What do mosquitoes, leeches, and salt have in common? Simple, experience all three on any of Taman Negara’s jungle treks in Malaysia.
The Taman Negara rainforest is the oldest in the world at 130 million years old. This fact alone, makes you want to visit if you find yourself in Central Malaysia.
Visited by thousands of tourists every year, this stunning expansive 4,343-square-kilometre park offers thick slippery jungle for trekking, fast-flowing rivers for rafting, and is a nature lover’s delight.
Mosquitoes in a jungle are a given, as are leeches, but especially abundant after rain, which a deluge fell the previous night before our trek. Carry salt to sprinkle over a leech should one of these blood-sucking slimy slugs wish to use your body as a free host, until finally discarding you and dropping off after its fill!
Leeches rise up like spindly rope-like forms from a path, tree, or wherever they hide, to sniff any passer-by’s blood – eerie to watch.
Considering these jungle walks are more like moderate treks as parts of walking paths become little less than a mountain goat track. Clambering over slippery tree roots and mud, you’re bound to pick up one of these free-loaders on your hands, ankles, or under a shirt. Apart from these nuisances, treks offer amazing lush scenery and unique jungle sounds. What more can you ask for?
Experience a spectacular canopy walk, which involves walking 45-metres above the jungle canopy on a netted planked bridge for around 550 metres.
This offers not only a different vista of the jungle but an adrenalin rush while treading carefully the swaying bridge. If you’re not good with heights, or walking on moving bridges, then this may not be for you. Indulge in jungle refreshing swimming holes, night jungle trips, camping overnight or on 9-day treks, fishing, boat rides up the river, rapids, or visiting an Asli (Aboriginal) village.
Taman Negara National Park Permits
You pay a one-time fee to enter the park plus an extra fee for each camera you take to the park. This fee is paid at the Park Ranger Office or if you travel up the river by boat, purchase both at Taman Tembeling.
You receive a “Photographic License” for each camera and a “Park Permit” for each person. Ensure to carry these with you whenever entering the park (even on treks) as potentially, it is a hefty fine or imprisonment for 3 years.
Ask the ranger at the office for a map, which shows estimated kilometres for each trek and Hides (crude sleepover shelters).
Distances are not always correct so allow more time than what the map states. Keep an eye out for small square yellow, infrequent markers nailed to trees, which denote a path.
Continue from the Canopy Walk (approx. 1.5km from the office) to reach Bukit Terisek, which is a further kilometre straight up a hill matted with tree roots and vines.
The occasional rope is in place to help you up steep slippery rocks/areas (moderate to hard trek).
When you reach the view point, it’s a further 2 kilometres back down the other side to the base – approximately 6 kilometres including the Canopy Walk.
After reaching Bumbun Cegar Anjing (Hide), Lubok Lesong is nowhere to be found.
The slippery path is overgrown and markers are missing – we end up doing around 8-kilometres today but it’s not a straight easy path (moderate trek).
Around a 7-kilometre (round trip) easy to moderate round trek, sees you scrambling over tree roots but it’s pleasant. Stop off at the river to enjoy its cooling refreshing waters.
Take plenty of water and a few snacks as it’s a sweat bath trekking in this region. Your clothes are wringing wet and reek following one of these treks. Wear covered shoes (not sandals), long pants tucked into your socks to help keep leeches out, and long sleeves/T-Shirt – don’t forget the salt!
In addition to direct buses from many places in Malaysia such as the Cameron Highlands, you can travel the more challenging and picturesque way of a 3-hour river boat trip from Kuala Tembeling.
The boat’s hard timber seats topped with minuscule padding, ensures your backside is quite sore or numb by the trip’s end.
The beautiful river scenery through the jungle leaves room for spotting roaming River Otters (or exceedingly large rats), if you’re lucky. Regardless, it is worth the pain.
After trawling through many really bad reviews on TripAdvisor about accommodation in Taman Negara (expensive and below average), the Woodlands Resort is a welcomed surprise.
The large clean room offers plenty of bench space for big packs and includes a writing desk and wardrobe with dresser. Hot water is included in the room. And, Wifi near the reception area. The air-con works and rooms are cleaned daily, which includes fresh towels. Very friendly staff at this resort and a limited-hour restaurant with reasonably priced good Malay food is also offered.
Breakfast is included in the room’s price, which is help-yourself coffee, tea, orange cordial, toast (butter, jam, caramel spread). Depending on the day, the surprise is a choice of Mee Goreng or Nasi Goreng with scrambled eggs and some fruit. Scrambled eggs and baked beans if you don’t want a Malay dish).
Dorm beds in town are cheaper, but on checking these out, some look quite “rustic” and grotty – others may be better.
If you’re not staying at the expensive Mutiara Resort in the park, accommodation is in Kuala Tehan (cross-river from the park), which is only a few minutes in a boat each way.
Where to eat
Apart from the expensive floating restaurants along the river, the Tembeling River View Guest House serves decent food at decent prices. Many restaurants make it a point of including “Western Choices” on their menus.
Of course, the further from the riverfront you walk, the cheaper the prices for food.
For early risers (and if your abode doesn’t include breakfast), you can eat cheap and delicious street food in the town. Many women set up little stalls with homemade delicious curry puffs, and Nasi Lemak.
If you’re missing alcohol (none served in the town’s restaurants), then take the cross-river ferry to the Mutiara Resort, which serves alcohol at exorbitant prices.
Make sure you bring more cash than you need as this town lacks Money Changers and ATMs. After all, you are in the middle of the jungle. The closest ATM is 18kms away in Tembeling (where you pick up the river boat for Taman Negara) or 1.75 hours from Taman Negara.
If you decide to do paid activities, then you quickly burn through your cash. Obvious, but remember to leave enough cash for the bus or boat ride to your next destination.
After spending five days in Taman Negara, you can’t help but notice the vibe of the town, travellers, and locals.
Unless doing the more extended jungle treks, most travellers seem to arrive in this laid-back but busy town in the afternoon and do the canopy walk the next day then leave at sparrow-fart the following morning.
Maybe when visitors only have 2 weeks’ holiday, there’s an urgency to see and do as much as possible, cramming everything into a fleeting moment. Perhaps if time is an issue, then concentrate on one or two areas only and at least savour what a region has to offer. Don’t just mark a place off your checklist. These same people seem miserable with locals and other travellers – don’t smile and quite arrogant.
If I’ve learnt only one valuable lesson over the 25-plus years of exploring the world, is to at least learn a few local words or phrases of wherever you’re travelling to as this goes a long way.
You are better-received by the locals whilst also having a laugh at your pronunciation of their language. Enjoy a richer experience and try a few local words.
Leaving Taman Negara
After an amazing five days trekking and experiencing gorgeous Taman Negara, sadly, it is time to head south to Jerantut in Central Malaysia. This town is relatively unknown or traversed by foreign travellers – we’re still kind of heading north through the country.