KL: Batu Cave Temple and Shrines and the National Islamic Art Museum

After dropping off our laundry nearby, we were going to head out to the Islamic Art Museum and flagged down a taxi, whereupon the driver suggested that we first go to the Batu Caves and then to the museum. Actually, he also suggested a dinner cruise with fireflys, a pewter factory, a batik factory, a city tour … but those we declined.

The Batu Caves, though, sounded good to us and off we zoomed, heading 13 kilometers outside KL to the village of Batu and the limestone cliffs and cave complex. This place has several caves into which have been built several Hindu temples and many shrines dedicated to Lord Murugan and other deities.

From Wikipedia:

“Rising almost 100 m above the ground, the Batu Caves temple complex consists of three main caves and a few smaller ones. The biggest, referred to as Cathedral Cave or Temple Cave, has a 100 m-high ceiling and features ornate Hindu shrines. To reach it, visitors must climb a steep flight of 272 steps. At the base of the hill are two more cave temples, Art Gallery Cave and Museum Cave, both of which are full of Hindu statues and paintings. This complex was renovated and opened as the Cave Villa in 2008. Many of the shrines relate the story of Lord Murugan‘s victory over the demon Soorapadam.”

Here, too, the monkeys rule the roost, perching on and scampering along the steps, sculptures, and buildings of the site, sneaking up behind unwary tourists and stealing their belongings. A favourite trick is sliding down the banister and grabbing bags and bottles out of pockets as they zip by. Once past these critters, the main cave is accessed; it’s large and somewhat damp, with droplets of water dripping from the high ceiling onto the stone and tourist heads below. Into the walls of the cave are installed colourful shrines to various Hindu deities, many of which serve as perching posts for the resident monkeys.

The interior of the main cave is huge and looked as if it was set up to accommodate hundreds, if not thousands, of pilgrims – this day, luckily for us, it was very quiet.

After our cave visit, we headed back into town to the National Islamic Art Museum, a beautiful building opened in 1998 and housing a good collection of art and artifacts, including textiles, ceramics, manuscripts, calligraphy and models of important mosques worldwide.

Ty enjoyed looking at the elaborately decorated weaponry, while I examined the beautifully painted Qu’ran pages. The building has several impressive painted domes, much like those in the Turkish mosques I’ve visited. The least impressive part of the experience was lunch in the museum cafe – not so good for the likes of us spoiled by the great food we’ve eaten here so far.

See more pics here.

More Monkeys

I just can’t resist these guys – they are so amusing and devilish (from a distance, of course!)

Although it may seem from these pictures that the monkeys rule the beach, they’re only on the very far end of a very long stretch of sand, near the limestone cliffs and the rocky headland (easily avoided if they’re not your bag).

Monkey Business in Ao Nang

The first time we went to the Last Café I’d noticed the Buddhist temple in the bushes behind the café. I’d been waiting for clear skies to take some pictures of it and today was the day. I headed out the back of the café towards the temple perimeter when, from a distance of about 30 feet, I saw several monkeys hanging around the statues.

I took a few pictures, then one saw me and came running towards me, presumably hoping for a feed. I am nervous of monkeys and so backed away quickly as this beast came determinedly in my direction. Then – boom – the noise of a cannon and all the monkeys on the beach went scampering off. Who knew there had been so many in the trees around the café! There were about 50 of them, grey macaques, of all different sizes, swinging in the tree branches, running along the path, skittering across the sand.

After about 5 minutes, the fright wore off and they were all back again, bolder than ever. I walked down to the water’s edge and watched the monkeys stalking passing tourists, occasionally jumping on one, sometimes grabbing the hems of clothes, reaching out for little tid-bits that the odd person handed to them, making off into the bushes with stolen bags of chips. One woman encouraged a small monkey to jump on her shoulder for a treat while two young women ran for the ocean with a small monkey chasing after them for their ice-cream. It was amusing to watch the women standing in the water holding their ice-cream watching the monkey watching them. Every time they started to move the monkey followed them, eternally hopeful for a bite of cone. The little girl in the picture below didn’t notice the monkey holding a piece of corn at her feet at first;

then she spotted him, still grasping his corn on the cob;

“Mom, mom, give the monkey some food!” and out come the treats …

treats which the monkeys obviously found more enticing than the corn on the cob previously capturing their attention. Of course, as soon as one got something, all the other monkeys came racing over for theirs …

I guess a pack of monkeys must make this end of the beach their hangout, the trees and steep limestone cliffs giving them protection. The little monkeys really are incredibly cute but I would be very careful of them – they do bite and scratch! [And, no, I don’t think it’s a good idea to feed the monkeys – but whether I like it or not, these guys have obviously been fed by people for a long time so they’ve become accustomed to the idea that tourist=food.] And their antics give a whole new meaning to sex on the beach …


Thailand: Koh Jum II


Spider monkey at Ting Rai Bay
Spider monkey at Ting Rai Bay

Random observations on Koh Jum etc. See more pictures here and here.

1. In the morning around 6 am when it is beginning to get light, we have hooting monkeys in stereo. We have several kilometers of jungle on three sides of the property, jungle in which the monkeys rule the roost.

2. On our deck, we have posts made of shellacked tree trunks. One of these is home to a hive of small bee-like insects, who are very active early in the morning bringing pollen to the hive inside one of the tree’s large holes. They have what look like large bulbous feet, as if they’re wearing Minnie Mouse shoes; this is where they carry the pollen. A large brown and red bee has made a home in one of the horizontal cross rails of the front deck; he was super annoyed when we had accidently covered his hole with a towel the first day we moved into Honeymoon Hut 2.

3. It has been raining torrentially in the night for the past couple of days. As a result, in the morning the plants and shrubs have grown several inches and put out many new shoots and leaves – things grow very, very quickly here.

4. Mr Chai’s kitchen at Old Lamp Bungalows was destroyed by the tsunami and four years later, cutlery and crockery are still washing up onto the beach here, worn smooth by the tumbling action of the waves.

5. We rode our bikes down to where we thought Coconut Green Bungalows were, the place where we had originally planned to stay on Koh Jum. We’d noticed that all the signs for it were gone; we assumed that they’d been removed by a jealous competitor. We found out, though, that it had been destroyed by the tsunami and not rebuilt after, even though their website continues to be up and running. The beach along that stretch of coast is very nice – wide, smooth and very quiet. We spent a few hours walking, collecting shells and swimming in the very calm ocean. On our way back to the bikes, we walked under an enormous tree beside Ao Si Bungalows; Ty made several hooting noises and generated an avalanche of spider monkeys who poured down out of that tree and several nearby ones. They were large and small, old and young; some tiny ones who hesitated to jump were pushed by their mothers; others swung from branch to branch; still others slid backwards down a branchless stump. Many dived from the tree’s topmost branches into the underbrush below. It was quite an amazing scene – they seemed to come out of the woodwork. After a few minutes, when they must have decided that we posed no threat, they all climbed back into the trees again, going back up the same way they’d come down. Speaking to the Bungalow operation’s Scottish owner, Phil the “Sage of Koh Jum”, he explained that a troupe of about 50 or 60 monkeys lived around there and came by daily, heading for the empty spot on the beach that used to house Coconut Green Bungalows. He said that some of them were quite large and aggressive; when he kicked them out of his kitchen, they retaliated by pulling up the corrugated tin roof on his dining room. Reflecting on this later, I thought that, while I found the monkeys fascinating because I’d never seen any in the wild before, and certainly not a troupe of them in action, staying in bungalows in which a wild monkey troupe made its home would probably be a drag after the initial excitement had worn off. They are noisy and dirty creatures who will tear clothes and shit everywhere. That same afternoon, on my way down to the beach, I saw a monkey underneath the bungalow next to ours, eating fruit – he was only about 8 feet away from me. As I slowly reached to get out my camera, he moved off into the woods, looking back at me every once and a while to see if I was following him.

6. The James Bond movie that made Phi Phi a destination was The Man with the Golden Gun (1974), starring Roger Moore as 007.

7. Roger from Bend, Oregon, the resident guru at Ting Rai, and webmaster of Koh Jum Online, told us that Canadians were the most generous of all international aid donors here post-tsunami. He said that Canadians paid for and established a boat-building business in Koh Jum Village to build and repair long-tail boats, most of which had been destroyed in the tidal wave, as well as building houses. Roger has 2 monitor lizards who frequent his bungalow. One, the smaller of the two, comes like clockwork every day between 2:20 and 2:30, climbs the tree next to his room, hops on his roof and has a little lie-down in the nest that he’s built there. A very noble looking beast, he has a face like a scaly ferret with a pointed nose, large claws and is about 3 feet long. The second beast is larger, and slithers through the underbrush underneath his bungalow. Roger told us that this island is reptile-rich, especially with snakes. In fact, there are few birds here because historically the reptiles have eaten all the birds’ eggs. Only swallows proliferate because they’re able to built nests that the snakes and lizards can’t access; their nests hang like balls in basketball nets from the tops of very tall trees or in undercut cliff faces.

8. More on snakes. Apparently they are very territorial and have a pecking order, not unlike dogs or monkeys. If a snake moves into your space, it is no longer your space, but the snake’s. And snakes fight each other over territory. After the tsunami, all the snakes who used to live down by the beach disappeared and reappeared in the hills above Ting Rai Bay; one can only imagine the cock-fight that must have ensued when the two groups of snakes met one another. Koh Jum has cobras, as we know, but also Burmese Ball Pythons; both species can grow up to 4 meters in length and very, very thick around. The Thai have no compunction about beating a poisonous snake to death or chopping off its head with a machete. The small, thin ones are the most poisonous.

9. Rogue animals. Monkeys are very social and usually travel in packs. Sometimes, though, for whatever reason, one gets kicked out and becomes a rogue operator. One rogue monkey apparently decided it liked the kitchen at Ting Rai Resort, and came down from the hills every day at the same time to steal and feast on food. Getting sick of this interloper, Tam hired a monkey-wrangler from the village who came in with a big cage, filled it with bananas, and waited. Right on schedule, the monkey strolled down the hill, spotted the fruit in the cage, hopped into it, and – clang – the cage’s gate came down. The wrangler took the caged monkey onto a long-tail boat and dropped it off at a nearby island, the place where all rogue animals are exiled. Here are bad dogs, bad snakes and bad monkeys, plus any other beast that won’t co-operate.

10. The tsunami destroyed the coral beds here and on the other islands. It ripped up huge chunks of coral and threw them up onto the beach. The tidal wave completely changed the ecology of Ting Rai Bay and Roger figures that it will not have regenerated itself in our lifetime. The sea water, formerly a clear crystal blue, is now sometimes muddy and cloudy with sediment. Two of the resort’s kayaks disappeared and are still somewhere on the bottom of the ocean. The tsunami may have made the waters more hospitable to jellyfish and perhaps that’s why they’re appearing on these shores now.

11. Insects, In addition to the usual mosquitoes, we have colonies of fire ants and termites who construct enormous mounded nests. These can be seen attached to dead tree stumps, concrete posts and buildings, as well as on the beach. Fire ants are small and bite. We also have other varieties of ants here and other insects with segmented bodies, as well as many varieties of dark-hued butterflies.

12. No joy in Joy Bungalows. The second day we were here, we walked down the long beach on the flatlands in the south. One of the places we stopped for a soda water was Joy Bungalows – we liked the look of this place and thought that it might be a nice place to stay. However, we later heard from a Dutch tourist we met in the village that a crazy man was living at Joy who was terrorizing the guests. Apparently he is mentally-ill but won’t take his meds, and wakes up screaming very early in the morning and generally makes himself objectionable to all. She said that people were bailing out of Joy like the proverbial rats off a sinking ship.

13. We’ve been playing volleyball each night for the last few nights; every day around 5 pm the women employees take a break and come down to the beach. They are deadly good volleyball players. We join in, along with random others each night. Last night Ty was serving and, on my return of the volley, I sprained a finger on my right hand – it’s now in a splint which is a bit of a drag. Ty accidently kicked a piece of coral hidden in the sand when returning a serve and has a badly bruised toe … nothing to worry about, though, just painful for a few days.