After our visit to the Perhentian Islands we decided to do something completely different and visit a forest. This could have been driven by the fact we both got sunburnt on the islands (“I don’t burn, anyway it’s overcast” – Serena – April, 2015). We were sore – Serena’s shoulders had been burnt and carrying the backpack was quite painful for her. My arms and legs resembled lobsters – it was time to get out of the sun and get some cover from the blistering sun. What better forest to visit than Taman Negara (Malay for ‘National Park’). It has wild animals, breathtaking views across a forest canopy and local indigenous tribes living in villages barely changed for hundreds of years.
Transportation to Taman Negara
Situated right in the middle of the main Malaysian peninsula it’s quite easy to get to Taman Negara from any part of Malaysia – we travelled by minivan direct from the Kuala Besut jetty. You can also get there from other areas such as Kuala Lumpur and the Cameron Highlands. We payed 85RM each for the privilege of a direct route there, but you can organise to do it totally by public transport, which is slightly cheaper but also much more hassle.
Time for a little rant. If you’re not interested, skip to “Top Tips” which tells you everything you need to know.
We did find the journey quite exhausting and worrying. The first boat from Perhentian is meant to be at 8:00am, by 8:45 we were still waiting for our boat. As Taman Negara, like the Perhentian Islands, does not have any ATMs our plan was to visit the supermarket after getting off the boat and before getting on the bus – we also intended to get breakfast there.
After getting off the boat late we were told to stand and wait, unable to go to the supermarket. We were then moved, stood and waited again, then eventually marched through the heat to get to the bus company’s office. Through all this the communication was terrible, we didn’t know why we were going to each place, how long we were staying there, what we were waiting for. Eventually we were able to nip out of the bus company office and grab some unhealthy snack food from a local shop to eat on the way. Not a nice experience to be carrying heavy backpacks though the heat, while hungry and not knowing how long we were walking for.
Top Tips: Eat breakfast before you attempt this journey! Don’t assume there will be time between getting off the boat and getting on the bus. Taman Negara, like the Perhentian Islands, doesn’t have an ATM – ask your minivan driver to stop at an ATM on the way, ours was very nice and helped us a lot.
The journey was very long, in total it took us 7 hours with a 1 hour break for lunch. We also swapped minivans at this point – which was great as the first mini van’s air-conditioning was broken. You also stop off at the main tour company’s offices a couple of hours before you get to Taman Negara. Here they give you lots of useful information, such as hostels and what there is to do – of course they also try and sell you tours, but more on that later.
Arriving at Taman Negara, or rather Arriving at Kuala Tahan
Most modes of transport to Taman Negara will drop you off at the little town, Kuala Tahan, just outside of the park. This town seems to be there purely to service the tourists that visit the park with little in the way of housing for local people, however there is what seems to be a school.
The town has one main street with small shops, restaurants and lots of tour companies.
Just outside the town, 2 minute’s walk away, is a river that separates the town from Taman Negara itself. Along the river are floating restaurants and yet more tour companies offering the same guided tours.
That’s really all there is to this little tourist town.
Our minivan driver give the other passenger directions to where his accommodation was, but as we hadn’t pre-booked anything I walked around Kuala Tahan asking for prices and looking at rooms.
Typically you can look at paying 40RM for a private room with a fan, or 70-80RM for a private room with air conditioning. If you’re wanting to go to a dorm/hostel then it’s around 15-20RM for a bed in a fan room or 20RM for a bed in an air-conditioned room.
We chose an air-conditioned bed in Mahseer Chalet Dorm, we were lucky and the first night there was no other guests and so it was as good as a private room at half the price.
The dorm was reasonably clean and the air conditioning good. The bathroom was inside the dorm itself and had a shower and flushing toilet (something of a luxury in Malayisa).
They also had on site laundry with same day return, very useful. There was only one usable power socket in the dorms but that was enough for two people, I wonder how usable it would be with a full dorm of 6 people.
In all it was very basic but at that price you can’t complain.
What to do and see
Although you’re in a town outside Taman Negara you can easily get to the national park yourself. It’s on the other side of the river with boatmen charging 1RM per person each way.
You’re free to walk around an explore the park yourself and there are many trails, from a few km long to dozens of km.
The many tour companies all seem to offer the same tours at the same prices, with any difference being around 5RM at a maximum. There’s also combined (“combo”) tours with group two or more trips together with a small discount, possibly 10-15RM.
Some of the tours on offer were:
- Tour to the Canopy Walk, a rope bridge through the trees, and up Bukit Teresek, a local hill with good views over the top of the canopy
- A visit to the local indigenous people’s (Orang Asli) village.
- A night safari on a 4×4 vehicle through the Palm Oil plantations to try and spot the wildlife.
- A ride up and down some rapids on a boat, prepare to get wet.
- A night walk through the forest.
There was one place who offered an overnight fishing trip, which we really wanted to do but unfortunately, through some miscommunication, it was a lot more expensive than we had budgeted. The trip included a local guide and the hire of the whole boat. You started from 6pm till the early morning learning and fishing and staying on the boat overnight. Maybe next time!
Canopy Walk and Bukit Teresek, or “Please tell me how I can get hot, sweaty and tired as quickly as possible?”
On the first day we decided to go to the Canopy Walk and up Bukit Teresek ourselves rather than doing the tour, the guide cost 35RM per person and doesn’t cover the fees for entering the park, crossing the river or doing the Canopy Walk itself. The guides are only really there to show you where to go but everything is so well signposted we didn’t really see the need.
The fee to enter the park and take photograph was 6RM per person, if you don’t want to take photographs it only costs 1RM. Including the 1RM river crossing and 5RM to do the actual Canopy Walk it cost 13RM per person to go do it ourselves.
As we didn’t have a guide we could take it at our own pace, for which I was very grateful. The total round trip was was over 5km (3 miles) and had over 1200 steps upwards. The heat, combined with the humidity in the forest, made this a very long, tiring and frankly sweaty walk. But in the end we got some brilliant views through and over the canopy as well as seeing and hearing lots of wild animals which might have been scared away by a large tour group.
Orang Asli Village
Just up the river from Kuala Tahan is a village of around 70-100 local indigenous people called Orang Asli (Malay for “original people”). This village is one of many throughout the Taman Negara area. There are around 4,000 Orang Asli in the forest and surroundings. This is rapidly growing, mainly due to the lack of family planning leading to each family having 7-10 children.
We went on this trip with a guide, combined with the rapids boat ride it cost 60RM per person, by itself it cost RM40.
When we arrived at the village our Malay guide talked to us about the history of the people, how they survive in the forest and what tools and natural materials they used. After that a tribal member demonstrated some of their survival skills – how they made fire, created blow darts and the glue used to bind them and how they used the blow darts to shot animals in the trees, such as monkeys and birds.
After that we walked around the village, we were able to look everywhere except inside the huts themselves. It was quiet, our guide said many of the tribe members were out hunting, but we did see the huts and how they grew bananas to eat.
Night Safari, or “How many people can sit on the roof of a 4×4 vehicle with no seatbelt without falling off?”
A pretty basic concept – pack as many people onto the back and roof of a pickup truck as possible and drive around a Palm Oil plantation until you spot some unsuspecting wild animal at which point you point torches at them and take photos until they run away.
That was a slightly stupid description, sorry, it was actually quite fun. Although cramped it wasn’t painful and the vehicle drove slowly enough that we didn’t feel in danger of falling off at any point.
The tour lasted a couple of hours, most of which was spent in anticipation of the next creature spot, watching the search light move around the plantation hoping to catch a glimpse of something moving or a pair of eyes shining back at you through the darkness.
The few animals we did spot mostly stared back at us, or move away as quickly as possible. We saw a couple of lemurs, plenty of birds and a couple of wild cats. A little disappointing you might say, but still worth the trip and the 40RM per person we spent.
We did a combo tour with the Orang Asli village and the boat rapids, together costing 60RM although this tour would have cost 40RM if we had done it separately.
The boat picked us up at one of the floating restaurants that doubled, as most of them did, as a tour company. From there we were taken up the river a few miles, through some light rapids from which we got wet, a little. It was interesting but in my opinion I wouldn’t say it’s worth the 40RM if you do it separately.
Night Walk Through Taman Negara
We didn’t do this tour, but it is a couple of hour walk through the forest from 8:30pm. You hope to spot wild animals that only tend to come out at night, such as lemurs, wild boars, etc. It costs 40RM from most tour companies. We mainly didn’t do this because of the short time we had in Taman Negara, but I also think that we could have done it ourselves. The forest is so well signposted that would be difficult to get lost in the forest unless you strayed from the man made walk ways.
Leaving Taman Negara
Our next stop after Taman Negara is the Cameron Highlands. There is a minivan service direct from Taman Negara (with the usual 1 hour stop at the tour company’s offices so they can sell you lunch), however we decide to do something slightly different.
After having a 7 hour bus journey a couple of days before we wanted to break it up a little. We took a boat from Kuala Tahan to Jerantut and then a minivan to the Cameron Highlands, a cost of 80RM per person. It was a nice little ride down the river and on the way we spotted a wild boar and some water buffalo, unfortunately we went by too quickly to snap any photos.
If you’re looking to go to Kuala Lumpur from Taman Negara there are minivan services too, for around 70-80RM.
If you’re looking to do it all yourself there’s a bus to Jerantut which has a bus station where you can take public buses to lots of locations.
We both enjoyed our time in Taman Negara – it was a welcome change from the beaches and cities. We stayed two nights, but it could possibly have even been one night if we had known what we were doing going into it and organised better.
If you enjoy jungle trekking I’m sure you could spend longer, but if you just want to see all the highlights then you could get an early bus, do it all in one day and then leave the morning after.
It’s time to move on from Teman Negara. We are trying to work our way from the Perhentian Islands, on the east cost, over to Penang which is on the west coast. From there we can explore the city and go to the beaches on the island of Langkawi before our flight to Thailand.
Looking at a map our next stop is the Cameron Highlands, a series of towns 1500m high in the hills. An escape from the heat and humidity of the rest of Malaysia for the English in the past, and hopefully for us…