A jungle trek at Datai - Pulau Langkawi, Kedah Malaysia
As glimpses of the first rays of a new day reflects off the morning dew, day creatures begin to stir in their little cubbyholes, night creatures shuffle wearily back into their dark holes. An early morning start was required to catch the early activities of the jungle inhabitants, so off we went to the forest reserve that nestles the Datai and the Andaman Resort at the secluded Datai Bay . If you're not staying at these 2 resorts, the reserve is quite a distance away. (About RM75 by taxi from town but they may charge double for a return trip). There are however, trips that can be arranged with your resort costing RM100 - 130 per adult and that includes a door to door drop-off. The nature guide present is Irshad, a gentleman with an intense passion for the rainforest and all that live in It.. he hardly misses a skip.
Unlike the open plains of the African lands where large mammals and birds roam, the rainforest is a perfect hiding place. Everything seems to dissolve into the thicket, laced with lianas and aerial roots, decorated with plants living hundreds of feet above ground, fungi popping up after the rains on rotting trees or fresh dung and traces of disturbances leftover from midnight feastings. These are all tell tale signs of a complex ecosystem but to the untrained eye - an utter mess! But as Irshad took us down the winding trail just off the tar road, he opened our eyes to life!
A resident Hornbill floated overhead, in search of a fruiting fig tree. It was a surprise for us to learn that the female Hornbill makes her nest in holes carved into dipterocarp trees where she is confined until the young are old enough to leave the nest. The male hornbill seals her in by covering the entrance to the hole with bird droppings, mud and twigs. A tiny peephole is all that is left of the opening where he feeds her on a regular basis. When the chicks are ready to leave the nest after 3 months of incubation, the mother chips her way out. Hornbills are monogamous and that means they stay in pairs for life.
Insects abound in the jungle and the constant buzzing noise may get a little too much and as sudden as it begins, it ends. There are cicadas, beetles of all kinds - dung beetles rolling balls of fresh deposited animal dung back into their dens, leaf beetles chomping on their favourite foliage and a great variety of butterflies. Most times, you will get to hear them before you get to see them. Irshad spotted a Greater Racket-Tailed Drongo flitting up and down nearby picking insects off the air. These birds are easily recognisable. They have forked tails with elongated outer tail feathers, their body is jet black against the soft backlight. Medicinal plants are found everywhere. Irshad is great at pointing out to us medicinal plants that have been used for generations by the 'orang asli' (indigenous tribes) and a couple more that are in the limelight for potential breakthroughs in the quest to find cure to various illnesses.
Although the tour lasted only 1½hours, it gave all of us a fair idea of how valuable the rainforest is to us and spending just that much time in the jungle made us feel that there is so much more out there we can learn about. The walk ended on the private Datai Beach. For more on the pricing of the trip, please go to Jungle Trekking in Langkawi or Bird Watching in Langkawi
Mangrove Swamp and Cave Adventure
The tours vary somewhat in terms of price and itinerary. If you are one of the lucky ones who are not travelling on a tight budget, then book your trip with your resort. Well-versed nature guides will take you on a 3 or 4 hour tour; thankfully there are a handful of naturalists residing on the island . Their knowledge of the fauna and flora in the area creates an enriching experience for their guests. It's all worth every penny - especially for children- it's reality- it's National Geographic with narration minus the frame!
But if you're on a tight budget, then perhaps you may want to hire a boat of your own. It would turn out much cheaper if you have more people to split the bill..cost per boat is RM400. However, the guide may not be as knowledgeable as the ones mentioned earlier nor are they proficient in English but you can still have a good time and learn a thing or two about our precious mangroves. If you intend to try the latter, then make your way to the little jetty at Tanjung Rhu on the northeastern point of the island. There are no public buses to Tanjung Rhu, 22km from town and the trip can cost you RM40 by taxi. Hiring a motorbike (going rate of RM35) or a Kancil (the economical 850cc putt arounds that can cost around RM60 per day-off-peak) may be a good alternative. The coastal road leads past the exclusive Tanjung Rhu Resort and ends at a public beach. Shops have been set up here, selling batik and food. You could stock up on water and snacks for the trip here although it will be a little pricier than town. Head for the river, follow the dirt road behind the row of shops and there will be boats there for hire. It is best to get there by 10.00am. When the tide recedes the boats will not be able to leave the area.
The itinerary may not be the same for whichever tour you take and with whom. Our itinerary started with a short boardwalk to the Bat Cave (Gua Kelawar) introducing us to the residents of the dark chambers: a colony of bats hooked to the ceiling of the cave. As visitors enter the cave, the rustle of wings and squeaks of the young immediately calls for attention. The cave was once packed with bats but with a stream people dropping in on them throughout the day, a great number have shifted their sleeping quarters to other more obscure caverns found scattered throughout the archipelago.
The dank, dark corners give a certain feeling of unease for some of us. Being city girls in our group of four and coming to terms with exposing ourselves to the possibility of being on the dinner menu for a couple of hundred blood sucking vampires... was not our idea of an adventure. To our relief, we were told that the bats were in fact, fruit bats and not Vampire Bats. All the same though, these creatures hardly look adorable. But they really are harmless, preferring fruits and flowers to blood and they help pollinate the trees and plants around. The locals used to shovel the guano (bat droppings) for fertiliser but in some protected areas, this has been stopped as the droppings are essential for the cave's ecosystem. Insects and worms that make up the bulk of the cave ecosystem thrive on the guano.
It's unfortunate that many guides and visitors are not briefed before entering the caves. The delicate ecosystem can be thrown into disarray even if there is slight imbalance felt. The creatures here are extremely sensitive to pollution - even to the slightest such as cigarette smoke and loud noises.
If you have a free hand in planning the itinerary, perhaps another cave close to the Bat Cave may be of interest. The locals used to believe that man-eating swamp monsters lived around Gua Buaya (Crocodile Cave). No reports have been recorded of such creatures but the cave itself is a good place to explore, as it is navigable by a small boat during low tide. There are attractive limestone formations and colonies of bats living within. Check it out for the pure excitement of the trip. There are no lights, no boardwalks, and no human interference - just nature.
Sometimes, to the untrained eye...there seems little life in the still, murky waters. But the mangrove swamp is teeming with life. The area is essential to the ecosystem of the sea. Here is where many sea creatures begin their lives and are nurtured until adulthood. These swamps are the oceans' nurseries. Realising its importance, the wildlife and marine authorities have gazetted the mangrove swamps as nature reserves.
The comfortable 8 -seater motorised boats meandered through canals, opening new faces of the swamp as we sliced through the waters. Monitor lizards were seen swimming in shallow waters. These reptiles are efficient swimmers and can dive, sometimes remaining under water for a couple of minutes. Once, wandering in a local village I met a group of young boys dragging a large 4-foot long monitor lizard at the end of a rope. Skilful chicken coop raiders, they are considered pests and are quite often killed on sight. They can get pretty big in size, about 2m from head to tail, but unlike the Komodo dragons found in Indonesia, the lizards here are more afraid of us than we are them - and they don't possess the toxic drool like those Komodo dragons!
Next the boat dropped us at a floating fish farm in a secluded cove surrounded by high vertical limestone and granite cliffs. We had no idea what to expect. From far, the floating platform looked little more than a couple of planks hastily put together. Slightly apprehensive, we stepped 'aboard'. On either side of the main area were nets suspended from holes in the platform. The first one we peered into, we were introduced to a couple of brown reef stingrays. The owner of the farm handed us a bucket of sliced fish and we had a wild time hand-feeding the rays. There are a number of sea creatures kept in the 'tanks' but we shall not reveal too much - it's well worth the trip. If you have children with you, be careful - there are no fencing round the tanks.
After a short stopover, we headed into a tributary and the boatman stopped the engine. He yanked a bucket from the cooler box and hurled its contents into the water, a few yards from the boat. Not long after, a flock of eagles swooped in from nowhere. The amazing thing about these magnificent predators is their precision. Circling eagles swoop down with their sharp talons fully extended as they pick the pieces of chicken meat nimbly off the surface. They skim over the water's surface effortlessly before flying off into the trees to feast on their 'catch'. There are various types of eagles here; the Brahminy kites (46cm) arrive from all directions. These raptors are generally chestnut brown in colour, and white on the head and breast. The White-bellied Sea Eagle (71cm) is the largest of the species present. The sea eagle's head and underparts are white with grey back and wing-coverts. Its impressive wingspan lifts the eagle high above the crowd and is usually spotted soaring in higher altitudes. These birds are the lords of the skies. Langkawi (Lang = eagle and kawi = reddish brown stones found here) is named after the Red Eagles that have made their home in the crags and crevices of the islands long before any human set foot ashore. However, concerned nature guides and conservationists are very much against the feeding of these predators for fear that it may change their feeding habits and eventually interfere with nature's way.
Our next stop at Gua Cerita (Cave of Stories) really has a fairytale story to tell. Of the many versions, here's one told to us.
Long, long ago an ambassador from the fabled kingdom of Rum in Turkey was called upon to accompany a young prince on a long journey to China.
Rulers used to seal strategic alliances or settle disputes through marital arrangements and the prince was to marry the Chinese emperor's daughter. A fleet of ships was sent off on the voyage and all was well until they docked in Sri Lanka. The mighty eagle Garuda had got news of the affair and decided to stop the marriage. He informed King Solomon of his intentions and was forewarned that God's will can never be altered. Choosing to ignore the warning. Garuda kidnapped the princess and hid her at Gua Cerita. Then it sent a blast of violent storms to stop the fleet and finally sank the prince's ship. The prince was thought to have perished and Garuda flew away victorious. One day as the princess was taking a stroll on the beach, she found the prince washed ashore. She nursed him back to health and the couple were rescued later. They were taken back to China and the marriage was consummated. Garuda had failed as King Solomon predicted and the marriage was God's will and His authority cannot be challenged.
The cave is not as grand as the story behind it. Except for some old Arabic script etched into the walls of the lower chamber and signatures of visitors to the cave that dates back to the 1950's, there's not much to write home about. The trip takes visitors round the coast of Tanjung Rhu and if there is time, ask for a cool dip in the sea or a short fishing stopover. The speed ride through wide canals into the open sea, riding along the coast and chasing waves is thoroughly refreshing.
This part of Langkawi is where each one can really feel the flavour of Langkawi ; watch the dolphins' race in the blue waters of the bay and enjoy the sun rays stroking our skin as the wind takes away the day's heat. We ended the trip appreciating nature's way a little more, respecting her a little more. We hope that you may take a little bit of it away with you - as fond memories of your trip to Langkawi..to Malaysia.