October 5, 2014

Ipoh Bukit Kledang and Gunung Irau


One of our walkers suggested a trip to Ipoh to taste the food there as well as trekking the nearby Bukit Kledang about 10 km from the railway station. He offered to be our host as he grew up there. Over the course of several months the itinerary evolved to include a climb of Gunung Irau in Cameron Highlands. Little did we know what we got ourselves into.

Ipoh Tree in front of the Railway Station
At midnight the Starmart bus departed from Golden Mile Tower. It was difficult to sleep on the bus and we had to stop several times for toilet breaks and for the driver to rest.

At 7am we arrived at the Starmart Ipoh office. We had arranged for 2 taxis to pick us up but none was there. A call to the hotel soon fixed this and when we arrived at the Downtown Hotel our host and his wife were waiting for us. 

Gardens at Kek Look Tong Cave
After dropping our bags we walked to Jalan Bandar Timah for breakfast of Hakka beef noodle, beef tendon, mixed beef stuff, yong tau hu, beef ball, etc. Energy replenished we proceeded to the Administrative District to view the the Clock Tower, Ipoh Tree, railway station and to meet our guide and transport.

Kek Look Tong Cave
Our first place of interest was the Kek Look Tong Cave. Here there were numerous Buddhist altars in various parts of the limestone caves. There were a number of award-winning landscaped gardens with jogging tracks circling the lakes at the back of the caves. 

Gunung Lang
We took a boat that would bring us across the lake to a park where we walked around for about 30min. This park is more suitable for locals for a picnic or group activities. 

View from Bukit Kledang
Bukit Kledang
Originally our guide planned for us to trek in the late afternoon when it would be cooler. We did not want to waste time waiting and requested to climb it immediately after Gunung Lang.

We only trekked Trail 4.3. The initial stretch was exposed and the locals call it "kong tow san" or "bald-headed" hill. It was easy going at first then suddenly the guide took a left turn and began climbing up the steep slope. We followed suit and stopped bantering as we had to pay all our attention to climbing the slope at times using our hands to ensure our balance. The guide called this stretch "law meng san" or "life threatening" hill - an indeed fitting description. We took a short break to catch our breathe and then continued on with our climb.

This trail ended by the roadside a few steps from the summit. While resting by the road and waiting for the last person to emerge from the energy sapping climb, groups of local residents passed us on the way down. When we told them we came by Trail 4.3 they were surprised. Some walked all the way up by road or the longer but easier Trail 4.9.

Although we had achieved a difficult feat, on reflection we should have taken Trail 4.9 first. Our guide had no problem doing Trail 4.3 wondering what the fuss was about. She climbed the same hill several times a week. On the way down she had difficulty nursing a knee injury caused by a fall at home. Some tough lady!

Back at the hotel we had a refreshing shower before leaving for our dinner. Our host took us nearby to try the famous bean sprout (taugeh) chicken together with kwe tiao soup and pork balls.

Mossy forest on the way to Gunung Irau
Tuesday - Gunung Irau
The plan was to drive to Gunung Brinchang in Cameron Highlands then climb from there to Gunung Irau and back. We had to leave early in order that we could complete the climb before dusk set in.

We had an early 6am timsum breakfast in time for our pickup at 6.40am. On the way we met up with our climbing guide and more climbers from Kuala Lumpur and other towns. We arrived at the start of the trail at about 9am.

The guide briefed us before we began the climb. He would lead and leave a trail of paper chaff for us to follow and if we wish to turn back just to follow the trail back to the start.

He told us to leave our walking stick in the cars as we would need all our arms and legs for the climb and also armed us with rehydration salts to prevent cramps.

When we set off in the morning it was chilly and we had to put on our windbreaker but before long this would be removed when we warmed up. The initial few hundred metres were smooth sailing on a boardwalk and lulled us into climbing down the trunks and roots of the trees along the route. The route follows the boundary between Perak and Pahang and is on the ridge of the mountain. We would spend the whole day on all fours climbing to Mini Irau and then to Gunung Irau. Some of us (me included) stopped at Mini Irau (6,666ft). The change in elevation was about 100m down and up. The trail was also commonly known as the mossy trail due to the prevalence of moss along the route.

Gua Tempurong
A big mistake we made was not bringing enough water. The rehydration tablet also made us thirsty. And our lunch was only a few bars of chocolate. By the time the last of us returned to the start it was already 6pm. We were absolutely ravenous. We reached the Downtown Hotel back in Ipoh at 8pm and all we could think of was food!

Wednesday - Gua Tempurung
We had a breakfast of curry mee two streets away from the hotel at a hawker centre. Then at 9am we left for Gua Tempurung. This is a series of caves about 25km south of Ipoh.

There were four tour packages of different duration and difficulty. We took Tour 2 that lasted 1 hour 45 min with a ranger leading us. Tour 3 (2-1/2hr) and Tour 4 (3-1/2hr) include an underground river which was the reason we did not select them. Our track was on boardwalk and staircases leading up to "Top of the World (platform 5)".

While waiting for our bus to fetch us we were attracted to a pair of gibbons high above the entrance screaming away. They would sometimes swing from branch to branch while screaming.

We returned to Ipoh for lunch at a coffee-shop offering a wide variety of food such as noodles, chee cheong fun, chicken rice, etc. The rest of the afternoon was free because we did not want to go for the foot spa where little fishes nibble at our feet. So we ended up at the nearby shopping centre.

At 7pm we went to Mun Chong for a grand dinner to celebrate our last night in Ipoh together. We had suckling pig, garoupa, hakka yong tau foo, sea cucumber with mushroom, lo hon chai, spare rib and three bottles of wine - all for 100 ringgit per person.

After breakfast, we left for the bus terminal to begin our journey back to Singapore.