Taman Negara is supposedly the world’s oldest tropical rainforest (or so Malaysian tourism says, although the internet suggests that it might actually be the Daintree), the largest national park in Malaysia, and, most importantly, was the second destination on our little family trip.
Getting to Taman Negara was part of the experience – we hadn’t booked in advance, so to ensure we’d get a ticket we woke up at an ungodly hour to walk to the Mandarin Pacific Hotel in Chinatown, wait around until the ticket desk opened (it took a while), then caught a bus to Jerantut, a minibus to Kuala Tembeling, and then a long boat to Kuala Tahan.
It’s a little bit of a quest, having to get on, get off, wait, change over and repeat with each different mode of transport, and it’s not super well organised so at each point you have to ask around for where you’re meant to go next. But the bus and minibus are totally worth suffering through in order to experience the long boat.
To say the long boat journey was relaxing would be a bit of an understatement – it was 3 hours of being lulled into a state of utter tranquility, and for the majority of the trip I floated lethargically between sleep and semi-consciousness, making it all rather dreamy and fantastical.
It costs RM1 to enter the park (the ‘Wildlife Conservation Fee’) but RM5 for a photographic permit. I thought this was a little silly because surely entry should cost more than the right to take photographs – which they can’t really (and don’t) police anyway.
The National Park had been hit with some pretty serious floods at the end of 2014 and you could still the effects of this everywhere – the water was muddy, there were fallen trees all along the river, and at the waterfront there was a lot of uncleared debris and a few collapsed buildings.
The actual village of Kuala Tahan, where we were staying, was tiny, and there wasn’t much in it apart from accommodation, tiny little shacks with tour desks in them, and a handful of very small shops where you could buy soft drinks, chips and ice cream.
All the action was on the waterfront, where the floating restaurants were – this was where everyone ate, where you were picked up/dropped off on your tours, and where you’d get the boat to cross to the other side of the river – which was the official entrance to the National Park.
It was peaceful being somewhere so quiet though; you’d fall asleep to a chorus of frogs and cicadas every night, and would get woken up early in the morning by the clucking and cawing of birds and chickens. It was definitely the kind of place to go to escape the chaos of everyday life, get lots of sleep, spend time in nature, and just relax.
Where we stayed:
There are only a few places to stay in Taman Negara, and every single one of them is listed on this site. Dad had heard good things about the Yellow Guesthouse and had his heart set on us staying there – but after calling and emailing them without any response (they don’t do online bookings) we were a little concerned about where we were going to end up staying, especially because a few of our backup options were full.
We figured we’d go there, try to find it, and if it was full, just keep looking around until we found something else. Which was a great plan, except that this Guesthouse really didn’t seem to want to make it easy for anyone to find them. Looking for it turned out to be somewhat akin to going on a quest to find the Holy Grail. We ended up getting directed all around Kuala Tahan – which, while not very big, is still full of hills – then after finally finding a sign that said ‘yellow hostel 200m’ had to go through a tiny alley, through another set of chalets, down one road and up another, then leave an offering beneath a tree and wait for a fairy to come guide us.
I felt like part of the reason Dad was so determined for us to stay at the Yellow Guesthouse was because of the rustic mystique surrounding it: no website, no online booking, no emails, you can only call and he never picks up or replies to messages – it feels like an achievement to actually get there, like you’re getting to experience something that only the most persevering travellers get to be a part of.
The actual Guesthouse was basic, but also kind of quirky, run by an adorable – but hard to understand – old Chinese man. We had a Ukranian neighbour who spent a lot of time hanging out on his balcony in his underwear. The showers required a special ritual that the owner taught us – start with the shower head on the ground, wait for the water to start coming out, then lift it up to waist height (but no higher, or it will stop). You pretty much had to shower while squatting, which was at least good for our thighs. The power also frequently cut out, and the wifi connection was pretty poor – but a lot of the places there didn’t even have internet, so we were among the lucky ones, really.
The Night Jungle Walk
We’d heard that the Night Jungle Walk was pretty great, so we ended up doing that on our first night there. Our guide was perfect – he was hilarious and knowledgeable and he took us through the forest at night, pointing out night moths, various spiders, and mouse deer.
It was fun but I’d say probably not really worth the MR25 it cost – I already see a lot of the same spiders and bugs that he pointed out at home. They start you off with a video about Taman Negara’s wildlife that’s just full of lemurs and tapirs and other exotic animals – so following it up with just a few spiders does make you feel like you’ve been a little bit ripped off – but it’s still an enjoyable way to spend an evening.
Bukit Terasek and The Canopy Walk:
One of the biggest attractions of the National Park is the Canopy Walk, which is the longest in the world. You can get a guide to take you through the park to the walk but it’s a little pointless unless you’re a serious botany enthusiast and want to have different leaves pointed out to you (we know because we ran into a fair few attached to other tourists).
To get there you climb Bukit Teresek, which is a 334m high hill, at the top of which you can see miles around you of the national park. Apparently it’s full of leeches – but I (thankfully) never ran into any of them. There were, however, a lot of birds, monkeys, spiders and other interesting wildlife.
The actual Canopy Walk was pretty impressive. It goes from 25-40m over the forest floor, and it’s mesmerising getting to walk amongst the tree tops and see the rainforest from that height. They’ve done this really well – there’s only 3 people allowed on any section of the walk at one time, and it’s quiet and uncrowded so that you really get to drink in the stunning scenery without other distractions – and it’s a very wobbly rope bridge so you don’t get anyone trying to take photos (or see any selfie sticks) either!
Lata Berkoh and Waterfall Cascades and the Kelah Fish Sanctuary
‘Lata’ just means Lake, and while it’s pretty enough, the real attraction is getting there – going on a long, lazy river journey deep through the jungle.
This was a narrower longboat than the one from Jerantut, and we sat in it single file so that you could just swing your legs over the side and sit half submerged in the water, which was wonderfully cool and refreshing in the heat. We meandered past little sandy banks and stony shores, with nobody and nothing around but the dappled sunlight dancing merrily over the gurgling river. We saw grand old trees with trunks the width of my garage, and literal clouds of dainty yellow and white butterflies.
On the way we stopped at the Kelah Fish Sanctuary, which is full of different varieties of fish and huge signs telling you all about them. It was fascinating to read, but also sad to see the damage caused by the floods – It has a research and conservation facility and restaurant, all closed while we were there, and we didn’t get to participate in the usual activities of swimming with, feeding, and playing with the fish.
Getting to Lata Berkoh required some walking – we were set down at a little beach, and had to make our way through the jungle to the lake. The Waterfall Cascades were pretty, but the actual lake didn’t look very swimmable, so we ended up walking back and frolicking at the beach instead.
Things We Left Undone
There were a few other things we could have done at Taman Negara – I’d love to have gone to the caves or done a proper trek, but it wasn’t the kind of thing my parents were into. The one other attraction that seemed intriguing was visiting the Orang Asli tribes – indigenous people who still live within the jungle – but I don’t know if this would have just been exploitative.
We had a lovely time at any rate, and it felt like the perfect place to unwind – I’d definitely recommend visiting Taman Negara for anyone who just wants to spend some time away from the rest of the world.