Sunday, December 18, 2016

"Non-controversial" Recreational Places to Visit in Pulau Langkawi

About a week ago, there was a very bitter story circulating around local groups on Facebook about how my workplace stops “locals” from enjoying a beautiful and private swimming area from visiting this secluded creek, only allowing foreigners (the accuser specifically mentioned Caucasians, “mat salleh”). I shall refrain from commenting on this over-sensationalised issue because my opinion will upset both the accusers and the accused.

The supporters of this story also mentioned that there is now NO other pristine and private recreational spots for them to go to because all of them are being “owned” by big companies.
I DISAGREE very much. 

Here is my list of “non-controversial”, public accessible recreational places, that are similar in experience to the aforementioned "secret" creek, to visit in Pulau Langkawi (in no particular order or ranking):

Telaga Tujuh (Seven Wells)

Drive to the end of the road, pass the turn into the Oriental Village and cable car place and you will find the entrance to the Seven Wells. Park your car, pay that parking ticket of RM2 for cars (RM1 for motorcycles), and start climbing up the stairs. Whoa! Climb UP stairs?! But Jon, I am on holiday, bro!

(I am not your bro, pal!) 

Trust me, it is worth it. You will come across a restroom halfway walking up the stairs. Turn left to check out one of the most epic-looking waterfall on the island. The first time I saw this from a cable car I thought it was man-made. It is water falling over a large sandstone face of about 30 to 40 metres high! This view is dramatic.
My baby girl by the large waterfall at the first stop last year in June.

Me dorking out with my girlfriend same time last year.
Me dorking out in October this year.

There are a couple of swimming pools as the water cascades down slowly and gradually. This place can be extremely busy because it is one of the major tourist attraction on the island. So, I suggest you walk back to the staircase (without drying yourself off), and continue to walk up that stairs. Jon, what is wrong with you?!

Some pools for swimming at the waterfall. This picture was taken last year in October when my bestie, Kenneth, came to visit.
Once you reach the top there are a few more “wells” to swim in, including a lookout spot for some beautiful pictures of the waterfall to be taken. It is at this area that you can learn the legends of the Seven Wells. This area too can be crowded. You can lose the crowd by walking towards the end of this area. You will come across a hiking trail on your left, and on your right, some peaceful pools of water.

So many choices in one place!

There are some complications though. The waterfall at the first spot does not always gush with water, common during the dry months. This past year, water flowed down (“trickled” when compared to the wet months) from early February to about early May. You can still swim, but manage your expectations during the dry months.

I have seen Great hornbills (Buceros bicornis) flying about at the waterfall. A delightful sight.

Suggested itinerary Enjoy the sights and experience of the SkyCab cable car and SkyBridge before heading to Telaga Tujuh. Or you can do the Matchinchang hiking trail (which I have yet to do) and then go swimming. Apparently, the trail open to the public is quite easy. Another option is going on a zipline adventure at Telaga Tujuh itself before swimming at the waterfall. This zipline adventure has a zipline ABOVE the waterfall you swim in after! You could have lunch at the Oriental Village (the general area where the SkyCab is located), or you could have lunch in one of the local shops at the base of Telaga Tujuh. (I never tried any of the eateries in these areas because I prefer to do everything, and drive to the Datai junction, “Simpang Datai” for some delicious homecooked Malay food.)

Be careful of Monkeys. The Long-tailed macaques (Macaca fascicularis) are like how the baby boomers label millennials – entitled. They are so entitled that they will snatch your plastics bags or even rummage through your unattended bags. They do like to hangout along the stairs too, usually where the restrooms are situated in the halfway point of the staircase. So, take into account the safety of yourself and/or your group if you see a troop loitering on the staircase on your way up to the hiking trail. (Whose fault is this? Idiots that like feeding wildlife. I shall elaborate more on this irresponsible and uncivil act by humans in another entry.) The steps are quite steep, so prepare yourselves accordingly.

Temurun Waterfall

The entrance of this waterfall is along the Datai road (Jalan Teluk Datai). You cannot miss it. If you miss it, you will be punished by having to look at the waste-of-money man-made tunnel just after the waterfall. There is ample parking on the opposite of the waterfall entrance. It has been awhile since I have visited this waterfall, so I am not sure if people have started collecting money for parking. (They should, if it will ensure that all trash is picked up from the road and the parking lot.)

The entrance to the waterfall. Look at the mother macaque begging food from another visitor. This macaque's troop raided the lady's group's food at the waterfall about 30 minutes later, ruining the experience for me and other visitors. Irresponsible humans.
You will have to hike about 200 to 300 metres on concrete pathways with stairs to cross the bumpy terrain to the waterfall. Once you are there, you will see quite a large pool of water and a beautiful waterfall. The rock face is not as tall as Telaga Tujuh, but it has a more rugged texture. If you find this “main pool” to be too crowded, you could swim in the smaller pools you see on your way to the main pool.

The concrete stairs long the path.

Like Telaga Tujuh, this waterfall can dry up during the dry months. The pools of water do become quite shallow but there are always some pools with water. I think you should definitely find a different spot to visit during the dry months. The experience during the wet months is magnificent over here.
Smaller pools along the pathway before reaching the waterfall. This picture was taken in June last year.
The waterfall at Temurun. This photo is taken last year in June. This was just the beginning of the rainy season last year.
Shameless selfie underneath the waterfall last year in June.
Suggested itinerary Spend a good amount of time at Pasir Tengkorak (Skull sand) beach before cooling off at Temurun Waterfall. This beach is located on the right side of the road on your way up the Datai road. It is a very beautiful beach with ample parking space. I find swimming in this small bay to be safe. If you find this beach to be crowded, you can walk towards the right side of the bay, climb some rocks, and get on some concrete stairs/pathway to walk about 200 metres. At the end of this pathway is a very secluded cove and a nice beach. There could be some flotsam and jetsam on this beach but it is usually empty. This cove is best experienced when the tide is low. You may not have a beach to relax on during high tides.

Entrance to Pasir Tengkorak Beach from the mainroad.

Shameless selfie taken in June this year while swimming with my floating, waterproof Pelican case gotten for me by Kenneth. Thanks, bud.

Pasir Tengkorak beach.

Path to the secluded cove.

Mind your steps, please.

Voila! You have reached a secluded beach. Do not thrash it. Please clean up the beach. It is your civic duty!
Be careful of Monkeys, again. Monkeys will frigging stalk you from the entrance if you are carrying plastic bags of food. Also, the pathway to the secluded cove at Pasir Tengkorak beach can be dangerous as part of the pathway is without handrails.

Durian Perangin Waterfall

Compared to the other waterfalls on the island, I visit Durian Perangin the most. Plenty of parking spaces by the entrance with shade. Nobody collecting money for parking. (Again, I think they should if it helps with the cleanup of the parking area and road).

The parking lot. That is my apartment-mate and colleague, Desmond.
There are more man-made aesthetics compared to the other waterfalls, but they do blend in quite well. There are many pools of water to swim in along the concrete pathway. These pools are amazing for children. Continue walking up the stairs and you will find the first waterfall. There is no clear entry into this pool of water but just climb down slowly (about four metres down) and you will be treated with an amazing pool to cool off in. (You can sometimes see big groups of butterflies lapping on the sandy banks of this pool.)

Safe path to walk to different pools and waterfalls.
The first waterfall along the path. This photo was taken last year in June.
Many people are satisfied here because there are some picnic places for them to rest in and the concrete bridge across the pool allows for people to take some beautiful picture of the place. I like to continue walking up the stairs to the second waterfall. The pool here is not as deep as the first one, but there is usually less people swimming here. This is also where you can experience the waterfall, having water gush down instead of flowing down slowly like in the first waterfall.

Shameless selfie at the top waterfall. Also taken last year in June.
Water still flows during the dry season, albeit less intense than usual. The top pool can be shallower too, but still the most “reliable” waterfall to visit during the dry months.

Check out my Durian Perangin waterfall album.

I have seen Asian fairy-bluebirds (Irena puella) hanging out on electric wires above the bridges across the swimming areas. Very beautiful bird with a sweet call.

Suggested itinerary Visit this waterfall after a nice mangrove cruise at Kilim Geoforest Park or after some beach time by Tanjung Rhu Beach. You could drive to Tanjung Rhu jetty to get on a mangrove cruise and then hang out on the beach close to this jetty. Or you can go on a mangrove cruise from the Kilim jetty. I prefer the Tanjung Rhu area because I get to do the mangrove cruise and hang out on the beach right after without having to drive to get to the beach.

Shakira and Desmond swimming in the sea by Tanjung Rhu beach.
Tanjung Rhu beach.

Be careful of
Steep staircase to the top waterfall.

Lubuk Semilang

This is not really a waterfall, but pools have been made for the river to cascade down slowly. This is another perfect spot for families to visit. There is ample parking space and the pathway to these pools are not too steep. There are shaded picnic areas for you to keep your things while you go for a nice dip into the cool waters of Mount Raya.

Water flowing slowly. Picture taken sometime in January this year.
I have never really seen a huge crowd here. Maybe because I only visited during the low tourism season. Heh. But really, I do not think there will be a huge crowd here.

This place is a good place to visit during the dry months because there will always be water flowing as the pools are made to slow the flow of the river.

I know, not a good photo of the swimming spot. But this photo was taken during the dry month of January earlier this year. I do not know why I did not take a photo of the pool we were swimming in. Fail.

Suggested itinerary Climb up the staircase to go up Mount Raya, before climbing down for a swim in Lubuk Semilang. This staircase is just next to the swimming area. What is wrong with you, Jon?! Why are you always climbing up staircases?! Trust me, it is worth the climb. You get to see many beautiful trees, many of them are primary trees that grow up to 40 metres high! I have seen cool animals along the staircase. Occasionally, you will not only hear the Great hornbills calling, but a couple of them may fly ABOVE you! (It will sound like helicopters flying above you.) Flying lizards are quite easy to spot along this hike. Once you reach the top parts of the staircase, you can even find some large butterflies that look like paper fluttering! (These butterflies are called the Tree nymph.) The lookout point up here is nice too. This hike will take you roughly three to four hours, both ways. Just make sure you have eaten prior to the hike and have extra water and snacks along with you.

Be careful of Monkeys by the swimming area, not on the staircase up Mount Raya.

My Rant
So you see, there are actually many places you can visit on Pulau Langkawi that are easily accessible by the public. And many of these places are free (or cost little if parking is collected) to visit! (If you do not go on a mangrove cruise and the zipline adventure at Telaga Tujuh.)

The locals who are upset that they cannot freely access the “secret” creek, are also upset that they cannot access this “clean” and “natural” place. 

The places I have listed in this entry are made unnatural and dirty because visitors, both locals and foreigners, have thrashed them! I have observed many visitors bringing in food to these places and littering everywhere. I have seen visitors feeding the monkeys, causing the distribution of rubbish deep into the jungle where no humans ever visit. 

I am not just talking about plastics, but even food items. It is not okay to leave your food waste on the barbecue pit or have your fruit peels thrown into the jungle or the water. Food scraps invite pests that can be health hazards to other humans! (And please do not throw flour at your friends in the water!) 

How about irresponsible smokers? Your cigarette buds are littered EVERYWHERE, even in that “secret” creek that you visit!

Where is the locals’ rant or uproar on the gradual destruction of their natural heritage done by not only the “outsiders”, but also by themselves?

Monkey Tips

Before I end this entry, if you are going to bring food along to these places, you MUST hide them in your backpack. It is unwise to carry them in plastic bags. The monkeys will grab any plastics because they have been “conditioned” to expect food from plastic bags over the years. 

Make sure you are not carrying anything in your hands and wear your backpack at all times. Invest in a waterproof bag so that you can place your bag close to you while you are in the water, not only to avoid monkeys rummaging your stuff, but also their cousins, the thieving humans. 

Remember, the monkeys will always be where they are because YOU are visiting their home. 

As humans, manage situations properly. Anything you do that can cause the monkeys to attack you will result in the entire troop of monkeys to be killed, even though you are the true instigator. (Another consequence of feeding wild monkeys.) So be mindful of your actions.

Sunday, December 11, 2016

Recycling in Langkawi

It has been a wonderful Fall semester for me with the Global Field Program. The two classes I had to take this Fall required me to connect with the local community. (I suppose one of the communities in Pulau Langkawi. I am still not sure what the "true" definition of "community" or "local community" is, thanks to a very interesting discussion at the Vermilion Sea Field Station during the summer field trip of the Program.)

Since the theme of my master plan revolves around living sustainably in a UNESCO Geopark, a designation and commitment (obligation to some) that extends to the entire Langkawi archipelago, I thought it would be a good idea to investigate how solid waste is managed on the most inhabited island of the archipelago, Pulau Langkawi.

Basically, everything goes into a landfill next to a non-functioning incinerator. (At the posting of this blog entry, the incinerator has yet to be in operation since the publication of this news article.) Sometime in August this year, some people were sharing videos of a famous tourist attraction, Sungai (means 'river' in Bahasa Malaysia) Kilim, flowing black. Not sure if this is conclusive or not, but authorities started checking out the good ol' landfill and determined, from rapid water quality testings and visual observations (of how mismanaged the landfill is), that the cause is from the direct pollution from the landfill, or specifically an illegal extension of the landfill onto the river banks. (It still boggles me how Langkawi's member of Parliament deducted with confidence that prolonged point-source pollution has no effect on the aquatic/marine life just after maybe a couple of weeks of investigation.)

This one incident sparked the exposé of how poor the management of solid wastes (news article is in Bahasa Malaysia, please use Google's translation service) is on the island that is marketed as "Naturally Langkawi". And whatever happening in Pulau Langkawi is a microcosm of how solid waste is treated in the country.

A shot featured on the exposé mentioned above of Pulau Langkawi's landfill. What is not shown here is the piling up of rubbish right NEXT to the incinerator that is not in operation, a visual metaphorical middle finger from the local government to tax-paying Malaysians all over the country (or maybe just the state of Kedah). The picture in this article is a mash between two photos. 
And do not forget about the litterbug habit of the majority of Malaysians and their fascination of dumping their rubbish UNDER "no dumping rubbish here" signboards throughout the country, creating many, many illegal mini "landfills". This picture, although without the "no dumping rubbish here" signboard, is a forest cleared along a main road on Pulau Langkawi for NO REASON and have been turned into an illegal landfill. Good job, Langkawi, good frigging job.
So how now brown cow? Reducing the amount of rubbish you generate is the best way to not contribute to the filling up of landfills. Another way is to redirect the rubbish we have created from being disposed into landfills by recycling. Unfortunately, Malaysia is very behind in the recycling game, only recently making separation of the solid waste we make at home (some of you may be thinking your fecal matter is solid waste, that is considered to be sewage-lah) MANDATORY. In response to this mandate, Pulau Langkawi has started kerbside recycling - basically having a separate pick up time for the recyclables collected in households from the usual rubbish kerbside collection.
Unfortunately, this kerbside collection of recyclables is only available to about 16.5% of the households in the Langkawi Archipelago (about 3,250 households in Kuah town of Pulau Langkawi).

The rest of the archipelago, if wanting to do our civic duty to not continue to ruin our natural surroundings, have to proactively separate our wastes at home, collect enough, and then send them to recycling facilities. But try googling your hearts out and you will never find good directions to or reliable information on the recycling facilities on Pulau Langkawi. Which is why I decided to focus my Inquiry Action Project (IAP) and Community Engagement Lab (CEL) on recycling in Langkawi.

For this to happen, I got in contact with E-Idaman, the company in charge of collecting the solid waste in the municipality of Pulau Langkawi. It was a very pleasant learning experience. For my IAP, I decided to investigate the response of the 16.5% that HAVE to carry out separation at source at home. For my CEL, since searching for recycling facilities on the island is very troublesome (no reliable results on search engines), I decided to identify the different recycling facilities present on the island and mapped their locations to create an online resource for the public to use. (This map is also one of the "action" components resulted from the findings of my IAP. You can find the map here. Click on the different pins to learn more about the different recycling facilities.)

To summarise: I found a significant reduction in the weight of recyclables collected from the kerbside collection five months after "mandatory" separation at source began; a really minute number of households actually practice separation at source and the weight of recyclables collected is (not statistically) insignificant to the weight of solid wastes produced on the island (~ 50 kg of recyclables a month compared to ~ 120,000 kg in a day); though a small number of residents were interviewed, a majority of them told me that we have to recycle for the good of the environment and the biggest demotivator to recycle is "not having any waste that can be recycled"; the recycling facilities on the island is very concentrated towards the southern part, most of them in Kuah town, while no recycling facilities (nor kerbside collection program) exist in other parts of the island. You can find full details of my inquiry from my final reports (IAP, CEL). (After submitting them, I feel that my reports were poorly written, like this entry. I am sorry.)

A screenshot of the map I created for my class, which I now use to find the closest recycling facility in my vicinity.
An E-Idaman representative and I suspect that the interviewees that said they are not recycling (practicing separation at source) because they do not generate solid waste that are recyclable may not actually know what are considered to be recyclables, or what are collected to be recycled on the island. So with the help of my bestie, I decided to come up with a localised infograph of the solid waste that are to be recycled. (Another reason to do this, which I did not share in my final reports, is that not all of the recyclables listed on the government's website to get Malaysians to separate their waste at source are collected to be recycled on the island.)

Langkawi only accepts paper, plastic, and metal. The rest are not accepted at all, what a shame. I am still very disappointed when I found out that glass is NOT accepted at any recycling facilities, nor the kerbside collection service. What a waste, since the island produces quite a lot of glass waste being a duty free island (cheap liquor).

Kenneth's super awesome creation to help residents of Langkawi sort their rubbish properly to be recycled!
It is a shame that the government is not enforcing this mandatory separation at source in its entirety, as there are no plans to do this in the other households/parts of Langkawi and not warning nor fining any offenders of this law. (Households can be warned three times before getting fined by the relevant authorities which can reach up to RM1,000.00 for repeated offenders!) I think the enforcement of this mandate is a failure from the start because everything seemed really rush and the announcement was not "grand". And I believe it did not reach many Malaysians. (Only one news article in late 2014, separation at source started out in September 2015 with many Malaysians still not knowing what to do because of the lack of awareness campaigns, and not having a proper framework to monitor this practice even after almost two years before "enforcement".)

The bad planning and the (federal, state, local, whatever) government's inability to execute this law properly, make me question how on earth are law enforcers going to know which household is practicing separation at source and which is not? What if a household only practices separation at source once a month (sounds efficient)? So many shortcomings of a wonderful law to help battle the use of landfills to safeguard out natural resources. (Unless these leaders of state decide to sell forest land to businesses. Ugh, greedy people.)

I know the findings of my inquiry and mapping exercise are quite demotivating, but I hope the infograph and the map created for my assignments will be useful to anybody interested in recycling on Pulau Langkawi. I truly believe that we can live sustainably on Pulau Langkawi, and it can be as simple as sending your plastic bottles to be recycled.