HAVING explored all continents except the Arctic and Antarctica, avid writer/photographer A.S. Toh has probably seen it all – from Mt Kilimanjaro to the wilds of Mongolia and the ruins of Peru.
The retired consulting engineer, who only started travelling after retirement, is sometimes accompanied by his wife Lucy, but more often by friends, whom he says are all younger than him.
At 74, Toh shows no signs of slowing down, admitting he still travels at least twice a year.
The Muar-born “kampung boy” has a travelogue website at www.nakedeyeview.com.my where he shares his travels and thoughts.
“You see new places, new surroundings, new environment, meet different types of people. I think that’s a lot of fun. Here, it’s just buildings. Over there, it’s natural beauty,” says Toh, explaining why he travels.
The long flights are no deterrent for him. “It’s only going and coming back,” he says laughing.
On his website, he writes:
“I travel not only as an adult excuse to run away from home and the annoying hassle of the 21st century, but also to explore and seek adventures which I can write about, to bring back glimpses of little chartered places.”
Here are 10 of his most memorable adventures:
1) Mt Kilimanjaro
Having been bitten by the mountain trekking bug, in 2000 he set off for Tanzania to scale Mt Kilimanjaro. Little did Toh know the harrowing experience that awaited him.
“While scrambling over the rocks near the top, I could see over my shoulders that the morning sun was about to break out over the vast horizon. But when I got ready to take some pictures of the sunrise, I suddenly noticed that Gillman’s Point was enveloped by thick mists and clouds and the radiant hues of the morning sun were nowhere to be seen!
“When a trekker beside me told me it was a bright and sunny morning, it suddenly dawned on me that I had lost most of my normal vision!”
He needed the help of two guides on either side of him to help him come down.
“It was very scary,” he says.
But when he came down from the mountain, his sight was restored, like a miracle.
Returning to Malaysia, he went to see many doctors to find out what had happened. None of them could tell him what it was. In the end, Toh discovered from other climbers that it was the buildup of fluid due to the low pressure at a high altitude that caused his temporary blindness.
2) North face of Mt Everest
In early September 2002, Toh and three other Malaysian trekkers, accompanied by an American friend, went to Tibet to scale Mt Everest.
They failed to go beyond Camp II but were still content with their achievement.
“We believe we did the best we could in a very harsh and unfamiliar environment and are glad to return home safely without suffering from any Acute Mountain Sickness (AMS), a serious illness that can strike anyone at extreme elevations.”
However, the trek to Mt Everest’s North Face brought acclaim to the trekkers. In early 2003, it gained two entries in the Malaysia Book of Records (MBR). The four Malaysians were named for “Highest Altitude Trekking” and Toh was named “The oldest to trek to Mt Everest’s North Face”.
For his feat, Toh received the MBR Award Trophy from Prime Minister Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi, during the MBR Awards Night in 2004.
3) Wilds of Mongolia
In 2004, Toh travelled by 4WD from Ulaanbaatar to Karakorum, Mongolia’s ancient capital, then westward to the great White Lake and finally to Lake Hovsgol.
“Looking back, we have always enjoyed our trekking expeditions and this sojourn in Mongolia is equally exciting and memorable to say the least.”
4) Island Peak
Imja Tse, popularly known as Island Peak, is the most popular climbing peak in Solu Khumbu, the Everest Region. This was Toh’s destination in 2005.
“There is no doubt that the physical challenge of reaching the summit of Island Peak is greater than in all our previous trekking expeditions. It may be a way to fulfil our dream as amateur climbers who have been seeking the thrill of adventure and wish to widen our experience in peak climbing beyond simply trekking which we had been undertaking all these years.”
5) South Peru
This was one of his most enjoyable and pleasant overseas travels.
“It involved not only travelling from one place to another to enjoy the varied and enchanting sceneries but also visiting various enigmatic archaeological sites along the way. Added to this is trekking part of the ancient Inca Trail to Machu Picchu, which combines natural beauty, history and mystery with various ruins along the way.
“The ever-changing scenery, from the striking barren landscape of the Pacific coast to the picturesque abyss of the Colca Canyon is so breathtaking that one will be so enchanted that he/she will lose the capacity to give it an adequate description.
“Last but not least, the grandeur of the remains of the Inca monuments and cities is immense and awesome. Their enigmas are too many and too great for any simple mind to solve.”
6) Ancestral home
In 2007, Toh was inspired to visit the village where his father came from. It is located about 5km from Ma Jai Town, about 50km from Quan Zhou City in Fu Jian Province.
“The village is quite isolated and is only accessible by motorbike or village taxis called ‘3-legged Tiger’.”
According to Toh, the village now has about 500 Tohs and they really are all related.
7) Great Wall of China
While many have visited and touched the Great Wall of China, Toh has trekked quite a length on it. Some parts of the wall are not continuous, but broken.
It can be quite tough and steep but it’s worth it because of the breathtaking scenery, he says.
“We had a very pleasant and enjoyable experience trekking the Great Wall. This was one trek where we could eat and drink to our heart’s content, except that we could not find any coffee in all the restaurants we visited.”
Toh admits being drawn to explore the mountains in China. A trip to Zhangjiajie was quickly planned in 2009.
“From the cable car, the views of Zhangjiajie landscapes, from the countryside terraces up to the numerous jagged mountains, were stupendous,” says Toh on his website.
9) Huangshan and Huangzhou
Also in 2009, “the journey of exploration to Huangshan and Hangzhou offered me another unforgettable opportunity to admire remarkable beautiful landscapes and to come in close contact with a fascinating history and culture”.
Though there were a couple of hitches, this trip was memorable mainly because of the flexible itinerary.
10) Hakka Tulou in Fujian
In 2010, the trip to Fujian Province was planned mainly to explore the Hakka earthen buildings (Tulou) in Yongding and Nanjing counties.
“The Fujian Tulou are unique traditional residential mud buildings ingeniously constructed by the Hakka people during the 12th to 20th centuries. A Tulou is enclosed by a thick defensive earth wall communal building housing families of the sane clan.
“Over 20,000 Tulou buildings are still standing today in Fujian. Two of them have been converted into museums, and the rest are still inhabited mostly by Hakka people. However, most of the dwellers are older folks as the younger ones have moved out to work in the cities and live in newer and modern brick buildings.
“A total of 46 Tulou in Fujian Province have been inscribed in 2008 by UNESCO as World Heritage Sites. They are Chuxi Tulou cluster, TianLuoKeng Tulou cluster, HeKeng Tulou cluster, GaoBei Tulou cluster, DaLi Tulou cluster, HongKeng Tulou cluster, YangXian Lou, HuiYuan Lou and Hegui Lou.”
Excerpts taken with permission from A.S. Toh’s website at nakedeyeview.com.my.