just returned from my trip to gunung stong with ntu’s outdoor adventure club yesterday and still feeling the effects of the exertion. not that i mind, considering that the experience itself as well as the people that i met made it all worthwhile.
gunung stong is a small mountain located in the mt.stong state park in kelantan, malaysia. it is famous for being home to the highest waterfall in south-east asia, at a height of about 900 metres.
the journey started with a ride on bus 170 from woodlands across the causeway into johor. having used that service a few times, i maintain that if want to see the really ugly side of people, just hop on that bus during rush hour. it is a classic demonstration of “every man for himself”.
sarah and yiling looking real happy inspite of the fact that they were standing in a sea of raised armpits. this scene caught my attention with the lines converging towards the girls in the centre, and the fact that they were nicely lit by the light they were under.
upon reaching johor, we had to get past the checkpoint to get to the train station. it was my first time in the new complex and it was massive. in fact, overly so, with the barriers and the snake-like routes compounding that. no pictures here as i was not sure about their policy on photography and wanted to err on the side of caution.
time was getting a little tight as we were caught in traffic earlier for a while. we reached the station around sunset and thankfully, the train was a little late (apparently, it always is) so everyone got onboard. would have had been a pity if the trip ended even before it started.
the group occupied an entire sleeper carriage of the train. the sleeper car is basically 2 rows of double-decked beds separated by a centre aisle for walking, with unclean bedsheets. obviously, we are not talking the orient express here so something has got to give. to be frank, it was bearable, really.
tze min and yiling enjoying their new digs.
what i saw before i went to bed. i managed to get some sleep, which is surprising because i am not much of a sleeper and have problems with new environments. must be the rocking motion of the train. rather hypnotic after a while.
we reached dabong, a railside town, before sunrise. went to a little malay cafe for breakfast, which was rice with fried chicken and really spicy chilli. you should have seen the chilli padi, it was puny. you just need 2 or 3 of those in a grown man’s mouth to take him down.
after the darkness dispelled, we were left with a gorgeous foggy scene. some of my favourite photos from the trip are in the series below. a really promising start.
abandoned train carriage. no longer much use for ktm, but plenty of use to me.
getting in a bit closer.
the fog gave everything it enveloped an ethereal glow. i was commenting to a friend that you could shoot blindfolded and still get some nice stuff.
sarah posing with the train. good thing this one does not move.
the train station a little later in the morning. you won’t believe this, but i actually think there are people who do nothing but sit in those blue chairs the whole day, watching life go by. no wonder the railway and the idea of the journey are metaphors for the journey of life itself.
sarah’s holga. a pity we didn’t use it much. would have been fitting, given the rustic nature of the place.
after monkeying around while waiting for the guides, taking pictures and picking up some supplies, we headed off to the “guas”, or caves, to do some caving.
we encountered steep slopes throughout the trip. this was the first of them. we literally just walked off a main road to reach the caves.
the caves were created due to plate movements, water erosion, changing sea levels and other geographical concepts that i am no expert at. some of the limestone formations were beautiful, though there were parts where we had to get on our bellies to cross.
this is heng, one of our guides. he is a quiet fellow, always the silent but vigilant guy who ensures that everyone is fine. caught a quick portrait of him while he was taking a smoke break, with the light from one side of the cave to give him a strong, high-contrast look. these guys take plenty of smoke breaks.
we chanced upon this beautiful, fleeting shaft of light. it remained for maybe a few minutes, before losing its intensity. i am not sure who the girl in the picture on the right is, but i think the pose is really great.
after finishing with the caves and lunch, we started the 3-hour ascent towards the top of gunung stong. having to contend with a substantial load while traversing steep inclines and slippery slopes was more challenging than i initially anticipated. i had thought that the trip would be an enjoyable “walk in the park”. boy, was i wrong.
a happy accident. i didn’t see the rainbow with my naked eye but the camera caught it, like a third eye.
one of the seven tiers of the waterfall. yo, another one of the guides, said that the waterfall was tame this time of the year. it seemed more like a trickle compared to the gushing torrents during the periods with the heaviest rainfall. he also explained that it would be foolish to attempt to scale the mountain then, as the slippery surfaces would be too dangerous.
that is yo above. i asked him if he had always lived in these parts and he said that he was originally a “cityboy” living in kota bharu (kelantan’s capital) before this place stole his heart. slow-paced and carefree.
at the end of the climb. notice how happy everyone is. this is really reason to be happy.
the photo on the right was shot from the edge of the waterfall, or what the locals term “the viewing gallery”. i wanted to kick myself when i realised that i did not take a shot of the view when the town below could be seen.
after setting up camp, we washed ourselves in the rock pools before cooking dinner, it was already drizzling a little. the drizzle developed into a full-blown storm while we were preparing dinner and drove us into one of the shelters, which was little more than a collection of wooden sticks and planks. we had dinner there, amidst great company and not too bad food, before heading back to our tents to rest for the night.
the next morning began with breakfast. we had roti prata, pancakes and curry, and of course various permutations of them mixed together with some other ingredients. not too shabby for outdoor cooking.
shortly after breakfast the fog descended. thus, more foggy pictures.
we then packed our bags and left them in the tents before heading on a waterfall trek.we took a jungle track instead of simply walking up the rock surfaces for the sake of safety. according to chye kiat, the trip leader, some parts required you to leap across, failing which the results are not really desirable.
fu yi, sean and ray posing with one of the waterfalls.
first you climbed…
then you slide, like sarah.
the highlight of the day was getting to slide down one the waterfalls. it was about 10 to 15 metres high and threw you into a pool of water at the bottom. some of the local regulars were doing it standing. seemed pretty crazy to me. maybe they were not getting enough oxygen to their brains, given the altitude.
we broke camp around mid-afternoon and started our descent. we thought that we would be required to go down the way we came up, which was not a very comforting thought. then we realised that there was actually an easier route to go up and down. took us half the time we did to get to the top.
we then washed up at the foothill while waiting for the vans to take us to dinner and then back to the station. saw an enormous millipede. it was a size 6, same as sarah’s feet.
after dinner we sat around the train station sharing stories and just talking, waiting for our ride to take us home. i have to say, i thoroughly enjoyed the trip, as well as am pleased to have met all the wonderful people i shared the experience with, a quick shoutout to them – chye kiat, xuan jie, ray, sean, jean, belicia, lauren, evonne, fu yi and of course, sarah, tze min and yiling.
will be definitely looking to go on more of the trips organised by odac (mount kinabalu, especially)!
for more posts on my thoughts, click here.
for more posts on photography, click here.
to see the rest of the selects from the trip, visit my facebook album by clicking here.