Gua Tempurung – one of the largest and longest caves in Peninsula Malaysia – stands out as the highlight in my Malaysia trip. So significant was my experience that I felt an obligation to write this post, partly to preserve my fond memories and partly to introduce more people to this wonderful place.
The moment I read about this cave on an online traveling blog, I know for sure it had to be on my Ipoh’s to-do list. Never exploring a cave before, I did not know what to expect, but the good reviews and beautiful images of the cave kept me on the edge of my seat throughout my 30-minute Uber ride to the cave (Gua Tempurung lies 24km from Ipoh center, and btw, the Uber ride was about 18rm with Ramadan discount).
The site was more popular than I expected, as I saw long lines of tourists and students waiting to enter the cave when I arrived at the ticket counter. However, since I picked the most arduous tour, my fellow explorers ended up only including 4 French and a US-based Palestinian guys. Being the only Asian girl in the group automatically infused me with a sense of pride and purpose already. I was determined to not lag behind, if not in the lead :))
The first 20 minutes into the cave were pretty relaxed, as we only needed to follow the lit-up walkway that was built for easier tours. Still, those first few steps were full of “wow” already, as our tour guide would frequently point his torch light at seemingly random corners in the cave and blow our minds away with imaginative explanations of what a rock formation looks like, from Osama bin Laden’s head to a girl washing her hair by the river. I was unceasingly amused and amazed: It must have taken a lot of intimacy with the cave and an extraordinarily creative mind to spot all those rock shapes.
The real tour began when we started to get off the walkway to find our own way through the darkness of the cave. We literally had to use every part of our body, from climbing through rocky surface, jumping into holes, sliding our butts down sandy rocks to crawling in the water through tricky stalactites and stalagmites. The sweat and pain were well worth it though, as every step promised a breath-taking view of spectacular rock formations, shaped only by the force of time and nature.
A glimpse inside the cave
Our experiences, however, went beyond the pleasing of the eyes. At one time, our guide instructed us to try the fresh mineral water streaming down on a rock, and I couldn’t help feeling all my senses being turned on by this untainted flow of nature. Another moment, I was frozen for a few seconds at the sight of a crystal clear drop of water hanging onto the pointed top of a stalactite. This might sound a little bit cheesy, but I felt like I was witnessing the birth of nature, as in that swift moment a new part of the stalactite was being born; every drop of water brought a transformation, and the stalactite would never be the same again. I suddenly felt so grateful to be present in that process, and thinking about the cave’s constant motion of changing and becoming something new with every passing second sent chills of wonder down my spine.
Stalactites in the cave
At one of our breaks along the journey, I suggested that everyone turn off our flash lights. We were instantly covered in pitch darkness, our voices the only indicator of our presence. I took a few deep breaths to take in all the precious motions & sounds around me, from the echoes of my friends’ exciting laughter, the rush of wind through my hair, the distant rustling sound of water to the uniquely humid smell of the cave soaking my nose. I was filled with this weirdly empowering feeling of sitting right in the womb of nature, absorbing all of its nourishment into the veins of my physical and mental being. Again, I felt so thankful and alive.
After reaching the end of the cave, we took a 10-minute break in pleasant greeneries before going back through a different, yet equally demanding route. The whole tour took about 3 hours and a half to finish. We were all wet and dirty by the time we got out, yet smiles of pride and satisfaction still wide open on our faces. Since I couldn’t bring my phone along during the tour, I actually came back to the cave to take a few photos and selfies with our tour guide.
Selfie with our wonderful guide!
Talking about our guide, I must emphasize what an amazing human being he is! He is more a man of action than words, as he did not talk much during the tour. However, he served as a true pillar of strength for us throughout the journey. Multiple instances put me in awe of his support: he would bend his legs for us to climb on when we had difficulty jumping down a hole or sliding down a rock. Seeing that I was struggling a little bit with my bag while crawling, he offered to carry it for me for the rest of the tour. When my 5rm flashlight got broken in the middle of the climb, he was quick to give me his professional one. Yet his most generous act must be when I and the Palestine guy still did not know how to get back to Ipoh, he went out of his way to help us find a few taxi contacts. The taxi prices ended up being so expensive, and we decided to go for bus option. He then offered to take me and my Palestine friend on his motorbike to the bus stop, despite the scorching heat outside (and since his bike could only bring one at a time, he had to make two rounds of riding for both of us!). My Gua Tempurung trip definitely couldn’t be so memorable without his kindness.
In fact, friendliness is definitely one of the things I miss dearly about my short time at Gua Tempurung. Other local staff at the sight also cheered me up in different ways: The ticket seller girl who kindly consulted me about different types of tour and encouraged me to go for the most difficult one; The receptionist who, looking just about my age, struck a quick conversation with me while I was anxiously waiting for my group’s turn to enter the cave. And above all, the cave owner, who, being very excited to know that I have studied abroad in the States just like him, generously gave me a free coin to use the locker. On hearing that I did not know what to expect, he instantly showed me multiple clips about the tour from previous visitors to give me a better sense of what the adventure might look like. I kept thanking him for his hospitality, to which he smilingly replied: “That’s what friends are for, aren’t we?”
I did it!
All in all, Gue Tempurung has been such a beautiful and inspiring visit that I would recommend to anyone who travels in Malaysia. If by any chance, you read this post and decide to check out Gua Tempurung in your Malaysia trip, here are a few tips to prepare yourself better than I did for the cave =))
- If you don’t want to waste money for one-off events, bring along your own torch light. The site is only responsible to provide you with a helmet.
- Definitely wear long pants if you don’t want a bunch of bruises on your knees. Knee and ankle pads are recommended if you do have them! (I had some small scratches on my ankles as “souvenirs” for a few days)
- You will definitely get wet if you choose the hard tour, so bring clothes to change after the tour.
- Make sure to free your hands when you enter the cave. If you do have to bring a bottle of water, find a small bag to put it inside and wear the bag on your shoulder. (but honestly, learning from my own experience, even a small light bag is not recommended. Just your body is enough!)
- Use a waterproof phone container to hang on your neck if you want to take your mobile phone along throughout the tour. If you don’t have one, you can always buy at the cave entrance, along with other necessary equipments. My Palestine friend used the one he bought at the site and his phone was well-protected.
What I mean by phone container
- If you are the well-planned type of person, it’s helpful to think beforehand how you will get back to Ipoh from Gua Tempurung. I did not plan at all, and unsurprisingly, I couldn’t find an Uber or Grab to pick me up at the cave once I was done. However, I got lucky to have my tour guide willing to take me to the bus stop, and my Palestine friend luckily found a Grab car when he was at the bus stop, so we split the cost of the Grab ride back to Ipoh instead of taking a bus (22rm/ each person). Bus would have been much cheaper, but also taken a lot longer (at least 1 hour). A safer choice is to book a taxi for a round trip to Gua Tempurung, though that will be a little bit expensive. For a more thorough guide on transportation, check out the end of this blog.
=> No matter what, don’t let transportation discourage you from going! Considering the popularity of the cave, you will definitely find some help to get back, and more importantly, you will have a great time in the cave ;D)