Lata Khong

Last month I organised a party for my waterfall friends. It was a very pleasant gathering, we had nice food and of course we talked a lot about waterfalls..:-).

The idea came up to have another meeting, but then at a waterfall. An easy one, no hiking required. One option would be Lata Khong near Karak. As it was a long time ago that I visited this fall for the last time, I wanted to do a recce first.

Lata Khong, a waterfall in the Dua Olak river has an interesting history. In 2003 I met Khong and as were both interested in waterfalls, soon we went out for waterfall hikes. One of these hikes started from KG Sg Dua Olak, March 2005. We had received GPS info about a very remote waterfall in that region. In the left image you see how extremely remote it was (the red trail)! Soon it became clear that this was too hard-core 4WD for us. But Orang Asli told Khong that there was a nearby waterfall, quite close to the road! And that is how we “discovered” what is now called Lata Khong!

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We were quite excited about this discovery, and soon I went back, a few times even. Once with Khong and a few weeks later with another friend, Edward, camping overnight at the fall. It was during this trip that we were wondering about the name of the fall. Of course locals have a name for it, but we didn’t know. So, shall we name it Lata Khong? It started as a joke, but even now the fall is still known as Lata Khong!

Here are pictures taken during my trips. The last picture is a recent one. The fall still looks the same, but the surroundings have changed. Forest has been cleared, access roads have been tarred.

And as was to be expected, more people have discovered the waterfall. When we organise an outing, we probably will not be alone.

Access is easy, you can park your car at the tar road and walk the last part. We decided to explore the tar road until the end and were quite unhappy when we noticed that wide logging roads continued from there. If logging starts upstream, the water quality will go down..:-( And according to the signboard logging is completely illegal. But this is Malaysia….

So not all news is good, but the conclusion of our recce is, that the waterfall is still suitable for an outing. I will plan it soon and then update this blog

Hear are two more GE screenshots. The left image shows how far we have explored, the right one shows how detailed nowadays the GE imagery is, with Lata Khong and the upper fall visible!

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Kathina 2015

The Kathina festival in Taiping was held this year on 8 November. About the background of this Buddhist festival you can read more in an earlier blog The Kathina Festival 2013 . This time Aric joined me. The Sasanarakkha Buddhist Sanctuary (SBS) where the festival is held, is located high up the slopes of Bukit Larut. You have to park your car at the Chinese cemetery, from where volunteers with pick-up trucks and 4WD’s bring you to the sanctuary. Perfect organisation!

When we arrived, around 7am(!), there was already a big crowd, enjoying the large variety of food, prepared by volunteers and free of charge. A very nice, friendly atmosphere. Our friends Mary, Jenny and George had arrived early and were busy distributing mineral water.

There was a remarkable number of Myanmar devotees. I understood that many of them had been helping SBS preparing for Kathina. Another reason could be that Myanmar is Theravada Buddhist, like SBS. Do you know the difference between Theravada and Mahayana Buddhism? Maybe I should write a separate blog about it..:-)

The Myanmar people carried a lot of gifts for the monks and they also performed a very nice musical show, with songs and dancing.

Around 10 am the alms giving ritual started. Very symbolic and impressive. The food stalls closed and everybody received a plastic cup with some rice in it and a small spoon. When the monks were passing you put a little bit of rice in the alms bowl they were carrying.

The atmosphere was solemn. Here are two nice pictures taken by Aric.

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And here is a (too) short video clip

After the alms giving the monks walked to platforms where they sat down to receive gifts from the devotees.

I thought that the monks received here their new robes, but that is not true, the devotees present gifts.  A friend explained that actually only one piece of cloth is presented to the Sangha (the monk community). This is done early morning and during the day this cloth is used to make one robe. Which monk will receive this robe? During the Vassa (the period that monks don’t travel but stay in the monastery) they have to follow many rules and precepts. There are so many rules, that you can easily forget one or two..:-). My friend told me that the monk with the best “precept keeping record” gets the robe. Don’t know if it is true, it doesn’t sound very Buddhist, but it is a nice story.

The last part of the festival is a talk/lecture by the monks.  We listened for a while to the English talk by the head monk (?) before we walked down. This path down had been upgraded by the Myanmar volunteers and was really a pleasure walk, back to the car.

I hope to attend Kathina again in the coming years.

Journal 1-1-2016

During our recent China trip, we stayed one night near the Yangcheng lake, hoping to enjoy a dinner with the famous hairy crabs. It turned out that we were a bit too early, the season was just starting. It became quite an adventure, read the report here. We had hairy crabs, but they were slightly disappointing because there was hardly any roe and that is what makes them a delicacy.

When, end of October, we noticed that the Dragon-I restaurant in 1 Utama had a hairy crab promotion, we could not resist the temptation..:-). The crabs are flown in twice a week from Shanghai, they are not cheap, price is RM 400-500 per kg. In Yangcheng we had to prepare the crabs ourselves, here it was done for us by two nice waitresses who created a real work of art. And as you can see, now there was plenty of roe. Not healthy but so delicious…:-)

The next day I went back to Lata Tampit, this time with Aric, to show him how attractive these falls are. It was a weekday,during my first visit the 5th tier was crowded with people camping, now there were no other visitors. Beautiful large pool.

On 8 November the yearly Kathina ceremony was held in Taiping. In an earlier blog, Kathina Festival 2013 , I have given information about the background of this Buddhist festival. This time I went with Aric who had never attended. About the Festival I will write a separate post: Kathina 2015. Here only one picture of the monks waiting for the devotees to present their gifts

When I am in Taiping I always want to have a look at the Old Resthouse, probably a masochistic streak in my character. It is a real eyesore, half hidden behind a fence that proudly advertises the heritage of Taiping. But of course I still enjoyed my stay, meeting many friends…:-)

Recently I have written a post Kanching Mission(s), where one of the missions was to check for my friend Joe Yap if there was a lot of rubbish. There was, so she started organising a cleaning operation. I could not attend the event itself, as I would be in Laos, but I met her in Kanching a week earlier, when she went there with some of her volunteers. I met her there with my friend Rahim.. He had never been to Kanching, so I showed him a few of the falls, before it started to rain.

About our trip to Laos I have published already a few posts. More will follow. Here only a picture of an alms giving ceremony in Luang Prabang.

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Several of my friends were interested in Lata Tampit, so I went back for a third time. It will not be the last one, the waterfalls are beautiful, access is relatively easy, a pleasant half-day trip with a nice lunch as reward. Edwin suggested restaurant Wonderland Valley in Bukit Tinggi, and that was a good choice.

We don’t celebrate Christmas, but I decided it would be a good time to have a small party.  From this post you will have noticed that I am still addicted to waterfalls..:-), so I invited friends with a similar interest. My sifu Khong had recently created a personal book with all the waterfalls he had visited, I had borrowed the book to show it to my friends. There was food, a Western style buffet. And I had created a slide show of the waterfalls visited by me during the last 10-12 years. Without identification. After the dinner my guests had to determine name and location of the various falls. Big fun. A nice party

A few days later I was invited for a real Christmas party by my friend Philip. With a Christmas tree, a turkey and lots of other food. And even the singing of Christmas carols, where I surprised myself by joining the others in “Silent Night, Holy Night” :-)

For New Year’s Eve, we have a tradition that we celebrate it at home, with a nice dinner. After the countdown we watch the fireworks at the Curve from our balcony. Nothing spectacular this time, but the dinner was a success.

And so came 2015 to an end. In that year I published more than 40 posts and albums!

I wish all my followers a happy and prosperous 2016!

Laos 2015: Tham Chang cave

The limestone hills around Vang Vieng have many caves. We decided to visit one of them, the Tham Chang cave, because it is on walking distance from the village and considered  by some to be the most famous one .

Not sure it that is true, I noticed considerable confusion on the Internet, probably caused by the fact that Tham means cave in the Lao language, so all cave names start with Tham..:-).

From the village it is a nice walk of not more than half an hour. You have to cross a resort (2000 Kip) and pay for the cave (15000 Kip). Not cheap, but worth it. Steep steps (147, we counted them!) bring you to the entrance of the cave, where a viewing platfom gives you a nice view of the surroundings.

Don’t expect an unspoiled cave here, this cave has a long history, it has been used as a shelter in the 19th century by the local population, during invasion by Chinese marauders. Here and there inside the cave you can still see man-made constructions.

But there is enough beauty to be seen. You can follow several routes in the cave, all of them eroded in the past by water. Fascinating

There still is a stream coming out of the hill, near the start of the steps up to the cave. A perfect place to take a bath. Never seen such crystal clear water! Of course we could not resist the temptation..:-)  The water was not cold at all.

And here is the GE map with the location of the cave

GE

Laos 2015: Pak Ou Caves

The Pak Ou caves are located about 30 km north-east of Luang Prabang and can only be reached by boat over the Mekong river. They are famous because of the countless  (often small) Buddha statues in the caves.  Every day numerous longboats bring hundreds of tourists to these caves.

Our first stop was at Ban Xang Hai , the “whisky village”. The villagers use sticky rice to make rice wine and a much stronger (50%!) liquor. Taste is not bad. They also do weaving. A bit of a tourist trap.

After a short stop at the village we continued. We were going upstream and the skipper was skillfully choosing a route where the current was less. Still it took us about 2.5 hour to reach the caves (a half hour stop at the village included)

Arriving at the cave, we were told that we had 45 minutes to explore. I had been here a long time ago, in 1998(!) and I have a vague memory that we were about the only visitors, which contributed greatly to the atmosphere. Now it was very different with the crowd. Not easy to take pictures without people in it.

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But we have done our best..:-) Here is a collection of Buddhas without people.

To reach the upper cave, you must climb a flight of steps. And you need a torch, no lighting here. Unfortunately we had hardly time to explore.

Going back took less time, because now we were going downstream. On our way back we dropped two passengers at the Elephant Camp, another tourist attraction of Luang Prabang.

Is the trip worthwhile? Yes, it still is, but better you rent a boat and avoid the peak hour. For the two of us it was too expensive, but when you are with a few more people it is worth it. Also you will have more time to enjoy the cave.

Here is a view from the cave of the Mekong river with the silhouette of a serene Buddha and a GE map of the trip.

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Laos 2015: Alms giving

In Theravada Buddhism, nuns and monks go on a daily alms-round  to collect food for there (only) meal around noon. At sunrise they leave the temple, carrying an alms bowl and in a procession walk along the row of devotees.

In Luang Prabang it is a big event and  a major tourist attraction.  Devotees  sit down on small stools and take off shoes and socks. They give rice and small packets of sweets to the passing monks. When you are not a devotee, you should keep a polite distance when taking pictures and not disturb the procession

Not all tourists know how to behave and we had heard about complaints from the local population. After some deliberation we decided to have a look ourselves

At 6 am it was still dark and quiet near our hotel. But when we turned the corner to the main street, there was a big crowd of tourists waiting for the procession to begin. The devotees were already seated. And soon the first monks appeared.

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First only a few, but later more and more. Very impressive. Notice that several monks are also carrying a plastic bag. They collect the rice in the alms bowl and the other food in the plastic bag..:-)

The orange color of the monk robes is so attractive that you keep taking pictures..:-). You will notice that many monks are young, sometimes really only kids. Does that mean that those boys have already chosen for a life as a monk? Not at all, poor rural families often “donate” one or more of their children to the temple, where they get food and an education. When they have grown up, they can decide to become a “real” monk or leave the temple, for example to become a business man…:-)

One more picture of the “tourist part”. The right picture shows food “dumped” by the monks. Not sure if this is just a rubbish bin, or that the food in in it is later given to the poor people. It looks lake a waste..:-(

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We walked away from the tourist crowd. The atmosphere became more relaxed with here and there a local squatting on the pavement, waiting for the monks to pass.

Finally a short video of the procession. Notice how a man hands over something to a devotee(?), by just stepping forward, reaching between two monks. Very impolite!

It was an interesting experience, but we went back to our hotel with mixed feelings

 

Laos 2015: Buddha Park

One of our targets during our recent Laos trip, was to visit the Buddha Park , 25 km south-east of Vientiane. The  park was started in 1958 by Luang Pu Bunleua Sulilat, a priest-shaman who wanted to integrate Hinduism and Buddhism and the park has now become a tourist attraction.

Access is easy, bus 14 from the Vientiane bus station, near the market. The bus was crowded, so many people going to the Buddha Park? No, the bus passes the famous Friendship Bridge, where you can cross over the Mekong to Thailand and most passengers did that. We were sitting next to a friendly monk.

Only a few visitors at the park. Most conspicuous is the giant “pumpkin” at the entrance. You can climb up inside, even in two ways..:-)  The inside is supposed to represent the afterlife (?). From the top you have a good view of the eclectic sculpture garden. A giant reclining Buddha (in concrete) and many Hindu deities. 2015-12-004

Some pictures of the pumpkin, inside and outside. I was expecting to see inside the pumpkin depictions of what your punishment will be when you have sinned, but it was all very peaceful.From the top you have a nice view of the rest of the park

The other dominating feature of the park is the giant reclining Buddha. Hardly any tourists, so the atmosphere was peaceful, although very hot…:-)

At the end of the park, near the Mekong river, there is a restaurant, where we had coffee, beer and french fries (!). Somewhere on the other side of the Mekong, in Thailand, there is another Buddha park, built by the same monk.

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Laos 2015: Hot Air Balloon

On our way from Luang Prabang to Vientaine we stayed two nights in Vang Vieng. If you have been in Laos, you may ask, why Vang Vieng? Isn’t that the notorious backpacker village where young people get drunk (and high), like Torremolinos in Spain?

True, but it is also situated in a beautiful karst landscape with numerous caves. And you can make hot air balloon trips there!  Expensive, but we had never done that before and we would like to experience it once in our life..:-).

At 4 pm we were picked up from our hotel and taken to the field where they were already busy preparing the balloons. Two this time, each can take eight people. First they blow air in the balloon, and after that they start heating the air with a kind of flamethrower.  Then it is time to enter the basket, not much space for eight people plus the skipper, so not easy to take good pictures.

Not surprisingly I was by far the oldest participant..:-). Here is a picture of the skipper and me, just before take-off. Everything was organised very professionally, walkie talkies, gps etc.

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In this video you see how the air inside the balloon is heated, while people are holding the basket, to prevent it from premature lift-off.

Take-off was very smooth, and when the flamethrower is not working, it is completely quiet, because you are “floating” with the wind. I did not find it scary at all, although I could see a few others who held the railing tightly. Here is a collection of pictures. In some of them you will see the second balloon

The skipper can control the altitude of the balloon by burning  (-> going up) or releasing air from the top of the balloon (-> going down). Because the wind direction depends (slightly) on the altitude, he can also steer the balloon a bit. We went so low that we almost touched the tree tops and up until 800 meter. Very exciting.

A video taken by Aric:

Here is the route of the balloon, and the altitude profile. The yellow track is the minivan that took us back to the village (halfway picking up the people form the second balloon)

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The whole flight took only 45 minutes and covered a distance of about five km.. At the end the skipper drops a rope/cable, picked up by the ground staff, who then take care that the balloon lands in exactly the right location. This procedure works well, if there is not much wind. When you book, you get a warning that there might be a last-minute cancellation when the weather conditions are adverse!

A very exciting adventure!

Laos 2015: Kuang Si waterfall

Luang Prabang is famous for its many Buddhist temples, but there is more to see. Nearby are two nice waterfalls. During our recent stay we visited one of them, the Kuang Si waterfall, located about 30 km south-west of the town. A tuk-tuk took us in about  45 minutes to the entrance of the park. The park is not far from the Mekong river.

GE map

The park is a popular tourist attraction with restaurants and shops. Entrance ticket is 20.000 Kip (~ RM 10). We decided to have lunch first.

From the entrance it is about a twenty minute walk to the main fall. On our way we saw nice torch gingers and interesting trees.

Then there was the waterfall. And what a spectacular waterfall it was! A real wow-experience.

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The water is tumbling down in numerous cascades and has formed throughout the ages walls and ridges of what is called travertine , a kind of limestone.

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In the dry season, there is much less water, but now it was very powerful, with a mist of water at the main cascade. Here are a few more pictures. Officially your are not allowed to climb up, but of course some people do. Irresponsible and dangerous, but the photographic effect is dramatic (click on right pic to enlarge).

Here is a video of the main fall

Downstream from the main fall there are several places where you can swim in the attractive milky-blue water. Well organised, there are changing booths and toilets. Travertine rock is solid and not sharp, easy to walk on it.

Of course we had to take a swim too…:-). The water was not very cold, and it was quite special to swim in this milky water.

Ok, one more video. To prove that I really took a swim. And that at my age, I don’t take risks…:-)

It was a very rewarding trip. Not to be missed when you visit Luang Prabang!

 

Kanching Mission(s)

The Kanching waterfalls near Rawang belong to my favourites. Near to KL, easy access. Many tiers, clear paths lead to the lower ones, the upper falls are more adventurous and require some scrambling. I have visited these falls numerous times, it has always been a pleasure.

Yesterday I went again, this time with my friends Paul and Fahmy. For pleasure, but also with a mission. Actually two missions…:-). In 2003 I have hidden a geocache near the upper Kanching Fall. No idea what geocaching is? You can find an introduction on my website: What is Geocaching. In those days I was quite active in this “sport”, nowadays I have lost interest a bit, but I still maintain two geocaches, one in Bukit Kiara and the other one at Kanching Falls . The Kanching one has been found (“logged” is the term) about 50 times, but the last geocacher reported that he had found the location, but the geocache container was missing.

So I had to visit Kanching again, check if the cache had disappeared and if so, replace it with a new container. That was mission 1.

When my friend Joe Yap heard that I was going to Kanching, she asked me if I could report to her about the “cleanliness” of the place. Pollution is a problem for many, if not most, Malaysian waterfalls, too many irresponsible visitors leave their rubbish behind. Joe has organised many waterfall clean-up operations, for example this one in 2010: Major clean-up at Kanching Waterfalls.

She is organising another one to Kanching soon and wanted to know if there was still a lot of rubbish. That was mission 2.

A long introduction. Here is the picture story. When we arrived at the car park around 10 pm, we where a bit surprised that it was so busy already and that the prices had gone up (but what else is new in Malaysia..haha).  Now even including GST! For locals RM 2.12, expats RM 5:30 !  But the place was well kept, clean toilet, some food stalls, a surau

From the car park you follow a cemented trail to the first tiers. Numbering waterfall tiers is not always easy..:-). I follow here the counting of my WoM site,

After the 3rd tier, recently a fence has been built, but without access gate. Strange. Do they want to block access to the upper falls? The cemented steps continue to the 4th tier, before crossing on a bridge. Until here you are in the maintained part of the park, dustbins here and there, not much pollution. Sadly that changes in the upper part of Kanching.:-( I found several places with rubbish.

After about one hour hiking from the car park we reached the upper fall. Fortunately no other people there, so I had time to check the geocache and replace it..:-).

Of course we also took a bath in the top fall and enjoyed the view. Cold water, very clear. A nice location to take pictures.

There are two more tiers, but far upstream, we decided to skip them, maybe we will go again another time. On our way down I found some more rubbish. How can people do that? But we also found two very cute fairy dwellings! No idea who took the trouble to create these miniature houses along the trail. Almost back a monkey family was watching us, if we would leave some of our ice cream for them.

A nice trip!