1st November 2011 – So long KL and hello Rainforest
Very early start by our recent standards as we were picked up from outside the hotel by NKS travel and taken to the centre of KL to rendezvous with a larger bus and several more passengers. There was a palpable air of excitement and anticipation amongst the assembled backpackers as we contemplated our journey into the unknown steamy jungle of Taman Negara. Overgrown trails, mountains, trekking, elephants and tigers, giant ants, the longest canopy walk in the world and a slight nervousness at the prospect of picking up from our experiences more than we bargained for in the shape of blood-sucking leaches.
A three-and-a-half our bus journey later we pulled into Jerantut, the stepping stone to the rain forest where we filled out forms and paid for our permits and grabbed some lunch. Then it was onto another bus for a short trip to the boat jetty and our fabulous if sedate 3 hour boat ride up the river Tembeling into the heart of the jungle. Along the banks of this muddy, slow-flowing river we passed small boats and rich vegetation. Little settlements with the odd cow or buffalo close to the river, and friendly people who waved as we passed by.
Arriving at Kuala Tahan, base camp for Taman Negara on the other side of the river, we leapt onto the floating NKS office cum restaurant for a brief talk and then headed off into town to find somewhere to stay. Eventually settling on The Yellow Guest House which proved to be clean, comfortable, and an added bonus, a lovely French couple in the room next door with whom we had struck up a rapport on the journey up. After settling in we headed off by torchlight, accompanied along the way by the loud croaking of a thousand frogs, to Mama Chop, a floating restaurant and purported to be the best that Taman Negara has to offer (they do breakfast too). We went off to bed early eagerly ready for the following day’s adventure.
2nd November 2011
Day broke silently and we arose from our slumbers and smeared our legs with first body moisturiser (it stops the leaches getting a bite on) and then spraying our shoes with insect repellent (it is supposed to deter them from climbing over your shoes). There was a mist over the rain forest mountains as we headed down to Mama Chop for breakfast and met our French companions (Vincent et Maude). We decided to spend the day together and so made the short walk to the boat jetty for a short trip across the muddy waters to Taman Negara. The itinerary, a trek through the jungle to the canopy walk and then climb Bukit Teresik for a descent view of the rain forest laid out in front of us, then home, hopefully without any hangers on.
Arriving at the park headquarters we had to show our permits and then we were good to go. The initial trek was on a raised walkway through the dense vegetation, towered over by enormous trees and encroached upon by lush vegetation. The noise was tremendous, crickets and frogs and all those noises that they put on soundtracks when you watch films about jungles! We stopped every now and again to check the map – it was fairly basic, and fortunately the route was more or less marked with sign posts!
The trek to the canopy walk was in theory not too far (only 1.5 km) but in the heat and with the path slippery and steep in places, it took a good hour before we finally arrived at the foot of and 800m flight of stairs and hill which led up to the start of the walkway. For a good while we didn’t spot any of the blood suckers, but Vincent’s eagle eye did finally see one and we stopped to check it out – but not for too long as they are attracted to vibrations, and they can move pretty quickly when they want to.
The canopy walkway was amazing. Constructed of ladders covered with planks of wood, wrapped round with a robust net and then lashed together with stout rope in turn strung between trees. Walking along it meant bouncing your way between platforms, each person spaced at 10m intervals, 45m above the forest floor in amongst the upper branches of the trees. Every now and then there was a clearing which opened up a huge vista across the forest and mountains, miles and miles of pristine, unspoiled rain forest. Beautiful…. but a little bit scary when you looked over the side.
The boys loved it and had no fear, running sometimes along the walkways and not even waiting for the comforting hand of a parent, or was it us seeking the comfort from the kids? All too soon we reached the end of this unique trail in the sky. It was a fantastic experience to be be up that high, communing with nature on literally a whole different level. A perspective that is so totally different from that of being on the ground.
Pausing to take on some water and some biscuits, we then headed along the trail to Bukit Teresik. It was more of a slog, and a steep climb up stairs and slopes, sometimes rocky sometimes muddy, and always the spectre of small tubes raising themselves up and searching for something to bite. I should say that we were all in shorts. The boys had trainers and socks and Tania and I had our Five Finger trek shoes which offered little protection against a hungry leach, so we checked regularly for clingers on, flicking the odd one off our toes as they attempted to hitch a ride.
Halfway up we were afforded a view over the valley with the hills behind…
and then we pressed on up the hill to the summit, passing one or two park workers along the way taking measurements with theodolites – presumably to monitor the erosion of the land due to the rains and foot traffic. Finally, slightly out of breath and more than a little moist we reached the top.
The view was stunning, and photos cannot accurately capture the vista unfurled before us, but there you are, a selection of those we took.
We now had a choice, to either descend the way we had come, or plunge ourselves off the edge down a steep trail aided by ropes strung between the trees. We opted for the latter and began a route that looked far less travelled and definitely less well maintained. Slipping and sliding, shins and calves screaming we went, dodging ever more present leaches through overgrown vegetation, crumbling path and stairs fallen into disrepair. Ropes guided us down the worst of it and it was hard-going, but how we felt like adventurers, the first to forge a trail through this virgin forest – all we needed was a machete or two and a pith helmet!
Finally we reached level ground, hot and tired, and more than a little relieved that the trial had come to an end… we had begun to wonder if we would ever make it back to park HQ. We passed a bathing spot and the boys could not resist the opportunity to join a Finnish family who were already cavorting in the murky waters. So stripping to their underwear they swung on trees and launched themselves into the swift flowing river, swimming through the brackish water and enjoying the cooling effect of the cold river on their skins.
We headed back to HQ and got the river taxi back across, tired, happy and definitely a bit dirty! As we all jumped into the shower the time of reckoning had arrived – did we have unwelcomed visitors in our shoes or under our shorts…? No! We were all leach free, and indeed there were no signs of having entertained one that had had its fill, dropped off, and sloped back to whence it had come. Result!
We dined with Vincent and Maude chez Mama Chop and so ended our day in Taman Negara. Fantastic.
3rd November 2011
Today we said our goodbyes to the beautiful rain forest and jumped on a local bus to Jerantut, then another bus to Kuala Lumpur, and then the transit train – going from proper jungle to concrete jungle was a culture shock – arriving under a heavy downpour that didn’t want to stop. And so it was quite a few hours later that we returned to our guest house and were warmly welcomed back to Step Inn like prodigal children. We settled back into our family room and after food and water turned in early.
It had been an amazing adventure in the rain forest, and most definitely something that any visitor to Malaysia should undertake.