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Part 6: Stong State Park, Tumpat, Kuala Lumpur

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

3.9: Ulu Muda -> Dabong (near Gunung Stong state park)
Rose house Dabong, Dabong. 70 RM for a smallish room a comfortable bed (but very thin blankets), sofa, clothes hanger, tea making equipment, fan, adjustable A/C, attached bath with cold shower. Noisy room facing the main road (tried to get another room, but the other room wasn't available). The Rose house is a privately run small guesthouse in Dabong, a small village in Kelantan in the middle of nowhere, but close to the Gunung Stong state park.
Weather: the whole day sunny blue sky, with a few clouds here and there. No rain.

At 9:15am I have breakfast and meet Steve and Helen (the British couple) who have taken the early morning wildlife spotting boat trip at 7am. Again they haven't seen any elephants (only some otters, an eagle and some monkeys).

At 10:30am we get on the boat and leave for the main jetty of the Ulu Muda lake. After three days in the jungle we are looking forward to some comfortable hotel with A/C, clean water and dry air.

My dirty laundry bag has grown considerably in size, my towel smells like mud, my camera bag and lenses are all humid. The T-shirt which I washed the day before yesterday is still wet and won't get dry. Not a surprise wiith 99% humidity. And it smells like mud, because the water used to wash it came directly from the river.

Jungle stays are always interesting, but after a while you run out of clean clothes and can't wash the dirty ones if there is no clean water and A/C which dries the air. So we are all happy to get back to civilisation.

Shortly before 12pm we reach the jetty and then proceed to the cars. The British couple has a driver waiting for them, while I load my stuff into my hyperhot car and then start driving to the Gunung Stong state park.

It's only 277km, but it should take almost five hours according to the car navigation system. I've keyed in Dabong (the closest village) as destination because I could't find the Gunung Stong state park in the Sygic app.

The first stop is Baling which I reach a bit after 1pm. There I stop in a KFC restaurant for lunch and for downloading my emails. I've already called Shirley whom I couldn't call for the past three days to tell her where I am.

After the lunch and some shopping in Baling, I continue driving.

The road is not easy. Either it's a more or endless urban area and you never how fast you are allowed to drive, or in the mountains it's a road full of curves. And in many sections the lanes are very narrow and there is no service lane. A couple of times the left wheel comes slightly off the paved road, forcing me to initiate a risky 'recovery' manouver. They could make lanes a bit wider in Malaysia.

Some Malaysian drivers are a bit weird. Red traffic light, the car in front of me ignores it and drives through. Or I want to turn right and queue up on one of the two turn right lanes. Car from behind me quickly overtakes me on the left side using the other turn right lane. Had I turned right in that instant there would have been a serious accident.

Another example, there is a speed limit of 30 km/h in front of schools, which is routinely ignored by everybody. Then people have a habit of overtaking even if there are double continuos lines (i.e. overtaking strictly prohibited).

Also the road signs on Malaysian streets are a bit messy. Sometimes there is a speed limit, but because they rarely use end of speed limit signs, you never know where the speed limit ends. And sometimes speed limits make little sense, like for instance 60km/h on an interstate road outside of urban centres (you could drive faster) or 90km/h in what looks like an urban centre (limit should be lowered, as 90 km/h is too fast for an urban area).

After a couple of breaks I reach the Gunung Stong state park at 5:30pm. This is reachable with a small road and immediately you can see the majestic waterfall which falls from the mountain.

I drive into the compound and notice that it's deserted, i.e. nobody is there, except for a three people who seem to be a family of visitors. I look for the reception, but it's closed.

I was planning to stay in the Gunung Stong state park resort, which should exist according to the guidebooks, and in fact the chalets exist, but here everything is closed and the whole thing looks like a ghost town.

Thinking that perhaps the resort is somewhere else I use Google maps to locate it, and in fact Google maps shows a different location inside the Dabong village. So I switch on Google maps navigation and drive there.

Surprise, surprise there is no resort in the place Google maps has guided me to. I'm in the middle of a small village and villagers are all wondering what this weird western tourist is doing in a Malaysian car there.

To stop being at the centre of attention, I drive out of this village to a quiet place and check with the Sygic navigation system and Google maps what other hotels there are in the area.

Not much actually, unless I want to drive for one hour. There is a Jelawang homestay according to Google maps, but when I drive there with Google maps navigation, I end up in some other spot of this small village (Dabong). Sometimes Google maps sucks.

So I ask some locals for advice. They direct me to what seems to be the only accomodation in this place, the Rose house Dabong.

Some discussion with the owner about the price which seems to be a bit high. 70 RM for the first night, 50 RM for the second night. Upon second sight later I realise that this place isn't that bad. It's just that I got the room facing the main road with all the traffic.

Then the guesthouse owner introduces me to Bob, a local guide who happens to be listed in the Lonely Planet guidebook. Bob arrives and offers a four hours tour to Gunung Stong tomorrow (caves, waterfall) initially for RM 212. This seems a bit expensive. Some discussion and he lowers the price to RM 180 if we use my car.

In the evening I have a dinner in the eatery near the train station. Dabong does have a train station, with probably connections to Kota Bharu and KL.

Later I meet two Italian girls who are travelling on their own in Malaysia. They tell me that they went to Endau Rompin NP and to the orang asli village of Kampung Peta.

When they were driving back in the evening they saw a small tiger crossing the street and disappearing in the bushes and later an elephant.

4.9: Stong state park -> Gua Ikan -> Gua Musang -> Dabong
Rose house Dabong, Dabong. This morning there is no water, so I have to wash myself with a bucket.
Weather: in the morning a mix of sunny and clouds, quite hot. After 5pm it starts raining heavily in Gua Musang, it rains more or less heavily on the road back to Dabong, and it is still raining in Dabong at midnight.

At 9:30pm I meet the guide who Bob arranged for me. It's a guy from the area, in outdoor gear, who speaks some English but is not too fluent.

We drive initially to the Gunung Stong park for some far away photos of the waterfall, then drive to the Gua Ikan cave complex near Dabong.

The Gua Ikan complex consists of three caves: Gua Gelap, Gua Pagar and Gua Keris. From this I conclude that 'gua' in Malay probably means 'cave'.

Near the caves there is a parking with a restaurant / shop and kids playground (entrance is free). We park the car there and walk to the caves. The caves are over the street, immediately opposite this parking.

We walk through the bush and luckily there are no leeches. Then my guide (forgot his name) finds a narrow passage in the rock and we slide in.

This passage is very narrow and at one point you must literally crawl on the ground under a rock. The maximum vertical height is around 20-30 cm. If you have too much belly or are too round, you either get stuck or can't get through.

After this narrow passage the back of my shorts and of my T-shirt are in mud colour (I slided in on the back). This passage probably becomes impassable when it rains.

We then get out again into the open air and walk up a steep path to the Gua Keris cave.  This has a large entrance and a large interior chamber. From one hole at the top, at 11am there is a sun ray (called 'god light') which illuminates a spot. Quite cool light effect.

We continue to the Gua Pagar cave. Both caves have interesting stalagmite and stalagtite formations. Not as impressive as the caves in the Mulu NP, but very, very nice. One of the caves has a slope with small pools on terraces. Haven't seen such a rock formation in any other cave so far.

In any case these caves are not easily accessible for anybody. Due to all the climbing and the narrow passages, some minimum level of fitness is required. Kids probably must have a minimum age, but it should be easier for them to slip through the narrow passages.

Probably because I take too much time shooting photos we don't visit the third cave, Gua Gelap. We are back at the parking at 12:15pm. There we have a short break, then drive to the Gunung Stong state park, arriving there at 12:30pm.

This time there are some people in the cafeteria of the park. Again, also here there is no entry fee. We walk to a staircase which leads to a path to the waterfall. The path proceeds across lush jungle.

Shortly before 1pm we reach the place where one can swim in the waterfall. Further up we see a group of Malays who are walking up the waterfall. Probably they want to reach this viewpoint at 540m altitude, and perhaps even spend the night up there.

I don't have a towel with me and no replacement underwear so I just walk a bit into the fresh water to cool down a bit. At 1:20pm we slowly start walking back to the car. Then we drive back to Dabong where I part from the guide. I have lunch again in the same place where I had dinner yesterday.

A bit before 3pm I'm back in the car and this time I drive to Gua Musang. Can't remember why I put Gua Musang on my list of places to visit, because (as I realise later) it's not that interesting. I must have read about it in some online forum. Only the Rough Guide lists the cave in Gua Musang as something worth visiting.

Almost frontal collision with an idiot who is overtaking another car, suddenly popping up from behind a curve and realising that there is not enough space for overtaking. Similar situation later when a car from the opposite direction overtakes a motorbike right when I'm passing by. To avoid a collision, I have to brake completely, the wheels are screetching on the asphalt.

In any case, it's 73km from Dabong to Gua Musang and I arrive there at 4:10pm. Then I lose some time locating the cave. I do a Google maps search for 'gua musang cave' but find nothing. So I get back to the Rough Guide and read again the article.

Apparently the cave is behind the old railway station. I drive there, park the car in front of the railway station and walk across the rail track. I try to follow the instructions in the Rough Guide, but it seems impossible to get 20 metres up the rock face and find the narrrow passage the Rough Guide is talking about. I might add that the place seems to be pretty abandoned, as if nobody has set foot here for a while.

I get back to the car (it's 4:45pm and it's about to start raining), pull out the smartphone and look for web reports of this Gua Musang cave. Somewhere I read that it takes one hour to walk up and find the narrow passage, and the path is quite challenging as well.

In the meantime it has started raining heavily, so I give up on the idea to get into the cave (and I guess I'd need a guide and it's too late in any case).

I check what else there is to see in Gua Musang. Not much actually. The old colonial centre and a Chinese temple.

Compared to Dabong which is a small village with a railway station, Gua Musang feels almost like a big city. There are supermarkets, countless shops, banks with ATMs, petrol stations and hotels. This city has an old historic core and a modern section a couple of km from it.

It's interesting that there are hotels. Who would visit this place? Perhaps not tourists, because there is little to see. Perhaps business people. Or perhaps Gua Musang is a traffic node at the intersection of a number of routes and that's why it's relatively developed.

I wait a bit in the car with the A/C switched on, hoping that the rain will end soon. After a while I drive to a petrol station and refill the tank, then to a supermarket for some groceries. Finally at 6pm I drive to a KFC restaurant for some dinner.

At 6:45pm I start driving back to Dabong. The drive gets from bad to worse, because it's already dark when I leave Gua Musang due to all the clouds and after 7:30pm the night starts.

It's a pretty horrible drive, because for large sections the road is barely visible (no reflectors, almost invisible street lines). Because of the heavy rain every now and then the car gets into a big water pool. I'm finally back in the hotel at 8:15pm.

5.9: Dabong -> Tumpat -> Kota Bharu -> KL
Home of Sara, sister of Shirley
Weather: sunny the whole day with some clouds. In the afternoon the sky gradually becomes overcast, but not dark. No rain the whole day.

After checking out at 10:30am from the Rose house in Dabong, I drive to the Thai Buddhist temples near Tumpat. Tumpat is a small town about 10km to the northwest of Kota Bharu, where there are a number of Thai Buddhist temples, probably built by the Thai Buddhist and Chinese Buddhist minorities. For a thoroughly Islamic state as Kelantan (as well Malaysia as a whole) such an oddity is interesting and is deserves a visit.

This morning the road is quite empty until I reach Jeli at the main junction. From here onwards the road becomes quite busy on this Friday morning. Lots of traffic. A large group of people in motorbike are driving on the opposite direction.

I reach Wat Phothivihan, the first of today's temples, at 1pm. Wat Phothivihan consists of a compound with a restaurant and a car parking and several buildings. Its highlight is a 40m long reclining Buddha statue.

FYI, all five temples visited today consist of a walled compound into which cars may drive in and park.

After spending about 20 minutes visiting the temple I have a brief lunch in the restaurant. Then I drive to the second temple of today, Wat Kok Seraya, arriving there after a couple of stops along the way, shortly after 2pm.

Wat Kok Seraya lies only a few km to the north of Wat Phothivihan. It's a short and easy drive if you have a car with a navigation system, but if you don't have a car, getting there can be quite complicated. You'd need to find a tour or charter a taxi for the day.

Wat Kok Seraya is more cute than Wat Phothivihan. There is a big golden stupa right after the entrance gate. A new temple hall is currently being built.The highlight of this temple is the statue of a female Buddha (usually Buddhas are male).

At 2:25pm I start driving to the next temple, Wat Pikulthong. This is located in Kampung Terbak (or Terbok). Inside the compound are a number of buildings and temple halls. The highlight is a 36m tall golden mosaic Buddha statue which stands on a platform overlooking the compound.

After 25 minutes in this temple I drive to Wat Machimmaram, the fourth temple of today. The highlight here is the statue of a seated Buddha, covered with pink-brown mosaic tiles. Also this temple is beautifully choreographed with plenty of decorations.

It's now 4pm when I leave this temple and drive to the next and last Thai Buddhist temple of today, Wat Mai Suwankiri.

Wat Mai Suwankiri is another richly decorated temple consisting of a number of buildings. Its characteristic is a temple in the shape of a dragon boat, surrounded by a moat with goldfish, meant to give the illusion that the temple is floating in the water. Plenty of dogs in this temple.

At 5pm, while I'm there, a monk rings a bell. Several monks of this temple then assemble in a central hall, perhaps for some prayer or meditation.

I drive to the next place, the Pantai Seri Tujuh beach.

Pantai Seri Tujuh is a stretch of beach about 20km northwest of Kota Bharu, not far from the Thai border. The beach is 1-2 km long and quite wide (perhaps 100m).

Where I park the car there are public toilets, restaurants, shops etc. Seems to be a place which locals use to visit often.

When I arrive at 5:25pm there are youngsters riding horses without a saddle on the beach. People are starting to arrive and an open-air market is being set up.

I have a closer look at the beach. Could be ok (is reasonably clean), but there is absolutely no shadow (no trees or palm trees under which to stay when the sun is strong). The sea water looks dirty, actually it's a brownish soup. Not a very inviting place where to swim.

Back to the car (it's by now almost 6pm) I notice an uptick in activity. Even more people, lots of youngsters on motorbikes, market sellers have finished setting up their stands and wares are on display for sale.

Since I don't exactly want to have dinner here, with the smartphone I look for a shopping mall in Kota Bharu. After some searching I choose the KB mall and key it in into the navigation system.

Getting there by car takes around half and hour due to the heavy traffic. Once there I refuel the car tank in a petrol station, then park the car on a parking adjacent to the mall.

At 7pm I have a dinner in the mall. Then I drive to the airport and at 8pm return the car to the car rental (Hawk). Then I check-in and proceed to the gate.

The 21:55 Airasia flight to KL is delayed by 10 minutes, due to the late arrival  of the previous flight. Therefore we land in KLIA at 11:05pm.

I manage to retrieve the luggage by 11:25pm and catch the 11:35pm KLIA Express to KL. At the counter I enquire about family tickets for the train. There are none (they used to have a RM 75 offer) and kids pay RM 15, i.e. a family of four pays RM 100 (2*35 + 2*15).

6.9: Kuala Lumpur
Night spent in the plane and the airports
Weather: slightly overcast, but bright day. Some rain in the evening around 8pm.

Day spent with the family not doing much except for some shopping in the Mid Valley mall.

7.9: Kuala Lumpur -> Abu Dhabi -> Munich
Home, sweet home
Weather: steamy hot in Abu Dhabi, 24C and dry in Munich.

Return flight with Etihad to Munich via Abu Dhabi.

Mess at the cehck-in counter in KLIA where an African woman wants to check-in four huge carton boxes, full of drink bottles. It's as if this woman wants to start a drinks business somewhere. From the endless discussions with the counter staff it appears that this woman is exceeding considerably her baggage weight/size limits.

In any case she blocks one of the check-in counters for about half an hour before being transferred to somewhere else.

Scheduled departure time in KL is 3:25am, in practice the plane takes off at 4am. Airbus 340 jet of Etihad with sufficient spacing in the seats (2-4-2 rows), AC power and USB recharge sockets in every seat. WLAN available in the plane (not free) as well as a GSM mobile network, allowing you to make phone calls.

The only negative of this flight is that Etihad seats us in different rows, not adjacent to each other. The served food in the economy class is not as good as the one of Emirates.

The Abu Dhabi airport is old and messy. With some effort we locate the transfer counter where we want to change the seats. But when we queue up, first a lady spends 15 minutes chatting about something with the counter staff, then some idiots who just arrived jump the queue. Even when told to queue up, they still refuse to do so.

We arrive in Munich shortly after 1pm, then proceed through the passport control, retrieve the luggage and get back home.

Copyright 2014 Alfred Molon