Perlis state park and the Wang Burma cave

I had been battling giant ants the size of my hand and huge, hairy tarantellas – lurking around and waiting to throw their bristly legs around an unsuspecting victim and inject deadly poison at the back of the neck with razor sharp teeth – in the camp bathrooms.  I’d barricaded the dorm room doors with bunk beds, trying to catch some sleep while listening to the creatures of the night massacre each other while uttering gruesome sounds (no battery on my ipod to tune out the jungle sounds of course), leaving big pools of blood to tell the tale in the morning. And now I was kidnapped by two strangers, leading me into the mouth of a big cave as an offering to the man-eating Dracula bats.

Okay, maybe the strangers wasn’t really kidnapping me, maybe it was a Malaysian guide and his slightly better English-speaking friend taking me to visit the Wang Burma Cave for some caving in Perlis state park, the national park in Malaysia’s smallest state. Maybe the bats in there wasn’t really man-eating, and even though I’m sure the tarantella hiding behind the water pipe in the toilet booth would have jumped out and attacked me while I was doing my business if I hadn’t seen it first, it might not have been that immensely huge (that said, it’s the biggest, and fattest and hairiest spider I have seen in my life). The ants however, they were giants!

(1. The wonderful dorm that I had all to myself, on the camp which was all mine. 2. The entrance to the bathrooms make it look oh soo nice, that´s until you find… 3. Pool of blood and – something else – on the floor. It definitely wasn´t there before. 4. Where all the nasty creatures hid. Of course all the ants where gone when I wanted to take a picture. 5. Proof that I survived the night.)

Saved by a stranger, yet again…
I’d heard about the cave from an old childhood friend of my dad’s who lived in Malaysia at the time, and after spending big chunks of my trip walking in the footsteps of every single backpacker that’s ever been to South-East Asia, I felt it was time to do some exploring on my own.

And that’s how – after first spending a lot of time waiting in Kangar for a local bus to take me somewhat closer to the national park (backtracking to the city where I crossed the border), in order to save some money (Turned out that I saved next to nothing. Oh well, at least I got to share a stuffed ramshackle bus with tons of smiling and laughing hijab clad school children, sitting with my big backpack on my lap for a second time (to be again repeated the day thereafter)) – I arrived at the park headquarters without a clue of what exactly I had thrown myself into. The park is mainly visited by Malaysians, they’re having loads of team-building there, and families visit during holidays. Turned out they weren’t really used to foreigners, and they all seemed to find it pretty hilarious that I’d turned up unannounced – all alone – on a weekday, out of tourist season.

After persuading the staff to let me have a bed in a dorm (it wasn’t my fault it was empty) – instead of paying a lot, lot more for my own little bungalow – I was faced with a huge dilemma concealed in a tiny little question. “Did you bring any food?”. Did I bring any food? Of course I didn’t bring any food! Sure, I was far off the tourist trail, no hearing Norwegian wherever I stepped like I did on Koh Tao, but this was South East Asia after all, there’s always some food – somewhere. It hadn’t even crossed my mind that there couldn’t be. And yet, here I was – without food, and not too much water either. I didn’t even have a single cracker, apple or chocolate bar. The people behind the reception desk shifted uneasily (the number of people behind the desk seemed to have multiplied since I first arrived, where did all these people come from?). Then I was saved by the cute and handsome young man that had been sitting at the gate when I arrived. He offered to take his motorbike to the village nearby after work and buy me some food. And so he did. After I’d settled in at the camp – a kilometre or two of gravel road away from the Headquarters – and checked out the giant ants in the bathrooms, he brought me a ridiculously cheap meal and a big bottle of water. He even made particular sure to give me the exact change back and wouldn’t take any money for the favor. Thank God for nice people helping shortsighted Norwegian girls!

(1. Caveish thing, and water, and plenty of headroom (no proof of the swimming in water with barely any room for our heads part of the cave) 2. Lots of, lots of bats 3. Some other caveish things with nice patterns 4. No problems fitting in there. That´s my guide by the way, and the only flashlight. 5. Mr. Elephant, or troll, or… alien?)

Back to the cave
The guide and his friend showed me the penis shaped stalactite (no name was given to the masterpiece, but it’s shape – and the boys shy smiles and slight giggles – told the story) and the elephant head shaped one (with my cultural background I instantly said troll when asked what I thought it looked like). We squeezed through tiny horizontal crevices. Crossed into Thailand and re-entered into Malaysia (according to my guide) without any visa trouble. We crawled flat on our stomachs through a low-ceiled bedding plane passage and then we reached the shores of a little underground stream. It continued into the darkness with tons of stalactites hanging down from the low roof, not leaving much space for passing. It must have been more water then usual, because my guide sat at the water edge, in the typical Asian squat, contemplating what to do next. Finally he looked up and asked “Adventure tour or regular?”. “Adventure of course”, I answered with a grin – and so we went.

As I was more or less swimming through the cave passage, trying to dodge and prevent my bare head from hitting the hard hanging stalactites that I could barely see in the dark, I couldn’t help but wonder – not for the first time –  if I was taken on an unofficial tour. After all we were three people traversing a big dark cave with only one proper flashlight (in the hand of my guide) and the weak light of a cell phone (At this part of the tour, we didn’t even have the phone. It was left with my backpack and my camera, and everything else we wanted to keep dry, in another part of the cave), and we were squeezing  through narrow openings without helmets. It sure did seem a bit dodgy, especially after all the safety gear and instructions at my last caving experience in New Zealand. But we got through it all fine. Picked up our  backpacks again, ventured into a similar stream and narrow corridor (it was a bit harder with a backpack and a camera that I didn’t want to get wet, and definitely didn’t want to crush into the low ceiling and the stalactites above me) before we were back in the jungle. As I walked down the path back to the camp with my guides – suddenly a lot more aware of the of all the leeches that might be  throwing themselves at us (and sure did, but I got to all the suckers before they got through my skin) – I hoped I’d remembered to save a tiny bit of food, maybe a shrimp cracker at least, from the breakfast, saved from yesterdays dinner. I was starving!

Lesson of the trip: Always remember to bring a snack, you never know where you wont find food – and caving is fun, but make sure to bring one of those thick waterproof bags! (Flashlights are a good idea as well!)