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Pearl of Perlis: Perlis State Park Guide by Editors: Kasim Osman, Rahimatsah Amat and Surin Suksuwan

To me, the meanest flower that blows can give/Thoughts that do often lie too deep for tears.
— William Wordsworth, Ode: Intimations of Immortality

Pearl of Perlis: Perlis State Park Guide is an easy-reading travel guidebook, providing background information on the natural resources, cultural heritage and community that exists within a small hamlet of Perlis, located at the north-west coast of Peninsular Malaysia. The town is situated up north of the peninsula, and just south to the border of Thailand. To the uninitiated, Peninsular Malaysia is located at three degrees above the equatorial latitude and about 110 degrees to the east of the GMT. The book is not a substantial study into the natural history and biological environment of the area, or of the varied topographical conditions of the state. However, it allows the reader a general insight into the various wildlife, florae and faunae abiding almost equitably (though not always so) with the traditional communities that still exist within a quickly developing Malaysia. In parks and conservatories that cover areas from the lowlands to the submontanes, a visitor would be able to observe thousands of species thriving within differing conditions and temperatures.

Even if this book is not a full-blown nature guide (as it just introduces you to the more common or exotic species with a short write-up each), it is partly written and supervised by researchers who are familiar with the place and wildlife, so the reader need not worry about authors’ credibility. In fact, the reference guide at the end of the book would allow the avid naturalists to further explore on their own. One should not underestimate the usefulness of the book, as it could be an indispensable tool for ethnographers, naturalists, biologists, photographers, bio-sociologists, interested students, professional adventurers, occasional adventurers and those who just want to holiday there with their families. For those who want to just an overview of the book, it comes with a CD that gives a double-quick run through of some of the things that could be expected from the book; with slide shows, videos and a voice-over. But to just watch the VCD and not bother to read the book would mean missing out on a lot.

With beautiful photography and easy-to-read layout (and lightweight design, important for a trekker who wishes to carry it around), it not only has information about the national parks, the caves and the biosphere of the place, but also provides the reader with a short history of the town, of the people who had lived there. Personal anecdotes and short historiography of the more prominent members of the towns and villages are included. The general impression given by this book (for better or worst) is a sense of nostalgia and a strong urge to visit the place before everything disappears into oblivion.

While it covers aspects of human life, the book also does a comprehensive survey of the more famous denizens of the animal kingdom within the lush greeneries; the hornbills, the colourful snakes, the gibbons, monkeys, mouse deer, shrews, toads, frogs, raptors, tortoises, turtles, monitor lizards and assorted critters, many of them endangered. Some of these animals and forests could be found in other hotspots of the world, from the Amazonian rain forests to Indonesia, but others are unique to the geography. The heat and wet seasons encountered would remind one of the warmer landscapes to the south of the United States, minus the humidity.

The book also doubles as a things-to-do-and-not-to-do information brochure for first time visitors (or repeat visitors), especially toward its last few pages. While it is good to heed the advice given, especially on transportation, trails to try, places to stay and where to eat, I would ask the visitor (especially foreign tourists), to be wary even though it is mentioned in the book that there is “virtually no crime”. The society of the country is undergoing rapid change and safety is not something to be taken for granted, even in sleepy hollows. But that does not mean that paranoia is in order since crime rates in small Malaysian towns like Perlis are still low. One also gets to know about the various local cuisines that could be sampled. Most importantly, the final pages of the book provide you with a list of important contacts for both emergencies and for getting around.

There is nothing innovative about the style of writing, but it is easy on the eyes and serves its purpose. The most attractive feature of this book would be the colourful images one is treated to, and the accessible manner of the information. Not quite Frommers or Lonely Planet, but it does provide a definitive guide to the community and the natural resources of this small state. Readers would still find this book interesting in how it sums up information and functions as both travel and educational guide.