Taman Negara was once called the King George National park until the Malay name, literally national park was decided upon. It is home to the world’s oldest rainforest which is approximately 130 million years old. The reason it has survived so long is probably due to inaccessibility. We travelled direct from Tanah Rata which took 3 hours by bus and a further 3 by boat. The bus ride was windy but better than we had expected. We had plenty of time for lunch before we caught the boat upriver. Our boat almost left without us but luckily one of the staff found us to tell us that it was leaving early, apparently due to low water levels. The boat ride itself was relaxing and enjoyable. The river was a little low and at times the driver went very slow to avoid beaching the boat. Along the way we saw many monkeys, kingfishers and a few other birds.
Eventually we arrived in Kuala Tahan, the closest village to the national park. We hadn’t booked anything in advance so we walked uphill to find a place to stay. This worked in our favour as we found Durian Chalets where we got an air-conditioned room with a hot shower for just 65 ringgit. The room was set in a lovely garden where we could happily relax. There is one option to stay within the national park at Mutiara resort but it is expensive and all the cheap food is across the river in the village. We were happy with our choice even though the ferry cost just 1 ringgit to cross the river. Our hosts were friendly and passionate about protecting the national park, surrounding area and indigenous people. Believe it or not, the malay people have lived in harmony with the forest up to the present day, but globalisation is slowly changing their lifestyle and the authorities are struggling to provide for them. Our host was involved in providing education to the children of these tribes.
The village of Kuala Tahan is tourist central and almost all the businesses are tour companies, restaurants or mini markets. There isn’t much to see in the village but there are plenty of eateries to try. We enjoyed the floating restaurants along the river bank in the evening but ate in the more local restaurants for breakfast and lunch. The village also offers plenty accommodation at all price levels.
On our first full day we threw ourselves into trekking in the jungle. The jungle of Taman Negara is an actual jungle. The first one we have encountered in Asia. The park is set up for short term stays and many tour companies offer day treks or nights in the jungle but we fancied going it alone. To begin we went to the famous canopy walk where you can walk through the canopy on suspended walkways made from cargo nets, ladders and wooden planks. We were lucky it has reopened recently so that we could experience the jungle canopy. The walk up to it is a little sweaty but all of it is on boardwalks. Once in the canopy amongst the trees and bird song it was great. Zoë didn’t enjoy the height or make do and mend appearance of the walkways. We didn’t see much from the walkways but it was still good to be in the trees. Coming down a ladder suspended by ropes wasn’t so much fun.
Once down we walked up to the viewpoint at Teresik hill. The walk there was all on board walks and mainly steps. At the top we could here gibbons calling in the distance and a lot more birds. The way down we had chosen was a little more challenging. There were no boardwalks and we were definitely more in touch with the jungle. Sadly being on the ground helps the leeches find you. In parts we could see them wiggling among the leaf litter trying to find something to latch onto. Zoë seems to be as attractive to leeches as she is to mosquitoes and had to remove a few from her shoes and thumb. They aren’t harmful but their bites are weirdly itchy and can take a while to heal. Once the leeches appeared our trousers were tucked into our socks and the deet was applied. Despite this we ended up moving fairly fast along one of the rivers because that gave them less chance to find us. Finally we found the board walk again and the leeches lessened. Zoë still managed to find one feeding on her ankle a few minutes later (little buggers).
The boardwalk led us all the way back to the boat jetty where we caught a ride to lunch. All the sweating and trekking had helped us build up an appetite. Our host had told us about a couple of local dishes but unfortunately we didn’t manage to find either the Durian juice curry or rubber fruit curry. Instead we tucked into some unknown curry dishes which were yummy. Our afternoon was relaxing after a nice hot shower and avoiding the lengthy downpours of rain. There’s a reason it’s called rainforest.
The next day we found another trail to follow around the park whilst sticking to the board walks. We were not really keen on racing the leeches again. To begin with we had great success with finding wildlife. As we left the resort area we saw a few monkeys pretending to raid a mango tree but actually eyeing up the tents nearby. They weren’t really interested in us and obviously didn’t want to get caught raiding tents. As we entered the forest there was a rustling in the trees. It took us a while to find what was making the noise but eventually we caught a few glimpses of a squirrel busy rustling leaves. It didn’t seem to mind us watching too much and just carried on with it’s work. As we walked slowly we heard a lot more birdsong but the dense forest kept the birds hidden from view. Despite this we both found the walk much more enjoyable with the birds singing above us. Our boardwalk ran out as we climbed a hill but we only had two encounters with our blood sucking friends. We spent a little time at one of the hides but without much success before we went back to the village. We decided to enjoy our hosts garden for the afternoon as well as the complimentary biscuits and tea.
Leaving Taman Negara was easy. We caught the public bus at 10am to Jeratut for just 7 ringgit. From there we made a swift connection onto another bus all the way to Pekeliling bus terminal in Kuala Lumpur (18.40 each). We saved ourselves a fortune by avoiding the tour company offers costing 90 ringgit per person.
If you want to see real rainforest, like something from a Planet Earth episode, then Taman Negara is the place to go. We obviously haven’t been everywhere in Asia, but of the jungles we have visited it is by far the best. The local people really care about protecting their rainforest and this was very refreshing to experience. We really hope it stays this way for a long time and that the creeping expanses of palm oil plantations can be kept at bay. Fingers crossed.