sign in a cave in Laos

27 July 2008

caving is fun - Brunei Times

Published on The Brunei Times (

Mud bath, facial for Perak cave explorers

Adventure caving: The rock forming the caves in the Kinta Valley is some 200 million years old. Although caving is not advisable for the unprepared, it can easily be made safe. The golden rule is to have enough lights. Picture: Liz Price

© Liz Price

Sunday, July 27, 2008

I WAS crawling on hands and knees through gooey mud, with my face just inches from the muddy floor, and the boots of the person in front were dangerously close to rearranging my nose. And I was doing this for fun. "Don't worry about the mud, think of it as a free facial," said a witty person behind. As the people in front of me slowly disappeared one by one through the small hole between the rocks, I consoled myself thinking that a mud pack must be good, after all this was free and with no added chemicals, whereas in the beauty salon I could pay a lot of money for such a treatment. So I laid face down and started sliding through the mud bath.

I was with a group of friends adventure caving in Perak. Several Malaysian states are blessed with a profusion of limestone caves. In many places the landscape is dominated by impressive limestone towers rising majestically above the plains. The Kinta Valley surrounding Ipoh is renown for its limestone hills. Many of the hills are riddled with caves, some of which are famous temples, others such as Gua Tempurung are open for tourism, with electric lighting and walkways. And of course there are the wild or undeveloped caves.

Many of the caves are spectacular, with stalactites and stalagmites and other fine formations. Some such as Gua Tempurung have an underground river. This has to be one of my favourite caves in the Peninsula. The total cave is some four km long, and the river flows right through the cave from one end to the other, for a total distance of about 1.6 km. It is really fun to go caving here. Some of the cave chambers are really huge, one is appropriately named Gergasi, or giant.

The rock forming the caves is ancient, with some as old as 200 million years. This limestone rock was originally formed from layers of shells and corals which were deposited under the sea.

These layers compacted, and later on the rock was uplifted into hills and mountains seen today. All the caves are formed by water. Over the years, water gradually eroded the rock, enlarging small cracks and fissures into the passages and chambers seen today. Then the calcite formations developed into stalagmites and stalactites. These formations are wonderful: long stalactites hanging down from the ceiling with the often stumpy stalagmites rising up from the floor to meet them. If they join they become columns. They can be of various shapes and sizes and colours, some glisten as the calcite crystals reflect from the torchlight. Each cave is different, each is a natural wonder. I am often asked why I like to go into caves, and I think part of the reason is the fact that every one is different, and they are all of various shapes and sizes, some are wet, some are dry, some have only horizontal passages whilst others have vertical drops and climbs. And some have cave fauna. It is always wonderful to see the animal life which inhabits caves. Bats are often found in caves, and if they are present there is often a whole variety of animals living on the floor below, feeding on the bat guano. These creepy crawlies include bugs and beetles, spiders, cockroaches, centipedes, flies, and others. In turn larger animals such as frogs and maybe small mammals feed on these. At the top of the food chain is the cave racer snake. Caves are totally dark, and it is amazing to think how these creatures are totally adapted to spending their life in this darkness.

We had been lucky enough to see a cave racer in another cave in Perak. This snake is about 2 m long and feeds on bats. It is non-poisonous and we were able to get some good photos of it as it seemed quite placid and didn't really mind our presence, although I suspect the flashlights disturbed it.

Some caves are of archaeological importance. The oldest inhabitant of Peninsula Malaysia was found in a cave in the Lenggong Valley in Perak. He is known as the Perak Man, his skeleton is estimated to be about 11,000 years old. Several other caves in the area have yielded traces of prehistoric man. Traces of ancient lifestyle, such as pottery, tools, rock paintings and burial sites, have been found in caves.

Caves are fascinating places and caving is a great sport. There are many caves in Malaysia to choose from. It is always good to go with a group of friends and explore different sites. Although caving is potentially dangerous for the unprepared, it can easily be made safe. The golden rule is to have enough lights. Caves are totally dark, so each person must be equipped with their own torch, preferably mounted on a helmet to keep the hands free. And a spare torch should also be taken, along with extra batteries and bulbs. Although caves are made of rock, their environment is still fragile. The calcite formations should never be touched as they are easily damaged and broken. And you should never write on the walls. If you want to mark your route as you go through a cave, use string or paper, and make sure you remove the markers before you leave the cave.

Sometimes you get very muddy and dirty, but it is all part of the fun. That is how I found myself crawling through such a small passage with my face in the mud. For some people it was the first time since childhood that they had crawled and played in the mud. If only our mothers could see us now.The Brunei Times


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