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Saturday, October 19, 2013

MERAPOH PAHANG : CAVING PARADISE OF PENINSULAR MALAYSIA

 

*Most of the article write up credit to Liz Price

MERAPOH CAVES IN BRIEF
Merapoh is located in the district of Lipis, Pahang. It is less than 10 km towards the Sungai Relau entry point to Taman Negara. Although Taman Negara is the main attraction with Gunung Tahan located there being the highest mountain in Peninsular Malaysia, many are unaware that Merapoh which has at least 85 limestone hills is regarded as a “cavers’ paradise”.
“None of the limestone hills were botanically explored before this. Since the limestone hills are situated outside the Taman Negara, it means that they are not protected and are at risk of development. Merapoh has some nice world class caves. Some caves are archaeological sites, others are beautiful with stalagmites and stalactites, and underground rivers. Some caves are home to a wide variety of cave fauna such as bats, swiftlets, snakes, and invertebrates. These include insects, spiders, beetles, cockroaches, centipedes and millipedes.
Peninsular Malaysia’s limestone hills cover only 0.3% of the land area but are home to 14% of her plant species.  There were plenty of interesting discoveries at the limestone hills around Merapoh – there were rare, endemic plants, and even an un described one.  Merapoh caves and limestone hills will not disappoint you.



Getting there:
Merapoh itself is located directly along Federal Route 8, about 27 kilometers before Gua Musang, Kelantan. This makes getting to Sungai Relau very easy, as you can drive there yourself, or take a bus/taxi/train to Merapoh.  If you’re wondering about the train, there is a small train station at Merapoh, one of the stops along the railway line from Gemas to Kota Bharu. If you’re doing the train from Kuala Lumpur, it is an overnight journey, while the bus is a 5 hour journey and needs to be booked in advance from various bus agencies at Hentian Putra, Kuala Lumpur (take the Gua Musang/Kota Bharu bus).

By car
From Kuala Lumpur, take route 2 which heads toward Kuantan. Turn off at the Bentong/Raub exit (which is not far from the Gombak Toll)and follow signs to Kuala Lipis (route 8). Passing Kuala Lipis, follow signs to Gua Musang. Merapoh is about 20kms before Gua Musang.
Merapoh station on the outskirts of Merapoh town, facing the road into Sg.Relau

By train (from Kuala Lumpur & Singapore)
Although Merapoh has its own station, passenger trains seldom stop here. They only do so upon special request. If you have a group of more than 10 or tickets valuing at more than RM200, request for a special stop at Merapoh when you purchase your tickets. Otherwise, the closest station is the Gua Musang station. Trains to Gua Musang runs daily. For detailed train schedules, check KTMB's website.

By bus (from Kuala Lumpur)
Please refer to the Gua Musang bus schedule for more information. Before purchasing your ticket, please inform the ticketing counter that you wish to be dropped off at Merapoh and then reiterate this to the bus driver as you get on the bus.

By other mode of transport
Please contact us in advance so we can advise you the most practical method.



Cave Expedition
Much of the exploration work and documentation of  Merapoh caves waiting to be surveyed. Currently, 100 caves has been discovered since September 2012 and we believed at least 350 more caves still undiscovered yet.  A few international caving expeditions have explored caves in Merapoh in recent years, they include:

1999 - French cavers from Spelaeological Society of the Ariege - Pays d'Olmes, SSAPO, visited Gua Peningat  and the Merapoh .
2012 - "Croatia Malaysia Speleo 2012". 9 cavers from Croatia together with the locals, explored more than 25 caves and surveyed the larger ones. The best find was a superb river cave with cascades and waterfalls. Found on 16 Sept and named Gua Hari Malaysia, it is about 930 m long and is one of the best river caves in the Peninsula.
2013 - In Feb 4 Japanese cavers surveying caves around Merapoh.

 



ACCOMMODATIONS
Merapoh has a few basic ranges of accommodations with basic facilities for all travelers. The accommodations at Taman Negara Sg Relau are owned by Wildlife Department but operate by their Lodging Contractor while all accommodations at Merapoh village are owned and operated by local people. Advance booking is required.

Accommodations at Taman Negara Sg Relau: (currently under renovations)
12 Chalets, 2 Dormitories, Camp sites

Accommodations at Merapoh Village:
Cavers Club House : Hostel for 20 persons
Chengal Homestay : Hostel for 14 persons
SGI Campsite : Camping for 40 persons
Speleo Inn : Hostel for 20 persons
RA Relau Lodge: Hostel for 40 persons (coming soon)
Hidden Garden :Cave Stay for 20 persons (coming soon)
SMK Merapoh : Hostel for 200 persons




CAVING EXPERIENCE
Merapoh caves have loads of visitor appeal. Some caves have large chambers; others are filled with unique formations or have interesting geology. Some hide pools of crystal-clear water harbouring fish and tortoises.
Gua Hari Malaysia has an almost kilometre-long river flowing through it, forming cascades and pools. In Gua Tahi Bintang, a now dried-up stream had eroded its walls to expose layers of bedding (sedimentary rock deposits) and also carved rimstone dams. Its name is derived from one wall filled with streaky formations resembling shooting stars. Gua Seribu Cerita, meanwhile, has loads of old cave paintings – and possibly some made-to-look-old graffiti, too – along an overhang.

In general, caves in Merapoh can be groups as:
Show Caves
Adventure Caves
Archaeology Caves

SHOW CAVES
There are a few caves in Merapoh that can be categorized as Show Caves. Open to public with a very minimum development to maintain the original environment.  Easy access and suitable for everyone.  Guides is compulsory. We limit numbers of visitors  daily to reduce damage impact  to the cave.

Some of the Show Caves:
Gua Tahi Bintang
Gua Kalong
Gua Sisik Naga
Gua Bilah
Gua Hantu Menari
Hidden Garden Caves Complex


ADVENTURE CAVES
For those looking for adventure experience, a few  caves in Merapoh will not disappoint you. Climbing, crawling, swimming, abseiling, tubing, diving,  just name it and you will get it. Moderate to difficult access, most of the adventure caves in Merapoh require good physical and mental fitness. Guides and proper equipment are compulsory.

Some of the Adventure Caves:
Gua Hari Malaysia
Gua Tagang
Gua Jinjang Pelamin
Gua Katak
Gua Air Mata Dayang
Gua Teluk Gunung

ARCHAEOLOGY CAVES
Merapoh is very potential areas for archaeology if more excavations and expeditions can be done. Merapoh can be likened to an open-air museum, we have found skeletons, cave drawings, fossils and pottery.
Cave paintings are found in a few caves in Merapoh. They are black in colour, which suggests charcoal, and if so might potentially be carbon dated (estimated aged between 100-200 years).

Some of the caves with archaeology element:
Gua Seribu Cerita, Gua Jinjang Pelamin-Gua Susu Kambing, Gua Gajah Gosok, Gua Jambatan Batu, Gua Lima- Rock Art
Gua Bekong, Gua Jebuk- Mammal Fossils
Gua Tahi Bintang- Brakiopoda Fossils
Gua Hari Malaysia, Gua Jambatan Batu- Pottery






FAUNA
Merapoh caves are very rich in biodiversity. It has a vast range of flora and fauna, and even many of the limestone caves are home to a wide range of fauna. This cave fauna ranges from tiny microscopic organisms right through to elephants. However not all these creatures are troglobites (cave dwellers). Some are troglophiles (animals which are found in the caves but can also live outside), and others are trogloxenes (enter caves occasionally). Cave visitors include people and elephants.
During recent field survey by Dr Grismer of La Sierra University California and his team, they were surprised at the high amphibian and reptile diversity in Merapoh, far greater than they expected. They found  a new species of rock gecko and two new species of bent-toed geckos  just with in two nights.




FLORA
Botanists uncover a flora treasure trove in Merapoh hills. The Forest Research Institute Malaysia botanists who conducted scientific expeditions to explore the Merapoh Limestone Hills recently have made many interesting discoveries, an undescribed orchid species and several endemic and rare plant species. At Gua Gunting only, over 200 plant species were documented in just two days. The karsts are highly visible but surprisingly, they are completely unknown from a botanical view point.  Merapoh limestone forest is a unique place as the flora on each hill is so different. One such instance is the discovery of Pararuellia sumatrana var. ridleyi which  was thought to grow only in Batu Caves, Selangor, but was recently found in Merapoh. Another important find is that of a balsam, Rhynchoglossum obliqua, previously known only from Gunung Tupus and another undisclosed site.  The Merapoh limestone forest also harbour species of fern, begonia and balsam that grow only on limestone. The scientist also found the Pandanus irregularis which is endemic to Peninsular Malaysia and grows only on the summits of limestone hills.

Some other finds:
>Spelaeanthus chinii – Endemic to Pahang, it was previously known only from Taman Negara and another hill in Lipis.
>Zippelia begoniifolius – Known from only three collections, the last one in the 1930s.
>Monophyllaea musangensis - Previously known only from Gua Musang, Kelantan.
>Tridynamia megalantha – Last collected in Perak in the 1880s.
>Calciphilopteris alleniae - A rare endemic fern known only from five limestone hills.
>Cleisostoma complicatum – This is the third locale for this orchid which is found in Pahang for the first time.

“Limestone hills have a lot of micro-habitats. At the foothills you get plants suited to damp conditions. On the rock face, there are other types of flora and at the hill top, you get plants which are exposed to the sun. Survey all habitats to get a complete list of the flora. Surveys of fossils, micro-snails and cave fauna are also needed to determine the importance of the hills for wildlife.” says Dr Ruth Kiew a prominent Botanist.





OTHER ATTRACTIONS
Besides cave explorations, the visitors also have an opt to experience other interesting activities organized by local guides and tour operators. The activities will be held at the National Park or at Merapoh village.

Activities : Location : Durations
Kelah Sanctuary - Feeding Fish & Swim Taman Negara 2 Hours
Air Terjun Sg Kelam- Jungle Trekking & Swim Taman Negara 5 Hours
ATV Adventure Ride Merapoh 4 hours
Bamboo Rafting Merapoh 4 hours
Cave Tubing Merapoh 2 hours
Traditional Gold Mining Experience Merapoh 2 hours
Rock Climbing Merapoh 2 hours
Bird Watching Taman Negara 1 Day
Mt Tahan Climbing Expeditions Taman Negara 5 Days
Catch & Release Fishing Taman Negara 3 Days
Overnight at Hide for Wildlife Observations Taman Negara 1 Night
Cave Camping Experience Merapoh 1 Night
Orang Kampung Experience Merapoh 4 hours



FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS

1 Fitness Level?
If you can climb 2 or 3 flights of stairs and walk a mile then you are fit enough for the easy expeditions. Intermediate expeditions require a higher fitness level but you don't have to be superfit or superman.

2 Suitable age?
Our oldest guest was 68 years old whilst our youngest has been 8 so it isn't about age it is about your physical condition, fitness level and outlook on life.

3 Our Safety?
We go to great lengths to make your caving experience a safe one and have had no guests or staff members suffer injuries in a cave requiring medical attention to date. There are many caves in the area in which rock falls and floor collapses are a danger which we avoid and our route planning, preparation, equipment maintenance and guide training are designed to keep you safe.

4 What equipment do you provide?
The equipment supplied depends on the package and ranges from the basic essentials to clothing and footwear. All equipment meets the appropriate standards. Ropes, harnesses, ascenders and descenders are regularly inspected and retired according to manufacturer’s guidelines.

5 Caving attire?
Bring old clothes which you don't mind getting wet, dirty and possibly torn. Bring long trousers or
long shorts that do not restrict your movement. Sturdy shoes with good grip (rubber soles preferred). A change of clothing. A towel. Hairbrush or comb. Insect repellant.
6 Do we damage the caves?
Caves are fragile ecosystems which support unique species the existence of which will be threatened if appropriate policies are not applied. We recognise that using the caves for tourism at all can be damaging and take the following steps to minimize it. Most caves are used infrequently to avoid persistent disturbance.
Guests are asked to follow our guidelines to minimize cave damage and disturbance. Where human traffic can damage the floor we monitor the state of the floor and take appropriate action if damage is noticed. Of the many caves to which guests could be taken only a small percentage are used for tourism.

7 Do’s and Don’ts?
Most importantly - enjoy the experience! But, for your own safety and the protection of the cave environment:
-Leave nothing which you have brought in behind.
-Take nothing out that belongs in the cave.
-Follow your guides instructions.
-Do not smoke.
-Do not eat food which you have touched with your hands until you have thoroughly washed them.
-Do not rush.

CONTACT US

MERAPOH CAVING HOTLINE
E-mail : tamannegara.org@gmail.com
Phone : +6017 9828538