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Part 5: Ulu Muda

30-31.7: Munich -> Abu Dhabi -> Delhi -> Singapore
1.8: Singapore -> Desaru
2.8: 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

31.8: Belum state park -> Ulu Muda
Earth Lodge, Ulu Muda. Package of RM 1110 for three nights inclusive of all meals, transportation from the Muda lake jetty and all activities (see report below). The room is a half of a chalet with fan (no A/C), a mattress with pillows and a blanket, attached bathroom with running water. Only cold water available. Electric power comes from a generator and is only available between sunset (7:30pm) and midnight. The accomodation is a bit spartan.
Weather: overcast in the morning in Belum, sunny & blue sky with some clouds in Ulu Muda. No rain the whole day.

I leave the hotel at 8:30am and start driving to lake Muda. On the way I stop at a petrol station to refuel the car whose tank is half-empty. Surprise, only 22 litres fit in, which means that the tank must be quite small.

Today is Sunday and a public holiday (merdeka day), and there is not much activity in the streets. Besides, most shops open only after 10am.

In Baling I buy some food in a KFC restaurant and a hat in a shop (as a protection against the sun). I also book a flight from Kota Bharu to KL on September 5th. Then I continue driving towards the Muda lake.

The roads today are almost empty. I'm finally at the jetty of the Muda lake shortly before 12pm. Hymeir, the tour operator of the Earth Lodge, is sitting at a table with other tour participants having lunch. These are two German students and a British couple.

Initially Hymeir doesn't remember me, so I pull out our email exchange to inform him about the booking.

At 12:30pm we walk to the boats. These are small sampan (long tail) boats, without a roof, i.e. there is no sun protection and the boats are a bit slow. We pack our stuff on the boats and head to the Earth Lodge, arriving at 2:30pm.

The Muda lake has pretty low water levels, around 3-4 metres below the usual level. The lake was created when a dam was built years ago and serves as a water source for rice farming in Kedah. It is connected to the Pedu lake.

The Earth Lodge is 14km to the east, along a small river. It consists of a number of chalets built in concrete and other facilities. It was built years ago as a government project.

Once at the lodge, Hymeir briefs us about the place. Apparently there are no tigers in the Muda reserve, or to put it differently nobody has ever seen them. But there are elephants, tapirs, sambal deer, sun bears, rhinos etc. Then we move to our rooms.

Since there is plenty of time until the first acitivity (at 5pm), I check out a bit the area. Plenty of mosquitoes, I have to apply a lot of mosquito repellent.

Also lots of leeches. After walking around a bit, my feet are full of leeches which luckily I manage to remove before they can start sucking blood.

At 5pm we get on the boat and head to a salt lick. This is a small pond with salty water in the forest. We can't see any animals, but from automated camera shots we can see later that actually many animals use this salt lick. It's just that usually they come at night.

Then we head back to the boat and start floating downriver, hoping to see wildlife. We do that until 7pm, but see only some birds (hornbills etc.) and some macaque monkeys. Apparently it's not easy to see wildlife in this place. We are back in the lodge at 7:30pm.

Dinner is a 9pm. After dinner Hymeir shows photos taken with automated jungle cameras. Then we chit chat a bit about several topics. Hymeir mentions that he got malaria recently. Oops... how did that happen? He tells us he got a simian strain of malaria, i.e. he must have got it from a monkey.

1.9: Ulu Muda
Earth Lodge, Ulu Muda.
Weather: mostly sunny, with a thin clouds layer. After 3pm the sky closes a bit, some brief rain at 5pm and some very light rain (few drops) around 7:30pm.

At 8:15am I walk to the breakfast table. The two German students are already there, only the British couple are still missing. They will join at 8:45am.

After breakfast there is a brief explanation round of Hymeir, who talks about the trek to the caves at Bukit Labu. These are two limestone caves, the only in the Ulu Muda area. They are very significant from an ecological perspective, because often limestone caves harbour endemic species not found anywhere else. Limestone caves are an isolated ecosystem, surrounded by a different environment.

Luckily Hymeir can borrow me a pair of leech socks, which some Dutch tourists left here. If you buy them in Malaysia, leech socks cost around RM 45.

Shortly before 10am we start walking into the jungle. The trail runs parallel to the river up to a certain point. It's quite wide because previously this was a logging road. Hymeir explains that we are walking through secondary forest, which surprises me a bit, because I thought that in Ulu Muda there was mostly primary rainforest.

In fact there is primary rainforest in Ulu Muda, but it's much further upriver. To distinguish primary from secondary rainforest it's sufficient to have a look at the undergrowth. Primary rainforests have very little undergrowth, while secondary rainforests have a lot of vegetation in the undergrowth and are therefore harder to cross. Primary rainforests are also darker than secondary rainforests.

We proceed along this trail, stopping every now and then to take some photos. The only wildife we see are birds, insects and other invertebrates. Lots of different types of mushrooms along the way. Group of five lantern bugs on a tree bark.

At 12:30pm we are finally at the entrance of the first cave. This is a relatively short cave, but with a big inner chamber. Nice cave with the usual stalagmite / stalagtite rock formations. I could imagine that this cave might have been used as a dwelling in old or prehistoric times.

Apparently this cave contains a unique ecosystem. Hymeir shows some spiders living there and insists that we walk only where he is walking.

The second cave is quite close to the first one, but the path connecting the two caves is a bit tough (some climbing required). This cave is also quite scenic and not so big. Here the ecosystem is not so impressive, so we are allowed to walk around.

At 1:40pm we are done visiting the caves. We walk back towards the lodge until we find a suitable spot along the river and have lunch there. Then we walk back to the lodge, arriving at 3:10pm.

Because everybody is quite tired, the planned 5pm wildlife boat tour is postponed to until almost 6pm.

Today the area around the river is very quiet (sky is also overcast). We do not see any wildlife except for some birds, but head back quite late to the lodge (we are back at 7:45pm, and it's almost dark).

Quite difficult to navigate on the river, because the water levels are very low and the boat gets stuck frequently in sand banks.

Dinner (delicious tomato sauce spaghetti) is at 8:30pm.

2.9: Ulu Muda
Earth Lodge, Ulu Muda.
Weather: overcast in the early morning, then sunny blue sky. Heavy rain at 1:30pm for about half an hour, then it stops raining and is more fresh. Sky with some clouds after that.

At 9am I meet the other tour participants at breakfast. They just returned from an early morning animal watching boat trip. Again they saw no wildlife, except for some gibbons.

The tubing activity is postponed to after lunch. Lunch is at 1pm, then we get ready for the tubing. But it starts raining heavily, so we wait until almost 2pm before starting.

Tubing consists of being brought upriver by a boat and floating downriver on a bit swim ring, which in our case is the air chamber of a truck tyre. While going upriver we spot a large swarm of hornbills flying in the sky.

Tubing is interrupted every now and then by the shallowness of the river, i.e. we get stuck on a sand bank and have to look for the deep water. On the way downriver we make a stop at a hot spring, where very hot, sulphurous water mixes with a stream of cold water. We are back in the lodge after 4pm.

This evening wildlife watching cruise starts shortly before 6pm. Again we see no wildlife except for the macaque monkeys of the colony along the river. Obviously it's not easy to see large mammals in Ulu Muda.

We are back in the lodge after sunset, at 7:40pm.

Copyright 2014 Alfred Molon