Monday, January 30, 2012

BF 'Graduation Trip': Kenyir 2011

Last June, the BF classmates made a trip to the other side of the Peninsula. It was a so-called 'graduation trip', as most of us had either already graduated, or were graduating very soon. We descended upon Lake Kenyir (thanks, Phon, for putting everything together!) in Terengganu, a man-made lake some four times bigger than Singapore.

It was a full four days on the East Coast, from the morning of the 15th, through the deep night of the 18th.

Val may have been the first to blog about the trip, here. On the same day, I put some of my phone camera footage on the BF blog here. These were followed by Mel's post here, and Fiona's three-part saga—parts one, two and three. Being the lazy parasite that I am, I will leave the words to them: I have little of my own to add, and I must admit that between the three of them they've covered all the major bases!

I would just like to echo something they all said, that it is indeed the company that makes the trip. We spent four days floating on a houseboat in a lake big enough to be a sea; there was little variety in the sights and sounds (unlike tours that stop at a thousand places), and yet, each day was different in its own way, each place we docked wearing a character entirely of its own.

The houseboat was operated by the excellent Captain Alward and his staff. Val put their website on her blog, and you can access it here as well. In case the URL changes, their email is kenyirone[at]yahoo[dot]com, or you can call +6-012-383-8337 or +6-016-363-6171.

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The Sultan Mahmud Airport in Kuala Terengganu.

One of the most beautiful airports in the country, a successful marriage of traditional motifs and modern functionality. This is what architecture is all about, I feel; not the soulless, sterile, modern airports in many parts of the world.


A successful shot of an AirAsia plane on the tarmac. Their staff are usually very vigilant when it comes to stopping tourists from taking pictures while on the tarmac. Using a manual camera, I pre-focused this shot and set the exposure, spinning around in a split second to capture Phak Hoe and Pui Pui with the aircraft in the background.

Nasi dagang and friends.

One of my all-time favourite Malaysian foods. Ever since I first had nasi dagang in Mersing (May 2007) I fell in love with it. Move over Hainanese chicken rice, nasi kerabu and even nasi lemak!

The van driver (I think his name was Che Wan) brought us to this stall in the outskirts of town where he grew up for breakfast. It was one of the loveliest breakfasts ever, with nasi dagang, nasi kunyit, nasi minyak and a generous selection of curries, including the king of them all: gulai ikan tongkol (a type of local tuna, curried East Coast style).

Pengkalan Gawi.

The jetty from which we boarded the houseboat was little more than a sheltered platform on the water, and that's the houseboat approaching from the left of the jetty. They are self-constructed vessels, with kitchen, toilets and mess area on the lower level and sleeping rooms on the upper.

We spent most of our time on the deck, however, which is the best place to enjoy the sights, sounds and breeze—not to mention, fish at night!

Kenyir was once a hilly forest. When the government flooded the area, the peaks of those hills became the numerous islands in the lake. They range in size from tiny, isolated pieces of land, to larger forested tracts.

Saok Waterfall.

On the first evening, we harboured at Saok. The afternoon was spent at the waterfall, which has numerous little pools and is relatively easy to navigate.

Group picture at Saok.

This was a lot harder to achieve than it appears. We were all practically freezing (especially evident on Fiona's face) and Phak Hoe had to endure quite a heavy cascade of water on his back. Moreover, we had to hold still during the 1-second (or was it 2?) exposure.

Baung delight.

Wai Loon showing off his catch that night. The baung is a type of catfish, and we had quite an abundance of that, both in the catches and on the lunch/dinner table. One of the highlights of the trip was super-fresh Kenyir fish at our meals!

Boats at dawn.

Three outboard boats were towed along with the houseboat. These were used to ferry us to our destinations on land, like the waterfalls and caves.

Kian Ti.

Wai Loon.

Len Yi.

Tsu Wern, Li Ling and Fiona.

Polariser + red filter = sheer black-and-white bliss. Skin and water textures scarcely get better than this.

Kenyir Dam.

This is the 'great wall' that hems the entire lake in. Water flows beyond this wall into the hydroelectric facility below.


Li Ling at Lasir Falls.

One of the cascades at Lasir.

While Saok was nice to wade in, Lasir was something quite different. A rather high waterfall, it called for a good deal of hiking to get to the upper regions of the falls. All that power, the sense that we were really standing at the edge of the water cycle, of water flowing into the lake, of a source of Kenyir's awesomeness.

The pools at Lasir were much larger and deeper than those at Saok; we could actually dive into one of the lower pools. We had a lengthy and enjoyable afternoon at Lasir, and harboured there for the night.

Suspension bridge at Lasir.


Our first significant experience of Mel's no-nonsense, 'aggressive' photo direction. Must be all the practice from those journalism assignments.


I can't remember who brought it, but we had much fun contorting our bodies and demonstrating our flexibility and athletic prowess—or lack thereof. ;-)

We spent the third evening in the vicinity of Taman Negara itself; the southern region of Kenyir is in the northern part of the Taman Negara complex, which spans Pahang, Terengganu and Kelantan.

Bewah Cave.

A significant archaeological site, the Bewah Cave was somewhat dead apart from the huge spiders and occasional bats. A boardwalk navigated the guano-laden cave floor, but it was pretty much just a single giant pitch-black chamber.

The limestone formations at the entrance of the cave, such as in this picture, were somewhat more interesting and photo-worthy.

Taat Cave.

The Taat Cave is unusual in that it is sometimes submerged, especially during the rainy/monsoon season. When we visited, it was accessible. It felt infinitely more 'alive' than Bewah, although much smaller and less cavernous. There were many roosting bats, and Phon and I encountered a snake as well.

The view in this picture is of the entrance to the cave, as seen from the first chamber.

We spent the night across from Taat, near an active campsite. After the cave visit, Phon, Val and I trekked into the nearby forest, where we came across elephant footprints and left with plenty of leeches in tow. Kian Ti accompanied Wai Loon to a nearby tributary to fish.

That night, and incredible storm descended upon us. The boat was stripped from its lashings, and collided with one of the mighty submerged tree stumps nearby. It took a rather valiant effort from Captain Alward and his men to re-secure the boat to shore.

Kenyir at dawn.

In the early hours of morning, at first light, everything is a light pastel blue, and the reflections are nearly perfect. These stumps are the tops of once-great trees, some very tall, drowned forever in the waters of Kenyir.

View on the return journey.

Kenyir lies 177 metres above sea level, which explains the cold nights and dense mist in the mornings.


Tsu Wern and Val.

Val: There's plenty of travelling time [here] for you to contemplate life.
Ben: Life is not about dangling your legs off the edge of the boat. It's about dipping your toes in the water.
Val: Why dip your toes when you can jump right in?

Soo Ee.

One of my biggest regrets on the trip was not jumping into the water to rescue Soo's t-shirt, which flew off one of the rails while left to dry. I can't imagine why I hesitated, when every muscle in my body and every subconscious thought dictated that I should jump.

Captain Alward (in photochromic glasses) and his crew.

Upon our return we lunched in Chinatown before heading to Phon's sister's house. The evening was spent at Pantai Batu Buruk.

Kite seller with sotong kite.

It was my first time actually flying a kite, and it was an unforgettable experience for all of us. Mel has a beautiful picture of that experience here.

Phon and sister.

Many thanks to Phon's sister and her boyfriend for hosting us that evening, for dinner, and for taking us to the airport in record time.

At the airport, we were somewhat harassed by the AirAsia counter staff, who made us rush and all as we barely missed the check-in deadline. The irony of it, though, was that the flight ended up delayed by a whole THREE hours. When we arrived at the airport departure lounge, the plane was still grounded in LCCT. When it finally took off, poor weather forced a U-turn back to LCCT.

So it was, that while Phon, Len Yi, Mel and Li Ling had comfortably boarded their Firefly flight, the rest of us had to endure till past midnight at a barely-happening airport; long waits are a little more bearable in 'theme park' airports like Changi.

Home at last.

That's the rest of us in LCCT, looking deader than dead, at about nearly 3.00 a.m.

(That gash down the right side of the picture was, I believe, caused by the clip as I hung the film strip to dry. For some reason I did not notice that I'd clipped into the frame, instead of at the edge of the roll. On the other hand, it lends a certain authenticity to the photograph—that it's 'real', and not just some binary code that is meaningless outside a digital device.)

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Technical matters:

Early colour shots on Ektar 100, later colour shots on Portra 400. Pictures at Lasir Waterfall shot on Velvia 50. All B&W footage shot on TriX 400.

A polariser was used for the Lasir Waterfall shots (and perhaps for Saok also), the Kenyir Dam and a number of the daytime lake shots, to decrease surface reflection and—in the case of the lake shots—intensify the 'body' of the water. A red filter was used in tandem with the polariser for some of the B&W shots, resulting in deep contrast and unusually fair skin.

Nikon FM10 with 28mm and 105mm lenses.

1 comment:

Mel said...

Twas nice to remember the trip as I read through your narrative (finally!)

Just some commentary:
1. I'm usually easy-going with my interviewees :) That day was rather out-of-the-blue haha
2. Phon brought the Twister.
3. We felt so sorry that we had to leave you guys in that state. Though, seems a rather fitting dramatic ending to a tranquil trip, wasn't it? :)

Watched a travel doc on the Three Gorges Dam recently. Your repeated mentions of the Kenyir as a dam reminded me of it. The Kenyir lake may be a nice place but it's hard to think that all of those 1000-year old villages along Yang Tze river will be gone next year cuz of another dam project (no pun intended). Those majestic mists and rigged mountains in paintings dynasties-old will be gone.

BTW, loved those shots of Kian Ti ;)