Gua Tambun (and the consequential trip to Perak)

Day 1

On the 29th, I got the train from KL to Ipoh, Perak.

Faizal came with me, which turned out to be a good thing! It was fun having a companion on the journey and also extremely helpful when it came to navigating my way around the city.

When we got there, it was getting dark.

Originally from Perak, Faizal was keen to show me an old jamming studio he remembered from back in the day. But we arrived and it was abandoned. He began to tell me about how the Malaysian music industry was dying. Many studios all over the country, even in KL, were shutting down. Particularly, jamming studios crumbled under the changing music trends. The technology is behind, big record companies are all overseas and, when it comes to art in general, there is a lot of oppression.

We got a cab to Rumah Khizanat, the guesthouse. We were the only two people staying there. It was pretty awesome. We pulled out a mattress into the front lobby and I flicked through their large collection of National Geographic’s.

On the hunt for dinner, we happened on the guys he was looking for in town.

So concludes another  night where I need to learn Bahasa Melayu.

They were from a band called Muck and we listened to one of the records that Faizal produced. He wasn’t too convinced with the mastering of the music.

We all went and got burgers at the Reggae bar in town. They played a bunch of Kiwi bands, I think potentially in my honour?

day 2

Got the bus to Kuala Kangsar. This is Faizal’s hometown.

And he hadn’t been there for a while. I think it was something he really needed to do.

Walking around, everyone seems to know him. Met some of his old friends, cousins, aunties, uncles – who all seem to love and miss him.

We did some archery with his friend and old band member.

Archery takes way more strength than I thought! And a clarity of mind.

a nice crappy photo of both of us at the bus stop


Waited to get the bus back into Ipoh for what seemed like ages.

Again, we were the only two staying at the hostel. Faizal had some great memories and old stories to talk about.

I smoked weed for the first time in a while. Let’s not do that again. My anxiety is out of control. But I kinda forgot about how you melt into music when you’re high. That was nice, and I soon fell to sleep.

DAy 3

Early birdy start! Got breakfast at Restoran Vegas. Apparently it’s a pretty well known eatery in the area. And only fifteen minutes from Gua Tambun! I ate a really good nasi lemak and downed a coffee before ubering to the rock art site.

Finally, the purpose of my trip! I’d been planning to attend one of the Gua Tambun workshops for a while. Arranged by heritage researchers at the Centre for Global Archaeological Research – Universiti Sains Malaysia (USM), the awareness project is relatively new (2015). Malaysia is pretty shit at protecting their heritage. There’s not nearly enough funding and the country’s economic growth has been violently corrupted.

Anyhow, Gua Tambun is one of the oldest known rock art sites in Malaysia. The initiative programme aims towards public awareness of Malaysia’s prehistory. Public involvement is quite critical when it comes to conservation, and what will hopefully be long-term management of Gua Tambun.

We arrived early and hung out with two local Chinese guys who volunteer there. One was called Simon, the other I forget…I’m terrible with names. Shortly after, the USM student tour guide arrived with a group of kids for the workshop. The site was only a short hike and some steep stairs away.

Faizal video recording on his phone at Gua Tambun

This proved to be a trip in time, chasing paint back 4000 years (new propositions/arguments in research now state 7000 years) at the largest Neolithic Orang Asli Rock Art Site in Peninsular Malaysia.

I have such huge respect for the indigenous people of Malaysia. Their neolithic paintings are just another reason to take pride in the raw beauty of this country. There was an Orang Asli dude from the Temiar community on the trail with us. I said “Elok Gah!” (Temiar for hi, how are you! – a general welcoming.) He was there to talk about what he thought the paintings indicated, as a modern descendant of those who left their mark on the landscape here.

All the artworks were displayed high on the wall, suggesting that some sort of structure must have been built to reach the chosen placement of their enduring pieces.


Canvas Wall

Blazing across the stone wall in red, orange and deep purple; the colour of the pigments differ according to which mineral or stone was chosen from the earth. But the colour is also largely dependent on the concentration of the mixture and whether they have been burnt prior to their use.

I wonder how meticulous some of the rituals may have been in regards to the act of painting.

X-Ray Style Deer

Waterfall and Man

Some snaps of the most intriguing markings and images that appear on the walls include:

  • floating soul/aquatic creature; so-called dugong?
  • man with a waterfall/aquatic creature/petai leaves?
  • man amongst deer – notably executed in X-ray style where a pregnant deer is clearly visible
  • tapir
  • sunset

Most of the painting styles on the wall include the solid silhouette but the stippled style is also sighted, illustrating the boar and various so-called exclamation marks. Some styles are seemingly more popular in different eras.


My favourite was the sunset, actually facing out towards the direction of the setting sun in the Malaysian sky. Bold and vivid in red pigment and depicted like a wavy haze, the neolithic Orang Asli painted a reflection of the sky.

Sunset 1 + 2

For archaeology buffs out there, you can find more academic information quite readily available online. There is a rather comprehensive paper by Noel Hidalgo Tan and Stephen Chia which is great foundational knowledge on the Gua Tambun research. It discusses the various forms, categorising them panel by panel – some of which are now faded away or difficult to see with the naked eye. The paper not only acts as a detailed account of the site itself but is now an important historical record as the face of the wall is quickly becoming damaged via light and rain, exposed to the elements more since trees in the area have recently been cut away. Due to mining activity, there are large cracks running down the length of the wall and much deterioration to the surface wall has ensued.

The workshops are held the first of every month. You can check out their FB page here and find their website here .

Please offer your support, spread the word and don’t forget to admire the work of Malaysia’s ancestors!







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