Trekking in Taman Negara National Park, Malaysia
Taman Negara meaning “National Park” in Malay was originally named “King George V National Park” when it was officially opened in 1939. Today it is one of Malaysia’s largest national parks, home to the endangered Malayan Tiger, leopards and other exotic wildlife.
Over the course of my travels in Malaysia, I had heard great things about Taman 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!
- Getting to Taman Negara and Kuala Tahan (Jump To)
- Entering Taman Negara National Park (Jump To)
- Wildlife in Malaysia (Jump To)
- Tours around Kuala Tahan (Jump To)
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 this opportunity! I departed from Kota Bharu late on March 26th and arrived in Kuala Tahan the following afternoon.
Getting to Taman Negara National Park
Taman Negara is the National Park, the small town on the outskirts of the park is actually called Kuala Tahan. There are two ways to reach Kuala Tahan from Jerantut: 1) By Bus from Jerantut 2) By boat from Kuala Tembeling. The boat ride is very scenic but fair warning: It’s 25 MR per person or 75 MR for the whole boat, takes 3 hours and the boat is closer to a motorized canoe than a real boat. You will get wet and may feel uncomfortable if the river is choppy or low in the dry season. There are two bus options: Chartered Bus Service and the Public Bus that is old, cheap and reliable. Malaysia does have train networks, however these lines are not always reliable, upon my arrival in Malaysia the jungle train to Taman Negara’s northern entrance in Pahang was closed for repairs indefinitely. These are the cheap alternatives, in theory you could rent a car and drive and pay a hundred or more for the convenience, but that’s far less authentic.
From Kuala Lumpur
You can hop on the public bus network to reach Jerantut from Kuala Lumpur
- Go to Pekeliling Bus Station in Kuala Lumpur
- Take either Perwira Ekspress or SE Ekspress to Jeruntut (3h 30mins) – 13 to 19 MR or $4-6 US
- Transfer in Jeruntut to the Jungle Bus Lines direct to Kuala Tahan (1h 30mins) – 9 MR or $3 US
- Walk to your hostel or hotel as Kuala Tahan is very small
The two bus rides from start to finish cost rouhgly $7-8 per person. The ride is incredibly scenic on a warm sunny day. Slide the windows down on the rickety old bus and let the cool mountain air fill your lungs! Alternatively, take the chartered bus from Kuala Lumpur to Kuala Tembeling. These private bus services are not always available, I always recommend asking your hostel or hotel to call ahead and confirm or ask the bus station attendants for directions. The Offical Taman Negara Website also has a page on transportation.
- The shuttle bus departs from Jalan Sultan, Chinatown, Kuala Lumpur to Jerantut at 8.30am. It then goes to Kuala Tembeling where you can access the jetty and boat service. (3hr 30min)
- Boat service direct to Kuala Tahan (2h-3h) – 80 MR All Included or $20 US
Deforestation in Malaysia – You can’t not see it!
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 rain forest runs right through the middle of a massive palm oil plantation. The entire landscape was either a mono crop 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.
Kuala Tahan Accomodations
The town, Kuala Tahan, is quite small, surprisingly so for the popularity of the park, however affordable accommodations 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. Check out more options on Hostel World or your preferred site. A simple bunk will cost $6 to $10 US in most hostels/cabins.
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! I do wish I had the time to stay longer, perhaps two or three nights. I decided to volunteer with a non-profit in Klang and didn’t have the time to spare.
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 rain forest 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.
Malaysian Rain Forest Wildlife
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. Malaysia itself is home to 1/5 of the world’s animal species and is considered a mega diverse country: Home of the Sun Bear, Malayan Tiger, Orangutans, Tapirs, Monkeys, Leopards and much more! Check out some of these videos for more information.
- BBC Nature Documentary – Freaks of Nature 2017 – Youtube
- Tiger Conservation in Malaysia – Youtube
- Backpacker’s Travel Video – Follow Mike – Youtube
National Park Tours
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 on the top of 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 equipment is MR 100 which is roughly $25.00 US. Camping allows trekkers to venture much deeper into the rain forest.
- Trekking to Gunung Tahan can be done with a guide or self guided. The longest trekk to the highest peak 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 rain forest, 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 rain forest 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 bio-luminescence.
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 civilization. It took two buses, a little hitch-hiking and train before I made my way to Klang for 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!
As always, tallyon!