Saturday, April 20, 2019

Perak-Kedah-Penang: Cycling Kuala Kangsar To Gerik To Penang Day 5 - Gerik To Pulau Banding

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Cycling Kuala Kangsar>Gerik>Penang Day 5 : Gerik To Pulau Banding - Into Wild Elephant Territory
Central West Coast Peninsular Malaysia Day 5: Monday 11th March 2019
This is part of a small group cycling tour from Kuala Kangsar to Penang Island on a north-western central route of West Malaysia. Today's ride is from Gerik to Pulau Banding:
Distance: 48km.               |               Level: Hard
Time : 6:45am to 1:00pm
Time Taken : 6 hrs. 15 mins. (including stops at various viewpoints, for tea break & rest, regroup, and lots of photo opps).

This is page 5 of a 9-page blog, Click Here To Go To Title Page.
 < Go to D4 Temengor          |       Go to Other Days            |            Go to D6 Baling >

Route Recommendations:
1. Traffic Directions!
    Malaysia's traffic is right-hand drive, so cycle on the left. Same thing applies when crossing the road, be careful and take note of the direction in which traffic is approaching from!

2. Route & Traffic Conditions  
    This is a route from Gerik Town to Pulau Banding that start with gradual climbs at the Baling-Kuala Kangsar Highway (Federal Route 76) and continue to tougher climbs along the East-West Highway (Federal Route 4) that cuts across the northern part of Peninsular Malaysia's central mountain range called the Titwangsa Range (Banjaran Titiwangsa). Just before Pulau Banding is a stretch of steep down slope. Elephants are also known to encroach onto the East-West Highway, there are signboards along the way advising how to react in such a situation, please read and follow their instructions closely.

3. Places of Interest
    Along the route were several places of interests, some of which we visited and others we did not for lack of time:
East-West Highway Monument (GPS: 5.53059, 101.2486).
- The old army concrete forts (GPS: 5.54744, 101.34602) at Pulau Banding.
Pulau Banding (GPS: 5.55247, 101.34226), the island formed by the Temengor Dam (GPS: 5.40598, 101.30115).
- The first scenic bridge (GPS: 5.54423, 101.33632) and second scenic bridge (GPS: 5.55044, 101.34976) spanning over Tasik Banding lake, leading to and away from Pulau Banding.
Pulau Banding Rainforest Research Centre (GPS: 5.55166, 101.34613).
- Banjaran Titiwangsa Rest Stop (GPS: 5.60625, 101.54253), a R&R stop located at the peak of the Titwangsa Range, the country's mountain range. Nice views for the on-top-of-the-mountain feeling.

4. Food
a. Breakfast: Dim sum at Medan Takong 1 Food Court (GPS: 5.42979, 101.13025).
b. Morning Tea: Local cakes (kuih) and drinks at Restoran Maksu Selera Rimba Hentian Sungai Lebey (GPS: 5.47332, 101.23025).
c. Lunch: Fried beehoon at our home-stay in Pulau Banding.
d. Dinner: White rice with Sweet & Sour Patin fish, omelet, fried tumeric chicken, stir fried brinjal (eggplant) at our home-stay.

5. Accomodations
    Our accommodations in Pulau Banding was an "air-conditioned" room for four at Mat Shah Floating Chalet (Resort Terapung Mat Shah) (GPS: 5.54884, 101.35297):
Address: Mohamad Shah Isa Resort, Tasik Banding, 33300 Gerik, Perak, Malaysia.
Phone: +6019-5022633 (Khairul).
Alternative accommodations can be found at Banding Lakeside Inn (GPS: 5.54296, 101.33089) and Belum Rainforest Resort (GPS: 5.54355, 101.34076), but pricing could be higher.

6. Weather
    March is within the tropical dry season, which is a hot period. At Gerik, morning temperatures averaged from 23°C & afternoon temperatures peaked at 33°C with the perceived temperature was 39°C.
    A useful weather forecast site is AccuWeather. For more detailed weather, including cloud cover and wind speed, use Weatherspark and Ventusky.

7. Communicating with Locals
    For the uninitiated cycling in foreign lands can be a daunting experience, especially when one can only speak a smattering of the local language or if there is no common language to speak to each other (like English). Most Malaysians can speak fairly good English; but in the rural areas the locals speak only some rudimentary English, so learning some basic phrases in Bahasa Malaysia will be helpful.
    This could be partly overcome by using translation apps like Google Translate. Do install this app into your phone and before you leave on your tour do some basic translation as it will be saved onto a list of recent translations.
    And do install memory-resident translation apps into your mobile phone.

8. Staying in Touch
    When travelling in a group it's important to be able to communicate with each other, especially if one got lost or just to share photos and moments. Pre-paid phone sim-cards are easily available from most phone shops in the main towns.

9. Navigation
    Where data signal is available and strong, one can use Google Maps to navigate around. If the cycling options may not be available, just use the walking options.
In cases where data signal is weak or unavailable (like in remote rural areas), install MAP.ME into your phone. It's an off-line map app.   
    Alternatively, use a dedicated GPS unit like those from Garmin. However ensure that one install the Malaysia maps into the unit.
    We plotted routes both on Google Maps and Garmin: Google maps are more up to date and some roads are not shown on the Garmin maps; on the other hand the Garmin GPS units becomes handy when data signal is weak or not available especially in the rural and plantation areas.

10. Service Your Bicycles & Carry Tools and Spares
    Before leaving on your tour, it will be good to service your bike and bring along some spares like tubes, puncture patches, brake pads with the relevant tools.

_________________________________________________________________________________
PRELUDE

A day earlier we had joined the public Gerik Temengor Dam Fun Ride event that had opened the private roads of the dam to the public for a 60 km. ride. It was one with great views of the pristine lake formed by the dam and the green secondary jungle en route. Today we will take things a little easier and cycle a short route along the East-West Highway to Pulau Banding. At 40 km. it should be a snap or so we thought.....

_________________________________________________________________________
THE RIDE


Cycle Route: Gerik>Sungai Lebey>East-West Highway Monument>Pulau Banding.
The route goes along gradual slopes at Federal Route 76 and then onto tougher slopes along the East-West Highway. The tough slopes starts just after the Sungai Lebey R&R and ends just before the first bridge at Tasik Banding lake. The roads are quite narrow, especially at the East-West Highway with hardly any emergency lanes to ride one, so do listen out for heavy vehicles/trucks. Elephants are also known to encroach onto the East-West Highway, there are signboards along the way advising how to react in such a situation, please read and follow their instructions closely.
Distance: 48km.               |               Level: Hard

Climb elevation cross-section with a nett gain of 500 metres spread over 15km. A return trip from Pulau Banding would had been more difficult as this climb would have been spread over half the distance, i.e. 7.5km.

6:30am: It's an early start again today, so as to finish off early and avoid the hot afternoon weather. We were lucky that the food court at Medan Takong 1 Food Court had opened already and also that one of the stalls there sells delicious dim sum. As we were uncertain of availability of good food in the interior, we had our fill of good dim sum but did not gorge ourselves. There will be some serious climbs ahead, don't want to be too heavy for them.
Heading out of town we cut into the East-West Highway at Kampung Baharu Batu Dua; by passed the short-cut that cuts through Kuala Rui and stayed on the highway. Just after the bridge over Sungai Rui our climbing gradually started with a steep slope that slowly tapered off to more gentle slopes.

8:45am - Enroute the girls needed to relieve themselves, oddly there were not many shops around and most of them were closed. We passed by a petrol station but unfortunately for the girls it was a closed run-down place.
Luckily the girls managed to hold it until we reached the Restoran Maksu Selera Rimba Hentian Sungai Lebey R&R. This is an important place for travelers: firstly it the last place to have a meal and a drink before reaching Pulau Banding. Secondly, in between there will no places for drinks, in fact after this point there would be no houses at the road side and no phone & data signals until we reached Pulau Banding.
Out of courtesy, since we are using their rest-rooms, we made a longer stop to have some coffee and some local kuih, and chatted casually with the lady operator there.

Here too, they had lots of coffee choices .... three-in-one coffee. I latched onto one that's called "Kopi Jantan"; loosely translated it means "Male Coffee", but a more accurate translation would be "Macho Coffee" 😎😎😎. I do hope my wide-eyed looked holding satchels of this coffee did portray its effectiveness!

About 500 metres from was this big signboard, it's a board warning that wild elephants can be seen crossing around this region, and it give advise on what to do in the event of meeting elephants, it's in Bahasa Malaysia and below is a brief translation:
1. Don't panic.
2. Don't horn.
3. Stop and give way.
4. Don't get out from vehicle.
5. Don't go near the elephants.
6. Don't throw things.
7. Turn down lights (at night).
YES. THESE ARE STRONG REMINDERS THAT WE ARE ENTERING WILD ELEPHANT TERRITORY!
A reader asked me, that since we are cycling, we are technically out of our vehicle; so what should we do. Just stay calm, don't make sudden movement, and try to slowly move away.
Sounds easy.... fortunately we did not meet any elephants along the way.... although it would be great to see these might beasts up close.

We did see some road-kills, snakes that had been squashed by cars rolling over them, poor things. If it were elephants, it would have been the cars that's squashed.

Other than elephants, a more fore-boding presence were those large trucks that ply along this route. The roads here are narrow and there are no emergency lanes to ride on. So we had to perk up our ears and listen to oncoming trucks from the rear. Each time the larger ones pass by close, our hearts would go thumping away!

The trees are some distance away from the roads and did not give us much shade as we were on the "wrong" side. The morning sun was coming in from the east and gave shed to the other side of the road. Often we stopped at the other side for rests in the shade.
But it was very important to choose "safe" spots to stop; we tried not to stop at open areas or areas that had toppled trees (a sign that elephants had pass through). Even the we were on alert to listen up for any sounds of movement. Elephants have even been known to attack people who had quietly gone into the bushes to relieve themselves. Thank goodness we had gone to the rest rooms at the Sungai Lebey R&R, don't want to see an elephant eye-to-eye while peeing.

It wasn't uphill all the way, there were stretches of down-slope, but these were few and far in between.

The route was quite challenging, but other than giving us a tough time, it was jungle all round us most of the time. So we had to keep ourselves entertained. I met this group of crazy cyclist who couldn't hear, couldn't see or couldn't talk. Hey! It's my cycling buddies!

10:30am - The hot weather had arrived, we donned our arm sleeves and our Asian conical hats.....

..... but these weren't enough for Ying. The last few days of hot weather must have gotten to her and she complained about feeling tired. Fortunately Anne & Bert had decided to take a drive to Pulau Banding for a look-see and met us enroute. Their van became our support vehicle with Ying going onboard bike and all; the rest of us took advantage too and put our heavy luggage in!

11:00am - A short rest stop at the East-West Highway Monument. Located about 11 km. from Gerik, it is a monument erected to pay tribute to the workers and security forces killed and injured during attacks by Communist terrorists on those working to construct the East-West Highway, especially an incident took place at 7:00am in the morning of 27 August, 1974. Workers of the Public Work Department (Jabatan Kerja Raya, JKR) were on the way to highway construction site on Pulau Banding from Base Camp Gerik (GPS: 5.45351, 101.1515). At kilometer 26 (the present spot of the monument), they were ambushed by Communist guerillas. A few other sporadic incidents took place throughout the construction sites of the highway. These incidents occurred during the second phase of an insurgency known as the Malayan Emregency.
Even at an open space like this, elephants do abound: see Star article on this.

The highway cuts through the hills of the Titwangsa Main Range, certain stretches had rather steep slopes where landslides had occurred. Looks awfully scary, good thing that prevention measures are being been put in. Richard here looks like a small ant below a giant anthill.

Green as the forest was, the heat had swooped in and turn long stretches brown, so brown and dry that often bush fires occurred.

(photos by Anne)
Anne & Bert on their way back posted these photos. More bush fires had happened, rather big ones with smoke that clouded the road. We were rather fortunate to have started early, otherwise would have been breathing in lots of smoke, or worst be "sun-burnt" by the heat from fire?

11:30am _ About 12km from Pulau Banding we hit the highest spot of the stretch (525km above sea level) and went whooshing down slopes. Good thing we did not had to climb back this slope on our return trip the next day, but that's a tale for another day.

Along the way, there we a couple of viewing high-spots overlooking a large expanse of the valley below. Except for this view of a conical hill browned by the hot sun, there was really  not much to see ..... only large tracts of boring dark green jungle. Meeting an elephant or two would have been exciting... would we want that?

Towards the tail end of the slope was a small square with an armoured car on display; this were one of those vehicles used during the Malayan Emregency.

Just after that was the first bridge, the one that connects the Gerik side to Pulau Banding; ahead was a sign that screamed out "ROYAL BELUM", indicating that we were on the tip of the Belum Rainforest Reserve.
"The Belum Temenggor forest reserve forms the last and largest contiguous block of natural forest in Peninsular Malaysia. It covers an area of over 300,000 hectares. It is located in the Malaysian state of Perak and crosses into Southern Thailand. The tropical rainforest of Belum Temenggor is believed to exist for over 130 million years. Thus, making it one of the world’s oldest rainforests, older than both the Amazon and the Congo. In the heart of the forest lies a lake : the Tasik Temenggor (Temenggor Lake). It covers 15,200 Hectares, with hundreds of tiny islands. In addition, the forest is home to a vast number of species of animals and plants. Many of them cannot be found anywhere else on Earth."

A panoramic sweep of the Temenggor Lake, viewed from the first bridge, the beauty here made the blood sweat and tears scaling of the slopes very worthwhile. Would we do it again.... YES!

A well deserved victory pose by Richard!
He's awarding himself a prize of his own Brompton 😆.

On the island itself were remnants of the Malayan Emregency days, a couple of solid concrete structures indicated of Google Maps as Army forts. The were not forts per se, but huge bunker/pill boxes that were two to three storeys tall!

 There was a slight climb at Pulau Banding itself, nothing serious and we even managed to pop into the Pulau Banding Rainforest Research Centree for a quick look.
It's what came after that was magnificent, a fantastic view of the second bridge, this one connected the island back to the mainland on the other side and continues on to Jeli.
Pssssst.... our accomodations are those little floating things on the other side, on the right bank..... cant' see them? .... they are small when compared to the bridge!

.... here's a better view; it's those little houses floating on the right and sticking out into the lake. They don't look like much... and aren't really the best accommodations but at RM45 per pax per night for a 4-pax room one can't really complain ... and it comes with... er.... some sort of "air-conditioning". The other alternatives with be the nearby resort, but at RM400+ for a 2-pax room, they are almost 5-times the price of our floating place.

As we rolled down slope to our accommodations, we saw this locals coming in for a landing, their boat full of rattan harvested from the forest riverside. These rattan fetch quite a tidy sum these days as they are not so easy to come by. Initially I thought that they we foreign Africans due to their dark skin and curly hair, then silly old me recalled my local geography lessons! They are local aborigines (Orang Asli) called the Negrito, a word that is the Spanish diminutive of negro,

Robert and Anne had already arrived with Ying, who was looking much better. We said our goodbyes to Anne & Robert who had to rush back to Kuala Lumpur for work. We did notice a hint of enviousness in their faces, wishing that they could join us, but then the pressure of work is always there.

The corridor leading to our rooms, one had to be careful walking here as some of the timber planks were loose. Our room itself was no big deal, rather dusty and dark with only one working plug point. The air-conditioning wasn't working so we changed to another room called the "honey-moon" room as it had lot's of hearts on it's wall. Other than that there was not much difference. Well one can't really complain as alternative accommodations cost four times more!

 We now realized why so many of the local native people were coming here; right at the front was a convenience shop, I think it's about the only one here for the locals to get their grocery. Other than the usual grocery stuff, they operator also sold Kulat Susu Rimau, which in English is called the Tiger's Milk Mushroom. Its name is based on a folklore in which the relatively uncommon fungus grows on the spot where a tigress drips her milk while feeding her cubs. Tiger milk mushroom has been used traditionally for over 400 years as a health tonic by the aborigines for its healing properties on more than 15 types of medical ailments including treat lung and respiratory disease such as asthma, cough, fever, vomit, breast cancer, chronic hepatitis, gastric ulcer, food poisoning, healing wound and indigestion. Aborigines also boil it with Tongkat ali and used it as general tonic to strengthen the body.

Taking a break at the small hall in between the bedrooms, it's much cooler here than inside....
And oh yah..... please not that the sitting W.C. just sits over a hole in the timber floor of the bathroom and is not fixed. One of our buddies found out the wrong way: he/she was more used to doing his/her business squatting dow,n and squatted on sitting W.C. He/she leaned a bit too much to a side and the W.C. came tumbling down with hime/her .... the rest of us in the bedroom were shocked to hear a loud bang coming from the bathroom!

Part of our dinner, sweet & sour Patin fish, caught by Jenny when she tried her hand at fishing. Mohammad, the caretaker, caught an even better fish, the rather rare Kelah Merah. Seeing me eyeing his fish, he happily shared some with me..... !YummY!

SELAMAT MALAM .....
(That's Good Night in Malay)

(For more photos of the Day 5Click Here)
This is page 5 of a 9-page blog, Click Here To Go To Title Page.
 < Go to D4 Temengor         |       Go to Other Days            |            Go to D6 Baling > 
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