| Part 4: Kuala Lumpur, Royal Belum
30-31.7: Munich -> Abu Dhabi -> Delhi -> Singapore
1.8: Singapore -> Desaru
3.8: Desaru -> Singapore
14.8: Jakarta -> Kuala Lumpur
15.8: Kuala Lumpur -> Kuching -> Batang Ai
16.8: Batang Ai
17.8: Batang Ai (longhouse and waterfall trip)
18.8: Batang Ai -> Kuching -> KL -> Bangkok
20.8: Bangkok -> Kuala Lumpur
21.8: Kuala Lumpur
22.8: Kuala Lumpur
29.8: Kota Bharu -> Temenggor lake (Royal Belum state park)
30.8: Tour on Temenggor lake and Belum reserve
31.8: Belum state park -> Ulu Muda
1.9: Ulu Muda
2.9: Ulu Muda
3.9: Ulu Muda -> Dabong (near Gunung Stong state park)
4.9: Stong state park -> Gua Ikan -> Gua Musang -> Dabong
5.9: Dabong -> Tumpat -> Kota Bharu -> KL
6.9: Kuala Lumpur
7.9: Kuala Lumpur -> Abu Dhabi -> Munich
20.8: Bangkok -> Kuala Lumpur
hotel Kuala Lumpur. RM 148 for budget, but quality room with a
comfortable bed, too cold A/C, flat screen TV, table, chair, cupboard,
tea making equipment. phone. Good shower in the bathroom.The hotel is
conveniently located in the Chinatown area of KL, opposite the central
market (Pasar Seni). Free Internet, but due to maintenance it does not
Weather: overcast the
whole day in
Bangkok. Some isolated thunderstorms after 4pm.
After two days in Bangkok, around 3:40pm I fetch a taxi and initially
drive back to the hotel to
take my bags, then continue to the Don Muang airport. Heavy, heavy
we reach the highway. A bit pricey tolls (50 Baht + 60 Baht).
Once at the airport I check in and proceed to the gate. Not that many
shops in the gates area (was thinking of buying a small souvenir for my
The Airasia flight takes off with a small delay shortly before 8pm and
lands in KL around 11pm. I get to KL Sentral with the 11:35pm KLIA
Express, then fetch a taxi to the hotel. I call Shirley suggesting a
trip to Cebu in the Philippines, which Shirley initially declines.
21.8: Kuala Lumpur
Geo hotel, Kuala Lumpur.
finally works, but is slow.
Weather: sunny the whole
rain, some light clouds
the afternoon I check out a travel agency in the Sungei Wang mall in
Bukit Bintang street. I get a quote for a trip to to Redang, three
nights, for RM 4000 (accomodation + flight; 1135 adult + 865
child; at the Redang Reef resort; Airasia flights make approx. RM 1600,
i.e. RM 800/night).
This is with the Timeless vacation Sdn Bhd travel agency (+60 3
tour @ timeless.com.my), the same agency I used a few years ago for the
trip to Lang Tengah. Prices haven't increased significantly over the
past years. It's just that trips to Redang are ridicolously expensive.
The area around Bukit Bintang / jalan Pudu is undergoing a
redevelopment. A new tunnel is being built, which will make the traffic
flow more smooth in the Golden Triangle. The completion date is 2015-16
from what I understand.
In the evening I meet Shirley and the kids, who just came back frorm
their trip to Singapore. Shirley agrees to the trip to Cebu, so I book
the flights (which now are by RM 450 in total more expensive
- should have
22.8: Kuala Lumpur
Flat of Sara, the sister
Weather: mostly sunny,
In the morning I book a hotel on Cebu with booking.com.
Around noon I transfer to the flat of Sara and join the rest of the
family. Overpriced taxi transfer (RM 20) as the driver refuses to use
In the afternoon we go to KLCC for lunch. After that I walk to the
Pavilion mall, were I print out some documents in a DHL service point.
The entire walk from the Petronas towers to the Pavilion mall is now
covered and built as elevated walkways, partially with A/C. Good
solution, which protects pedestrians from the sun and the rain. I
notice that there are now more skyscrapers around KLCC and even more
are being built, i.e. the area is being actively redeveloped.
When Shirley asks if our hotel in Cebu is with the breakfast, I
double-check the booking. The breakfast is not mentioned anywhere, but
I discover in the small print that there are a total of 25% of
surcharges which are not included in the price quoted by booking.com.
Shame on booking.com, as they should have indicated the correct final
price. BTW, it's too late now for a cancellation, as the cancellation
fee is very high (10400 Pesos, i.e. 180 Euro). And honestly, at a room
price of 6500 Pesos, i.e. 112 Euro, one could expect a breakfast
included in the price.
In the evening we try to get a taxi to go back from KLCC. We ask a taxi
driver who just arrived and dropped off some guests if he can drive us
to Jalan Ipoh. He agrees and is even willing use the meter. But then a
guy from the KLCC counter shows up and says we must pay him an RM 2
commission because we took the taxi here. It takes some complaining to
get rid of this individual.
29.8: Kota Bharu
lake (Royal Belum state park)
Banding Lakeside Inn,
Royal Belum state
park. RM 180/350 for a large comfortable room with a soft bed,
adjustable A/C with a remote control, phone, TV (vacuum tube type, not
LCD), table, chair, cupboard, tea making equipment, fridge, toilet with
No Internet in the room, only in the lobby and there it
comes and goes, i.e. it's barely usable (imagine if you are in the
middle of a flight booking and the line suddenly is cut off).
included. The hotel lies on a hill overlooking the Temenggor lake.
After reading some bad review on tripadvisor I was expecting some old,
filthy and run-down place. But actually my room is clean and stylish.
Perhaps some renovation has been done since these reviews were posted.
The hotel however is a bit oldish (mechanical key to open the door,
just to make an example).
Weather: overcast in
Kota Bharu, thin clouds layer in Belum.
I check out of the Tune hotel at 11am, then take a taxi to the airport
(RM 30). There I walk to the car rental (Hawk) and get the car.
The car rental is charging me only RM 960, vs the RM 1239 I've been
invoiced by billiger-mietwagen.de. Perhaps the extra amount is the
commission billiger-mietwagen.de is pocketing. Next time I should
book the car directly in Malaysia.
The car by the way is a Proton Persona with 45000 km with automatic
gear. It feels a bit cheap and old.
After keying in the destination into the navigation system, at 12:30pm
I start driving the car. Weird feeling initially when driving on
left side of the street. Very unusual. Now the central mirror is on my
left side and I'm used to have it on the right side. A bit confusing
and the small rear window doesn't help either.
It seems that in Malaysia you are allowed to drive up to 70-80 km/h in
urban areas and 110 km/h on motorways. Less if there are speed limits.
The problem is that for the first hour the urban area is
never ending. Probably poor city planning by the Malaysian authorities.
Instead of having concentrated urban centres they allow cities to
spread around the countryside.
In any case for the first two hours I average a pretty low speed
(around 60km/h). Only after a while does the road go through wilder
with no or few human settlements.
Confusing road signage (speed limits) or perhaps the speed limit data
in the Sygic navigation system is outdated.
The road climbs up the mountains and at one point reaches an altitude
of over 1000 metres, because it crosses the central mountain range.
Nice scenery every now and then.
Interesting road signs: first one warning of crossing elephants, then
one warning about crossing tapirs (!).
Finally, shortly before 4pm, I reach the hotel and check in (pleasant
surprise that the first night costs only RM 180 instead of RM 350). For
some reason they can't find my booking, but they have rooms available.
Then I get back to the car and drive to the jetty (had spotted it the
side road leading there before). This lies on the Pulau Banding island.
I stop at the rainforest research centre, which indeed is a centre for
researchers and academic staff who spend some time here and need
assistance. It's not for tourists yet. However a tourist information
centre is currently being built and should open in 2014 or 2015.
Some chatting with the researchers: in Belum there is primary
rainforest, elephants, tapirs, even tigers. Thanks to conservation
efforts, there is a stable and growing tiger population of 20-25
individuals, which in 10 years might double. The reserve has a
counterpart in Thailand, so the wildlife can roam across the border in
a protected area. 130 million years old forest (indeed I see many tall
On the southern side (the Temenggor area) there is secondary forest
which has been declared 'production area', meaning that it can be
logged. However the researchers are trying to talk the authorities into
not logging the forest. Tourism could be an alternative revenue source.
Indeed the area with the lake and the forest is very scenic and
beautiful, and does have tourist potential. The Belum reserve is a gem,
which is little known by tourists.
Part of the issue seems to be that
there has been a communist emergency in Malaysia. The Belum area served
until the late 1980s as a retreat for the guerillas, so the government
would restrict access to it.
Perhaps it's a restricted area even now, as I remember having seen a
truck full of Malaysian soldiers at the Banding hotel.
I ask if there are trails into the forest. They mention a short one
near the Belum rainforest resort. Otherwise I need to book a tour with
a hotel, which involves a boat trip.
After the discussion I walk back to the car, on the way running into a
which is looking for food in the rubbish. Then I continue driving on
the side road until I reach the jetty.
Here there are a restaurant and
a shop selling food. Several boats of local people coming and leaving.
Two boathouses docked in the lake. It seems that if you want to reach
any place here, you need a boat.
At 5:20pm I get back to the car. The researchers told me that there is
a forest trail on the left side before the Belum ranforest resort.
After some searching I find it (it's the Banding trail).
So I start walking on this trail. Lots, really lots of hungry
mosquitoes in some spots. Should have applied much more mosquito
repellent. Beautiful views of the lake and the rainforest.
I reach the top of this trail where there is a big helipad. Some noise
in the trees. It's group of black monkeys which hop from tree crown to
tree crown. Unfortunately I'm too far away for a good photo.
Around 6pm I start walking back to the car. I drive to the hotel and
ask in the lobby what tours they offer.
Well, these tours are all very expensive. RM 550 for a half day tour,
RM 1000 for a full day tour for the entire boat. Meaning that this cost
is shared among all participants of the tour. I ask if there is a group
I might join for tomorrow. The answer is no and the receptionist
suggests that I go to the jetty and ask some locals if they want to
bring me somewhere, because that will be cheaper.
So I get back to the car and drive to the jetty (it's very good to have
a car available in this place; actually I'd also need a boat). Once at
the jetty I ask some people if anybody has a boat. Some guy says yes,
he has a boat, but he is expensive. RM 450 for the half-day trip (9am
2pm). Trip to Belum reserve not possible because I would need a
government permit, which needs to be applied for one week in advance.
I suspect that this permit issue is not so much to protect the forest
against hordes of tourists. It's probably more a border issue. Perhaps
the Belum reserve, because it runs parallel to the border with Thailand
is considered by the Malaysian government a sensitive area and they
want to know who is going in there.
Anyway, this Belum place starts looking like a failure. Beautiful area,
but I'm not able to get into it at a reasonable cost. How to avoid
logging the forest by earning tourist money, if it's so difficult for
tourists to get in?
It's probably also lack of competition which keeps prices so high.
There are only a handful of hotels in the area, and perhaps also only a
few operators offer tours.
I have a dinner in the restaurant at the jetty. Fried rice with
chicken. The chicken meat in microscopic doses. Perhaps I should buy a
piece of chicken meat in a shop and ask the cook to prepare it for me
with the rice.
After the dinner I drive to the Belum Rainforest Resort and ask if they
have tours. Yes they do, and the full day tour (6 to 7 hours) costs
'only' RM 280. Reasonably priced, considering the prices
I have been quoted so far. It's still a rip-off, but I have no
choice if I want to see something of the area.
So I book this tour and get back to my hotel.
30.8: Tour on Temenggor
lake and Belum reserve
Banding Lakeside Inn,
Royal Belum state park. The breakfast is not bad.
Weather: in the morning
then in the course of the day the sun comes out (more or less thin
clouds cover). As I spend the entire day on the lake I would however
have preferred a clouds cover. No rain the whole day.
At 9am I'm in the lobby of the Belum rainforest resort and ask where
the tour starts. They tell me to go to the jetty, which I do. But with
jetty, as I find out later, they meant the hotel jetty (the resort has
its own jetty), not the jetty to which I went yesterday. So basically I
drive to this jetty, find lots of people (crowds of Malaysians who came
here for the Merdeka extended weekend), but I can't find the tour of
At 9:25am I'm back in the hotel lobby and they ask a hotel staff to
show me the jetty. A guy arrives and drives me on a service car to the
There the organiser doesn't have my name (should I be surprised?), but
tells me I can join one of the boats.
So, at 9:45am the tour starts. The tour consists of two boats with an
insufficient sun cover. In my boat there is a couple of Austrians and a
Dutch couple (lady is pregnant).
On the other boat there is a family of three Germans (parents and son)
and a young Malaysian couple (she is Chinese, he is Malay, which is a
bit unusual, as Malays and Chinese don't mix due to religion issues: in
case of a wedding the non-Muslim must convert to the Muslim faith and
has to keep this faith even in case of a divorce).
We initially head north, deep into the Belum park, for 20 minutes.
Beautiful rainforest, with very tall trees.
We then get out of the boat and climb along a steep, short trail for 8
and reach the rafflesia site. Unfortunately the refflesia flower is
already dead and dry, but near it are two buds which will bloom in
about a week according to the guide. The flower is a bit small by the
way, because the larger species only grow in Borneo according to the
So we walk down this steep trail back to the boat. Some comments from
the other tour participants because I'm wearing slippers instead of
trekking shoes. I've chosen slippers for today's trip because of the
waterfall swim and because I wasn't expecting any difficult trek. But
this trail is a bit challenging indeed.
The boat then turns south and stops at the jetty on the island to allow
us to do some shopping. The idea is that we buy some presents for the
chidren of the orang asli village.
Most people buy some snacks, because
there is not much else you can buy here. No paper, no pens etc. Later I
realise that this not such a good idea, because this village receives
visitors every day and the kids get used to receive junk food snacks
We get back to the boat and head south again. The boat trip this time
takes really long. At 11:34am we see the Temenggor dam (completed in
1991 according to the guide) and the power station.
20 minutes later we reach the trail to the salt licks. We walk for
about 20 minutes in the jungle (which here is quite dry) and reach this
salt lick. Elephant shit everywhere, but no elephants (shouldn't come
as a surprise as it's noon and the elephants will be resting somewhere
in a fresh place in the jungle).
The salt lick consists of basically two spots where the elephants dig
out black salt and white salt from the ground. Makes one wonder how the
elephants found these spots in the first place i.e. how they knew that
they could find salt by digging in this place.
By the way, the rainforest south of the east-west highway is secondary
forest. Most trees are smaller and not so old; only in some areas there
are tall trees.
At the salt lick there are some automatic cameras fixed to trees,
probably triggered by animal movements.
After some time at this lick, we walk back to the boat, which now
brings us to the place where we have lunch. This is called Pelan Susun
Atur, and has some tables under a roof overlooking the lake, toilets
and other facilities. There is even a camping, i.e. somehow it is
possible to camp here.
We have lunch between 1:10pm and 1:50pm. Lunch consists of a sandwich
box and an apple.
After lunch we take the boat to the orang asli village. This lies on a
peninsula and consists of some huts made with wood and tree leaves.
Only a few houses have tin roofs.
Lots of tourists, a large group of Malaysian tourists is just leaving
when we arrive. More tourist groups arrive while we are there. Tourists
outnumber villagers, at times by a factor of 2:1.
The villagers consist of women and children. Most men are out fishing
or hunting. The villagers are really racially different from Malays.
They are like blacks from Africa, quite interesting. These are the
original inhabitants of Malaysia, i.e. those who lived there before
Malays, Chinese and Indians arrived.
Present giving to the kids. This is almost embarassing. Lots of
tourists handing over junk food snacks to the kids. Kids filling their
stomachs with all that junk food. Some Malay lady at least gives them
some paper and pens.
Overall the village is like a zoo. I hope the villagers at least get
some financial compensation for having their village flooded by
In any case, the situation of these orang asli seems quite hopeless.
Every two weeks a teacher come and teaches something to the kids, i.e.
these kids will never receive a proper education. It's quite possible
that these people still live in these huts in 50 years, still depending
on welfare from the government.
At 2:30pm we are done with the orang asli village and head to the next
place, the waterfall. First we go for half an hour by boat, then we
walk 25 minutes along a jungle trail, finally reaching the waterfall at
This is a nice jungle waterfall, with a not so deep pool. We get a bit
into the water, then at 4pm start walking back to the boat.
We are back at the Belum resort shortly after 5pm. I pay the tour (RM
280), then drive to the jetty where I have some dinner in the
restaurant. Then I get back to the hotel. Tomorrow I'll drive to the
Muda lake in Kedah.