Monday, 30 September 2013

Ipoh and Gua Tempurung Caves

We’ve arrived in historic Ipoh, the capital of Perak district and a town of 700,000 people. We arrived by coach from Taiping bus station to Ipoh bus station in just over one hour, which was a bit quicker than the Japanese took on 25th December 1941! It looks like an interesting place, with lots of colonial buildings, which we want to explore tomorrow.

We’d booked the D’Eastern Hotel for 4 nights on the Agoda website before we left Taiping and, when the taxi pulled up outside we thought he’d stopped at the wrong place, it’s a really luxurious hotel (well, by our recent standards anyway), a really nice marble reception area, proper reception counter, porters, a lift, carpet in the corridors, a credit card style door lock and a big room and bathroom with a doorbell (the room, not the bathroom!) The room has two easy chairs and low table, plus a desk with chair, tv and a kettle and cups and saucers (we’ve been out an bought some tea – Cameron Highlands tea of course, so we can have afternoon tea and cakes from the cake shop next door!).

Afternoon tea and cake - how fantastic!
It was lunchtime as we arrived so we went down to reception to ask where we could get some lunch. In their restaurant next door she said. On entering we thought we wouldn’t be able to (or want to) afford their prices, but we found it really quite inexpensive. A bit more than we are used to paying, but we sat in posh chairs at a table with tablecloth in a beautiful restaurant and were personally seen to by the chef who spoke quite good English. We had 1 Nasi Goreng (fried rice) with chicken between us (which is our norm to share at lunch) and a couple of iced lime drinks, all for RM15 (£3). It tasted fantastic, was beautifully presented and their menu looked full of great things. We’ll be going there again! We like the look of a ‘Steamboat’ which, according to the chef, is a Tom Yam broth and vegetable broth over a flame served at the table, with a plateful of prawns, crab, fish balls and all sorts of yummy things, veges and noodles, with a selection of dips, plus a raw egg. The idea is to crack the egg into the boiling broths, dip the seafood in, like a fondue and, after eating the seafood you’re left with two broths flavoured with the seafood. Sounds great and we might try it tonight. It’s in the menu at RM30 (£6), so it won’t even break the bank!

I was a bit worried when I saw the hotel as to how much it’s costing us, but checking our booking we paid RM98 per night for the room, which is £19.60. How fantastic is that!

Taiping kitten
We’ve been having a bit of a ‘cat-fest’ these last few days. Jackie picked up a tiny kitten yesterday in the market in Taiping, before we left. It just fitted in her hand and was the cutest kitten and well up for strokes and fuss. Jackie thought it was about 6 weeks old and wanted to take it with us! (So did B, he was quite smitten with the kitten!) However, in Ipoh we went out for dinner at a food market (which is a load of tables and chairs surrounded by hawker type stalls selling every type of food. You select a table, noting its number, then walk round the stalls selecting what you want, they cook it and bring it to your table, so you can have something from many stalls until you’re full, including Western food (which we didn’t have!).

Ipoh restaurant kitten
We selected a table near another group of small kittens, with mum cat nearby. These were even younger than the one we saw in Taiping (about 3-4 weeks old) and some were still a bit unsteady on their feet (and a couple looked quite unwell unfortunately). She’d originally had 7 but was left with 4, wandering round the tables, some keen for strokes, some not, but they would play, playfully fight each other and just crash out on the floor when tired in the middle of walkways, with people just stepping over and round them. They had food and water nearby and many people were throwing scraps in their direction, which would have them trotting over. They didn’t like the chicken Jackie saved from our Mee Goreng (fried noodles) though as it was too spicy.

In fact lots of Ipoh restaurant kittens
Anyway, today we thought we’d go out to Gua Tempurung, which is an intricate system of caves (gua is the Malay word for cave) and is the largest known system in mainland Malaysia. It reads very well and it’s possible to do four tours, tours one and two being in the dry and walking on prepared metal steps and walkways with electric lighting. That, on its own shows amazing rock formations with huge stalactites and stalagmites, many joined to form pillars and massive flow stones. Tours three and four start with the dry cave, but then go onto wet caves, where you’re crawling (literally) through streams under low ceilings, climbing (using hands but no ropes) up rock and sliding down muddy rock slides into a fairly uncertain destination, but always after our guide who did it first! Tour four, the one we chose, is the ‘Grand Tour’ and is a three and a half hour tour through 3.8km of underground caves, of which three quarters is in water through natural caves with no lighting (bring a torch! Unfortunately one of ours had almost flat batteries, but Jackie managed – mine was fine!). We phoned the day before to make sure it was on, as 8 people are needed for it to run and it was Monday morning! Yes they said, they’ve got a big group booked in, so turn up at 09:30am.

Ooh, a big cat, I'll just arch my back and look fierce!
Getting to the caves is not easy, there are no tour companies and it’s 20km out of town, so our very nice reception people organised a taxi for us for the day. He would pick us up in the morning, take us there, wait the three and a half hours while we did it and bring us back. It was a bit pricey (for Malaysia) at RM100 (£20), more than the cave trip at RM22 (£4.40) each, but there is just no other way of getting there, so we went for it.

We got there a bit early, which was just as well as there were more cats and more tiny kittens, (about 9 weeks old) one of which was keen for Jackie to pick it up, stroke, cuddle and carry it around for half an hour. I have never seen so many tiny kittens before!

We were joined by an Australian guy of about 35 who has lived in the UK for the last seven years (and loves it there, he doesn’t want to go back to Australia – the first one we’ve met who prefers the UK to Australia!), and very friendly and chatty he was too, we stayed with him throughout the trip. The big group were about 20 young (20 something) Malay’s, some macho fearless lads and an equal number of girls wearing their Muslim headscarves, who spoke some English. Our guide was a really nice Malay guy who spent time talking to us in English as well as Malay to all the others.

Jackie in 'catty heaven' with Taiping kitten
After the dry cave area we ducked under the railings and set off for the great adventure of rock slides, water and caves that required ducking, weaving and lots of paddling, until we arrived at an outdoors bit apparently in the middle of a jungle and we thought that was it and were feeling a bit disappointed. After a brief stop we returned back into the cave system and now it got really adventurous. Now we got really wet, the water being a bit deeper in places and the roof low enough to require crawling on all fours, with our chests under water and just enough room to keep our heads clear of water and roof. It included rock scrambling, down scrambling on really slippery rock and dirt, with some sections where you just had to sit down and slide down very slippery rock into oblivion, some with 9m drops. We had to keep our eyes open as the floor occasionally had holes in it with quite deep drops, one of which we climbed down, followed by another rock slide into more water.

Unlike caves in the UK, which are quite cool places with icy cold water, this was quite hot (we were sweating most of the time) with the water being nicely warm, but cool enough to cool us down and make it feel quite comfortable. The whole experience was great and we’d certainly recommend it to anyone who happens to be visiting out here.

Our Australian friend thoroughly enjoyed it too, he had come up on a private trip from KL and was going off white water rafting this afternoon. I think he’d have quite liked us to have joined him as we and he enjoyed each others company.

No pictures I’m afraid as I didn’t take the phone camera (I didn’t want to wreck another camera!), so you’ll just have to put up with the ‘cat-fest’ pictures we’ve taken these last two days!

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