In the morning we acquaint with a retired American who is photographer and his Thai wife. They are the only tourists we meet here. They give us eggs and some bread and then they agree to take us to the close-by town Gua Musang.
We rest almost all the morning, but still do a short walk and on one of the paths we see an incredible giant fig. The American spends several hours shooting at the birds in the trees with his camera. He tells us that he traveled for seven years on end around South-East Asia with his jeep and that he doesn’t understand people who spend all of their lives living in one place.
The giant fig
In the morning we go back to Gua Musang – the same town from where the rich Indian took us nine days ago. We don’t have any food left and just a few cents. We will be able to withdraw money in several hours. We eat some noodles in a restaurant and then sit in an Internet cafe.
It is already dark when we withdraw money. Then we shop at a supermarket and celebrate in a restaurant the fact that we survived this trek. After so many days of Spartan life we finally eat well. We walk out of the town and settle in a palm plantation next to a Hindu temple.
Our bivouac in the plantation
The Hindu temple
Today hitchhiking goes well and we manage to pass the 89 km to the northern entrance of the National Park Taman Negara. We still feel quite exhausted and we really want to NOT do anything for the next couple of days. We hope we will manage to rest well at the park’s base.
Then we plan to continue along the east coast in the state Teranganu. This state, together with the other called Kelantan, are populated mostly with Muslim people who are very traditional and the area is not touristic at all excluding the Perhentian Islands. We expect everything to be well preserved and authentic here.
The first person to take us is a Pakistani driving a truck full of carpets. He takes us to Chiku Town where we buy some food. Then we change three cars till we reach Kuala Koh – the entrance to the park: first was a father with his child, then a boy – computer geek and the last one was another truck.
Hitchhiking through the palm plantations
Everything here is palms. There is not one single tree left that is not a palm. Everywhere we see signs that you will be shot if you enter or that the fences are with high voltage. We worry that there will be no cars passing by for the last 16 kilometers to the park as the road is secluded, but luckily a car with Indonesian workers going to the plantation takes us and even drive us to the entrance. The driver treats us beverages too 🙂
Palm oil plantations as far as one can see
We walk the last kilometer to the park. There is a surprise waiting for us at the entrance. Because of some big flood last year 90% of the base is not functioning and is closed for tourists. Nevertheless the guards let us pitch our tent and charge us 1 ringgit (around 20 eurocents) for the tent.
The base of the park
The bungalows are abandoned, the beds are moldy, some toilets are out of order, the bridge leading to the jungle is gone, the signs are falling apart. The guards tell us that they expect money from the government in order to start repairing. This obviously doesn’t stop them from making shady deals with the incoming fishermen and the parking is filled with cars.
There are several boats in the river fishing as here this is allowed which is strange because they are fishing the same kind of fish that is protected in the other part of the park. There are at least 15 people working here whose job is to maintain the paths. But we think that they are just maintaining the office, waiting for the governments funds and are involved in the illegal fishing.
Our bivouac at the abandoned base
We find a quiet secluded space and pitch our tent on the wooden floor. We even find a working bathroom. This is all we need. The next few days no one comes to bother us.
A unique gecko
We start writing, laundering and resting. We cook rice in bamboo on fire under a tree. We cross the river that is waist deep and walk short distances in the vicinity. Sadly there are many fallen trees and it is hard to follow the paths. We find trails of elephants, tapirs, wild boars, deers and many more.
Wild boar trail
We find a canopy walkway up in the trees. Though it is somewhat risky to climb there since it hasn’t been maintained for a year, we decide to give it a try.
The canopy walkway
This bridge is 20 meters above the ground
It turns out that there is a village of the Batek Tribe close-by. We looked for their village for so long and now here we found it at last. Some non-government organization has built them a few horrible houses without any shadow falling on them inside the palm plantation and one can tell that people find it really hard to accommodate to this new way of life. That is why they have built their traditional shelters and have abandoned the concrete houses. Everything around is littered. As it always happens the attempt to “civilize” indigenous people just makes them marginal social groups that cannot adapt to our “modern” way of life.
The shelters of the Batek People
The people here live on the edge of the jungle and still hunt and gather plants for living. They are very interesting – just like African people with different twigs in their hair and ears. Most wear just a piece of cloth. Men wear short pants and are half-naked and barefooted. Obviously someone donated them various things as they have tea-pots, frying pans, torches, clothes and even a motor-bike.
They don’t have electricity and contrary to the villages we saw in the jungle, here we see lots of litter and trash. They are very friendly and allow us to shoot them with our camera. But most of the time we don’t understand the way they behave. They greet and smile at us but then ignore us totally and nobody looks at us. We don’t know if they are shy or there is something else. While we stay at their village we see only women holding their babies.
Liana over a tree
The men are into the jungle hunting or fishing. We find an elder person and talk a little about tigers and wild boars. We ask them what do they usually eat. They tell us they don’t eat rice but mainly wild roots, fruits and meat. While we talk we see a woman planting the plant which roots they eat in a strange way: just putting it into the ground.
Baby and his mother planting
When we leave the village at dusk we meet a big group of women and children bringing some bags full of things from the jungle. We spent so much time inside the jungle and we didn’t see even one edible plant – or obviously we couldn’t recognize it 🙂
A shelter where Bateks sleep
I feel pity for this people and their possible future. Instead of living in harmony with the jungle as they have done for thousands of years, the civilization will suck them in and turn them into beggars, cleaners and criminals. The so valuable knowledge they have about the jungle will disappear too. We heard that because of the mass cutting out of the jungle in the last ten years, less and less Bateks manage to survive by gathering and hunting and that is why they are forced to live our “civilized” way of life.
Grandma with her grandchild
We stay five nights at the park and manage to recuperate fully from the expedition to peak Gunung Tahan. The last night we enter a kilometer and a half inside the jungle and sleep at an observation tower around which there are many trails of wild animals. We are alerted all night, waiting to hear some animal, but we don’t. There is a camera trap installed close-by which is activated by movement and will make a photo if any animal passes by. We couldn’t see anything but the experience was exciting. Inside the house live some really sweet bats.
Watching for animals at the tower
The bats that live inside
We leave the jungle in the late afternoon.
Long hitchhiking hours, cities, history and gastronomical experiences await us from here on so we don’t know when we will be close to wild nature again. We walk several kilometers through the palm plantations, but there are no cars passing by. Finally a dirty pickup with two workers from the park takes us to the main road which is 10 km away.
In just five minutes an Indian family stops to take us. The wife and the uncle of the driver lie at the back. They travel to Kuantan Town, exactly where we want to go. The town is far away, the truck is slow and we are tired from the long watch for wild animals yesterday. So when it starts getting dark we get off at Tasik Kenyir Dam. There is a free camp site next to the quay and we settle there exhausted.
The Kenyir Dam
Tasik Kenyir Dam is the biggest in South-East Asia. There are many bungalows, resorts and restaurants on its shores, as well as many tourist attractions – boat trips, water sports, fishing etc. It is a big surprise to us that at such a commercial place there is a free camp site. Obviously it is only in Europe where free camping is considered a crime. In the morning we take off as we don’t like seeing the next destruction of nature by building hotels due to mass tourism.
A river next to the dam
Hitchhiking flies here. We have long forgotten now our first days around Penang where we had to wait for an hour or two for someone to stop. We are driven to Kuala Berang Town and then get to the highway. The first person to stop us was heading to an Islamic school where his son was studying. It is a miracle that Malay people finally stop for us now.
Our friend at the base inside the national park
We are on the highway and a truck loaded with water-melons takes us. The driver is an Indian man traveling from the most northern town Kota Bharu to the most southern Johor Bharu. We decide to not stop at Terenganu State as we have planned, but instead to take advantage of the situation and pass 200-300 km. at a gulp. We are driving so fast that we enter a different lane by mistake and have to go back 40 km. in order to make an U turn. Nevertheless we manage to pass some huge distance. We get of in the outskirts of Muadzam Shah. The driver gives us a 5 kg. water-melon and we head to the fork for Kuala Rompin, a small coastal town where we have to work on the Internet for several days. We buy some food and start hitchhiking.
A mosque in the middle of rice fields
A young man, wearing a Muslim robe, stops and says he will pay us the bus to Kuala Rompin. He cannot understand how we travel hitchhiking. We refuse and a few minutes later two joyous guys take us to the town. It is already dark when we reach it. We head to the beach which is just a kilometer away from the main road. Luckily it is a really small town and there are almost no buildings on the beach.
The beach of Kuala Rompin
We are so tired because of the 400 km we passed today so we barely manage to drag ourselves to the beach. But there is a surprise there: we see dozens of cars parked near the beach, a music stage and people selling various things such as hijab (shawls Muslim women wear on their heads), rollers, robes for men, fruit trees, street food… The fair is crowded with families with children and young people. We walk away from this madness and pitch our tent in a small forest next to the beach.
Our bivouac at the beach
For the next three days we work at the only Internet cafe in the town. The connection speed is slow and every day passes by mostly in waiting for the next webpage to open which really tests our patience.
Unknown to us fruit or vegetable possibly kind of jackfruit
Kuala Rompin is a small town with so few buildings that one struggles to see exactly where the town’s borders are. Nevertheless interesting things can happen to you anywhere 🙂 Every day on our way to the Internet cafe we watch out for a giant one meter long monitor lizard that lives in the sewers, but it manages to escape our camera every time.
The monitor lizard
We also stumble upon the weekly local market and we are very excited because up to now, since we are in Malaysia, we have always always shopped at supermarkets. Vendors sell all kinds of fish, giant bananas and local specialties. We try sticky rice with coconut, pastry with green onion, but with sweet sauce, pancakes with peanut butter and bought some strange looking vegetables that later turned out to be very delicious.
Morning at the tent
We are impressed by the fact the even though there are no hotels or restaurants on the beach everyday a cleaning machine passes on it. Local people come to the beach at weekends and maybe that is way the government maintains it clean. It is interesting to watch how Muslim women enter the water with all of their clothes on.
Women in the sea
We buy some food from the supermarket because we know that in Singapore everything is very expensive and we head south to the city-country famous for being one of the main economic centers of the world with the busiest harbor. A truck takes us to Endau Town. It is Friday and everyone is dressed with traditional clothes for the Friday Prayer – men are wearing long robes and fesses. The parking sites in front of the mosques are full.
We meet another hitchhikers for the second time since we are in Malaysia. At Gua Musang we met a French girl and a Czech guy and now a Russian young man coming here on foot from National Park Endau Rompin.
Meeting another hitchhikers
From Endau an ex-military takes us, or as he said former commandos, traveling with his child. When we arrive at Mersing it turns out he has taken us just to make us a favor and now he goes back to Endau where he lives. We feel quite uncomfortable.
Then a Chinese man takes us and wants to see our passports before he lets us in. He is going directly to the border town Johor Bharu. The town is big commercial center without any landmarks. There is a river and on the other side is Singapore. One can enter on foot from Malaysia to Singapore on the bridge connecting the two countries. The problem is that on the other side is the beginning of the city and hitchhiking would be difficult as the center is at least 20 km away. So we decide to take a bus from the near-by station.
Our trip form Gua Musang to Johor Bahru
The Chinese guy leaves us at the bus-station and we head to the customs. On the other side of the bridge the bus leaves us at the immigration office where they stamp our passports and we continue with the same bus number, with the same ticket, to the center of the city. The price is 2,5 ringgits (40 eurocents) and it is worth it 🙂
What a leaf!