sign in a cave in Laos

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” 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


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.


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


Caving with spirit hunters, Cintamanis - ACG

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


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.


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.
© 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


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

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


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.

Sg. Lembing tin mine museum - Star

(These photos were stolen and published with the article on]

THE STAR Lifestyle
Saturday, June 28, 2003

Sg. Lembing’s golden years of ore

The Sg. Lembing tin mine, among the world’s largest and deepest, once earned Pahang the name ‘El-Dorado of the East’. LIZ PRICE pays a visit to the museum that records its history.

IMAGINE going to work each day, stepping into a cage big enough to hold half a dozen men and plummeting to the bowels of the earth.

This was how the miners of Sg. Lembing tin mine reached their workplace each day. They would then spend six hours underground, extracting the tin ore from the main lode. At the end of their shift, the lift would transport them back to the surface and daylight and fresh air. For those six hours of subterranean work, they were paid $40-$44 in 1950.

The Sg. Lembing tin mine in Pahang was reputed to be among the world’s largest and deepest. The total tunnel length is 322km, with a depth of between 610m and 700m. Tok Tangguk, who was possibly from Cambodia, was an outstanding figure in the history and opening of the mine.

Mining began in the 19th century in 1868 when Sultan Ahmad signed a concession with Baba Ah Sam. From 1891, the Pahang Consolidated Company Limited, (PCCL), which was under British control, had a 77-year lease to mine the area. It is a reminder of the lengths the British would go to to make some money from the remote areas. PCCL managed the mine from 1906 until its liquidation in 1986 when world tin prices collapsed.

Up to 1942 the mine employed 1,350 personnel, of whom half worked underground. Today the old buildings and surface workings lie rusting and silent, and there is little to show of this once bustling place.

However, a new museum has been set up to re-live the glorious days of Sg. Lembing as Pahang’s richest manufacturer of tin. Its objective is to publicise the history and exhibit relics from the mine.

The museum is housed in a refurbished bungalow, once home to the mine’s general manager. The almost century-old building is perched on a small hill with stunning views of the hills which surround Sg. Lembing.

The Pahang state government renovated the bungalow, about 40km northwest of Kuantan, and collected artifacts to place in the museum. The original facade of the building was preserved, despite the difficulty in getting custom-made wood panelling and other necessary materials.

Let's play cricket

Sg. Lembing is said to get its name because during the rainy season the water surface looks like spear-points flowing in the river. The river in those days was probably much deeper, as today much silt has accumulated. The town is now likened to a ghost town, but was rich and famous during its heyday as the main producer of tin in Pahang. It was known as the El-Dorado of the East.

The town straddles the river, and the main street on the right bank is split by an avenue of majestic trees. At the end, an old wooden building overlooks the padang where games of cricket and other social activities were held. PCCL was responsible for the care of the township, providing the roads, electricity, schools and healthcare. Old photos in the museum depict cricket matches and people cycling across the field.

Pit mining was not common in Malaysia as it was both dangerous and costly. But in Sg. Lembing there was sufficient tin to justify the costs. There were two main mines. Myah Mine is 700m deep, and Tabeto Mine 488m. The mines were dug on many levels, with about 30m of rock between the tunnels. Miners dug into the rock face and broke the stones using iron hammers. The lumps of ore would be put into railway carts, which were taken up to the surface by lift.

For lighting the men used carbide lights, until they were replaced in later years by personal electric lights. The battery pack was worn around the waist and connected by a cable to the headpiece mounted on the helmet. These lamps are still used by miners around the world today.

The museum is on two floors and has a fine display of artifacts. The artifacts are arranged according to historical chronology and events. Visitors can see how the ore was extracted and brought to the surface. It was then filtered and sent to the smelter. Interesting items include a drilling machine, railway track, safety helmet and lamps as well as communication equipment.

Upstairs, there is a display of gems, minerals and rocks, with explanations on the geology. There are mining memoirs, and a room laid out as was used by visiting VIPs in those days, as well as the general manager’s bedroom and bathroom.

A few panels highlight individuals closely connected to Sg. Lembing mining such as Sultan Abu Bakar, Tok Janggut and W.W. Abel. Outside the building are a few more items of mining equipment, as well as a Mini Mox car which was used by the managers.

The museum officially opens in June, when it is expected to have underground tours for visitors. The visits will be restricted to areas close to the surface as today all the deeper levels are now flooded.

Other tourist spots

Apart from Sg. Lembing’s museum, there are other nearby attractions as the area is endowed with mountains, waterfalls, and rivers. It is worth climbing Bukit Panorama, especially to see the glorious sunrise over the surrounding green hill slopes. Many visitors come here just to do this, especially at weekends, and liven up the otherwise dead town. However logging activities are having a detrimental effect on the eastern hills of Sg. Lembing.

Some 16km from Sg. Lembing is Gunung Tapis Nature Park, where one can camp, fish, and shoot the rapids. Gunung Tapis itself is 1,512m high. On the way to Sg. Lembing is Gua Charas, a temple cave that is a popular tourist destination. Sungai Pandan Waterfall, 29km from Kuantan, is easily accessible from the road and is a nice place for a picnic. W

The museum opens Tuesdays to Sundays 9am-5pm; Fridays, 9am-noon, 2pm-5pm. Closed Mondays. Admission is free.
Muzium Sungai Lembing
26200 Kuantan, Pahang.
Tel: (09) 541 2377/8
Fax: (09) 541 2377

Perak Man exhibition KL 2006 - Star

L I F E S T Y L E Focus
Saturday August 19, 2006

[Also stolen and published on AsiaValley Holidays ]

Going back in time

Story and pictures by LIZ PRICE

Malaysia’s oldest inhabitant, Perak Man, is back in Kuala Lumpur. A special exhibition is being dedicated to him at the National Museum as part of the Festival Kuala Lumpur 2006.

Perak Man is an 11,000-year-old human skeleton which was found in Gua Gunung Runtuh in Lenggong, Perak in May 1990. It is the only complete late Paleolithic skeleton to have been found and is an important piece of Malaysia’s prehistory.

The month-long exhibition is designed to be informative in an entertaining way and it certainly works. As you enter the building, which is constructed to represent the mouth of Gua Gunung Runtuh, you are greeted by an animated talking skeleton.

The Perak Man exhibition is on again in Kuala Lumpur at the National Museum, until Aug 31.

Walking through a dark passage, you go past a series of exhibits and tableaux depicting scenes from 10,000 years ago. The first one shows Perak Man on his death bed, surrounded by friends or relatives. Research shows he died from a severe tooth infection. I saw the skeletons move, some of which had flashing red eyes. It’s great for the kids.

Perak Man suffered from a rare congenital deformity but living amongst a close-knit community meant he had people to care for him when he could no longer hunt or look after himself. He was only in his 40s when he died, which was probably a good age for that era.

Perak Man has been dated at 10,000 to11,000 years old. However, evidence of human activity in the Lenggong Valley dates back more than 100,000 years. This area could well have been the capital of Malaysia in those days.

The next scene shows the burial rites. It is suggested that Perak Man was an important member of his tribe as his burial was performed ceremonially. He was buried in a fetal position, with legs folded up to the chest, the right hand bent up towards the shoulder and the left hand on the abdomen. The body was placed in a one metre-deep grave perpendicular to the cave entrance.

For the researchers from Universiti Sains Malaysia, led by Prof Datuk Zuraina Majid, it was a dream come true that the Paleolithic burial was done so meticulously and was well-preserved. The skeleton was almost complete, except for some missing bones.

Offerings of food such as meat and riverine shells were found with the body, as well as 10 different types of tools. The tools could have been Perak Man’s own collection. As a final touch, 2,878 shells were placed on and around the body.

There is a slide show in Bahasa Malaysia giving a brief outline of the discovery and showing the types of food eaten in those days.

Perak Man and his relatives were hunter gatherers. They hunted wild animals like wild boar, deer, mousedeer, leopard, monkeys, iguanas and tortoise.

To supplement their meat diet, they gathered plants and riverine shells for food and medicine.

A re-enactment of Perak Man’s burial.

They used stone tools for their daily activities. Pebble tools were used for heavy duty work such as chopping trees, splitting bones and snipping the tips off shells. Flake tools were used to cut and scrape meat, and to sharpen wood and bone to make new tools. There is a display of stone tools and models of how they were used.

Further along is a selection of push button displays, but unfortunately, the buttons were not working.

The next section is devoted to research. There was analysis on the faunal remains, which gives some information on the animals eaten, the hunting skills, as well as the climate and environment.

Perak Man was exhibited in Japan from Sept 7 to Nov 24, 1996. A display case houses a replica of Perak Man’s skeleton, the original is housed at the Lenggong Museum.

As you turn the corner, you are invited to insert a card into a slot. At first nothing happens, then there is a rumbling sound and suddenly a motorbike driven by two skeletons heads towards you, with a background scene of modern KL. I’ve never seen so many mechanical talking skeletons outside of a fairground!

The last section houses half a dozen computers on which you can answer 20 questions relating to Perak Man. The computers, as well all the film clips are only in Bahasa Malaysia, so the exhibition seems to be designed more for locals than for foreigners.

USM vice-chancellor Prof Datuk Dzulkifli Abdul Razak and Prof Datuk Zuraina Majid with the book Perak Man and Other Prehistoric Skeletons of Malaysia

Finally, there is a feature on a new book entitled Perak Man and Other Prehistoric Skeletons of Malaysia, edited by Zuraina. The book is available for sale.

This exhibition is great for anyone interested in Malaysia’s prehistory and is guaranteed to grab the attention of kids with the animated skeletons and detailed tableaux. The exhibition ends on Aug 31. W

The exhibition is housed in the National Museum annexe. Opening hours are from 9am-6pm daily. Admission is free, but there is a parking fee of RM2.

Liz in article about Wild Asia


Asia in the raw

The first time I checked out the Wildasia website, I thought, “Darn! Whoever created this site beat me to it.” I’d always thought there wasn’t enough information on nature destinations and adventure travels in Asia.

Then, came Wildasia.

The simple homepage, presented in a clear style with nature shots, displays a hotchpotch of articles and facts clumped into different sections. You can browse the guides on natural areas in Malaysia, read travel, adventure and natural history articles, or find out about conservation projects around the region.

Dr Reza Azmi is a biologist who founded the Wildasia website to cater for his interest in nature and travel.
Or, if you’re planning a trip, look up the “travel centre” and get in touch with people who can dole out travel tips or get you in touch with locals in the area. If you’re in a time crunch, you can get a custom-tailored travel itinerary prepared by Wildasia.

Yet, the website is not profit-oriented, as founder Dr Reza Azmi, 34, explained.

“The idea is to get more people outdoors,” said Reza, a conservationist with a background in botany. “We try to get people tuned into the importance of natural areas to help protect and conserve the remaining natural habitats in Asia.”

Wildasia is a platform to share information and help facilitate exploration of these natural areas, he added. The long-term goal is to work closely with the tourism sector, and to develop more responsible tourism principles and practices. For example, the website will back tour operators who support conservation plans that protect the areas they work in.

The site’s history began in 1998. Reza, then based in Sabah, was working on an idea to support small and village-level tourism initiatives.

“At that time, nature tourism in the Kinabatangan area was picking up but the villagers were often left out,” said Reza. “It was a shame as they often made the best nature guides.”

Reza took the initiative to write his own guide to help tourists know more about the Kinabatangan and the villagers who could help visitors with lodging and boat trips. Such information allows tourists to do independent travel and not depend on tour operators, he said.

Setting up a website was a natural progression since it is a cheap platform to disseminate information, Reza said. The website, a prototype named, generated interest worldwide. Reza began putting up information on other areas and this led to in 2002.

In the beginning, Wildasia was a one-man show. In addition to his “real job” as a biologist working on research and conservation projects, Reza spent hours churning out articles for the website.

“I sleep, eat, think Wildasia, it’s a 24-hour thing,” confessed Reza who lives with his wife and two family pets in Kuala Lumpur. “But I’m very lucky as my job involves a great deal of travel. Wildasia is an extension of what I do. I use the travel directory before I go on work assignments.

Today, Wildasia holds one of the largest directories of people and organisations involved in conservation and nature/adventure travel.

Over the years, more than 50 of Reza’s friends and colleagues – a bunch of naturalists, biologists, conservationists and writers – have contributed articles, pictures and shared information through the site.

One of Wildasia’s contributors, Liz Price, a cave and karst specialist and freelance writer based in Kuala Lumpur, finds the site a good source of information on many off-the-beaten-track destinations.

“It’s a useful site for facts on nature and travel,” said Price who checks the site weekly or at least once a month. “When I get questions from overseas visitors, it’s good to refer them to the site.”

Tan Chin Tong, 47, an avid Wildasia reader checks out the site at least once a week.

“I enjoy reading the articles – they’re raw and unpolished, just what nature lovers love to read,” said Tan who is based in Ipoh.

“They’re unlike articles (in mass publications) with content beautifully constructed to whet readers’ appetite but full of disappointments when you make the trip.”

But Tan would like to see more articles on Peninsular Malaysia. “There are many hidden beauties known only to a few,” he added.

From design to content, Wildasia is a voluntary effort.

“The Tourism Malaysia award belongs to all the volunteers who helped build Wildasia to what it is today,” stressed Reza.

Though Wildasia receives more than 10,000 visits a day from readers worldwide, Reza is not satisfied. He constantly thinks of ways to improve the site and sees Wildasia’s development as an evolving process.

“But I hope to see more contributors from different parts of Asia getting involved. That would help us cover more natural areas and bring us closer towards our goal,” Reza summed up.

For now, it’s heartening to see our tourism authorities recognise a non-commercial effort on nature tourism writing in Malaysia.

Check out

Perak Man’s bones tell his story - Star 2003

4 October 2003


Perak Man’s bones tell his story
By Liz Price

PERAK Man, Peninsular Malaysia’s oldest inhabitant, is well travelled, despite his great age of 11,000 years old. A few years ago he went to Japan for an exhibition, and in November and December 2001, he visited Kuala Lumpur where he was the star in an exhibition entitled Perak Man.

Now he is having a well-deserved rest and is back in his native Perak, where he is residing in the new Lenggong Museum. He is, after all, one of the most important inhabitants to have lived in Malaysia, because his bones survive to tell the tale.

Perak Man, found in 1991, is the only complete human skeleton which has been found in Malaysia. The cave which was his final resting place is called Gua Gunung Runtuh and is situated in Bukit Kepala Gajah, or Elephant’s Head Hill, in the Lenggong Valley in Ulu Perak. The skeleton has been dated at between 10,000 and 11,000 years old, which makes him a Stone Age man, from the Palaeolithic period. The skeleton was found by Datuk Prof Zuraini Majid and her team from Universiti Sains Malaysia (USM).

It is believed Perak Man was an important member of his tribe, judging by the way he was buried, in a foetal position, and accompanied by stone tools. He was about 157cm tall and probably aged 40-50 when he died. He had an atrophied left hand and one finger was deformed. As well as the skeleton, remnants of tools and food such as shells and animal bones were found in the cave.

The first time I went up to the Lenggong area I visited Gua Gunung Runtuh. Although there was nothing to see except for the pits dug in the floor by the archaeological researchers, it was easy to get the imagination going, and to reflect on how Perak Man and his tribe had used that cave as a shelter.

The Lenggong valley is one of the Peninsula’s most important areas for archaeology, as excavations have revealed many traces of Malaysia’s pre-history. The town of Lenggong is situated some 100km north of Ipoh on the Kuala Kangsar-Grik road. It is the site of the oldest known place of human activity in the Peninsula. Today, it is still a rural area, with small kampungs surrounded by green vegetation and limestone hills.

Lenggong can be likened to an open-air museum, and is home to legends, skeletons, cave drawings and precious finds such as jewellery, pottery, weapons and stone tools. Gua Gunung Runtuh was probably used as a temporary camp when the people were out hunting, being well situated high up. In the same hill, other caves have yielded archaeological remains such as stone tools and food remnants, but no more skeletons. The caves were probably used as temporary shelters and seasonal camps, whereas Gua Gunung Runtuh was lived in for longer periods.

Kota Tampan is the site of a prehistoric stone tool workshop, and has been dated at about 74,000 years old. This makes it older than the archaeological remains which have been found at Niah Cave in Sarawak, where one human skull has been dated at about 40,000 years old. But all these findings are still very young compared to those from Africa, where the predecessors of the human species originated about three to five million years ago. When I first visited Kota Tampan archaeological site, it consisted of little more than a single shelter and a lone notice board, in the middle of oil palm plantations. Now there is the stylish Lenggong Archaeological Museum, also known as the Kota Tampan Archaeological Museum. The building site was chosen as it displays the reconstruction of the Kota Tampan excavation site and it is ideal to locate a museum.

The museum exhibits artifacts excavated from the Kota Tampan area. They are housed in a large bright building and are divided into three categories covering the Kota Tampan Excavation Site Gallery, Lenggong Pre-Historic Gallery and the Human Civilisation Gallery.

The Lenggong Valley has several sites of archaeological importance, such as Bukit Jawa at Kg Geluk, and Kg Temelong where stone tools dating back 100,000 years were found. The nearby Bukit Bunuh finds are more recent at 50,000 years! But the most fascinating and unique artifact is the 11,000-year old Perak Man skeleton. I am not sure if the real skeleton is on display or if it is a replica.

Various other caves in the vicinity were dug by the researchers who found artifacts from the Bronze Neolithic Age at Gua Harimau, and stone tools from the Upper Palaeolithic age at Gua Telok Kelawar and Ngaum caves. Other items on display relate to the history of human evolution and civilisation, dating from the Homo habilis to the modern Homo sapiens.

This year a USM archaeology team led by Dr Mohd Mokhtar Saidin worked on an open site in Bukit Bunuh, about one kilometre away from the museum. The findings were unusual as they included chert stones, which are normally associated with volcanoes. So at some time in the past there must have been a volcanic eruption in this area. This is interesting news and the researchers are still looking into it.

The Museum opened its doors to the public earlier this year, and cost some RM3mil to set up. The Sultan of Perak, Sultan Azlan Shah, officially opened it in July. He paid special tribute to USM, particularly to Prof Zuraina and the Museum and Antiquity Department, for their untiring efforts.

The only unfortunate factor about the location of the museum is that it is “off the beaten track” and won’t attract many casual visitors. At Tasek Raban, 3km from Kota Tampan where the museum is sited, a cluster of chalets costing RM2.2mil, are being built. This is a popular spot for fishing and water sports.

The Lenggong Archaeological Museum
Kota Tampan, Lenggong, Perak

Location: The Museum is about 70km from the Jalan Butterworth/ Ipoh intersection, along the Kuala Kangsar to Grik road.

It is open daily from 9am to 5pm; Fridays from 9am to 12.15pm, 2.45pm to 5pm. Closed on Hari Raya. Admission is free.

Originally published in The Star on

Krabi cleaned up - Star

THE STAR Weekend
Saturday August 23, 2008

Krabi, cleaned up

A look at how Krabi has changed since the tsunami.

I recently went to Krabi for the first time since the tsunami and was amazed at the number of tourists there. It was packed and there was a surprising number of European children. I guess a lot of parents are taking winter breaks.

Krabi, just south of Phuket, has long been a popular tourist destination for its beaches and islands. The beaches include Ao Nang and those on the Railey peninsula, while the islands of Ko Phi Phi, Ko Lanta are all accessible from Krabi.

Whilst Ko Phi Phi and parts of Phuket were devastated by the December 2004 tsunami, Krabi didn’t suffer as badly. I was interested to see how things had changed since the tsunami.

Krabi airport opened about seven years ago and now handles international as well as domestic flights. This, of course, has led to a huge increase in the number of tourists visiting the area.

From the airport, tourists have a choice of taxi or shuttle bus to Krabi town, or Ao Nang beach.

I chose to stay in town, as accommodation is cheaper than at the beach, and it’s easier to get local food. I found hotel rates in the town have not increased much since the tsunami. There are several new guesthouses catering for backpackers, several of which offer WiFi access.

In town, I noticed a few of the old guesthouses and shops have been replaced by Internet cafés, or more modern coffee shops, hand phone shops etc. A large new wat, or Buddhist temple, is being constructed on the hill at the back of town, accessible by a wide flight of steps.

An ape statue holding up the traffic lights at Manus Borarn Square. — LIZ PRICE

The main crossroads in town is now called Manus Borarn Square, and there are large ape statues holding traffic lights at each of the four roads.

The statues are to commemorate the archaeological findings made in the Krabi district. These include 43,000-year-old human skeletons unearthed from under a cliff at the Tab-prik School in Krabi. Also 27,000-year-old human skeletons were found at Mor Keaw Cave, at Ban Na-Ching in Krabi.

The oldest finds are fossils dating back to 37 million years, found in a lignite mine. They are jaw bones of an ancient primate, later named Siamopithecus eocaenus, (the signboard says Siam Moipithecus erectus, which is wrong), which could be an ancestor of humans.

Down by the river is a large stone eagle, similar to the one on Langkawi, but smaller. The signage says it is a White-breasted Sea Eagle, Nok Awk, and goes on to describe the bird. At the waterfront, one boatman said that business was very bad, as most tourists preferred to stay at the beach.

Ao Nang was busy with people. The beach road hadn’t changed much since the tsunami and I recognised many of the shops from my last visit in 2002. But now there were more Western fast food places, coffee shops and small shopping centres opening up. And of course, new guest houses and luxury resorts.

One new luxury resort occupied the entire bay south of the main beach, and is reached by a boardwalk. With room rates starting at 6,000 baht (RM590), it is not cheap.

Despite the increase in the number of buildings and people, things seemed orderly. Thailand realises tourism makes up a huge part of the country’s income. Therefore, they take steps to encourage tourists.

The main thing that struck me along the main beach was the number of ATM machines, located every few hundred metres. The authorities have realised that tourists spend money and need easy access to cash. And so they have set up ATMs everywhere, all of which take foreign credit cards.

One big change is that the boats to the islands and beaches are now all strictly controlled. The longtail boats are all moored together in one area, which ensures the safety of people swimming in the other areas.

And there are two ticket offices, at each end of the beach. Gone are the days of the boatmen and their touts all shouting and jostling to compete for your custom. Now the prices are prominently displayed. Along the beach, there are numerous tsunami warning signs.

These tell you to go to high ground or inland in the event of an earthquake. And the signs point which way to go.

I also counted around 20 massage stalls on the beach, with prices prominently displayed. At a mere 200 baht (RM20) an hour, the stalls were fully occupied.

There were also signs asking smokers not to throw their cigarette butts into the sea — “The beach and ocean are not an ashtray”.

So many people treat the sea as a rubbish bin and this is particularly unpleasant for swimmers. And cigarette butts take years to break down. All the beaches were very clean. Having litter bins placed in many spots helped.

Restaurant prices at the beach have increased since I was last there. In Krabi town, you can still get a delicious meal, with free cold water, all for a mere 30 baht (RM3).

About 40% of Krabi’s population is Muslim so there are halal eating places, including roti shops. The rotis are always smaller in Thailand than in Malaysia, but the curry is delicious. One shop proudly announces that tourists are charged the same price as Thais.

The authorities certainly seem to be doing their bit to keep the place clean and safe, and to make sure things run smoothly. Obviously, the ever increasing numbers of visitors will have an impact. Hopefully, this won’t spoil the tropical paradise that they have come to see.

22 August 2008

Exploring Batman’s domain - caver Liz - Star

The Star Online > News >
Sunday November 2, 2003
Exploring Batman’s domain

DARK and dank – home of bats, poisonous bats and snakes. Who in their right mind would want to explore caves?

For freelance writer and fulltime caver Liz Price, from Britain, caves are utterly intriguing.

“There is a lot to see and appreciate. Every cave is different too, and each is interesting in its own way,” she says.

CAVE DWELLERS: Thousands of bats live in Gua Wang Burma.

Price finds the fauna especially fascinating. “Anyone will find it interesting to see the animals in their element. For example, you can see the bats’ habitat and how they adapt to the conditions,” she shares.

Other interesting facets of caving are the geological wonders, such as underground rivers and limestone formations. Price’s favourite place for caving in Peninsular Malaysia is the Perlis State Park.

“I have been there about 14 times and there are so many caves to explore,” says Price who has also been on expeditions to restricted caves.

The most popular cave in Perlis is Gua Wang Burma, with its exciting formation of narrow passages and muddy tunnels – you need to crawl or squeeze your way through to reach the amazing water-worn rock formations.

Known for its streams and exotic species of insects and fungi, the cave system is divided into two main caves: Wang Burma Satu with its unique rock formations, and Wang Burma Dua, which is physically and mentally challenging with its dark hooks and turns.

Price who has been caving for 10 years, since she was a student, advises those who are interested to go with experienced cavers.

“You don’t really need specialised equipment, except for good lighting. Be prepared with spare batteries and bulbs because the caves are really dark.

“For caving gear, you don’t really need anything special, except for a helmet with a headlight. So, try to wear old clothes as you have to do a lot of walking, crawling and climbing,” she says.

Caving is still not a popular sport in Malaysia.

“In Europe it is a big sport; maybe because it is very challenging. Unlike tropical caves, it is narrower, cold and slippery in the West. Tropical caves are bigger and easier to walk in. They are also very beautiful with interesting creatures, so it is really a shame that not many people know about them,” says Price.

Those interested in caving can call the Malaysian Nature Soceity at 03 22879422 or e-mail :

Cavin in on Ebay, cave postcards - Star

Saturday January 20, 2007

Caving in


Can you believe that someone, somewhere in the world would avidly collect postcards of Malaysian caves, and that a postcard of Batu Caves taken in 1910 can fetch RM70?

Liz Price (pic), an avid speleologist (caving enthusiast), gets onto eBay once a week to trawl for such items.

“Caving is my passion. I’ve been collecting postcards of caves in Malaysia and actually found a few on eBay UK. I also collect postcards on tin mining as well as colonial Malaya,” says Liz, who resides in Kuala Lumpur.

Not only does Liz buy postcards on eBay, she sells them as well.

“I actually managed to sell a few postcards which I got free on board a flight. They sold for RM6-RM7 each.

“It’s amazing seeing what people will sell and buy online,” she says with a giggle.

“I saw a documentary once on a guy who picked up a discarded fishing boat rope on a beach and put it for sale as a joke. He actually managed to sell it! Most of the time, I sell more than I buy. It’s a convenient way to ‘recycle’ all my unwanted stuff.

“Some of the things I’ve sold so far are caving books, a watch, souvenirs from a Concorde flight, books from my childhood, an electric organ and a 1950s’ cocktail dress of my mum’s.”

“I haven’t made much money from my sales but then I’m not doing it as a business. The fun of being able to sell all the things I don’t need in my life anymore is a great feeling.”

Living Caves (Nature Watch 1997)

Caving enthusiast Liz Price sheds light on
L i v i n g C a v e s

Some of the most spectacular and 'youngest' caves in the world
are in Sarawak and they are a mere 10 to 20 million years old.
And these caves are not only `alive' but still growing!

Caves are made of solid rock and yet some caves are still alive and still forming!

In caves the world over, and in the caves that riddle the hills and mountains of Peninsular and East Malaysia (notably Sarawak), stalagmites and stalactites and other sculptural cave wonders are continuously being formed and exquisitely shaped by a common yet wonderous life-giving substance. It is none other than water -- the
substance that, like air, gives us life.

Yes, as long as there is water present in a cave, the cave will continue to develop.

Just reflect on this. Caves are millions of years old and yet they are alive and still growing!

Think too, that while Man has landed on the moon and prepares to explore Mars, there are still many caves left on Mother Earth that have yet to be discovered and explored. And in case you think that a cave is just a space in the side of a hill, know that it is far more than that. Mother Nature has carved out some marvellously intricate cave systems and some of these meander hundreds of kilometres deep
into the mountains. What has been discovered so far has merely scratched the surface of this Planet.

The longest known cave in the world is Mammoth Cave in the USA. It is 560 km long. Clearwater Cave in Mulu, Sarawak, is the longest known cave in Asia. At 107 m, it is the 10th longest in the world.

And what marvels lie in these cave systems! Over thousands of years, Mother Nature, using that wondrous element water, has hollowed out huge chambers and passages and gouged out river-beds. She has also built up and shaped the stalactites that hang like chandeliers from the 'ceilings' and stalagmites that grow up from the cave floor. Some caves support colonies of animal life, few of which are known in the sunlit environment outside the caves.

One can trace the origins of caves to the life that began at the bottom of the sea.

Over million of years, as shells, corals and sand were deposited on the sea bed, they formed what we know as limestone. Layer by layer the limestone was built up and compacted. Then, when Earth underwent a period of orogeny or uplifting, these layers of limestone became hills and mountains which rose above the sea.

These mountain ranges, though formed of a hard substance (limestone) are easily corroded by natural acids. These acids are produced when falling rain picks up carbon dioxide from the air. Then, as the rain water percolates through the soil, it absorbs more carbon dioxide. When this acidic water comes into contact with the
limestone it begins to attack it and, finding small holes, seeps down through the rock, gradually enlarging cracks.

Over the years -- and here we mean thousands and millions of years -- the cracks became passages winding through the mountains.

Do you know, too, that while water mixed with carbon dioxide becomes corrosive, eating up the limestone, at the same time the water is taking in calcium carbonate (from the limestone), and when exposed to air this saturated water becomes a building substance?

The calcium-enriched water forms deposits which, over time, build up into beautiful stal, that is, stalactites and stalagmites. On average, a stal grows about 1 cm in 60 years and encountering stals 10 or 20 cm high (or more) is common in Malaysia's caves, so one can easily believe geologists who estimate the age of the limestone caves in Peninsular Malaysia to be between 60 to 100 million years old.

But while this makes the caves ancient, the actual limestone rock is estimated to be much older, about 345 and 440 million years old, and this estimate is based on the fossils that have been found in the Carboniferous-Silurian rock.

It seems odd then to learn that the rock, and therefore the caves of East Malaysia (i.e. Mulu and Niah), are relatively much younger than the caves and rock of the Malaysian mainland. Niah rock is lower Miocene and is therefore about 20 million years old. Mulu, with its large cave system, is only about 10 million years old. And though the caves of Peninsular Malaysia are much older, the longest known cave there is only 3.4 km long. It is in Perlis.

Caving in this part of the world is made more exciting by the knowledge that Mulu holds the record for the world's largest underground chamber. This is the Sarawak chamber in Gua Nasib. It is roughly 600 m long and 400 m wide which makes it large enough to house eight Jumbo jets nose to tail, with room for another 32 jets at the
side. Or, put another way, the Sarawak chamber can fit in 20 international size football pitches.

Nor is Mulu merely spectacular. It holds a mystery to marvel at and mull over for, according to engineers, the Sarawak chambers should not exist because the rock, by their reckoning, is not strong enough to support such an enormous roof span!

What this means is that Man -- even with the latest state of the art technology -- cannot build the 10 million year-old Sarawak chamber. Only Mother Nature in her infinite wisdom has.

Further more, Mulu holds yet another spelacological record. It has the biggest cave passage. This is in the Deer Cave and this passage is 1.2 km long and averages over 100 m high. And in some parts it widens to over 160 m.

C A V E A R T A N D A R T I F A C T S :
K E Y S T O M A N ' S P R E H I S T O R I C P A S T

The more accessible caves in the world today are `show caves', open to the public. But prehistoric man (caveman) used caves as their homes, sturdy natural shelters from the weather, and also from wild animals. Traces of human remains in caves -- their tools, their artifacts and their art, carved or painted on rock -- give rich clues as to the lives they led in those nomadic times.

It is impossible to give irrefutable evidence of man's earliest use of caves for even so-called experts only dare venture dates that can have as much as a 30 million year variance ("the Peninsular Malaysia caves were themselves formed about 60-100 million years ago"), but what is for certain is that many tribal cultures, the world over, used caves first as shelters and later as temples for worship and meditation and even as burial sites. Then, in times of war, persecution or inter-tribal conflict, caves were used as hideouts.

Those who have never ventured into caves other than `show caves', probably have the impression that most caves are pitch-dark, damp, dank and smelly places, rife with bats, poisonous snakes, scorpions and other `creepy crawlies'.

Some of this is true but at the same time caves are beautiful and peaceful places and home to some incredible creatures. Venture beyond the entrance of a deep cave and you enter into a nocturnal world of infinite variety that is fascinatingly different from the world outside.

However, there are some distinct differences between caves in temperate climates and caves in the tropics. Tropical caves are generally bigger, above ground and therefore less vertical, warmer and with much more fauna.

C A V E I N H A B I T A N T S A R E U N I Q U E . . .

Temperate or non-tropical, caves are well and truly dark which is why glow worm caves like those in New Zealand, are particularly enchanting. There is no sunlight in the cave and therefore no plants as plants needs sunlight to photosynthesise. These make cave inhabitants quite unique and they are divided into two types. One is
the `trogloxenes' and the other the `troglobite'.

Trogloxenes use the caves as temporary shelters (cave men being one of these), but they can also live outside. Troglobites spend their whole life in the cave and every troglobites is dependent on the cave dwelling bats for their very survival.

Bats and swiftlets are the only cave dwelling animals that go out to feed; and it is the bat's excreta or guano which supports the entire cave dwelling food chain.

The bats live suspended from the roofs of the caves and their guano falls onto the cave floor, forming rich food for insects like beetles, mites, worms, cockroaches etc. These insects are in turn fed upon by spiders, crickets, centipedes, pseudo-scorpions and the like. And these creatures are then hunted and eaten by frogs and toads.

Snakes also live in caves and the non-poisonous Cave Racer, Elaphe taeniura, is the only snake that has adapted to cave life and it feeds on bats, thereby completing the food chain. Bats are also useful to the life outside the cave. Bats pollinate the durian and petai trees, as well as other fruit trees. The bat guano is a rich fertiliser but the practice of collecting it should be discouraged as it disturbs the delicate ecosystem in the caves.

Small mammals such as rodents can also be found in caves, also porcupines and occasionally elephants will visit a cave entrance, presumably to lick the salts there. But the main cave life is made up of invertebrates.

In Dark Cave (Batu Caves, outside Kuala Lumpur), 170 species of invertebrates have been found. This includes one of the world's rarest spiders, the Trapdoor Spider, Liphistius batuensis, aptly named after the Batu Caves. It is thought that this species is unique to Dark Cave as it has not been found anywhere else in the
world. At least not yet.


As with everything else in the natural world, caves have provided man with shelter and refuge but despite their solid rock appearance, caves and the cave environment are fragile and man can and has destroyed the world of millions of years in mere seconds. Many caves have been destroyed through quarrying for the limestone which is used in the construction industry.

All caves need to be protected; this goes not just for the caves that are alive and still forming but even those that appear to be dry and 'dead'.

While one would like people to appreciate the special atmosphere of caves and their particular beauty, caves need to be protected from tourist hordes. The fantastic formations, underground streams and myriad animal life can be harmed, polluted and damaged by the unwary human visitor. For instance I have seen ignorant people break off a stal to take home as a sourvenir, only to find when they get outside the cave that what had appeared ethereal and beautiful turns out to be
only an "uninteresting" lump of rock. So it is important not to break off or even to touch the formations, bearing in mind how many thousands of years each has taken to grow.

The other human activities that are even more immediately threatening are the taking of guano for fertiliser and, even worse, the rapacious removal of swiflets' nests on a commercial scale for soups and medicines. This takes place mostly in Sabah and Sarawak and the harvesting of the nests hurts not only the birds but the caves.

Caves must be appreciated as an unique part of the natural environment, in any part of the world. Caves are also one of the last few places left "to go where no man has been before" as there are many caves waiting to be discovered. And who knows what rich secrets their discovery will yield?

Nature Watch, January-March 1997. [Singpaore]

Kenyir's impressive caves - Star

Saturday, April 15, 2000
Off the Beaten Track

Kenyir's impressive caves

By Liz Price

MOST people go to Tasik Kenyir for fishing or maybe boating, but I went there for an adventure of a different kind. Caving. Tasik Kenyir in Ulu Terengganu is the largest man-made lake in South East Asia.

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

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

There are two caves accessible to visitors at Kenyir, Gua Bewah and Gua Taat. Getting to the caves is fun. They are located at the southern end of the lake, and lie within Taman Negara. Therefore permits have to be bought in order to enter the Park. From Pengkalan Gawi (Gawi jetty), which is the main gateway to Tasik Kenyir, you have a choice of speed boat or slower house boat.

We went out by speed boat, the journey took 70 minutes and it was a fun ride, although those in the front got soaked as water washed over the bows. I could have done with wiper blades on my sunglasses! It was actually quite chilly speeding over the lake, especially as the sun was hiding behind clouds. We returned using the house boat which takes about three hours.

Before the creation of the lake, there were probably several caves accessible and some were of archaeological importance. However when the area was flooded, most of the caves were lost underwater.

Batu Tok Bidan cave in Gunung Bewah was one of those. Prior to its disappearance, archaeologists had discovered Neolithic artefacts such as kitchen utensils, stone adzes and pottery sherds. Molluscs shells with the tips broken off suggests the site was frequently used as a shelter in the prehistoric past. Even a Neolithic burial was found, with broken pottery laid at the foot of the deceased.

The cave was probably adjacent to two well known routes used by the aborigines in prehistoric times through Terengganu to Sungai Tembling. The cave was first dug in 1959 by R.Noone, and later by Malaysian Historical Society in 1976. The Neolithic or New Stone Age era occurred about 10,000 years ago.

Now there are two remaining limestone hills containing the caves. The caves can only be reached by boat. Gua Bewah is the biggest of the known caves, situated in Bukit Bewah. From the floating jetty, a steep flight of steps lead up to the big entrance situated 40m above lake level. The cave is basically one huge chamber. A strong stench of guano was noticeable as we climbed up the steps, indicating a large colony of bats living inside the cave.

As we went in, it took a while for our eyes to adjust to the darkness, and we realised just how huge the chamber is. The roof was high above our heads, and although we could hear the bats, we couldn't see them.

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

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

Old sacks of guano bear testimony to the fact that people once entered the cave to harvest guano for use as a fertiliser. Today the sacks make a convenient staircase up the guano covered floor. There used to be electric lighting in the cave, but it no longer works.

The back section of the cave is the most interesting containing an abundance of cave fauna such as crickets, cockroaches and spiders. For many people, it would be a nightmare to see all these "creepy crawlies" but for me, they are an important part of the cave ecology.

There are not many stalagmites or stalactites, so although the cave is not pretty in that sense, it is really impressive due to the huge size of the chamber.

Gua Taat is in the hill opposite Bewah and has two entrances, The main entrance is reached by a wooden step ladder, the steps are obviously underwater when the level of the lake is high. The entrance is quite small and low compared to Bewah.

Again there are a few pits dug in the floor, and these probably fill up with water during monsoon time, when the lake will overflow into the cave. We saw otter pawprints in and around the pits. I guess the animals catch fish which get trapped in here during monsoon time.

A straight tunnel with a flat roof leads to the back section, where it meets a small stream. The passage then swings round to the left, and there are some nice formations, such as a "Lion King" shaped stalagmite and an impressive array of 'sharks' teeth' formations. Light comes in from the second entrance, but to reach it entails a belly crawl through a tight squeeze.

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

There is a second cave further round, Gua Taat 2, but it is basically just a long rock shelter. It is easy to see why stone age man used these caves as temporary refuges -- for shelter and protection, and providing a good view down onto the lower grounds below.

As Taat and Bewah may hold more secrets of the past, further excavations are now being planned by the authorities in its bid to unravel the mysteries and secrets of these caves. Ketengah with the co-operation of the State Museum and other government agencies plans to provide better access to these caves.

Ketengah (Terengganu Tengab Development authority) administers the lake and islands, protects the natural heritage and recognises the value in preserving this area of mountainous tropical rainforest. They are taking steps to provide facilities such as ranger stations, base camps and hiking trails.

Surrounded by a lush tropical jungle, the Kenyir Lake is a popular and ideal retreat for nature lovers, anglers and photographers, as well as cavers. Other activities include swimming, canoeing, boating and jungle trekking.

Due to the cleanliness of the lake, the Kenyir Lake has a wide variety of fresh water fish such as Baung, Toman, Kelisa and Lampam. Accommodation such as houseboats, floating chalets and lakeside resorts are also available to visitors.

My sojorn was made all the more enjoyable thanks for Encik Johari of Ketengah for hosting my visit, and to Yusof of Try Adventure for transport arrangements. Thanks guys.