Malaysia: Taman Negara

After a month of amazing adventure in Indonesia, I was backtracking a little before leaving Asia. From Komodo, Will and I went back to Bali and spent a few last days together with our friends in Canggu before we parted ways. Will flew over to Australia and I flew back to Malaysia to meet up with Liam and Owen: the Kiwi brothers we met in Yogyakarta who are driving their motorbikes from Gold Coast to London. They asked if I wanted to join for a leg of the adventure and I thought it was too unique an opportunity to turn down! So the next few posts will be a bit different as I was travelling on the back of a Kawasaki KLR rather than a bus or train!

I flew into Kuala Lumpur and we spent the afternoon grabbing various bits and bobs for the week ahead and packing up the bikes. Liam’s friend Jess had joined too, so it was nice to have a bit of female company as well. We went for a tasty dinner in Chinatown, all ordering various things from the menu that we didn’t quite understand and having them as a sharing platter. We went for a wander afterwards through the market stalls before heading back to the hostel for some kip before the biking commenced in the morning.

Exploring KL’s Chinatown

The next morning we had some breakfast before the boys went off to some embassies to apply for their visas for Pakistan and Iran (not sure I’d join them for those legs of the journey, eek…). We packed up the last bits onto the bikes (leaving the bulk of our luggage in the hostel luggage room for the week or they’d be very heavy!), donned our protective Kevlar clothing and helmets, and set off. It took a fair while to get out of Kuala Lumpur thanks to a mixture of traffic and very confusing Google directions, but we eventually managed to break free. We drove about half an hour out of the city to the Genting Highlands for a snack and some pretty spectacular views before hopping back on the bike. The Genting Highlands are quite a weird place, there are huge high rise casinos, resorts and a massive outlet shopping centre nestled into the mountains – purpose-built for tourists. I wouldn’t say it’s worth a visit as a destination, but the drive and views were cool as we were passing through.

Walking up through the temple in the Genting Highlands

Views absorbed and ice cream consumed, we set off again and drove a further 200km to our first proper stop: the Taman Negara National Park. It took about four hours with a couple of leg-stretching and snack stops, and we arrived in Kuala Tahan – the tiny little town which is the launchpad to the park – just as the sun had set. We checked into a guesthouse, had some nosh and hit the hay. Accommodation in Kuala Tahan is mainly guesthouses, though I noticed two small hostels down by the riverfront – these don’t come up on Hostelworld though, so it may be you find a bed for the night when you arrive.

A quick leg-stretching stop on the outskirts of Taman Negara

The next day we had some breakfast and set out to explore the park. We started with a quick walk down to the jetty and around a 6-second boat journey to cross the river from Kuala Tahan to the park entrance (1RM each), where we bought our tickets and followed the signs to the trail that led through the jungle. Entrance tickets are also 1RM, but you have to pay a 5RM camera fee for each device. We walked a few kilometres along a wooden walkway, stopping at a few lookout points along the way – though we didn’t see much wildlife aside from a lizard and some piggies. At the end of the decking trail was our destination: the canopy walkway (buy your tickets for this at the entrance to the park, it’s 5RM each). It’s a 500m long chain of bridges suspended up in the trees – a bit like Go Ape but walkways not zip lines. There was barely anyone else there so we wobbled around and appreciated the greenery and the sounds of the jungle from up high. We’d been lucky in that it had only reopened after maintenance work the day we arrived, so that may be why it wasn’t busy – though the ‘maintenance’ did seem to leave a lot to be desired judging by some of the noises the bridges were making…

Wobbling through the Taman Negara jungle canopy

Canopy walkway survived, we wandered back along the trail (stopping to take a few snaps along the river) and had some lunch at the little restaurant by the park entrance. We went back to the guesthouse to change shoes quickly before heading back out for activity number two of the day: a boat trip to a nearby indigenous village. The boat was about 10m long, with a few 2-man rows. We climbed in and donned our life jackets as instructed – this maybe should have been the first clue that it wasn’t to be quite what I expected… I’d assumed we were to be enjoying a relaxing chug down the river, but what I hadn’t realised that it was actually a rapids trip – so yes, we got very wet, and no, I wasn’t wearing swimwear. Doh.

Getting a faceful on the rapids boat trip

After about 20 minutes and just as many mouthfuls/earfuls/eyefuls of tasty Taman Negara river water, we arrived at the village. We splashed out of the boat and squelched up the bank to a little hut where a local guide met us and told us a bit about where we were. The indigenous people of Malaysia are called the Orang Asli – a term which covers around 18 different native ethnic groups. They’re a diverse people with different languages in each village and slightly different religions/rituals. In the village we were in, there were nine families currently living there, though they still live nomadic lifestyles so the population of the three indigenous villages in the area is ever in flux. These three communities are the only ones allowed to live within the boundaries of the national park – as they were here before the park was created.

When we’d had our background chat, a couple of the villagers showed us how they make fire with different materials found in the forest, and then how they make poison darts for paralysing animals like monkeys (only paralyse and not kill, as if the poison dose is big enough to kill its not safe food). Darts made, it was time for us to have a go with the blowpipe (no poison in our darts, of course – tourist safety comes first…). We were aiming for a stuffed dog nailed to a post – Owen got straight through the heart, Liam through the leg, and I only managed a whistle past the ear. Lucky pooch.

Embracing my inner Orang Asli. Without the skill.

Blowpipe lesson complete, we had a wander around the tiny village before we got back into the boat for the even wetter rapids ride back to Kuala Tahan. The shower when we got back to the guesthouse was grand. River water banished, we went for a tasty curry in one of the floating restaurants before heading to bed.

Rocking the drowned rat look at the end of the boat ride

We obviously didn’t explore Taman Negara to its full extent but it really is beautiful and wasn’t busy when we were there. There’s walking/hiking for a range of abilities and a few different boat trips to explore the national park. There are a number of little agents around town offering a similar boat trip to the one we did – we paid 70RM each. There’s also a night safari, although we understand from a bit of digging that the likelihood of seeing the big animals (wild elephants and tigers) is very slim to none, so manage your expectations before you head out!

Until next time,

Number of strangers I’ve spoken to today: 3, including a Frenchman we told us he’d spent 20 hours in the jungle, unprepared for camping, and had resorted to drinking river water as a local had told him it was drinkable…
Interaction was: slightly weird. I’m not sure why you’d choose to spend the night in the jungle without any gear (he wasn’t lost), or why you’d believe a local who told you the muddy river water was safe to drink. Didn’t feel a good moment to bring up my dysentery experience.

One Woman and her Backpack x

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