Friday, February 22, 2013

Belum : Part 3


The highlight of our trip was a boat ride to the Royal Belum Park.
Our organizers had packed in a visit to a Rafflesia site, orang asli village, animal salt lick and a waterfall.
This means -- an entire day on the trail.

Boat houses lashed together at the resort
A large tree in the rainforest
One of the many natural sites in Royal Belum
With rain, comes the leeches...

It rained over the last couple of days.
I can say the same for the night before as it poured from as early as 3am till early in the morning.
Michelle was rather upset and told me that the run to the Royal Belum Park may be screwed.
But the weather held up.
We went to the dining area to have our breakfast and were looking forward to the Rafflesia site.
This would be our second encounter with Rafflesias in Peninsular Malaysia.
Two guides with their 40hp outboard boats came to round us up.
And as usual, the loud ladies and their brats were the last to turn up.
I was surprised to experience their enthusiasm.
Steve Khong, the resort operator gave the children their special life jackets and packed lunch before he sent off the group.
Our trip began with a boat ride to Banding.
We were told to purchase some snacks for the Jahai tribesmen.
One of the ladies in our group actually bought vegetables to be handed over to the aboriginal people.
Throughout the trip, this lady asked a lot of senseless questions. Which was really annoying.
Anyway, we reached the Rafflesia site on time and started a 15-minute hike.
Azmi, our guide showed us an area where the flower buds were found. But none were in full bloom.
The man actually located one on a hill slope which was already rotting. But that was better than nothing.
Some of the older women in the loud group had refused to hike up the trail. So, they stayed behind.

Vincent, capturing the Rafflesia on camera
The Malayan Scorpion

I had two encounters with a large Malayan Scorpion. 
Contrary to popular belief, this bug is not as aggressive as perceived.
I switched my lens from wide angle zoom to my trusty EF100mm F2.8L macro lens and started shooting away.
First, I mounted my MR14EX ring flash and noticed that there were some 'soft' corner. Turned out that the diffuser layer was blocking my lens.
Turned off the flash and took a couple of shots using natural light and it worked.

The sum of all fears: The Scorpion striking a pose
Meet the Jahais

Our next destination was an orang asli village.
Having worked with some and seen them during my forays to the wilderness, I'd say that this should be given a miss.
And outsiders should not give handouts to the aboriginal people.
Its obvious that their dependency had grown when a busload of people visits the village to hand snacks and trinkets to their children.
And again, the annoying old lady in our group was asking some really stupid questions..

The Sungai Ruak falls
One of the sites that is still in pristine condition
Chilling out
Having it their way..

We proceeded to an animal salt lick located about 30-minutes boat ride away.
I told Azmi the guide that it was time to break for lunch.
The children on the other boat were getting restless.
We found a shaded area near the salt lick and took the lunch boxes out.
Some of the older ladies were unhappy and wanted to eat on the boat.
Seeing as it is, these city slickers may be reckless. They are very likely to throw their food and plastic spoons in the river. So, bad call.
We ate and proceeded to the salt lick.
This was when the unexpected happen.
One of the young boy had a leech on his testicle and was washing up in the little creek next to the salt lick.
Clearly, the boy was traumatized..

Kelah sanctuary

The last item on the schedule was a visit to Sg Ruak, a fish sanctuary.
We hit the scene at about 3:30pm.
At this point the screaming ladies were apprehensive about hiking to the waterfalls.
They went along after much assurance from Azmi, the guide that there are no leeches on the trail.
I saw a lot of Tiger beetles on the ground and was impressed with the simple set-up at the waterfalls.
There, I took some slow shutter shots and enjoyed the sight of fishes swimming in the stream. You don't get to see this everyday.
As I made my way up to the falls, two of the younger ladies were hiking out with their children. One lady in particular, was carrying her daughter and scolding her all the way.
The outdoors is not for everyone. And like I said earlier, hiking in such trails is not suitable for children below the age of 12. That's a fact.
I spent some time at the falls and can actually see leeches zeroing-in on some footwear that were left on the rocky banks of the water pool.
Later, we boarded the boat and headed back to the resort..

The boat landing area in Sungai Ruak

Hanging out with the Khongs
Farewell dinner

We were quite happy with how things had turned out.
The Rafflesia was a bonus and along the way, we also spotted some eagles and hornbills.
Our host threw in a BBQ dinner which was the main highlight.
During the time, I was waiting in queue behind one of the screaming ladies.
She was scooping some roast chicken on the tray. 
While I watched, the lady scooped everything and walked away. That was utterly inconsiderate and as I see it, the ugly screamer was just down right greedy.
After the meals, it was time for another documentary session before we called it a night.
The following day, we checked out from the resort and started to hit the road on a long drive back to Kuala Lumpur..


The trip was worth every ringgit and sen.
Our stay at Belum Eco Resort was really pleasant. The food in particular, was excellent!
Spare the screaming ladies, a leech on the right testicle belonging to their little boy and a really annoying orang putih celup, I'd say that we had a good outing.
Having heard about the bird life in the area, I might do a follow-up trip in September this year.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Belum : Part 2

Loud ladies, brats and slippers... 

Thomas, our camp warden had reminded us to gather at the boat pontoon at 02:30pm sharp.
Two groups would be hitting an island with an observation tower.
This is a climb towards the apex of the hill which is roughly about 450metres above sea-level.
To us, its literally a 'walk in the park'.
When we arrived at the dining area, Steve, the resort owner was already there. 
"Wah, you guys are so stylish!," he remarked.
The man was referring to Michelle who came with her Track's hiking staff.
At our age, we are not taking chances -- especially with our knees and ankles. 
One false move, and we will be grounded indefinitely.
Then, the Klang people came. They were literally shouting on top of their voice.
I guess with hearing impairment, this is normal. 
And throughout our three-day stay, the bunch of loud ladies were amusing.

Entering the trail leading to the watch tower

No regards for personal safety: wearing flip-flops on the track

Fashion statement: This lady can easily injure her foot
Baboo the man...

Our resort's boatman/porter/trekking guide Baboo is a 23-year-old Bangladeshi who had been working at Belum Eco Resort for four years.
His knowledge of the area would put many locals to shame.
The Bangladeshi led the hike towards the watch tower which is about 1.3km one-way.
I took noticed of the women from Klang who were wearing only flip-flops. Some of the older ladies were in their pyjamas.
This is odd and I guess being city slickers, they took many things from granted.
A few of them were literally shouting at each other during the hike. Their high-pitched voice in bursts of high decibel tones had shattered the silence in the jungle.
It took us about 30-minutes to hike up the watch tower and the view was simply magnificent.

An awesome view of Banding

Vincent and his elder sister Michelle...

The Samos
Everything that goes up must come down...

I think that children below the age of 12 should not be allowed to hike in the woods.
Unless their parents take supervision and keeps strict discipline, the kids are vulnerable to injuries or even death.
Guess the organisers had taken a big risk by allowing the ladies and their children hiking up the watch tower with their flip-flops and pyjamas. I cringe at the notion that any of them would fall and get hurt..
But Baboo, our man held up. 
He carried one of the kids on his shoulder while hiking down the hill to where our boat is waiting.
We made our way back to the resort and had tea.
The rest of the day was free and easy..

Baboo, a real entertaining resort employee

Having dinner with the rest of the group
Terrific food!

We chilled out at Vincent's hut till dinner time.
During the free and easy hour, we talked about and started to plan next year's trip.
Dinner was scheduled at 8pm at the main dining hall.
We had steamboat and it was simply fantastic.
The family of three had joined our table including the solo woman. Earlier, she talked to me about getting a taxi ride to Taiping from Banding.
I found that this was an imposing person and kind of left things to take its own course.
Earlier I did offer the lady a place in the car and take her as far as Kuala Kangsar, but she wanted more, so, its really tough luck...

A documentary about the environment impact of logging in Belum

Roger, one of the resort's friendly dogs..
Its showtime...

Later, the group was hoarded over to the resort's recreation room where a video about the environmental destruction of Belum was shown.
Logging took place at the fringe of the Temenggor lake a few years ago and this had caused a severe effect on the plant and wildlife at the area.

To me, it was a guilt trip. 
Sooner or later, greedy people would rape the forest to reap its wealth. Like Taman Negara in Pahang, what would be left are palm oil plantations...
We called it a night after a chat with another family at the dining area... 
The next day is going to be really fun!

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Belum : Part 1

Better late than never.. 

I get the most out of my Chinese New Year break by doing some traveling.
The plan was to get out of the Klang Valley and savour the great outdoors.
So, having researched some locations around Peninsular Malaysia, I ended up with the Royal Belum Forest near Lake Temenggor in Perak.

The plan

The aren't many accommodation facilities around Belum.
Shortlisted was the Belum Rainforest Resort and the Belum Eco Resort.
I found the first place too expensive as the rooms came up to RM800 a night.
Of the lot, the best choice was the Belum Eco Resort.
Its operated by Mr Steve Khong and his family.
So, having narrowed down to my choice accommodation at RM650 for 3 days 2 nights inclusive of meals and a tour to the Royal Belum Park (permits must be applied a week before checking-in).
And on Chinese New Year, there was a RM70 additional surcharge.
We didn't mind that because it was all-inclusive.
Still, I placed my expectations really low.

Leaving behind our dogs for Belum
To me, the Belum state park is a place to see before its all gone.
Right now, the forested area surrounding the protected area is being logged.
So, naturally, with the destruction of habitat, some of the flora and fauna are gone.
We took a drive from our home in Subang Jaya to Ipoh via the PLUS North - South Highway.
It was a smooth journey until we reached Gopeng where we had a late breakfast.
And we couldn't believe our eyes when the entire town as swarmed with cars from the Klang Valley. 
Seems that this place had experienced a boom over the brief period in Chinese New year.
From Gopeng, we continued our journey towards Kuala Kangsar and short of reaching Sauk, my cellphone rang.
Thomas Khong, the son of Steve called to remind me that we had to reach the jetty half past twelve.

Late breakfast in Gopeng, Perak.
It's a rush!

We had to reach Banding jetty before noon, so, naturally, I scoped the route ahead and floored my car.
Traffic was heavy and I maintained my speed to reach Gerik, the last town before Banding where there is another 40km to cover.
To my surprise the terrain around this route was really hilly with gradients exceeding 15 degrees.
We slowly negotiated the hills and reached the first bridge in Pulau Banding, a small man-made island linking Gerik to Jeli in Kelantan.
But the excitement died down when I found out that we were on the wrong side of the area.
Thomas directed us to the second bridge near the 'Jeti Awam' (public jetty).

The boat ride

Our cosy A-huts at the resort..


Finally, after a six-hour drive, we arrived at the public jetty in Banding.
Thomas was already waiting with a family of three.
We learned that the guests were from Ipoh and another group had left earlier.
From Pulau Banding, we boarded a fibreglass boat and took a 15-minute ride to the resort.
The scene was breathtaking and as we arrived at our accommodation, lunch was served.
At this point, I sized up the guests.
There was a family from Klang who were really loud, comprising two mothers three kids and four old ladies.
The Chinese family from Ipoh were really civil and this also included a lone lady traveler from Taiping.
We had our lunch and prepared ourselves for the first programme of the day, a hike to a watch tower in one of the islands..

Monday, February 18, 2013

A short's story

A wardrobe crisis

I bought my last pair of shorts from REI in Las Vegas about five years ago.
Since then, they've been serving me well until holes started to appear. 
They were worn hard and rough and that five years of service, I am glad to 'let go' the torn and tattered shorts.
I must say that I got the most out of my North Face shorts that pre-dates the REI garment.
So, recently, I took a trip to Paradigm Mall in Petaling Jaya and found the replacement shorts of my choice.
The World of Sports outlet (This is a Singapore-owned franchise) were selling Mountain Hardware Matterhorn and Canyon shorts at 30% off. 
Become a member of the store, you get an additional 10%. 
So, that's about 40% savings. 
Even though the discounts were massive, I think the franchise had a 80% mark-up on their goods. 
That said, even if it was marked down, they would recover their cost including a smaller profit margin.

The Mountain Hardware Matterhorn shorts 

MH's canyon shorts which is a simpler design

He who waits gets the best deals...

Let's look at reality: nobody would pay RM299 for a pair of shorts.
That's what the Matterhorn shorts were priced at and with a 40% knockdown, the cost came to RM174.90. Still on the high side, but that would be the price I would pay for a pair of shorts purchased on-line including shipping to Malaysia. 
So, I was sold on landing myself a pair. The colour choices were limited. You get either Khaki, Dark Brown or Grey.
I bought two pairs of Matterhorns and a slightly simpler designed called the 'Canyon' at RM89.40 a pair.
With four pairs of Mountain Hardware shorts, I solved my wardrobe crisis for the outdoors. 
At least I have a few pairs of shorts to rotate and I think the quality, fit and finish of the Matterhorn and Canyon shorts had lived up to my expectations.
This was not my first Mountain Hardware clothing as my first purchase was in 1996 when I bought a fleece jacket from Campers Corner in Singapore...

New Balance 1521

The New Balance 1520 replacement.. 

I am not ashamed to plug for the New Balance 1520 by saying that its one of the best trail shoes I've ever worn.
Back in 2009, I bought a pair of 1521's and had traveled extensively with it.
Later, I included the simple 1320 which was the little brother of the 1520. These were great shoes to have when you are on a long haul and the 1520's and 1320's have proven its worthiness in providing comfort and protection for my feet...

A big disappointment..

We have some cool New Balance concept stores in Kuala Lumpur. 
But the selection and variety in terms of shoe width and sizes really sucked.
I spoke to a store retail assistant and the NB Concept store in Mid Valley Gardens who told me that demand for 'high end' shoes are not great and that the store was afraid of stocking expensive shoes -- fearing that they wouldn't sell.
I guess that their fears were founded as very few people would appreciate shoes with 4E width and large sizes.
When you have a pair of large feet that is also wide, you are cursed.

As good as it gets! The New Balance 1521
Looking beyond our shores...

I was lucky that my brother in-law was in the US.
This means, I could sort out my footwear issues. For the past six months, I have been wearing my damaged New Balance 851. The sole was peeling off and showed signs of wear. 
Its not bad considering the fact that I've had them for nearly two years. 
I can say the same for the 1520's as they lasted for more than four years and are still kicking!
I went to New Balance's on-line store and ordered a size 11 NB 1521 with the 4E width.
My wife Michelle had told me off for buying stuff on-line without checking its sizing.
I am confident that the 1521's would fit like a glove and that the sizing was correct.
And walla! After a brief wait, my footwear crisis was solved.
Vincent, my brother in-law took delivery of two pairs of shoes.
First was the 1521 and the other pair was the NB2040 which was made in the US.

First impressions

The NB 1521 is very impressive. 
Its an upgrade from the 1520 and having tried it a my trek in the Belum forest, I must say that the level of comfort and traction was really good.

The shoes were put to test in the Royal Belum Forest recently
You can't go wrong with Vibram soles that are used in many premium trail shoes and hiking boots.
The 1521's provided a lot of protection and is also pretty 'breathable' with its large mesh covering my foot.
But it lacked of one thing: Goretex lining.
The 1520's and 1320's were given this waterproof treatment. 
Having said that, New Balance had solved the issue by including the Goretex lining in their latest 1521's which is a little bit pricier.
I bought my 1521's at USD$99.99 (RM310) including free UPS shipping to Vincent's US address. 
This is way cheaper than any crappy Nikes and Adidas trail shoes and way I see it, the 1521's and its successors will continue to be my preferred footwear for my outings..

AMK 1.0

Sometimes, when you need to get things done, you have to it yourself..

I made some on-line purchases from Jenson USA. 
This is a trustworthy bicycle shop and so far, I've had some really good experiences shopping with them.
I paid for two AMK 0.5 first aid kits and the AMK 1.0 kit including a Mavic rain jacket which was on sale.
The 1.0 kit went for USD$12 (Now, with 12% price reduction at USD$9.99) and is the 'perfect' size for my Ortlieb hip pouch.
I had two AMK 2.0 kits purchased from my friend LC Keong of Outdoor Gear Malaysia. 
These were a tad 'too big' for solo excursions, but nevertheless, they proved to be indispensable for a group trip with more than four people.

Contents of the personal First Aid Kit

The right size: my AMK 1.0
Getting it back.. 

I had the kits sent to Vincent Lau, my brother in-law who was in the US for nearly a month.
It was shipped to his hotel in Houston, Texas.
After a few disappointing attempts to source for the kits locally, I've decided to take matter into my own hands and its just great to finally sink my paws on the kits.

Some personal modifications..

The kit came with a 'survival kit' which is not necessary for bike rides. 
I removed it and replaced the plastic pouch containing a compass and a whistle with some wound management items.
A large Smith and Nephew 'primapore' adhesive plaster fits nicely in the kit.
I also included some 3M 'Nextcare' plasters that are not available in the country.
The wound management kit is enough to take care of cuts and grazes which is most likely to occur.
For treating and cleaning wounds, I've added a set of Betadine swab sticks. This is similar to the TADgear swab kit which I bought way back in 2004.

The Betadine solution and now, available in swab kit for wound management

The AMK 1.0 packs enough bite for short trips in your personal pack or hip pouch.
To make it more versatile, you can discard some of its bulky contents to suite the purpose of your trips.
At USD$12 (RM38), its a small price to pay. I am glad to have solved the problem of packing a large First Aid Kit with the AMK 1.0 and with the AMK 0.5 kit, I am thinking of a way to maximise the contents in this small medical storage pack...

Saturday, February 2, 2013

RC Eye - One

A curiosity item.. 

Quad-copters are the rave among Radio Controlled scale model enthusiasts.
These vertical take off and landing RC aircraft are stable and can be programmed as a drone to capture aerial photographs.
Well, that of course, are systems that are worth a five-figure price.
I went to the AMCORP Mall recently and found a shop that sells 'compatible' Lithium-Polymer (Li-Po) batteries for my Kyosho Minium AD helicopter.
The last time I flew my chopper was a year ago and when the battery pack starts to swell, this spells trouble.
I was lucky enough to score three Li-Po battery packs for RM30. This was a steal!
Then, I took a trip to another RC shop nearby.
The shopkeeper was not that friendly and it was like talking to a robot.
When I asked about quad-copters, they wanted to sell me the DJI phantom which looks like a cheap toy.. But there's more than meets the eye on this RC aircraft.
I asked if they had something smaller and was shown the RC Logger RC Eye One.
This is as good as it gets.
For RM190 a pop, she's ready to fly!
Best of all, the spares are also pretty cheap. You can get a pack of spare batteries for RM70 including its USB charger.
Ready to fly: The RC Eye One mini quadcopter
The low-down...

Well, basically, the RC Eye One is a basic quadcopter. It can be rigged for three different levels of skill set from beginner, intermediate to expert.
Despite its tiny size, you can be easily fooled by its simple appearance.
The RC Eye One comes with four powerful DC motors and its 7.4 volt Li-Po battery can yield a flight time of 3.5 minutes. 
That's not too bad if you have extra battery packs on standby.
The RC Eye One's remote control is like a Sony Playstation controller.
One stick on the left is for throttle/rudder and the other stick is for roll/nick.

The RC Eye One in flight
First flight..

I finally had the time to take the RC Eye One for its maiden flight at a playground near my house.
This was a perfect opportunity for me to see if the aircraft's built-in self-stabilizing features could really live up to its claim.
On the first few attempts, I found that flying on a nearly depleted Li-Po battery pack won't give the lift that the quad propellers would generate
So, I changed a new pack and started to fiddle around with the aircraft's throttle.
After numerous attempts, I managed to get the RC Eye One to hover about 12 feet in the air and slowly descend for a smooth landing on the grass.
This was followed by several more attempts before I was satisfied.
Since the rudder controls are integrated with the throttle, it takes some skills to fly the RC Eye One.
I guess its going to be more practice until I get a perfect hover..
The RC Eye One will later enjoy new accessories like a wireless camera and a computer link..

Friday, February 1, 2013

The Rafflesia Ride: Part 3

The wrath of nature...

Patric and I wasted no time in preparing dinner.
With the little daylight left, there wasn't much time to work with the leftovers we had.
So, we kept things at the minimal.
And in the icebox, there was a large tilapia where Patric had given instructions to fillet.
It started to pour heavily as the camp cooks had struggled to prepare dinner.
There were some leftover roast duck, chicken and the main course was deep-fried tilapia fillet.
And right there before our eyes, the river swelled.
Water mixed with mud had gushed down the stream where just hours earlier, the guys were taking a dip.
I can hear the crushing force of the water against the rocks and this was rather eerie.
Siang and Captain Yew were observing the raging river and issued instructions to evacuate the scene.
Time was not wasted in getting the job done as we packed our stuff, moving the bikes to higher ground as parts of the farm house began to flood..

The last frontier: Kg Hulu Geroh in Gopeng, Perak

A great shot by Patric of me riding up Hulu Geroh

After an ass-busting hike, Coke is it!

MIchelle, posing at Kg Orang Asli Hulu Geroh
Better safe than sorry..

We played the waiting game and after two hours of waiting, the water level on the river began to subside.
Its only then when we decided that it was safe again to move our bikes back to the farm house.
During dinner, we reminisced on how people got killed by ignoring the danger signs especially when camping too close to a river.
Deforestration also did not help in this case as we noticed that most of the hills surrounding the farm has been cut down.
We were glad that nothing untowardly happened during the storm and continued to savour our dinner.

Raging wild: the river next to the farm house

Cool as cucumbers: Patric and Roger at the dining hall
Reflections of a bikepacker...

After the good meal, we cleaned up and prepared our sleeping quarters. 
Its a long ride out the next day and we wanted to ensure that nothing gets left behind.
During supper and a few beers, Siang and Angela opened up on their past experience with a larger group of cyclist.
I found it amusing that a cyclist with only a year of experience is now regarded as a 'guru' among the beginners.
Well, I guess some people needed their role-models.
We continued to chat until midnight and decided that it was best to hit the sack to get some rest..

Capt Yew leading the way out.. 

Michelle and Roger
Possibly the best asam laksa in Gopeng

Late breakfast..
We improvise...

Much of the foodstuff we brought was depleted.
So, for breakfast, I gathered all the instant noodles and whipped out a meal.
The guys had no issues downing the meager breakfast I had dished out.
Later, we made some arrangement with the birding group to transfer our luggage to the deer farm.
This took off the load on our bikes as we rode out empty.
The rough terrain had taken a toll on our wheels as Michelle had noticed my rear rim wobbling.
While negotiating a pothole, she had a fall and the impact had damaged the bike's fender stays.
Its not difficult to fix this problem as we slowly made our way to the Gopeng Hills laksa stall.
By the time we got there, the birding gang were already finishing their laksa.
We had a round of noodles before cycling back the farm.
It didn't took long for us to get there and after packing up, we parted ways.
I thanked Capt Yew for rigging up the trip and gave him a copy of my book.

Happy camper: Patric with a copy of my book..
I told the gang that we were headed to Kampar for lunch and then break off towards the Klang Valley via the North-South highway.
We agreed and followed-up with Kampar's 'seating man' char koay teow.
After a good fill, we parted ways.


Spare the weather, the ride was a success.
We kept our expenses to the minimal with the generosity of Mr Chung who hosted our stay at his farm house.
The Rafflesia ride itself was a real experience. Despite the lack of training and our physical state, we were glad to make it in and out alive.
This ride will pave way to more outings throughout the year and I hope to maintain the lean crew that we have.
For the record, we were the few cyclists with small bikes to reach Hulu Geroh and that is something that we could be very proud of.. Hell, I won't be surprised if some internet cycling celebrity would take this route and promote this as his own ride for his personal glory. Getting there first is