At 130 million years of age, Malaysia’s Taman Negara rainforest is the oldest in the world. Covering 4343 sq km, the national park is one of Malaysia’s biggest draws, its thick jungle and fast-flowing rivers pulling in thousands of tourists every year.
But like all Asian hotspots, tour operators would love you to believe that if you’re short on time, you can only see Taman Negara’s highlights by booking yourself on to a costly tour. But follow these steps and you can easily save yourself a few ringgit and make your visit to this stunning woodland setting even more of an adventure.
Chugging upstream along the Tembeling river in a creaking wooden boat is the best way to get into the heart of Taman Negara and its launch point for adventure, the tiny village of Kuala Tahan. This can be easily done as a full-scale tour, but what the tour companies don’t make quite so clear is that you can hitch a lift to Kuala Tahan with them and then sort yourself out at the other end. Han Travel (han-travel.com), based in Kuala Lumpur, offers a bus ride to the jetty at Kuala Tembeling and the onward boat ride for 75RM. This will be by far the biggest single expense of your trip to Taman Negara if you do it yourself. Plus on the three-hour ride you’ll get to see water buffalo cooling off in the shallows and macaques stalking the banks of the Tahan as the jungle closes in.
Where to stay
Dismiss out of hand anyone who tells you that if you don’t arrange accommodation as part of a tour, you won’t find a bed in Kuala Tahan. The village is teeming with budget stays and while you will need to book in advance for the pricey Mutiara Resort across the river, you can show up and arrange a room at a basic guest house without any hassle. Yellow Guest House, with free tea, wifi and a rather feisty flock of geese on its front lawn, is a great pick and a five-minute walk from the boat drop-off point, via a dusty path that follows the banks of the Tembeling (find details here). The rooms are clean, spacious and you don’t get any hassle from tour guides.
Choose the right path
Taman Negara’s famous canopy walkway, the longest of its kind in the world, is well signposted from Kuala Tahan. At 45m up, it affords a stunning view of the rainforest and costs just 5RM to use. Best of all, there’s comprehensive information on the birds and wildlife you may see from the treetops. The onward path to the high point of Bukit Teresek is also clearly marked and easy to follow. Do this trip on your own and the only other costs you’ll incur will be the 1RM each way boat fare to take you across from Kuala Tahan village to the Mutiara Resort where the path starts. By comparison, a tour to the Canopy Walkway and Bukit Teresek costs a hefty 40RM per person. Remember that if you want to take a trek deeper into the jungle, you should heed the signs on the walkways and employ a local guide.
Avoid the crowds
Tour groups tend to leave Kuala Tahan at around 9am. With no alcohol on sale in the majority Muslim village, there’s no temptation to have a few beers the night before and wake up late, so get going early and you can avoid the crowds easily. This is especially true at the swimming spot, Lubok Simpon. A 15-minute walk from the jetty on the Mutiara Resort side of the Tembeling River, get here in the morning and you’ll have the place to yourself for a wild swim like no other. It may not be far from civillisation, but this stretch of water feels as if it’s been untouched for millennia. Just be careful of the current here, which is extremely fast as you wade out of the shallows.
Getting back to Kuala Lumpur
There’s no need to take the boat back to Kuala Tembeling jetty and pay 75RM for the privilege. Public transport is far more fun and a lot cheaper too. A local bus leaves from opposite Kuala Tahan school at 7am, costing just 7RM for the hour-long ride to Jerantut, on the edge of the national park. Be sure to arrive early as it’s only a cramped Transit van and spaces are limited. The bleary-eyed wait is made more than bearable by the myriad food stalls which set up at the bus stop to serve hungry locals on the way to work. 2RM plates of rice, eggs and chilli paste are delicious and really hit the spot before the ride away from the jungle. From Jerantut, you can pick up a 16.80RM ticket for a seat on the air-conditioned bus back to Kuala Lumpur. Throw in the chance to get an insight into Malaysian life at Jerantut bus station, and the boat is definitely worth skipping.