26 September 2011

Langkawi - Kilim Karst Geoforest Park

Forming one part of Langkawi's trinity of Geoparks (the other 2 being Mount Machincang Geoforest Park and Dayang Bunting Marble Geoforest Park), Kilim Karst Geoforest Park is probably the island's best kept terrestrial secret with its ancient limestone formations dating back to the age BEFORE the dinosaurs!

Dipping its toes in the Kilim River at the north-eastern tip of Langkawi, the designated geoforest is a gallery of massive mangrove ecosystems and wildlife sanctuary that astounds with tranquil beauty and endemic biodiversity.

The cluster of attractions at Kilim Geopark includes a network of caves, beaches, mangrove swamps and other ecological points of interest such as eagle feeding and fish farming.
Kilim Geoforest is located diagonally opposite the Langkawi International Airport, which in milege terms, is less than a 90 minutes drive away. To experience nature at a scale that Kilim offers, I would consider the travel time short.

There are various tour packages available that can last between 1 to 4 hours. The short trips would be just a cruise along the site for a quick browse while longer excursions include stopovers at beaches and lunch at a fish farm.

Prices are usually charged according to per boat charter so it's really economical if you go in a group. There were 11 of us plus a guide and boatman onboard and it's still pretty comfortable.

Jonathan all armed and ready with his camera. That's our boat waiting to be boarded at Kilim River jetty.

Hasni vogued a sultry look in anticipation of the seduction of nature while big smiles make its round.
Gua Kelawar (Bat Cave)

We went on a short 2-hour excursion which included a tour of Gua Kelawar, eagle watching, a photo stop at the Hollywood-ish Kilim Geoforest signboard, and ended with lunch on a floating fish farm.

Accessible only by boat, Gua Kelawar is a prehistoric playground of unusual stalactite and stalagmite formations amidst picturesque mangrove overgrowths. The site got its name from its most prominent residents, the kelawar (bat), living within one of the area's larger gua (cave).

Map showing the exploration trail of Gua Kelawar. If you are visiting on your on, remember to bring along a powerful torchlight. Else, ask for one from your guide as you'll need it to study the rock formations within the caves and to see the chamber of bats.

The Fiddler Crab is known as 招潮蟹 in Mandarin, which translates to tide calling crab. This Orange Fiddler looked like a crustaceous sumo!
Our exploration of Gua Kelawar was first welcomed by a mudflat of Fiddler Crabs. I love these tiny crustaceans because they are so comical in their appearance and behaviour. They always crack me up. Although their eyes protrude so far out, Fiddler Crabs actually have very poor vision. The big claw of the male is used to signal for a mate and during territorial conflicts.

If a crab loses its big claw during a fight, the smaller claw will start packing on size as it is faster for the small claw to grow bigger than for the crab to grow a big claw out of nothing. That's why some male Fiddlers have big right claws while others have bigger left pinchers. I didn't know that. I thought big left claw means male, big right claw means female... 男左女右 mah. LOL

Our guide said that they are used in the popular Thai raw papaya salad (som tam) but I have my doubts. I thought the recipe calls for raw black ricefield crabs or blue flower crabs. Not these silent violinists. Then again, there could be many versions of the salad's ingredients and I haven't yet had my tastebuds fiddled with.

The cliff dwelling cycad (generally referred to as the Bogak Tree in Langkawi) is also nicknamed the Elephant Trunk Tree although this one looks more like an anaconda! This plant species dates back to prehistoric times with the earliest fossilised records accepted at 280 million years ago. It is extremely slow growing with some living specimens aged over 1,000 years old. As such, they have been plundered from forests to be placed in homes as a symbol of longevity.

Enrtance and interior of a minor cave at Gua Kelawar. The cave used to be submerged as pieces of seashells can be found stuck on its ceiling.

Here's one tip about visiting Gua Kelawar... there are no toilets on site so clear all you need to at the Kilim River jetty before starting your tour. I had the misfortune of getting a tummyache during our excursion and its the kind that needs immediate release. It's not the kind that can be distracted or willed away. Imagine my agony!

A part of the path had been closed. I wonder where it leads to.

Entrance to a larger cave chamber where the bats are. We went against traffic by taking the Exit route that leads to the Entrance (see the Gua Kelawar map above) rather than follow the conventional. If you went the other way, you'll see this cave first before the smaller cave.

Interesting growth of stalactites (from ceiling down) and stalagmites (from the ground up) that showed nature imitating nature. In the right photo is a stalactite that resembles a crocodile. Can you spot it?

Stalactite formations usually point directly downwards but the ones at the cave's exterior seem to defy gravity by curving horizontally. The reason is that stalactites contain a certain algae on them and for photosynthesis purposes, the algae stretch towards the sunlight and over time, the rock grew horizontal rather than vertical. Never underestimate the power of a microorganism!

A ceiling full of bats within the big cave. It's very dark in here and you'll need a powerful torchlight to see them. Species found at Gua Kelawar are a mixture of fruit bats as well as insect-eating bats. Surprisingly, the cave didn't stink like bat caves usually do.

Departing Gua Kelawar, we skimmed along stretches of mangrove coasts and lush limestone cliffs to reach a secluded lagoon where the feeding of eagles take place.
Our next thrill was to see some wild eagles being fed. Although their natural diet is fish and small mammals, boats that come here feed them chicken innards as they are inexpensive and usually discarded in the markets as compared to purchasing fish. But this is detrimental to the eagles' health as innards are hardly nutritious and don't contain calcium and other minerals if they were to consume whole prey with bones and all. Furthermore, the contamination of bird flu in the fowls can wipe out the whole eagle population in the area.

It used to be that every boat that came would feed. Now, when one boat feeds, the others just watch. Eagles are territorial birds that don't usually gather in such close proximity with each other but the convenience of free food had brought them together. Kinda like how humans behave too.

This Brahminy Kite Eagle will be having sashimi for lunch. The reddish brown eagle with a white head is the mascot of Langkawi. A huge sculpture of it is anchored on the island's Eagle Square. We were supposed to visit that attraction but it was cancelled due to poor weather.
According to a well-accepted folklore of Langkawi's name, the island derived its moniker from the abundance of Brahminy Eagles here. 'Lang' from the Malay word 'helang' means eagle, and 'kawi' is the Sanskrit word for marble.

So the island's name literally means an eagle perched on marble, a poetic tribute to these majestic birds and the archipelago's plenitude of limestone and marble formations.

Another raptor commonly sighted at Langkawi is the White-Bellied Fish Eagle.
However, from early historical records of the island's name, Langkawi may have gotten its name as a by-product of maritime trade. During the early days, Langkawi was a port-of-call for Southeast Asian merchant vessels making their way to Sri Lanka. 'Lanka' became 'lang' and 'kawi' means 'this way' in Malay or something to that effect. So Langkawi actually means "this way to Sri Lanka"!

Must-have shot of the Kilim Karst Geoforest Park sign. It is inspired by a world famous sign that is synonymous with American movies. Can you guess it?

A hole in the wall. It was used as a hideout during olden nautical eras.

One of the many fish farms parked along a sheltered bay area that is parked full of yachts. It is cheaper to park yachts here than at commercial marinas. Fish farmers double up as caretakers of the yachts when their owners return to their home countries for several months. When they are about to visit, the farmers will clean and prepare the ship for their arrival.

Hole in the Wall Restuarant which is a fish farm and where we'll be chomping down on fresh seafood.

General shots of the fish farm which uses natural seawater aquaculture. Giant garoupas and other seafood lurk within the netted hatcheries. Archer fish swims close to the surface to await stunt feeding by farmhands for the amusement of visitors. Pieces of food will be placed on poles for the fish to shoot down and eat. An amazing showmanship of nature's ability to correct parallax error.

Before our lunch, we fed Brenda to the stingrays. I'm kidding. Where got stingray like bak kut teh one? LOL. The mammoth rays are really friendly though and you can pet and feed them. But remove any ring or jewellry first.

Saw this pot of yellowing Howea Thatch Palm that had turned a resplendent gold. So unusual for the plant to be yellowed throughout while the fronds are still firm and upright. It contrasted with the surrounding and was visually striking like a pot of fire. 

Lunch was as flavourful as the our excursion of Kilim Karst Geoforest Park. My fav was the BBQ fish which was grilled to the right degree of char. And the belachan chili sauce was heaven on earth.

If the word 'karst' draws a blank with you, let's shake hands. I thought it is a Malay word initially and Kilim Karst is the site's name. But I wondered why was the river called Kilim River and not Kilim Karst River?

So I googled and learnt that 'karst' is an English word used to describe a geological topography characterised by cardonate rocks such as limestone with ground level caverns carved by water. Well, from the photos above, they pretty much show what a karst is.

With its paleozoic geology and dramatic, almost vertical karstic limestone cliffs interweaved with secret caves, water channels and virgin mangroves, Kilim Karst Geoforest Park is truly lyrical on the senses!

No comments:

Post a Comment

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...