Gua Tambun ~ Perak Malaysia

For an historical site so important and so old in comparison to the age of civilisation in Malaysia, one would think that Gua Tambun be enshrined for eternity and that there wouldn't be a problem locating this historical milestone.

Having put up a night at the 'Once-upon-a-time-Majestic' Hotel at the Ipoh Railway Station, we were raring to get out of town for some good old-fashioned exploring and get soiled in a bit of an adventure. Something to write home about, at least.

Armed with a mountain of books and maps and all sorts of survival tools eg. a flask filled with ice-cold lime juice, packets of crisps and a handheld portable fan!, we went off on ... what we found out later....a lot of hassle.

Like all the popular caves around Ipoh, Gua Tambun has been given its credit mention in local travel books, visitors' guide books and websites, but strangely though, none of them had given any directions to the cave.

The general assumption was that this place is located somewhere within the Tambun area, which I may add that is most famous for their sweet pomelos. If you intend to buy pomelos, get those in the range of RM7 - 9, it's much larger and sweeter in comparison to the ones selling at '3 for RM10'.

As we entered the Tambun area, something dawned on us...of course Tambun is fortified by limestone cliffs. Silly us! How on earth are we going to find the cave? The limestone cliffs must be riddled with caves and tunnels and blowholes and chimneys and there is still quite a lot of wall to scour. ( Should we add that the wall is crumbling slowly but surely due to the overbearing weight of economic gains?!!)

A little put off but with the ounce of determination mustered collectively, we put our heads together and came up with a brilliant idea! Why not ask the locals?! That's the thing about travelling without a guidebook nowadays..we're as hopeless as the next tourist without a guide. Tsk!Tsk! Call ourselves travellers!

So, it's just behind the Caltex station at the turn-off from the main traffic junction leading into Tambun from Ipoh. No biggie. We turned into a tiny lane next to the Caltex Petrol Station and came to a halt at the end of the path. The lane led to a little polo field and a stable of fine looking horses. Not really knowing where to head towards and certainly not a soul around to stop us (being noon the hottest time of the day, even the lizards slither off into cracks to hide away from the heat), we trotted through the field towards the base of the limestone massif.

Hmm, the scent of horsy poopoo mixed with fresh cut grass seems a little alien in such surroundings. Even in a little area like this, we see a group of silver leaf monkeys hanging off a lone fig tree on a high ledge, several types of kingfishers perched along the path and ...wait a minute?! horses and a friendly old billy goat??

Just round the corner, we find the rusty information board on Gua Tambun set up by the Museum Department and a flight of relatively steep 141 steps to a high ledge. We've found it! Gua Tambun or Tambun Cave.

More poopoo on the steps, probably little reminders of silver leaf monkeys living nearby. We took our time climbing up. Although the area is well shaded by leafy trees, the heat got to us. Is it our imagination or is it getting really hot in and around cities? Perhaps it has something to do with the tree slashing exercises!

Before we go any further on this story, it may be a good time to mention that you need a good pair of walking shoes to get to the cave. At the top of the steps, we found rubble . It looked like something or someone has chipped off parts of the wall. It is difficult to walk on these loose shales. Along the wall, it looked like attempts have been made to erase some of the graffiti leftover. As we walked slowly, almost crawling up the slope, the cave wall completely transformed itself into a canvas of drawings. It was amazing! There are 30 forms of paintings on the wall.

These cave drawings was discovered by Lt.R.L Rawlings in 1959 while on a routine patrol in the area. When he made such a historical find, bet he didn't realise that these drawings date back 3,000years ago. They were most likely painted with haematite, a type of red colouring easily available in the area and by ancestors of the Orang Asli living around Tambun. The motifs include human, abstract and animal designs depicting their surroundings like rusa, pelanduk (types of deer), kura-kura (tortoise), dugong and a figure wearing a headdress similar to that worn by the Orang Asli. The cave also contained some neolithic artefacts but have since been removed. It is said that 'the motifs resemble those found in Papua New Guinea and Australia but it is not known if there is a direct correlation between them in terms of age and cultural links.' (The encyclopedia of Malaysia: Early History, Archipelago Press)

What a wonderful way to end the trip to Ipoh. We had finally located the cave drawings. Despite the advancing deterioration due to natural flaking of the cave wall and graffiti, many of the motifs are still visible. However, what surprised and thrilled us most wasn't only having found it but that the size of the drawings!! A few of them were about 3m across

We had so many questions unanswered that day. Some that probably may never have answers to. If only there was a method to slow down the rate of deterioration and more interest in these beautiful ancient murals, perhaps we would one day know more about the early man who had taken the same paths we do now.

Article written: 4th April 2003

As of July 2018, the latest update is that the Perak State Government has barred visitors from entering the area due to safety concerns. Do read the article at

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