Sunday, 28 October 2012

Hiking in Malaysia's National Parks

The oldest tropical rainforest in the world - Taman Negara Nationa Park. Pic: HooLengSiong, Flickr.
Taman Negara Nationa Park. Pic: HooLengSiong, Flickr.

From high-altitude mountain tops to underground caves, virgin rainforests to alpine ecosystems, and freshwater swamps to salty shorelines; Malaysia’s National Parks make up an area comparable in size to the United Kingdom and stretch from Sabah and Sarawak, on Borneo, to Peninsula Malaysia. Most reserves offer a range of trails suitable for anyone from the occasional walker through to pioneering explorers.
The 4343 sq km Taman Negara, on Peninsula Malaysia, is the world’s oldest tropical rainforest. It has been protected since 1938 and forms the country’s largest conservation area. The flora and fauna here has evolved over millions of years and can be experienced via day-long treks, extended expeditions, night safaris or canopy-level walkways. Ambitious trekkers can tackle the 4-7 day ascent of Gunung Tahan (2,187 m) the highest mountain in Peninsular Malaysia.
Renowned for: Ancient flora and fauna
For the best experience: Book a multi-day trek
 Endau-Rompin National Park is the second largest in Peninsular Malaysia. The 900 sq km park nurtures a host of rare species such as Peninsula Malaysia’s largest population of Sumatran rhinoceros and native Malay tribes like theOrang Asli people. It also features outstanding natural landscapes. A trekking highlight is the route to the three waterfalls, Pandan, Beringin and Tinggi – a cascade over volcanic rock formations dating back 200 million years.
Renowned for: Waterfalls and Sumatran rhinoceros
For the best experience: Spend at least three days here and visit the waterfalls
Sumatran Rhino - Peninsula Malaysia’s biggest population is found in Endau-Rompin National Park. Pic: Just chaos, Flickr.
Sumatran Rhino -  Endau-Rompin National Park. Pic: Just chaos, Flickr.
 At just 10 sq miles, Penang National Park is Malaysia’s smallest – you could explore it in one day. Highlights include nesting beaches for endangered turtles, shorelines patrolled by macaque monkeys and one of the few mixed saltwater and freshwater lakes in the world. Take your pick from three different marked trails, or explore the park via the canopy walkway.
Renowned for: Its compact size
For the best experience: Stay a couple of days
Batang Ai National Park, in Sarawak, links with Lanjak-Entimau Wildlife Sanctuary (Malaysia) and the Bentuang-Karimun National Park (Indonesia) to form 10,000 sq km of protected rainforest. The park boasts Borneon gibbons, hornbills, giant squirrels, the clouded leopard, Malaysian honeyguide and the densest concentration of orang-utans in central Borneo. Experience the diversity via the five marked trails; visitors must be accompanied by a registered guide.
Renowned for: Orang-utan sightings
For the best experience: Book a multi-day orang-utan spotting expedition
10,000 sq km of protected rainforest - Batang Ai National Park. Pic: tajai, Flickr
Batang Ai National Park. Pic: tajai, Flickr
Niah National Park, in Sarawak, harbours 31 sq km of dense forest and is considered one of the world’s most important archaeological reserves. Thought to be one of the birthplaces of civilisation, the oldest human remains in Southeast Asia were found here in 1958 at the Niah caves. Watched over by the summit of Gunung Subis (394m) this small reserve draws archaeologists, ecologists and tourists from across the globe, and is marked with a network of trails.
Renowned for: Archaeology
For the best experience: Explore the caves and then walk through the forest at sunset to see millions of swarming swiflets and bats
Gunung Mulu National Park in Sarawak has also been a UNESCO World Heritage site since 2000. Best known for its spectacular limestone karsts, Mulu is characterised by its network of underground caves and its razor-sharp rock formations, known as ‘The Pinnacles’. Home to some of the largest caves in the world, it’s thought that around 70 per cent of these still lie undiscovered.
Renowned for: Caving and limestone karsts
For the best experience: Hike to the Pinnacles or explore the underground caves
Bako National Park, is Sarawak’s oldest park. Located near Kuching, Bako stretches along the coastline for around 27 sq km featuring plunging cliffs, white sandy beaches and craggy headlands. Seventeen colour-coded trails offer a range of challenges. A guide is invaluable for pointing out the mouse dear, bearded pigs, proboscis monkeys and other wildlife.
Renowned for: High concentration of wildlife and plant diversity
For the best experience: Look for proboscis monkeys along the Telok Delima trail
Kinabalu National Park in Sabah was designated a UNESCO World Heritage site in 2000, and over its 754 sq km boasts every type of plant-life, from eucalyptus to oak. It is also crowned by Mount Kinabalu (4,095m) – Malaysia’s tallest mountain. The astounding diversity of flora and fauna, spectacular scenery and irresistible summits here draw in excess of 400,000 visitors each year.
Renowned for: Mountain climbing and biodiversity
For the best experience: Attempt the Mount Kinabalu ascent
tallest mountain in Malaysia – Mount Kinabalu. Pic: Chang'r, Flickr.
tallest mountain in Malaysia – Mount Kinabalu. Pic: Chang'r, Flickr.
If you enjoyed this article and would like to find out more about travelling to Malaysia, please visit the Tourism Malaysia website

Muck Diving in Malaysia

WHERE to dive with hairy frogfish and pygmy seahorses.
It’s got to be the most unappealing sounding sport but, for many divers, muck diving is the holy grail of scuba. And if the name isn’t enough to put you off, the sell that follows might do: with limited visibility, shallow dive sites, no stunning corals and zero chance of seeing deep-sea wrecks or big pelagic fish, it’s a wonder that so many divers have been inspired to try out this painstaking discipline. But those who do, however, rarely look back…
The appeal of muck diving is in the bizarre, extraordinary and disgustingly beautiful. Paradise for photographers, muck diving allows them to capture some of the ocean’s rarest inhabitants, snapping intricate and sophisticated species right up-close, in calm and controlled waters.
Paradise for macro photographers – Nudibranch. Pic: Nicolas Voisin, Flickr.
Paradise for macro photographers – Nudibranch. Pic: Nicolas Voisin, Flickr.
Instead of competing with your dive buddies to spot sharks and manta-rays, muck divers slowly and meticulously scan the seabed, searching for minute creatures, some less than a centimetre or so long, known as critters. In comparison to most other types of diving, poor visibility, suspended particles and silty sea-beds are of less concern, as the creatures you’re looking for are never more than a few centimetres from your face.
Typical critters to look out for include multi-coloured nudibranchs, pipefish, frogfish and seahorses, but there are millions more species lurking in the muck, many still unidentified, which simply adds to the appeal.
Muck diving in Mabul – Transparent Nudibranch. Pic: Nicolas Voisin, Flickr.
Muck diving in Mabul – Transparent Nudibranch. Pic: Nicolas Voisin, Flickr.
A big attraction of muck diving is that anyone can do it. No special equipment is required and, typically diving at shallower depths, the risk of decompression sickness is reduced. Excellent buoyancy, however, is important – your fellow divers won’t thank you if you spend your muck dive bobbing up and down on the seabed, finning up clouds of silt.
Some of the best muck diving spots in the world are found in South East Asia. Places like the Lembeh Straits and Secret Bay, in Indonesia, enjoy international fame. But one of the most illustrious muck diving sites of all is found in the waters just off Sabah, in Malaysian Borneo.
Mabul Island is a location synonymous with muck diving. Located off the north-east coast of Sabah, a 25 minute boat ride north of Sipadan Island, Mabul is a magnet for muck divers and one of the best places on the planet for macro photography. This tiny island has a coral reef that slips down to form a sandy bottom, freckled with coral growth and teeming with macro life and molluscs. Nudibranchs, shrimp and exotic urchins; purple and red fire gobies; seahorses and multicoloured frogfish can all be found here in clear, 30 degree waters, alongside loads of lobster and crabs, as well as every species of pipefish known to man.
Ghost Pipefish – one of many in Mabul. Pic: Nicolas Voisin, Flickr.
Ghost Pipefish – one of many in Mabul. Pic: Nicolas Voisin, Flickr.
There are stacks of muck diving sites to choose from at Mabul, but the grassy seabed at Crocodile Avenue is a favourite with many. This is the place to see crocodile-fish and garden eels, as well as seamoths, seahorses and the occasional eagle ray. Night dives are also popular here, where you can shine your torch over the colourful cuttlefish, nudibranchs and crabs.
Or, for the best frog-fish encounters, head to the aptly named Froggy Lair, where you can also expect to see cuttlefish and cowries, alongside ornate pipefish and numerous nudibranchs.
Another exciting dive site at Mabul is Eel garden, where colourful gobies and garden eels inhabit a network of tunnels in the sandy seabed. Blue ribbon eels, cleaning shrimp, rose-red frogfish and lemon-coloured moray eels are also commonly sighted here.
Crazy critters - Nudibranh nembrotha chamberlaini. Pic: Nicolas Voisin, Flickr.
Nudibranh nembrotha chamberlaini. Pic: Nicolas Voisin, Flickr.
Muck diving in Malaysia doesn’t have to be all about Mabul though. If you fancy giving it a go but don’t want to make the trek down to Borneo, then Peninsula Malaysia still has some surprisingly good offerings, from the mimic octopus at Pulau Rumbia, on the west coast, to seahorse-filled sites in the north: coral fringed and best known for sea turtles, sharks and spectacular wrecks, muck diving in the Perhentian Islands is often overlooked but, from rarely seen nudibranchs and stacks of seahorses, to frogfish and blue ringed octopus’, it’s all here.
If you enjoyed this article and would like to find out more about travelling to Malaysia, please visit the Tourism Malaysia website