Langkawi, Kilim River
Located on the north-eastern section of the main island of Pulau Langkawi, it is dominated by limestone of the Setul (Thai) Formation believed to have been formed some 400 million years ago (during the Ordovician-Silurian era). Scientists had long concurred that Langkawi was the meeting point of the Asiatic and Indo-Malay regions and hosted an interesting mix of species different from those in the mainland of Peninsula Malaysia. Taking distance into consideration, Langkawi is very much closer to Thailand (just a stone’s throw away to the north is Thailand’s Terutau Island) and as a result, the flora and fauna found in Langkawi’s northern coastline bear more similarities with those in Thailand than in mainland Malaysia. This unique place has myriad flora and fauna waiting to be discovered amidst the tranquillity of the Kilim River ecosystem.
Although Langkawi has lost some of its natural habitat to development, it still has several isolated sanctuaries that have remained untouched including the Gunung Matcincang (also called Machinchang) forest reserve, Gunung Raya forest reserve, Bukit Sawak forest reserve, Itau River-Kilim River-Kisap River mangrove and limestone forest reserve, Kubang Badak River mangrove reserve and Bukit Malut forest reserve. To reach Sungai Kilim’s ecologically rich area, visitors can either take a 90-minute scenic boat ride from Kuah town or charter a taxi from town and get to Kilim pier, located just behind Galeria Perdana. Galeria Perdana is a magnificent building which houses the gifts that former Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad received from foreign dignitaries when he held office.
Right across the pier, a troop of resident long tailed macaques gathers to greet outsiders to their humble abode. Boat rides are easily available either through private charter or tour groups which have counters located at the pier. One of the area’s interesting attractions is Gua Kelawar or Bat Cave, located about 10 minutes from the pier. Visitors have to disembark at a jetty and walk a short distance to the cave entrance. Gua Kelawar consists of two caves. The smaller western cave has a floor area of approximately 270 square metres and low roof (one to three metres) extending northeast by southwest. Ancient seashells can be seen stuck to the roof and walls, testimony that this was originally the sandy bottom of an ancient river that was pushed up by powerful tectonic processes millions of years ago. Studies have revealed that the sea level about 5,000 years ago was two metres higher that that of present day. The second cave is bigger, encompassing a total area of 750 square metres and has a 10-metre high roof. This cave takes the shape of a long tunnel of approximately 60 metres long, with both north and south openings. It is so named because of its inhabitants â€” both fruit and insectivorous bats. Malaysia has a high species diversity of bats with 117 species (20 species of fruit bats and 97 species of insect bats). Three species of insectivorous bats, the great round leaf bat (Hipposideros armiger), the intermediate round leaf bat (Hipposideros larvatus) and the Southeast Asian bent-winged bat (Miniopterus medius) make their home in the cave.
A wooden platform runs right through the cave, allowing visitors easy and safe access but a powerful torch is recommended if you want to view the cave’s natural treasures which include breathtaking stalactites and stalagmites. The best time to visit is either in the early morning or late evening when the sun’s golden rays enhances Mother Nature’s beauty. Lush mangrove swamps hug both sides of the river. Residents here as well as nature lovers realise the importance of these brackish mangroves which protect the coastline from erosion and provide a suitable nursery for the teeming marine life within the Kilim estuary. According to local tour guide operator Vickneswaran Saminathan, 35, local boat operators team up together occasionally during the lull periods to help clean up the Kilim estuary of debris and rubbish brought in by the tide. “Apart from that, they have also initiated a mangrove rehabilitation programme by helping to propagate the mature seeds in sparsely grown areas,” he said. Tour operators usually take tourists in for a closer look at the protruding adventitious roots of the Soneratia sp. and Rhizophora sp., two most commonly found mangrove species, and to view the shrimp and fish larvae scurrying in and out through the labyrinth of mangrove roots, seeking food as well as protection from predators.
As the boats venture out towards the open sea, tourists can view various types of wildlife indigenous to the area such as white belly sea eagles, brahminy kites, kingfishers, monitor lizards, small clawed otters and on very rare occasions, even dolphins which sometimes love to play tag by following the bow-wave of the boat. Another attraction at Kilim is eagle feeding where boat operators leave small amounts of chicken gut on the water surface for the predatory birds. “We turn up the boat engines to signal to the birds,” said boatman Adli Abdul Halim, 22. Almost on cue, flocks of carnivorous birds like white belly sea eagles and brahminy kites swoop down from the cliffs. They take turns to snatch the food with amazing agility. “Monitor lizards are also attracted to the food,” he added.
After feeding the eagles, the boats will move downstream and soon the Andaman Sea, located in the northern coast, comes into view as they exit the Kilim River through “The Hole in the Wall”. This is a famous passage so named after a narrow opening between formidable walls of limestone cliffs that connect the river to the open sea.
This narrow gap provides a sheltered area for a thriving fish farm and yachts mooring venture owned by Rahmad Md. Din, 45. His farm, aptly named “Hole in the Wall Sdn. Bhd.” is a six-year-old venture aimed at providing tourists with an insight into Langkawi’s rich aquatic life. The farm adopts a very hands-on approach, encouraging visitors to hand feed the multitude of marine life such as groupers, bat fish, blue spotted stingrays, lobsters, mantis prawns and snappers. The farm does not indulge in fish breeding; instead, it buys live fish from the local fishermen, thus helping to support the local fishing industry.
Visitors can choose their own lunch or dinner directly from the 50-odd cages and have it cooked the way they like at the floating restaurant. “We try and accommodate to our customers tastes. Our chefs can cook seafood in a wide variety of ways,” Rahmad said, pointing to his extensive menu.
The farm also provides simple, back-to-nature type of accommodation for tourists who would like to a taste of traditional Malay living. At RM45 per night, the simple yet tastefully equipped rooms are a bargain. “You have to book early to ensure that you get a room,” he advises.
According to Rahmad, most of his repeat customers are foreign tourists who moor their yachts at his farm when they have to return to their own country. He charges them a modest fee of RM200 a month which ensures the boats are well taken care of until their owners can return to once again enjoy Kilim’s treasures!