sign in a cave in Laos

25 September 2020

Formation of stone forests and pinnacles

 An article appeared in arsTechnica in Sept 2020 "Mathematicians may have unlocked the secret of how “stone forests” form".

The article mentions stone forests such as those in China's Yunnan province and the tsingy in Madagascar. There is no mention of Mulu's pinnacles. The article says "These pointed rock formations, like the famed Stone Forest in China's Yunnan Province, are the result of solids dissolving into liquids in the presence of gravity, which produces natural convective flows". And "Soluble rocks like limestone, dolomite, and gypsum are submerged under water, where the minerals slowly dissolve into the surrounding water. The heavier water then sinks under the downward pull of gravity, and the flows gradually form karst topographies. When the water recedes, the pillars and stone forests emerge."

This is a controversial subject. The mathematicians based their findings on dissolving candy in a water tank. However in the case of limestone formations, these are generally thought to be subaerial erosion features. There are a few discussions about this in the comments. Also reference to an article in an international caving journal , "Origination of stone forests in China", which I think is  more credible!

21 September 2020

Guar Kepah skeleton, Kedah, Malaysia

Not cave related, but still interesting. 

A human skeleton was found at the construction site of the Guar Kepah archaeological gallery in Kedah, on 17 April 2017. Guar has nothing to do with a cave, and the word doesn't translate into English. 

The skeleton was sent to Florida where it was dated at 5,710 years old, which makes it Neolithic. Scientists also found the person had eaten a shellfish diet. Photo taken from Borneo Post -

In addition to the skeleton, a 5.49 m high shell midden was found at the base of the site. This contained artefacts such as pottery, stone tools and food remnants. The finding of this midden revealed the human burial process in the Neolithic age. It is the only evidence of a burial under a shell midden in Malaysia.

The only other skeleton found of a similar age was Perak Woman found in Lenggong in Perak, but this one was buried in a cave. It was dated at 8000 years old. 

Guar Kepah historic site is older than the Bujang Valley and Sungai Batu in Kedah, and is the only location in Peninsular Malaysia which shows evidence of ancient human settlements close to the sea.

See more on the Guar Kepah skeleton in NST and the shell midden in Malay Mail 2013 .

23 August 2020

Langkawi Geopark status revalidated

 Langkawi became SE Asia's first UNECSCO Geopark in 2007. See more on Langkawi Geopark.

Then in 2014 it was announced that Langkawi was in danger of losing the Geopark status due to lack of conservation measures etc, see more on my website. In 2015 there was a threat to Gua Pinang from quarrying by Lafarge. Also there was a lot more in the media about the general threat to the Geopark status.

Then things went quiet until 2019 when Friends of Langkawi Geopark wanted to promote it in advance of Visit Malaysia Year 2020.

The revalidation of the Geopark status was done and this certificate covers the period 1 January 2020 until 31 December 2023.

4 July 2020

Tham Khao Pina graffiti, Trang

Southeast Asian Archaeology reported that Tham Khao Pina in Trang had been defaced by graffiti. The news had appeared in The Thaiger on 25 June 2020.

"Graffiti in historic Trang cave means public access restricted"

The cave is a popular place, located in a temple. It is famous for its stalactites and stalagmites. But after it was reopened after the Covid-19 lockdown, the graffiti appeared. The monks were unable to remove it.
"The graffiti left on the cave wall features messages such as “Si Tao,” “Sor the unlucky,” and “F**k from Ubon Rachathani.”
One volunteer guide asked visitors to cooperate by keeping memories of the place “in their hearts, not their hands.”
Khao Pina cave is 250 metres high and has 6 levels that visitors can enter. The sixth level is engraved with the abbreviated name of King Rama VII to mark his visit in 1928."

Photos from The Thaiger report :

The source of The Thaiger article was Coconuts Bangkok. Their photo :
Volunteer guide Sathien Srikong and a monk from Wat Khao Pina stand inside Trang province’s Khao Pina Cave on Wednesday after it was defaced by vandals. Photo: Thai PBS / YouTube

 I went to Khao Pina Cave in January 1999 when visiting a few caves in Trang. In my diary I wrote :

"A temple cave marked on the tourist map. Almost deserted wat. We climbed up the various staircases, half way was a monk statue and a row of Buddhas. On up to the chamber at the top which was really big. Some nice white stal in the first part. There's a big Buddha looking out over the countryside. The main chamber had a few bats but no insects and very, very dusty underfoot. Electric strip tubes all the way through. Quite impressive. Remains of an old Dodge car at entrance. [This commemorates the first car to reach the cave]

Ni Pha Ya, who discovered the cave

See my other blogs mentioning Khao Pina, "Tham Khao Kob or Thale Cave, Trang, Thailand" and "Treasures of Trang".

See more on .

11 June 2020

Gomantong on Earth's Natural Wonders (2015)

Earth's Natural Wonders - BBC Scotland 2015 (TV series)

Exploring Inhospitable Places. "Series combining photography and human drama to reveal twelve remarkable places, uncovering the stories of people fighting to survive, and even triumph there."
A 6 minute sector featuring birds nest collection.

The narration is misleading, as it only mentions Deer Cave, which is initially shown. But then the rest of the sector is about nest collection in Gomantong, although this isn't mentioned.

Treasure troves accessible only to the very bravest. On the Malaysian island of Borneo, deep in the rain forest lies a hidden wonder. Deer Cave, an epic 168 m wide with a ceiling 220 m high and over 4 km long. A cavern big enough to fly a jumbo jet through. And for centuries Borneo's huge caves have lured men inside to search for treasures they will risk their lives for. Tomorrow morning Jumalee Tubong will enter this wonder. He may not come out alive. "What I do is very risky. But I have to do it. My wife and kids depend on me." For Jumilee and his father, today is the start of a dangerous week. "The cave is terrifying. Dark spirits live there. They take a human life every year." The men seek a great prize. The treasure produced by these birds, tens of thousands of swiftlets. Their nests are woven from solidified saliva and they are the precious ingredient of birds nest soup. In China a single bowl can cost $60. Inside a team erect a web of ropes and ladders. Jumalee will try to climb for nests 100 m above. A part of the cave notorious for accidents. "I'm ready to try. Is it strong enough?" "You mustn't hesitate. Let your body lead you. Slow down, it's swinging." "The man who taught me died falling. So I'm always giving my son advice." Jumalee is only allowed to collect nests for a few weeks a year. So every climb must count. "If you fall it's instant death. The cave's so high. Bodies are smashed beyond recognition. Are you okay? Go slowly now." He's reached a critical point. He needs to switch ladders. "Right leg first. Jumalee! Don't let go yet. That's good." The drop below is now a staggering 90 m. The height of Big Ben. "Okay, you can go." "I'm afraid when I look down. Sometimes I shake with fear. But I make myself do it." This enormous cave was first sculptured by water. But there's another remarkable force at work. The nesting swiftlets. The vertical columns lining the cave walls reveal how over millions of years the acidic droppings of nesting swiftlets and bats have eroded deep channels in the walls making the caves here bigger by an estimated meter every 100,000 years. Some caves have doubled in size as a result. "Go slowly now. As he approaches the top i'm neverous. Your soul hangs by the finest of threads." This time Jumalee has been successful. He has reached a remote corner with a valuable little cluster of nests. But he knows very climb he makes could be his last. And it's the very thing he's risking his life for, the birds nests, that has helped create the challenge in the first place.

Credits - Indonesian Forestry Dept, Sabah Government and Wildlife Dept, Sarawak Government and Tourism Board.

Shown BBC4 in June 2020. Some photos on BBCEarth and reproduced here -

And some photos from the television screen. The first one shows Deer Cave -

3 April 2020

Memorial issue to Tony Whitten

Tony Whitten tragically died in a road traffic accident in Dec 2017. In March 2020 the Raffles Bulletin of Zoology produced a memorial issue dedicated to Tony, Supplement No 35. See more on my website.

Tony was very actively involved with trying to protect Gunung Kanthan from quarrying, see this blog. The hill and caves are home to the endemic Liphiustius kanthan.

Some relevant articles in the RBZ special issue :

BROWNE, Stephen (2020) Foreward. RBZ, Supplement No. 35: pp v-vi.
This has an interesting piece about Tony and Liphistius kanthan.

LIEW, Thor-Seng &  CLEMENTS, Gopalasamy Reuben (2020) Whittenia, a new genus of land snails from Perak, Peninsular Malaysia (Gastropoda: Diplommatinidae). RBZ, Supplement No. 35: 143–148.
"This paper proposes a new genus, Whittenia, for a group of irregularly coiled land snail species hitherto placed in the genus Opisthostoma. Whittenia differs from congeners in Diplommatinidae based on both molecular phylogeny and shell morphology. We reassign two previously described species (Opisthostoma vermiculum and O. gittenbergeri) to Whittenia. Both species are endemic to the limestone karsts of Kinta Valley in Perak, Peninsular Malaysia."
This genus is named after Tony Whitten.

ANON (2020) The Tony Whitten conservation prize. RBZ, Supplement No. 35: pp 15–16.
One recipient of a prize was Junn Kitt Foon, for his work on conservation and taxonomy of land snails in Malaysia. Tony had a particular interest in snails.

FOON, Junn Kitt & MOHAMMAD Effendi Marzuki (2020) Two new species of land snails of the genus Rahula from Peninsular Malaysia (Gastropoda: Euconulidae). RBZ, Supplement No. 35: 137–142.
This paper describes 2 new snail species, one of which is named after Tony, Rahula tonywhitteni .

Malaysian taxa named for Tony Whitten , RBZ, Supplement No. 35: p 9 :

Plectostoma whitteni Liew, Vermeulen, Marzuki, & Schilthuizen, 2014: 63 (a micro-landsnail from

Rahula tonywhitteni Foon & Marzuki, 2020: 141 (a land snail from Malaysia)

Whittenia Liew & Clements, 2020: 144 (a land snail from Malaysia)


See more on my website, on Archives 2020.

23 March 2020

Jeff's Cellar aka Tambun Hot Springs Cave, Perak

I don't seem to have blogged about Jeff's Cellar at Tambun, Perak. When I first knew about it, it was still a bit hush hush, but now it is openly publicised.

On my website under Uses of Caves, I have written "A cave in Tambun, Perak was taken over as a private wine cellar. Prior to conversion the resident bats were all killed and the natural entrances blocked and large air conditioners installed, so I would imagine the atmosphere inside has changed considerably. On 24 Jan 2010 The Star did a feature on one of the Tambun caves being used for relaxation and meditation as part of a luxury spa complex. This has since been well published in the media. The wine cellar cave became part of this complex. The wine cellar has since been expanded into a fine dining restaurant.

I first went to the cave in May 2003. I wrote in my diary "the cave is opposite the hot springs, on the corner of the hill. Duck under an arch then steps up to 2 chambers with bats. Nice stal in the larger chamber and a passage leading off. The entrance of the cave was covered with a bat net and had many dead bats in it." I collected a few of the bat skulls and they were identified as Eonycteris spelaea. I called it Tambun Hot Springs Cave, register No. Prk 38/04.

I went back in Aug 2003 and "the entrance steps had been cleared, and lighting installed inside with a switch box at the entrance. The net had gone. The bat chamber was completely empty of bats. The main chamber is roughly 200' long and one whole wall is stal, but dirty and black. Few bats at the end and I collected some collembola from he guano in the gour pools. The cave would be really nice if the stals were clean. I wonder if the net was there to trap the bats to get rid of them".

My next visit was Nov 2003, there had been no progress. A couple of bats in the bat chamber and fruit bats at the end.

I didn't return until Jan 2006. The site was gated and the cave called Jeff's Wine Cellar.

In Feb 2008 I was able to have an unofficial look inside the cave but could only take 1 photo. It was being used as a private wine cellar, Jeff is Tan Sri Jeffrey Cheah, head of Sunway.

"Steps lead up to the wooden doors, there are toilets on the left and a pantry on the right and the Japanese torture chamber. There is a wood floor throughout and the place has air con. There is a karaoke room in the lower chamber. The passage turns right into the main chamber and is quite stunning as all the stal is gently lit and looked great. Several seating areas, a couch with mirror, and more seats directly over the hidden wine cellar. Some material "sails" covering the ceiling. Lots of empty wine bottles throughout, some concrete covering the walls and air con units hidden. 14 seater dining table. Main passage has the stal dividing the passage going out. Main bar here. This entrance, where the bat net was, is totally covered by glass,restricting the area. Balcony looks out. Went back and the stairs by the portraits led up to the main bar. A wishing well outside". I wondered if the air flow would be badly restricted.

I haven't been back since. The bar has been turned into a fine dining restaurant and there have been various press reports.. The Malay Mail 28 July 2018 “Fancy dining in a cave? Head on over to Tambun” is a detailed article with lots of photos. The Star 23 Jan 2019 "Silver state’s impressive tourism finds".

Liz in Malay Mail 2015 - repeat

In Oct 2015 there was an article about me in the Malay Mail, see my blog. I recently found that this has been reprinted on Emily's blog in Sept 2019. She mentioned the Malay Mail is now defunct, but it is still going!