Monsoon Season Jungle Camp

Some people say, wet season is not good for camping. Well people said many things. But what does my heart says? Just Do It.

Dont Go Into The Jungle Without It

Prepare for anything and everything in the jungle. Almost as useful as a Mastercard, this very important item can mean life or death in survival situation. See how to build your own here.

Ahhh.. Overnight Camp

Its wet, its dark, its full of tiny beasts of every make and model trying to make a meal out of you. Welcome to the Night In The Jungle. See here for a simple guide to spend a night in the jungle safely and comfortably.

Bamboo's What's What and Why's Why

Ever noticed that bamboo have so many variety and species? Which one is useful for survival and bushcraft and which one is good for crafting? See here for a short guide.

Matchbox Bean

Remember when a hero lost in the jungle and when he needs a drink, he simply cut a vine and clear water flow out of it? See here to know about what was that all about.

Jungle Camping Trip In The Wet Monsoon Season Part II (Final)

( Continuing from Part I )

Second Day In The Jungle Camp

Waking up to the sound of a gentler stream flow, we saw that last night's muddy and aggressive jungle stream was already mellowed according to prediction. Thoroughly rested after a good night's sleep, both of us awoke fresh from our camp-beds. Swiftly, the night campfire was re-lit as cooking fire.
Monsoon Jungle Camping Log ~ Pancake Breakfast
Breakfast of champs - Pancake and Coffee.
After some suspenseful paper-rock-scissor rounds, I, as the ultimate winner decided that the breakfast should be coffee and pancake. With that, breakfast was soon served. But unfortunately the food we partook also obeyed universal the law of directional physics - what goes in must go out.

The Jungle Toilet

Monsoon Jungle Camping Log ~ Jungle Toilet
A simple jungle toilet. All the bin liner used  were taken out with us later.
With great urgency, a jungle toilet was hastily erected. Several minutes later, with the toilet finished and occupied the same instant, one could still hear the laughter from our campsite, joking on the nature of this emergency. Honestly, we both clumsily forgot to build this simple jungle toilet the day before.

The Weather
However, the morning felt very uncharacteristic - unlike a wet monsoon November morning as we used to remember. Tens of years ago, the mornings at this time of the year would normally be drizzling with chilly rain. I figured this must be one of the strange weather effects by the global warming phenomenon.

Monsoon Jungle Camping Log ~ Jungle Camp in The Morning
The camp in the morning..
The Activities
After breakfast, we left some water slowly boiling at the camp and set out for our activities separately near the camp. The whole morning was filled with leisurely activities like river trekking, swimming, nature photography and fishing. Unfortunately, we were unsuccessful during our fishing trip. Only a few very small fishes were interested on our bait. This is normal as fishes in this kind of jungle stream tends to feed only during early morning or evening time. After all, the stream was too shallow to allow for larger fishes that will feed at any time.

Monsoon Jungle Camping Log ~ Nature Photography Pics
One of my Nature Photography pics. Not awesome, but ITS MINE ~ HAHA!
After lunch, the weather seemed a little bit more cloudy compared to the morning but still no sign of  any rain. So we collected some firewood, stacked it at our camp and I continued my river trekking. My partner stayed behind at the camp getting busy with other things of interest. All the while, I was a doing some work - taking notes on plants, vines, snapping pictures for JungleJournals.com and taking some time to enjoy myself in the jungle.

When I got bored of doing technical stuff and felt exhausted from my work, I took a pause and drifted away to see the beauty of nature and simply relaxed under the canopy of the stream. A few minutes later, I'd continue my work happily. Evening soon arrived and it was time to return to camp to prepare for the night. Though the weather was very pleasant and I enjoyed the activities very much, I began to wonder if I'd get my chance to photograph some activity done in wet monsoon jungle camping.

The "Tiny" Jungle Problem
On the way back to camp, I had a short bath at the river to clean up the trekking dirt before putting on my dry kit. Upon my return to the camp, I found my usually unflappable camping partner was curiously busy yapping around, scratching and moving the firewood stacked under our camp-beds all at the same time. The amused me, after being thrown a stick or two started helping and I immediately saw the problem - it was US, providing a habitat for some Semut Gatal or Tropical Fireant also known as Solenopsis Geminata - any myrmecologist or entomologist please enlighten this humble idiot if I'm wrong. We both forgot to heed one of the shiniest golden rule of Jungle Camping 101 - Don't keep anything lying on the ground! This is one of the reasons why we do not use a tent in the jungle.

The ants were already swarming under the camp-beds, complete with their version of miniature highways and road network. Looking at their incredible progress, I was surprised they didn't build a mini KLCC under my camp-bed. It seemed they moved their whole kingdom into our border and tried to conquer our campsite - all in a single night.

Monsoon Jungle Camping Log ~ The Ant Problem
Sorry ants, we have to give you an eviction without notice. Please relocate yourselves as soon as possible. Thank you.
I mentioned that the problem was US, not the ants. This statement is true 99% of the time when any animal-human conflict for space happens in one way or another. In our case, we were very careless by stacking the firewood bundle under our camp-beds and the ants were simply following their survival instinct - trying to look for the driest place under the cover of dead woods to build a nest in the monsoon season. Of course, the dry ground below our comfortable flysheet plus with some firewood stack for cover was considered an open invitation for these wonderful and diligent creatures.

Solution was simple enough for this case, we simply removed the woods and repositioned them upright leaning to the flysheet pillars. Without the firewood or anything lying on the ground providing cover, the ants had no choice but to reestablish their utopia kingdom somewhere else. Though I pity the ants, there was nothing more irritable than having to scratch your feet every minute. So away they go. As I sit comfortably in my home now, I am waiting for court summons from the ants for the unlawful eviction without notice we executed (just joking la~).

The Last night In The Jungle.
The weather was definitely weird. All over the western coast of Peninsular Malaysia were ridden with flash floods and heavy rain but at our campsite, the sky over our campsite betrayed no sign of opening up. Hardly a drop fell on our flysheet for the whole second day. In a way, it was kind of a put off for me because I originally planned to show to my readers at JungleJournals.com about how successfully one may camp in the jungle even during wet monsoon season.

Monsoon Jungle Camping Log ~ The Night Campfire
The night campfire burned away safely while drying our socks and boots for the next day's trek.
Nonetheless, we both truly enjoyed this camping trip. During the day, I managed to collect much materials for my blog, sharpen my skills and practice some bushcrafting. That night, we both sat and chatted about our activities and summarized on how we can improve our trip next time around.

After writing some notes, taking more pictures, checking my bearing and pace table that I took for trail mapping during the inbound trek, I lie down to relax and savor the final blissful night on the camping trip quietly. Leaving the night campfire burning low for our safety, we tucked in our camp-beds and trekked away deeper into an unvisited jungle in our dreams.

Striking Our Jungle Camp

Monsoon Jungle Camping Log ~ Cleaning Campsite
Squeaky clean campsite. I didn't bother to sweep back the dry leaves to cover our tracks. In the tropical jungle, you just give it a day and it will be full again with newly shed dry leaves.
Late morning, after a late breakfast and even later lunch, we packed all our camping gears and struck camp. With an intention to show off our 'good camping habits', we cleaned the campsite from all rubbish and packed them together with our own. Afterwards, we leaned the woods and bamboos that we used to a nearby tree, so they can be used by other needful campers without harvesting more wood. At minimum, they can be used as dry firewood if weeks passed by without any camper visiting.

Trekking Out From The Jungle Campsite.
After a last look around our campsite  to make sure the fire was thoroughly doused and properly fill the toilet hole (very rude surprise to the next camper if forgotten), we began trekking out.

I took back-bearings from the dead reckoning notes and table taken during the inbound trek two days earlier. This helped to satisfy me that the bearing and pacing table was correct and later it can be used to draw an accurate trekking trail on my topo map.

Monsoon Jungle Camping Log ~ Dead Reckoning
"Recommending to alter course to two-oh-seven degrees, Sir!"
 
Monsoon Jungle Camping Log ~ Hill Trekking
Hinsz! Hinsz! Uphill ho! Half dead climbing up the bamboo grove.
The trek to this campsite is pretty well established and quite straightforward. Myriad of tyre tracks showed that this trail was also well travelled by motorcyclist - most probably rubber tappers and orang asal. There were very few trail branching out from the main trail.With the combination of those trail characteristics, I can imagine that an accurate trail map that I was trying to make is not particularly useful to anyone.

But I still decided to finish mapping it anyway because practicing the jungle trail mapping, jungle compass marching and jungle dead reckoning are easily forgotten navigation skill sets. Leave it out of your head for a few trips and soon you'll find yourself scratching your head to remember a skill set you once mastered. Many of my fellow ex-serviceman who were considered experts with compass and map can no longer remember the skill after only two or three years leaving the service. So I decided, if I wish to pass this skill to my children, I better keep it fresh and to do that, the skill must be practiced often. Furthermore, a guide skilled with map and compass is few and far between in Malaysia. Some of them don't even know how to read a map or orient a compass.
Monsoon Jungle Camping Log ~ Clear Jungle Trail
Clear trail on the hilltop. Obviously well traveled.
Sadly, during our trek we hardly encounter any of the usual fauna. Birds, Beetles, Frogs, Squirrels and other small animals with the exception of the murderous looking Pit Viper, were nowhere to be seen. Maybe they were hunted to extinction in this patch of jungle or maybe they were migrating to where the snows are falling to escape the rain and heat.

However, leeches and mosquitoes are plentiful by the buckets on the trail, with some them racing at their top speed to catch and suck my blood to death. Miraculously, some of the leeches were successful on chasing me but to their disappointment, I was no easy meal. My boots, trousers and all exposed skin were covered with mosquito repellent cream that was also very effective to deter leeches.

Monsoon Jungle Camping Log ~ The Abandoned Jungle Hut
No wonder they abandoned this bungalow. Getting a CF should be impossible this close to a ravine.
When we passed the Abandoned Bungalow landmark, I honored my promise to stop by and admire it's architecture and engineering. To my surprise, even though the 'bungalow' was built using nature materials, it's architecture are no more orang asal's than the Kuala Lumpur Tower.

I recognized that most orang asal's jungle hut will never be built using wood exclusively. Orang asal mostly uses bamboos to engineer their hut and have some unique architecture depending on the tribe and uses. This hut is simply a normal jungle hut built using jungle woods and nails- not an orang asal's epitome of engineering and architecture of jungle shelter building. With nothing that interesting to observe, we moved on.

Monsoon Jungle Camping Log ~ The Last Leg Trekking Out
Water level was much lower compared to the day we trekked into the jungle.
An hour and fifteen minutes of trekking on the jungle trail, both of us emerged safely to find the swelling lake was already receding slowly. Even in wet monsoon season, we camped totally dry during the two night's stay with exception to our first day. No wonder Kuala Lumpur is having water crises.

Upon arrival at the resort where I parked my car, Kak Uza, the friendly resort handler that took the responsibility to our car greeted us with relief. She seemed so glad we were not eaten alive by leeches of sucked dry by mosquitoes. Honestly, leeches and mosquitoes did not bother us much, as long as our mosquito repellent is available. During the chat, we can clearly see that Kak uza clearly was a jungle person herself. After chatting around there and exchanging phone numbers with Kak Uza, we headed home with much satisfaction and promised to return to this campsite when we have the time.

Conclusion of Monsoon Jungle Camping
After the camping trip, I began to do a post mortem and try to see things in a skeptical way. There were some things I would do differently next time I camp e.g; the firewood stacking that caused ant problem and forgetting to build a jungle toilet before its needed. it was all just part of a jungle camping trip. There is always some old knowledge to refresh and new skills to learn.

But after all the trips I made including this one, I still maintain my opinion that no matter how a monsoon rain season acts - dryer or wetter, camping in the jungle will always be the same. Even in the dry season we'd always expect a daily dose of rain in the jungle. So rain is never a problem.

Of course, secondary problems resulting from the rain like muddy river, flooding, landslides, and inability to use electronics much outside the dry area do exist but if proper care are taken, so little is affected. And that does not take away the quality of jungle camping at all for me. I was still able to light firewood, stayed comfortably dry when I wanted to, go out to learn and practice skills and do most things a summer camper could do.

In the end, this trip only reinforce my confidence in doing jungle camping in any season. I hope, I did show some skeptics out there who read this journal to try out the right way to camp in the jungle during rain season, instead of being steadfastly sure that such activities are not doable at all. Half of tropical year is rainy season or wet monsoon. If a man only go out camping only in the dry season, he will surely miss the jungle experience the other half of the year. So go camp - responsibly and safely!

Cheers,

v_V


Jungle Camping Trip In The Wet Monsoon Season Part I

Taking advantage of the Deepavali holiday and Awal Muharam Holiday, me and my elusive camping partner decided to get our feet (and the rest of our anatomy) wet in the jungle. Jungle camping are usually not done in the wet monsoon season around the tropics due to various issues like wet firewood, lots of leeches, difficulties in doing activities in the rain and etc etc. So I think it is high time to prove that this notion is very wrong and rain is not an issue at all during camping. For me, wet monsoon season is one of the best times to camp in the jungle.

One of my favorite activity during trekking is trail mapping, so I brought along a topographic map of the area for trail mapping purpose and use the GPS from my Samsung Galaxy S2 to support the accuracy of the mapping. Other than that, I also wanted to get some picture materials for JungleJournals.com and since this is a new blog, I figure I better start from a new collection of pictures specifically suited for JungleJournals.com.

But first, I would like to wish my Hindu friends out there a very Happy Deepavali and also a Happy New Hijrah Year to my muslim friends.

Jungle Camping Preparation
We began preparing for a camping trip two days prior to our departure but all of a sudden our friends from Kg Orang Asli Kemensah relayed the news that the jungle trail to our usual camping site located between Kuala Lumpur - Janda Baik was blocked by some land slide and fallen trees. I immediately picked up the phone and called my friend Keong (My-Rainforest-Adventures.com), for some fresh suggestion on new campsites. He suggested an area near the famous Ulu Yam Recreational Forest and after a few detailed Q&A, I said my cheers with a thousand thanks to him for sharing one of his favorite campsite.

According to him, nature around the campsite is well preserved due to the terrain and very few visits from overnight campers. However, we both agreed that it's best not to publish a good campsite indiscriminately on the web due to conservation reasons. So, those who wish to camp in this particular campsite must be a responsible jungle camper and may contact Keong at his website for info.

The Jungle Trek
After lunch on Thursday 15th November, we started our trek from a resort where we parked my car. The resort caretaker was good enough to let us park there for a small parking fee.

Jungle Camping Trip In The Wet Monsoon Season  Wetting My Boots
Due to heavy rain for the past few days, the lake on the left hand side was flooding the trail.
The trek began on flat trek beside a swelling lake, forcing us to wet our boots early on. Not a problem for us as both of us were wearing Jungle Boots and are used to wet feet in the jungle. Trying to avoid your feet to be wet is considered one of the most amateurish mistake one can make when jungle trekking. The second would be trying to run away from leeches.

Jungle Camping Trip In The Wet Monsoon Season Rubber Tree
An old rubber tree with a very creative latex 'pancur'. The pancur was improvised from a rubber leaf.
Around 10 minutes later, the trek took to a rather drastic climb into some heavily vegetated rubber plantation. We observed that the rubber trees were old and were then untapped due to the rain (rubber trees are not tapped if the tree trunk is wet). Rubber trees were the main canopy provider during the first leg of the trek. At that moment, I was seriously thanking God for Deet and Citronella Mosquito Repellent. Anywhere in the world, mosquitoes are found very abundantly in rubber plantations. The same goes for this one too.

Jungle Camping Trip In The Wet Monsoon Season Abandoned Condominium
The Abandoned Hillview Bungalow. I made a promise to myself to have a stop here on the way back.
Several compass bearings later, we passed an interesting looking jungle hut on the way uphill, most probably built by orang asal using materials from the surrounding jungle. I made a GPS fix for a physical landmark on my map and due to the unfinished state, we dubbed the landmark as The Abandoned Hillview Bungalow.

At this point, some refreshing rain started pouring sporadically from the sky and cool us two hot campers trekking uphill. One of the advantages of jungle trekking during the rainy season is, you'd often be excused from being a hot and bothered trekker - wet and bothered, maybe not. We were fortunate as the rubber tree canopy was quite thick, so we were spared from the constant heavy pounding of the raindrop to our heads during trekking. I was too busy with mapping the terrain and reading compass bearings so I left the yapping and clicking whenever the weather allowed to my camping pal.

Jungle Camping Trip In The Wet Monsoon Season hilltop Rest
Resting on the hill top... Drink loads on the trail.
Around 45 minutes later, a little wet from the rain, we arrived at the hill top where we stopped to take a GPS location to confirm our bearing mapping and take a drink. Right before we restarted our trek, the rain ceased completely and sun started to shine brightly that very instant. Talk about wet and hot climate, huh?

In the second leg, the trek was comfortably downhill and the rubber plantation gradually turned to bamboo bushes and secondary jungle along the way. Rain continued to fall sporadically. We passed some very picturesque views along the second hike. But due to the sporadic rain-and-stop, we were unable to take pictures - what the heck, it was still viewable from our Mark II Eyeballs and we simply enjoyed the views for ourselves.

Building The Jungle Camp
An hour and half into the trek, we arrived at a small clearing beside a fast flowing jungle stream that we suspected to be a campsite. It was in an abandoned orchard, safely upbank from a river that was supposed to be clear but the water was brown with silt from the heavy downpour earlier. From the bamboo frames and scattered rubbish left behind, we were sure that this is the campsite mentioned by Keong. The rubbish was minimal compared to other more frequented campsites but this proved that our reluctance to give away good campsites indiscriminately are well founded.

Jungle Camping Trip In The Wet Monsoon Season Campsite
I was quite p*ssed-off during this, upon seeing the rubbish. Note my soaking wet clothes from the sporadic rain.
We hung our backpack to a nearby Langsat tree and do a little campsite scouting around but unfortunately, the very spot where all the rubbish were left proved to be the best place to pitch our camp. There are always idiots who repay the bounty of nature with non-biodegradable rubbish and they dare to call themselves campers.

So the first order of the campsite, was to collect all the rubbish left behind by other campers. After a cleaning session filled with buckets of complaints and chronic abuse directed to the rubbish-makers, we began collecting jungle materials to build our camp.

Jungle Camping Trip In The Wet Monsoon Season Campsite Rubbish
Campsite rubbish, courtesy of some irresponsible camper
During the initial scouting around the campsite, we also noticed there was a bamboo bush quite suitable to build our camp with some distance upstream from the small river. After two trips of bamboo harvesting, I suddenly spotted a Pit Viper's head poking out from a dead wood near the base of the bamboo bush where we had been doing the harvesting. It was actually only two or three feet away from me when I was harvesting the bamboo!

Being mortally petrified to snakes (don't laugh, Paul!) and unwilling (afraid) to commit a second degree murder under the Jungle Penal Code on our first day of camping, we decided to use solid wood instead for the rest of the materials needed.

When cutting down trees for its wood, I would always select only non-valuable trees (not timber, medicinal or fruit tree type) and I always avoid cutting the whole tree at the base. I always make a point of leaving a two or three feet of stump for them to grow back. Trees that are best suited for camp building purposes are usually secondary jungle trees like Mengkirai (Trema Angustifolia) or other soft wooded secondary jungle trees. These trees are readily available in quantity and  I believe, this tree cutting practice will reduce the damage to the jungle, as secondary jungle species like the above are not able to form a primary jungle. At least it is much better than cutting down a baby Dipterocarp tree or a juvenile fruit tree which are the main backbone of  Malaysian Primary Jungle.

Our finished Base Camp, with a unique camp-bed layout. My home away from home.
We proceed to clear the grounds from dead leaves and began building our camp following my unique Jungle Base Camp Layout design. This type of layout is very suitable for jungle terrain during any season and can accommodate up to three campers under the same flysheet with comfortable sleeping and living space. However, this setup only usable with camp-beds campers and cannot be used if a hammock is involved.

We took about an hour and fifteen minutes, leisurely finishing our base camp in no hurry. When done, the base camp was complete with a taut 3m x 2m flysheet to provide a dry area, drainage around the higher camp side, two adjoined army camp beds to sleep on and an A-Frame rack to put our foodstuffs on. This camp layout is also very suitable for individuals like me who feels claustrophobic in the confines of a normal cocoon type hammock.

As if the nature intended to test the sturdiness of our dry area, the rain started again with renewed seriousness to repeat Noah's Great Flood. But, since our dry area was properly set up and all the urgent camp structure were already established, I simply welcomed the rain from under our flysheet. God knows how relieved we felt, sitting under a well pitched camp watching the raindrops pounding the ground outside our dry area. The colors of the jungle surrounding us became surreally vivid and glossy during the rain and I'd swear no High Definition TV can do justice to the view. Plus, to observe the whole jungle dancing to the rhythm of the falling rain from under the comfort of our camp with a mug of hot coffee in hand, was no less than a blessing from God.

Dinner and Rest
Refreshed from our well deserved rest, we both lazily unpacked our stuffs and loaded them under the dry area. Around 4.30p.m., after some purposely slow and relaxed work of pitching camp, both of us were very satisfied with our camp setup and we headed out to collect some rain-soaked firewood for tonight's campfire. Many advocates of No-Camping-During-Wet-Monsoon-Season never knew that firewood though wet on the outside, are very much dry on the inside. We collected them under the camp bed for cutting and splitting later.

With some teamwork, all things that needed done were finished very early and both of us took some time checking our camp for safety and tidiness, enjoying hot coffee and sorting out our personal space on our private camp beds. Not willing to change into my dry clothes yet, I left my partner at the camp for some more scouting around the camp to see what the campsite had to offer. The river was still a little muddy from the rain uphill but I know for a fact that this river stream will clear up quickly and I expected an innocently clear jungle stream the next day. Fishing may also be quite good when the river clears.

Jungle Camping Trip In The Wet Monsoon Season Our First Day Dinner
Who said a jungle camper can only eat Instant Noodles or Sardines during camping?
Feeling satisfied that our camp is safe from the river overflow and after some mental notes of things to do the next day according to available attractions nearby, I returned to the camp and we both cooked our dinner. Since both of us were not hungry yet, we decided to let the dinner wait for us while we sat down and began cutting and splitting our firewood. It may seem to be boring for some people - cutting and splitting firewood. But many a camper immensely enjoy the satisfaction of this particular chore. We are no exceptions. The rain drops slowly thinned down as the the day beckoned first evening of this camping trip.

Jungle Camping Trip In The Wet Monsoon Season Collected Firewood
Firewood under the camp-bed. This firewood stack proved to be a problem later. See Part II.
Before dark, we took our bath in the river and changed into dry kit. With our dry clothes on, feet freshly powdered and a little snotty from the dip in the cool stream, another round of sweet-hot coffee was in order while we lit the campfire.

Firewood that we collected earlier was cut and split beautifully to expose the dry wood inside. Minutes later, a healthy campfire was born and with it, mosquitoes of every make and model zinged away like retreating Stukas from our camp. We then simply sauntered around the campfire and did not even bother to put our Mosquito Repellent.

Jungle Camping Trip In The Wet Monsoon Season Relaxing Near Campfire
Ahh.... Bliss. Thank God for camping, coffee and pipe.
When night finally arrived, a rather luxurious jungle dinner was served and again, fresh sweet coffee was boiling slowly in the billy can on the campfire. After dinner, we sat on the camp chairs near the camp fire, smoking, chatting and enjoying the sound of the jungle crickets announcing the arrival of the moon. I checked my journals and write part of this entry in the jungle.
 
Also in the comfort of my camp chair, I saw friendly darkness slowly envelop our camp - giving a meaningful life to our campfire and brought a sensation that defined jungle camping - Bliss.

The Lemang Bamboo (Schizostachyum Brachycladum)

Lemang Bamboo (Schizostachyum Brachycladum) bush
A Lemang Bamboo Bush.
This wonderful species is one of the most well-known bamboo among the malays in Malaysia and Indonesia. The reason for this is, only mature and green bamboo from this species is used as one off vessel (for lack of a better word) to cook lemang -  a traditional malay food made from glutinous rice and some coconut milk. Hence it was named Lemang Bamboo by the locals. It's scientific name is Schizostachyum Brachycladum and in Malaysia, its available in its green variant.
Lemang
Lemang and it's bamboo vessel - Picture Credit
However, this article is not here to discuss about lemang, but to discuss about what unique properties offered by this species and it's benefits to our favorite hobby - jungle survival skills and bushcraft. Locals said that lemang can't be made with any other type of bamboos and I honestly agree (because I'm also a local! lol!). There are unique properties of lemang bamboo that allows this and we will see if we can use it for our uses in the jungle aside from cooking lemang. I'll try my best show how to recognize this particular species of bamboo and hopefully I can also describe the properties of this bamboo so we all can better use it in jungle survival skills training and bushcraft.

Lemang Bamboo (Schizostachyum Brachycladum) Properties and Uses

Lemang Bamboo (Schizostachyum Brachycladum) Culm, Sections and Culm Sheaths
A healthy Lemang Bamboo culm showing good color, node length, culm sheath and both it's miangs.
The culm sheath is covered with black miang and the green skin is covered with white miang.
Note the less healthy bamboo culm in the background.
The Size, Length Between The Nodes and Straightness.
Lemang  Bamboo are easily recognizable because of these three particular properties and saying in general, these three are how most bamboo species can be distinguished from each other. In fact, most of the uses we can extract from most species of bamboo are also from these three properties.
  • Size ~ Lemang Bamboo are considered medium size with a diameter between two to four inches when mature. Even the smallest young culm would be around one and half inch in diameter. Many uses can be made possible due to the size. Combine proper size with its convenient length and the unique thin walls of this species allows it to be used as a very effective steamer or cooking vessel. The size also permits splitting of the bamboo easily and allow us to use it as effective general containers, as cups or even as a plate, albeit a peculiarly long one.
  • Length Between The Nodes ~ Lemang bamboo is considered second in length between the nodes (also known as section length), after Temiang bamboo (Blowpipe Bamboo). It's section length is usually not less than one and a quarter foot long but very rarely above four feet. The normal section length when mature would be around three feet. This is very useful when cooking, making table tops, wall sections and so on.
  • Straightness ~ This is one of the most useful properties of Lemang bamboo is also one of the most distinguishable. Lemang bamboo is straight lengthwise. Its straight at the nodes and also straight at it's sections. If its bent, usually the bend is very gradual along the whole culm and was caused by the weight of its own foliage or other external factors. So when the foliage is removed and the bamboo is laid on the ground, it would seem straight without any drastic angles at the nodes. A straight bamboo, when split or opened, will make a relatively flat surface.This helps a lot if you are building jungle furniture like a rack, a long bench, table tops, shelter walls or even bed platform (but for God's sake, remove the miang first, mate).
The Culm Color 
Color is usually matte (not glossy) dark green with white powdery miang (see below). But its not unusual to see any bamboo culm with greyish green color and covered with white spots (see above pic). That grey color and white spots indicates a type of fungal infection. Please avoid taking the infected culm for cooking purposed. Though there are no harmful effects reported, it is not exactly a good, safe bushcraft practice.

The "Miang" (as in mee~young)
Miang is a Malay word for a substance that gives you an itchy feeling and sometimes even an allergic skin reaction. It shares some characteristics like a Stinging Nettle's needles but I am reluctant to describe it as needle as miang is not that severe. I use the Malay term for this because I can't seem to find a suitable word for it in English. With very few exception, most bamboo species growing in Malaysia have miang. But on Lemang Bamboo, there are two types of miangs and this can be used as a distinguishable feature.
  • The white miang. Located on the green bamboo sections, it is powdery and denser starting from the section's upper node, gradually thinning down to mid section of the same node. The white miang is not painful upon contact, but severely irritating at best moments later. The effect may last for a few days and when I was in Combat Medical School, I heard at least in one instance almost cause anaphylactic shock to a patient after the patient somehow inhaled the miang powder.
  • The black miang. It is a larger miang, almost one milimeter in length and black in color. This miang is located on the outside surface of the Culm Sheath. It stands like hair and stings mildly when contacting your skin. Therefore, always avoid holding on to the culm sheath thinking it may give you protection from the fine powdered white miang, it may give you a worse reaction because the black miang can penetrate your skin.
  • See below on how to avoid both miangs while harvesting Lemang Bamboo.
The Culm Sheath
Culm sheaths are usually brown, covered with small needle hairs called miang (see above). The sheath covers the bottom nodes and usually three to six inches long depending on the length between the nodes. Never handle the culm sheaths with bare hands as the miangs from this part are quite nasty. When removing this culm sheaths, use only your parang.

Lemang Bamboo (Schizostachyum Brachycladum) Leaves


The Leaves
Lemang bamboo leaves are quite large and grow from the nodes in several small, grouped stems. Not all nodes have leaf stems. The leaf is green with canoe's shape (see above) and can be between one and half inch to three inches wide. Length is approximately between six to ten inches long. The more mature and healthier the bush, the larger the leaves and the darker the color of the leaves. The picture above is from a relatively young and fungal infected bush.

The Thickness of The Side Wall
This is the reason why Malay people used this particular bamboo species to cook lemang. The wall is very thin - might be the thinnest amongst bamboos in Malaysia. The thickest lemang bamboo side wall I have ever seen was less than a quarter inch while the thinnest should be around one tenth of an inch (see pic below). Any thicker or any thinner, I'd doubt it's Lemang Bamboo. It may have been a descendent from an immoral union between rebellious bamboo teenagers.
The thin walls of this bamboo allows the materials cooking inside less insulation from the fire and results in faster cooking without wasting too much fuel. If I were to use a bamboo species with thicker walls, it may take up to twice the duration to cook the same material. The thin walls also mean that the bamboo is lighter and this is very useful if you need to improvise a water container as you can bring more water with less weight. But on the other hand, it also means this bamboo seriously lacking lateral strength and therefore not advisable to be used as a weight bearing structure or support. Its also significantly less rugged and if possible, not to be used in raft-making. In emergency however, a different opinion can be accepted.
Lemang Bamboo (Schizostachyum Brachycladum) Wall Thickness
This is the thickest bamboo I can find. Note the fiber grain dots near the rim edge.
The Size Of Fiber Grain (Bamboo Wood).
If you see closely in the pic above, this bamboo species have quite small fiber grains. Small and random fiber grains translate to less lateral strength and smooth cross-section compared to other bamboo species. The fiber size allows the bamboo to be flexible without extensive whittling which is very useful for short term crafts and frames. But in short, if you use it in split form or to make any heavy duty crafts, the material from this bamboo species are very unlikely to last long. The wood from this bamboo species is also very easily split, very straight when split and easily bends although it will not tolerate a drastic angle. If you are to use it in any crafts, do not remove the green/yellow skin as most of it's strength is from the skin. The wood fiber itself is loose and holds very little strength. However, if properly whittled to remove the green skin, finely pounded and twisted, it may make a good simple string (I have never tried this on my own, but I heard of this method from my dad).

The smooth cross section from the small fiber grain also means its less effective when used in friction fire-making. Bamboo fire saws works best when using a coarse grained and thick, hard-wooded bamboo because such bamboo produce hotter friction and more hot dust. Plus, this bamboo is too thin and quite unlikely to produce any good amount of hot dust.

Hardness of the Bamboo Wood
The hardness of this bamboo is considered soft, so don't use it for applications that require strength and durability under weight. On the other hand it's very useful for the purpose of crafting fine crafts and they also burn rather quickly. Very good as fire kindling when dry and split into small sticks.


Other Properties and Uses of Lemang Bamboo
Food ~ Lemang Bamboo bush also produces shoots and these can be eaten. Edible shoots should be no taller than twelve inches above ground. Dig the shoots and break them about two inch below soil surface, because the shoots are conical, most of the edible parts are at the bottom (undergound). But don't dig out the shoots and start munching it immediately. It needs to be peeled off from the outer layers and when you find the soft but easily broken core, you can boil it for about fifteen minutes before eating. For best appetite booster, have a picture of your favorite pizza at hand. Tastes rather bland and too exotic for me, but in survival beggars can't be choosers. They're carbs and proteins..

Water ~ Although quite rare, this type of bamboo can also hold water inside the sections particularly lower sections. I'm not sure if the water came from either the ground of from the effect of condensation. Compared to the other species, this species do not usually yield much water in it's sections. Water is usually available in lowest 2-3 sections. What you need to do is check for the sound of the sections when knocked with a hard material like parang or a rock. The sound of empty sections will sound hollow while the sound of water filled sections will be quite dense. Sometime you can hear water shaking inside the sections. Then you will need to hack a hole just above the water filled node and then clear, clean water will flow out. Don't drink straight from the culm, make ready a cup or canteen beforehand and also be careful of the miang. The water is usually safe for consumption without treatment, provided its clear and without smell.


How to Harvest Lemang Bamboo Properly
Before harvesting bamboo, its a good idea to apply generous amount of talcum or other available fine, harmless powder to risky areas - forearms, neck maybe even face. This is to protect yourself from the miangs. The logic is miangs are minute needle or barbs and they irritate you by lodging themselves into your skin pores. So, if you lodge your skin pores first with skin-friendly powders, it should avoid the discomfort from the white miang. Even if you may look like a langur, at least you wont be scratching like one afterwards.

While harvesting Lemang Bamboo, first make your choice on which culm to harvest according to your needs. Try to pick an outer culm and don't hack away the outer culms simply to get to a perfect culm in the middle of the bush. Doing that may result in immediate revenge by the bamboo bush by raining you with miang.

Once you find what you want, use your parang to remove the culm sheaths of the chosen culm as far as your hands may reach without touching the miang at the sections, then chop the culm down safely. Once done, simply remove the rest of the culm sheaths. The reason for removing this culm sheath is, below this sheath is the only area where you may handle directly with your bare hands. There should be enough space under each sheaths for you to safely manipulate the long culm. Then pick several large, thick leaves from the surrounding area, brush away all the white miangs remaining on the bamboo until its safe to handle the bamboo. Water will help much in washing away the white miang.

Just in case you manage to get yourself itchy with all the above methods applied, you can try washing the affected areas with warm water and then rub the area with loose soil. Wash it again with warm water and repeat with the warm water - loose soil until you feel better. Do not use cold water as it will make your skin pores shrink and you'll then feel much worse.

I'd appreciate any addition to this article or any comments!

Cheers,

v_V



Lemang Bamboo Uses and Properties ~ Schizostachyum Brachycladum.

Using Bamboo in Jungle Survival and Bushcraft

Bambo in Jungle Survival and Bushcraft
Bamboo. The one of the plant with a thousand uses in the jungle.
The very name of it simply rings me to bushcraft memories. Like thousands of other kids growing up in rural Malaysia and other South-East Asian countries, I can't even remember since when I learned to recognize and love this plant. It's always there and I feel like I've always known this type of plant. Well, sort of... However, using bamboo effectively in jungle survival and bushcraft is another matter. Almost anyone who watch NatGeo and Discovery Channel can recognize bamboo, no doubt of it if you're also a fan of jungle survival and bushcraft skills. A small effort with the wise Mr Google brings me to a few fact about bamboos.

  • Its a type of grass, and it also holds the Guinness WBR as the fastest growing plant in the world!
  • It belongs to the Tribe (?) of Bambusoideae,
  • In Malaysia, there are 44 species of native bamboos organized in 7 generas,
  • It grows almost anywhere in the wet tropics, from sea shore to mountains...
And lots of yadda-yadda facts that anyone can learn  from Mr Google. So let me get to the point of creating this article and stop beating around the proverbial bamboo bush. But first, I'd like to give three statements that I believe most jungle survivalist and bushcraftmen will agree;

  1. Using bamboo effectively is one of the most needed skills in jungle survival and bushcraft
  2. but there are so many bamboo species that grows even in this country alone
  3. and every bamboo species have certain specific uses for jungle survival and bushcraft.
Which made some people ask me the following question;

Should we know all types of bamboo that grows in our area?

I'd say nope. Simply knowing that it's one of the bamboo species is enough. Nobody that I know of knew every bamboo species and it's specific purposes by sight. Not me, none of my friends and not my dad. I mean, there are so many of them, 44 species in this country only! So, unless you are a PhD student hell-bent on getting your thesis done in the subject of bamboo, don't worry if you don't know all the species. All you need is to know that such and such plant is a bamboo species and not to mistake another plant as bamboo. Luckily, bamboo is easy to recognize.
Of course, it's definitely good to know the local name, the scientific name, weight per cubic meter, tensile strength and the mechanical or chemical properties of a particular bamboo, but in the end, if we are cutting the bamboo down for use as a bushcrafter or as a survivor of a plane crash, there is no point looking at the bamboo like a naturalist who just came down from Royal Scientific Society.

Look at it practically for it's usability - Use your eyes, identify it's a bamboo species and then improvise to look for the properties of the bamboo that you can use for your purpose.

How do I mean by looking for practical properties of bamboo?

It's easy. Look for specific qualities in a bamboo that we want to use that best suit our purpose - straightness, the size of the fiber grain, flexibility, hardness, strength, dryness, diameter, weight, wall thickness and so on. In example, lets say I want to cook my rice using a bamboo. I will look for a green bamboo that is thin-walled with long nodes. This is because a thick-walled bamboo will waste my cooking time and fuel as whatever is cooking inside the bamboo will take longer to heat. Long nodes will allow me to fill the bamboo with more rice and water plus, it will avoid the stick I use to hold the bamboo upright while cooking getting burned and break apart. The best bamboo type for this purpose would be Lemang Bamboo (Schizostachyum brachycladum).

In contrast, if I want to make a raised shelter platform to sleep on, I will not use the same bamboo I cook with as its most probably not sturdy enough. I will find a thicker-walled and with less miang (see here) for the pillars and frames and then look for a straight and flexible bamboo for the platform.

Another example is, If I want to start a fire using the bamboo fire saw method, I'd look for a dry, thick-walled and coarse grained bamboo. Obviously the dryer, thicker and coarser the bamboo is, the easier I can start a fire with it. These are consistent with the properties of  Temalang Bamboo (Bambusa vulgaris).

Improvising a use from a suitable jungle material is one of the core of survival skills and bushcraft. I think I'm not wrong to say that the concept of observing a jungle material's properties to put it to use for suitable purposes is also applicable for all subjects of jungle survival and bushcraft.

Cheers,

v_V


Bamboo in Jungle Survival and Bushcraft

Night In The Jungle

Sitting in the comfort of my own living room couch always makes me long for a night camping in the jungle. Lazying on a camp chair around the campfire, sipping hot chocolate, chatting with fellow campers or carving a new hilt for my axe and simply enjoying the night.... What a bliss, what a jungle bushcraft experience. But as with night-time in any recreational outdoor activities, a night in the jungle may reveal to be either a positive or negative experience. Do it right, and a person may be bitten by the camping bug and the camping fever will never pass. Do it wrong, it is highly possible that the camper will never go for camping again and then we'll start hearing from that ex-camper; "That jungle campsite is haunted! Don't go there!".

Only those who have been blessed with a really enjoyable night in the jungle may fully appreciate the calmness and tranquility that camping in the jungle provides.

It's very common to see even a seasoned jungle camper neglecting the proper preparation and procedures before spending their night in the jungle. And these are usually the types that enjoy the philosophy of roughing it out every night out. Maybe nighttime camp-life does not matter much for them or maybe they have their own way of spending a night in the jungle - i.e. sleeping after dinner till breakfast.... but for me, night time is the time to recollect the day's activities, maybe even doing some night time activities like reading, carving, chatting with my partner and night time photography. After a slow down from the days' activities, sorting out my feet with talcum powder, comfortable in my dry clothes then sleep will come easy and relaxing. For me, that is one of the essence of bushcraft - learning to live comfortably anywhere we are in nature, with only what we can carry on our backs.

It is not difficult to enjoy your night in the jungle. Assuming you have trekked into the jungle for hours on end, painstakingly claimed a perfect camp site on a piece flat ground, close to a stream and you have spent your time cleaning the campsites and erecting your flysheet (establishing dry area a.k.a living area) then you're halfway to ensure a cozy night in the jungle. Here's what you have to do next before nightfall (at minimum, assume 6.30 p.m. as night fall);

  1. Always assume that it will rain every night in the jungle.
    • Everything that need to be dry, put them under the flysheet.
    • Always collect and cut extra firewood before night fall.
    • Dig a shallow trench with small banks around your dry area.

  2. Protect your dry area from intruders (insects, leeches and snakes).
    • Clear all jungle litters on the dry ground, leaving bare earth.
    • Ensure that no ant holes is in the dry area.
    • Put repellents around the dry area's perimeter and trench.
    • Sulfur, salt or chilly/lime juice can also be used as repellents.

  3. Finish all light dependent activities before night fall.
    • Cook your dinner early - eat later if you want.
    • Bathe and clean up early.

  4. Make a few creature comforts and camp gadgets to reduce clutter.
    • My all important, a camp chair with leaning back.
    • Boot/shoe stand to hang your shoes away from scorpions/leeches. 
    • A small table to put your essentials like golok/parang and utensils.
    • Wet clothes Hanger near the fire (not on the fire)

  5. Clear the living area of all non essentials.
    • Clear the dry area grounds from rubbish etc.
    • Hang your backpack to a dry place or keep inside the tent.
    • Put your parang/golok where it's easy to see and reach.
    • Improve the layout of your camp site.
    • Leave no clutter on the grounds.

  6. Chill out and relax.
    • Change into your dry clothes, put on flip-flops or rubber shoes.
    • Put on your personal mosquito repellent.
    • Light up your night campfire with plenty of split firewood for spare fuel.
    • Bring out your torchlight, keep with you at all times.
    • Powder your feet, check for any blister/cuts/leech bites (if any, sort them out)
    • Always have your survival kit about your person - see here.
However, I will never accuse anyone differing from this method as incompetent. Every person have their own interpretation about bushcraft and of course, spending a night in the jungle. I consider them all correct for their own needs under their own circumstances. At minimum, whoever spent much time in the jungle will have to follow some of the rules I put here especially very basic ones and they should be common practice. But this is my particular style and it suit my particular idea of camping in the jungle. Nonetheless, I do believe that according to my experience, campers who follow this guidance properly and skillfully will definitely enjoy their night stay in the jungle or at least, it won't make them more miserable.

Cheers,

v_V


Night in the jungle