I would like to acknowledge my friend Asyraf Maskan for contributing pictures and videos from his GoPro. He is a savior.
I have to admit that caving can be overwhelming for some people. Try to imagine yourself being locked in a small dark room and trap there for a long time. Those with claustrophobia will not be able to stay for long. Caving is definitely a claustrophobic experience that should not be missed. To make it more interesting, extreme caving adventure sound like a legit thing too if it is done with caution and guide by experience guider. We have heard many news of caving death so many times, so be wary if you want to do caving exploration.
There are many caves in Malaysia notably Gua Tempurung in Perak, Gua Kelam in Perlis and Gua Mulu in Sarawak. Due to the paleogeographical environment of Malaysia, there were many limestone deposits that formed majestic formations like carbonate mounds and huge caves. However, if you ask average Malaysians, they rarely heard about Merapoh’s caves existence. I am also guilty for not knowing about it too because I had only heard about it earlier this year. Merapoh is unique in the sense that the morphology is still quite pristine. Unfortunately, due to human greediness and lack of knowledge within authority agencies, this area is now becoming a hot spot for future mining as it is rich with limestone and even gold.
Limestone hills in Perak are magnificent; however, many of them were explored and brought to the ground for limestone mining. From what I heard, efforts have been made by the authorities to gazette Ipoh limestone as Geopark. However, the mining which had already been taken place had somehow disqualified Ipoh from the list (I hope there is still a chance for it). Merapoh limestones however, might have different claim on the status but it is not easy. Since the land is owned by the state government, anything could happen and unsurprisingly, the royal families have already bought one of the hills. This is making the effort to protect the limestones at Merapoh more challenging.That is why, we came to Merapoh with a mission. Besides exploring and put ourselves in an extreme adventure, we would also want to promote the caves here so that the whole world will see the hidden gem. Every small effort counts.
Until now, Merapoh is known as the gate to Tahan Mount and alternative entrance to Taman Negara. That is why there are many packages offered there will usually include a trip into Taman Negara like Kelah Sanctuary and hike to river and waterfall. Due to time constraint, we decided not to include Taman Negara in the itinerary and just focus on caving. Besides that, the cost is cheaper at rm155 and that includes a night stay at a dorm and a whole day of caving in Gua Hari Malaysia. We arrived late at night (almost midnight) after a four hour drive from Kuala Lumpur. It was a long journey and quite tiring (it is recommended to have more than one driver in a car). The road condition was okay but safety should be the top most priority because there were many huge trucks and single lane road that required us to overtake a lot of time. That night, after greeted by Rosni, the guide in charge from Ra Adventure Travel and Tour brought us to a dorm-chalet which able to accommodate all 11 of us. We were given short briefing on the program for next day before going to bed.
The next morning, we had breakfast at a shop near the main road. Knowing that caving could be challenging, carbs loading is highly recommended before commencing the activity. All of us hopped on the pick up truck which led us to the location using unpaved road. Along the way, we saw many areas had been opened for palm oil plantation. Eventually, we crossed a small bridge with a sign that says Private Property. I was dumbfounded because there is high possibility that the limestone will be mined eventually. According to Rosni, they managed to hold such activity from happening by making a lot of noise. One of it is by organising marathon trail like Merapoh Trail Run.
Eventually, we stopped at a corner where we would begin 30 minutes hike to the cave chamber. The hike was surprisingly long and the terrain was not that easy and leeches only made it worst. Thankfully I came in well prepared by wearing thick sock and inner pants that protect my skin. The socks were worn outside the layer so leeches would not be able to get to my skin. Unfortunately for the others, they were attacked by leeches and some of them were damn huge. Well, at least they contributed their blood to the leech community.
The trek crossed rivers few times and we hiked along the river until we reached the chamber entrance. We were told to leave our lunch at the entrance and ensure that our precious hand phone and camera were properly secured because we would be really wet. The adventure began when we had to crawl underneath the lower rocks and had to crawl for about 10 minutes until the chamber was wide enough for us to stand up. It was complete darkness inside the cave and the noise from running river was loud enough that we had to shout to communicate. Apparently, the cave was formed by the river upstream that carved through this limestone to form this magnificent cave.
The first part of the caving was quite easy and I did anticipate more difficult challenges ahead. When we finally reached a 90 degrees wall, I knew already that this would not be easy. Few of us struggled to climb the rope with waterfall that hindered our movement. When it was my turn, I felt quite nervous but I managed to reach the top. The challenge continued at the top where the water level was high and reached chest level at some point. We had to climb another wall using the rope at the deepest corner. The water was rushing through and the noise was so loud. I could hardly hear any instructions. Thankfully we all managed to pass through the walls even though it took us almost 45 minutes to complete them all.
“This is the part where we had to climb a waterfall with a rope. Do not think too much when you do this and ignore the water rushing towards you”
The cave trail got easier by now and it felt like we were canyoneering. I was caught by surprise when I looked up, the ceiling of the cave was so high. If we were not in the cave, I believe this could be called a canyon. If the rain is heavy outside, the stream would be filled with rapid flow of water and we must climb higher up. It was nerve wrecking at times. At few points, we had to use our body strength to climb low walls and it could be slippery at times. It is important to wear waterproof shoes preferably with rubber soles for better grip. If you were left behind from the group you should trek faster because it was so eerie with the darkness and stream noise. The whole time, I was worried about the water level. ‘what if it rises. How to escape?’
We stopped at a corner where there was enough space for all of us to sit and rest. We were clueless with the time. I did not even think about how long we had been in the cave but it was long enough to make us hungry. At the corner, we took pictures and the flash coming from the camera exposing the structures inside the cave with amazing stalactite and stalagmite formations around us. So far, there were no creatures other than bats. After getting enough rest, we continued the adventure with high hopes that it would end soon. However, according to Rosni, we had another 1 hour of caving to go. I was already tired because we had used a lot of energy to climb, canyoneering and swim.
The trek suddenly became a lot calmer when we passed a quieter environment. The stream was travelling gently and the slope was not that steep. The walls was covered with black and mushy stuff and when I looked up, I could see bats flying around. Apparently we were entering the bat zone and the wall is covered with bat stools.Upon hearing that, I tried my best to avoid touching the walls. Sometimes, bugs would linger at the stool covered wall. I thought this zone was worse than the waterfalls and I need to be aware of the surroundings. The canyon got easier until the end of the cave.
Finally, sunlight! I felt so relieved and took my quiet moment to clean myself and a toilet break somewhere deep in the forest. We would be using the same path to return to our lunch. If we ought to hike outside it would take longer for us to return. The clock ticked at 1.30pm and it would be another 2 hour of going downstream to the entrance. After everything was settled and we were re-energised by the bread, we slowly crawled underneath the wall and returned to darkness. This time around, the pace was faster but some went too far ahead and left us the slow ones behind. Sometimes, I would be hiking alone and it was creepy. I would rather wait for those behind me and hike together with them. At the same time, my lamp was already weakening (I forgot to change the battery after Rinjani hike). With limited amount of light, I tracked downslope and found myself fell many times into the water. Because we were going down stream now, the path was slippery and I had to be careful every time when the slope ended at a pool of water, worrying it could be too deep.
The canyoneering downstream was faster but more challenging. We had to be extra careful to avoid any injuries that will cause many troubles later on. Finally, I reached the notorious waterfall. The climbing down was even scarier especially when we had to let go of the rope and not knowing whether if we were able to reach the bottom safely with our foot. The water was also so deep which made the uncertainty even more challenging.
And without realizing it, we had already reached the crawling part before the entrance. It was a relieved to finally end this caving adventure safely. We had lunch at 3pm and had a blast talking about the experience. Rosni had also found a gold nugget which indicated how rich Merapoh is with natural resources. No wonder, those irresponsible people have been eyeing this area for their greediness. Nonetheless, we were very satisfied with this adventure and got to have lunch together with the leeches. We hiked back to the truck and returned home feeling blessed to experience this.
Before we left Merapoh, we took the opportunity to experience the serenity of this sleepy town. There was a train station but it look more like a bus stop. The passenger train apparently came once a day and it will arrive Merapoh at night. It was an interesting sight. One day, this town will be even sleepier when the highway construction is completed but if the tourism here takes off, the town will be even livelier. For nature enthusiast, this is the perfect chance for you to explore Merapoh. Gua Hari Malaysia is only the small portion of it.