A Travellerspoint blog

"BLACKWATER JEWELS" OF THE FOREST ON WATER

The tropical peat swamp forest has a sparkle and beauty of its own

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Location of the blackwater region of Pahang

Hardly 20 minutes of my boat ride up river along the blackwaters of Sungai Bebar - the lifeline of Pahang’s largest peat swamp forest – we ran smack into a labyrinth of screwpines (pandanus fascicularis) –typical of peat swamp forest. These screwpines‚ locally known as rasau‚ were everywhere‚ and manoeuvring through the narrow shallow canals created by these screwpines was á test of boating skills.

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The blackwater river - Sg Bebar with screwpine-fringed banks

Never mind the rough overhanging rasau leaves constantly raking our faces and arms‚ like hand saw; getting past these fast-growing “pain in the neck”” species into the open waters of the river was our major hurdle.It was not getting any easier as we pressed on.

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The river turtle is a good source of income for the natives, who'd rather sell their catch than eat it!

A forest dwelling native of the Jakun tribe, apparently looking for terrapins amongst the reed beds‚ cautioned us that the rasau‚ displaced by fast flowing waters following heavy rains two days ago‚ had choked parts of the river as the waters subsided‚ making it difficult even for their dug-outs to manoeuvre.

With the mid-day sun beating on us‚ we sweated as we pushed our boat into the narrow openings created by the overhanging screwpine leaves in parts of the “canals’‚ and where our passage was completely blocked‚ we had to resort to our parang (a long knife) to hack our way through - and even carry the boat - to move on.

To make matters worse‚ dead weeds submerged in the black water would get caught in the propeller‚ and removing the tangle was just as frustrating.

Our native boatman, Lamchun, who knows the terrain like the palm of his hand said that in the past‚ his people‚ who are indigenous to this area‚ had helped to check the spread of the rasau growth as they used the leaves for weaving into mats‚ baskets‚ and food containers.

Sekarang, kita guna daun mengkuang dan nipah (Now, we use mengkuang leaves‚ another type of the Pandanus sp.‚ and the nipah (nypa fruticans),” he said in a typical native accent, adding with a toothless glee. “Bagus juga dan senang cari (Just as good and easier to find). ”

Not long into the trip‚ we came to a miserable section of the otherwise healthy‚ green pandanus swamp- patches of burnt out reed beds.

My guide, Abdul Rahim, a forestry enforcement officer explained that it was the work of the natives.

“They search on the reed beds for terrapins which they sell to middle men and the only way to flush them out is to set the reeds on fire. Sometimes the fire gets out of control and singes patches of the screwpines and other areas. In a way this practice indirectly helps control and keep some parts of the river vegetation free.”

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The dug-out canoe is a favourite mode of river transport for the Jakun tribe of the blackwater river which provides them fish

To the natives, the river is a not only a vital source of food but transport as well. They fish and hunt for their food along the river. In their boats - often in dug out canoes‚ they glide silently over the calm waters of the river‚ listening and watching for tell tale of any disturbances – which can be anything from the terrapins to bull-frogs and the false gharial‚ all of which are endemic to this peat swamp forest – the largest intact ecosystem of its kind in Asia.

It is for this reason, the UNDP-GEF Funded Project on Peat Swamp Forest Conservation and Associated Wetland Ecosystem is taking its PSF conservation initiatives seriously in this area- formulating sustainable management practices, including prudent use of land and the conservation of valuable flora and fauna.

The project’s expert at Pahang-state level, Dr Khali Abdul Aziz, who accompanied me in the “blackwater journey” said, as we hit the open waters of the river : “This river, in its upper reaches which is the project’s core conservation zone‚ is still in its pristine condition.”

Leaving behind our newly-opened trail between the reed beds was indeed a relief. As the fresh breeze swept by, we spotted a pair of Wrinkled Hornbills in a graceful flight over the canopy of tall trees.

And as we steered our boat close to the muddy banks to begin our trek through the peat forest, I also spotted a Grey-Headed Fishing Eagle gliding disinterestedly high above the ramin trees and a number of pied fantails frolicking in a clump of floating screwpines.

“The Bebar area,” explained Dr Khali, as we slipped in our gum boots, “is a bird sanctuary, especially for the Wrinkled Hornbills.

“It is our job to see that the core conservation zone remains intact.To date, we have identified 216 species of plants‚ 62 mammals‚ 192 birds‚ 56 fish‚ 17 frogs and 21 species of tortoises‚ lizards and snakes in our study area. It has great eco-tourism potential. We are already working on trails, birdwatch towers and homestay concept with the natives.”

As we gathered out backpack from the boat to begin out trek, I could feel the freshness of the primary forest and the strong decaying smell of water-logged leaves and twigs (smelt like sulphur!)– a feature of the peat swamp forest.

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That's me, ankle deep in the mucky water-logged peat soil..A trek through the peat swamp forest is a totally new experience.

The spongy soil sucked our boots and walking was often difficult in some parts, but then the “jewels of the blackwater”- wild orchids, ferns and sphagnum, berries, palms, medicinal plants, straggling figs as well as dragon flies, strange-looking beetles and insects- which I came across during the three hour trekk– – gave me a sense of euphoria and satisfaction.

As we nudged on‚ I saw striking lipstick palms, a species that is endemic to the peat swamp forest.

Our path‚ which we had to create by clearing the growth as we moved on‚ was not a bed of roses‚ but festered with thorny growth and uncertainties. We took many tumbles along the way.

Wild rattan‚ some of the bearing fruits that looke like snake-skin,frequently got on our way. We had to be careful of the thorns...

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The venomous pit viper, nicely coiled up possibly after a good meal

Oh, yup! I had a close encounter with the wild-kind - a pit viper that was curled up on a branch. I did not notice the venomous reptile and it was Lamchun who pointed it out! I froze for a moment but recovered soon enough to take a couple of shots of the creature.

The going was not getting any easier as we stepped on a soft mass of mud‚ camouflaged by dead leaves and twigs. My feet sank and impulsively my hands went for the nearest support to keep me falling-I had grabbed the thorny fronds of a wild palm. Ouch! my palms were all pins and needles! I removed what I could and applied some surgical spirit.

But what caught my eyes was a spray of chilli-red flowers‚ shaped like little trumpets‚ hanging loosely from a slender stem that appeared to be growing out of mossy trunk of a buttress tree.

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The monkey lipstick flower..a wild orchid which is endemic to the peat swamp forest

They were beautiful and I wasted no time in taking a couple of close ups. These flowers are known among the natives as “gincu monyet"(monkey lipstick) because the monkeys love to nibble on them!

Occasionally‚ we spotted dragon flies – jewel bright‚ blue and red ones‚ flying about and perching on decaying twigs floating in puddles of still‚ brackish water. Where there a heavy concentration of flowering plants‚ we came across bees and flies‚ apparently‚ investigating the flowers for nectar.

But sadly‚ as it was getting late‚ we had to leave the “ jewels of the blackwater”‚ to be explored‚ perhaps‚ with more time in our hand‚ another day.

And the trek back to our boat is another story...

Footnote: Pahang, the second largest of the 13 Malaysian States, boasts the country's most well-known National Park (Taman Negara), in the district of Jerantut, and the famous Cherating beach washed by the South China Sea. Club Med is also located here, along with strings of backpackers guesthouses and chalets.

Posted by danalasta 20:53 Archived in Malaysia Tagged ecotourism Comments (0)

THE "FLYING DUTCHMAN" OF BORNEO

The pendulous nose Proboscis Monkey smells problems...

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The location of Klias Peninsular in Sabah.Pulau Tiga where the first Survivor series was filmed is up north

The fact that the Proboscis Monkeys (nasalis larvatus) have not yet become a “show-piece ” for tourists was one reason I decided to visit Kg Masiguan, a sleepy Bisayan village by the fringes of Padang Teratak, a huge brackwater lake in the Klias Peninsular of Sabah.

Forking out RM120 to charter a fibre-glass boat, I threaded my way out of the narrow canals into the open waters of the lake where I spotted several floating huts, which the Bisayan fishermen call the sulap. They serve as “rest-houses” for fishermen taking a break while fishing‚ mostly for prawns‚ in the huge lake.

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Kg Masigua, a typical Bisayan village by the lakeside in Padang Teratak

As my boatman‚ Jauhari steered the boat into a canal‚ I heard a crashing sound high up in the canopy. Ah! That must be the Proboscis – the noise from the outboard motor must have disturbed the primate’s peace.

I instructed Jauhari to switch off the engine and take to the paddle to get closer to the nipah fringed banks.

There were movements in the branches and my eyes followed, trying to track down the Proboscis of which I had only ready in journals, and have never seen one in the wild.

Tuan, ada satu (there’s one),’’ Jauhari said in Malay with a strong Bisayan accent, pointing his finger in the direction of a leafy tree.

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A Proboscis Monkey, challenging our encroachment into its territory. These primates are totally protected and are not known to survive in captivity.

Standing up in the boat with my camcorder in my hands, I looked fixedly at the tree. There it was – the bizarre and grotesque-looking creature with its “trademark” looks - the huge and flabby pendulous nose that covers half its face!

Itu jantan (it’s a male), ” Jauhari whispered, and touching his nose said, “Hidung dia lebih besar. (The nose of the male is bigger.)”

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A close up of a Proboscis Monkey.

I got the impression that male was staring at me and poised to spring to another branch. And when I did‚ I was more amazed and fascinated by its agility than its elongated and rubbery nose which seems to mismatch its body shape.

In a flash the “Flying Dutchman” (the Bisayan call it Monyet Belanda or the Dutch monkey) that was within the view of camcorder was missing‚ and I was reduced to watching a female proboscis rocking herself back and forth in the treetops.

She catapulted out of the branches with arms outstretched--in a parachute free-fall stance--to sail across to another tree. She was followed to exactly the same place by the rest of the harem‚ and finally a male which leaped from branch to branch with the agility of a gymnast and a kind of grace which belies its clumsy appearance.

Once you get the hang of it‚ unlike the dusky-leaf monkey‚ or the macaques‚ which can hard the detect amongst the trees‚ the Proboscis‚ because of their bright orange-gold fur and size‚ are quite easy to spot – even from a distance - if you are alert.

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The floating rest house (called sulap)is where the Bisayan fishermen take a break.

Reading about these magnificent primates before you venture out to see them in the wild helps‚ especially when you do not have a nature guide to provide you a running commentary!

To the villagers‚ who make a living catching or trapping fish and prawns from the huge lake‚ the Proboscis Monkey is just another animal of the wild with no significance.

Since the mangrove and the peat swamp forests are the Proboscis Monkey’s primary habitat‚ the UNDP-GEF Funded Project on Peat Swamp Forest (PSF) Conservation and Associated Wetland Ecosystems (Malaysia) has picked the Proboscis to “lead the way” in the project’s PSF awareness and education initiatives in the Klias Peninsula.

My job, as media consultant to the Project’s awareness raising programmes, is to draw up an action plan and it was the reason I was in Padang Teratak to evaluate the region’s eco-tourism potential as how the local community can benefit from it.

If Padang Teratak’s nature tourism sector is developed with local involvement‚ conservation would also have the potential to raise local income levels and create additional employment- something which the project has in mind.

The villagers of Kg Masikua are already looking forward to the day when their area which boasts the largest number of Proboscis monkeys‚ will be an “alternative nature tourism hot spot.”

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The lake in Padang Teratak...a favourite stop over for the migratory milky stork..

And Padang Teratak’s Proboscis colony - as well as other species dependent on peatland‚ including the local inhabitants‚ comprising mainly of Bisayan farming communities‚ are covered in the project’s five year study which ends in 2007.

The study does not discount the possibility of recommending the designation of Padang Teratak as another wildlife sanctuary – like the Kinabatangan Wildlife Sanctuary and the Klias Wetlands- for both the Proboscis and bird conservation.

Too little is known about this primate. Unlike its more famous cousin‚ the Orang Utan‚ which has been studied‚ both in the wild and captivity‚ the Proboscis will usually die soon after capture -- literally starving themselves to death even in large enclosures‚ no matter how lush or lavish their living area is.

Which is why these monkeys cannot be seen in zoos and receive much less attention ‚ even among scientists and researchers‚ compared to other primates.

They are best left to themselves in the mangrove and peat swamp forests of Sabah‚ Sarawak‚ Kalimantan and several smaller surrounding islands where they constitutes a valuable part of Borneo´s natural heritage together with its more famous cousin‚ the Orang Utan.

But with their feeding and nestling grounds disappearing rapidly to land clearing and development‚ anxiety is creeping in‚ compelling conservationists to take a more serious look at future of the Proboscis in its habitat.This part of Borneo is the only region in the word where the Proboscis are found.

To make matters worse, the primate’s habitat is being slowly‚ but surely gnawed away by poor land use‚ overdose of chemical fertilizers and ill-advised land management practices. The very nature of the nutrient poor peat soil means extensive use of chemical fertilisers which in the long run‚ are certain to harm the lake’s rich resources and the ecosystem eventually.

But the Bisayan people, like Jauhari, who aspires to be an eco-guide, need to be told how to protect their precious land from further exploitation.

These were some of the questions that raced through my mind as I followed the Proboscis trail around the lake in the boat‚ reducing the engine to a hum whenever we chanced upon a troop of the primates‚ either frolicking in the trees or feeding on the mangrove (Sonneratia) leaves‚ though sometimes they settled for small fruits and the buds of nipah palm.

According to studies‚ an adult can munch up to 1‚800 of the bitter tannic mangrove leaves. Their partitioned stomach is equipped with fermentation chambers in which‚ as with cows‚ the digestion of the leaves is facilitated by special bacteria.

My boatman who sounded excited about the prospects of Padang Teratak becoming a nature destination said the proboscis monkeys often ventured close to the villages‚ not to forage for food but mostly out of curiosity. But the villagers do not live in fear of the proboscis; nor do they poach or hunt them down.

He said the primate did not disturb them. “Dia bukan macam kera (they are not like the macaques)…nakal atau curi makan (mischievous or steel food).”

While they all have red hair‚ the male is nearly twice as large as the female‚ pot-bellied. The nose‚ particularly in males‚ has developed into an oversized organ which‚ besides being used in sexual display‚ also functions as a voice amplifier.

Studies suggest that the male Proboscis Monkeys have large noses because they provide a large surface area from which to lose excess body heat in the humid warmth of the tropical swamps. This organ is so large that‚ during feeding‚ the monkeys have to push it aside with one hand!

When fleeing from predators in panic‚ the mature and dominant release trumpet-like yells to scare away any pursuer. During these warning calls the red nose - which dangles placidly at other times - swells grotesquely into a horizontal position.

Proboscis Monkeys live in two types of groups -- the bachelor group and the harems. Bachelor groups will consist of around five to ten male monkeys with no dominant leaders. Such groups do not usually interact much‚ with each monkey finding its own food and taking care of itself but the group will explore the forests together.

A dominant male will be the “head of the family”‚ becoming a master of about 10 females and their babies. It will also try to father as many children as soon as possible‚ for older adult males will be displaced by mature males from the bachelor groups. When this happens‚ the older male will be banished from his harem and all dependent infants in the harem will be killed by the victorious male.

This is done by the new dominant male in order to get the female monkeys pregnant with his off-springs more quickly.

The way Proboscis Monkeys take care of their young is also rather unique. All mothers within a family group with dependent toddlers will take turns to take care of the young toddlers while the other mothers hunt for food.

Another unique characteristic is their unusual affinity for water. According to the villagers‚ the proboscis‚ usually in late evening‚ are known to play in the water before they retire to a suitable location to nest for the night‚ not before making a roll call -shrieking loudly at each other !

Under the Malaysian law, the poaching of a proboscis monkey carries a RM100‚000 fine and/or a 10-year jail term. To date, however, no one has been prosecuted under this provision.

But it is the primate’s habitat destruction more than its poaching is worrying.

Posted by danalasta 23:28 Archived in Malaysia Tagged ecotourism Comments (1)

LOAGAN'S LURE...

Sarawak's largest freshwater lake is a sunset haven

semi-overcast 29 °C

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Mesmerising...On a fine day you may soak in the warm colours of the setting
sun over the lake in Loagan Bunut National Park

Sarawak‚ the largest state in Malaysia‚ has 16 parks. The Loagan Bunut National Park‚ about three hours’ drive away from Miri‚ is one of them.

Gazetted in 1990 by the Sarawak State Government‚ the Park’s star attraction is its lake - the pride of the Berawan (an indigenous tribe) community who call it “Loagan” (meaning lake). As the largest natural lake in the “Land of the Hornbills”‚ it occupies 650 hectares of the 10‚738 ha park.

The fascinating feature of this lake is its “vanishing act” which reduces the lake to a huge expanse of cracked mud‚ especially during extended drought‚ usually for about two to three weeks in February‚ May or June.

Mother Nature plays the role of a “magician” in the lake’s hydrological phenomenon. The water level in the lake fluctuates in response to those of the Tinjar and the Baram rivers. As the water level in those rivers drops significantly‚ the flow in the Bunut river is reversed and the lake begins to drain.

It is this phenomenon‚ and the park’s rich biodiversity and scenic‚ yet unique‚ landscape‚ that has been drawing visitors in search of something different.

This remote park which is managed by the State Forestry Department‚ protects a complex mosaic of wetland habitats housing diverse life forms.

It is a conservationist’s “natural laboratory”‚ providing scope for research into the park’s biodiversity – ranging from endemic tree species of dipterocarps including dominating population of Alan Bunga (shorea albida)‚ an ox-bow lake‚ freshwater peat swamp forest‚ dryland forest‚ rivers and riverine forests.

The Park is home to some large and small mammals such as sambar deer‚ wild pig‚ porcupine‚ pangolin‚ long tiled macaque and palm civet. No less than 51 bird species including the endemic Bornean bristlehead‚ Asian paradise flycatcher‚ storm’s stock and oriental darter can also be found in the area together with migratory birds egret‚ watercock‚ kingfisher and Eurasian tree-sparrow. No wonder the Park is being described as a bird-watchers’ paradise.

Eleven species of mammals and 14 species of birds are protected by Sarawak Wildlife Protection Ordinance and accorded a status of high conservation value by the international community. A total of 54 species of fish from 20 families have been recorded in the park which provides the livelihood of the Berawan‚ the Ibans and the Penans‚ indigenous communities residing around the boundary of the Loagan Bunut National Park.

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Age-old method of fishing...still practised by the Berawan tribe in the lake

The best time to be in the park is when the lake does the “Houndini act’’ and prepares to vanish before your very eyes‚ that is if you stay long enough! And this is the time to witness‚ and perhaps‚ participate‚ in the Berawan fishermen’s age-old skill of the “Selambau” method of fishing. This unique technique was developed by the tribe centuries ago to take advantage of the migrating fish during periods of fluctuating water levels. It is a rare and exciting activity‚ not to be missed!

Equally exciting is the “mud walk”‚ truly a fun‚ yet memorable experience for the uninitiated! Just kick off your shoes and walk barefoot across the dry cracked mud of the dried up lake to get a feel of the simple pleasures in life - long forgotten by many!

Not to be missed‚ of course‚ is the salong or the log crypt‚ an ancient tomb containing the remains of a couple exiled by the Brunei Sultanate.
The salong‚ which stands 2.5 metres above the shallow lake water in the Bunan river‚rests on massive‚ beautifully carved ironwood or belian poles. Local folklore claim that the aristocratic couple had travelled from Brunei to live among the Berawans at Loagan Bunut.
They were apparently from a noble family‚ and had been exiled for an undisclosed reason. The childless couple pledged to make Loagan Bunut their new home‚ and never to return to Brunei. Their generosity won over the locals. When they died‚ they were buried with much ceremony‚ and on this specially-selected site.
A three-minute boat ride from the park headquarters will take you to the site. Scattered on the ground are fragments of bowls and plates‚ apparently used in ritual worship by the Berawans.
The tomb site is truly a reflection of the unique relic of the past Berawan culture.

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The welcome dance...The "bamboo dance" by women
of the Berawan community is the traditional way
to welcome visitors. Very similar to the Tai Dam
community in Loei (Thailand
)

Being the oldest settled ethnic community in the Loagan Bunut area‚ the Berawan community in the park is very dependent on the lake and its tributary rivers as a source of food and income. Fish is the chief source of food for them‚ as well as for trade in Lapok town. They also harvest wood from park to construct longhouses‚ boats and fishing stations at Teru River.

And if you are into jungle walks‚ there is the Tapang Trail‚ not far from the park headquarters. An hour’s guided walk along the trail will provide you a glimpse of dryland forest habitats - flying mantis‚ lantern bug‚ the beautiful black-dotted butterfly with white wings and snails with red underbelly. And if you are lucky‚ you may catch the striking flower of the wild banana in its full bloom.

Park warden Chrismond Sem Pasan‚ who has been with the park complex since its opening two years ago says eco-tourism is one of the great potentials in the LBNP.

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Berawan Dance...Performed by men during special
occasions and festivals, the dancers mimic
the movements of hornbills preparing for duel of death
.

“The Berawan community who occupy a large part of the park‚ is being persuaded to play a greater role in the development of this sector.’’

He adds: “The park is designed for low impact tourism. There are no plush facilities. For accommodation‚ we have a four-room hostel with double decker beds. We have generators providing the power supply to run the fans‚ lights and air-conditioning.”

An elderly Berawan couple‚ who operate the kitchen/canteen prepare simple meals and drinks.

But if you want to get a “feel of Berawan lifestyle’’‚ you can put up at Mutiara Bunut Resort which is more of a chalet‚ nestling atop a hillock and overlooking the lake. Managed by a friendly Berawan chieftain‚ Pak Meran Surang‚ the place is clean and provides a remarkable view of sunset over the lake.

He provides the cooking facilities and his package includes boat ride to bird watching spots‚ pick up from Miri and‚ of course‚ trying your hand at selambau method of fishing. And if you are into angling‚ you can try your luck for toman‚ tapah‚ belida‚ keli or the petutu.

To get to the Loagan Bunut National Park‚ you need to travel about 130 km‚ about two to three hours ride by four-wheel drive‚ southeast from Miri. It is connected to the Lapok-Long Lama road by a 7.1km tar-sealed road and can also be reached from Marudi via the Baram river and its tributaries‚ the Tinjar and Teru rivers.

Visitors can also get to the park from Miri via the Beluru-Long Lama trunk road which passes through the southern part of the park. The drive takes about two and a half hours from Miri‚ and by river‚ half a day to a day‚ depending on the water conditions.
Public transport‚ from the Pujut bus terminal in Miri‚ only reaches up to Lapok and from there visitors will have to rent a private transport.
At present‚ the park authorities and eight Berawan communities bordering the national park are involved in a project aimed at training the local communities on how to handle tourists‚ including boat safety‚ handicraft training course‚ study trips to other national parks.
Lapok is the nearest town. It has experienced rapid growth since the timber boom in the 1960’s and 1970’s with construction of many new shops‚ selling food‚ souvenirs and groceries and sundry goods. It has a mixed population‚ but with a high number of Chinese who run most of the businesses.
Good understanding the Park’s ecosystem and its benefits to the community is vital to achieving long-term sustainability of LBNP. An extensive interdisciplinary assessment of the park under the initiative of UNDP/GEF and Forest Research Institute Malaysia (FRIM) being carried out to fill various gaps in the understanding of ecological aspects and the long-term community involvement for perpetual conservation and management of the Park.

ends

[The writer is engaged as media consultant by the UNDP-GEF Funded Project to conduct programmes to raise public awareness on the importance of peat swamp forest conservation in Malaysia]

Posted by danalasta 03:27 Archived in Malaysia Tagged ecotourism Comments (0)

BATTAMBANG TO SIEM REAP BY FAST FERRY

Understanding the heartbeat of Tonle Sap

semi-overcast 31 °C

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They live by the boat...the young and the old

It’s close to 8am, and I am at the pier along Sangker River in Battambang, waiting to catch the fast ferry to Siem Reap. It costs me USD15 for a seat. I had enough time to grab a bun when the boatman blared the horn. Time to get in. All the seat were occupied. I dumped by backpack, neatly wrapped in a plastic sheet.

This river cruise is one of the most rewarding experiences in Cambodia: a four-hour journey that offers spectacular views of one the largest most pristine wetland areas in all Southeast Asia. The boat is a scaled-down version of the craft that service the Phnom Penh - Siem Reap route, but similarities between the two journeys are banished minutes after departure. As the boat moves down the relatively narrow Stung Khiev river passing many villages where the local people still spark spontaneous waves and smiles. Arrival in this remote area of Cambodia, the sound of the boat still causes groups of waving, cheering children to line up the riverbank on both sides. After the first forty minutes, the landscape is changing drastically. Suddenly the riverbanks on both sides merge with the water and the land falls away. Stretching far into the distance on all sides are shimmering water. The triumph of the water over land is broken only by patches of wetland growth and aquatic plants and houses build on high stilts. It’s a beautiful landscape in which soil is an abstraction and the lives of the people who live here is determined by the seasonal rise and fall of the water, that feed and isolate them. No happy waves and cheering children can be heard in this part of Cambodia. They ignore resolutely the intruder. There is a good reason for these people to be skeptical. For more then two decades this area was an unchallenged stronghold of the Khmer Rouge guerrillas. After 1979, sporadic government efforts to take control of the area were successively frustrated by an enemy that could seemingly attack and disappear at will through slits in the trackless marshy brush. Only since the defection and surrender of the Khmer Rouge forces in the last year has this area been judged safe.

While the years of being cut off from much of the rest of Cambodia, the environment in which they live has remained insulated from ravages of modernity visited upon numerous other of the Kingdom of Cambodia.

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Life's afloat in houseboats, as in the Chong Kneas floating village in the Great Lake

As the channel narrows to a mere four metres between high stands of wetland plants, including reeds, an impressive array of bird live takes flight overhead. At several points in this section the boats slows down as it passes families of fishermen setting fish traps and laying nets. Suddenly, the channel opens up into a far wider river, passing nomadic floating communities. The boat pulls up to a stop, and you are given 20 minutes to grab some bites, a can of Angkor beer, and get back to your seat. The sky is threatening to burst…

The last half hour of the journey – in a heavy downpour and rolling waves - involves a brief dash across a section of the Great Lake itself, docking beside Chong Kneas, Khmer/Vietnamese floating village, where the boats to and from Phnom Penh anchor.

Within minutes, the boat is swarming with touts, offering to take you to hotels, and guesthouses, some 16km away in Siem Reap town. I turn down their offers…until I spot a guy holding up a signage “Dana – Dead Fish Tower Inn”. Ah! That is mine, and he whisks me off to his tuk tuk in the pouring rain! Siem Reap here I come!

Posted by danalasta 06:28 Archived in Cambodia Tagged backpacking Comments (0)

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