Trekking Taman Negara, an amazing experience suitable for all ages! Teman Negara meaning “National Park” in Malay was originally named “King George V National Park” when it was officially opened in 1939.
Over the course of my travels in Malaysia, I had heard great things about Teman Negara. It was described as an amazing must see destination for any traveler to Malaysia. The park is among one of the most ancient rain forests in the world at approximately 130 million years! Wow! I love nature, trekking, camping and the chance to see some wild animals such as the Malayan Tiger, Sun Bear, Leopard and Malayan Tapir, there was no way I was going to miss it! I departed from Kota Bharu late on March 26th and arrived in Kuala Than the following afternoon.
The bus ride from Jerantut to Taman Negara (MR 9.0 0) is incredibly scenic on a warm sunny day. Slide the windows down on the ricketty old bus and let the cool mountain air fill your lungs!
March was the tail end of the palm tree burning season in Malaysia, it had been all over the news as this year’s smoke clouds from the mass burning was particularly bad. The route to the ancient rainforest runs right through the middle of a massive palm oil plantation. The entire landscape was either a monocrop of evenly spaced palm trees or completely barren of vegetation.
Habitat loss remains the biggest threat to the endangered species native to Peninsular Malaysia such as the Malayan Tiger.
Fortunately, all three states that govern Taman Negara National Park : Penang, Kelantan and Terangganu have maintained the protection of the park and species within the park boundaries in addition to banning the fishing of select species on the river ways.
The town, Kuala Tahan, is quite small, surprisingly so for the popularity of the park, however affordable accomodations aren’t hard to find. I checked out Mahseer Chalet which offers both family sized huts with Air-con and hot water as well as dorm beds.
I ended up staying at Liana hostel because there were more backpackers my age and it looked like a fun place to hangout. It also had a nice view of the riverside restaurants and park entrance! I stayed one night in Kuala Tahan and made the most of it!
Taman Negara National Park
Cross the river by ferry (MR 2.00 return) at one of the floating restaurants to gain access to the park entrance, but first don’t forget to pick up your visitor’s permit from the “Department of Wildlife and National Parks” and pay for the right to carry a camera inside the park, phones included. The total is roughly MR 10 for both the permit and Camera fee. From thereon, the park is yours to explore!
The park is a trekking paradise! The first few trails are easy; boardwalks up to the nearby mountain peak Burkit Teresek, and to the Canopy Walkway (additional MR 5.00) hidden among the rainforest canopy high on the mountain side . Once off the entrance trails, the paths become quite narrow and overgrown, exactly what I had imagined having been raised watching Eliza Thornberry on Nickelodeon and then Bear Grillis on Discovery TV.
The great trees reach high into the sky, the bamboo stalks are wild and chaotic, untamed by man. The birds can be heard singing deep into the forest, completely fearless of tourists, they fly freely overhead.
Several popular tours are available in and outside the park. Visit the information centre by the bus stop in Kuala Tahan for details upon arrival. The more popular tours include :
- A night walking tour from 9pm to 10pm with headlights or flashlights. The guides are very knowledgeable, however the most you’ll likely see are the plants along the boardwalk.
- Caravan night ride: Hop atop an old Jeep and join a caravan to journey deep into the palm tree plantations that lie just outside the park. The Jeeps are quite loud so seeing any wildlife is again unlikely.
- Rapids boat ride: For MR 40, hop into one of the longboats and head upriver! March was still the dry season, so the water levels cut off some of the rapids furthest upstream. But it was quite fun! I had a great conversation with my new acquaintance Craig while we got soaked on the rapids!
- Visitors are encouraged to camp inside the park! The camping permit plus equioment is MR 100 which is roughly $25.00 US. Camping allows trekkers to venture much deeper into the rainforest.
- Trekking to Gunung Tahan can be done with a guide or self guided. The trekk is roughly seven days although experienced trekkers can do it in five from Kuala Tahan. This is the highest peak in peninsular Malaysia and a challenging adventure! I will return one day for this one!
My Night Time Jungle Walk
I had the scariest experience in Taman Negara! This was the most afraid I have been in a very long time, terrified! After a few good hours exploring the trails near the beginning of the rainforest, the canopy walk and the rapids, I retired for a quick bite. But since I had just one day to explore, I was determined to spend as much time as I could inside this majestic and natural environment… so I returned at night. I changed into pants and a long sleeve shirt, dug out my torch and headed back to the trails.
It was 9pm when I crossed the river, the sun had long since set beyond the forest horizon, it was dark. I made my way past the huts and onto the boardwalk. I passed a few tour groups out for the night walks tours. The boardwalk seemed so open during the day, but now that darkness filled the gaps in the trees, it was like walking inside a lush green cave, the stars and moonlight were nowhere to be seen. I walked up the many many steps towards Burkit Teresek, the closest hilltop.
At the top of the hill, there is a clearing in the trees and a bench. The stars shone so bright, I sat down and gazed up trying to identify the constellations in the sky. It was so beautiful, I will always remember those quiet moments I spent gazing into space under this ancient rainforest canopy, completely at peace.
After a short time, I turned my attention to the path a head. It was already late, the last ferry would cross back to town at 10:30pm… but I still had some time to push further into the forest. The boardwalk ended at the bench, only wilderness and darkness before me. It was so dark, I couldn’t get adjusted to it at all. I had to use a torch just to see anything at all, this was no avatar movie scene where the forest plants light up in bioluminescence.
I took a few steps forward and stopped abruptly. At the very end of what my torch could light up were two small yellow circles. I pressed forward a few more paces and the lights appeared to recede, I moved aside a few steps and gave them a long hard look… then the yellow circles disappeared! Then reappeared!… like a blink… a blinking pair of yellow circles… I FREAKED OUT! Slowly, I backed away, back down the path. I ran as fast as I could, with an eye over my shoulder, my heart starting to pound in my chest. The exhaustion and aches faded as adrenaline and panic overwhelmed my senses. My mind raced: Dumb! Dumb! Dumb! 10pm at night in a wild forest! 30 minutes from the nearest aide all alone and unarmed! Ah so dumb!
I’ll never know if what I thought I saw was real, that it was a leapard or if it was some other harmless animal… or even two pieces of reflective tape and I was the one who blinked looking at it… All I know is how scared I felt, how vulnerable and stupid, and the relief of walking out of that darkness and into the light of the park huts.
That was enough adventurous trekking for one night and quite frankly, it drastically curtailed my ambition for trekking to the caves and paths deeper inside the park. So the following morning, rather then wake up early, I slept in, ate some delicious local cuisine at the local market and then headed out for a casual trekk along some of the more popular trails that follow along the river way.
I left that afternoon towards Kuala Lumpur feeling slightly sad for leaving but thankful to be headed back towards civilisation. It took two buses, a little hitch-hikking and train before I made my way to Klang my next adventure! A big thank you to Zamir for the ride into town and the bananas from your parents farm! They were delicious!
Taman Negara is on my list of places to re-visit in the future, next time I would like to go with friends and do the epic seven day trekking adventure to Gunung Tahan!