Jungle Trekking in Malaysia – Taman Negara National Park
“None of the Jungle People like being disturbed.”
– Rudyard Kipling
We share the boat with only the driver and one other traveler. It is a two-hour trip through the dense jungle along the winding Tembeling River. Monkeys lounge on the beach, water buffalo wallow in the mud, and monitor lizards crawl along the banks. We also catch a glimpse of a native family bathing on the shore.
Once in Kuala Tahan, we find a hut with a bathroom, take the ferry across the river, buy a map and start discovering Taman Negara National Park. At 130 million years, it is one of the oldest rainforests in the world. The hiking trail to a nearby cave, Gua Telinga, is muddy and crisscrossed with roots, and many sections are steep enough to require the use rope handrails.
Some of the plants are as small as mushrooms and wild ginger, while some of the tualang trees can grow as high as 250 feet with enormous buttresses holding them up. The occasional monitor lizards creeps by, looking for insects and smaller reptiles. We see the same local Orang Asli we saw on the river, but they hurry into the forest when we wave to them.
We would have to scale down some slippery rocks and crawl into the cave, which has a foot of water in it. It looks pretty treacherous, so we decide not to go in. After dinner, we watch a video about Taman Negara, and exploring the cave would have been as unenjoyable as we expected. And, all we would have seen would have been bats, snakes and centipedes. No thanks.
Taman Negara Wildlife Platform
It is an 11km trek through the jungle to the wildlife-viewing platform / hide at Bumbun Kumban, where we will hopefully see some animals.
After an easy half-hour walk, we pass through an Orang Asli settlement, and say hello to about half a dozen children. They begin following us, gesturing for something to eat. We hand out some sesame snaps and, before we know it, the number of kids has tripled!
For 5½ hours, we climb, crawl and claw over roots, logs and streams, deep into the heart of the forest. There isn’t much wildlife to see, but everywhere we turn, beautiful and massive butterflies flutter and hover in the jungle air. Just before we get to the hide, we meet up with our hide-mates who are having a rinse off in a nearby river.
Instead of jumping right in, we decide to finish the hike and drop off our packs before taking a much needed swim. And, it’s a good thing we did.
We hear voices as we approach the hide, and a couple of teenagers run off when they see us. Had we been a bit quicker down the trail, our packs would also have been targeted by the would-be while we splashed around in the river.
After a refreshing swim, we return to the hide before dusk. This is the best time to see animals attracted to the natural salt and mineral licks just outside.
The hide is about 15 feet above the ground and can sleep seven people. The wildlife is pretty skittish, and the chances of seeing any are pretty minimal if you keep quiet and stay in the hide. Unfortunately, our five companions don’t seem to care.
Despite imploring their silence and signs prohibiting campfires, they proceed to cook their dinner under the hide, make all kinds of noise, and chasing each other on the ground near the salt lick.
This, of course, doesn’t increase our chances for spotting any animals. We keep watch for any movement for most of the night, but don’t see anything. However, the smoke from their campfire drives hundreds of wasps up into the hide which causes quite a stir. We also see a big brown rat and a huge millipede, but they are all inside the hide.
In the morning, we only have about 2km to finish the hiking loop. But, after scrambling over muddy roots, streams and rocks the day before, and only a couple of hours sleep, it takes longer than it should. We take a boat back down the river, and get drenched by every set of rapids we run. Like yesterday’s swim in the river, it is welcome refreshment after a sweaty slog through the steamy jungle.
After lunch, we go for another 2km hike – this time to a forest canopy walk. A series of suspension bridges – made from ladders, rope and fishing net – is strung between wooden platforms hanging from enormous trees. It is not for the faint-hearted and looking down to the forest floor from such heights can be dizzying.
We return to our hut, wash up and go for dinner. The sweltering heat and humidity is exhausting and we start to understand how the British might have felt a century or two ago. It is time to head for the hills and cool off in the colonial tea plantations.