Singapore and Kuala Lumpur

2011 - 2012

Day 12

Batu Caves and The Elephant Santuary

As we got along so well with Ambi our taxi driver, we booked him again to see the Elephant Sanctuary today. Because we mentioned we wanted to see the Batu Caves at some stage, he said that if we were ready to go a bit earlier (ready to leave by 9:00 AM) that we could stop by there on the way for no extra charge, as long as we made it to the Elephant Sanctuary by 2:00 PM as that’s when the elephant show and bath starts. The elephant sanctuary was a few hours from KL.

After speaking to the travel insurance company yesterday, Anthony and Amy managed to book a rabies shot with a local hospital early this morning, so before I woke up, Anthony and Amy had gone to get the injection and made it back to our hotel just in time to grab a quick bite to eat before meeting Ambi downstairs at 9:00 AM for the tour.

We had all stayed up fairly late last night and Anthony and Amy got up really early, so we all ended up sleeping in the taxi at one stage or another.

We arrived at the Batu caves along with many other tourists and Hindu visitors. The Batu caves is one of the most popular Hindu temples outside of India and consists of a variety of shrines at the top of a 272 step climb surrounded by natural linestone caves. At the base of the steps is a large car park with a smaller shrine and a place to wash your feet. Out the front is a 42.7m high golden statue of Lord Muruga whom the temple is dedicated to.

During the yearly Thaipusam festival, worshipers carry heavy pots of milk and the like, called “Kavadi” up the 272 steps to the top of the temple as an offering to Lord Muruga. These pots are carried by hanging them from skewers pierced through the bearers torso as they make their way to the top of the temple and back again. We weren’t here for this festival, but what a sight that would be.

We got out of our taxi and Ambi told us that we would need to be back by 10:30, which gave us about 45 minutes to an hour to climb up, look around and climb down again. Yesterday my foot felt great, and I was hoping that it had fully healed, but I had a bad feeling that 272 steps would re-aggravate the injury. We stood at the base of the steps to take a photo and started heading up.

Along the way there were “Macaque Monkeys” leaping around on the look out for tourists food. These monkeys, although surrounded by tourists all day long, were not quite as friendly as the last lot and had been known to be territorial, but we had left all our food in the taxi before we left.

We arrived at the top and the view was really nice. Not only could you see how far down the steps you had just climbed, but the surrounding environment was left quite raw and natural. The caves were a home for the monkeys and so there were lots of families living amongst the green cave walls.

As this place was also a major tourist attraction, there were touristy souvenir shops at the top of the steps (not exactly sacred buildings), but as you got deeper into the caves there were a number of smaller shrines where Hindu people could pray. There was also a portable toilet, which Anthony was jokingly praying to.

There was also a little boy who was laughing as he chased a monkey around, the monkey kept running away until it eventually got annoyed and went to attack the boy. The mother quickly grabbed the boy and gave him a bit of a whack to tell him off. The poor kid went from having fun and laughing to being attacked by a monkey and his mum and then crying :(
We also saw some of the monkeys territorial behavior as it looked like one of the monkeys was raping another one and when it escaped and ran off, the attacker and a posse of 2 others started chasing it away and screaming - needless to say, we avoided monkeys here.

We got back to our taxi and made our way to the next stop, the “Deer Land Park” - which is a couple of kilometers from the Elephant Sanctuary. The climb up and down the stairs did make my foot start hurting again, so I rubbed some anti-inflammatory cream in while we were in the taxi. Once again, I fell asleep in the car and I’m pretty sure the others did too.

When we arrived, we bought our tickets and made our way around the park. We were given small baskets of food to feed the deer. The deer were also very gentle taking the food from us, but the ones with bigger horns thought they could ram the smaller deer away so they got more food.

After our food had finished, we got to walk into the enclosure and pat them. There was also an Emu in a nearby enclosure, where a park assistant gave me some food to feed it. The emu wasn’t quite as gentle and as it took the food from my hand, it briefly got a hold of some of the skin from the palm of my hand too - but it didn’t hurt or actually break my skin, so that was ok.

After this we continued around the track and got to see some more exotic looking birds, the worlds smallest breed of deer, some quail and got to feed some rabbits. There were a bunch of little kids here too and they were having an absolute ball feeding the rabbits.

When we finished, we had realised that we were a little bit early, so Ambi drove us around to find somewhere to eat. We ended up at this small restaurant which had about 3 main meals on its menu (including, you guessed it, chicken rice) and a couple of desserts including fried banana.

We got our meals and one of the staff gave us a couple of branches of Rambutan for free. I have had Rambutan before, but I couldn’t remember what they tasted like - but these ones were fresh! They were nice and juicy and once you manage to get them open, we thought they kind of tasted a little bit like a big grape with a large pip in the middle. The guy who gave us the branches showed us how to open them by sticking your thumb in the middle and snapping them apart. Sarma used a different technique where he just bit through the skin with his teeth.

As we were eating lunch, Ambi got talking to some of his taxi friends and they must have warned him that we needed to pre-book as they only let a limited number of guests in per day. So Ambi rushed off to try to get us tickets. He came back and said that we could only get the red passes, which only got you entrance into the park, but no bathing or riding. He asked us for the money for the admission and rushed off again, he came back with the yellow passes (which was the full ticket) and a smile on his face. Even though the ticket people said it was full, Ambi managed to use his taxi driver status to talk him into getting the full tickets for us which was nice of him to do that. We probably should have booked in advance to save this hassle - lucky we had Ambi on our side.

Before getting into the park, they sit everyone in a large cinema where they show you a video of what the Sanctuary actually do. They have an “elephant trans-location team” that are skilled in moving elephants away from problem areas.
In Malaysia, a lot of the elephants native forest land is being taken up with Palm plantations, and so when the elephants run out of forest, they start moving through the plantations and destroy a lot of stock. The Palm plantations can lose quite a lot from this, so rather than hunting them down in-humanely, they call the sanctuary so the team can track them and then with the use of tranquilizer darts, chains, GPS tracking collars, trucks and boats, move them to either the sanctuary or the national state park where they have lots of space to move around and are protected from hunters.

When we got into the park, we randomly bumped into Rosa again! Completely by coincidence, her and her family came with one of the tours. As we got to the main area of the park, the elephants were in a holding area and there was a rail so visitors didn’t get too close. It was just close enough for the elephants to reach us with their trunks so the tourists could feed them. They would stick out there trunk and kind of twist out the end so we could easily drop food in for them. It looked like the elephants were enjoying it and the enclosures were a good size.

Soon after we got in, the park presented a show where they explained where the elephants had come from (they had come from many different countries including India, China and Indonesia) and distinguishing characteristics of that breed. The elephants and their trainers demonstrated what they could do and then the largest 2 elephants made their way to the crowd so we could all feed them.

After the show, the elephants dispersed out to some raised wooden platforms where we could line up for a quick ride. I had been on an elephant before, but only using a saddle. This time we were ridding them bare back. Every step they took, we could feel their huge shoulders moving in and out from under us. It felt like we were going to fall off without a saddle, but trainers made sure we held on to the them.

Next up was the highlight of the sanctuary, the trainers bring some baby elephants into the river for a bath, and the visitors get to help. Now you may be thinking we get a brush and scrub them down, but thats not quite as fun as how the sanctuary do it. Instead, they get a bunch of tourists to get in the water, and then call a couple up to stand with the elephants for a photo, then the trainer instructs all the other tourists to splash water all over them! The elephants end up spraying a bit of water around and its quite fun for all!

We were warned about this and we all brought a change of clothes, so after the bath we got changed and made our way home. Ambi was surprised how much we knew about the attractions in Malaysia and asked if we had been here before, but we just explained that we had Amy who did heaps of research on the net before we came. When we arrived home, we paid Ambi for his services and gave him a 100 Ringgit tip (about $30 Aussie) - he was really happy! He made sure we had his card and said if we’re ever back to give him a call.

Later that night we ventured out to Low Yat Plaza again and Anthony managed to find a piece of electronics he had been searching for for a while now - a USB-to-HDMI adapter for his phone. We only found this at one store, it was an official Samsung branded product and they wanted too much for it, so we went to the shop next door and met an interesting salesman. His colleagues called him the King of Low Yat who could beat any price and get any product. Once we told him what we were after he stormed off and returned 5 minutes later with that same product and ended up getting it for about $30 Australian Dollars, which is more acceptable. To this day we reckon he just knows where the other shops store there goods and just takes it, but who knows! We also found some tripods that are really similar to mine, and so Sarma and Amy bought one of those each.

At another close by store, we also found the side straps for our cameras, which Anthony had also been looking for and we bought 3 of those (one for me too). I had been asking around for prices for wide angle lenses and when I asked this salesman, he managed to slash the other prices I had collected significantly, so I took those home to compare with my usual Aussie shops. I also told the salesman that I was just getting prices because I was unhappy with the converter I bought. He said that I wouldn’t have wasted my money and that I should bring it in and he would show me how to use it, so we planned to come back tomorrow.