Saturday, May 22, 1999
The Star Online
Story by Andrew Sia
Pictures by Tan Hong Tat
SURE, there are many ways to "do" Terengganu's Tasik Kenyir, but arguably, one of the best ways is to go houseboating.
This mode of travel is ideal for town-impaired couch potatoes. Yes, they have seen the beauty of jungles on their TV's. Yes, they want to luxuriate in the fresh air and cicada chorus. But no, they do not want to endure the travails of actually trekking and sweating through it. And no, they certainly do not want to bother with pitching tents and makeshift toilets.
The creature comforts of home are - like a big terrapin - carried along wherever they may go on the lake. Little wonder then that houseboats are becoming increasingly popular in Tasik Kenyir.
We hopped onto a tour organised by Ping Anchorage recently, a company based in Kuala Terengganu. For the next three days and two nights, two houseboats were to be shared between 10 talkative Malacca youngsters, two quiet Mat Sallehs, two excellent cooks and another six boatmen cum guides.
The journey from the state capital took about one hour and before we knew it, we were face to face with the colossal Kenyir dam. We drove up one side of it and cantered down on the other side to two houseboats - our home for the next three days.
Lazy person's jungle
So what are these floating contraptions ,anyway? The standard version is basically a passenger boat with sleeping quarters built on top of what was formerly the roof. Cooking, meals, bathing, washing and fishing are conducted downstairs while sleeping, card games, chit-chatting and the like belong to the "living room" upstairs. Lepak-ing facilities are however available in either place.
We started our cruise from the jetty at the dam and I settled back with a cup of self-service Milo. With the crisp morning air in my face, and legs hanging over the front edge of the houseboat, anyone would have thought that this was the ultimate lazy person's way to enjoy the jungle.
This whim was confirmed soon enough. After an hour, the boat arrived at the Lasir waterfalls. I had anticipated some trekking inland, but no, not to inconvenience you guv'nur, the houseboat parked right at Lasir's doorstep.
There are five cascades at these majestic falls and a flight of concrete steps reaches right to the top. The water was chilly, even on this sunny Labour Day, but it served to wake everyone who had slumbered off during the cruise.
After being satiated with swimming, we filled ourselves up with lunch. Then it was time for another two hour cruise to Sungai Petang, with pleasant rapids at another end of the lake.
Houseboats sound ponderous, and this impression is usually confirmed upon visual contact. However, while snaking their way up the drowned Petang valley, our two houseboats proved to be surprisingly agile in avoiding rocks and submerged logs.
As the valley narrowed and steepened, the greenery seemed to embrace us on all sides. The chorus of cicadas and birdcalls became more prominent and at one point I even spotted a hornbill flying past.
However, this pristine heritage may be endangered if steps are not taken to safeguard the environment. According to one of our boatmen, Mohd Zaki Mat Zain, who is also the president of the Tasik Kenyir Fishermen's Association,
"Five years ago we could just scoop the water from the lake to drink. Over the years, there has been pollution from logging, chalets, houseboats and bulldozers clearing land."
"We also worry about the golf course right next to the lake as they spray pesticides to keep the grass green. These poisons enter the water system. Fishing is one of the main tourist activities on the lake. We fear the fish may be contaminated."
But, to keep this in proportion, the lake water probably remains more pristine than the tap water of Petaling Jaya from the Semenyih river (which has factories in the water catchment area).
As for fishing, Zaki said that patin, jelawat, temoleh, siakap, baung and of course toman can all be easily caught here.
"Tengoklah mau main apa. (See what you want to catch.) Different places have different fish. We know where and when to bring tourists. We can even go up to Sungai Petuang six hours away."
"The advantage of fishing from a houseboat is that you can go and eat or sleep anytime you want and continue the action later."
However, he is puzzled why bubu fish traps have not been outlawed by the authorities.
"These traps should be totally banned. They catch everything, even baby fish. Sometimes, illegal fishermen bring out two or three tons of fish on one trip. The authorities want to promote angling as a sport but the bubu will jeopardise that."
After the swim and dinner, everyone whiled away the time chatting, playing cards or fishing. We spent the night at Sungai Petang surrounded by the humming jungle. The upper deck was an open air affair without even mosquito netting, but surprisingly, no buzzy-wuzzies bothered us at all.
Stone Age Cave
The limestone hill containing the cave loomed up as we approached. The sheer rockface was a splendid portrait of limestone crags and plants hanging onto impossible nooks.
Upon arrival, a whiff of guano assailed our nostrils. Nevertheless, everyone was eager to climb up the short flight of stairs to reach the cave entrance. The views over the lake from way up there were magnificent. Our houseboats resembled little bathtub toyboats, and the whole vista of the lake opened up beneath us.
The cave itself was cool and roomy. According to Zaki, excavations conducted by the Museums Department have revealed a human skeleton as well as stone age tools and pottery. Of course, it should be remembered that the lake only came into existence when the dam was built in 1985. Before that, aboriginal tribes roamed through the valleys and mountains of the East Coast mountain range straddling present day Kelantan, Terengganu and Pahang.
We were careful not to touch the cave walls as spiders - larger than an outstretched palm - were liberally spread out everywhere. As for bats, with our puny torchlights, we could only hear their shrill calls but not see them. However, one fellow, who appeared to be sick, was found crawling around the ground near the entrance.
After the cave, it was time for another long cruise, back to Lasir waterfall. This time, instead of doorstep service, the houseboat moored at a floating platform some distance away. To get to the waterfall, it was time for us soft city folks to get off our butt and do some trekking. Even then, the five-minute walk was eased by a concrete pathway all the way in.
The barbeque dinner that night was absolutely delicious. Fish and sotong wrapped in aluminium foil went together perfectly with the chicken and lamb. This was my second trip with Ping Anchorage (the first was to Terengganu's Cemeruh waterfalls last year) and as usual, the food through all three days was superb, thanks to the cooks: Woo Ah Lee and his wife Goh Lee Siok.
The last day was spent on some serious jungle trekking. This time, instead of the concrete pathway, we took a long uphill route to get to the waterfall. Those desiring exercise and adventure after two days and nights of easy living might want to try this out, but beware, real sweat is involved on the steep slopes.
After that, it was time for our final cool swim at Lasir waterfall. The lagoon at the foot of the falls is ideal for beginners to paddle in as it has a shallow sandy bottom, though closer to the cascading water, there are some deep spots.
All in all, it was a fascinating trip and I could not but feel a little melancholic at our departure. Baechtel Marie, one of the two French tourists who came along, was happy with the trip:
"Living on a boat is a very original experience. It's nothing like what we have in France. We can get to go many places. It's not just jungle trekking in one place. And the food was very good."
Houseboating on Kenyir is a unique experience of Malaysian tourism. It may not offer five star facilities, but it does furnish a "thousand star" jungle atmosphere minus the need for strenous trekking and camping. To all who had thought that Tasik Kenyir is merely a place to go fishing, houseboating is ready to surprise you.
For further details call : Ping Anchorage 09-6262020 or access the website at http://www.pinganchorage.com.my
1999. Star Publications (Malaysia) Bhd. (Co No. 10894-D)