Saturday, 22 November 2008

Kuala Lumpur Whirlwind Adventure

12 to 17 November 2008

KL City View from the Klang Gates Quartz Ridge: Petronas Twin Towers and Menara Tower in full glory. The Quartz Ridge is a beautiful 3-hour hike, located about 18 km from the City Centre in Taman Melawati. We took a cab there, guided by the street directory that Tim had purchased in KLCC's Kinokuniya the day before. High up on the ridge, construction and human sounds from below tend to travel upwards, spooking us on occasions when we heard disembodied voices when clearly there were only the two of us. One of these 'voices' turned out to be Tim's digital recorder that had accidentally switched itself on, giving me quite a fright. I also experienced a sense of deja vu when a brown doggie met us at the jungle-end of the ridge, following us the entire way back, a la Palawan's Puerto Princesa Subterranean River National Park.

We stayed at The Heritage Station Hotel located at the old KL Railway Station, a tourist attraction in its own right, gazetted as a heritage building since 1983. Operational since 1 August 1910, this 170-room colonial throwback boasts a Neo Moorish architecture with heavy influences from India, Turkey and Morroco.

Despite its grandiose appearance, this hotel is actually a budget affair following the historical tradition of railway station stay-overs offering basic necessities with no frills. We found that it was clean and functional, with amenities like spacious aircon rooms, attached bathrooms, comfortable beds, and new paintwork. Some complaints though: a faulty tap that sometimes produced no water, a hot water tap that completely did not work, and a creaky bed that gave way on our 3rd night and had to be hammered back in place.

The hotel's fan-cooled dining room where we had breakfast on those days that did not require us to be up at the crack of dawn.

A classic wooden lift door that fits into a green lift cage.

We visited Masjid Negara (National Mosque) located within Taman Tasik Perdana (Lake Gardens), which was just next to our hotel. I had to don a purple tudung dress to meet the requirement that all ladies are to cover up their heads, an encumbrance that was oven-hot and overly long, but fun to pose in! The majid's attractive 18-fold turquoise-tiled roof is vastly different from the usual dome-and-minaret affairs that characterise most mosques.

We were impressed with the expansiveness of the mosque's interior...

...and charmed by the pretty skylights just beneath the 18-fold roofing.

The distinctive dome of the Islamic Art Musuem. This was our main reason for visiting KL - Tim had heard plenty of good reviews and so we decided to see it for ourselves. Unfortunately, I toured the place in a zombified state, the result of a sleep-deprived hangover from the coach ride the night before, exacerbated by the slow digestion typical of a heavy buffet lunch. Still, I forced myself to read the text accompanying the museum's vast collection ‘representative of the Islamic world’, comprising not only of mainstay artefacts from Iran and the Middle East, but even Muslim works from China, India and Southeast Asia. All in all, it was an engaging tour of geometric Islamic art, architecture, Qur’ans and manuscripts, jewellery, arms, armour, woodworks, metalworks, ceramics, glassware, textiles, coins, seals, calligraphy etc. For me, the most staggering work was an architectural replica of a mosque in Xi’an that looked EXACTLY like a Chinese temple, save for a tiny Islamic crescent and star on its roof. This temple’s so-called minaret looked EXACTLY like a Chinese pagoda. Utterly strange. There was also a ‘Beyond Orientalism’ special exhibit – showcasing examples of modern fine artpieces borrowing concepts and geometrical motifs from the Islamic World.

We had the RM43 Executive Set Lunch at the restaurant within the Islamic Art Museum. It came with a scrumptious appetizer and dessert buffet spread, plus a choice of main course (mine was beef stew, Tim's was BBQ lamb). The food theme seemed to be Middle-eastern Islamic. We particularly adored the delectable chickpea and eggplant hommous with pita. I also loved the diner's decor of metallic mirrored bas relief walls which opened up to a garden view with the huge aviary of the Bird Park in the background. Sadly, the place had next to no patrons. Highly recommended.

Cassida (Taiwania) circumdata Herbst (IDed by Glenda Heng). First IDed by Lena Chow as a Tortoise Beetle spp. I love its luminous interior, encased in a transparent shell. Photographed at the Lake Gardens.

The pond at the Lake Gardens which we recce-ed in the day, and visited in the night for frogging. During the day recce, Tim spotted this dead tadpole, which we suspect belongs to the Green Paddy Frog. Notice that legs have begun to emerge. We managed to preserve it in RM6 vodka before transporting it back to Singapore.

We returned later that same night (after KLCC) and found a newly metamorphosised froglet. Notice that its tail is the same as that of our tadpole's, while its back is beginning to show the white stripes characteristic of the Green Paddy Frog.

An adult Green Paddy Frog - this frog is abundant in the pond area, sitting prominently on lily pads and calling their lungs out or hidden within the thick vegetation that clothe the pond's edge. We also flushed a lot of these while walking on the grass.

I spotted this tiny toadlet on a blade of grass. It is around 1 cm from snout to vent and calls with a very loud machine-gun rattle.

Back view of the toadlet.
Four-lined Treefrog with its a foam nest on a sapling.

After frogging, we were treated to the night lights of Masjid Negara, Menara Tower, and the full moon.

We birded Ulu Perdik on 16 November 2008 with our gracious Malaysian host Susan Wong Chor Mun - the same day the very rare and threatened Nordmann's (Spotted) Greenshank was seen in Singapore after a 27-year hiatus. Fortunately, I managed to catch the bird after I returned, on 23 November 2008 at SBWR to the left of Hide 1a, with Bingwen, Horst and Tim. Also saw the Great Knot at SBWR, but missed the Ruddy Kingfisher and Hodgson's Hawk Cuckoo at Jurong Lake.

Whiskered Treeswift on a high perch at Ulu Perdik. However, Tim and I dipped on the Black-thighed Falconet and Bamboo Woodpecker seen by Susan.

Orange-bellied Flowerpecker...I am willing to showcase this blurred picture to give the uninitiated an idea of the pretty birds that inhabit our tropical forests. This tiny 10-cm long chirper is also found in Singapore.

My best shot of a Dark-sided Flycatcher. Forgive me, my camera is only a 12x zoom Canon Powershot S5 IS. Am going to venture into digiscoping soon, hopefully then, I'll produce better bird pictures.

Ulu Perdik has plenty of mature trees serving as abodes for a plethora of colourful forest birds and fascinating insects. Lifers: Narcissus Flycatcher (male with orange brow), Pale Blue Flycatcher etc.

The out-of-this-world design of a Shield Bug.

Colourful butterflies imbibing minerals from the earth.

I spotted an unidentified draco (flying lizard) landing on this tree after its bird-like flight.

Susan and us, shot taken from the slanting hood of Susan's car.

The most stunning caterpillar we've ever seen. Suspect its that of a moth, as moth caterpillars tend to be hairy and spiky.
A winged multi-hued grasshopper that landed on Susan's shoulder. We've never encountered this mysterious creature before. Its wings and lower body resemble that of a damselfly - a hybrid perhaps? Or just one of nature's many quirks? Anybody with its name please email me or leave a comment!

A 15th Century film set of a kampong house that we came across in the middle of the forest. The production assistant told us that he researched from books and interviewed history professors for 2 months on the architecture of such a bamboo-and-thatch house. The actual construction took a 9-men team 2 weeks to finish, largely because instead of rattan, they used raffia to lash the bamboo together. There was even two chicken coops with live chickens, and a kite that was simply a huge dried leaf (sticking out on the left hand side of the photo)! Susan chatted with him for 45 minutes, learning much about movie production.

I love Merdeka Square (Dataran Merdeka), especially this stipey building. The outline of these Colonial-Islamic structures are lighted at night, turning the square into a fairy land of sparklies. Come evening, the road is also cordoned off to traffic, making it a nice nightspot for an after-dinner walk.

We birded Taman Rimba Ampang on our last morning. I was disappointed that we did not get to see the Blue-banded Kingfisher, nor any birds of real significance (ie. no lifers), probably because I was scanning the river edge for the target bird the entire time and failed to look into the trees. We were also distracted by the other wildlife spotted (Pig-tailed Macaque, Great Anglehead Lizard, Skink etc).

Great Anglehead Lizard (Gonocephalus grandis) - very common. We spotted 5 of these sunning themselves on tree trunks and rocks. Spent much time photographing them.

Tim photographed this Spotted Forest Skink (Sphenomorphus scotophilus) sunning itself in the morning, while we both caught it later scurrying along the forest floor on the opposite bank of the river.

Hose's Rock Frog / Poison Rock Frog (Rana hosii), probably female, measuring at least 10cm SV. Tim spotted it sitting motionless on a rock in the middle of the river at TRA. According to, the Poison Rock Frog is a common inhabitant of lowland to upper-level rainforest along fast-flowing streams and rivers. This large frog is also a good climber though it usually sits on rocks and boulders along streams. The skin can secrete a potent toxin but the strength of it is not well-studied.

Tim and I at the most scenic portion of the Klang Gates Quartz Ridge. The climb was an exhausting one. My legs felt rather wobbly after a spell, and they protested by suddenly giving way on the downward leg, landing me on my bum and missing the edge of the steep drop-off by a mere 10cm! Thank God for a safe descent otherwise...the only thing was that Tim got a huge fright as he witnessed the entire slip-up.

The Quartz Ridge is rather short on birdlife though, as it comprises largely of a scrubby exposed vegetation. Best birds were the Spectacled Spiderhunter, Striped-throated Bulbul and a calling Changeable Hawk Eagle. Tim also pointed out some endemic plants. As part of the Titiwangsa range, there was a nice green stetch of forest on the lake-side of the ridge (dammed up for electricity), contrasting with the sad state of affairs on the city-side: instead of verdant forests, we saw an enormous brown patch of land flattened for development. Malaysia should promote the Quartz Ridge as an eco-tourism site and cease all developments in the environs to preserve the beauty of the place. Some have likened this patch to Australia's Blue Mountains...I'll just contend that its a scenic trekking route worthy of conservation.

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