings are bulky as excavating one cubic metre of new ground produces 20 cubic metres of waste material, as the new ground is compact, but the waste is separated and full of water.

The dredge operated 24 hours a day, there were 3 shifts of about 17 men. An area near the jigs was designated as the eating area where the men had their food. A selection of tools is now exhibited here.

Back at deck level, we could see the many hoses above our heads which carried the tin from the jigs to the collecting areas and could get a better understanding of how the process worked.

We continued our tour around the back end of the dredge and had a look at the control area. On the wall here is a list of the major components of the dredge and the date they were installed and last serviced.

There are squat toilets on the dredge at the back end, which open directly to the pond.

After our tour on the dredge, we walked around the outside and then went to the small exhibition room. During the heyday of the tin mining industry, 40 dredges were operating in Perak, with a record of 105 working in 1929. This particular dredge stopped work around 1983 after more than 40 years of service.

Future plans will see the setting up of a living museum, with people dressed in traditional clothes, with women dressed as "dulang" washers. A video will also be shown on how this giant worked.

A visit to this dredge is an ideal way to get some understanding of one of Malaysia's most important industries.

The Brunei Times

----------------------------------------------------------------------

Source URL:
http://www.bt.com.bn/en/en/travel/2008/09/21/historical_tin_dredge_gets_facelift_to_attract_visitors

3 September 2008

Krachaeng, Yala (caves Thai www)

THAM KRACHAENG, YALA

By Liz Price, 2002

Tham Krachaeng is the 6th longest cave in Thailand at 5633m long and is situated near Ban Than To in Yala province. Ban Than To is roughly halfway between Yala and Betong on route 410. From Betong it is 79 km by the old road, 62 km by the new one. Than To is a small town with a strong Moslem influence. It has a hospital and a fisheries department. Khao Tham Krachaeng is a large limestone hill to the north, and Bang Lang National Park lies to the northwest. This is an area of tropical rain forest.

The Tham Krachaeng system is situated near Ban Than To. More than 5 km was explored and surveyed during 1993 by British, Australian and Malaysian cavers, resulting in a length of 5516m. Only the active part of the system was explored and a high level fossil passage was seen but not entered. In December 2000 some British and German cavers pushed a side passage, the cold water inlet, but were only able to survey 117m as the following day the cave was in flood. There are two main entrances, the side entrance sink, Tham Lod, and the resurgence, Tham Krachaeng. By road these are 10 km apart. The main river sink is situated a few kilometres away south of Ban Than To, near Ban Pu Yut, but is impenetrable to cavers. Tham Krachaeng survey


Tham Lod entrance - From Ban Than To go north about 5 km to Bang Lang National Park. A few metres south of the bridge before the park, turn right and follow the track for about 2 km, turning left at a small bridge. The track ends at the river which leads to the cave. Tham Lod is a sink and a 620m long passage leads to the main confluence. This passage is very flood prone and great care should be taken during the rainy season.

Tham Krachaeng entrance - go north from Ban Than To, through Ban Ka Sod, then right following the signs. Krachaeng Arch is a 100m long natural arch. Follow the river upstream to the main cave entrance. The entrance is blocked by gours so you have to climb up and over them. The large river passage can be followed to a boulder choke and a route up leads to the continuation of the passage and then the confluence with Tham Lod. The upstream Krachaeng water is noticeably warmer than that in Tham Lod. The cave is generally a straight line passage running S - N. It is constantly large and has some fine flowstones and gours. The upstream boulder choke has been pushed 3 times but remains impenetrable. We have tried to enter the cave from the upstream side where the river sinks, but again this is impenetrable.

Notes - There are 2 spellings used : Krachaeng and Krasang. The river caves are very flood prone as they are part of the catchment for the Bang Lang park. The caves should be avoided during unsettled weather. The monsoon season here is Dec - Jan.

Other caves: Tham Wat Krachaeng, aka Tham Morakhot (Emerald Cave) Go through Krachaeng Arch. Steps lead up to the Buddhist temple which was constructed in 1995. The cave consists of one large chamber, and a climb at the back leads up to a tunnel about 20m long. Upper Meditation Cave Situated above Tham Morakhot. A huge chamber slopes steeply up, and a wooden ladder leads up to a higher chamber which leads to a back entrance. This is used by the monk for meditation. There is a parallel passage with some fine formations. Tham Hma (Dog Cave) Just north of the Ban Lang Park, the entrance can be seen by the left side of the road. Cave was explored in 2000 and is about 120m long.

Nearby attractions : Bang Lang dam - the first hydro-electric project in the southern region. There are magnificent views and recreation facilities including fishing. Bang Lang National Park - includes the 9- tiered Than To waterfall. Sakai Village - a village inhabited by indigenous people. There is a small museum and souvenir shop.


Posted on Caves of Thailand www by Dean Smart and Matt London, 2001.

31 August 2008

Cambodia's Kampong Puoy lake - BT

Cambodia's 'Lake of Tears' both sad, serene


Dark past: Known as Ang Teuk Kampong Puoy, northwest Cambodia's lake, constructed by the Khmer Rouge regime, stirs up sad memories for many. Picture: Liz Price

Sunday, August 31, 2008

KAMPONG PUOY Lake is quite a beautiful place, with limestone hills edging the lake on two sides. However this place is known as "the lake of tears" due to its terrible past. The lake is situated in the Banon district of Battambang province, in northwest Cambodia.

It is a manmade lake, and now the reservoir supplies water for irrigating crops. Known as Ang Teuk Kampong Puoy, the lake is a popular recreation site for locals, but it stirs up traumatic memories for many older people.

The lake has a gruesome history. Many people died here. The dam and reservoir were constructed by Pol Pot's forces during the Khmer Rouge regime.

Pol Pot was the leader of the Khmer Rouge and was responsible for the killing of millions of Cambodians and causing misery to millions more. From 1975-1978 he led an insane regime. He implemented one of the most radical and brutal restructurings of a society ever attempted. Its goal was to transform Cambodia into a Maoist peasant-dominated agrarian society. The Khmer Rouge took over Phnom Penh in 1975 and forced the entire population to march out to the countryside and undertake slave labour. Disobedience of any sort often brought immediate execution. Educated people, leaders and also minorities were targeted.

During this period hundreds of thousands of people were killed by the Khmer Rouge leadership, whilst thousands more died of famine and disease. It is not known exactly how many people died. Estimates vary between one and three million. Thousands were killed in the "killing caves", some of which are at Phnom Sampeu between Battambang and Kampong Puoy.

The xenophobic government was toppled in December 1978 when the Vietnamese invaded and installed a new government. The Khmer Rouge were driven into the remote forests where they continued guerilla attacks.

To construct Kampong Puoy Lake, Pol Pot's group forced thousands of starving people to toil for four years with no modern equipment and little food and the threat of execution. They used simple tools to dig the earth and mud. Countless thousands (maybe ten thousand) died in the struggle to complete the 6km long and 1.9km wide dyke, which holds over 90 million cubic metres of water.

It is hard to imagine the terrible hardship those people endured, their suffering, pain and starvation. Some locals say that Pol Pot intended to drown his enemies here. They were to be invited to attend the inauguration and would be drowned by setting off explosive charges.

Today the lake is an invaluable resource for local communities. The waters feed a series of canals which irrigate rice fields in three districts. The lake fills up during the rainy season, and still has water even in the dry season.

Locals come here, especially at the weekends, to enjoy the peaceful atmosphere, and to swim and eat with their families. Splashing and laughter has replaced the droning propaganda and human cries of distress. However not many people like to bathe in the waters, as the dark depths are still a reminder of the lives lost here during the Pol Pot regime.

Many people who survived the Pol Pot command now live overseas, especially in the United States and France. Some go back to the lake to remember their time during the Pol Pot regime when they were working there.

For many visitors the clean water, boat rides, and fishing are the main attraction. You can rent a boat for about $1.40 an hour. Bird watching is a popular activity for a few people.

As you arrive at the lake, a bevy of food sellers accost you. I was there during the lotus season, and there were dozens of people selling lotus heads for the seeds.

There are a few simple food stalls on the road which runs alongside the lake. Some sell fresh fish. A popular delicacy is Trey Damrey or elephant fish. However some people won't eat it as superstition says the fish is the re-incarnation of a spurned wife!

The name "Kampong Puoy" comes from a nearby mountain, although it is also a kind of vegetable which grows in rice fields here. The lake is about 36km from Battambang. On the approach to the lake you pass through small villages. Small limestone hills dot the landscape.

Continuing along the road you come to a wat, and there are a few caves on the hill behind. One cave has a resident monk, and people come to get his blessing. Below this cave is Gemstone Cave which has a nice calcite stalagmite that gives the cave its name.

The place is certainly beautiful, and is a significant symbol of a nation on the mend from a terrible past.

The Brunei Times
--------------------

30 August 2008

Thaipusam - Travellers Voice Magazine












Travellers Voice Magazine -- Thaipusim in Malaysia
A fascinating look at Hindu ceremonies in Malaysia


Thaipusam in Malaysia - by Liz Price

In Malaysia I witnessed one of the most bizarre spectacles of my life, the Hindu festival of Thaipusam. A combination of devout fervour, supreme sacrifice and thanksgiving to the deity Lord Subramaniam.

Devotees carry a kavadi bearing offerings, this yoke is anchored by hooks pierced into the body, and the devoteeÍs tongue and cheeks are also skewered with long metal needles. Other hooks are attached into the flesh of the back, on which hang bells and small containers of milk. All these hooks and skewers are inserted without shedding a drop of blood. It is definately mind over matter.

The participants walk to Batu Caves, and then have to climb 272 steps up to the cave temple in 33C temperature. Some devotees donÍt carry the kavadi, instead they make their penance by rolling all the way to the cave. Most are in a trance and wail and scream like banshees.

It is quite eerie, especially in the cave, as the atmosphere is full of the smoke of burning camphor, used for the offerings. Fresh coconuts are smashed, symbolising the washing away of sins. Once the penitent has completed his pilgrimage, the skewers and hooks are removed, and ash smeared over the wounds - there is rarely any bleeding. He is brought out of his trance and most of them look utterly exhausted. A fascinating spectacle.

29 August 2008

Sumatra 2000 caving - CSS jnl

Published in Cerberus Spelaeological Society journal
VOLUME 25, NUMBER 4, January 2001
Also on CSS , see the article in the Cerberus jnl .

SUMATRA 2000

“Sumatra 2000” was a follow up to previous French expeditions to the area of Lintau Buo in West Sumatra, Indonesia. A French expedition has been going to Sumatra almost annually in the 1990’s, following the first visit in 1991. They realised there was good potential to find long river caves in the large karst areas. In 1991 and 1992 they went to Bukitinggi and Krui in West Sumatra, then in 1993 explored the Batang Sinamar area at Lintau. After the 1993 success, they returned to this area in 1995, 1996 and 1998.



The Indonesian archipelago consists of over 13,000 islands and is the world’s most expansive archipelago stretching almost 5000 km. Sumatra is a huge island which straddles the equator, lying just to the west of Malaysia and Singapore. West Sumatra, is known as Sumbar to the locals, and is known for its heavy rainfall. Unlike the densely populated island of Java, Sumatra is relatively underpopulated, but it has a lot of natural resources such as forest, oil, rubber, pepper and coffee.



Our expedition was based around Lintau which is populated by the Minangkabau people, who are Muslims. Indonesia has been suffering from a lot of bad press reports in recent years, since the economic collapse in Asia in 1998 and also because of the fighting in certain areas. But Sumbar is very safe, there is no problem there, in fact most of the areas we visited seemed quite well to do, with nice houses and no obvious signs of poverty.



The karst


There are two karst mountain ranges south of the Lintau area, Gunung Ngalau and Gunung Seribu. Our area was just to the north, around Batang Sinamar, in the plain of Lintau Buo. The limestone is permo-carboniferous, and there are some fine cone hills and towers 100 to 300 metres high. In many places the limestone ranges are bored by tunnel caves with allogenic streams. The longest of these in 1998 was Ngalau Surat, explored for 6.5km and still going.



We also looked at a karstic area near Bukitinggi,



The expedition took place in July 2000 and was the largest French expedition to date. The first members arrived in early July, and I joined them on the 7th. For me coming from Malaysia it was only a short hop across the Straits of Malacca. I flew from Kuala Lumpur to Padang, the capital of West Sumatra, in a small propeller plane, which took about 1½ hours. There I became an instant millionaire, as the Indonesian Rupiah stands at about RP13,000 to the £.



From Padang I took a private van to Batu Sangkar. The price was very cheap, just Rp25,000 (less than £2), which was the same price I had just paid to do the 9km from the airport by taxi. I was also told the French had done the same trip a couple of days earlier and paid Rp125,000. I thought there was a catch, but there wasn’t. The following morning I took the local bemo (bus) for the final hour’s journey to Lintau.



Lintau Buo is the name of the area, and is divided into smaller parts. Balai Tengah is the market place where the bus stopped. By this time everyone within earshot knew who I was and what I was doing as I asked for directions to Wisma Santy to meet the French. I arrived at this house at 9am, and had obviously just missed the French, and had to sit there the whole day until they showed up at 8pm for dinner. Admittedly I was 1½ days earlier than they expected me, due to my flight having been changed at the last moment.



Many of the caves in the area are superb river caves, one is 7km, another 5km etc, and most have large passages. They are also home to the sarang burung, or birds’ nests, the collection of which is a valuable industry. This gave us a few problems because we had to get permission to enter certain caves, either from the police or from the Koperasi which manages the collection. I had arrived at a bad time because the team was waiting to get a permit, and we also having a rest time having been doing some exploration prior to my arrival. So it was 3 days before I managed to get underground.



Saturday 8th

My first day with the expedition. The 9 of us set off in the local bemo towards Halaban, which is on the road to Payakumbuh. We got off somewhere on the roadside and walked to a couple of depressions that they knew about. However we only managed to find one small cave there, this was a sink taking a small stream. The entrance was a pitch which Franck bolted and went down to a second pitch which became too narrow. Total length, about 27m.



Sunday 9th

2 members went off to explore Air Lulus in the Halaban area, leaving the rest of us to go to Bukitinggi to buy provisions and look at some caves. But our transport didn’t turn up, so the landlady and I went off by motorbike to try and arrange another van. This took most of the morning, and we were only able to set off after lunch. Bukitinggi is a tourist town, accommodation there is very cheap at about 70p a night in a hotel. We then took a taxi to Baso, which is actually back on the road we had just come along to look for some caves.



Louis had managed to get some old Dutch maps dated from the 1880’s of the area, and they were remarkably accurate, and showed all the river sinks etc, so were invaluable for locating potential caves. We went to Ngalau Baso but were told we couldn’t enter it. We found out why when we walked to the entrance: a bamboo fence and locked gate surrounded the whole area, and the entrance itself was totally blocked by a concrete wall with 4 small holes for the birds, and a slit about 2m from the floor. This was my first experience of a Sumatran birds’ nest cave.



Monday 10th

We returned to Baso and headed for Ngalau Simarasop or Dog Cave. We walked to the resurgence entrance and saw many flat-bottomed boats moored outside. They are used to collect sand from the riverbed inside the cave. We negotiated with Safrizal to take us in by boat and 6 of us set off, using our carbide lights and also a damar torch attached to a bamboo pole. The boats are about 4m long and just fit through the narrow parts between rocks. We went a distance then got out and walked and were surprised when we waded past a couple of hot water inlets. We were even more surprised later on when the guide told us in Indonesian to beware of the dogs. I thought I'd misheard, but we rounded a corner and sure enough there were 2 dogs. They and their owners guard the birds’ nests. They change shifts every day or two, so don’t have to stay underground for too long at a time.



From Dog Corner the river became deep and a swim was necessary, so just two of us went on to explore. After about 400m we came to a small cascade, and beyond it we came to an area of breakdown, with enormous boulders filling the lower half of the passage. We decided to stop here as we’d been gone quite a while, and hopefully would be able to survey the cave at a later date.



Tuesday 11th


Ngalau Simarasop Liz Price
After a morning of washing and writing, 5 of us set off in the afternoon to look at an area within walking distance of the house, near the Ranting mosque. The limestone mountains form a scenic background to the green rice paddies in the valley. We started climbing up into the hills, and upon asking some rubber tappers, we were told of a 50m deep cave with a river about ½ hours walk. It was called Ngalau Kota Dalam.

Finally we did reach a small cave, but we don’t know if it was the right one, as it was only about 30m long, and were was no sign of a pitch or a river. But I did see some birds’ nests at close quarters, and was surprised as they were mossy nests, which in Malaysia don’t have much value. And I also saw the only cave racer snake of the whole expedition, it was a small one, and was neatly coiled up on top of a nest, I guess the previous occupants (the chicks) were now in the snake’s stomach.



Wednesday 12th

We split into 2 teams, one to go to Bantar, and the other to Pelayangan. I chose the latter. We set off by van for Halaban, where we turned right and headed for the Batang Sinamar. We crossed the river and were able to drive quite a way before having to stop and walk. It was an hour’s walk from here to the cave.



The cave is a resurgence, but we used a high level dry entrance, where the nest collectors have a shelter or pondok. After lunch of instant noodles we set off with our guide Ujang. A steep descent to the river then a fast stomp through the water. The water was bum deep in places, although was lower than normal, as this is the dry season. Many of the water inlets had dried up. In about 3 places we had to leave the water and climb over massive mountains of boulders and other obstructions. Much of the dry area was covered with guano and the associated cave fauna such as the huge egg-eating crickets, and equally big huntsmen spiders, thousands of millipedes, and long-legged centipedes etc. To get an idea of the size of these crickets, they actually eat swiftlet eggs and young chicks.



After Bamboo Hall I made the mistake of following the guide and Franck up a veritable mountain of ancient guano. It was horrid. We reached the top and then had to descend, which was no easier. Then at the bottom we couldn’t get down the last couple of metres to the stream, so had to do a slippery traverse. The 2 guys had to hold my feet in place to get me across – it is impossible to traverse when one’s shoes are completely hidden in a parcel of gooey bird guano. Oh to be on Mendip, where there is no guano! (only Cowsh! Ed.)



Meanwhile 2 more sensible members had reached this point easily by following the stream. The 5 of us continued upstream to the second inlet which was found in 1998, and spent the rest of the day surveying this. Again we had to leave the river in several places because of the boulder obstructions, and at one point I ended up in the roof on top of a very unstable looking earth choke, which was not pleasant. Once we regained the main river passage, we stopped at 300m. We didn’t get out of the cave until about 9.30pm, had more instant noodles, and settled down for the night on the cave floor. The swiftlets were really noisy all night flying in and out.



Thursday 13th

Not much sleep with the swiftlets, and also one of the dogs that barked at every noise he heard. Breakfast of baby cereal (the French have strange eating habits, don’t know what happened to the famous French cuisine) and climbed into our smelly wet caving clothes. We headed back to the inlet and continued surveying. We went a further 200m until we were stopped at the bottom of a 10m high waterfall. It was in a very pretty chamber with beautiful formations everywhere.



I was glad of the reflective survey markers to find the way back through the chokes.



Friday 14th

I discovered that I had had some things stolen from my bag yesterday, which we had left at the cave entrance. It must have been the nest collectors. It was only when I got home and had my films developed that I discovered that the same thief had opened my camera, and therefore ruined about 8 shots. I suppose I was lucky that he didn’t actually steal the camera.



Saturday 15th

2 guys went off alone again for an overnight trip to Air Lulus. This involved SRT and no one else wanted to accompany them. Unfortunately they were stopped by a sump. The rest of us set off for Sisawah. Firstly we had to stop at the police station at Pangian, and also bought a take away lunch in the village. Sisawah is about an hour’s drive from Balai Tengah, and is basically the southern end of the limestone massif, with Pelayangan at the northern end.



We dropped off a team of 4 who were entering Ngalau Mantu via a tributary. The rest of us drove onto Sisawah, where Louis and Anne plus a local boy Indra went to look at a cave they had found last week, leaving 3 of us to enter the resurgence of Mantu. The entrance entailed a swim, so we had a problem of where to leave our packs, as the other 2 had their large rucksacks with them. We wanted to hide them from the locals but they came in to watch so that defeated the whole object. We began surveying and I swam up to the first bend and discovered the cave finished around the corner. There was a nasty looking climb leading up to a possible hole, but we didn’t want to risk it.



We followed the water to the exit and fortunately the cave continued the other side of the wang (enclosed valley), and this time entered the main cave. Meanwhile the locals had just swarmed up and over the climb that we had refused to do. They are fearless, and cave barefoot. Inside the main cave we soon met the other 4 who had come to look for us. It was at this point that I had a close encounter… I was surveying and standing thigh deep in water when I felt something brush my bare leg (I was wearing shorts). I assumed it was the end of my belt, but when I looked down, there was a snake curling itself around my leg. I realised it wasn’t the normal cave snake, and I surprised myself at the speed I moved through the water.



The other team headed back and then started surveying out to their entrance, and we continued surveying in up to their start point. Ngalau Mantu is a really beautiful cave, not as large as Pelayangan, but with some good formations.



Sunday 16th

Another rest day. In the evening we watched the total eclipse of the moon which lasted almost 4 hours.



Monday 17th

We finally got permission to go to Sangki. Firstly we had to go to the police station, and 2 young police boys accompanied us to Sangki. This is in the direction of Sisawah, but is slightly north. From where the van could go no further, we had an hours walk to the cave, down the steep hill to the valley, across the rice fields and up the hill to the cave. We arrived at Ngalau Ikan and found there was no key to the cave. Sounds like Mendip all over again.



One team set off for the other entrance, Ngalau Sapan Kijang. The rest of us sat and waited as we wanted to avoid the trek, and also Sapan Kijang has no water, and would be a much further route into the upper reaches of Sangki. When it became apparent the key wouldn’t arrive today, we had no choice but to follow the others. At the entrance we dumped our overnight gear, and found someone to unlock the cave for us. Apparently there was a fight here last week amongst the nest collectors, and one man was killed. Inside we soon reached the first wooden ladder installed by the nest collectors. It was only about 8-10m so we negotiated it OK, and also the 3 that followed. It reminded me of Lamb Leer.



We then entered an enormous chamber and found the other team members standing at the top of a wooden ladder. They informed us it was 70m long! It was held in place on either side by 2 hemp ropes, when a caver pulled them to test, one rope broke. The 3 who had SRT prepared to descend using their own ropes, whilst the rest of us beat a retreat and went out. We decided to return to Pos Ikan and await the key in the morning.



Tuesday 18th

It was a noisy night, and a relief to get up. Everyone wanted to murder the cockerel. We discovered the wild boars had trampled the tapioca planted outside. More baby cereal for breakfast, then we had to sit and wait and wait and wait. The key was there, but there was a big discussion about the guide fee. We finally came to an agreement, and set off in 3 teams.



The entrance is a deep hole with a huge tree growing out. A steep descent into the cave, which is locked by a true Mendip size gate. I was amazed. Once we reached the main river passage, we rushed along so fast I had no time to see anything, following our barefooted guide. It was hard work against the current. I went ahead in the first team to push and survey the end of the known cave. However soon after the 1998 terminus, we were stopped by a boulder choke. There was a possible way on at water level, but it didn’t look too nice, as we didn’t know about the stability of the boulders, and also it had been raining (the first rain of the expedition) and we didn’t want to get caught in a flooded choke. There was also a barrage of barbed wire, presumably from the nest collectors. We made our way out slowly, finishing the survey and this time I had a chance to look around. The cave river is about 23°C.



Wednesday 19th

Another rest day for washing and writing and entering data on the computer.



Thursday 20th

Two members departed, leaving 3 people to go and look for Guci Cave near Bantar, 3 to stay at home with the computer, and the remaining 3 of us to go to Ngalau Indah. This is a tourist attraction, but I wanted to see it and we could do some collecting at the same time. It is down the road towards Pangian, then a 3km walk to the cave. We found the entrance resurgence has been dammed since 1998, and the water is piped away to the rice paddies. This meant there was a deep pool behind the dam wall, so we had to get wet up to waist level, whereas the main river beyond was only knee deep.



We had ignored a local man at the entrance, and plodded on upstream until we came to a “mine field” of barbed wire. It was strung out across the surface of the water and down to the floor level. At this point the man appeared and indicated we could go no further. We asked why, as we knew the cave continues for another 500m, but he was adamant we had to go back – birds nests again. So that was that. We returned and went up to the hot water inlet (30°C) near the entrance. Here Francoise took water samples, Franck caught some cave fish and I collected cockroaches. The cave name means Beautiful Cave but I wasn’t very impressed.



Friday 21st

6 people went back to Pelayangan which they pushed to a sump, leaving 3 of us to return to Simarasop. Purely by chance we met our guide Safrizal (from the 10th) along the road, and arranged for him to take us in again. This was the first time I have surveyed a cave by boat and it was great. It wasn’t as accurate as normal as we had to tie the end of the topofil to a rock, and then head up river, and it was difficult trying to site back onto the station. After a while we started using the reflective markers which was a lot easier. The French survey using the topofil, which is a thread, as it is pulled out of the box the distance is measured on a meter. They really like this method over using a measuring tape and say it is more accurate, I disagree because if you miss the station you cannot backtrack because the thread is already pulled out of the box and measured.



Anyway we surveyed the cave as far as the cascade, which was 1.2km, and 3½ hours work. Safrizal was excellent and soon caught onto what we were doing, and willingly helped out We paid him well. I thought we would continue the survey the next day, as we had brought our overnight things, but the other 2 decided we had done enough, so we went back to Lintau. It is a shame because we still don’t know how the cave continues beyond the boulders.


Saturday 22nd

Another rest day.


Sunday 23rd

2 more members departed, now we are 7. We went back to the Halaban area for a drive round, to look at any possible sites by the roadside and in an adjacent quarry. But we found nothing. My last day with the expedition.



General notes


Costs:


Sumatra is incredibly cheap now, following the economic collapse, and exchange rates in our favour. £1 is about Rp13,000.

We were able to hire vans and drivers generally whenever we wanted On average we paid about Rp50,000 a day (£4), or Rp80,000 (£6) to drop us off and pick us up the next day.



Guides we generally paid about Rp30,000 a day (£2.30), or Rp50,000 for 2 days. Except for Sangki where we had to pay Rp30,000 per guide/team, and we had 3 teams. A couple of times a local would carry a bag on a trek and be paid about Rp40,000.



Carbide is available, and costs about Rp6000 a kg (less than 50p).



In Lintau we rented a house. This was an old Minangkabau style building, with 3 rooms but no water or bathroom inside Because of the large size of the group, we also occupied 3 rooms in the landlady’s house (which luckily had 3 bathrooms). We were unsure how much to pay her, and in the end gave more than the going rate, and paid Rp800,000 (£60). This was for a month, so worked out incredibly cheaply when split between 11 people.



Breakfast and dinner we ate in Wisma Santy. This is the house used as accommodation on previous expeditions, but was too small this year. An average restaurant meal of rice, chicken & fish, sometimes beef, vegetables and coffee cost 50p – 75p.



Glossary


Minangkabau language :

Ngalau - cave
Batang - river

Indonesian :


Ikan - fish
Layang layang - swiftlets
Lulus - sink
Mata air - spring
Pensi - a freshwater bivalve
Pondok - hut or shelter
Sarang burung - birds’ nests
Sumber - spring
Tebing - big/tall river bank
Terbit - spring
Timbul - spring


Liz Price


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Caving with spirit hunters, Cintamanis - ACG

This was published in Axbridge Caving Group journal - April 2005 , p10

RULES OF CAVING

Liz Price

The Malaysian Karst Society published a list of Rules of Caving in its newsletter. Rule No 9 tells you not to urinate in a cave, the reason being, wait for it ..............that you might upset the spirits of the cave.

This follows the Malaysian belief that if you have a pee outdoors, you should always ask the spirits permission first, or at least warn them that you are about to pollute their territory.


CAVING WITH SPIRIT HUNTERS

Liz Price

In 2001 I visited Gua Cinta Manis (Sweet Love Cave) which is near Karak in Pahang, Malaysia, in a completely isolated limestone outcrop. The cave is basically one huge chamber with a couple of side chambers leading off, the only obstacle being a 15m pitch covered in guano. Whilst we were preparing to descend, a group of 5 Indians turned up. Barefoot and dressed only in lungis (sarongs), with seed and bead necklaces and ash markings on their faces, they slung an ancient hemp rope down the pitch and proceeded to descend hand over hand. Then they lowered their heavy bags. Luckily one of our group was Indian and could ask these guys what they were doing. It turned out they were looking for a spirit. These Hindus (and indeed most Malaysians) believe that spirits are everywhere, and one of the men wanted a spirit at home in his house. So they went to the cave to see if they could find one spirit willing to move to the man's house.

The 'bomoh' or shaman was conducting the proceedings and they were making offerings of fruit, lighting incense sticks and burning camphor. Whilst going into a trance the bomoh lit a piece of camphor on his tongue but didn't seem affected by the flame or heat. Maybe he had been imbibing alcoholic spirits beforehand and was immune to the pain!

The group intended to spend at least one week in the cave, going all around to look for a suitable spirit. We were a bit worried about their safety as they had few torches between them and intended to do one or two tricky climbs up slippery walls. For the pitch we had our full SRT gear and safety backups, they had an old knotted rope. I only hope they got up their knotted rope alright after one week in the cave. No doubt the spirits helped them.
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© Liz Price
No reproduction without permission

23 August 2008

Phuket canoeing Phang Nga - Star

THE STAR Lifestyle
Saturday March 6, 2004
Secret garden on the sea

Story & Pictures by LIZ PRICE

Have you ever tried to take a photo of a moving bird whilst bobbing up and down in a canoe? I can assure you, it’s not easy.

The sea was a bit choppy. As I paddled out of the cave, a Pacific reef egret was wading in the shallows of the cave entrance, looking for lunch. I am not a birder, but it was a good opportunity to take a shot of the bird at such close quarters.

Framing my avian subject would be the stunning views of the nearby limestone islands. The karst towers rose from the Andaman Sea like stately sentinels, and the reds and browns of the rocks were quite a contrast against the blue sky and green sea. It was certainly a picture postcard scene.




The yellow kayaks bobbing on the sea looked like bananas which had broken loose from the bunch.

Nature’s art gallery

The National Marine Park of Phang Nga Bay in southern Thailand is a natural art gallery, full of magnificent limestone islands. I was lucky enough to have a window seat as the plane flew over this amazing bay on its approach to Phuket’s international airport.

There were dozens of islands dotted around – some large and some small – and all surrounded by water the shade of blues and greens.

Dozens of boats take tourists each day to this area. James Bond Island, or Ko Phing Kan was made famous when the area was used for filming The Man with the Golden Gun. I decided to be a bit different and do a sea canoe trip to the cave hongs.

Hong is the Thai word for room. Basically these hongs are inland open-air tidal lagoons, surrounded by sheer limestone cliffs. The only way in and out is through the caves. If the cave is quite low, the route through may only be open for about 20 minutes a day, during low tide. Once the tide is high, the cave, or certainly the entrance, will be underwater.

I was picked up early morning from my hotel in Phuket town and taken by car to Por Pier on the eastern side of the island. Here, I joined the other paddlers and we were given a brief introduction before being taken out to the pier.

During the hour’s journey to our first destination, we had coffee and lots of fresh fruit whilst being briefed. The guide was very knowledgeable and showered us with lots of information.

It was surprisingly chilly as the boat sped along and I was a bit dubious about having to get into the water. I needn’t have worried because by the time we arrived at Hong Island, the sun was shining.

Cave monster legends

The beauty of the place kept me busy with the camera. As the guides launched all the yellow kayaks into the sea, they looked like bananas which had broken loose from the bunch. My guide Rambo manoeuvred up to the steps of the boat so I could get into the kayak, and then we were speedily paddling to the cave entrance.

After the initial low entrance, the cave roof rose and was high above our heads. The water lapping against the cave walls cause an eerie sound. I could see why legends tell of cave monsters and mysterious beings lurking in the caves.

My torch picked out some stalagmites and stalactites. Ahead of us the roof suddenly lowered and the walls closed in leaving a gap not much larger than the kayak. I had to lie flat on my back in the kayak to avoid scraping my nose on the roof. I was glad I didn’t have to paddle through this section.


The green of the Andaman Sea against the blue sky provided a picture postcard setting for the stately limestone islands

We popped out in to a hong and gasped in wonder. It was beautiful.

We were surrounded by sheer limestone walls that rose about 100m above our heads, capped by green vegetation. It was like a secret garden, except the floor was sea.

The grey and white cliff faces were streaked with red, orange and black striations. Green pandanus and other palms and shrubs clung to the precipitous walls. A few birds called, but otherwise it was silent. A lost world. We paddled around the hong, admiring its beauty, before returning to the pitch black of the cave.


Like a frozen waterfall

The next hong we visited was equally beautiful; in fact maybe more so as there were mangrove trees. It was fun paddling around the mangroves with their serpentine roots.

The guide spotted a young monitor lizard basking on a rock. It was obviously used to seeing humans for it took no notice.

The third cave of the day contained some beautiful stalactites, and a glistening white cascade of calcite crystals resembling a frozen waterfall. And in the secret lagoon, we spotted a troop of young macaques.

They were playing in the branches just a few metres above the water, so we were able to paddle right underneath them. This was a silly move as the monkeys suddenly decided to let loose a golden shower. I could imagine them laughing to themselves and wondered if they did this to all the visitors. There was no sign of the adults, maybe they were watching from some higher vantage point.



Swooping kites

We returned to the boat and had a scrumptious lunch of fresh fish, chicken curry, tempura and Thai-style soup. I was afraid to overeat in case I sank when I went swimming, but the food was so delicious that I had to have a second helping. We were not the only ones to enjoy the meal – the cook threw scraps of chicken overboard and suddenly the sky was full of Brahminy kites.

These scavengers appeared from nowhere and soon there was a dozen or more, mewing and eyeing up the feast. They began swooping down and plucking scraps of meat from the water. I tried many times to get a photo of them but every time the shutter clicked, the bird had already flown and all I had was a picture of the empty sea or sky. But it was an amazing sight to see so many of these birds so close up.



Colonies of bats

Our next cave was appropriately called Bat Cave. Deep inside were a few colonies of insect-eating bats. They seemed oblivious of our presence, which was a good sign as it meant that the daily visits by the kayaks don’t appear to disturb them. There are several tour companies running these kayak trips daily, but luckily they all take note of the eco-tourism rules and do their best not to damage the environment.

We then had some free time for swimming and kayaking. However, most lazed on the boat, still full from the huge lunch. I tried swimming but the current was very strong where we were moored. It was fun being swept along with the flow but hard work swimming back to the boat.

When we got back to Por Pier the tide was right out, so we had to walk the last 100m through gooey mangrove mud to reach the jetty. Luckily, there was fresh water to rinse our feet and legs before boarding the transport back to our hotels.

It had been a great day and a fascinating experience. W

FOR BOOKINGS

There are several tour operators running these and other kayak tours around the Phuket and Phang Nga Bay areas.

The writer opted to go with John Gray’s Sea Canoe as she had done a tour with them some time ago.

They are the original company and have been operating since 1983. The guides are all trained in cave kayaking, lifesaving, and speak good English.

John Gray’s Sea Canoe
124, Soi 1 Yaowarad Road
Muang, Phuket
Thailand

Tel : (6676) 254505-7
Fax : (6676) 226077

Website: http://www.johngray-seacanoe.com

They also have offices in Phang Nga, Krabi, etc, and the tours can also be booked through most of the tour agents in the Phuket / Phang Nga area.