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Gua Kelam Caves, Perlis

The Gua Kelam caves are located in Perlis state very close to Kaki Bukit near the Malaysia-Thailand border in northwest Peninsular Malaysia. There are a number of caves in the area and what makes them of particular note is the history of alluvial tin mining undertaken underground within the caves. Alluvial tin mining was carried out at a number of locations in the Malay Peninsula, in particular in Perak and Perlis. The most noteable is Gua Kelam in Perlis. Two caves are currently open to visitors, Gua Kelam 1 (entrance shown above) and Gua Kelam 2. In April, 2010 the entrance fees were RTG1 for Gua Kelam 1, and RGT5 for Gua Kelam 2.

Gua Kelam 1

Visitors pass through this cave on a suspended wooden walkway above an active river that flows through the cave. The cave was used as a short-cut route for miners. There are a number of formations to be seen, including stalactites, flowstone and gour pools but these have all suffered from mining activities and relatively uncontrolled access and abuse by visitors so they are now damaged and dirty. The somewhat gaudy lighting in the cave, no doubt appreciated by some, did not do much for me!

The suspended walkway above the river in Gua Kelam 1.

Some nice flowstone and gour pools in Gua Kelam 1 that have unfortunately suffered over time.

Flowstone and gour pools in Gua Kelam 1. During my visit in April 2010 I observged local visitors climbing and posing on this fine formation, now spoilt by mining activities and human erosion. The gaudy lighting didn't do much to help.

The cave is a few hundred meters long and eventually emerges out into a pleasant recreational area within the limestone hills where visitors can have a pleasant picnic.

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Gua Kelam 2

Gua Kelam 2 cave has only recently been opened to tourist visitors and a short train ride has been constructed from the Visitor Centre and Mining Museum Display area to take visitors through a man-made tunnel into the upper levels of this cave. When I visited in April 2010, the cave was closed due to the train being 'rosak' (broken)! However, a nice, helpful Malay gentleman at the entrance to Gua Kelam 1 made arrangements for us to make a special visit to the cave next morning - Malaysia Boleh! The roomy dry upper levels of Gua Kelam 2 (which involves a walk of about 2 km) are open to tourist visitors and my companions joined me for that part of the trip. The newly installed lights in the cave were not yet working. I then went on to the lower level river cave (about another 1 km) where moderate level fitness is required and wading up to the waist in the river.

The dry upper levels

The entrance tunnel through which the train normally runs.

The upper level caves of Gua Kelam 2 are large and roomy and bear many reminders of the former tin mining activities within the cave (e.g. wooden joists, posts and walkways, metal wires, pipes and anchor points.

Large chamber in Gua Kelam 2 in which cassiterite tin ore was mined and which still contains many wooden beams that once formed part of a suspended walkway.

Many wooden posts and beams in the cave are extensively covered with white fungus. A nice example is shown above with the fungus now extending from the post over the cave floor.

Other wooden joists seem to have escaped the fungal attack.

Miners have also left there own marks in the caves in the form of graffiti. The miners were almost entirely Chinese and this is reflected in the Chinese writings and drawings to be found on the cave walls.

My wife Amarjit (on right) who is a historian, and her sister Kiran, also an academic, very much enjoyed seeing the ancient remnants of a once thriving tin mining industry in Malaysia, sadly now condemned to the pages of history books and museums.

The upper levels of Gua Kelam 2 contain a variety of creatures. These wasps were building a new nest near the entrance tunnel and one could find lots of millipedes on the floor of the main caves (see below)

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The River Cave

For the more adventurous visitor, arrangements can be made to traverse the lower level river cave at Gua Kelam 2. This involves a steep incline followed by a vertical pitch of around 7 meters by fixed vertical ladder (see picture above) that brings you into the active river passage. Visits cannot be made in wet weather as the cave is subject to flooding. The visitor is also required to negotiate deep pools and uneven cave floor and a variety of mining debris, including old pipes, metal railway tubs, and lots of wooden joists and posts.

Negotiating pools and mining debris in the river cave.

Ian Metcalfe in the river cave with scalloped limestone walls, roof and floor and which has very few cave formations.

In some places however, there are some flowstone formations and a few stalactites.

Stalactites in Gua Kelam 2 river cave.

Piles of mining debris in the river cave.

An old iron pipe and electric wire fittings in the river cave and a deep pool.

As one approaches the cave entrance and where the river reappears into the valley, frogs and toads can easily be found in the cave.

Ian Metcalfe at the cave resurgence.

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