Travel

Get To Know Malaysia's Rainforest: Taman Negara

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Take a walk on the wild side with photojournalist David Bowden and journey into the captivating depths of Malaysia’s largest rainforest enclave, a protected jungle teeming with biodiversity, interesting sights and sounds, and memories to last a lifetime.

For many visitors, Malaysia is well-known for its vast expanses of rainforest. No doubt most high school geography students learned the Malaysian tropical lowland dipterocarp forests during their schooling. Adventurous travellers can now re-visit these childhood memories with a journey into Malaysia’s largest protected rainforest.

See Also: Kuala Lumpur To Taman Negara Road Trip

Being keenly interested in both geography and Asian travel myself, it was inevitable that I would make the journey into these rainforests but I was a late starter with Taman Negara. I quickly made up for this and visited the park several times and even found time to write a guide book on the park’s features.

Within minutes of heading off on a boat journey along the Tahan River for Taman Negara, you know this isn’t going to be an ordinary holiday. Taman Negara (which translated means simply ‘national park’) is one of peninsular Malaysia’s most isolated and unusual tourist destinations.

The riverboat journey to the park headquarters at Kuala Tahan is, for some, as exciting as discovering the park itself. Be prepared though as the trip could take up to three hours depending upon the volume of the water flowing in the river. Occasionally the boatmen (and obliging passengers) have to push the low sampans over the rocks, but this is unusual.

While located in an isolated part of Malaysia, it is still one of the world’s most accessible yet untouched rainforests. Much of the park remains as it has for the past 130 million years. Taman Negara was established as a protected area in 1939 to provide adventurous travellers a rainforest experience as good as any other in the world.

At 4,343 sq km, Taman Negara is by far the largest park on peninsular Malaysia and one of the world’s oldest and best preserved rainforests. It is located in the Tahan Range and includes the highest peak on the peninsula, Mount Tahan at 2,187m. A nine-day return walk to the Mount Tahan summit is one of the challenges awaiting really keen jungle trekkers. I’ve never done this personally, but am told it is an arduous climb that requires the assistance of an experienced local guide.

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As the park covers sections of Pahang, Terengganu, and Kelantan states, there are several access points to Taman Negara. However, the most visited part is Kuala Tahan in Pahang while Kuala Koh in Kelantan and Lake Kenyir in Terengganu offer mostly wilderness experiences to those who know what they’re doing.

Native Habitat

Taman Negara has an impressive list of things to see and experience. The lists of flora and fauna for the whole of Malaysia is without comparison with an estimated 10,000 flowering plants, 150,000 insects, 25,000 invertebrates, 675 birds, 270 reptiles, 250 freshwater fish and 200 mammals. Many of these species have only been recorded in Taman Negara and some are endemic in being found nowhere else.

However, visitors need to appreciate that the park is extensive and the wildlife is shy and camouflaged by the thick rainforest. One of the main functions of national parks like Taman Negara is to provide an undisturbed habitat for plants and animals and, should visitors be fortunate enough to see any native animals, they should consider this as a bonus. For example, Malayan Tiger, Seladang and Mouse Deer inhabit the park, but best of luck in spotting them.

It’s better to go to the park with the expectation that animals are difficult to see and that your chances of such sightings of these animals, especially the larger ones, are remote. Visitors can improve their chances by taking binoculars and spending some time in one of several isolated hides where you may see the animals but they can’t see you. My advice is to go with the hope of sighting some large animals, but concentrate more on enjoying the macro scale of butterflies, insects, ferns, mosses, and epiphytes, and then you will have a fulfilling experience. Go to the zoo to see the larger animals.

Activities in the park include caving, fishing (although you need to check this with the rangers as a license is required), shooting rapids, floating down rivers, adventurous night-time safaris, bird watching, exploring the forest canopy on a suspended walkway and participating in guided walks to more isolated parts of the park.

One of the essential activities is to walk on one of the world’s longest suspended canopy walk. The 450-m suspension walk is located up to 40m above the forest floor. The view is most rewarding and you have a good chance of seeing small animals like squirrels or shrews scurrying along the branches. Sounds of booming gibbons can usually be heard off in the distance.

Jungle Lodges

There is a range of accommodation available around the park from near wilderness to comfortable resort-styled facilities adjacent to the park headquarters. Most visitors stay at Kuala Tahan while others opt to stay in a nearby Malay village and appreciate some local hospitality.

The facilities at the Mutiara Taman Negara Resort perched above the junction of the Tembeling and Tahan Rivers are reasonably considering the isolated location. There is a range of chalet, bungalow dormitory and camping accommodation.

While the cooking at the Mutiara Taman Negara Resort does not allude to being cordon bleu, there seem to be few complaints from the many international tourists who devour an extensive array of hearty local and international dishes. The small bar also serves some very refreshing and thirst-quenching beers after a hot day in the steamy forest.

In other parts of the park, there are fishing lodges at Kuala Perkai and Lata Berkoh. These are equipped with very basic sleeping and cooking facilities for visitors who want to get away from the crowds and appreciate the quieter side of Taman Negara. There are other simple lodges on the other side of the Tembeling River and restaurants with prices way below those of the Mutiara Resort.

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Several simple hides are located within the park and these have bunks for a reasonable night’s rest. These hides are rustic structures located adjacent to swamps that are rich in minerals. Many animals visit these ‘salt licks’ to obtain minerals to supplement their diets and the animals graze unaware that tourists are hiding and watching their every move. The park is also home to the indigenous human inhabitants of the area, the Orang Asli, some of whom still lead a traditional semi-nomadic lifestyle of fishing and hunting. They’re the only people allowed to legally hunt and forage in the park.

A trip to Taman Negara can be as relaxed or as energetic as visitors like as different facilities cater to their varied needs. Taman Negara is not for everyone, as it can require putting up with both a little adventure and discomfort, but for those who appreciate and enjoy nature, Taman Negara is truly a ‘must-visit’ destination with at least two nights being the minimum stay.

Travel Tips

Where to Stay
Mutiara Taman Negara Resort, www.mutiarahotels.com. For package tours to the park contact Asian Overland Services in Kuala Lumpur (www.asianoverland.com.my).

Getting There
The 230-kilometre road journey from downtown Kuala Lumpur to Kuala Tembeling (via Jerantut) takes about four hours. Daily buses leave from Han Travel opposite the Swiss Inn Hotel in Chinatown each morning at 8.30am (contact: www.taman-negara.com). Passengers travel via Jerantut and alight at the Kuala Tembeling Jetty.

Stay in Touch
Hunt around for the Globetrotter Visitor’s Guide to Taman Negara published by New Holland (UK). It is not easy to come by but there may still be copies available in large bookstores.

Source: The Expat Magazine April 2014

Homepage Highlight Photo Credit: Peter Gronemann, Flickr

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