Taman Negara (and the Return to KL)

7 Jan

After a few city days we were again ready for a rural adventure and some activity to burn off Christmas calories. We headed to Taman Negara (Malay for National Park) a few hours northeast of KL. Taman Negara is the oldest deciduous rain forest in the world (estimated to be more than 130 million years old) and a popular place to head out trekking. Surprisingly, there is no direct bus to Taman Negara from KL unless you want to pay an arm and a leg. So we left the hostel and took the monorail to a bus station where we booked the next bus for Jerantut, a city where you can transfer to another bus to Kuala Tahan, a town next to the park where many visitors stay. Right when we got off the three hour bus at Jerantut we were shuffled onto the local bus to Kuala Tahan, which delivered us to the the misty, sleepy, incredibly small village an hour and a half later. The one street town features a few restaurants dishing out the same fried noodles and rice, about five convenience stores with shelves semi-stocked with chips and snacks and a single “Jungle Store” selling trinkets that may or may not be useful in the jungle. Up and down the road cats wander with stubby cut-off or curled up tails, a single beautiful rooster shows off its feathers, and children chase chickens. The town itself is across the river from Taman Negara and once you descend down a steep hill (or a number of stairs which I re-injured my toe on twice) you’re standing at the edge of the river among a few floating restaurants, some of which entice customers with a collection of colorful lights, and a dock to take a one ringgit boat over to the national park. The town itself is like its own little world that was lowered and released perfectly next to a river and amidst beautiful mountains.

Kuala Tahan simply doesn’t register on Hostelworld, so we read about a few places and marked them on maps.me. The first place was clearly uninhabited, and the second was a little too dirty for our comfort. We ended up at a place called Julie Hostel, run by the sweetest people, in a private room with a bathroom, fridge, TV (although no English channels) and kettle with an endless supply of instant coffee for only 30 ringgit a night each. After eating some mediocre fried rice and stocking up on creamos we spent the evening letting the TV fill the room with Malaysian programs and reading.

The following morning we were up early and ready to tackle the park. We headed down to the river and had a terrible breakfast at the closest floating restaurant before catching a boat across the the park. You pay one ringgit to enter the park and five for a camera permit (which we quickly realized was a waste of money as no one checks or cares). The main routes on the map of the park have an established plank walkway raised slightly from the ground and stairs when needed. At first we followed the main route straight to the canopy walkway, allegedly the longest in the world. The rope bridges were hung between multiple trees and at certain points nerve-wrackingly high and quite shaky.

Afterwards we continued walking and chose to go to a peak that was marked on maps.me but was not one of the routes along the walkway. Seeing that it was marked with yellow trail markers we figured we could handle it, even ignoring the “you should continue with a guide” sign. In under five minutes of walking I wanted to turn back after hoards of what we thought were ants but later found out were termites overtook the trail. The termites make clicking noises to communicate to each other, so you hear them before you even realize you are stepping on them. They are truly gross. Josh and Angela managed to jump over the termites but I took a detour through the jungle to avoid them and we forged on, experiencing the termites many more times. The route itself was clearly a path but much less walked in, making it hard to identify at points. The trail involved crossing streams, climbing over fallen trees and, eventually, scaling rocks. We saw massive butterflies, spiders and footprints from some large animal which we later guessed was an elephant. We made it to the top of the peak after climbing up rocks to get there, ran out of water and had to make it back the whole way exhausted. When we arrived back at the entrance we treated ourselves to a pricier meal at the restaurant at the park’s resort, unable to stomach another serving of fried rice or noodles.

After the accomplishments of the day before we were in no rush to wake up the following day. Josh and I went for a massive breakfast of eggs, toast, beans, sausage (hot dogs) and an extra omelette to split at one of the other floating restaurants that, while not amazing, was far better than the one of the previous day. After gathering Angela we headed to the park again, this time heading the other direction to climb to a different peak: Bukit Terisek. This trail was far muddier than the previous day’s and felt more jungle rather than forest, at least in my opinion. We took the unconventional route, embarking on the route clockwise to the top while most people go with the walkways and steps which goes counterclockwise. The highlight of this trail was a massive fallen tree that had been laying there for god knows how long. We climbed up the tree and walked along it truly getting a sense of its enormity. Once we hit the incline to the peak it was more or less straight up, requiring us to scale tree roots and grab the provided rope at certain points. The view was much more impressive than the day before, with a gorgeous landscape of mountains meeting a perfectly blue and fluffy cloud-filled sky. We continued down the other side of the peak, which was mostly stairs and walkway, to the park entrance where we ate at the bougie restaurant yet again (Cobb salads for days).

On our third day we slept in fairly late after two exhausting days and knew we wouldn’t be trekking that day. Angela and I wanted to do a rapids boat ride, but they wouldn’t send out a boat unless four or more people went. Womp. The day was dedicated to reading, trying to soak up the hostels sporadic wifi and trying more floating restaurants (a good fried rice at one and a terrible burger at another). That evening however, we decided to do a night walk in the park with a guide. While the walk was less than taxing, the guide was able to spot things we wouldn’t have been able to and we got to see massive venomous hunting spiders, some brown and patterned and others purple, moths, glowing moss, poisonous centipedes, a tree snake and scorpions. It was interesting to see these creatures in their natural habitat and learn a bit more about them and the forest.

I thoroughly enjoyed Taman Negara and the quiet escape that Kuala Tahan allowed. The national park and surrounding area are absolutely beautiful and I can confidently say it completed my stay in Malaysia.

We returned to KL for New Years Eve for a bit of city excitement. Our original hostel was completely full and our new hostel was not an enjoyable place. The “dorm room” was basically a hallway with beds, with doors to smaller dorm rooms along the wall. The AC was only turned on from 8 PM until 11 AM. The place was filled with Chinese tourists only, who somehow managed to keep the bathroom soaking wet at all times and the toilet bowls covered in shit. Literally. Covered. How it was even possible I do not know. After an authentic McDonalds dinner and a bit more beauty prep than usual we sat down for drinking games with lychee vodka and whiskey before heading out to a pub on the main pub street. After a few pints, we rang in the new year singing Auld Lang Syne very much drunk. The following day I suffered a classic Ciara hangover, unable to eat or move until 6 PM, when I rose from the dead and wandered with Josh to get myself a subway sandwich. We promptly crawled back into bed and watched Girl on the Train. Another unproductive KL day, ladies and gentleman.

The following day, after moving back to our beloved Sunshine Bedz hostel, we headed out to the Batu caves, which you can reach easily by one of the komuter trains. From the outside the cave seems very impressive, with a massive statue and an intimidating set of stairs up to the entrance. The walk up is interrupted constantly by what may be hundreds of monkeys running around searching for tourists with food. It was the closest I have been to monkeys before and we were lucky enough to see mothers with babies as well. The cave itself, however, was much less impressive. While it certainly had the potential to be a gorgeous cave, the souvenir stand right at the entry, the terrible stadium lighting, the stage structure in the middle of it and the scattered trash completely tainted the experience. That evening Josh and Angela went out for a few drinks while I swore off alcohol (which of course did not last long).

On our last day in KL we went to the botanical gardens which included a deer park and an aviary according to Josh’s research. We walked over to the park and started with the deer park, which was fairly unimpressive with a single tiny deer of a strange breed in a cage and two large deer grazing in an open area. The aviary, on the other hand, was amazing. It cost a pretty penny compared to other things we’ve paid for in Malaysia at 50 ringgit but we loved the experience. The aviary is open as in many of the birds are walking around you. The place had over 200 breeds of birds, including peacocks, flamingos, owls, emus, ostriches and all kinds of parrots. Highlights of the day included the peacocks clearly trying to impress their mates and Angela getting pooped on by a pigeon. That night we had our last Malaysian cinema experience and went to see Passengers, which did not blow us away but provided enough entertainment. The next morning we set out for Melaka, an old port town 2 hours south of KL, which involved the monorail, waiting 45 minutes for the komuter train, getting to the massive bus terminal, buying a ticket, going through a seemingly unnecessary security check and rushing to the gate to make the 2:00 PM bus.


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